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Deadly Weather Threatening The United States From The Plains To Pennsylvania; Interview With Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA); Sparring Between President Trump And Joe Biden Continues; Feds: El Chapo's Request For Outdoor Exercise Could Be Part Of A New Escape Ploy By Drug Kingpin; CNN Visits Mount Everest Base Camp After 11 Deaths As Climbers Warn Of Carnage, Chaos And Overcrowding. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 28, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More severe weather is in the forecast tonight. CNN is in the storm zone covering destruction on the ground and threats on the horizon.

Deposing Trump? Democrats tell a federal judge they may need to question President Trump as part of a lawsuit accusing him of profiting off the presidency. Will they get to grill Mr. Trump and get hold of his financial records?

Embracing autocrats. As the president returns home from Japan, Joe Biden's campaign is blasting Mr. Trump for siding with the dictator Kim Jong-un against the former vice president. The sparring continuing, as the Democratic front-runner hits the trail tonight.

And escape fears. Is one of the world's most notorious inmates trying to bust out of a U.S. prison? We're going to tell you why a new request by convicted drug lord El Chapo could set the scene for a Hollywood-style jailbreak.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on deadly weather threatening the United States from the Plains to Pennsylvania. Tonight, millions are at risk for severe storms that could unleash tornadoes, hail, high winds and flash flooding.

The danger comes after multiple tornadoes hammered Western Ohio, killing at least one person, injuring dozens, and ripping apart homes and schools.

Also breaking, a potential opening for House and Senate Democrats to depose the president. They have notified a federal judge they may want to question Mr. Trump as they pursue his financial records as part of a lawsuit targeting his business properties, this as Joe Biden is back out there on the campaign trail tonight raising campaign cash off of Mr. Trump's insults of him while in Japan. The Democratic front-runner's team calling the president's remarks beneath the dignity of the office.

I will speak with Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN's Alex Field. She's in Ohio for us covering the storm devastation.

Alex, what's the situation the ground tonight?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the heartbreak is heavy in this neighborhood, signs of destruction as far as the eye can see, if you look behind me, sheet metal twisted up in a tree.

Trees are down. Power lines are down. Cars have been picked up, smashed, moved, and entire houses flattened by the tornado. In this house, the walls are down, the roof is down. The owner tells me it was a split-second decision that saved his life.


FIELD (voice-over): CNN drones capture the first clear view of the devastation in Ohio after at least three powerful tornadoes tore through the state in just a matter of hours.

The city of Salina and the areas in and around Dayton are among the hardest-hit, buildings and houses ripped open. Parts of rooftops now litter the landscape. Some homes are demolished.

RENE MONIZ, TORNADO SURVIVOR: The first things I thought of was war zone, because it just looked like somebody just took a bomb and...

FIELD: From the ground, the view is perhaps even worse.


FIELD: Belongings spill out of this house. In this Dayton neighborhood, split-second decisions saved lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We made it to the basement. And about the time we got down there, the chimney came off, and then whole roof came off.

EDDIE WHITEHEAD, TORNADO SURVIVOR: You could hear glass breaking and just everything blowing around. And I was just hoping we was going to make it.

FIELD: Roaring generators the only power source for some families making their way back to sift through the rubble and debris. Officials say it may take years to rebuild.

Ohio's governor says he feared for his own family.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): We had one daughter who didn't have a basement. And she went over to her sister's, who did have a basement. Seeing this happen anyplace is a horrible, horrible thing to see. And this certainly is home to us.

FIELD: The destruction just the latest in an unusually active tornado season. More than 500 tornadoes have been reported in the U.S. in just the last month, this as severe storms and rising floodwaters have forced people from their homes in Oklahoma.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, last night was pretty -- was pretty tense for us.

FIELD: The state has suffered nine storm-related deaths in just the last 30 days. More rain is on the way. The Arkansas River, which borders Oklahoma, is now above flood stage, according to authorities.

Two workers had to be rescued by helicopter Sunday. And, overnight, authorities closed two busy bridges across the river in an effort to save lives.


FIELD: Wolf, this is one of 400 buildings that was destroyed or heavily damaged by the tornadoes that touched down, two in just the space of half-an-hour right here in Dayton, Ohio.


The National Weather Service is on the ground now. They are taking a look at the damage, surveilling all of it. They say there are some signs that winds reached as high as 140 miles per hour just east of Dayton.

