Cotton: Gina Haspel has been keeping US safe for 30 years

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," May 9, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: Thank you, Bret. We are certainly looking forward to that tonight. A Fox News alert as we get started on 'The Story;' there appears to be some big news breaking across the globe. Air raid sirens blaring over Israel signaling incoming missiles reportedly from Iranian-backed groups. Back at the White House, President Trump awaiting the arrival hours from now of three American hostages from North Korea, now free, and now on their way home. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders joins me in moments on that breaking news, but first.

Good evening, everybody. I Martha MacCallum and this is THE STORY. As Gina Haspel makes her case to become the first woman to serve as director of the CIA, is a double standard dogging her nomination?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON, R—ARKANSAS: What message does overwhelming Democratic opposition to your nomination send? If you've been nominated by President Obama or if Hillary Clinton had wanted to nominate you to be a CIA director, how many votes do you think it would've gotten? You don't have to answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: Laughter, but moments ago, I spoke to Arkansas Senator Cotton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MACCALLUM: -- the observation there about how different this same process might be under, perhaps, the Democratic leadership, or Democratic leadership that would've appointed her. Why do you think we find ourselves in that situation where you've got a person who has unique qualifications and she would be treated completely differently under different president?

COTTON: Martha, the answer is very simple, politics. Gina Haspel has served 33 years in the CIA keeping our country safe from the Russian threats now and during the Soviet era as well as from terrorists, raising her hand in the aftermath of 9/11 saying that I'll go to the counterterrorism center when she could've docked that taken easier duty. That's one of the reasons why so many of the intelligence leaders of the Obama administrators support her -- John Brennan, Jim Clapper, Michael Morell, Leon Panetta. These are people who served under Barack Obama. As far as I can tell, the only Democrats who oppose Gina Haspel are in the Senate, and I guess it's because they are blinded by their insane hatred for President Trump. But in the end, there will be a handful of Democrats that join near-unanimous Republican support and confirm Gina Haspel as our next and first female CIA director.

MACCALLUM: Do you expect that all the Republicans on your committee and all the Republicans in the Senate will vote for her?

COTTON: Gina will be confirmed in the Senate Intelligence Committee with a bipartisan vote. I believe every Republican will support her, at least one Democrat, Joe Manchin, announced his support today. And then on the Senate floor I'm only aware of one person who's announced his opposition in our party, that would be Rand Paul. Hopefully, the president can persuade Rand to support Gina Haspel as he ultimately supported Mike Pompeo. But I do believe many of the Democrats that supported Mike Pompeo will support Gina Haspel because they recognize -- she's a career professional. If she had been nominated by Barack Obama or by Hillary Clinton, she would've gotten 80 or 90 votes, no one disputes that.

MACCALLUM: I mean, it's fascinating to listen to the questioning today about the tactics that were used after 9/11. And perhaps one of the most shocking comments to come out was from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself, who expressed the fact that he would like to weigh in, he'd like to submit his thoughts on Gina Haspel before this committee. And you tweeted this: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind can testify to the Intelligence Committee after every 9/11 widow, widower, and child, testifies about what they think of him versus Gina Haspel and the CIA. Until then, he can rot at Gitmo and he can rot in hell." I mean, the moral equivalency that we've seen during this process, I think is really highlighted, I guess, by that ridiculous statement from him.

COTTON: Yes, I think it's important to remember that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 3,000 Americans deaths on 9/11. He also sought the head off Danny Pearl, an American journalist who was taken hostage right around 9/11. This is the worst of the worst. Gina Haspel helped coax some of his confessions out of him, just through ordinary debriefing techniques. That's how skilled she is. And that's why it is really is disappointing that so many of these Senate Democrats are impugning her for her very skilled, brave, patriotic behavior in the aftermath of 9/11. She was conducting programs that were directed by the commander in chief, approved by the attorney general and supported by the Democratic director of the CIA.

MACCALLUM: Senator, you served in Afghanistan. Why do you think that for some people, the memory is so short of what the 9/11 period was like in this country?

