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Remembering Fallen Veterans; Fighting in Ukraine; Company Tracks Crimes from the Sky

Aired May 26, 2014 - 18:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Remarkable technology helps police fight deadly crimes from thousands of feet in the air, but does it cross a line when it comes to privacy?

Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Brianna Keilar. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We are following breaking news now, severe weather, including tornado warnings.

We had a watch before. It's now a warning. This is in parts of Texas. We are seeing very heavy rain right now. They're extremely dangerous conditions for people who are on the road and who are off.


KEILAR: Now, it's some of the fiercest fighting yet, with government warplanes, helicopters, paratroopers waging battle for hours, trying to take back an airport in Eastern Ukraine seized by armed pro-Russian militants.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard in Donetsk, a flash point in the deadly fighting threatening to split this country apart.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there for us.

Give us the latest, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even now, Brianna, on the outskirts this city, we heard the thud of explosions continuing, the locals saying from the direction of the airport, here the dead of night in a city which thought it was possibly immune to the violence swirling around this Donetsk region.

But, today, separatists moved into the airport. That was obviously a red line for the Ukrainian government, and they moved in to assert their authority, some of the worst violence, as you say, we have seen since this crisis began.


WALSH (voice-over): Donetsk Airport was a red line, the separatists knew when they took it so quickly. Ukrainian military jets alone flew over it. Paratroopers moved in, separatists, too.

Oddly, both sides agree how this started. An SU-27 fired two strategic bombs, this separatist said, echoing a Ukrainian official, this man adding it was inhuman to bomb a suburban area, locals caught in this.

(on camera): Those explosions a clear sign of the continuing intense gun battle around the airport, the worst violence really that this key population center in Eastern Ukraine has seen since start of this crisis and coming hours literally after Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko says he would like to negotiate potentially a way out of this crisis.

(voice-over): Separatists well-armed, disciplined, trained, amassed, facing a Ukrainian gunship. They fire at it. It hits a target, then comes back, rural, suburban worlds ruptured.

His family say they support the separatists who protect them.

(on camera): as you can see, over there on that roof, one of the stray rounds has landed into a house where, fortunately, there was nobody there at that time.

(voice-over): Police stopped traffic, but not the separatist busloads flooding in. Both sides later claim they held the airport, but the fire burning here just as Kiev's new leader calls for peace hints at how Ukraine may be rushing headlong toward collapse.


WALSH: What's most perturbing about today, Brianna, is how simply this morning we thought we had a new diplomatic window of how to fix this crisis, Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president-elect, saying he talked to Moscow, Moscow saying they talked to him back.

He said he would hold out an amnesty to those separatists here who didn't have blood on their hands. We thought maybe things were winding down, then suddenly this violence. It is the worst kind of violence we have seen certainly here in Donetsk, certainly I think for me since the begin of this Ukrainian crisis, though we don't know the numbers of people who lost their lives here, both sides admitting that has been the case, and both sides, bizarrely, too, claiming they control the airport.

The concern is, are we in a new phase, and do the separatist gunmen here who are asserting their authority despite Ukrainian military moving in, in ways we haven't before, do they answer to a political master? Is that Moscow, as Washington and Kiev contend? They say they are basically, these separatist militants, Russian proxies. Is there a potential negotiation ahead or are we seeing things spiraling out of control here, Brianna?

KEILAR: How quickly it seems things may be changing. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

And the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it is reaching a controversial turning point and a possible hiatus that could last for months.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working this story for us.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: So, Brianna, we're just hours away now from getting the raw satellite data families have been pushing for, for months.

Now, it's critical. The search for the missing plane rests solely on this data and where it says the plane entered the water. It's why millions of dollars in resources and manpower have been focused on the South Indian Ocean.

I want you to listen to Malaysia's transport minister today when asked about timeline for the release of the data.




HUSSEIN: Yes. So, wait until tomorrow. What's the hurry? It doesn't matter. The most important is getting to the truth.

MOHSIN: Well, isn't it important to release the data, as promised?

HUSSEIN: Yes, so 24 hours is not going to be -- make that much difference to the truth. Right?


MOHSIN: So we will get the data tomorrow?

HUSSEIN: Hopefully.


MARSH: All right. Well, you heard him there. He sounds or appears a bit nonchalant.

But for the families, the release of this data is really a win. They have been demanding it for months. And critics who say the crews are searching the wrong place, well, they may not be satisfied until they see the data for themselves.

