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Interview With Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY); Trump Sides With North Korean Dictator on Biden Criticism; American Climber Dies on Mount Everest. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BILL SCHINDLER, HOST, "THE GREAT HUMAN RACE": The only food that we can access with just our hands and our bodies are insects and plants. And she did that. And that was fantastic.

But she still lost 15 pounds, and her exposure to the elements, her legs and the sunburn, and her absence of the shoes. So, all of that was incredibly difficult, but I think the most difficult part must have been the mental piece.


You hear this mother, and she's like -- just to your point, she's like, "I knew my daughter had the will, the will to survive."

She never doubted.

Bill Schindler, thank you.

SCHINDLER: My pleasure. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me this Memorial Day edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

We just want to pause to recognize the national moment of remembrance, and it asks all Americans, wherever you are, to spend one minute just remembering the fallen soldiers and troops who have fought for our freedom.

Vice President Mike Pence spent his Memorial Day visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. President Trump and the first lady will end their state visit in Japan by visiting troops stationed aboard the USS Wasp.

Now to the multiple tragedies happening on the top of the world. Just in, we are learning of two more people who have died up on Mount Everest. One of them is an American. Christopher Kulish died on his way down. He was 61 years old. He is now the second American and 11th person to die so far this season climbing the world's tallest mountain.

And now there's this renewed focused on a manmade problem that climbers say is just exacerbating the danger of Everest, overcrowding.

Let me show you a photo. A climber took this picture just five days ago, estimating 320 people were in line to just summit. Look at the line of all those -- of all those humans just trying to get up there.

And a British climber posted days before his death from altitude sickness that overcrowded -- quote -- "could prove fatal."

One experienced mountaineer who made the call to turn his group back from the summit told CNN's Arwa Damon that he noticed that when he arrived to base camp.


MOSTAFA SALAMEH, MOUNTAINEER: Coming to base camp, you see how crowded it was first. And I think the weather this year was the most bizarre weather I experienced since 2004. Been coming here since 2004 every single year, and this is was really strange weather that we experience.


BALDWIN: On the phone with me now is veteran climber David Morton, who is actually currently at base camp on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest. He has just come down the mountain after getting about 100 yards from the summit for a research project.

So, Dave, all the way to Nepal, thank you so much for joining me.

And just to you on this overcrowding, or is it that the window is getting smaller with the weather? Why do you think this is happening?

DAVID MORTON, VETERAN CLIMBER: Well, I think it's a combination of factors. And I saw the same photo that I believe you just posted.

And when I saw that, I was -- it was disappointing and scary and dangerous, at the same time not unexpected. I think that there's -- one of the -- the major problem is really inexperience and not only the climbers that are on the mountain, but also the operators that are on the mountain that are supporting those climbers.

And Everest is primarily a very complicated logistical puzzle. And I think, when you have a lot of inexperienced operators, as well as inexperienced climbers, along with particularly the Nepal government not putting some limitations on the numbers of people, you sort of have a prime recipe for these sorts of situations happening, especially when you have a small weather window, like we have had this season, very few days that were possible to go to the summit.

BALDWIN: So, very few days possible to go to the summit. You have all these climbers. Then it's a plus-one, right, all the mandate for the Sherpas to go along with you.

When you were up there just shy of the summit, just 100 yards shy, what did you see? And can you explain, for just the inexperienced climber, how narrow, how difficult it is to traverse? [15:05:10]

MORTON: You know, we -- at the north side, it's very -- there's a lot of different things happening right now between the north and south side.

On the north side, the Tibet and Chinese government has put limitations on the numbers of people. And so we actually, during the research project I was involved with, we were up over 8,500 meters or up over 27,500 feet for four days.

The picture that you have posted was taken on the 23rd. We were up just 100 meters below the summit on the 24th on a beautiful day. And there were maybe 30 or 40 people going to the summit from the Tibet side, the north side.