COTTON: I don't know, Martha. I do believe that this is primarily partisan and particularly directed against the president. Again, when you have John Brennan, and Jim Clapper, and Leon Panetta, and Michael Morell supporting Gina's nomination, it just goes to show to you that any Democrat who is not seized with blind hatred of the president, recognized that Gina is probably the most qualified nominee we've ever had to be the director of the CIA.

MACCALLUM: Senator Tom Cotton, always good to see you, sir. Thanks for coming on 'The Story' tonight.

COTTON: Thank you, Martha.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MACCALLUM: So, as the senator just said, Gina Haspel has been with the CIA since 1985. She has served under six presidents, and as Senator Cotton argues and many Democrats as well, she's eminently qualified. She would be the first woman to run the Central Intelligence Agency, a post held by 24 men including George H.W. Bush, John Foster Dulles and Bob Gates. So, take a look at some of the questioning today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D—CALIF.: The CIA selectively declassified only small pieces of information to bolster your nomination. While keeping damaging information under wraps.

GINA HASPEL, ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE CIA: What I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, D—CALIF.: Would you please answer the question?

HASPEL: Senator, I think I've answer the question.

HARRIS: No, you've not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: So, that in the same week that we heard this from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: If we as women are still suspicious of one another -- if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don't have four men, if we're still doing that today, if we are more comfortable with -- if we're not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president compared to, what?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: Joining me now, Amber Smith, former Deputy Assistant to Defense Secretary Mattis and former Army Helicopter Pilot; and Philippe Reines, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. You know, it just strikes me that there's this notion coming from some that women are supposed to support women regardless of how they might feel about the policies or the issues that that woman supports. Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot, Amber, it seems like that standard simply goes right out the window.

AMBER SMITH, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO DEFENSE SECRETARY MATTIS: Absolutely. So, people like Michelle Obama will support you if you don't work for President Trump, or you haven't been nominated by President Trump. So, she wants to be the champion of women but only if you tow her line, and only if you want to fit the mold of what it means to be a woman to Michelle Obama. But I think this is doing such a disservice to women around the world. It's 2018, women get to say for themselves -- just recently, we heard Hillary Clinton say that white women voted for Trump because they were listening to what their husbands were telling them to do. You know, women get to make their own decisions -- they get to be helicopter pilots, they get to be nominated to be the director of the CIA. And I really think that this type of rhetoric and what they're doing with the platform they have is really setting women back decades.

MACCALLUM: Yes. I mean, this standard doesn't apply across the board, clearly, Philippe. In fact, the suggestion is that any woman who was independent or any woman who is conservative, who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton, and you know, we're looking at what's going on with Gina Haspel today, you know, simply doesn't have her head on straight and doesn't support women and then you watch what happened to Gina Haspel today and you have to wonder.

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think you're conflating two different things. First, what Mrs. Obama was talking about was what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and about some of the misogynism and sexism directed her way. What we see today are two United States Senators doing their job, who are female -- the two that you're showing -- who have legitimate questions about Gina Haspel and here's why. They're not questioning her qualifications or her dedication to the CIA. No one has questioned that. She has spent three decades, that's an amazing career, and she deserves everyone's respect. What they are questioning is her role in a dark period of the CIA's history and her position now, and I would say -- first of all, if she were a man, she would've gotten the same exact questions today. I'm certain of that.

MACCALLUM: You just made my point for me. What I'm saying is that women should only have to judge on policy, but there were plenty of women in this country who voted against Hillary Clinton and didn't have anything to do with not thinking that she was -- you know, that a woman shouldn't be president. It had to do with what kind of policies they want to see in the White House and what they thought about the way that she had done her job in the past. So, to assume that, you know, you should vote for her because she's a woman, I wouldn't apply that to Kamala Harris or to any of these people. I want them to judge based on policy, but women are told to often that they're supposed to support women. Remember Madeleine Albright, Amber, there's a special place in hell for a woman who doesn't support a woman. This standard has to go away across the board.

