tv Actor Sean Penn on Humanitarian Efforts in Ukraine CSPAN April 25, 2022 10:21am-11:28am EDT
democratic candidates running for senate in pennsylvania. it starts at 7 p.m. eastern on c-span, live at c-span.org or -- our free video app. >> c-span is your un--- unfiltered view of government. sponsored by the television companies and more, -- >> that is white charter has invested billions. upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in come -- communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications supports c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers. having you a front row seat to a democracy. >> in our conversation with actor sean penn and trump administration -- robert o'brien
about humanitarian efforts in ukraine. hosted by the richard nixon foundation. >> ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. i would like to welcome a few special guests. beginning with dr. jim cavanaugh and his fellow board members -- sandy quinn and charlie shane. thank you all for being here. -- the ongoing war between russia and ukraine. the recent hostilities began on february 24 and took an even
more brutal shift this morning with an new russian offensive in donbass. from military strategy to amazing stores of ukrainian resolve, as well as the terrible toll of casualty, destruction and human suffering. our panel -- to discuss a path forward. our panel -- panel listed -- panelists today -- served as -- a u.s. representative to the u.n. general assembly. sean penn, an academy award winning film performer who returned from ukraine and is filming a demo -- documentary on the invasion.
he is known for his humanitarian efforts as the founder of the community organize relief effort which is providing resources for fundable committees for covid testing and vaccinations. core's latest efforts includes setting up operations in poland. red bear -- brett bear -- ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our distinguished panel. [applause] >> thank you. >> are you on the rights or the left? --right or the left? [laughter] >> it is great to be here.
it is wonderful to be back in that connection presidential library and i am fortunate to be a moderator to let you hear these amazing stories about that is happening on the ground in ukraine. about what is happening around the world and even what is happening with a certain project. thank you very much for being here. we put this together and i thought that we could illuminate some of what is happening inside ukraine. you see it on your television screens every day but you do not see it like this. sean has been doing some amazing stuff on the ground with his documentary. i want to ask you both, national security advisor, actor, activist, humanitarian. what is the connection between of -- the two of you? >> before i became an national
security advisor, -- one of the things that president trump was known for his breaking americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained in terrible countries and bringing them back and one of the people i focus on was a young american journalist. a great young american. former marine and he had to be -- he will was taken hostage in 2012. i fought my way to the bureaucracy to get permission to go to syria -- to negotiate and try to get him home. at one point, -- went to the middle east and we sent a letter through channels and they would not see me. i got a call from sean and sean had filled -- filmed a documentary in syria.
he raised his hand and said let me go to syria. let me try to get him home. i have been a fan of sean as an actor and we met and he was willing to do a personal risk to go to syria at this time and find him. he didn't end up going but i thought it was a impressive gesture on his part. >> there has been a few other incidents of this where, my first thought would talk to someone in the state department and make sure i would translate -- existing strategy. there was one in bolivia where the state department docked that any time they -- excerpted any
pressure on the bolivian government, they responded by being an empowered david to arco life and -- they said, go ahead and we were able to get that american brought back. you get excited when you play a small role in something like that. it became something i was looking to do and it in the case of austin -- the people i talked to said can you talk to our boss? the boss and i got to get and we became friends -- >> your organization, core, just stuff here in the u.s. but around the world.
actors in hollywood -- i knew i would not be able to call anybody in the united states with all of the regulations and such. an incredible man, paul farmer, tells me they need morphine. if you get it to your embassy, i will get friends with pickup trucks and deliver it to the trauma center, so on. that happened, i remember going to the lt. col., is it going to be a problem for year five a bunch of boxes of morphine in my tent labeled? he said we will make our apologies later, that is what started core. >> the organization says it saves lives, strengthens
communities affected by or vulnerable to crisis. obviously, ukraine is in that position. i want to talk to you about your past connection with ukraine. as national security advisor before that, how you look at the country before the latest crisis started. >> my first experience was going in 2014 as an election observer for the international republicans to the iri. this is when the ukrainians finally throughout the yoke of the russian oligarchs and had democratic elections for parliament. i went with the group of former u.s. officials that were democrats, republicans, former members of congress and diplomats. i went observe to make sure the elections were free and fair. when incident, they were
checking the boxes, making this -- sure the seals were tight. a lady came to vote with her daughter, her daughter had the ukrainian flag. i said, why did you bring your daughter she said i wanted to bring her see you can see you can vote for your own leaders and for her to see what a democracy looks like. i went my whole life under soviet rule, this is the first time we got a chance to have a democracy. i developed a love for the ukrainian people, they are wonderful folks. now, we are seeing their spirit as they fight a much bigger neighbor for their own freedom and sovereignty. >> you dealt with the region in putin -- and putin for talks in berlin with mike pompeo. looking at what putin is doing now, your assessment of him and
his mental state, where you saw him and where he is now. >> he is cordial, soft-spoken. he believes the biggest julio -- geopolitical disaster was the union, he is thinking of an imperial russia where russia controls georgia, ukraine, the baltics. his goal, just like dictators of the past, 1930's and 1940's, just like dictators, he wants to rebuild the russian empire. he would like to take back ukraine, he has got troops in georgia and has taken almost half of georgia, parts of moldova. in 2014, he invaded crimea. i said this is something we have not seen since the onslaught with germany and austria when germany was given land and
checks the luckier. the idea what -- check slovakia -- if you give them a little bit of what they want, that will save them. then it will stop at the aggression. we know that does not work, it increases their appetite that is what happened with putin. we were warned about and concerned about, one of the reasons why we got the intake missiles -- antitank missiles to ukraine during the trump administration. there were a lot of folks in the pentagon and state department that said we cannot give ukrainians missiles to defend themselves, that will provoke putin and encouraging. -- encourage him. we felt it would deter putin, it was the javelin missiles in the early days of the crisis, those missiles made here in america and given to ukraine by the american taxpayers that allowed
the ukrainians to block the armored attack of the russians and buy themselves time to fight for their independence and freedom. >> it is amazing to see ukrainians and resilience and the fight. let us talk about the first time you go in, what the purpose was. tell me about that decision. >> not long ago, remember a timer most americans knew ukraine where a comic actor could become a president and a phone call with our president and the echoes around the bidens and everything that went around. we thought, what an interesting story this would be. at that time, we started -- we had a contact that could get us in touch with president zelenskyy, we made our case that we thought we could tell a story
that was anchored in him but would eliminate his country in ways it had not previously been. so we begin zoom conversations, we were shut down during covid where we could not travel and so on. that is what put it off, we picked it back up. we went initially in november, travel to the country. went to mariupol, we were going to involve an existing border conflict and occupation in crimea. but at the time, the big wagoner scandal was going on related to the aircraft that went down. so the president was not able to see us.
we covered musicians and cultural things and someone in kyiv, then came back. we were looking for the right time to come back, by that time tensions had begun to build up. we had known this was starting to be an issue. the tensions we had all been aware of were building to the point they are at today. i started getting phone calls from my partners in crime, single got to get back now, because the intelligence agencies we hear on the news saying it is going to happen tomorrow, on the 16th. we've got to be there. i thought i had enough or maybe i lucked out this time, experience with feeling like it is going to happen tomorrow, you've got to get on the plane and go. and being summer for 10 days, nothing happens.
you get on the plane and when you land, you find it happened when you are on the plane. so i decided to stick to my schedule, vape pens with my kids, this in that. -- my play on this kids, this and that -- plans with my kids, this and that. the timing was such that we went , where there about five or six days. >> how do you get in? is it safe? >> it is very tense. robert will confirm our government is extremely good at caution. [laughter] you know, when many people to separate them from people in this room, they might have wanted to taken off my head. i was called an enemy of the
state any time i had done publicly created any level of threat. i always had the fbi knocking on my door, letting me know. there is a lot of great responsibility in the system, it functions very well for american citizens. at the same time, this level of caution said, that time, when we went back, do not go. american diplomats had been pulled out and other foreign service officers pulled out. do not go, there will be no cavalry and so on. i was speaking to robert the whole time, he knows the region much better than i do. we calculated it would be fine, whatever happened. sure enough, we were there five or six days. i met president zelenskyy, that was the log agreed to moment for him to go eyeball to eyeball
with us and decide if you would open his doors to us to the documentary crew. we said we will come without a camera the first time. you size us up and tell us if this is finalized and we are going to do it. we have the meeting, here he was. all of the elements were in place for the potential invasion by the russians. he certainly was prepared for that. but i don't think anybody wanted to give up a level of denial it would happen. that would be giving up hope it would not happen. we met with him, a man in a suit. the next morning, the russians invaded. we went back, we were with president zelenskyy and waited for him at the meeting point. the next time i saw him, he was in camo in the world had changed. >> at that time, you know the buildup is happening, you are talking to people i do know the communications.