Now, we do expect that it will reveal how and why Malaysian and Australian officials are so confident that the plane is where they have been searching.

As this data gets released, we do know that the hunt for Flight 370 is about to come to a standstill potentially for two months. The underwater drone that we know as Bluefin-21 will finish scouring its designated search zone on Wednesday. If you remember, it's focusing on the area where the underwater signals were detected, those sounds possibly from the plane's black boxes. But after Wednesday, the search may not resume until August. That's when the underwater search vehicles contracted through private companies, we expect that they will pick those companies and that part of the search phase will kick off.

KEILAR: And that does take some time.

Let's bring in now our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director, as well as Peter Goelz, a CNN aviation analyst and former managing director of the NTSB.

What, Tom, are you expecting to see here? Rene was saying, you know, it's basically going to explain how they got their math. Is that all we're expecting?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think so, I think just to see them do their homework and how it was arrived at, the longhand calculations that they used to determine it and the fact that all the experts have examined that same data.

KEILAR: So we're kind of checking the work, if you will, like a math teacher does. Is that what we expect, Peter?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right. But it may or may not help the situation, because aviation experts across the globe are going to cherry-pick some of the data. They're going to challenge some of the assumptions.

This -- you know, more information doesn't necessarily bring clarity.

KEILAR: Wait. Is that bad, though?


KEILAR: Let's say that they diverge for a while and then eventually maybe converge. Is that...

GOELZ: We haven't found anything. So more information, more analysis, let's get as many sets of fresh eyes on this, because we're not going to start again, as Rene said, for two months. Let's take a deep breath and see where we're headed.

KEILAR: So we have been looking now -- well, not we. We have certainly been involved in covering this. But the search for this has gone on since March. From a law enforcement perspective, do the -- does the ability to put together a solid criminal investigation diminish with the passage of this time?

FUENTES: Not necessarily. But they do have to find the plane. Otherwise, they're not going to be able to determine what happened at all.

And I think that's the key problem here is that it's going to be important that, if that data is correct, and all the experts that have looked at it says it is, and says that plane is in the South Indian Ocean, then the next step is, however long it's going to take, get the right equipment out there to do the job, and they haven't done that yet.

KEILAR: So this has taken so much time, Rene, and the families have wanted this released. They have been pleading for this. Why has it taken this long?

MARSH: You know, it's really unclear why it has.

I mean, we saw the back and forth, the Malaysians saying it's for Inmarsat to release it. Then we heard Inmarsat say, no, no.

KEILAR: No, it's them.

MARSH: It's for the Malaysians to release it.

KEILAR: Like fingers pointed.

MARSH: So, we experienced that, and, of course, that wasted a lot of time as well.

But, also, let's think about this. As the Malaysians said, this was an unprecedented event, and they have admitted that they didn't handle it the best way that they possibly could. That being said, I think they were learning as they went along, and the last thing that they probably wanted to invite is, you know, several people sitting on the sidelines saying, you know, picking apart data and saying, no, you should be doing this or you should be doing this.


MARSH: They didn't want that. They wanted to figure out what was going on and maybe digest some of this data for themselves. But they got a lot of heat for not being open. And I think that we're now seeing them respond to the pressure, people saying, we need more transparency, and that's what we're going to get in a matter of hours.

KEILAR: And we're going to see that second-guessing happening, no matter what now.

Rene, Peter, Tom, thanks to all of you for the conversation.

Now, still ahead, former soldiers speak out about their very different experiences with the Veterans Administration, as that agency is rocked by scandal, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel weighing in with some pretty strong remarks. You will hear part of his interview with CNN next.


KEILAR: A day set aside to honor the war dead shadowed by a scandal over how the U.S. is treating its wounded.

The defense secretary weighing in now on the problems with the Veterans Administration. Chuck Hagel told our Jake Tapper that it makes him sick and the problems have to be fixed. Some people have called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign after reports of vets dying while waiting for medical care and allegations of a cover-up. But Hagel hasn't joined that chorus. Here's part of that interview.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You come at the VA controversy, VA scandal from an interesting perspective, because not only are you a veteran. You were once deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration. Are you appalled when you see these stories?

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I suspect I'm not unlike any veteran, or any American.

It makes me sick to my stomach, because it is a clear responsibility we have as a country, as a people, to take care of these men and women and their families who sacrifice so much.