SMITH: I couldn't agree more. That's an embarrassment to say as a woman to other women that you're only allowed to vote for women. I'm never going to vote for someone because you're a woman, I'm going to vote for whoever it may be because they're the best person for the job. Gina Haspel isn't the best woman for the job, she is the best person for the job. And so, when people want to talk about how this is about Gina Haspel's past and things that that she was associated with the enhanced interrogation techniques, let me remind you who was aware of this? Congress was aware of this. The president of the United States was aware of this, as well as the Department of Justice. This wasn't some rogue CIA program that they went off in debt on their own. This was a legal program. We're a different nation than we were 15 years ago, so people may have different feelings about the program but they shouldn't be judging Haspel for this.

MACCALLUM: I just want to give Philippe the last thought. So, do you think -- you don't think any of this has to do with the fact that she was nominated by President Trump, Philippe?

REINES: I think of a man was sitting there nominated by either President Clinton or President Trump, and they had a direct role in enhanced interrogation, and that president had said, I think we should go further, you're forgetting that President Trump has said that he thinks we should reintroduce torture. It is a legitimate question to ask whoever is sitting behind that table.

(CROSSTALK)

MACCALLUM: We're talking about enhanced interrogation techniques which were --

SMITH: No, he didn't. He said that on the campaign trail.

REINES: He said Waterboard is not enough. And I agree with him. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Waterboard is not enough. But she was asked repeatedly what she would do if she were asked to do it again. I don't think that's crazy.

MACCALLUM: Well, you know what, we'll see how the vote comes down and we would hope that she will be looked at in the entirety of her career and not based on these individual actions which happened lawfully at the time in which she said she would probably approach differently now. Philippe, good to see you tonight. Amber, thank you very much.

REINES: You too.

SMITH: Thanks.

MACCALLUM: Good to have you both here. All right. We got a lot of news going on tonight. Fox News Alert, live pictures of Anchorage, Alaska, where a plane carrying Secretary of State Pompeo and three American hostages rescued from North Korea has just touched down on U.S. soil. They're about to give a statement. We're going to have that live for you right after the break. Don't go away.

Also, coming up, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she will be here live as we watch this historic moment unfold. And breaking news in the skies over Israel this evening where Iranian forces have reportedly fired rockets tonight.

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MACCALLUM: Breaking tonight, the U.S. Treasury Department would like to know exactly how Stormy Daniels' lawyer got private financial documents linked to Michael Cohen. Avenatti claims that he has info that shows Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from several companies including one associated with a Russian billionaire. Avenatti's claims kicking up questions about the Trump-Russia investigation but Cohen responded today this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any response to Avenatti?

MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: His document is inaccurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: Documents are inaccurate, he says. And now, Michael Cohen's attorneys in a new court filing say Avenatti has "published numerous incorrect statements involving Mr. Cohen and claim there's a mistake of mistaken identity, specifically that payment cited by Avenatti were made to at least one person who also happens to be named Michael Cohen, but who has no affiliation with President Trump." So, joining me now, Jonathan Turley, constitutional law attorney and law professor at George Washington University. Jonathan, welcome, good to see you as always.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ATTORNEY AND LAW PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

MACCALLUM: So, what do you think? What are you seeing here so far?

TURLEY: Well, it's hard to make out who is telling the truth here. Some media sources have said that they've conformed much of what Michael Avenatti has said about these Cohen payments. If they're true, I'm not too sure this is strong evidence of Russian collusion. It doesn't help Michael Cohen. He would be reduced to saying look, I'm not a criminal, I'm just really sleazy, because if these payments were made, they were made for access. Michael Cohen didn't have anything particular to sell except his access to Trump. And you would have Trump running on the pledge to drain the swamp and you've got Cohen basically marketing swamp tours. So, it's not good even in the best-case scenario if these documents turn out to be accurate and various newspapers have said that they believe that they are accurate.

MACCALLUM: Yes, and I mean in some cases, you have companies that have responded about, you know, contracting them for certain services, and saying that they ended up ending the deal but they had to pay in full because they had contracted for a year. You know, him on retainer for whatever, for access to the president I suppose, we don't know all the details yet. In terms of what this means for the investigation, Robert Mueller kicked this part of the investigation up to the New York bureau for them to handle. So, what does that tell you? Does he believe this is not connected?

