Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Mueller Breaks Silence, Will Not Clear Trump; Seven Killed, 19 Missing in Danube River Tourist Boat Sinking; Israel to Vote Again after Prime Minister Fails to Form Government; Cartoonists Satirizing Britain's Future Contenders. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


[00:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He speaks: special counsel Robert Mueller breaks two years of silence to set the record straight on his Russia investigation. And his words spark a flurry of new calls to impeach the president.

Tragedy on the Danube: seven South Koreans tourists are dead after their sightseeing boat goes down and many more remain missing.

Plus, Israel is set to call a do-over vote after prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to follow working coalition, parliament (sic) with the unprecedented move of dissolving and calling another general election for later this week.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world, I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VAUSE: Well, he may not want to testify before Congress but Robert Mueller was clear and direct in a surprise 10-minute statement to reporters. The Justice Department's special counsel did not deviate far from his 448 pages of written report.

But hearing him repeat the conclusions out loud spoke volumes. Those conclusions, in direct contradiction to the president Trump's claim of total exoneration. And the attorney general William Barr's characterization of the report as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to Volume II of our report explains that decision. It explains that, under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Joining me now from Los Angeles, CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot and former assistant U.S. attorney David Katz.

Max, first to you, watching Mueller deliver those remarks, I couldn't work out from a political point of view if this was a mike drop moment, Mueller out or whether he just wanted to try to set the record straight.

The attorney general and the president have had several weeks to build essentially what is a false narrative.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think what special counsel Mueller said, what has certainly had more impact if it had come weeks earlier right after his report was released because it would have dramatically undercut the false narrative that we heard from attorney general Barr.

But I think, even now coming at this late date, what Mueller said really resonated. And I think to a surprising extent, because those of us who actually read the Mueller report, there was literally nothing, whatsoever, new in what Bob Mueller said today.

But the fact that he was saying himself, saying it out loud, saying it on TV and that had an impact. You can see it. The fact that we have been talking about this all day on CNN, every other network. It had an impact, because he is basically saying in so many words that the president committed a crime and that the only reason he could not indict him is because the Justice Department does not permit him to indict a sitting president and therefore, over to you, Congress.

It's up to Congress now to take action. He didn't say quite in those words but that was basically the message that he delivered.

VAUSE: David, as someone who is familiar with the thinking inside the Justice Department, how it works, how do you explain the timing?

Why did Mueller decide now is the time to speak?

DAVID KATZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Mueller got a little bit played by Barr and I don't think it's a dishonor for a former Marine and former head of the FBI not to be the kind of street fighter that it turns out that Barr is.

But he worked for the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice has regulations for someone like Mueller. That was one reason why, until today, when he severed his ties with the Department of Justice, Mueller felt that he was bound by their regulations.

And so talking about cases before you have closed down your own involvement, that was something that Mueller thought he could not do under the regulations and, yes, he got played in that letter by Barr over the weekend. And he got played by the testimony of Barr.

But I think now things have been rectified, John. And I think that Mueller made it very clear today that the route is impeachment. That you cannot indict a sitting president under the rules of the Department of Justice and, as a good soldier, Barr is bound by -- excuse me -- Mueller is bound by those rules.

But since a sitting president cannot be indicted under those rules, a sitting president is unseated one way and one way only, unseated by impeachment. That's where we're going, that's where the House is going right now and, I don't think it's a pipe dream. I think that's something that may happen by default.

(CROSSTALK)

KATZ: -- initial investigations.

VAUSE: Mueller made it clear, he wants this to be his first and last public statement on the Russia investigation. This is what he said.

KATZ: Well, no --

[00:05:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER: There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Max, putting Mueller's reluctance to one side, the congressional Democrats have made clear they want him to testify. And even if he doesn't deviate from his report like today, it's the difference between reading the book and watching the movie. Hearing Mueller has a much bigger impact than reading Mueller.

BOOT: I think that's exactly right, especially because so few people have actually read Mueller. I saw one opinion poll that showed something like only 3 percent of Americans have said they read the Mueller report and I bet half of those were lying and certainly not all members of Congress even have read the Mueller report.