So many people now in need of help. They're leaning on their family. They're leaning on their friends. But the governor of this state says he has declared a state of emergency in three counties. That should help to speed resources and aid along to the people who need it the most, plenty of them tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly. Our heart goes out to all those people in harm's way.

Alex Field in Dayton, Ohio, for us -- Alex, thanks very much.

Let's get to other breaking news we're following in a legal battle between congressional Democrats and the president.

Our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Evan, could this lawsuit give Democrats access to the president's financial records and potentially force him to testify?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what the Democrats are trying to get a judge to approve, Wolf.

They say that this is a matter of trying to get information about whether the president is receiving income from his businesses while in office. This is about getting information that they were not able to get before he became president, and simply because of the way he has set up his businesses, really to still essentially be -- possibly be benefiting from them while he is in office.

The Justice Department wants to push this back. They say that the president is a very busy man. He should not be -- they should not be allowed to question the president. The Democrats are saying or asking permission from a judge to be able to do this well before the presidential campaign are in full swing.

So we will see whether a judge approves of this idea of not only getting access to these financial and business records, but also possibly talk to the president himself, which, of course, is going to be a big deal.

BLITZER: And within the past few minutes, we just heard once again from the former FBI Director James Comey.

He has posted an op-ed in "The Washington Post."

PEREZ: He has.

And, look, I mean, we have -- there's no shortage of things that James Comey has had to say since he left the FBI. But here he's taking aim at the idea of investigating the investigators, the idea that what Bill Barr -- the attorney general, Bill Barr, is doing, at the behest of the president, which is to look into the origins of the investigation and this idea that there was a coup.

And so one of the things that Comey says -- quote -- "There is no corruption. There was no corruption. There was no treason. There was no attempted coup. Those are lies, and dumb lies, at that. There are just good people trying to figure out what was true, under unprecedented circumstances."

He's describing, Wolf, the beginnings of this investigation, all the things that the FBI was seeing, and not really getting any information from the Trump campaign itself, right? The Russians were approaching people in the Trump campaign or associated with the Trump campaign.

And they never reported any of that. All the FBI was getting was information from informants and so on. So that's what made them much more suspicious during the 2016 election.

And so he's essentially calling B.S., as he says, on some of the allegations that are being made about the origins of this investigation.

BLITZER: And specifically saying the president of the United States is a liar.

PEREZ: Is a liar.

BLITZER: He uses that word.

PEREZ: And a bad one, at that.

BLITZER: Yes. Thanks very much, Evan Perez, with that report.

Now Biden versus Trump. They're trading new jabs tonight, as the 2020 Democrat returns to the campaign trail and the president has returned to the White House from Japan.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president, he's facing bipartisan criticism for his remarks overseas.


President Trump is back at the White House after a weekend trip to Japan that was teeming with controversy after he slammed former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden's campaign is firing back, though, accusing the president of behavior that is -- quote -- "beneath the dignity of the office."


ACOSTA: Any regrets on your comments on Joe Biden?

(voice-over): Biting his tongue as he returns from Japan, President Trump is facing bipartisan blowback after embracing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Biden campaign released a scathing statement that hit inboxes as soon as Mr. Trump was back on the ground in the U.S., saying: "The president's comments are beneath the dignity of the office. To be on foreign soil on Memorial Day and to side repeatedly with a murderous dictator against a fellow American and former vice president speaks for itself."

The swipe came after the president made waves in Tokyo over the weekend.

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

ACOSTA: Since that moment, some fellow Republicans have blasted the president's remark, the latest, longtime GOP House member Peter King, who tweeted: "Wrong for President Trump to criticize Joe Biden in Japan and to agree with Kim Jong-un. Politics stops at water's edge. Never right to side with murderous dictator vs. fellow American."

But that tradition of steering clear of domestic politics on the world stage ended long ago. Former President Barack Obama slammed Mr. Trump while in Japan back in 2016, when the real estate tycoon was only a candidate.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're rattled by him, and for good reason, because a lot of the proposals that he's made display either ignorance of world affairs or a cavalier attitude.


ACOSTA: The president also sided with Democrats who have criticized Biden for his support of a controversial crime bill in the '90s, 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."

But the president is overlooking his own role in inflaming tensions back in the '80s, when he took out an ad calling for the death penalty for a group of African-American and Latino teens wrongfully convicted in a Central Park rape case.

LARRY KING, "LARRY KING LIVE": Were you prejudging those arrested in that ad?

TRUMP: No, I'm not prejudging at all. I'm not in this particular case. I'm saying, if they're found guilty, if the woman died, which she hopefully will not be dying, but, if the woman died, I think they should be executed.

ACOSTA: On the Russia investigation, one of Mr. Trump's toughest critics, Republican Congressman Justin Amash, took to Twitter to hammer Attorney General William Barr's handling of the Mueller report, tweeting: "Barr has so far successfully used his position to sell the president's false narrative to the American people. This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth."

The president got a brief reprieve from the investigations in Congress, as he wished both Japanese troops...

TRUMP: I want to start by saying, happy Memorial Day. Happy Memorial Day.

ACOSTA: ... and U.S. service members a happy Memorial Day.

TRUMP: I have to wish you all a very happy Memorial Day, right? Memorial Day, very special back home, and I always like to be back in the U.S., as you do.


ACOSTA: Now, one person who hasn't responded to the president's attacks on Joe Biden is the former vice president himself.

Biden has left that task to his campaign aides so far, a return to the strategy Mr. Trump's GOP rivals used back in 2016. They too tried to keep Mr. Trump's attacks at arm's length during that campaign. It's an open question, though, whether that stay-above-the-fray approach will work in 2020.

And, Wolf, we should note, in just the last several minutes, President Trump has once again poked at former Vice President Biden with a tweet. Won't get into the content of that tweet, but it is safe to say this time at least the tweet was posted on U.S. soil -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state. He is a Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

I first want you to listen a little bit to what your Republican -- Republican colleague Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan said at a town hall just a little while ago. Listen to this.


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: I'm confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct. And I was appalled by it.

And that's why I stated what I stated. That's why I came to that conclusion, because I think we can't go -- we can't let conduct like that go unchecked. Congress has a duty to keep the president in check.

I think it's really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred, that we not just say, someone can...


AMASH: ... violate the public trust, and that there are no consequences to it.


BLITZER: Is this Republican congressman doing a better job than a lot of your fellow Democrats are doing explaining the Mueller report to the American people?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, first of all, Wolf, I want to say words that do not often come out of my mouth. I agree with Justin in this regard.

And, as a matter of fact, so do now -- count them -- more than 940 former U.S. attorneys, who basically characterize volume two of the Mueller report in the same way.

But, look, let's put this in perspective. That's Justin Amash alone. Where is anybody else within the Republican Conference? As a matter of fact, Wolf, it saddens me to remember this and to comment about this, but let us remember that one Senator Lindsey Graham, who was best friends with John McCain, loved him like a brother, refuses to stand up for him in the face of President Trump's continuing effort to disrespect John McCain's legacy and to destroy it.

So, this is Justin Amash alone. And good for him for it. But that's as far as it goes thus far. BLITZER: I also, Congressman, want to get your reaction to the latest

-- and this is a brand-new court filing from Democrats, an effort to depose people from the Trump Organization and even to depose President Trump himself.

The Mueller team was never able to secure a formal Q&A, oral question- and-answer session with the president. Will this effort, do you believe, succeed, where Mueller failed?

HECK: Well, one way or another, the truth will out, Wolf. It's going to.

And, as a matter of fact, if you looked at just the last week, we could go Monday. We had the court case saying that the accounting firm for the Trump Organization had to cough up, a couple of days later, another court case saying that Deutsche Bank had to cough up the information.


Both of those efforts were strongly resisted by the president. And, in the course of that same week, of course, we discovered that there was an internal memo in the Internal Revenue Service indicating that he had to turn over his tax returns, that there was no legal basis for resisting it.

So, the truth is, I am very optimistic that the truth will out, that this information will come forward, that disclosure will win out the day.

BLITZER: On another subject, we also just got a response from the Trump campaign in the back and forth that has been going on between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate.

This all started with the president siding with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to say that Biden is a low-I.Q. individual. What message does this send to American adversaries?

HECK: So, let's take a step back, Wolf.

This all happened when the president was in North Korea -- in Japan. The truth of the matter is that that trip was an abject failure, that he went there to achieve some diplomatic progress. He achieved none. He went there to make progress toward a bilateral trade agreement. He did not make it.

So, remember this. Everything that comes out of the president's mouth is in furtherance of one of four objectives; 100 percent of everything that comes out of his mouth is either a denial, an attack, an effort to play the victim, or, fourthly, an effort to change the subject by saying something outrageous.

So what I believe is, he was changing the subject because of how embarrassingly unsuccessful his trip to Japan ended up being. That's my takeaway from the trip to Japan. And, by the way, Wolf, I have another takeaway. It looks as though

it's about time for John Bolton to update his resume, because three strikes and you're out. He disagreed with the president on Venezuela. He disagreed with him on Iran. And while the president was in Japan, he disagreed with him on North Korea firing the missiles.

Again, words that don't often come out of my mouth, in this instance, I agree with John Bolton. The firing of those missiles was demonstrably a violation of the United Nations resolution.

BLITZER: Congressman Denny Heck, thanks so much for joining us.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead: the president and the Democratic front-runner setting their sights on one another. Will Mr. Trump be helped or hurt by insulting Joe Biden?



BLITZER: There's more now on the breaking news, Republican Congressman Justin Amash breaking ranks with his own party, speaking out tonight about the prospects of impeachment for President Trump.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, David Swerdlick, I will play a little bit of what we just heard from this Republican congressman.


AMASH: I think it's really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred.

I'm confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct. And I was appalled by it.

And that's why I stated what I stated. That's why I came to that conclusion, because I think we can't go -- we can't let conduct like that go unchecked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to salute your courage.



BLITZER: David Swerdlick, he gets a nice standing ovation from the folks there in Grand Rapids, in his district.


I think voters in general respect people who are willing to take a stand on principle and stick their neck out, especially against, let's say, in this case, the president of Congressman Amash's own party.

Whether or not they agree with the idea that Congress should move forward with impeachment, whether or not people are Republicans or Democrats, Americans, voters recognize when someone is taking a stand, rather than going along with...


BLITZER: You know, Dana, after he made his original statement saying it's time to at least begin impeachment proceedings against the sitting Republican president, we heard more Democrats follow his lead...


BLITZER: ... and say something very similar.

BASH: I mean, no question.

He is a man on his own GOP island right now. I mean, he just is, for a lot of reasons. And one of them is just because, having covered him in Congress on different issues, he's always been like that. He has not been afraid of backlash from his party leadership on issue after issue.

He does what he thinks is right. Many times, that comes from the right, on issues of spending and others. On this, it comes from a place of what he believes is appropriate legally.

And the fact that we have seen no Republicans follow, I think, tells you a lot about, not just how unique he is, but where the party is.

And it is 100 percent the party of Donald Trump.


BLITZER: Do you think he changed some Democrats' minds right now?


BLITZER: Because a lot of them have been reluctant to formally begin impeachment, like the speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

BASH: I don't think so.


I think that the Democrats are where they are, that they have their own deliberations. And if it were more than one Republican, perhaps. But the fact that he is a lone wolf out there, I don't think so.

BLITZER: Bianna, what do you think?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, he clearly took his time in reading the Mueller report. It's not as if he came out with this conclusion a day or two or even a week after the report came out. It speaks volumes to where the country is right now, when you get a

standing ovation for speaking your mind in a free democratic country, right? This isn't Soviet Russia, the Soviet Union, where you have some sort of dictatorship and people are afraid to speak out against their leader.

And yet we find ourselves in a position where many people in the president's party, at least publicly, will not say what every reporter at this network can confirm hearing when they speak to many of them behind closed doors. They disagree with the president on his rhetoric. They disagree with the president on certain policy issues.

They disagree with the president's behavior, as outlined in the Mueller report. As divided as we are as a nation, it is very difficult for them, or at least they feel, to speak out publicly that way.

BLITZER: And, as you know, Susan Hennessey, Democrats have now filed a new lawsuit. They're hoping to get the president of the United States into a deposition to testify as far as what's called the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, whether he is personally or his businesses are making money as a result of his being president.


So I do think that the congressional Democrats are ultimately going to prevail on those record -- records request that they have seen -- that we have seen them fight thus far. Of course, the president's strategy appears to just be using these court proceedings in order to insert that lengthy delay.

Now that the House Democrats are looking towards actually getting people to testify, getting people to sit for depositions, that really is going to hinge -- how difficult that is, is going to hinge, Wolf, on the willingness and inclination of that person to want to testify and how close they are to the president.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Supreme Court has already ruled that the sitting president of the United States can be compelled to sit in a civil deposition. That was a case -- the Paula Jones case, in which President Bill Clinton was required to sit for a deposition.

Now, there are some minor factual distinctions, but there are not really significant legal distinctions. So it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court weighs in, and if it, in fact, does.

BLITZER: It could be huge, a huge legal development.

Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we're following.

We will do that right after a quick break.


[18:30:00] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our experts. And, David, the Biden camp, have they finally responded to what the President was saying while he was in Japan? They waited for the President to come back to the United States.

First, the Trump campaign then immediately hit Biden saying that the former Vice President has been wrong on virtually every foreign policy call in the last four decades. So this back and forth, clearly, is going to escalate.

SWERDLICK: It's going to escalate. And I think the Biden camp should take that as a shot across the back, that should, Vice President Biden, advance to the general election next year that President Trump is going to come after him on a host of issues, including his vote for the Iraq War. I don't think that Trump has any intention of letting that go.

I wouldn't be surprised if some democrats don't get to that point in the primary debates because Vice President Biden is the only person running who voted on the Iraq War.

BASH: It's such an interesting strategy. It's an obvious strategy also, you know, based on sources I talked to elevate Joe Biden the way that Donald Trump is. You know, it was one thing when he was running against 16 other republicans. They were vying for the same voters and he diminished and demeaned them successfully.

It is different when he's on the other side and he keeps giving Joe Biden all this, you know, all of this -- not only air time but showing the democratic voters exactly how Joe Biden would act if and when he were to actually get the nomination, and actually showing democratic voters, suggesting to them that he's most worried about Joe Biden, which is true.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And to Dana's point, you have the other candidates now defending Joe Biden, right? So instead of trying to differentiate themselves or talk about their own policies, which more and more are introducing specifically on daily basis, they are in the position of having to defend Joe Biden in this war of words between him and the President.

HENNESSEY: And, look, we talk a lot about political opponents falling into President Trump's trap. A little bit, President Trump has fallen into Joe Biden's trap, which is that Joe Biden came out right from the beginning. He made it clear he was going to run as if this was a general election, that he was running against Trump, he was not running against the other democrats. And we see Trump playing right into that strategy by treating Biden as if he is going to be the ultimate opponent.

BLITZER: Well, clearly, Dana, Biden is the frontrunner right now significantly.

BASH: Yes. I mean, because if you think about it, you're exactly right, Susan. But generally speaking, you tried elevate people you think you can win at most against. And the fact that he's elevating Joe Biden and not others who, who knows, you never know, but probably at least, at this point, don't look like they would be as viable against the President. That's what's a little bit head-scratching.


BLITZER: Let me switch topics. Susan, on the U.S. Supreme Court today, they ruled on a strict Indiana abortion law sending some messages out there as far as willingness or unwillingness to take up the whole issue of Roe versus Wade.

HENNESSEY: Right. So this was essentially a compromised decision in which the court decided to uphold the provision of the law requiring the bearing of fetal tissue, a provision of law that's designed essentially to make it harder for clinics to operate by inserting medically unnecessary requirements for those clinics. But they declined to weigh on the provision of the law that might be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, essentially allowing the lower court's decision to stay.

This has been Chief Justice Roberts sort of tactic for a long time, basically just trying to hold off ever needing to make the decision, not allowing the case to come before the court where Roe could be overturned. Thus far, he has been joined in that strategy by Brett Kavanaugh. You need five people to overturn the law, but only four people to grant (INAUDIBLE), in which the court actually hears it.

With that said, the Indiana provision that they did uphold is an example that you actually don't need to overturn Roe v. Wade to make abortion basically and practically inaccessible. In six states in the United States, there is only one clinic that provides abortion. By allowing, by upholding state law that is to basically make it impossible for these clinics to operate, you can effectively make it impossible.

BLITZER: That's an important point, Bianna, because in matter of days, Missouri could become the first state in the nation not to have even a single woman's health clinic that provides abortion services.

GOLODRYGA: And the state legislature, obviously, focusing on bringing this before the Supreme Court. However, this is clearly going to become a big political issue as we head into the presidential election too. You see many candidates putting this front and center.

Kamala Harris is now saying that the federal government should actually intervene now and codify abortion laws. This could really be an energizing issue for many on the left and could turn voter turnout into focusing on this issue in particular where it may have just been an idea that Roe may go away in this country, where as now, it looks like, as far as many of these states are concerned, it's looking more and more like a reality.

BASH: And this is a big reason why republican leaders from the RNC Chairwoman to others said that they were so upset about the Alabama law that went further than even most republicans believed with absolutely no exceptions in their banning of abortion. And the reason is because you have what's going on in Missouri and Indiana and other places where they do believe, the conservatives, they are actively able to chip away at abortion rights.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following.

Joe Biden returns to the campaign trial for the first time in ten days. We're going to get the latest on his town hall that's happening right now.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, including former Vice President Joe Biden ending a ten-day break from the campaign trail with a town hall that's underway right now in Houston, Texas. I want to bring CNN's Political Director, David Chalian.

That's a long time, ten days, to be out of the campaign.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is, especially when you compare to his democratic competitors, right. I mean, in the four weeks that he's been in the race, they are lapping him in terms of the number of events.

This is a deliberate strategic choice that team Biden is making, not out there pounding the pavement, doing four or five events in a day, as some of his competitors are, instead, they did quick visits to the key early four states, did some Pennsylvania messaging, a critical state in this contest. And what else they've been doing, raising a ton of money.

But you're right, there is a deliberate attempt here to sort of -- I know Joe Biden doesn't have a Rose Garden at his disposal anymore, but this is what we call Rose Garden strategy. He is the clear frontrunner in the polls, he is raising gobs of money, he is getting a ton of endorsements and their entire philosophy now is kind of like that first principle in medicine, do no harm. So, right now, it's working for them.

Here is the problem. It's rather inconceivable to mean that over the course of the next eight months that Joe Biden is going to be able to stay above the fray, that he is going to be able to just focus on Donald Trump, he's about to get on a debate stage in just a month's time now with his democratic contenders. He is going to have to engage in this democratic nomination contest in order to win the nomination.

BLITZER: And some of those democratic opponents of his, they are beginning to go after him, not necessarily as harshly as the President.

CHALIAN: Certainly not as harshly as the President. But, specifically, Bernie Sanders on many policy differences, Elizabeth Warren on Joe Biden's fundraising practices on some of his past votes. He has a long record in American politics. It's going to get litigated throughout this contest.

BLITZER: David Chalian helping us better appreciate on what's going on, thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead is the notorious drug lord, El Chapo, plotting another escape from a U.S. prison.

Plus, a second American dies climbing Mount Everest, the latest of almost a dozen deaths on the world's tallest mountain in recent weeks. We're going live to Nepal for the latest.


[18:49:22] BLITZER: The infamous drug kingpin El Chapo managed extraordinary escapes from two prisons in Mexico and now, U.S. authorities worry he's looking to do the same thing here in the United States.

Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the people who prosecuted Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and secured his conviction are seriously worried tonight. They are fighting a request from El Chapo to be allowed two hours of outside exercise a week because they contend the short windows of time and space could give the kingpin all he needs to make another break.


TODD (voice-over): This high security prison in Manhattan has been called tougher than Guantanamo.

[18:50:01] But tonight, federal prosecutors say they are concerned that one of the world's most notorious, violent drug lords could be trying to bust out of it. Prosecutors are fighting a request by former Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the 61-year-old who was convicted of ten counts including drug distribution in February wants two hours of outdoor exercise a week. Ear plugs to block out prison noise and the ability to buy bottled water at the commissary.

El Chapo's lawyers say he's suffering mental fatigue from cruel and unusual conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, that for two and a half years, he's been in solitary confinement, with no access to fresh air or sunlight.

MICHAEL BRAUN, FORMER DEA CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: Uber sadistic, maniacally-driven killing machine, and this guy is now whining about not getting enough fresh air, not enough sunshine? Please.

TODD: Prosecutors say the request for outdoor exercise for El Chapo is especially risky, because the only outdoor exercise space at that Manhattan prison is on the roof, leaving El Chapo at risk of being broken out of jail in Hollywood style like Ice Cube's character in XXX 2.

While that may sound far-fetched, experts say it's not. In 1981, an inmate tried to escape from the roof top of the same prison where El Chapo is held. That inmate's friends hijacked a helicopter and attempted to lift him out after trying to cut through the wire mesh that covers the exercise yard. They failed but other jail breaks with helicopters have succeeded such as this one in Canada in 2013. Two inmates got away but were recaptured a few hours later.

CAMERON LINDSAY, RETIRED WARDEN, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS: It definitely can happen. It's extremely rare. But it can happen, especially with somebody like the -- who has the fiscal resources that El Chapo has.

TODD: Prosecutors in El Chapo's case argue they have reason to be concerned, saying a helicopter escape from the Manhattan prison would be, quote, elementary by comparison to what the drug lord has already pulled off.

At Mexico's maximum security Altiplano prison in 2015, El Chapo disappeared while walking through a shower stall. Turns out, there was an escape hatch in the floor that led to an elaborate tunnel, complete with electricity, lighting, tracks laid out on the ground and a modified motorcycle cart for transportation.

Nearly 15 years earlier, he escaped another high-security prison reportedly hidden in a laundry cart. Even his safe house has a backup plan. Once, as police were closing in on him, he escaped through this trap door concealed under his bathtub. He ran through a system of underground tunnels completely naked and got away.

MICHAEL VIGIL, FORMER DEA CHIEF OF INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS: El Chapo Guzman I consider to be the modern day Houdini. He escapes from the two most maximum secure penitentiaries in Mexico. And the one in Altiplano was the most spectacular prison break that I've seen anywhere in the world.

TODD: Could the king pin get help from his former beauty queen wife? At his trial, a former associate of El Chapo's testified that his wife, Emma Coronel, played in a role in the escape from Altiplano by passing messages to plotters.

BRAUN: She can manage and direct others, OK, to do exactly what needs to be done to collect the intelligence that he needs to ultimately escape again.

TODD: Emma Coronel was never charged in connection with his escapes, and her lawyers didn't comment on the testimony.


TODD: Prosecutors are also concerned tonight that if he is not placed under restrictive conditions, El Chapo could conceivably run at least part of the Sinaloa cartel's operations from inside that Manhattan prison. El Chapo's lawyers say he's been a model prisoner and they call the prosecutors' concerns hysterical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Just ahead, a peak experience turns deadly as 11 people have lost their lives on Mount Everest. Are there too many deaths because there are too many climbers?


[18:57:33] BLITZER: Tonight, carnage and chaos at the world's highest mountain. A second American died while scaling Mount Everest, bringing the death toll up to 11 this climbing season. One climber describes walking over bodies to reach the summit.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Arwa Damon traveled to the Everest base camp for us. She's joining us now from Nepal with an exclusive report.

Arwa, there are urgent concerns I take that that the mountain right now is dangerously overcrowded.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, there are, especially looking back to the now iconic photograph showing the massive trail of climbers waiting to get to the summit, waiting in what's known as the Death Zone. Called that, because when you're at that altitude, ever breath you take only gives you about a third of the oxygen you'd be getting at sea level.

The Nepalese government under immense pressure because some are saying that was due to overcrowding due to too many permits being issued. The Nepalese government says no, that's not the case. They only issued nine more this year than they have the previous year.

They are saying that the overcrowding was due to bad weather, which means that there are only limited number of days where people could summit. But there is another concern, too, and that is about the experience level of people that are getting these permits. There is no regulations in place. You don't have to prove a certain level of experience to be able to summit Mount Everest.

Now, the government is saying, Wolf, that might begin to change.

BLITZER: From those you've spoken to at the base camp, Arwa, is anyone now second-guessing whether it's worth the risk going up there?

DAMON: You know, that was a question we did ask a number of climbers who we spoke to. And they all said that they would not change or hesitate to do the climb once again. And it really goes back to experience.

Inexperienced climbers don't know how to ready their bodies. They don't know how to understand when they are bodies are telling them that they're pushing themselves too far through the physical limits. Most of those who die, Wolf, they die on their way back down from altitude sickness. The climbers who we spoke to at base camp, who had just come down from the summit say no matter how shocking it was to go past dead bodies, they would still do it again, because they say that they are aware of the risks and they do know how to handle it.

But that underscores this issue when it comes to burden of responsibility. The Nepalese government has some. The climbing companies have some. But there is a burden of responsibility, Wolf, on the climbers themselves.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us. Arwa, good reporting as usual. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.