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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Legal Team Trying to Undermine Mueller Probe; Hurricane Targets Gulf Coast; Interview With Congressman Ted Lieu; Storm Emergences in Three States As Alberto Hits Land; Epic Flash Floods Hit Maryland Town: At Least One Missing; Pilot in Alleged Plot to Kidnap, Deport Chinese Flight Student. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 28, 2018 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:03]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And state of emergency. Epic flooding flipping cars, ravaging homes in Maryland, while tens of millions of people along the Gulf Coast are at risk from the first storm of the hurricane season. It just hit land. CNN covering all the breaking news on dangerous weather.

And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, as President Trump has been carrying out one of his solemn duties as commander in chief, his lawyer has been talking openly about Mr. Trump's efforts to undermine the Russia probe and the possibility that he will be impeached.

We're following it all, Rudy Giuliani's eye-popping interview with CNN as well, as the president's Memorial Day weekend activities. They have been punctuated by tweets against his political enemies and the special counsel investigation.

This hour, I will talk with Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a member of the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents, analysts are also standing by for us.

First, I want to go to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.

And, Pamela, the president was at Arlington National Cemetery today, which is customary, but the Russia investigation really never seemed to be far from his mind.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna.

As President Trump continues to attack the Mueller investigation, even on this Memorial Day, his own attorney Rudy Giuliani made this stunning admission that part of the strategy in undermining the probe is to sway public opinion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): President Trump commemorating Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a very special day, and today our whole country thanks you, embraces you, and pledges to you, we will never forget our heroes.

BROWN: After tweeting about the holiday while touting his own accomplishments, writing: "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades. Lowest unemployment numbers for blacks and Hispanics ever and women in 18 years, rebuilding our military and so much more. Nice."

Trump also attacking the Russia probe on Twitter, after his lawyer Rudy Giuliani ratcheted up the rhetoric over the weekend by saying the probe is no longer legitimate.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This is rigged. I mean, you have got 13 Democrats. You have got a focus on things that didn't happen. No Russia collusion, no obstruction, just defending yourself. And now we're into the basis of it being illegitimate.

BROWN: Giuliani arguing on Sunday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" the ongoing attacks are necessary to influence public opinion.

GIULIANI: I couldn't do it if I didn't have the material. They are giving us the material to do it. Of course, we have to do it in defending the president. We are defending -- to a large extent, remember, Dana, we are defending here, it is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach.

Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American -- as it should be -- is the American people.

BROWN: And Giuliani is still wary of Mueller interviewing Trump.

GIULIANI: The collusion part, we are pretty comfortable with, because there has been none. The obstruction part, I'm not as comfortable with. I'm not.

BROWN: Because, as Giuliani suggests, Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and his comments thereafter could be misconstrued.

GIULIANI: I am not comfortable, because it is a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast, true, not true.

If you interpret that as obstructing the investigation, as opposed to removing a guy who was doing a bad job, on the recommendation, in part, of Rosenstein, but you see it as obstructing the investigation, then you can say it is obstruction. BROWN: While Mueller has remained silent on his strategy, his team has brought charges against 22 people and companies and secured five guilty pleas. And while many of those are tied to Russian interference in the U.S. election, so far, none have included potential obstruction between Trump associates and Russia.

Meantime, tonight, a U.S. delegation has arrived in North Korea, the administration preparing for a potential summit after President Trump abruptly called it off last week.

TRUMP: A lot of people are working on it. It's moving along very nicely. So we're looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn't changed. And it's moving along pretty well. So we will see what happens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And President Trump spoke by phone this morning with Japanese Prime Minister Abe about the expected North Korea summit. The White House says the two leaders will be meeting again before the summit happens.

And, Brianna, President Trump remains confident that it can be pulled off by June 12, even though there are some major details that still need to be worked out, not just logistics, but also some key agreements on big issues between the U.S. and North Korea. We will have to wait and see what happens here -- Brianna.

[18:05:00]

KEILAR: Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you so much.

I do want to talk more about the Trump legal team strategy when it comes to the special counsel's investigation.

We're joined by CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez on this topic.

