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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Rescued Hiker Speaks Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: He's also expected to plead not guilty in that case as well.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you, as always, for being with me.

Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD "starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake.

We begin with breaking news.

Any moment, we expect to hear from the woman who survived 17 days lost in a Hawaiian forest. Rescuers found Amanda Eller on Friday with a fractured leg, injured knee, and sunburn so bad that it was infected. And she survived by eating berries and drinking river water when she thought it looked safe.

I want to bring in CNN's Nick Watt.

Nick, Amanda Eller was lost in this Hawaiian forest for more than two weeks. It's unbelievable. Tell us about this as we await her speaking in Hawaii.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an almost unbelievable story.

I would call it the miracle on Maui, but it's not actually a miracle. She was found because hundreds of people, some of her close friends in particular, hunted for her for 17 days. They never gave up hope.

Now, this began for her as a three-mile hike on a trail that she'd hiked regularly. She somehow got turned around and lost. And her family and friends had no idea. Perhaps she'd been abducted. Perhaps she was injured. They just did not know.

All they knew was that she had vanished. Then, Friday afternoon, just before sunset, a helicopter with some people on board who were looking for her, they decided to take one final sweep before sunset. And they saw her, stuck down in a ravine. They landed. They managed to bushwhack through. They got to her. They found her. As you say, she had survived

drinking river water, eating berries. She was injured, she was sunburned, she didn't have a phone, she didn't have a GPS, she didn't have any supplies. As she says, she also wasn't even wearing like a proper shirt. She was wearing a vest top, and she was out there for 17 days.

And she managed to survive. Now, her family threw a party last night to thank all the people who had been out there hunting for her. And it was interesting to hear her talk. She was obviously very grateful, said she never gave up hope, but she also said that this near-death experience has really changed her view on life.

She says, you know what, it's not about power, it's not about money, it's not about any material things. It's about people, it's about relationships, and she said, this is the true spirit of aloha, that you, my friends, some people who I had never met, but people in my community were out looking for me for so long -- 17 days, I cannot say that enough, she managed to survive out there, and her friends never, ever gave up hope.

She is a little bit injured, damage to her legs, sunburned. She's also lost a lot of weight. It is going to take her a bit of time to recover, but she is out of the hospital, and, as you say, we are about to hear her speak about this ordeal.

You know, we have heard from her parents as well. They said that they also never gave up hope. It's difficult to comprehend how you wouldn't give up hope in a situation like that, but her family didn't, her friends didn't, and, most importantly, she didn't either. She was stuck down in that ravine, as I say, injured, malnourished, sunburned, but she never gave up hope.

And they eventually found her -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It's amazing how much grit must have played a role in how she survived.

But just to -- you said 17 days. You can't stop saying it. She went missing May 8.

WATT: Yes.

KEILAR: And I think this probably fell off a lot of folks' radar. They remember when it happened. They probably thought this search wasn't even going on anymore.

I mean, there were so many people certainly involved in the initial search who had given up hope. It would be so unusual that she would have been found alive. How key was it that her family did not give up hope, and that she had, really, a support network that was going to keep searching until they found her?

WATT: Well, listen, you know, her own not giving up hope, that was key. She had to keep herself alive. She says that she realized this was a life-or-death situation and she

chose life. Now, how often do we see these stories ending well? So, so rarely. And that is what is amazing about this. Even after five or six days, people would be giving up hope, thinking, this is going to end badly -- 17 days, it ended well.

Now, the other person who is absolutely key...

KEILAR: All right, Nick, let's listen.

WATT: Oh.

KEILAR: Amanda Eller is taking questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

AMANDA ELLER, RESCUED HIKER: Probably going to cry throughout this whole thing.

So, you know, the story is going to come out in time, and I'm not really ready to tell it as a story, and it -- that doesn't even feel right. I haven't even had time to think or integrate or figure out really what the heck happened in there.