And so it was a completely different dynamic than what you saw on the 23rd on the Nepal side. And so that has to do with luck. It was supposed to be bad weather on the 24th. We predicted that that might be delayed a little bit, which it was, and had a beautiful day up there. We spent three hours around 8,800, 8,800 meters, just 100 meters below the summit, doing some of the research we were involved with, and we had a beautiful day.

And so it's -- the day before, the 23rd, and on the north side, there were also I believe 150 people maybe going for the summit. So it was crowded. It was cold. There was a lot of -- a fair amount of frostbite.


BALDWIN: Just quickly, Dave, just, because you mentioned -- because you mentioned inexperience, whether it's the outfitter or the climbers, do you think people -- are we at the point now where people need to qualify to even get on the mountain to climb it?

MORTON: You know, I think -- my personal opinion is that they need to either be qualifying the outfitters.

You have the model, like, say Denali in the United States. We -- you essentially certify or allow different companies to be the permit- holders. And they're the ones that those climbers are going to come with them, that they're going to guide.

BALDWIN: Got it.

MORTON: And so I think you either have to be doing one or the other or both.

And so one model is to certify or approve of the outfitters that are supporting these trips. And I think that then those outfitters can be the ones that are responsible for vetting those clients that they're bringing on the mountain.

BALDWIN: Got it. Got it.

Dave Morton in Tibet at Mount Everest base camp, thank you so much, Dave, for calling all the way back home. Appreciate it.

Back here at home, President Trump is winding down his state visit to Japan, but not without sparking a new round of controversy in the process. Once again, the president is taking the view of an adversary, in this case North Korea's Kim Jong-un, over the advice of the president's own aides.

Over the weekend, in a tweet, President Trump said that he was confident that Kim would keep his promise not to test ballistic missiles, despite the fact that just two launches just this month alone happened, most recently on May 9. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, says that those tests violated a U.N. Security Council resolution.

But today, during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country views those missile tests as a threat, right -- Japan is right there -- the president said this:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently. I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention and perhaps not. Who knows.

I am very happy with the way it's going. And intelligent people agree with me.

QUESTION: You're not bothered at all by the small missiles?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. I am personally not.


BALDWIN: The president wasn't finished. He also dug in on his claim that Kim Jong-un insulted Joe Biden's intelligence.


TRUMP: Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-I.Q. individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.


BALDWIN: CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is traveling with the president. She is there in Tokyo.

And, Kaitlan, tell me more about the president's comments and how they're received, especially there in Japan, talking about North Korea.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, you heard the president say it doesn't matter.

But one person that these missiles do matter to is the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has been very concerned about this, and has for a very long time encouraged President Trump to keep a hard line against North Korea, because, as you noted, these are these short-range missiles.

And, of course, they're of greater concern to Japan, who is a lot closer to North Korea than the United States. So, to see the president brush off these missiles while speaking just feet away from the prime minister, was pretty stunning to see, because not only was the prime minister over here, but John Bolton was just a few feet away from the president sitting behind him.

And when he got here in Tokyo shortly before the president did, he said he agreed with Abe that, yes, these missiles did violate those U.N. resolutions.


Now, the president said he wasn't concerned about that. But, of course, that comes not only as John Bolton was saying that they did violate those resolutions, but also as he noted the fact that talks between North Korea the U.S. have largely broken down ever since that second summit in Hanoi ended.

Yet the president is still maintaining a positive message, a hopeful one, Brooke, that he can convince North Korea to denuclearize. Now, not only was the big substantive issue brushing off those missiles, but also the president doubling down on his agreement with Kim Jong-un about Joe Biden.

And he didn't seem to have any hesitation when a reporter asked, are you siding with a brutal dictator over a former American vice president? The president said that he agreed with Kim Jong-un's assessment of Joe Biden. And, Brooke, he essentially left it at that, but still pretty stunning to watch the president criticize a predecessor, essentially, a vice president predecessor, while on foreign ground.

BALDWIN: Rare, indeed, that that happens.

Kaitlan, thank you very much in Tokyo.

Let me bring in Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. He is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committee, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus.