So, Rudy Giuliani suggests -- he is suggesting this is a political strategy for the Trump team, as opposed to a legal one.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's almost like Rudy's inside voice was like coming out.

And, look, we have been talking about this amongst ourselves, people who cover this investigation. And we have been saying this on our air, that this appears to be a public strategy, a P.R. strategy, and less of a legal strategy.

And Rudy just came out and pretty much said that. And it's clear that they have a point of view that is essentially aimed at convincing the public and members of Congress down the road. They are expecting that Robert Mueller's report, wherever that comes out, is going to be very damning, very bad for the president.

It's really stunning, though, because members of the president's legal team, the other members of the legal team, have been reluctant to even entertain any of this. The word impeachment, for instance, any time you even think of bringing it up...

KEILAR: They won't say it.

PEREZ: They don't want to talk about it.

KEILAR: Yes.

PEREZ: But Rudy just went there.

KEILAR: He went there, indeed, as he does so often, it seems. He also talked about just the legitimacy of the entire special counsel's investigation, having to do with the firing of Jim Comey. I mean, that was pretty stunning.

PEREZ: Right, it is.

But, look, it's a theory, that legal theory that's been tested already. The defense team that's representing Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign, has already tested this with a lawsuit, a civil lawsuit, as well as motions in the criminal case, the charges that he's facing here in Washington and in Virginia.

And so far, judges have found that Robert Mueller was legitimately appointed, that this was a legal appointment. So it's not really something that's going to really hold water in the long-term. They're going to end up -- as Giuliani has pointed out, they're going end to up fighting this in the court of public opinion, because they know that, in the courts, in the real courts, that's not going to fly.

KEILAR: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. Great report.

And joining me now is Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us today.

And, as you know, the policy right now that the Department of Justice has, it says that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Does Rudy Giuliani just -- is he just sort of speaking the truth here when he says that, ultimately, this does come down to Congress and the American public? Because this really may not be an issue of a sitting president being indicted. It's impeachment, right?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, thank you, Brianna, for that question.

I'm a former prosecutor. And I know that when the defense team doesn't have a good argument, what they do is put the police on trial. They attack law enforcement. That's what we're seeing right now, because the defense team for President Trump really does not have a good argument.

And they're scared of what the report from Robert Mueller is going to show. By the way, former White House counsel, two of them, wrote an op-ed recently, saying that the president, in fact, can be indicted. So, I think that's an open question, still. KEILAR: But, as a former prosecutor, you know that it sometimes works

when the defense takes on the police. You know that that can be effective.

LIEU: It can be. That's why the defense counsel will do that sometimes, when they don't have the evidence.

But, in this case, I do trust the American people to see what the actual evidence is and to see what the crimes are, if any, that were committed. We already know that there were five guilty pleas, so people have committed crimes already. Now we're going to see how high up the Trump campaign did these crimes go.

KEILAR: Robert Mueller could actually ask the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, for an exemption from that policy if he believes that the circumstances are extraordinary here.

Do you see any situation where that could happen?

LIEU: We would have to see what the evidence is that Robert Mueller uncovered, but we know from public reporting that the special counsel has access to a lot of information.

They have tapes from Spanish -- the country of Spain, when they were recording interviews that had to do with Donald Trump Jr. So, there's just a lot of information the special counsel has, and we will see what that's going to produce when the counsel produces that report.

KEILAR: I want to -- I do want to be clear. CNN has not confirmed that report, just to put that out there. We have been looking into that. We have not confirmed it.

Do you think that the special counsel should be looking for a way to challenge that policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted?

LIEU: I think the special counsel should look at the U.S. Constitution. There's nothing in our Constitution that says a president cannot be indicted.

But let's just take a step back. Why are we even talking about this? This is pretty amazing stuff, right? We're talking about impeachment, about indictment. So why don't we wait to see what the report is that special counsel Mueller puts out and what he actually does? And I think it's best that we wait to see what the actual evidence is.

[18:10:07]

KEILAR: I want to turn now to North Korea.

It's looking like the summit between the president and Kim Jong-un may be back on track. Do you expect it to happen? Are you optimistic that anything can be achieved here?

LIEU: I hope it happens.