[16:05:12]

How to answer that question, I will say is, I got to the point -- this was probably day 14 or something like that. And I said, OK, two weeks. And I'm looking at numerology. And every day, I'm thinking, like, OK, today is the day. Like, number 14, what is that significant for?

I just had such hope in my heart. Every day, I would rise with the daylight and I would be freezing and have to soak my ankle, so that I can get up and like move around a little bit, and not be debilitated.

And I just had such hope in my heart. I'm like, today is the day I hear the helicopters are coming to get me. And as the day went on and the helicopters are passing over, and I'm standing on rocks and waving them down, and they're passing over and they're not seeing me, I'm invisible, you lose hope.

And your hope meter starts to decline a little bit. And then, as sun starts to go down, you're like, OK, another night alone. How am I going to stay warm? How am I going to stay alive?

To answer your question, it was about day 14. And there was a point in which I looked at the sky and I said, I have been guided all along. This whole -- this whole journey was extremely spiritual for me, and I never felt alone. And I never felt fearful.

It was an opportunity to overcome fear of everything. It was an opportunity to be stripped away of all the comforts of this modern world and see what was left. And that -- there was such amazing beauty in that.

But, at this point, it's like, I have had everything stripped away. I'm so uncomfortable. I can barely move. What else do you want from me?

And I had -- in a moment, I was like mercy. I just say mercy. I just -- I'm looking at the sky, like, just please pick me up. I'm ready. I have learned. I feel like this is -- this is my soul's journey. I know this is an essential part of my story and my being here on Earth. But I'm ready. And I call mercy.

And I'm -- and I choose free will. And I say no from this point. And it was a very loud, clear message that I received, and said, if you want to sit -- and if you want to say no, and you want to sit on that rock, you're going to die. So you have a choice to make.

You could sit on that rock and you can die. You could say mercy and you could feel pitiful for yourself and play victim, or you can start walking down that waterfall and choose life. So, it was literally -- it was -- it was a pivotal time in my life where I had to choose life.

And I said, this isn't just for me anymore. Obviously, I come first and it's -- I have a sole purpose of being here on Earth. But it was my mom and my dad and every single step at the way, it was like, I choose life. I saw my dad. I choose life. I saw my sister. I choose life. I saw Benjamin, and so on so forth.

Every single step was, I choose life. That was the only thing kept me going, to the point where I at least got half-a-mile down the waterfall and laid in some grass and slept there for the night.

That was a dark -- a dark moment, but it turned out to be light. It was an opportunity to choose and not play victim to the scenario.

So, long-winded answer. Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Thank you for taking our questions. I'm so glad to see that you're OK and with your family.

One of the things that was reported quite a bit is that you slept in the den of a wild boar. I wonder if you could tell us more about that. Did the boar show up? And just give us a sense of what that was like.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLER: So there's boars everywhere through there.

And it's their -- that's their home. I'm in their home and so I was very respectful of that. And, again, I'm guided. So there were times where I would see a very-nice looking boar den, where I'm like, that might keep me warm. And I got a message like, don't go in there.

So it's interesting. This is the Chinese new year. This is the year of the boar. I'm a boar. And so I'm finding myself sleeping in boars' homes. And they're like -- they were trailblazing for me.

The only reason that I -- without shoes and socks and any kind of armor on, and my ankles were already tore up, it was me following boar paths to their boar dens to sleep for the night, so bizarre.

But, yes, I mean, it was -- it was -- every night, I tried something different that I was guided towards. I would -- again, the whole thing was guided and I'd say, OK, where's my best opportunity for sleep, so that I can get some kind of rest, so that I can heal, so that I can close my eyes and feel safe for the night?

And I would just be guided to different things. So, whether it was on tall grass, whether it was -- it was on rocks a lot, whether it was in the mud, which I don't recommend ever doing that. It's very cold and it doesn't warm up.

[16:10:13]

Yes, I don't really know how to answer that besides that it was uncomfortable, but it was better than -- it was good to be alive.

So...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Let's see. Where am I at? (OFF-MIKE)

Hi. (OFF-MIKE)

ELLER: Thank you.