TURLEY: Thus far, it doesn't seem like Mueller has found a nexus to the Russian collusion aspect. He had already pursued these payments, including interviewing some of the individuals on the other side. And after that, he went ahead and gave the case to New York and basically said this is separate, outside my mandate. So, at that point, there was obviously not a strong nexus, but of course this can get worse. You know, the evidence could come forward, Mueller can certainly pull back to try to get Cohen back within the focus of his own investigation.

MACCALLUM: I just want to ask you one more quick question. You know, when you look at this, the inspector general and the Treasury Department apparently wants to know how Avenatti got his hands on these documents. What do you make of that?

TURLEY: Well, I think it's a legitimate question to ask if any laws or breach. I know Michael Avenatti pretty well; he's very careful about this type of thing. I would be surprised if he tripped a wire, but it's a legitimate question to ask where these documents were held and how they got out publicly. I'm sure the investigators were not thrilled to have them public.

MACCALLUM: Thank you, Jonathan. Always good to see you.

TURLEY: Thanks, Martha.

MACCALLUM: OK. So, next up, we have a Republican Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, Founding Member of the House Freedom Caucus who currently serves on the House Oversight Committee. Good to see you, congressman, welcome.

REP. JIM JORDAN, R—OHIO: Good to be with you.

MACCALLUM: Good to have you here tonight. What do you make of all of this? It's all over everywhere that this, you know, proves something or shows at the very least that Michael Cohen may have been selling access to the president or promising access to the president.

JORDAN: Well, I think -- what I think is interesting is why did The New York Times get access to this? I mean, look, it's tough for Congress to get access to documents we are constitutionally entitled to, but The New York Times can review these documents? I think that's an interesting question.

MACCALLUM: All right. You know, but you know, what do you think it reveals about this particular issue and looking at whether or not this sheds light on any potential collusion or whether or not it's a financial issue for Michael Cohen.

JORDAN: Yes, we'll have to see. I think that remains an open question. What I do know is the Department of Justice needs to start complying with request that legitimate requests Congress has. For example, Martha, five weeks ago, we sent a letter to Rod Rosenstein saying we want to see the August 2nd memo that was an addendum to the memo that outlined the special counsel's investigation, the scope of that investigation. We got a response back from them last Tuesday saying, oh, no, no, we're not going to show you that. Two days later, a federal judge says he wants to see the same thing.

MACCALLUM: Yes, it's a great point.

JORDAN: So, you now have two branches of government telling Rod Rosenstein, who's never had his name on a ballot, who's never had -- you now have two branches of government saying that scope of the document, scope of the investigation is critically important.

MACCALLUM: It's pretty tough to understand I think for the American people why the scope of the investigation, in other words, the mandate to Robert Mueller in terms of what the parameters are of what is involved in what he's allowed to pursue. Why that would be a mystery and why the Department of Justice is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars would have any right to keep that information from the American people. And as you say, the federal judge wants to see that and you all want to see it. Do you think you are getting anywhere with that?

JORDAN: Most importantly, the American people deserve to know the framework --

MACCALLUM: Absolutely.

JORDAN: -- the scope of the investigation into the president they elected. And for the Department of Justice to say, no, no, we can't show it to you, and we'll see what they do. The judge gave them two weeks. We'll see if they actually comply and give it to them, or if they try to fight that as well. I don't know what will happen. But my guess is based on the conversations as were laid that judge had with the lawyers from Mueller's team, that judge is going to want to see that. And he said, you've got two weeks to get it to me. Mark Meadows and I sent a letter; we want to see it as well. Congress deserves to see that. Most importantly, the American people do.

MACCALLUM: Everybody does. Congressman Jordan, thank you very much, good to see you tonight.

JORDAN: You bet. You, too.

MACCALLUM: So, we are waiting Secretary of State Pompeo and the three American hostages who are no longer hostages -- they are now free and they were held in North Korea. That is their plane. They have landed on one of the Air Force One fleet in Anchorage, Alaska. They're going to step off that plane any moment and what a moment that will be to set foot back on U.S. soil. They are almost all the way home to where they live, but they are back in America. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders joins me with that and more breaking news tonight straight ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just yesterday The New York Times accused the secretary of state for being AWOL. AWOL, when he was flying across the globe to bring three Americans home. That is an outrageous claim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: So, another live look at the plane -- part of the Air Force One fleet that is holding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the three freed hostages. They've been on a long trip. It has no doubt been a difficult 24 hours for them but one that they have been looking forward to. Two of them have been held for over a year, the other one has been held almost three years. So, they have released this statement: "We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home. We thank God and all our families and friends who have prayed for us and for our return. God bless America, the greatest nation in the world."