I know systems are imperfect. I mean, I get that. But when you have got what we do know -- and really right -- we do need to get the facts. Let's see exactly what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then we have got to fix it. Then we have to fix it. But, sure, everybody is upset with this.


KEILAR: And CNN's Alina Machado talked with two veterans who have had two very different experiences with VA health care. She's joining us now from a VA facility in Miami.

Tell us about this, Alina.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we actually spent several days talking to several veterans, and those two veterans caught our attention because they're at different stages if their lives and they also offer two very different viewpoints of a system that is now under fire.


MACHADO (voice-over): Thirty-three-year-old Brian Mast lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in 2010.

STAFF SGT. BRIAN MAST (RET.) U.S. ARMY: Happened in a flash. You know, just as quick as you turn on the lights in your home, that's as quick as it happened. It felt like the biggest punch to my face.

MACHADO: Like so many wounded soldiers, he ended up at Walter Reed, the military's hospital for those on active duty. By time he left 18 months later, Mast was walking on new prosthetics.

Just two months ago, he started running. Now that he's retired, he's entitled to care from the VA health system, but chooses not to use it. MAST: The VA facility that I go to, there's basically one day a month to go and get prosthetic care. For somebody that works to have to go on a Thursday one day a month, and that's the only day that you can get there, that's a very inconvenient thing to do.

MACHADO: Eddie Miller is also a veteran. Unlike Brian Mast, he says he depends on the VA.

SGT. EDDIE MILLER (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I did Vietnam. I did three tours in Germany, one in Korea.

MACHADO: Since retiring from the Army in 1992, Miller has struggled with addiction and homelessness.

MILLER: I have gotten everything from them that I have needed, to the point even with my addiction, my drug problem.

MACHADO: Today, he's working to turn his life around. He credits the VA system for helping him get better.

(on camera): You can see the doctor when you need to?

MILLER: I see him every month, because he has hundreds of patients. So, I can see him. And if it's an emergency, yes, I can see either him or the psychiatrist on call.

MACHADO (voice-over): Still, some veterans say they have not had the same experience as Miller. Sources tell CNN at least 40 vets died while waiting to see a doctor with a Phoenix veterans affairs health care system. At least 26 VA facilities are now being investigated by the VA's inspector general over accusations regarding delays in care.

(on camera): Makes you angry?

MAST: Angry beyond words.

MACHADO (voice-over): Mast says he has heard the reports and is calling for change now.

MAST: To think that on Memorial Day, I'm going to have to try to -- I'm going to have to remember veterans that were last to us because they didn't receive care, because they were put on some false waiting list at a Veterans Affairs facility? That's the most dishonorable thing that I can think about.


MACHADO: So can you fix the system? We asked Mast what he thought. He was emphatic if his response. He said absolutely you can. He also said service members are key in helping those men and women who may be falling through the cracks -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Alina, great story. Thank you so much.

Let's bring in now Alex Nicholson. He's the legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization that works with veterans of those wars.

And first off, Alex, you heard President Obama today. He's reiterating this commitment to make good, to make a difference here, to turn things around. But what really needs to be done for him to make good on that?

ALEX NICHOLSON, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: I think one of the first things we need to see is fundamental and substantial reform at the VA.

That includes not only policy and practices, but personnel as well. It's clear that there are problem bureaucrats deep down within VA. There are some problems at the top as well, but I think most people know that there are problems within the VA.

But the secretary has had trouble firing people who've made egregious mistakes, hospital leaderships that have been responsible for patient deaths, cover-ups. Now we're just seeing more and more. This is going to continue.

KEILAR: So basically people who aren't allowing that sort of information that's on the ground to percolate up, so that Secretary Shinseki would know what's going on?

NICHOLSON: That's definitely part of the problem.

And you talk to front-line hospital workers, social workers, counselors, case managers, they can tell you about plenty of the problems at the VA and the suggestions the they have made over the years to try to correct some of these problems. But it doesn't always get up to the secretary.

He's certainly created a culture around him in which his employees sometimes are either not willing or don't feel comfortable or are not able to report information up to him.

KEILAR: Do you see Congress as having any role in a change here?

NICHOLSON: Congress has definitely got to be proactive.

But, you know, this is one time where it's really hard to blame Congress for this problem. I know that tends to be -- you know, it's sort of funny to say that, but Congress has given the VA every penny it has asked for and more. Over the past couple years, when other agencies have had budgets slashed, Congress exempted the VA from sequestration.