So I think simply having Mueller sit there in a nationally televised hearing and walk through his conclusions and walk through the evidence that forced him to conclude that Donald Trump had obstructed justice, I think that will be very powerful and k that's something I think Donald Trump is very scared of because he understands the power of television.

That's one thing that Donald Trump knows is how to shape a narrative and how to fight on TV. I think he is very much afraid of having somebody like Mueller denouncing him in so many words on national TV, because you saw today that Mueller is very understated. He's not flashy. Just the facts, very Jack Webb in style but very effective for all that because he is so clearly not this deranged Democratic partisan that President Trump has painted him as being.

VAUSE: David, we heard Mueller talking just then. He is making the point that all the words in his 400-plus page report were carefully chosen. With that in mind, listen to Mueller talking about obstruction of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER: The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It's notable; he said when a subject of an investigation, using the word "when" implies obstruction took place. He could have used the word "if," "if the subject of the investigation," which applies an element of uncertainty, maybe obstruction didn't happen but it did.

So David, I could wade through the weeds here but it does seem, on Wednesday, just like he did with his report, Robert Mueller is making his opinion known.

KATZ: I think he made his opinion very well known in the report itself. And I agree that people should read it. There is a part obstruction of justice which is as good as any kind of writing. It's not legalese, it's concise. Without the footnotes, it's maybe 20 or 30 pages and a person can read in Volume II what happened with McGahn and how President Trump had McGahn write a false memorandum to the file or wanted him to.

McGahn refused to do that. And it's just compelling how this is a classic obstruction of justice, which anyone else but President Trump would have been indicted by the Justice Department. There's a letter from over 1,000 federal former prosecutors like myself, which makes that opinion.

And these are people from the Reagan administration -- some of them go back to the Eisenhower administration -- who signed this letter.

VAUSE: What was interesting though, when we heard from Mueller, it was enough to sway a number of Democrats running for 2020 to throw their support behind impeachment, that they have been reluctant up until now. There is still this hesitation among Democrat leaders in Congress. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Getting the facts to the American people. Getting the truth for the American people. Where they will lead us we shall see. Nothing is off the table.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): With respect to the impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): You've got to surface more evidence and do the full investigation that we are trying to pursue in the various committees, then make a decision about whether to prosecute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Max, first it was wait for the Mueller report. The report is out. Then it was wait to hear from Mueller. Now he has spoken. There has also been this call for Republican support for impeachment.

Well, here's Republican congressman Justin Amash, the first Republican in Congress to call for impeaching the president. He was arriving at a town hall in his home district on Tuesday. Listen to the standing ovation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): And that's coming from --

VAUSE (voice-over): This is Grand Rapids, Michigan, Max.

So for Democrats, what else do they want here?

Why the hesitation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOOT: Well, I think there are actually good grounds for hesitation. The grounds for hesitation are not that there is a lack of evidence that Donald Trump committed impeachable conduct; he clearly did.

But there is a real reason why Speaker Pelosi is hesitating, which is that I think she is afraid that, while the House could certainly pass the articles of impeachment, the Senate would not convict him under any circumstances because there is not a single --

[00:10:00]

BOOT: -- Republican who has joined Justin Amash in calling for Donald Trump's impeachment and not a single Republican member of the Senate has done that.

And so I think Speaker Pelosi's concern is that, if you move to impeach Trump and then he gets exonerated by the Senate, that will be a win for Donald Trump politically and it's going to rouse his base. It's going to feed into his narrative that there is a deep state trying to remove him from office.

So I think there are reasons for Speaker Pelosi to be cautious moving forward. But I think there are also reasons to move forward, because, as Bob Mueller underlined, we do have a President of the United States who has clearly committed high crimes and misdemeanors. And you can't ignore that glaring fact and remain a constitutional democracy.

VAUSE: David, impeachment is either the right thing to do or it's not the right thing to do, right?

KATZ: First of, all it is a political question, just like what the high crimes and misdemeanors are determined to be. Many of these Republican senators, who everyone's sure are not going to vote to remove the president from office, if it gets to the Senate, they voted to remove President Clinton from office when it was in the Senate under President Clinton, except they didn't have the two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove him.