Bill Bennett, former Reagan Education Secretary, Karl Rove of former Deputy Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush, both are Fox News Contributors. Gentlemen, good to have you both with us. This has been a priority for President Trump. I think he has brought home around 15 people since he became president. It seems that when someone gets his ear on an issue like this and he hears that someone is being held, he wants to incorporate that in the foreign policy that he is doing. A string attachment that we haven't seen really handled quite this way in the past, Bill.

BILL BENNETT, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER REAGAN EDUCATION SECRETARY: Yes. Well, it moves his heart, which comes as a surprise to some critics that he has one but he certainly does have one, but he delivers on it. And then he goes to work as the professional dealmaker that he is. This is a great moment. That statement is a beautiful statement and I'm thinking of getting up at 1:15 this morning to watch it all on T.V. It's really going to be a very big deal I think.

MACCALLUM: We should mention that President Trump and his wife, Melania, the First Lady, have said they're going to be there at Joint Base Andrews, 2:00 a.m. They are running a little bit behind, so it might be a little bit later than 2:00 a.m. You might have to stay up a little bit later than you think, Bill, to witness this moment.

BENNETT: It's OK.

MACCALLUM: But we're going to keep a close eye on it and we're watching the folks getting off the plane. I want to turn your attention as we watch this live shot. Karl, I want to ask you a little bit about what we saw last night. The president tweeting this: "The Republican Party had a great night. Tremendous voter energy and excitement, all candidates are those who have a great chance of winning in November. The economy is so strong and with Nancy Pelosi wanting to end the big tax cuts and raised taxes, which she did say just the other day. Why wouldn't we win, he says? And yet, a number of house Republicans who wanted to move up to the senate, they lost their races, Karl, what does that say?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, not a good night if you're a Republican house member who wanted a promotion, but otherwise a good night for the Republicans. There's a piece tomorrow at the Wall Street Journal, I commended to you, pretty good insightful pack will lots of information.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: But, look, good news with good candidates in West Virginia, we dodged the bullet of Don Blankenship. And in Indiana, Mike Braun ran a campaign that has left the Republican Party united behind -- he campaigned authentically as an outsider, even though he served in legislature. Ohio, which was a good state for Trump in 2016, the Republicans voted out -- voted considerably more in the Republican gubernatorial primary than the Democrats, indicating the state looks like it's going a little bit redder, and good candidates in other places for the House. So, not everything great, I mean, we've got a lot -- midterm elections are always tough for the party that controls the White House. But, last night some pretty good results.

MACCALLUM: Bill, it's interesting. It does seem as if people see house Republicans as the establishment, and that's not particularly a great -- it doesn't connote great things in a lot of people's minds. You look at the president's approval numbers have been creeping higher. Congress' have been creeping lower. What does that reflect to you?

BILL BENNETT, FORMER REAGAN EDUCATION SECRETARY: Well, first of all, just picking up on Karl, and, of course, he's the expert. I missed his pallet, I guess that's coming up in a couple of months. Is that right, Karl, where you write states stamp and all the people?

MACCALLUM: That is coming up.

BENNETT: Strongly pro-Republican evening, I think. I agree with Karl. But, maybe, a little bit of vote about the house. You guys aren't doing what you should be doing, and so we're going to replace you, but replace you with other pretty earnest Republicans. So, I think that is a good sign. Yeah, the president's approval ratings are going up and this despite, I believe, you know, I'm a historian, Karl is a historian, never seen anything like it in terms of criticism. Ninety percent, was that the number we saw of the reports on the news are negative about Trump, and yet the lines keep going up. But look at what's happening. Look at this thing tonight. Look at the economy moving. Look at the fact this was extraordinary. My son pointed out to me, right now for every available unemployed worker there is a job. This is the first time this has occurred since they've been keeping records. This is good stuff, plus the judges, plus on and on. You know, you take the man in the totality of his actions. And, you know, Donald Trump has his taints and he has his honors. But, I tell you, not to give him credit for the things that he is doing is really unfair and it's not paying off for his critics.