I formerly served on active duty under U.S. Pacific Command. It's very clear the United States has exactly zero good military options against the North Korean regime. That's why diplomacy must always be our first option. I'm glad it's taking center stage. And I hope it happens.

I don't think June 12 is any sort of magical date. It will be great if it happens on that date. But if it's pushed back a little bit later, that will be fine as well.

KEILAR: Is there any reason to believe that things are different this time around when it comes to North Korea? There have been so many false starts in recent years.

LIEU: There have been. And if you look at North Korea, they have had periods where they will open up and interact with democracies and then they will pull back. They will say one thing, they will do another. They will lie. They will take actions that are inconsistent.

But at least, if we can start the diplomacy and we can start on a path to denuclearization, then we should at least give that a try. And maybe we will have something different, because we do have a new North Korean leader that's different, perhaps, than his predecessors.

KEILAR: When you see summits like this or slightly even akin to this, the process is different, right? You normally see a lot of work on the front end, lower level, hashing out details.

And then when you see leaders meet, they tend to be blessing an agreement that has happened, right?

That's not what's happening here. This is -- this is leaders who are meeting. They may not achieve a lot. It sounds like the expectations are awfully low and that this may just be a moment for them to, in a way, show some sort of commitment to doing something. Is that problematic?

LIEU: That is a good point.

And it does feel somewhat rushed, what's happening right now, trying to make this June 12 date. And, again, to me, that's not a magical date. If they need more time, I think they should push it off if they need more time.

But I do think having the president and North Korean leader sit down together is a good thing. You have to start somewhere. And if you want to have a denuclearization deal, that's going to take a long time. There's a lot of steps. And it's a whole process.

But you have to begin it at some point. I think a summit would be a good place to start beginning those discussions.

KEILAR: So you're OK with there being no preconditions laid out for the summit?

LIEU: Absolutely.

I just want this summit to happen, because I want negotiations and dialogue and diplomacy. We need to at least try that first before we contemplate any sort of military conflict against a regime for which we have no good military options.

KEILAR: So, you mentioned, you were active duty. You were an Air Force officer. You're actually a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, as I understand it, right now.

And this is an important day today, on Memorial Day, and we thank you for being with us on this day, sir.

I know you spoke this morning. We were talking off-camera and you said that you spoke at the Los Angeles Memorial Cemetery. You actually spoke about World War I and some of the contributions that women made in World War I, which a lot of people might not be aware of.

As you're experiencing this day, you know, what's on your mind as a veteran?

LIEU: Thank you, Brianna, for raising that issue.

Today, we honor those brave men and women who served our military and gave their lives in service of America.

And I'm glad you mentioned World War I. It is the centennial. The armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. And we honor the sacrifices that Americans made. Over 100,000 died. Over 200,000 were wounded. And it was also the first conflict in which -- actually, the first ever where U.S. women joined the U.S. military, and they were 13,000 who enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the time.

KEILAR: There's -- a lot of people spend this day, you know, certainly enjoying a long weekend, but it's really -- it's about so much more.

I know that that's something that you understand well, having served in the military. As you reflect on this day, you know, what's been on your mind?

LIEU: So, one thing on my mind is that we need to understand that all members of the military have to do one thing before they can enter service, to take an oath to the United States Constitution.

And, at the end of the day, that's what we're honoring. The people who made their sacrifices made their sacrifices to defend our Constitution. And today is not just important for those who are fallen, but also for the principles that Americans stand for.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Ted Lieu, we appreciate you joining us from Southern California. Thank you.

[18:15:01]

LIEU: Thank you, Brianna. KEILAR: And just ahead: Will the president's political strategy

against Robert Mueller protect him from impeachment? We're going to unpack all the new claims and revelations by Rudy Giuliani.

And also this. We are tracking the danger from historic flooding, and from the first storm of the hurricane season as well, which just hit land a short time ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Tonight, the president's lawyer is admitting to what Trump critics have believed for some time now.

[18:20:00]

Rudy Giuliani says the attacks on the special counsel's probe are designed to discredit the Russia probe with a political endgame in mind, swaying public opinion against impeachment.

We're joined now by our political, legal, and national security analysts to talk about this.

Susan Hennessey, these attacks on Mueller, are they in and of themselves data points towards a case that can be built when it comes to obstruction, or no?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I don't think they go to sort of -- they're not acts of legal obstruction in and of themselves.

What they do go to is the broader motive here, and that is that President Trump clearly doesn't want the facts to come out. And that does speak to a general motivation, a general corrupt intent here. You know, it is somebody acting like they have something to hide.

KEILAR: How is it different than when you think back to the Clinton era, and there was special counsel and there was a big P.R. campaign against the special counsel? How is this different?

HENNESSEY: So, I think that this is part of the Clinton Starr playbook. And that was that you discredit the investigator, you discredit the investigation, such that it doesn't matter what the ultimate report says.

You have already discredited it, no matter what it -- no matter what comes out. And so clearly there are a lot of differences between that investigation and this one here. But I do think that's the playbook that we're seeing followed.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think -- could I just jump in on that question?

KEILAR: Yes.

LIZZA: I think that's a really important question is, is there a difference? And, remember, the Clinton investigation was under the independent counsel law, not the special counsel regulations. And there was a bipartisan consensus after that investigation that this law gave too much power to the prosecutor.

You know, I think there were important -- some important differences between the two investigations. The Whitewater investigation started as an investigation into Vince Foster's murder and the Whitewater land deal.

KEILAR: And a land deal. A land deal, that's what we forget. And it ended up...

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: And it expanded -- it was -- the expansion was authorized by a three-judge panel. And it ended up, of course, investigating the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.

But it's absolutely true that the Clinton White House generated a lot of negative stories about Ken Stars and argued it was a sort of partisan witch-hunt. But that doesn't mean both are the same. I think it depends a lot on how much you view this as a more legitimate investigation than the Whitewater investigation.

KEILAR: David, it was really interesting to hear Rudy Giuliani talk. He said he's fine with the president speaking more about Russia because there was no collusion. He said he's not worried about that part.

He says he isn't comfortable with the topic of obstruction, because he says the president's comments about firing Comey could be misconstrued.

The president is -- just to remind people, the president, when he spoke to NBC News shortly after firing Comey, he said it was, "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: So, Bri, what seems pretty clear in recent weeks is that the White House legal team is trying to set up this idea that you can't sort of prosecute someone for obstruction of justice if there's no underlying crime to obstruct.

Most legal experts, I would say, don't agree with that. But I think this is one avenue that the legal team is going down. I will also just point out, though, that it is not hard to construe the president's meaning on why he fired James Comey.

In addition to the Lester Holt interview, in addition to common sense, you have the letter, the May 9 letter sent from President Trump to James Comey, when he fired him that day, saying, while I appreciate the fact that you told me three times I wasn't under investigation, nevertheless, I'm still firing you, et cetera, et cetera.

So that -- it would be a stretch to say that that wasn't at least part of the reason. KEILAR: And he told the Russians in the Oval Office it took the

pressure off of him.

There's so many data points, right?

Sam Vinograd, the president is promoting what is an unfounded conspiracy theory, that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign. That's causing a lot of concern among lawmakers. You have some Republicans who are indulging him on this. Some are not.

Let's listen to Senator Jeff Flake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I can tell you, behind the scenes, there is a lot of alarm. There is concern that the president is laying the groundwork to move on Bob Mueller or Rosenstein. And, if that were to happen, obviously, that would cause a constitutional crisis. There is concern behind the scenes.

I have been concerned that we haven't spoken up loudly enough and told the president, you simply can't go there. And he's obviously probing the edges, as much as he can, to see how far Congress will go. And we have got to push back harder than we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, Jeff Flake is not running for reelection, so he's not imperiling a reelection by saying what he's saying.

Other Republicans might be. And he's describing that, Sam, it's behind the scenes. A lot of it is not public, the pushback.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly, Bri.

But I think the issue here is, what I'm struck by when I listen to these stories is, Putin's not having a whole lot of buyer's remorse today.

[18:25:01]

When he listens to the president and the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, spread propaganda -- and that's what this whole supposed spy gate conspiracy theory is -- it's propaganda. It's derogatory information to serve a political purpose.

I think what Putin's hearing is that Giuliani and the president are spreading the kind of conspiracy theories that we would typically expect the Russians to. And, of course, members of both sides of the aisle should speak out and say, we got a briefing, there's no there there.

But so, too, should members of the national security team who are trying to work to protect our country from an ongoing Russian attack. And we have the president and the president's lawyer really propagating the very messages that make us more vulnerable to Russia's mission to undercut our institutions and diminish the credibility of our democracy.

KEILAR: What do you say -- some of those folks, Sam, must feel like they are working behind the scenes on this. But, you know, in your belief, is that enough?

VINOGRAD: I don't know that it's enough anymore, because we have this propaganda campaign that's being pushed by the president and his lawyer.

And that's what Russian trolls and Russian bots and the millions of people that follow the president and watch cable news are hearing. And so I think it's something if they're working behind the scenes. But if you're an intelligence officer trying to work to counter Russian information warfare, and the biggest person pushing that out right now is the president of the United States or Rudy Giuliani, that really complicates your job.

KEILAR: Indeed.

All right, I'm going to have you guys stick around. We have so much more to talk about.

North Korea, the summit, is it on, is it off? The president ramping up pressure to make his summit with Kim Jong-un happen after all. We're going to tell you about the urgent negotiations and preparations under way.

Also, this: We're following devastating flooding in Maryland and also a tropical storm threat along the Gulf Coast. Stand by for new information from the CNN Weather Center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, there's a lot of new movement aimed at reviving what -- the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, including a U.S. delegation that is now on the ground in North Korea.

[18:31:45] Let's bring in our CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski to talk about this.

How likely is it, Michelle, that this summit is actually going to happen on June 12 as planned?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.

Well, there are several things going for it at this point. Not the least of which is what seems to be President Trump's determination to have this happen. So that puts pressure on these two American teams that are now in the region and ready -- ready to talk, already having discussions. One in the Demilitarized Zone in North Korea. The other in Singapore.

And remember, it was just two weeks ago that a U.S. team that went to Singapore was full-on stood up by the North Koreans, who wouldn't even answer their calls. President Trump seemed to make a right move by stepping away, then.

That brought the North Koreans back to the table in saying that they're willing to sit down with the Americans anytime and in any way. That shows you how much the North Korean side wants this meeting to happen.

So with both sides seemingly all in in making it happen, that leaves us to a big question of who has the upper hand in negotiations here? Who has more leverage? And is this going to be a meeting just to have a meeting, which is still something, or is this going to actively move the ball towards the stated U.S. goal of complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization?

Is the U.S. now willing to accept even slightly less than it initially was, just to get the North Koreans to the table? And remember, we still don't know what the North Koreans are willing to give up right away. This is all what we're going to be looking at over the next several days, Brianna.

KEILAR: Do we know how North Korea is -- is viewing the possibility of denuclearization?

KOSINSKI: Well, we know it's been going on over the last several weeks. Even two weeks ago, our sources who regularly talk to North Korea were saying they couldn't imagine how this summit could happen, because the gap was so wide on how each side saw denuclearization happening and what exactly the breadth of it would be.

North Korea wants it to be slow and phased and each time they take a step, they get something in return. The Americans insisting that this be rapid and not take forever. So it remains to be seen how in this short amount of time that gap gets bridged, if at all.

So this could very well just be a sit-down and let's have a meeting. Again, that would still be historic. It would still be something. But everybody is still watching that long game and what this means, because the South Koreans say that the North Koreans are committed to denuclearization, but we don't really have the parameters at this point, what does that mean, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thank you so much.

I want to get back now to our panel. Ryan Lizza, David Swerdlick, do you think this is going to happen? This summit?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is. If you look at all the -- the statements from South Korea, the Chinese, the North Koreans and now in the White House, they all seem to want this to happen.

One interesting wrinkle today was that the Japanese, which are the most hardline and the most skeptical about the North Koreans and have really pushed Trump to take -- take some other issues into account, the hostages, the Japanese hostages that are in North Korea, and most importantly, the short-range ballistic missiles that North Korea has, they want Trump to put that stuff on the table. They want Trump to realize Japanese interests.

[18:35:11] Trump and Shinzo Abe talked today. They're actually going to meet before the summit. And I think Shinzo Abe is trying to be that last person in the room to talk to Trump before he sits down with the North Korean leader and makes sure that the Japanese don't get sold out.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Ryan --

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with Ryan, Bri, but what I was just going to say is that I think that the meeting could happen, probably will happen. But what we're seeing is two elaborate rope-a-dope maneuvers going on simultaneously. President Trump with his letter canceling last week was sort of trying to make it look like it was harder to wrangle the North Koreans to the table. The North Koreans similarly want to make it look like they wrangled President Trump to the table. And everybody's fuel is being used up on the idea of "We got the other side to the table." To your point, Prime Minister Abe is looking at this like, "Actually, we need to talk about something substantive," but by the time we get there, that might not be possible.

KEILAR: And Sam Vinograd, can you speak to -- having been so involved in the summit between President Obama and the Chinese president a few years back, it's just so stunning how the -- or it's just a different order here. Normally, there's all of this work that's done on the front end, and then the leaders get together. This is -- this is sort of frontloaded with these two leaders meeting, assuming it happens.

VINOGRAD: Exactly, it is. And we just have the reality that we now know that discussions between the North Koreans and the United States took a hiatus for a week or two. The North Koreans were not receiving our calls. So when we ask ourselves how we're still meeting on June 12, we know that we lost at least two weeks of planning. And when I was involved in preparations for the Sunnylands Summit between President Obama and President Xi, it took months of work, because the feeling was that you don't want to rush a high-stakes negotiation, because there's just too much at stake. And that's when we weren't even talking about nuclear weapons.

You look at the Iran nuclear deal. That was negotiated for a long time in private, largely so that we could ascertain whether the other party was actually about what they were saying.

And to Ryan and David's point, Brianna, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen right now. We have Shinzo Abe. We have the Chinese. We have the Russians. And let us not forget that the foreign minister of Russia is traveling to Pyongyang tomorrow, ostensibly to weigh in on how these negotiations are going.

So if it were me, I would delay the summit until the experts had a little bit more time to prepare logistically and substantively.

KEILAR: I want to see what you guys think -- changing subjects here -- on this somber day of remembrance that Memorial Day is. The president tweeted out this morning, before doing what is somewhat perfunctory for presidents, going to Arlington Cemetery, laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. He said, "Happy Memorial Day!" exclamation point. "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud about how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for blacks and Hispanics ever, and women in 18 years, rebuilding our military and so much more. Nice!" exclamation point.

What did you think when you saw that?

LIZZA: I thought that if "The Onion" had tried to write a Donald Trump tweet that mocked the president for kind of messing up what is a pretty easy thing to get right, a Memorial Day message for the American people, it would have looked like this. I mean, just go look at any of the previous presidents or even previous presidents who are tweeting today on Memorial Day --

KEILAR: Or Melania Trump, who had an incredibly appropriate tweet today.

LIZZA: It's a somber day. The "happy Memorial Day," just the tweet starts off on this bizarre note of "happy Memorial Day," and then, of course, it pivots to himself, to the president --

KEILAR: Yes.

LIZZA: -- and to his accomplishments. And I found it weird, but now that we're this far into the Trump administration, I guess something like this is no longer weird.

SWERDLICK: Exactly. It's hard for this president to not make things about himself, including this Trump -- this tweet this morning.

His true colors on veterans were shown last fall with Sergeant La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger. He wound up in that sort of spat with Sergeant Johnson's widow, as well as a Florida congresswoman.

Even if the president thought he was right, the commander in chief has to put himself second to supporting the troops. He couldn't do it in that situation, fueled the feud. This tweet, to me, is of a piece with that. There's nothing higher than being commander in chief.

KEILAR: Sam, what did you think?

VINOGRAD: I think that this is one day that I had hoped the president would put his narcissism in check. I served overseas in a war zone alongside men and women who died in the line of duty. I think all of us have been touched by that.

And this is a day, as so many others have said, when we remember their sacrifice. This is not a day for the president to put his narcissism on full display.

LIZZA: I mean, think about what he was doing here. He's posturing -- he's turning veterans into political pawns and saying that posthumously --

[18:40:02] VINOGRAD: A personal report card.

LIZZA: -- and saying, "If they were alive, they would love what I'm doing." I mean, I can't think of anything more bizarre than to take dead soldiers and say, "They would support my presidency" and inject them into the polarized debate that we have right now.

KEILAR: It's impossible to speak for them. They are not here to speak. And it's impossible to know how they would feel.

And one thing that you can bank on is that there would probably be a lot of opinions. There are a lot of people who have given their lives for this country.

LIZZA: Absolutely.

KEILAR: And we certainly remember them today.

Thank you so much to you guys. Really appreciate you being with us today.

Just ahead, as horrific flooding devastates one town, tens of millions of other Americans are facing a flooding threat tonight. We're going to have an up-to-the-minute forecast for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:23] KEILAR: We're following breaking news on multiple weather emergencies in Maryland and along the Gulf Coast. The first named storm of the hurricane season, Alberto, hitting the land in the Florida Panhandle, just a little over an hour ago. Thirty million people are under flood watches or tropical storm warnings.

Also tonight, a Maryland town has been just devastated by catastrophic flash flooding. At least one person, at this point in time, still missing.

And I want to go now to CNN weather meteorologist Tom Sater.

So, Tom, first, let's talk about Maryland. How high did these water levels get?

TOM SATER, CNN WEATHER METEOROLOGIST: The Patapsco River, Brianna, reached over 24 feet. That's an all-time record crest. Flood stage is at 15. So, that was a concern on the Patapsco River.

But Ellicott City, just outside of Baltimore, just to the west, was established in 1766. They've had 15 catastrophic floods, but all of them, except for last night's and the one two years ago, were different. They're surrounded by rivers. So, the others were the rivers rising.

This one and the one two years ago was just a freak of nature with the amount of rain that fell from the skies. Some indications, some say a one in 500-year event, a one in 1,000-year event. But for the most part, this has been a concern where you're going to get seven to 10 inches of rain, Brianna, and you can see just how much rain fell in Ellicott City in about a three-hour time period.

Downtown didn't have that much in over three. You're getting ten inches. That is a freak of nature. And the Patapsco River rising 18 feet in about two hours. So, that was a big, big concern. And it continues now as the next batch of rain moves up toward Alberto -- from Alberto.

KEILAR: Yes, from -- and on Alberto, where is the storm right now?

SATER: Well, it made landfall just to the west of Panama City, near Laguna Beach. It has been dying out. The winds were at 50 miles per hour, then down to 45. It's going to continue to lose strength. It's more of a nuisance storm.

But for the most part, there are threats with the flooding. We had flooding earlier today in North and South Carolina. And now, there are going to be fears of flooding because the southeast region has had three weeks' worth of rain, just about each and every day. So, along the panhandle, parts of Alabama, look out Nashville, heavy rain.

This thing, Brianna, is going to go all the way to the Great Lakes. And the next five days, the forecast shows that rain pattern. It will drop off in intensity, obviously. But still with all the rain that's fallen in the eastern U.S., this is a concern and one to watch for the next couple of days.

So, mainly, it's a flash flood watch event for this, as you mentioned, 30 million Americans under that watch right now.

KEILAR: All right. Tom Sater, thank you so much for that update.

And just ahead, why did flight instructors allegedly kidnap one of their students? We'll tell you what we're learning about this really strange case and threats that were all caught on tape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:44] KEILAR: New tonight, a bizarre plot uncovered. A pilot and his assistant arrested for allegedly kidnapping and trying to deport a Chinese student at their flight school. We have new information about the case, including some dramatic audio recordings.

And CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah has been following this. She's joining us now from Los Angeles.

What's the latest on this very weird story?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very odd. And police are still trying to sort all this out, Brianna. What they do know is that they have a Chinese flight student who was injured when he tried to resist, injured by his flight school manager, who threatened to send him back to China.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JONATHAN MCCONKEY, MANAGER, IASCO FLIGHT TRAINING SCHOOL: You're in my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) custody right now. Do you know what that means? I will forcibly remove your ass from here.

LAH (voice-over): The threat is unmistakable on the audio file. A man who the "Record Searchlight" newspaper identifies as Jonathan McConkey is a manager at IASCO flight training school. He's recorded threatening a Chinese student at the flight school with deportation inside the student's own apartment.

MCCONKEY: Your ass is getting to the plane right now, or I'll break your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) arm. You better believe I'm threatening you. And the United States government needs you out of this country right now. You understand?

KELSI HOLSER, DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION, IASCO: You're here illegal.

MCCONKEY: Do you understand what's happening here?

HOLSER: If you don't go with us, you go to jail.

LAH: That woman appears to be Kelsi Holser, an English and mandarin speaker and the flight school's director of administration. Redding police say they don't know what motivated Holser and McConkey. The Chinese student reportedly had a year-long visa that was still valid.

IASCO Flight Training School caters to Chinese students and is owned by a Chinese company. On its promotional video on Facebook, it projects a warm atmosphere, a home away from home for the Chinese students. Quite a contrast to this.

MCCONKEY: Hey, listen to me, I've got your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) passport, you're leaving now!

Immigration will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) take you to jail. Get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) together. You have five minute.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, amid all this drama, the student somehow managed to call his brother in Shanghai. The Shanghai brother called the Redding Police Department who stopped all of this going down at the airport.

The pair Brianna were arrested, charged with conspiracy and kidnapping.

[18:55:01] They are now out on bond. But, Brianna, we should add that we did manage to reach Hoser, she didn't have any comment -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Quick-thinking brother. Unbelievable story.

Kyung Lah, thank you so much for that.

Now tonight as the nation marks Memorial Day, CNN is remembering one of the most tumultuous years in modern American history, dominated by a war that divided the country. Two all new episodes of CNN's original series event, "1968", explore the icons and the milestones of that pivotal year. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The engines are on. Three, two, one -- we have lift-off.

DAN RATHER, FOREMR ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: As 1967 faded into 1968, divisions in the country were widening. Then race riots opposition to the war was building to a crescendo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are demonstrating against the war in Vietnam.

RATHER: I don't think anyone could have imagined that 1968 would turn out to be one of the most dramatic and consequential years in our own history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're stampeding people. They just ran someone down back there!

CHRIS CONNELLY, JOURNALIST: In '68, young people had a sense that they had no power. They were being drafted and ordered to fight in a war they did not believe in. And they sensed that the people who sent them there did not believe in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it's worth it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I don't know. They say we're fighting for something. I don't know.

CONNELLY: And that couldn't stand forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Political pigs, your days are numbered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what the cops did.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We've got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountain top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody can really say why it's happened. It's just a pent-up anger.

NELSON GEORGE, AUTHOR: I think in '68, everything felt a lot more on the edge. It felt like the country could turn into just a sea of turmoil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, I don't mind speaking here, but when you start throwing rocks that size -- who threw it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nicks on Nixon, that's what it's got to be!

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Take off the gloves and sock it to him.

MARY BRENNAN, AUTHOR: People are watching this on the evening news and they're saying, oh, my gosh, things are out of control, we have to do something.

(CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this what you want to do, destroy the country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll destroy a whole bunch of y'all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Kennedy has been shot. Is that possible?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Two all-new episodes of CNN's original series event, "1968", airing tonight, starting at 9:00 Eastern. And an encore presentation of the first two episodes of "1968" will start in just a few minutes here.

Right now, though, we want to honor the men and women of the U.S. military who gave their lives for this country, the fallen heroes and their families who are the focus of this holiday.

Take a look at some of today's ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(PLAYING "TAPS")

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each of the names engraved in stone teach us what it means to be loyal and faithful and proud and brave and righteous and true. That is why we come to this most sacred place. To every parent who weeps for a child, to every child who mourns for a parent, and to every husband or wife whose heart has been torn in two, today we ask God to comfort your pain, to ease your sorrow, and to wipe away your tears.

This is a very special day, and today our whole country thanks you, embraces you, and pledges to you, we will never forget our heroes.

(APPLAUSE)

(PLAYING "TAPS")

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: To all of our service members and their families, we say thank you and we honor your service and your sacrifices.

I'm Brianna Keilar, thank you so much for watching.

The CNN original series event "1968" starts right now.