But my view on this -- and I'm a trial lawyer, I kind of see things in these terms -- the trial, that is the effort to impeach in the House, would be a dramatic bad thing for President Trump. I think the Democrats will come to see that.

They're going to spend the next few months doing the House investigation of these various potential articles of impeachment. Then the trial, that is, the bringing up the charges in the House, not the trial on the Senate but the bringing of the charges in the House would be dramatic.

There are no rules, except what the House sets for those. They could bring witnesses, so it could be like Watergate. They could also have it presented by hearsay and one week they would do all of the tax issues. The next week they would do the Michael Cohen and the payment to the models.

Then the next week they would do the Mueller investigation, that would be the conspiracy that they could show whether Mueller thought he could indict for it or not. Then the next week would be the obstruction of justice that we are talking about with Cohen, with Flynn and with McGahn.

Whether they had McGahn or not, it would be a compelling showing.

Then what is the Senate going to do when it arrives there with them to try the case and whether to remove him?

Senator McConnell is just going to say, case dismissed, so there would be a huge narrative from the Democrats that would be awful for Trump and then there would be, what, case dismissed?

No response from the Senate?

I think if it went to the Senate, people would be surprised. I think the Senate would try it and hear it.

VAUSE: When it comes to impeachment, perhaps the president might not be the only member of this administration who should be concerned. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Attorney General Barr, Robert Mueller said today that President Trump was not exonerated for obstruction of justice.

Why did you exonerate him?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Max, could they take a practice run by impeaching the attorney general?

Are there grounds for impeaching Bill Barr?

BOOT: Absolutely. I think attorney general Barr has become obstructor general Barr. He is basically helping Donald Trump to obstruct justice and to obfuscate the findings of the Mueller report.

And, yes, I think he could easily be impeached for that, just like I think Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin could be impeached for failing to comply with the clear law that says he must turn over the returns of any taxpayer upon the request of the House Ways and Means Committee.

He's refusing to do that because he is paying attention to Donald Trump's whims, rather than what the law actually says.

But again, you come back to the basic issue of impeachment being a political act and you are not going to get more than one Republican vote at the moment in favor of impeachment.

And that's the big difference between this time and Watergate. During the time of Watergate, you had Republicans like Bill Cohen and Howard Baker and Barry Goldwater and others who showed some independence from the White House.

Today at the moment you have exactly one Republican out of the 250 in the House and Senate who shows any independence from Donald Trump. So the fact that the Republican Party is marching in lockstep with Trump, even as he continues to undermine our democracy, makes it very hard to successfully pursue impeachment under those circumstances.

VAUSE: We have said this before and we will say it again, it has been another extraordinary day in Washington, for the special counsel making statements and the reaction to them. It seems to be run of the mill for this administration.

Max, thank you for being with us.

Also David, thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time.

BOOT: Thank you.

VAUSE: Rescue crews are searching the Danube River in Budapest; 19 people are missing after a tourist boat capsized and sank. At least seven people have died, all of them tourists from South Korea. The South Korean president --

[00:15:00]

VAUSE: -- has ordered a rapid response team to be sent there to help in the search.

ATV reporter Olivia Harangozo is following developments from Budapest; also standing by in Seoul is our own Paula Hancocks.

Olivia, first, to you.

What's the latest that we have on the search and rescue?

OLIVIA HARANGOZO, ATV CORRESPONDENT: Hello, John. I'm standing right in front of the ship which is still not confirmed but (INAUDIBLE) this is the ship which collided with the Mermaid, the one that carried 33 passengers and two passengers from the crew and this totally sank.

So people are still missing, as you know, already said. So 19 people are still missing and they're looking for them all over the country, all over the Danube because, as you can see, maybe from the picture, the flood is really strong and the bodies can be kilometers away.

More than 100 firemen are looking for them, also divers are looking for them, so as long as we are going to find some of the information, we are going to tell you. Thank you very much.

VAUSE: Thank you for that. We can see the weather there and the conditions aren't great.

But, Paula, the South Korean president sending a team to help with the search.

Logistically, are they able to arrive there in time to be of any use?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's a rapid response team that is flying right now, in fact, 1:00 pm local, they will be taking off. It's going to be six foreign ministry officers on board and then also 12 fire department officers and rescue operatives.

The fact is the flight is about 12-13 hours to Budapest, so, realistically, the initial rescue operation has to be done by those on the ground. Of course there will be logistics to deal with after the event.

There are seven survivors so far, we understand, so those people will be needed to be taken care of, which is why the foreign ministry is sending its own people as well. The president, Moon Jae-in, did ask the South Korea foreign minister to head up this rapid response team, make sure that those on the ground get what they need in the aftermath of this accident and of course to inform the victims' families if and one that is necessary.

Certainly from the South Korean point of view, it's important to get that team there. But you are right. Logistically and realistically, the rescue operation has to be done on the ground, it will be some time before they get there.

VAUSE: I think back to all the tragedies that have happened to South Korea in recent years, this is a very politically sensitive issue for any government there in Seoul. HANCOCKS: Well, that's right. Clearly there have been a number of maritime incidents in South Korea as well, the most notable just five years ago, the ferry which sank off the self coast of South Korea, killing hundreds on boards and many of them schoolchildren on a field trip.

So this will bring back some unpleasant memories for many within South Korea.

But the question they are asking now is what exactly happened on this occasion?

We are hearing a number of briefings from the tour group here in South Korea, which was in charge of this tour. It was a nine-day tour around the Balkans and Eastern Europe, they were on day five of that. Clearly, the question for people here now is, how, exactly, that happened?

We understand that some members of that tour group this evening will be heading to Budapest as well to see what they can do.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you.

Paula in Seoul as well as Olivia, our ATV reporter, standing live in Budapest, giving us the very latest from the scene. Thanks to you both.

At least 23 people were killed in a horrific crash in southeastern Mexico. A bus carrying Catholic pilgrims collided with a cargo truck and burst into flames. There are reports some were trapped on the burning bus. The parishioners were returning from Mexico City where they had visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

Up next, a stunning political upset in Israel, the prime minister suffering a huge defeat but he is taking his fight back to the ballot box.

And with Theresa May on her way out, cartoonists are having a field day summarizing the contenders racing to replace her.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:20:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VAUSE: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu just did what no other Israeli prime minister has ever done before. He forced the country to hold an unprecedented second election seven weeks after voters last went to the polls.

All because Netanyahu failed to form a new government, in part because of a standoff with his former defense minister. Avigdor Lieberman leads a party with just five crucial parliamentary seats but he will not give those seats to support the coalition until he gets support over a proposed law which exempts ultraorthodox Jews from military service. He wants that law changed.

Now Netanyahu says Lieberman is to blame for all of this chaos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: He never meant to reach an agreement. He wanted in the clearest way to topple the government and he does it from considerations of getting more votes. That's what he thinks.

But he's not going to succeed. He is dragging the whole country to six more months of election for the second time around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: To Jerusalem now for the very latest and here's Oren Liebermann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happened in Israeli politics Wednesday night is absolutely stunning. Never before in the history of the country has a prime minister failed to form a government after an election, but that's exactly what happened here.

Benjamin Netanyahu who appeared to have a clear path to a right-wing coalition after the April elections failed to put together a government with his coalition partners deadlocked.

Netanyahu had two options. Go to the president, say he is unable to form a government and risk someone else being given the chance and perhaps becoming prime minister, or legislative elections and that's the option he chose.

It means he remains in charge of his Likud Party, in charge of the Knesset and in charge of the country's prime minister. Those elections now scheduled for September 17th.

Israel has never had two national elections within months of each other but that's the situation the country is in now. And these results go beyond internal Israeli politics.

President Donald Trump's team was ready to roll out part of its long- awaited peace plan in the coming weeks and months, this may throw all of that into turmoil.

On top of that, Netanyahu faces criminal investigations and potential charges. Those aren't going your way with the hearing scheduled for October. All of that no hangs in the balance with Israel heading for elections once again -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Add another layer of chaos to the Brexit debacle, now the leading candidate to succeed Theresa May as Britain's prime minister has been ordered to appear in court. Boris Johnson is accused of lying to the public during the 2016 Brexit campaign when he said Britain's membership to the E.U. cost 350 million pounds a week.

You may recall, that claim was plastered on the side of a bus that drove around Britain. A business man has filed a lawsuit against Johnson that's being funded by a crowdsourced campaign.

For the last three years, Brexit has seemed nothing more than a comedy of errors. Now with a slew of contenders gunning for the job of prime minister, the country is having a field day satirizing Britain's future.

[00:25:00]

VAUSE: Here's Nick Glass.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK GLASS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Conservative Party leadership contenders, a cartoonist's interpretation, toots and castaways from a sinking ship, H.M.S. Tory. The open-mouthed blond in the center is the outright favorite, Boris Johnson.

The former foreign secretary and former London mayor is by far the best known of the candidates. The divisive and sometimes buffoonish figure for many Tory MPs, he's hugely popular with the party membership.

It is fair to say that he is wanted to be prime minister his entire political life.

Is this his best ever chance?

SEBASTIAN PAYNE, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Yes, indeed. And it is his last chance as well that if he doesn't get the Tory leadership at this point, that's probably him done for front-line politics.

HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Is he going to win?

PAYNE: Probably.

FRASER NELSON, "THE SPECTATOR": We are living in thrillingly unpredictable times. A Boris prime ministership might seem as unthinkable as a Trump presidency, Brexit results. The impossible is happening all the time in politics.

GLASS: No sooner had Theresa May dropped out of sight than there was a sprint to the front door. Tory political contests are often characterized as something of a horse race. And as is their way, most of the runners and riders came out of the gate before starter's orders.

Already it's a pretty crowded field, if not bus. Expect yet more candidates to leap on board in the coming days. NELSON: I think it's going to be a Tory version of Wacky Races, lots of entertainment and I'm not sure we'll learn very much in the process. But it will be unwatchable.

SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: My name is Sajid Javid and I'm standing to be leader of the Conservative and Unionist party and the next prime minister. My message is simple: it's time to rebuild trust.

MICHAEL GOVE, BRITISH ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY: I led the campaign to bring Britain out of the European Union. I'm ready to unite the Conservative and Union Party in that mission. I'm ready to deliver Brexit. I'm ready to take Britain out of the European Union.

ANDREA LEADSOM, CONSERVATIVE MP: I can confirm I will be standing for the leadership of my party and as the next prime minister and I do believe I am the decisive and compassionate leader who can reunite our great country.

GLASS: The great new challenge for all the candidates is the emergence of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party.

NELSON: They now face a question not of improving their performance whether they're going to survive as a party or not. They stand a very real risk of being smashed if they get -- if they try again and get it wrong. Then the Conservative Party, this great election winning machine, might end up as a stain on Nigel's ashtray.

GLASS: Lady in red on Downing Street, Theresa May at the end of her resignation's speech.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold.

GLASS: As we all know, one issue monopolized her time at Number 10 and ultimately spelled her downfall.

Will her successor handle Brexit any better? -- Nick Glass, CNN, in London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: A bit like Britain and Brexit itself, the Speaker of the House of Commons is finding it hard to leave.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS: Order!

No, yes, no I -- order!

Order!

Difference of opinion is of the essence of politics. There is an elaborate combination of finger-wagging and head-shaking going on, which may be personally therapeutic but is institutionally disadvantageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: John Bercow was expected to step down as soon as July but now says it would be sensible to vacate the chair although there are major issues before Parliament. This will not please Eurosceptics, who fear that he wants to thwart a no-deal Brexit. Speaking to the gallery, Bercow warned candidates of the Tory leadership not to try and force a no-deal Brexit without the approval of Parliament.

Smashing records and destroying homes, tornado activity ravages the U.S. from Texas to New Jersey.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for staying with us. I'm John Vause with an update on our top news this hour.

[00:32:03] Special Counsel Robert Mueller spoke, speaking publicly for the first time on his Russia investigation. He says if President Trump did not commit a crime, his report would have said so. Mueller also says he could not consider charging the president because of Justice Department guidelines.

Stunning political developments from Israel. Voters are to go to the polls in September. They last voted just seven weeks ago. All of this comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government. He had been struggling to build a coalition since the first one back in April.

At least seven people have been killed when a tourist boat sank on the Danube River in Budapest. All those killed were tourist from South Korea. At least a dozen people remain missing.

Every day now for the past 14 days, this sound has blared across the U.S. Midwest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(TORNADO SIREN)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Tornado sirens have been heard from Texas to New Jersey, warnings of twisters like this one in Canton, Texas. Millions of residents across seven states on Wednesday were facing what they call an enhanced risk of severe weather.

The U.S. is having an unusually active tornado season. In the last two weeks, more than 365 tornadoes have been reported in 22 states, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

As nearly half of the U.S. picks up the pieces from hundreds of tornadoes, floodwater is still rising in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The swollen Arkansas River is reaching record levels. It's holding for now, but water has already begun to spill over the banks. CNN's Ed Lavandera has the very latest now from Oklahoma.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, nearly 40 million people are at risk for more severe weather after two straight weeks of tornadoes and damaging storms have hammered the United States Midwest and as far east as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In the last 30 days, more than 500 tornadoes have been reported across the country. In Kansas, residents are cleaning up after tornadoes struck the town of Linwood late Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes on the outskirts of town. The city's mayor tells us the homes are all gone.

Linwood resident Brian Hahn described to CNN affiliate KNBC the terrifying scene as he rode out the twister with his family, huddled under a mattress.

BRIAN HAHN, LINWOOD, KANSAS, RESIDENT: I could hear it was over us, and I saw my bedroom just leave. It was gone. We were underneath the one part of the house that didn't get taken. We knew it was coming. I just didn't think -- I was just hoping it wasn't coming right at me, and it did. I feel lucky I'm alive.

LAVANDERA: A tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, injured at least 15, according to the Douglas County Health Department. Even in the northeast, areas not accustomed to the threat of tornadoes were hit by severe storms Tuesday. The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado in Berks County in Eastern Pennsylvania. Nobody was injured.

CHIEF JOHN SCALIA, CAERNARVON TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT: We've been so blessed. You know, when you drive around and see the destruction, you really really realize how lucky we are that nobody was hurt.

[00:35:11] LAVANDERA: A band of severe weather damaged a New Jersey high school while an event was going on in the gymnasium. Again, nobody was injured. One local resident said it was over in a flash.

A New Jersey high school well and event was going a New Jersey high school well and event was going on a in a gymnasium. Again, nobody was injured. One local resident said it was over in a flash.

STEPHAN YOSH, HOPATCONG, NEW JERSEY RESIDENT: It seriously looked like something out of a movie. I looked out of the back of the house, and there were trees coming down. I must have seen three of them fall within five seconds. And it all happened within 30 seconds to a minute.

LAVANDERA: Here in Oklahoma, historic flooding. More rain has fallen on parts of the state already overwhelmed with rising floodwaters, and the Arkansas River is cresting.

(on camera): So what you see behind me is the Keystone Dam just west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. And right now, there are about three Olympic- sized pools of water being released through those flood gates every second.

But the hope is here, we're told by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is the agency in charge, tasked with monitoring and keeping tabs on this dam, the hope is over the course of the next 24 hours, they will be able to start slowly closing up those gates a little bit. And that will give all of the water downstream a chance to begin receding, which is what residents here in Oklahoma and Arkansas are desperately waiting for.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us with more on this. Derek, it's one thing to have all these record number of twisters. On top of that, this record flooding. It's a one-two punch for many people.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's been a very difficult month, to say the least, for the U.S.

I want to show you this video. We're going to touch on the tornadoes first, then get to the flooding in just a second. You're watching images of a gentleman going to assess damage in Dayton, Ohio. He walked up to the top floor of his apartment. There was literally no roof overhead. Can you imagine just that feeling, coming home and seeing that?

Incredible weather pattern that's set up across the central U.S. Here's what's happening. By the way, it was May 15 was the last day that we did not have a reported tornado across the central U.S. We're talking about the longest consecutive stretch of at least eight tornadoes per day in recorded history. This is an incredible amount of severe weather.

Warm and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico coinciding with cold air from the north. And that battleground, with all the necessary ingredients, starts to bring out our severe weather threat. We've had 377 tornadoes just in the past two weeks alone.

Check this out. We are 66 percent above average for the entire year in terms of number of tornadoes. Wow. That says it all, right?

Well, what's happening now? We've had 23 tornadoes on Wednesday alone. And I want to show you this graphic. We show it often, but it's not just the tornadoes that have been an issue. It's been straight-line winds that have been a concern. They've ripped across the mid-Atlantic and yet again, today, places like D.C. and Philly have a chance of straight-line winds and strong storms.

The other big story, the excessive flooding. You saw that incredible imagery behind Ed Lavandera just a moment ago. We have had feet of rain across the central U.S., and unfortunately, that is moving into the Arkansas and Mississippi River. More precipitation in the forecast, but it does look like there is a pattern shift on the horizon for the millions of Americans impacted by this flooding -- John.

VAUSE: Yes, it's incredible. Derek, thank you. I appreciate the update.

Still to come, forget the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Fire up the Millennium Falcon. Set the hyperdrive for Southern California. Opening day for Disneyland's brand-new "Star Wars" attraction is almost here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Friday, Disneyland will open one of the most ambitious theme parks ever built. The formal dedication ceremony was held about an hour ago with George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford showing up, and because as you may have worked out, Galaxy's Edge is all about "Star Wars." A state-of-the-art experience that immerses visitors in a truly -- truly alien world. I can't say it.

CNN's Frank Pallotta spoke with one of the creators behind this massive project.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK PALLOTTA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Where are we?

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE, PORTFOLIO CREATIVE EXECUTIVE, WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING: Well, right now, we are in the heart of the space port at Black Spire Outpost, which is kind of the center of this thriving, bustling, remote trading port on the planet of Batuu. Welcome to Batuu.

So it's the home of the smugglers, and the bounty hunters, and the rogue adventurers looking to crew up for some adventure into wild space. And, of course, it's the stepping-off point for our "Star Wars" story.

PALLOTTA: And that's interesting you say "our 'Star Wars' story." Because my "Star Wars" story has always been Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home. And instead, it's this land they've never heard of. Why didn't you just make it something that everyone, for the last 42 years has known of?

TROWBRIDGE: Everybody knows what happened on Tatooine. Everybody knows what happened on Hoth. Right? We know those stories, and we know Luke and Leia's story. But we also know that we're not in those stories, right? So what we really want to create with "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge" is an opportunity for you to feel like you can play an active role in "Star Wars," not just be a spectator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, I am offering the opportunity of a lifetime. I need flight crews to transport this valuable merchandise across the galaxy.

PALLOTTA: What would happen to me in the rest of this land when I leave the ride if, say, I failed the smugglers round?

TROWBRIDGE: Yes. Well, you know, Hando might not be so happy with you, and you might actually end up coming back owing more money than when you started. You know, you might sidle up to the bar, and the bartender might lean over and say, "Hey, word on the street is Hando's not too happy with you. I'd watch out if I were you, because I think your name's on the list of a local bounty hunter."

Because for those guests who want to play "Star Wars" with us, we have ways, right? Using their own personal technology. Your cell phone and the Play Disney Parks app. The MagicBand plays into that. It's an invitation to play.

PALLOTTA: I've heard that this is the most immersive land that Disney has ever done. Explain to me what that means.

TROWBRIDGE: Well, I think when we say "immersive," I think that means it is big, it has scale. It doesn't just reveal itself all to you in one -- in one view. We don't build it for you to just see everything on your first visit, because we want you to come back.

PALLOTTA: Why do you think that's important?

TROWBRIDGE: That depth of storytelling makes things real. We want the experience to feel deep. We want the place to feel deep so that your relationship with it can also have that kind of depth.

PALLOTTA: And that -- that bleeds into the whole story of "Star Wars," itself.

TROWBRIDGE: We have one view of what a "Star Wars" story is. So the events that happened here in Black Spire Outpost on Batuu are true in the world of "Star Wars." They're not isolated from the rest of "Star Wars" storytelling.

PALLOTTA: How is this place going to tell the "Star Wars" story for the next 20, 30, 50 years?

TROWBRIDGE: What we can do now is make this a launching point for an untold number of new "Star Wars" stories. There will never be an end to the number of "Star Wars" stories that we can tell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. And they never be a number of stories you will see here, on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. WORLD SPORT is next. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:45:29] (WORLD SPORT)

[00:57:28] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)