you know he is going to go. i was talking to colleagues in washington and they said tell him not to go. stay in close touch. robert parson is a terrific guy. it's his job to get sean out. i counseled him not to go, he went anyway. the foundation of the legend. it is something we talked about earlier, what we are watching is very unique. we are watching a legend born. we don't know how it's going to play out, but we are watching it in real time.
social media, interviews, we watching someone who has urged the united states, safe passage. he laid out what this is, this is good versus evil. they don't want a puppet government, and they're willing to fight for freedom. president zelenskyy is willing to go out with his people. he is not meeting from behind. he is at the front. made a mistake early on,
ut well for davy crockett. try to come up with a better analogy, going with charles de gaulle. zelenskyy is there, is inspiring people, sean and my politics cannot be more different but we are good friends and that is the great thing about america and how it used to be, we have grown up with friends and anson uncles trying to do the right thing for freedom. that is the kind of friendship sean and i have. in this crisis, i spent a lot of time on the stump, we want to
take back the house in the fall. that is something sean does not want to happen, but when i go out at these events, everyone is pulling for the ukrainians. i think sean has seen it on the progressive side, the democrat side, this is something uniting the american people because they are watching folks just like us, fighting for their lives, their freedom, against some bad actors who want nothing more than because they have a bigger country and more might, at least it looks that way on paper. they're just going to invade their country and take it over. that's not how we do things. >> i want to get back to the
unity and mission. those early days where you are finally getting a decision where you have to stay or go. >> i would like to circle back to that and continue on the unity thing. as robert was saying, i would wager in this room there is an incredible amount of unity on the issue of the ukraine, i believe that what we owe ukraine is a unity that goes beyond that. in many cases it's the more sophisticated people who say there is nothing to be gained by trying to reach across the aisle. if there is anything we can do not a betrayal of you rain that
is taking the opportunity of their ration, stop being cynical about the possibilities that we can understand ideas in so many cases, profiling that makes it a semantic schism and that there are so many things we can do as a country together. we have become so divided. going to ukraine, more than anything else is the impact of what we have been missing. it is something to realize what we have been missing with the everyday feeling about life. >> there are elements of both
parties say why is this in our national interest, why should we push this envelope, why should we possibly face world war iii with a nuclear armed russia. there are elements of both sides, progressives and conservatives who say that. what do you say to that? >> a lot of this is, what if ukraine loses? look at what they have lost, the children killed, the women raped and mutilated, all of the brave soldiers, men, women and children who are fighting for the same dream that we share. the better question is, what if russia wins? nuclear war, god knows, there could be nothing more
horrifying. yet, those questions exist, they are in hands. many hands. we have two problems. if we want to get them out of anyone's hands, look at the budapest memorandum and say the gradients gave up nuclear weapons, president clinton and yeltsin stood there, and what happened? the russians are invading and nobody is helping. a lot of tax dollars are going into javelins and stingers and other aspects of this, but without the united states direct presence, these aviation assets,
that's putting nuclear war off to another day. i think we have to operate by enforcing and leaving as much as we can, we have to get in there and do the right thing and not be a nation that succumbs to intimidation and fear. >> some great points. one of the great moments was the end of the cold war, poland,
his watching military equipment get funneled into ukraine. his watching the ukrainian people fight to keep their freedom. this crisis goes far beyond europe. if we can cut pollutant and the economy off and fully decouple the russian economy from the free world, that is something china can afford. if china can't export to the
to get and be a part of this. bear with me. you're making the decision whether you're going and not going. you have impressed him. you have to make a call. >> once the invasion started, what happened was my colleagues in the -- we, i refer to it as where we met with him, it's probably a public secret. where we met with him was in such a place where we would not know if they turned into night. we would not know if other organic sounds, so we went in
and daylight, the recommendation was we don't take the car back to where we are staying, two-mile walk. it was a great way to process the conversation. the city was under air raid, we knew rockets that had for sure -- we were trying to sort what we had seen, what it meant, we took this long walk back to the hotel, quietly, slowly.
surround the presidential palace. the administrative building. early on, the plan was going as russians hoped it would. it was someone close who said get out. full tank of gas, water, a wad of cash. drive about 60 miles from the polish border. have to go, have to go now. >> real-time conversations with
various reasons had to make sure they did not get stuck for six weeks, hunker down, had obligations elsewhere where they felt there could be more value-added. it was what we thought was very good information. someone in leadership who needs to be at the frontline and needs to get out of the encircled area , it can be someone like me to go back and process this footage , anyway i can help get light on the thing, for any reason.
that next day after that clip, we are talking, security consultants, saying our information is there, and he thinks the best time to leave is 10 minutes ago. i was only hoping he had a weapon. i said ok, i think you're going to go. had we left an hour later, the same people said pack your things, get into the car. give us one hour, and it's the same way they took us.
one hour in the first part of the drive, an hour later it took 11 hours, and what is normally a 7 hour drive was for us a 25 hour drive because we came towards the main road. the bridge got blown up, now you don't know where you are plotting to get to. he said fuel is very important. it became its own odyssey. this incredible experience of what these people represent. i went back to ukraine a couple of weeks ago, now we are
operating inside and outside, hoping it would add up to something of value. >> you talk about him is this figure stepped up, a few weeks ago i interviewed president zelenskyy, talking to people around the world. is he fearful? take a listen. [video clip] >> tension has been key to the resistance strategy. what happens when interest wanes? are you worried the west has a short attention plan? >> it's a problem.
>> absolutely. in responding to that and circling back, it's only hindsight being a lesson for us now. certainly, there is a great case to be made that had we exercised and saving a lot of lives. the initial and logical thought was if prudent invaded, it would be to take advantage of the winter and how energy would break the back of the ukrainians and others. now we are in the warmer days, and this is the moment to offer
in anyways necessary so maybe we ride a bike. i think a real shutdown, it was one of the first things i talked about, and putin is in a position of being humiliated. the sanctions i believe would have an impact and stop this from happening. >> there was back-and-forth about domestic leadership, how parties talk about it. what people don't understand is this sanctions regime. how this is not affecting russia, gas companies are making
more money, the price of gas is up. why aren't these sanctions fighting and stopping putin? >> it's called the swift system, the way banks communicate with each other. we put sanctions on the russian central bank which prohibits them from operating in dollars. oil and gas sales are all in dollars. we exempted oil and gas, women's the latest thing -- [laughter] the only thing was exempted. we had this odd situation where
putin continues the war, as the price of oil goes up, putin and his cronies, one of whom is a former chancellor of germany, those guys make a ton of money. he is making more money now after sanctions and he was making before. unless we are going to cut off the oil and gas sales, the war is not going to end. we need our allies to contribute, we can cut off ourselves, most of our allies are on board. unfortunately, the germans had nord stream 2, refused to pay 2% for nato, the ones that have the
cozy relationship with russia, it's hard for the germans. they have made some good steps recently. they have made some good, vladimir putin will have plenty of money. there now in mali, africa, he will have all of the resources we have to cut off oil and gas sales. people wanted to give him a ladder, he is showing as this invasion continues.
>> you think ukraine can win this. >> when we do something like this, with cameras, we all recognize there is a legacy, i wager everything. when that tape is played, the ukrainians are going to win, and but we are going to be doing is say how many lives will be lose to win that fight. that is the calculation right now. >> why do you think it's this that unifies the progressive side and conservatives? i talked about the differences, but there is also a lot of unity. why do you think it's this? >> as we talked earlier, it is
commonly considered that there is little ambiguity to this conflict. the other thing that is significant that their skin is not brown and black. the shape of their eyes is not different from ours. what is significant and powerful about that is because of the lack of ambiguity of the mission, the mission for democracy, the fight for the freedom to dream, this can be the example that we can apply to so many other bases that we have neville -- never been able to break that wall of our own, the unfamiliarity
that are doing amazing things for the ukrainian people there is a lot that can be done. i want to add one thing, what sean was saying. on the conservative side, it is not just big countries bullying and invading and taking away freedom and democracy into sovereignty of the neighboring country. it is the ukrainians, unlike many of the other wars we have and involved in -- the american people are weary. i went over many times representing the president to welcome back fallen heroes and try to comfort families.
ukrainians are not asking for american soldiers or airmen or sailors to defend themselves. they want to defend themselves, they are defending their own country and asking from us the tools necessary to do that. they are asking us to be the arsenal of democracy. if we can support them and provide them with what they needed, they will do the fighting for themselves, because they are committed to their own liberty and freedom. i think that struck a nerve. they are not saying you need to come defend us, they are saying you need to give us the tools to defend ourselves. folks are weary on the right and left, there is a recognition this is something different. there something special about these people that have the spirit and courage to fight for themselves and their freedom. we need to lend them a helping hand. as frank and roosevelt said in the famous speech, when your neighbors house is burning down,
you give them a garden hose. you do not try to sell it to them. we need to give them a garden hose to do with the fire in their house, they will put it out themselves. >> president zelenskyy's people, he has the same message. still looking for help, he is dealing with it on the ground with dignitaries. you do have a day job, you are in the process of this new series called gas lit, which deals with john mitchell, the attorney general. we have a clip. the episodes, the first seven, lunch april 24. let us take a look. [video clip] >> on deck for thursday. how are you feeling about that? >> how does the president feel about it? >> he is not exactly thrilled at
the prospect of watching a bunch of senators and bully a woman on national television. >> what if cameras were not allowed? what if there were no cameras in the hearing room? that is something you could arrange, right? >> if there were no cameras, they would have free reign. i don't know that you would want that to -- want that. a lot of people on that committee. >> when i was in the navy, i was on a pt boat. [indiscernible] i named him pete.
i said lieutenant, the problem with loving something to munch -- too much is that you cannot do what needs to be done. >> she is not a monkey, she is your wife. >> john mitchell, this does not look like you, at all. [laughter] how about that? that transformation. talk about this program. >> it was presented to me originally -- julia roberts had worked with a filmmaker on a project called home later -- homecoming.
they had come to this project about watergate, it started as a podcast called slow burn. what was fascinating, as a kid -- i do not remember why, but i was eating up the watergate hearings. it was fascinating to me. i knew not much about what was going on behind the scenes of their lives in the time of watergate, so this was fascinating. the crisis event for the country and so many ways, it was hysterical. the total incompetence -- it was not anything i think we have seen out loud with so many
extreme characters of extreme flaw pulling chains. yet, also people who, like us, were concerned about in their personal lives. it was a really accessible way -- young people in particular, i think every time many of us do anything, what can we offer them we might have previously failed to offer them? it is a great way to step into that historical lesson. it was incredibly timely, there are a lot of things related to what that time and for the united states and what is going on today. julia and i have several times where we could try to work together on various things.
we all went and jumped ended. >> how long -- >> and did it. >> how long did it take you to get to that makeup? >> the first few times were about seven hours in the chair, the micah pit crew then --then it like a pit crew, got down to about four hours every morning. >> it looks great. thank you so much for doing this today. when does the documentary come, do we know? >> the documentary is pretty fluid thing. we represented this to president zelenskyy, if we feel we have a piece of footage -- there was a
moment, i didn't know who will put it in, this is the biggest sneak peek. there was a moment i was talking to somebody that worked for the president -- and people will criticize me as making a pro ukraine propaganda film. i found myself looking into the camera and saying i hope so, because this is not without bias. we are clear. about the position the film is going to take. but i think we like to tell a very full story, we will release things if we stumble on a piece of something we think helps the mission, we will release it. in the meantime, we plow away. >> what is next for you? >> let us see what happens in november [laughter] . mitch mcconnell as the leader, back in the private sector and
enjoying time with family and kids and friends. >> i agree with the second half of what he just said. [laughter] >> ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much. [applause] ♪ >> later today here on c-span, we bring to a conversation with virginia senator tim kaine about long covid. he will share his own personal experience with discussion
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