There's no doubt that the resources for the VA to serve veterans have been provided. They have just not been handled well.

KEILAR: And on this Memorial Day, I kind of want to ask you a broader question about veterans. We saw President Obama in Afghanistan over the weekend. Many service members have been in war for years now. What is the biggest challenge for veterans now after 13 years of war? NICHOLSON: I think the number one thing we hear from our members who are transitioning out of the service or returning from a deployment is that they have trouble with the folks that they interact with as a civilian understanding what they have been through, their experiences, the gravity of their experiences, how it's changed them, and there's just a disconnect.

The military/civilian divide continues to be the biggest issue that new vets struggle with these days.

KEILAR: So, how do you bridge that? How do you tell -- how do you let civilians who maybe don't know a service member, don't understand, how do you get through to them so that they understand?

NICHOLSON: To be perfectly honest, I think segments like this, having Memorial Day every day, having Veterans Day every day is one way to start.

People have got to realize that the men and women, the 1 percent who put their lives on the line, have done a lot, and you have got to integrate that more into your daily lives, into businesses hiring vets. It's just got to become a greater part of our society.

KEILAR: Yes. Think about them in your daily decisions.

Alex, thank you so much for the great conversation.

NICHOLSON: You're very welcome.

KEILAR: Now we do want to go now to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

She met an amazing veteran.

And, Barbara, I just -- just tell us this. This is one of the most inspiring stories that I have seen today. Tell us about it.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, set aside everything you think you know about an American veteran and meet Travis Mills.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. You're above the line. Let's go.

STARR (voice-over): Travis Mills is determined today to shave time off his run on the treadmill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to the right.

STARR: And he is doing it with no arms or legs.

STAFF SGT. TRAVIS MILLS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: How I survived, I have no idea. I was yelling at the medic to get away from me because I thought I was done. I wasn't freaking out or anything, just accepted the fact that this could be it. STARR: Far from it.

Even though he lost all of his limbs when an IED exploded under him in Afghanistan and he spent months at Walter Reed Hospital, he quickly started to living his motto, to never give up, to never quit. He would bring his infant daughter, Chloe, to his workouts. There was never any sitting around.

MILLS: I couldn't sit around, stew about it. I was 26, got stuff to do, might as well do it.

STARR: Now he says it is all for Chloe and his wife, Kelsey.

MILLS: Look at this technology. How neat is it? You can lose both arms and legs and still walk, I'm running today. I snowboard. I go downhill biking. It is wild.

STARR: Travis also recently jumped out of an airplane with the Army Golden Knights parachute team. He insists despite three tours full of firefights and his injuries, he does not have post-traumatic stress, but he has a rare determination.

MILLS: It is where the rubber meets the road. I put personal friends in body bags and they're not here. I am. And that is just, how selfish -- how selfish would it be if I gave up?

STARR: Travis is doing more than just living life. He is trying to buy a camp in Maine for wounded troops. And he knows public support for the war itself is in decline, but he won't talk politics.

MILLS: I know what I did over there it meant something. The first time you go, you want excitement. The second time, you know they got your back. The third time, I called up, had them canceled so I could go for the third time, because I had a great group of guys. I did not want to leave them stranded. There was no way.

STARR: And no way does Travis want you to worry about him.

MILLS: And the wounded warrior, I was wounded, I will give you that. But now I'm not. I'm not wounded anymore. I mean, it's likely at you, you're wounded. Wounded means I'm still hurt. I'm not hurt. I'm fine. So -- once upon a time I was a wounded warrior, but now I'm healed.

So, I'm just like -- I'm just a guy living life.

There we go.


STARR: Brianna, Travis Mills' motto, never give up, never quit, the motto for so many American veterans on this Memorial Day -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And I know, Barbara, that, today, you were at Arlington cemetery. Tell us about what it was like to be there. STARR: Well, we go almost every year here at CNN, because it's so important for Americans and for us to be able to show Americans what happens at Arlington, just one little slice of what happens at military cemeteries across the country.

We saw so many young children once again, as every year it happens, being brought there to pay their respects by their parents, young widows bringing infants in their arms, just really a place where you see the course of American military history.

We focus a lot on Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, but this is the place where you see that long line back into American history of Vietnam, the Korean War, World War II, World War I; 400,000 Americans have called -- now Arlington is their final resting place -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara, thanks so much.

And just ahead, privacy concerns over remarkable technology helped police fight deadly crimes from thousands of feet in the air.