QUESTION: You're sitting here radiant.

What will people never understand (OFF-MIKE)? What don't people understand about your experience?

ELLER: This whole thing is bizarre.

This whole scenario is bizarre. I mean, people are holding me up as a hero, and I don't feel that way. I'm so happy that my story can inspire others. I mean, truly, like, that's how I live my life is like, I want to be an inspiration to others. I want to light the fire in other people.

I want us all to be so stoked to be here on planet Earth and like, every single morning, we wake up, we're so happy to be here. That's my goal, and obviously to end suffering too.

So I can go on tangents forever. My patients know that. So what will somebody never understand? I guess it's hard to explain being on this side of things, you know?

I -- the acknowledgement that I keep coming back to is like, my family, the community, all of the newscasts, that you guys kept this story alive. And really, without this, like, I could have just been dropped off. They could have just forgotten about me and said another missing person, no big deal.

So I'm just saying an extreme -- I'm sitting from the standpoint of being in extreme gratitude for everybody caring so much to pull together to take time out of their own life, to rededicate their focus of their own life towards me, whether they knew me or not. And that sense of pulling together, that sense of community, that sense of, like, ohana and family that we talk so much about here, and that true aloha, it's like, that's -- I don't know if anybody will -- can feel what I feel when I look out through my eyes and see what's happened in this -- in this situation, and that this whole circumstance is reproducible, and that we can be doing this around the globe.

And this is -- this is tribal communities. This is what we came from. This is how we should be living is, we should be caring so much about the person next door to you that you may be going out of your way to do something for them, which is going to be more giving, more receiving. I mean, that's really what life is about.

It's just that giving, that caring, that relationship. So, I think that -- if that answers your question. It's just I have such a deep sense of that now. I just -- I'm fueled by that. We're all fueled by that. We're like, how do we keep this fire going?

How do we keep this inspiration going and in a world that can seem so dark sometimes? It's like, let's keep passing the flame, let's keep lighting the spark in each other, so that this doesn't just fall to the wayside.

This is a real opportunity right now for us all to kind of like wake up and tap into our hearts and start to operate from that space.

So...

QUESTION: Hi, Amanda city (OFF-MIKE). Thank you so much for talking to me and today.

You talked about choosing life. You're here with your family, strong community (OFF-MIKE). How does this experience change you and your life from this point forward?

ELLER: The message that I kept getting when I was there was that this is not punishment.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLER: Because the first five days, I just wanted to play victim and crawl into a hole and be like, why me?

This is not punishment. This is a strong opportunity. All I see is opportunity and light. And you asked me a question. I go on a tangent and then I can't remember your question.

Can you ask that one more time?

QUESTION: You talked about choosing life.

ELLER: Yes.

QUESTION: And how does that change your life's purpose started going forward now that you have survived? ELLER: So, it's interesting.

I have had a lot of spiritual work done over the last four years, since I have lived in Maui. I have completely transformed as a person. And my purpose, I believe, all along has been to -- and I want to help suffering.

The whole world is suffering in some way. There's so many people that are depressed, that are numb, that are in a state of unconsciousness. And I want everybody to be able to enjoy life, really.

So, I kind of -- it's interesting. I'm a physical therapist. I call myself more of a healer than a P.T. at this point and yoga instructor, obviously, all that other stuff.

[16:15:00] But my whole purpose before this happened was like, I want to get you out of pain. I want you to be able to enjoy life. Yes, really, that's it. It's like, let's get each other happier again.

And now it's kind of like, it just kept coming in when I was there. It was like, your purpose is to wake people up. Your purpose is to shake people alive, to realize that we all have this same thing inside of us. I'm no different than anybody else.

And we all get to choose life on a daily basis. We all get to choose happiness. It's like which wolf we feed, right, on our shoulder. So making the decisions and actions and behaviors that are backing that up to create -- we create the life that we live.

So, really, it's interesting that's it's shifted so much from a place of like, let me just put my hands on a patient and try my best to get them out of pain and enjoy life, and now it feels more widespread and I'm reaching for a bigger body of people, which is beautiful, and I'm looking for that pyramid effect in the most beautiful way. That's a bad word, but if somebody has a more beautiful word, I'll use it. But that branch effect, with where we can all be spreading our arms out and create that positive shift and light and heart.

So -- you're welcome.

QUESTION: Hey, there, Amanda. Thank you for inviting yesterday. I hope I can be as articulate as you have been. People who are unfamiliar with Hawaii may not understand how easy it is to get disoriented in the forest, in the jungles. Can you explain how you lost your sense of direction?

ELLER: Yes, totally. You know, it's so interesting, because the story starts off like, I just got lost in the woods, you know?

It's -- it's hard to explain what happened. I -- that's a very grounded way to put it, getting like disoriented in the forest, but there was something bigger at play, you know? But to answer your question specifically, I will say the forest, anybody that's there searching, you know, you turn your head one way and it looks exactly like the other way, like, which way's north, which way's my car. So the forest in particular, there's something very tricky there in

that particular forest. Other places on the island, I have my bearings, but that particular -- it's just like it all went out the window. And the only thing I could say is that I started off that morning and I said, I had friends -- plans with my friends, they got canceled and I said, I have the whole day to myself, what do I want to do? I need to connect to nature.

And it came in so strong, Makawao Forest, Makawao Forest. I was like, that's weird, I've been here forever. So, I just went up there, you know, got out of my car, and thought, I'll go for a three-mile car.

I love to stay away from EMF. I love to stay away from cell phones. I love to just truly dig my feet in the dirt and connect to nature and feel that way. So that's my goal. Three miles, whatever, a couple of hours.

And I don't really know what happened. All I can say is that I got out of my car, it's like, you know, I have a strong sense of internal guidance, whatever you want to call that, a voice, spirit, everybody has a different name for it, heart. My heart was telling me, walk down this path, go left, great, go right. It was so strong, go left, go right, I'm like, great, this is so strong that obviously when I turn around and go back to my car, it's just going to be just as strong when I go back, but it wasn't.

QUESTION: At what point did you realize you were lost?

ELLER: It was probably that. So I took a break, I sat down -- I laid down on a tree, and I was looking at the sky and when I got up and tried to go back the way that I came and I had a sense of direction at that point, the path was not leading me back to my car. And I was like, these are not walking paths or bike paths, these are boar paths. So they were leading me into boar dens and like, you know, offroading essentially.

So, at that point, I had no choice. I said, the only thing I have is my gut. I don't have a compass or a cell phone. So I thought, spirit or whoever you need to pray to, I said, I need your help right now, I need to go back to my car, please help guide me. Like I said, I had a strong of guidance, so I started following that sense of guidance.

And that sense of guidance is what led me on my journey. That's what led me five miles away. And I believe that there is a bigger purpose to my story. It's not just a girl that got lost in the woods, it's this. It's everything that's happening right now and that's why I was so off the beaten path.

KEILAR: Amanda Eller, speaking in Hawaii about her, what was supposed to be a couple hours hike, a three-mile hike that turned into 17 days.

[16:20:07] She was rescued on Friday. You've just been listening to this 35-year-old speak.

And in other news, President Trump just returning from Japan, where he slammed former Vice President Joe Biden and now that he's back on U.S. soil, Biden's responding. We'll have that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: And we're back with the 2020 lead.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is making a return to the campaign trail in just about an hour. The current Democratic front-runner has spent notably less time campaigning and more time fund-raising than his fellow Democrats. And he also caught the ire of president Trump all the way from Japan, who stunningly agreed with Kim Jong-un, a ruthless dictator that Biden, the former vice president of the United States was, quote, low I.Q.

And as CNN's Arlette Saenz reports, Biden is now responding.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): After a ten-day hiatus, Joe Biden back on the campaign trail today in Texas, running on his own terms.

[16:25:07] JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I promise you this -- no one, no one is going to work longer, no one's going to campaign harder to win your hearts, your trust, and your support.

SAENZ: The front-runner Biden making fewer public appearances than his Democratic opponents, holding only 11 public events this last month and focusing on raising campaign cash with nine high-dollar fund-raisers.

Biden, so far, has refrained from engaging directly with any of his 22 Democratic rivals. Instead, training his focus on President Trump.

BIDEN: That's why, above all, we've got to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

SAENZ: His campaign firing back at President Trump today, after the president sided with the North Korean dictator during a press conference in Japan.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, 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.

SAENZ: Biden's campaign calling that, quote, underneath the dignity of the office. Trump also going after Biden last night, tweeting: Anyone associated with the 1994 crime bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African-Americans will not be able to vote for you.

Trump's tweet, a reference to Biden's role crafting the 1994 crime bill -- just one element of the former vice president's nearly five decades-long career facing fresh scrutiny.

BIDEN: This idea that the crime bill generated massive incarceration. It did not generate mass incarceration. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks a lot for

coming, guys.

SAENZ: Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders facing a drop in support in some recent polls, is now beaming over a new approach on the campaign trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie smile.

SAENZ: The Vermont senator trading his typically quick rope line greetings for one-on-one time in longer, structured photo lines.

SANDERS: If anybody wants a selfie, get on line!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, a Trump campaign spokesman is now responding to the Biden campaign saying, quote, that's rich coming from Joe Biden, who bashed President Trump while standing on foreign soil earlier this year in Germany, adding, Joe Biden has been wrong on virtually every foreign policy call in the last four decades.

And, Brianna, Joe Biden is fund-raising off of President Trump's comments on North Korea, saying that they show that the president is afraid he's going to lose.

KEILAR: All right. Arlette Saenz following former Vice President Joe Biden, thank you so much.

All right, let's talk about this back and forth between President Trump and Joe Biden when it comes to criminal justice reform, Biden's record on the '94 crime bill. To be clear, even though President Trump signed this recent criminal justice reform bill, he's not the best messenger on this. He has a very checkered past on race and justice when you start digging into it, although it seems likely that his supporters don't care, they haven't cared this far.

However, Jen, I wonder for Biden, especially as you see him taking incoming from the left on this issue, potential Biden supporters may care. This may be politically smart of President Trump.

PSAKI: Sure. If we're betting on Trump making a political calculus, and who knows what's behind it, he is calculating that if he can repress African-American turnout, that that is good for him in a general election. He is betting if he can turn voters off from Biden, a candidate I think is in his top tier of ones he is scared of facing, that is to his advantage.

So, it doesn't matter what the truth is or what his own record is, what he's looking at is who he wants to face in the general election.

CARPENTER: I think Jen is absolutely right. But what's really funny for me, Trump thinks he can have this debate just on, you know, mandatory minimums. But, I mean, look how Trump talks on a daily basis about criminal justice issues. He talks about locking up his enemies constantly. He randomly accuses people of treason. And so, if Joe Biden wants to fight back, I think he can, but he'd be

foolish to fight back in this very narrow territory based on the 1994 crime bill.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And also, I would just add, since I've been on the campaign trail these first few months, even at rallies for some of Biden's opponents in the primary, whether it's Warren or others, they don't seem too concerned about his stance on the crime bill or even his history with Anita Hill. And these are black voters that I'm talking about, ones that told me that, yes, that doesn't really bother me that much.

But I think there is a bit of a generational split and where it could hurt Biden is with younger voters.

KEILAR: With younger voters. So, then, he has to explain himself, Sabrina, when it comes to Anita Hill, when it comes to his role in the '94 crime bill when he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. How is he doing so far with that?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that when it comes to the '94 crime bill, one thing that's been interesting about Joe Biden is he hasn't expressly distanced himself from the legislation. He's pointed to some of the positive aspects that came out of it, such as funding for Violence Against Women's Act and assault weapons ban, both of which are no longer active. But at the same time, you know, he's said that he's not always been.

[16:30:00]