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Soon Trump Administration to Brief Lawmakers on Iran; CNN Interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif; Beto O'Rourke Will Try to Recapture Momentum at Tonight's CNN Town Hall; Water Rescues Underway in Oklahoma Amid Massive Flooding. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:34:19] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Trump administration officials are heading to Capitol Hill. We're talking about the secretary of state, the acting defense secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They're set to give members of Congress the basis, background, and intelligence that led to the secretary of state -- led him to call the current threat from Iran to U.S. forces abroad imminent.

That led the president of the United States to tweet that any more threats from Iran will, quote, "be the official end of Iran."

Well, now Iran's foreign minister, who has been matching Donald Trump tweet for tweet on this, is speaking out to CNN in an exclusive interview.

CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, sat down with the foreign minister. He's joining me now.

Fred, what did he tell you?

[11:35:01] FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. A little war of Twitter words, if you will, going on between President Trump and the foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif. Obviously, he's been trolling President Trump over the past couple days.

But I asked Javad Zarif about this seemingly mixed messaging coming out of the White House, with President Trump, on the one day threatening the end of Iran and, a day later, saying he wants negotiations with the Iranians. Zarif told me, under the current circumstances, under the current stand off and also the current sanctions in place, there will absolutely be no talks with the Trump administration.

Here's what he had to say.


JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises. Because we talk to people. We did not believe that our nuclear program, our nuclear energy program required us to provide concessions or confidence building measures. But we engaged. We acted in good faith. We negotiated. We reached a deal.

What the United States is saying, if we make a deal, whatever we can get you in the negotiations through the deal is fine. Whatever we cannot get you, we'll come back to try to get you. This is not the way serious countries deal with each other. The United States may be used to doing that with clients, but they cannot do that with Iraq.

PLEITGEN: How dangerous do you think the situation is currently in the Persian Gulf with the U.S. aircraft carrier on its way, B-52 bombers. At the same time, from your side, saying, look, we don't want an escalation, but it will be painful if there's one.

ZARIF: There will be painful consequences for everybody if there's an escalation against Iran. That's for sure.

The United States is engaging in an economic warfare against Iran. It has to stop. Economic war means targeting Iranian people. That has to stop. The United States does not have the legal position, does not have the moral position, does not have the political position, does not have the international position, to impose economic war on Iran.

Iran is not interested in escalation. We have said very clearly that we will not be the party to begin escalation, but we will defend ourselves.

Now, having all these military assets in a small waterway is, in and of itself, prone to accident, particularly when you have people who are interested in accidents. So extreme prudence is required, and we believe that the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game.


PLEITGEN: So very dangerous game, the words there from Javad Zarif there, Kate.

One of the things I also asked him about, especially with the briefings going on, on Capitol Hill, is whether or not the Iranians were responsible for those attacks on the tankers in the Persian Gulf, and also the pipeline incident in Saudi Arabia. The foreign minister absolutely denied that the Iranians were behind that. But, again, saying, right now, the situation in the Persian Gulf area remains extremely dangerous -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fred, thanks so much. Great interview. Thanks for bringing it to me. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, is tonight's -- is tonight, Presidential Candidate Beto O'Rourke's last shot at a first impression? After telling the world in a "Vanity Fair" cover he was born to be in it, what is he going to tell voters tonight? Big CNN town hall from Des Moines, Iowa. We'll take you there.


[11:42:47] BOLDUAN: Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke, is looking to push the reset button and try to recapture the momentum he's lost since his highly anticipated campaign announcement. He's even been publicly admitting mistakes he's made.


JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: Would you say those are mistakes? Being on the cover of "Vanity Fair"?



BEHAR: It looks elitist? What?

O'ROURKE: Yes. Yes, I think it re-enforces that perception of privilege. And that headline that said I was born to be in this, in the article is attempting to say that I felt that my calling was in public service. No one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me.


BOLDUAN: So he's got another shot tonight to make his case to voters, in a CNN town hall, 10:00 eastern, with chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. It's all happening in Des Moines, Iowa.

Let's go there. CNN political director, David Chalian, is standing by.

David, Beto O'Rourke, he started off with huge fanfare, huge fund- raising haul, lots of attention, and now all the talk is about Beto O'Rourke and his need to reboot his campaign. Where does he stand right now as he's about to go into this town hall?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, as you just pointed out with that clip from "The View" Kate, that talk isn't coming from some faraway place. It's coming from Beto O'Rourke himself who is out there talking about the need to regroup here and try a different approach.

You know, he clearly, and his team around him, are trying to have him be a little less freewheeling and a little more focused on policy prescriptions, a little more presidential, if you will, in how he presents himself.

But there's no doubt he lost some steam from where he was as you said in that very anticipated entrance. But you know, we should also caution, there's a long time from now until the Iowa caucuses. I think some 258 days to be exact. And to write him off or anyone off at this point would be a fool's errand.

BOLDUAN: What is at stake for him then tonight? CHALIAN: Yes, this is a big moment. Because he's been hosting town

halls in the early states, but this is getting up in front of a national television audience and really going to take questions on a whole host of topics.

[11:45:02] We have seen voters across this country through our entire series of town halls ask about everything from health care to reparations to criminal justice reform. And so he is going to have to sort of in this reintroduction to voters, and for many people getting their first impression with him, Kate, to really spell out his vision for the future of America, why he is the best equipped, of 23 Democrats, to stand on that fall debate stage in 2020 with Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: So maybe tonight, what I have kind of been struggling with will be answered or maybe not. Here it is. With Biden holding a big lead right now, but a lot of time left, and 23 people in the field, is that more than enough time for a reboot or do you really only get one chance at a first impression?

CHALIAN: You know, Kate, I think it is more than enough time. Here is what I know. You're right. Joe Biden, formidable front-runner, no doubt about it. Surprised many people how strong his front-runner status is out of the gate. But I can't think of a time in modern presidential campaign history where someone just walks through with the nomination from beginning to end and doesn't get some sort of challenge.

So there's going to be a battle for this nomination. It's not just going to be a coronation of Joe Biden. So I think there's plenty of time for some of these other candidates to make their case to these Democrats.

BOLDUAN: An important next chapter, though, at least beginning probably tonight with this town hall and that opportunity.

Great to see you, David.


BOLDUAN: Can't wait to see you. I really appreciate it.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: You can watch it all happen tonight, the CNN town hall with Beto O'Rourke from Des Moines, Iowa. Dana Bash moderates, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

We're following some breaking news. We're continuing to keep an eye on the skies and the water. Water rescues are under way right now in central parts of the United States after 19 tornadoes ripped through four states. We'll take you live to hard-hit Oklahoma to figure out what's the latest on the ground there right now.

We'll be right back.


[11:51:54 BOLDUAN: Right now, we're looking at breaking news. Rescue crews in Oklahoma, they are trying to pull people to safety trapped by floodwaters. And this is all part of an outbreak of some severe and vicious weather that has really smacked across the nation's mid-section and is threatening millions of people. Still, this is video from moments ago.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has been in the middle of it. He's in El Reno, outside of Oklahoma City, where some of these rescues have been taking place.

Ed, what are you seeing? What are you seeing there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been a busy morning in overnight hours here in central Oklahoma and also into northeast Oklahoma towards Stillwater and Tulsa where warnings continue to go out here this morning urging people to avoid low-lying areas and to be very cautious, as they drive around roadways near creeks and waterways to be very careful.

You can see these aerial pictures of a rescue of a man in a tree. A rope was thrown to him to try to pull him to safety. All of this unfolding here in the town of El Reno, Oklahoma, which is about 20 miles east -- or west, excuse me, of Oklahoma City.

And here on the ground, we're on a street called Elm Street. You walk this way. It's a small country road just north of Interstate 40, and about a mile down this way, this entire small road, is flooded out by water. Just over here, over the last few hours, we saw three swift water rescue teams deployed boats out in their -- out into this water.

And just beyond these tree lines here, Kate, there were a number of families who were trapped in their homes. Ten people in all, including four children were pulled here to dry land this morning. We spoke with several of these family members who say they went to bed last night and heavy rainfall started pouring overnight and when they woke up about 5:00 this morning central time, they found themselves on a little island. They were surrounded by water, and that's when they started calling for help.

It takes several hours for all of these rescue teams to get to these homes. They are behind these tree lines, so it's impossible to see here at this point. Those families say it was a rather stressful few hours here this morning as they waited for these rescue teams to get close to their homes so that they could get out of there safely. They weren't sure how fast and how much more the water was going to rise. So obviously, a very stressful situation for these families.

The Oklahoma City Water Rescue Team tells us they have done about a dozen rescues here in this early morning hours. And here in Canadian County, where we are, there's been about 40 different rescues taking place in the overnight hours.

We've seen a torrential amount of rainfall fall, fall hours and hours overnight, and that's what's led to the flooding throughout the region here.

And south of here is Interstate 40, the main highway that connects Oklahoma City to the Texas Panhandle, and part of that here in El Reno was flooded out, Kate.

And I spoke with one firefighter here in El Reno who says he's been on the force here for 33 years, and this is only the third time that he's seen Interstate 40 flood out. So a dramatic morning.

The good news is that the blue sky is starting to break through, and it hasn't rained for several hours, and that should give these floodwaters a chance to recede and, hopefully, recede quickly -- Kate?

[11:55:05] BOLDUAN: I was actually going to say that there was a moment when it looked like the sun was breaking through and I could see on your live shot, Ed, and thinking how thankful that must be for everyone. But they're still in the middle of it. Hopefully, things will start getting better, not worse before betting better.

Ed, thank you so much.

Ed Lavandera is on the ground for us watching that situation unfold.

Still ahead, former White House counsel, Don McGahn, defies a request to testify before Congress. Calls for impeachment from some Democrats now getting louder. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells members of her own party to slow down, though. Are tensions at a tipping point? Stay with us.