So, Congressman Meeks, a pleasure. Happy Memorial Day to you.


BALDWIN: So let's just start in on President Trump and what we just heard there. You heard him in the clip at the news conference saying very happy when he was asked about these missile tests from Chairman Kim, and the fact that he obviously is not even listening to what his own aides, what his own national security adviser is saying, not on the same page.

Your reaction to that? MEEKS: I wish I could say, Brooke, that I'm shocked. But this is

more of the same from this guy who's the president.

He seems to side and the people that he likes is people like Kim Jong- un, Putin, Orban, Erdogan, all strong-arm-type people that's living in what I say is close to fascist-type societies, where it's just dominated by the executive.

And it's a constant. I mean, whether you're talking about Europe or Asia, he says one thing, while his people say another, and there's always this conflict. And so, therefore, with our allies, they are confused. Where does the United States stand?

BALDWIN: Kim Jong-un is clearly testing this president. What do you think it would take for President Trump to disavow this relationship? What would Kim have to do?

MEEKS: Well, I don't think that there's anything.

I think Kim is playing the president. He played him in the first summit. He played him at the second summit. So Kim realizes that the real low-I.Q. person is the president, and he can continue to play games with him all along until Kim gets what he wants.

In fact, Kim has already gotten what he wants, the world stage.

BALDWIN: Attention.

MEEKS: And he has -- you know, now Kim is going around the world talking to other world leaders. I think he went over to Russia to meet with Putin. He couldn't do that before. So he's already gotten what he wanted.

BALDWIN: I want to play this clip. This is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president's closest allies up on Capitol Hill, and he had this view of the Trump-Kim relationship.

Let's play it.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I don't think it's remotely possible that Chairman Kim will give up his nuclear weapons until he feels the threat to do so.

I'm glad the president's engaging him. All those before President Trump failed on their watch, and President Trump has finally got Kim Jong-un's attention, but I'm not naive about this. I think they're trying to run out the clock on President Trump.

The only way Kim will give up his nuclear weapons, if he believes he's better off without them. And you got to make the threat of military force real if he continues to develop missiles and bombs directed at America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: His last point, make the threat of military force real for North Korea. Do you agree with the Republican senator?

MEEKS: Absolutely not.

I mean, if I listened to this -- the senator, he wants to go to war North Korea. He wants to go to war in Venezuela. He wants to go to war in Iran.

I mean, where does this stop? So, it is absolutely insane, I think, what he is saying and how -- and what he's advocating. I think that the way that we need to go is multilateralism. So, if we go back to with the South Koreans, and with the Japanese, which are very important to put the pressure on the North Koreans collectively, because...


BALDWIN: So, you don't think putting that military pressure on North Korea, if after all of these -- the summits, that's not going anywhere, and he's testing the president and he's testing these missiles?

MEEKS: No, I think that we do what we have done before, because the military presence is there. We have our military there.

It's this president that stopped the drills that we were working in conjunction with South Korea.


BALDWIN: With South Korea.


MEEKS: So we are there and ready to do that.

This president stopped that, because, as I said, I think that he's been played already by Kim Jong-un.

BALDWIN: On your point -- you rattled off all those various dictators around the world who -- these strongmen.


On that issue of Trump and these dictators, Senator -- Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said something that I think took a lot of people aback when she was speaking about listening to Trump's inauguration speech. And she's sitting next to the late Senator John McCain.

And she let us into what the late senator was saying at that time.

Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech, because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation. He understood it. He knew, because he knew this man more than any of us did.


BALDWIN: And then, Congressman, just as we have been talking, we will throw the tweet up.

Actually, his daughter Meghan McCain just tweeted. She says: "On behalf of the entire McCain family, Senator Amy Klobuchar, please be respectful to all of us and leave my father's legacy and memory out of presidential politics."

So, do you think that that's fair, that people should -- I mean, I don't know. I can't crawl into Senator Klobuchar's mind, but she was just pointing out what Senator McCain was pointing out almost ahead of his time, he was prescient at the time, mentioning all the dictators, but to Meghan McCain's point, keep him out of it?