Plus, new details of extraordinary comments by Pope Francis, speaking out about the sex abuse scandal that has rocked his church.


KEILAR: You're about to see some remarkable video of some deadly crimes. What makes the images so amazing is that they were recorded from a plane thousands of feet overhead.

And CNN's Brian Todd is here with a closer look. This is pretty fascinating stuff.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brianna. You know, this technology, this surveillance technology is so powerful it can track a person from two miles up and can cover 25 square miles at once. It's enough to make you feel like you're constantly being watched, but for law enforcement, this can be like having a slow-motion replay button to track back any crime scene.


TODD (voice-over): You're watching a murder unfold. Look at the cursor toward the bottom. In an instant, the suspect approaches, fires. The victim's down. The killer sprints off. This 2009 gangland shooting in Juarez, Mexico, was captured from 10,000 feet, about 2 miles up.

ROSS MCNUTT, PERSISTENT SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS: You can see a whole group of people here reacting to the shot. They come over and look at the victim. Then they run down the alleyway, actually after the shooter.

TODD: From their specially-equipped Cessnas, Ross McNutt and his firm, Persistent Surveillance Systems, can monitor large sections of cities. Because they're in the air for hours at a time, they can track back to the moment of a crime and before it. In Juarez... MCNUTT: They meet up three to four times prior to the murder including one time right outside the murder scene.

TODD: In the moments afterward...

MCNUTT: We actually can follow all of the cars. We're going to jump over and follow the car that the shooter got into and see where he goes to.

TODD: They tie in a Google Earth street view image to show police the house where the suspect went to hide. McNutt's team helped police make arrests in that shooting.

MCNUTT: We've actually witnessed three or four murders so far, and we've actually had confessions that account for 75.

TODD: Also in Juarez, McNutt's team captured the murder of a female police officer, circled in red. You dread it as you see her unable to outrun her killers.

MCNUTT: She was shot six times in the head and shoulders. We literally watch her run into this parked car here.

TODD: McNutt says they can pick out suspects by looking for strange behavioral patterns. Right after murders, the suspects in Juarez, he says, like many others...

MCNUTT: They drive like idiots: running red lights, swerving around people.

TODD: McNutt's team has monitored other high-crime cities: Compton, California; Philadelphia; Baltimore. They can replicate their operations center in Dayton, Ohio, anywhere.

(on camera): In a typical operation, law-enforcement officers will sit in this area monitoring a police scanner. When a call comes in that a crime's been committed, these analysts immediately start to track back when and where it occurred. And sometimes, they can catch up to a suspect in real time.

(voice-over): Dayton, 2012. They get word of a burglary, track the suspect in the white truck as he's getting away, and direct police right to him. Dayton's police chief says the technologies helped his depleted force.

CHIEF RICHARD DIEHL, DAYTON, OHIO, POLICE: Allows us to gain data on criminal offenses for which there are often not witnesses and clearly police officers are not there to prevent.

TODD: But privacy advocates say this smacks of Big Brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They might have actually crossed a line. This creates the opportunity after the fact to look at anybody for any reason.

MCNUTT: We're responding in support of law enforcement to reported crimes only.

TODD: And, McNutt says, they closely monitor their own analysts to make sure they're only tracking suspects.


TODD: Despite the controversy, Ross McNutt says police departments in at least ten different cities around the world are interested in buying his system to use on a permanent basis -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And you were saying before that just from that one, the images you were seeing of that one gangland murder in Juarez, maybe they solved that crime or they had evidence of that, but it led to a whole bunch of other information.

TODD: It really did. Just from that one gangland murder that they captured, Persistent Surveillance Systems tracked back through that video. They found two locations where drug cartels were operating from. They found 12 locations where the killers had been. They tracked 12 cars that were used in that crime. It opens up this web of information that they can track back and solve a lot of other potential crimes and get other potential suspects.

KEILAR: Fascinating. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Just ahead, new details about Pope Francis' surprise invitation to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him at the Vatican. He reveals what will be and what won't be on the agenda.

And the USS Cole returns to New York City. Why this visit is so poignant.


KEILAR: Breaking news right now. Pope Francis has just returned from his extraordinary visit to the Middle East, and on the way back, he made some extraordinary comments. He spoke about his invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come and pray for peace in the Vatican, and he made some stunning remarks on sex abuse within the clergy.

CNN's senior Vatican analyst John Allen traveled with the pope, just got off the plane. He is live with us from Rome, and with us here in Washington is CNN belief blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi.