MACCALLUM: Yeah. I mean, when you do -- you know, you talked about that number, 91 percent negative coverage. -- group tallied up how much negative coverage is out there, and it is astonishing because when you look at what happened yesterday, the end of the Iran deal, now people can differ on whether or not they think that was a good idea, Karl. And then the release of the hostages and the promise of this meeting that it looks like it's going to happen in June. You would think that there was absolutely no other story out there when you look around the different cable news channels other than Michael Avenatti.

ROVE: Yeah, look, if you live on the upper east side of New York, or you live in Northwest Washington, this is the only news story you're paying attention to. But if you live outside of the beltway, live off the island of Manhattan, you're looking at a lot bigger set of issues and concerns, and the economy is the number one issue and the good news there is starting to have some effect. Can I return for just a second, though, to the house Republicans?

MACCALLUM: I know you wanted to do that.

ROVE: I have a slightly different take on that.

MACCALLUM: OK.

ROVE: In West Virginia, you had a Republican congressman who came in second, but he lost to a guy who had been elected statewide twice. And in Indiana, you had a guy who won by talking about what he wanted to do, and two house members who went after each other because they've known each other since college and they don't like each other. And so, I think this is a little bit more nuanced than just simply getting rid of house Republicans. There were better candidates in each instance it turned out in the mind of the voters.

MACCALLUM: All right. We'll give you that on night one. We'll see if there's a trend as we move forward and we'll keep tabs. And you'll get your whiteboard out here and show us why we're wrong. Good to see you both. Bill Bennett, thank you, always a pleasure. Karl Rove, great to see you as well.

So, this is an astonishing thing that we are watching this evening. There is Air Force One, United States of America plane holding Mike Pompeo and three men who are looking forward to the beginning of the rest of their lives as free men, freed as hostages from North Korea. The president and the first lady will welcome them at Andrews Air Force Base in the middle of the night, tonight. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders here, next, on that. And also this inspiring story, this is the first female pilot in the Afghani Air Force. Of course, that was a huge accomplishment. But, instead, Niloofar Rahmani fears every single day for her life from the Taliban. Tonight, she joins me exclusively with her harrowing story of how she got to America.

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MACCALLUM: So, it is 3:39 in Anchorage, Alaska, in the afternoon, and the freed hostages from North Korea will be back on the plane shortly and will be heading back to the United States where they will be greeted by the president and the first lady, sometime after 2 AM in the morning, is about when we expect that they will arrive. Just an amazing moment for these three individuals who have been inside jail cells in North Korea, wondering whether or not, I would imagine, they've been forgotten, and whether they were ever going to be home again. So, this is an extraordinary diplomatic accomplishment, and it's all part of the plans for the meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un that we expect will be coming up in the end of June.

Speaking of that, take a look at the comparison of these two pictures. This is the secretary of state. The day -- this was his first trip. This was right when he went into office as our new secretary of state, sort of a cordial moment with Kim Jong Un. This is the picture that they just released from today's meeting. Obviously, it looks like they're getting along famously, and these talks are progressing. The president says he expects it will be a special meeting and that they have very high hopes for the future relationships of our countries. So, Sarah Huckabee Sanders joins us from the north lawn at the White House, and we're looking at all of these images -- Sarah, good evening, first of all. Thanks so much.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good evening.

MACCALLUM: For being here. It's great to have you with us. You know, what do you think about the fact that while that mission was going on, while Mike Pompeo was in North Korea trying to free these three men and advance this meeting, this is the headline that the New York Times put out about the secretary of state. I would call it kind of snarky. It says that a key moment, Trump's top diplomat is again thousands of miles away, your thoughts on that, Sarah?

SANDERS: Look, I addressed this today in the briefing. I think it's shameful what the media sometimes does. I got the same number of questions today about Michael Cohen that I got about North Korea. I think that is sad and another reminder that shows us just how out of touch the media is with the rest of America. And I think that that is a perfect example of just how clueless sometimes the media can be. His top diplomat was thousands of miles away, but what they forgot to include was that he was thousands of miles away negotiating the details of the meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un, as well as bringing three brave Americans back home to the United States. To me, that seems like exactly what his job is supposed to do. He was doing it. And, you know what? The president was doing his job back here. This is an administration that likes to get more than one thing done a day. As you know guys know, we stay really busy, and this is going to be a big night. And, certainly, I think a moment that we're very glad Secretary Pompeo was away from the United States for in order to help make it happen.

MACCALLUM: They certainly have some egg on their face for that headline, which happens. But, I want to play some of the video that we played earlier in the evening here, which is the siren sounds that are blaring over the Golan Heights, incoming missiles from Syria. They've been deflected by the iron dome, we understand. But, Sarah, this is clearly a concern, I'm sure, to the president because the move that he made yesterday in ending the Iranians deal may have ramifications that might be very difficult, and this might be signaling something of what you're going to have to deal with there.

SANDERS: Yeah. This just further shows that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted. Israel absolutely has a sovereign right to defend itself, and we support them in whatever efforts they have in order to defend themselves. But, again, I think this activity and this action is just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted, and another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal.

MACCALLUM: I want to play a moment from the president's statement on the Iran deal the other day, with regard to the Iranian people yesterday. It seems like a long time ago. Let's play it, I want to ask a question about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to deliver a message to the long-suffering people of Iran. The future of Iran belongs to its people. They are the rightful heirs to a rich culture and an ancient land, and they deserve a nation that does justice to their dreams, honor to their history and glory to God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: Sarah, I guess what I'd love to know about that part of that statement is what message the White House is sending to the people of Iran, because we all remember a few years back in the Obama administration, there was an uprising in Iran. The people wanted to overthrow the oppressive regime there, and it was not backed by the Obama White House. Is that something that this White House would like to encourage?

SANDERS: Look, the president -- I think this was one of the more powerful moments of his remarks yesterday. He reminded the Iranian people that the United States stands with them. One of the most terrible things in this process is how much the Iranian regime has squandered away the wealth and the resources of their country and deprived the people of their country, and the president is simply saying that we're with you, we support you, and we want something better for you. And we hope that that could happen, and that this is part of the process of getting rid of the deal that has not been helpful, that has only empowered the regime. They gave up so much in the previous administration and got nothing. They gave up tough and crippling sanctions in exchange for an incredibly weak deal, and the president is not going to repeat those same mistakes.

MACCALLUM: We'll watch in the days and weeks to come. And tonight, as we see the plane as it lands at Andrews Air Force Base. Sarah, thank you very much. Great to see you tonight.

SANDERS: Great to see you, thanks for having me on.

MACCALLUM: So, coming up next, facing death threats from the Taliban, the first female Afghan Air Force pilot begged for asylum in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NILOOFAR RAHMANI, FIRST FEMALE AFGHAN AIR FORCE PILOT: As a Muslim Afghan female I always try to fight against the ISIS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: Now, two years later, Niloofar Rahmani's wish has now been granted. The United States government saying that it would be too dangerous for her to return home. Captain Rahmani is here exclusively on The Story tonight, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: She was a proud symbol of women's progress in her homeland, but the fame of becoming Afghanistan's first female air force pilot ended up being Niloofar Rahmani's downfall. The Taliban began to threaten her and threaten her family, forcing her to seek asylum in the United States, which was just granted. In moments, I will speak exclusively with Captain Rahmani, who joins me here in New York. Trace Gallagher with her story from our newsroom in L.A. Trace.

TRACE GALLAGHER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Martha, when Niloofar Rahmani first became a pilot, a military pilot shuttling Afghan soldiers to and from the battlefield, the U.S.-led coalition touted her as an example of what Afghan women could become. Photos of Rahmani in a khaki jump shoot, lose head scarf and aviator sunglasses went viral, and she became a public figure, even a national celebrity. But, that notoriety also made her a target of the Taliban who dropped a letter on her doorstep telling her, quote, you have not taken our threats seriously. If you carry on doing your job you will be responsible for your destruction and that of your family. The letter went on to advise her, quote, to learn from Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel laureate who was nearly killed for fighting for women's rights in Pakistan. Within weeks of the letter arriving, Niloofar Rahmani's brother had two attempts on his life, her sister was banned from seeing her children, and her parents who support her career went into hiding. Even Rahmani's cousins and uncles considered her profession shameful and wanted to punish her to avenge their honor.

Rahmani says her male colleagues in the air force treated her with contempt. And when she initially applied for asylum in the U.S., military officials in Afghanistan told U.S. officials that she was lying and that her life was not at risk. In 2015, she fled to the U.S. where she received the state department's international woman of courage award. At the time, Rahmani said, quote, all I want now is to go back to my dream of flying. A dream the U.S. military paid for, training her to fly C-130 transport planes. After being granted asylum, Rahmani's U.S. lawyer said her life would be at grave risk if she were forced to go back to Afghanistan where her family still lives, save for one sister whose marriage also brought her to America. And it is notable that after 16 years of war, the United Nations says nearly 15 percent of Afghanistan is still controlled by the Taliban and ISIS. Martha.

MACCALLUM: Trace, thank you very much. Here now in an exclusive first interview since she was granted asylum is Captain Niloofar Rahmani, and her attorney, Kimberly Motely. Good to have both of you with us today. You are such a symbol of what everyone wants for your country, and I know that women and families in your country support you so much. But you tried to pursue that dream. When did you start to realize that that was going to be extremely dangerous for you?

NILOOFAR RAHMANI, FIRST FEMALE AFGHAN AIR FORCE PILOT: I knew it would be a risk because in Afghanistan, as a woman, you're not allowed to go to school. But, being in the military, of course, it's not an easy thing. And I was very lucky to have the support of my family in each step of my life, and they supported me to be where I am. And I knew it would be a risk and I accept that risk for my life, but not for my family. And, unfortunately, when that risk started to my family life it became a big problem for us, and I couldn't tolerate that anymore.

MACCALLUM: I mean, how did you find the strength and the courage to do what you did knowing that the Taliban, who, you know, rules the country in many ways, would never allow a woman to do what you wanted to do?

RAHMANI: True. So, I was six months old when my family became a refugee due to war in Afghanistan, and all of the schools were shut down for girls in Afghanistan. And we were living at a refugee camp in Pakistan for a long time, and we were not allowed to go to school. And my parents, they taught us at home how to read and write, so that really bothered me to see myself as a girl, why I can't go to school. I have the same ability that men have. The same ability that my brother has. And I was lucky that my parents, they treated me the same as my brother, and I had a strength like -- it was my father and he stood by me, and I think that was a big help in my life that I had him by my side.

MACCALLUM: So now, you're here and they're there. You're afraid for their lives now. The Taliban -- they've been threatening them as well.

RAHMANI: Absolutely. In Afghanistan, we all live together so it's not like if there's a threat on my life it's only me dealing with that. Unfortunately, it's my entire family. And definitely, I am worried about it and it scared me most of the time. It really scared me that I feel they're there and I hope they're safe that happened to them. And all these risk that they are facing, it's because of what I have done. All I wanted to do was serve my country.

MACCALLUM: You're an extraordinary person and we pray for your family, and we hope that they're going to be safe. Difficult for you to help get her asylum, I know. We just have a few seconds left, but a quick thought on how you did that?

KIMBERLY MOTLEY, ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, I think the U.S. immigration department is very -- saw her case for what it was, that her life is threatened, and now it's the goal for her to become a full-fledged U.S. citizen, so she can continue her dreams of flying.

MACCALLUM: You have an amazing story. Kimberly, thank you for helping and great to have you here. Please keep in touch. We want to follow your story. We'll be right back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Do you deserve the Nobel Prize do you think?

TRUMP: Everyone think so, but I would never say it. You know what I want to do? I want to get it finished. The prize I want is victory for the world, so that's the only prize I want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: President Trump earlier today, in a cabinet meeting. Meanwhile, we are just watching the plane take off on its way back to the United States carrying three people who've been held hostage in North Korea for years, an exciting moment. They land in the middle of the night, the president will greet them. More 'Story' tomorrow.

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