MEEKS: Yes, I think what the senator was trying to say is, once upon a time, the Republican Party had someone and some people that would stand up to the president, because it's so important for us to show that we are an equal branch of government, the legislative branch.


MEEKS: And so, therefore, she was just pointing up that we had individuals who stood up and would stand up against this president and his acts.

And now you don't have those voices anymore. And so she's basically indicating we're missing something in Congress, so that we can have folks that will stand up for our branch of government against and hold accountable the executive branch of government. And that's what's lacking and missing right now.

I mean, I listened to Senator Graham. He's not there. Some would have thought that he would have been the one to stand up. And you see, he's gone 180 degrees in the different direction.

And you hear virtually nothing from anyone in the Republican Party, basically, standing up for the institution of the legislative branch.

BALDWIN: It was John Boehner -- wasn't it John Boehner who recently said, it's no longer the Republican Party, it's the party of Trump?

Congressman, thank you very much. Congressman Gregory Meeks, good to see you today.

MEEKS: Good to be with you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: There are calls for a California racetrack to be shut down after 26 horses have died there this season, the latest over this past weekend. Plus, notorious drug lord El Chapo is asking for better conditions at

the maximum security prison in which he's awaiting his sentence, but federal prosecutors say he may be actually plotting another escape.

And water is still rising in parts of Oklahoma after days of flooding and tornadoes. We will take you there live.

You're watching CNN on this Memorial Day Monday. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Since the day after Christmas, 26 race horses have died at Southern California's Santa Anita racetrack, 26 in five months. Just let that number sink in, the latest death happening over the weekend.

A racehorse was injured on the track on Saturday. It was euthanized yesterday. The track had suspended racing in March, but resumed it weeks later. The animal rights group PETA says this cannot go on, adding -- quote -- "Santa Anita and all California tracks must suspend racing until the ongoing investigation by the district attorney is complete and new rules have been strengthened."

CNN's Nick Watt is at Santa Anita there in Arcadia, California.

And, Nick, 26 since December. What is going on?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the billion-dollar question.

This is a billion-dollar industry, horse racing, in this country, and they need to figure out what is going on in order for horse racing to survive in the face of this opposition from animal rights activists, who say that this is cruel.

You mentioned there's an investigation, that that's the district attorney is carrying out that investigation, 17 subpoenas issued, 67 interviews. But they are still have not come back with an answer.

Now, rumors around here, whispers that it was the rain. This has been the wettest winter in about a decade here in Southern California, that the rain made the track dangerous. Here, they're saying not so much.

I actually just spoke with one of the people who works for the company that owns this and other racetracks. They have implemented new rules. Jockeys aren't allowed to use the crop so much. They have cut down on the medication horses can take on race days because that medication may mask an underlying injury that during a race becomes a catastrophic breakdown.

Take a listen to what Stefan Friedman had to say.


STEFAN FRIEDMAN, STRONACH GROUP: Everybody's got to be pointed at the fact that the horse comes first. If you do not put the safety of the horse first at this track, you will not be welcome here. We're looking to take these reforms.

We're looking to sell these reforms elsewhere. I think the national horse racing community understands there's a problem that needs to be addressed, and we're all working towards that goal.


WATT: And they have to in order to survive.

Meanwhile, racing goes ahead here, the first race of the day due, Brooke, in about a half-hour from now.


BALDWIN: But 26 deaths, why haven't they closed the track, Nick?

WATT: Brooke, 26 deaths sounds a lot, but horses die at racetracks. That is the sad reality.

And, also, they say that the track here is safe. And they also want to keep racing, so they can see if those new rules that they implemented, so they can see if they are working -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Nick Watt, thank you.

Coming up next: He has escaped prison before by bribing guards and building an elaborate tunnel out of his cell.

So, you can kind of understand why prosecutors are skeptical of a request from Mexican drug lord El Chapo for improved prison conditions -- why they think it's yet another plot to break out of prison before he is sentenced next month.