John, I'm going to go to you first, because one of the stunning things that we heard was that the pope announced that he would hold a mass at the Vatican with sex abuse victims. How significant is this?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Brianna, I think it's hugely significant.

Now, let's be clear. It will not be the first time a pope has met sex abuse victims. Pope Benedict XVI held several such encounters, the first of which came in the United States in April 2008. But this will be the first time that Francis has met with a group of sex-abuse victims, and the fact that he has not yet done so over the first 15 months of his papacy has been a source of criticism among some who were concerned about whether or not he got it.

He's indicated he is, in fact, going to hold this meeting. He said it's going to take place in early June, although we're hearing it may actually be somewhat later than that, but quite quickly. He said it's going to be a group of six to eight victims. He said they'll come from places such as Ireland, Germany, the United Kingdom.

He plans to invite them to his residence at the Doma Santa Marta, the hotel on Vatican grounds where he decided to live rather than the papal apartment. He'll say a mass there in the chapel of Santa Marta, and then he will hold a private meeting with them.

Also present is going to be Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who was the architect of that 2008 meeting with victims with Benedict. He's also played a role on this one. He is widely seen as a reformer on the sex abuse issue and he's also a member of the pope's new commission for the protection of minors.

So, I think this is a clear indication that Francis is trying to get the message out that he gets it about the need to confront the church's abuse scandals, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And, Eric, the pope also said something that kind of stuck out to me. He talked about the resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, which was obviously so -- I mean, strange to us. We hadn't seen this in centuries. He said it was not an isolated case.

What does he mean by this?

ERIC MARRAPODI, BELIEF BLOG: Well, I think he's opening the door to suggest he might resign one day. Keep in mind both Benedict watched John Paul II become ill while he was a pope and suffer from a long time with Parkinson's. So, with Benedict resigning, he sort of opens this door theologically within the Catholic Church to say, yes, it's OK for a pope who gets very ill to step aside like we saw with Benedict.

So, I don't think Francis is going to hang it up tomorrow. He's obviously got a lot of work to do. But, certainly, he's opening the door to do this down the line.

KEILAR: And he is such a busy, busy pope, as we've been watching him now. In the presser today, he clarified the invitation to leaders in the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority and of Israel. He said it would be a meeting of prayer.

So what do we take that to mean? But also I mean, that doesn't diminish how significant this is, right?

MARRAPODI: No, it certainly doesn't diminish the significance. What I think it does mean is don't look for Pope Francis to bring a pencil and map to this meeting and start drawing lines. I think he wants this to be a meeting of prayer as a way to sort of continue the dialogue to keep things moving along.

He said some comments of what he might think could happen in the Middle East but deferred and said, no, this is a meeting of prayer between these two leaders of Israel and Palestine.

KEILAR: And, John, I mean, when you look at this, this was just something that had all of our eyes so wide as we heard he had said this. What are you thinking the expectations are out of this meeting?

ALLEN: Well, I think there are many who are quite despondent about the current state of hope for Middle East peace after the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to restart the process. I interviewed a cardinal this morning, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington and a veterans sort of informal Vatican troubleshooter.

I asked him does Francis risk his political credibility by creating a meeting in which people are expecting something to result from it? And there's a very realistic possibility that it might not.

Cardinal McCarrick's answer was that the pope is not following the logic of politics. He's following the logic of the Lord. He said he's not putting himself out on a limb. He's putting himself up at the cross and that's precisely what he's called to do.

KEILAR: And maybe there are less expectations I wonder to John point's, Eric, if he is sort of -- it's sort of a meeting where maybe it's almost like a get to know you. No, we're just going to have a -- we'll just hang out, we'll have some prayer.

MARRAPODI: Yes, I mean, keep in mind, Pope Francis comes into this position through the pastoral track in the Catholic Church. He was head of the Jesuits in Argentina and archbishop of Buenos Aires. He did not come through a diplomatic track within the Vatican. He was not in those meeting as a diplomat until he became the pope and was the head of the city-state.

So, as John points out, there could be a bit of a learning curve here he's still working with as he gets up to speed on geopolitics, but a lot of expectations.

KEILAR: Yes. We'll be watching.

Eric and John Allen, thank you so much to both of you.

Now, just ahead, a ship and a city both attacked by terrorists, now back together. We'll go to New York for the bittersweet return of the USS Cole.


KEILAR: We're following the breaking news: severe weather in parts of Texas. And meteorologist Karen Maginnis is tracking all of it for us.

Karen, the latest from you? KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, still two tornadoes watches, but the one lying right along the Gulf Coast is kind of slowly eroding. That tells us that there's more moisture and we're seeing likelihood of tornadoes, although it is still in effect across a good portion of that Houston, Texas area, and the coastal regions around Corpus Christi. This other one is a little more dangerous, as we go through the evening hours. This goes until 11:00 Central Time.

Let's give you a closer view as to what's happening right now. We've got those thunderstorms and there are now two tornado warnings. This in area just to the south of Stanton, Texas, and Big Spring. These cells are moving to the east and to the southeast. But it is probable that we could see tornadic activity associated with this. This particular warning goes for about the six minutes or so.

This other went along interstate 20, goes for about the next 15 or 20 minutes, so be aware of tornado warning for that area. That means condition -- that means something has been spotted whereas a watch means conditions are favorable.

The big problem across Houston now is the rain, heavy volumes of rainfall.

Brianna, already some reports coming out in excess of five inches of rain since this cell kick up about two or so hours ago. So, flooded streets across this region. Some thunderstorm damage could have some minor tornadic damage. But, Brianna, we don't have any reports of any injuries.

Back to you.

KEILAR: And how much rain are we thinking here in the next few hours, Karen?

MAGINNIS: Well, we're going to measure this over days. Not just for the rest of this evening. There could be several more inches. But even going into tomorrow, and a little bit further towards the east, coming up for Wednesday, where you see these green shaded areas, pretty much all the way from Odessa and Midland to San Antonio, Austin, and into Houston. These are the areas that could primarily see that heavy rainfall, some accumulation could be up to eight inches over the next several days.

KEILAR: Oh, wow. Yes, and you could see it on those pictures on the right. Amazing.

Karen Maginnis, thank you so much.

Now, this Memorial Day finds the USS Cole back in New York, for the first time since the al Qaeda attack that killed 17 of her sailors.

CNN's Miguel Marquez visited the ship and the crew.

Miguel, what does this holiday mean to the USS Cole? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very special for the Cole because it has a special relationship with New York City as well. The last time it was in New York was for Fleet Week a few months before it was attacked, about a year and a half before the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is a guided missile destroyer able to project power around the world. It's also one of the most famous or infamous ships in the U.S. fleet. October 12, 2000, the Cole was attacked by al Qaeda as it ported in Yemen. The suicide mission using a small boat and hundreds of pounds of explosives, 17 sailors died, 39 injured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you see here on the floor, there are 17 gold stars, one for each member who perished that day.

MARQUEZ: On board, reminders of that day everywhere.

(on camera): So, everywhere you go around the ship these things exist.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Porters cramped and luxuries lacking. The Cole's history, a source of strength. Its skipper, Commander Dennis Farrell.

CMDR. DENNIS FARRELL, U.S. NAVY: We live on the shoulders of the sailors who came before us. The 17 who lost their lives, allowed us to sail on this mighty ship.

MARQUEZ: The last time the Cole was in New York, May 2000. This picture hanging in the Commander Farrell's cabin captured a moment before any of the history that changed everything.

(on camera): Before the Twin Towers were attacked.

FARRELL: That's right, 11 months before 9/11. We came back resilient, a strong force. And a force ready to go back into battle, resilient, just like the men and women of New York.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The determined warrior named for Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant. Darrell Cole will ship out for another long deployment this summer.


MARQUEZ: Now, the two things that are really interesting about it, the stars, the gold stars that you see there are in the lunchroom. The lunchroom lined for the Cole because that's where the attack was. No one steps on them, despite the fact that they are right underfoot where they get their trays. And they go along the lunch lines.

The other thing that's amazing is all those placards around the ship. It's so touching to see the placards of these young people who still exist right next to the areas where they work on that ship -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, and they will never be forgotten. What a special moment for USS Cole and also for New Yorkers and those visiting who get a chance to see it. Miguel Marquez, thank you.

And now, we want to remind you about a special show that's coming soon to CNN. It's a new series from executive producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. It's "The Sixties: The Decade that Changed the World". The space race, Cold War, free love, civil rights and more. Be sure to set your DVR or watch it live for the premier, that's Thursday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

And remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Just tweet me @BriKeilarCNN, and tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Be sure to join us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks you very much. I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM.