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The Lead with Jake Tapper

White House, GOP Reach Debt Limit Deal Just Days Before Potential Default; Kyiv Hit By Unusual Daylight Missile Attack; Texas AG Ken Paxton Temporarily Suspended After Impeachment Vote; Gov. Sununu To Decide On Presidential Run In "The Next Week Or Two"; New Film Depict FBI Treatment Of Document Leaker Reality Winner; Former Vietnam POWs Mark 50 Years Since Release. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 29, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Yeah, he, of course, connected to his son's death to burn pits that --


SCIUTTO: -- he experienced during his service in Iraq.

Well, if you at home have a family member you're honoring today, we're honoring them all along with you.

Thanks so much for spending part of your Memorial Day with us. And thanks to all who fought for the freedom to do so.

THE LEAD with Bianna Golodryga starts right now.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: They have a deal, but do they have the votes?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The negotiations are done. The bill is written. And now with just days until the United States runs out of money, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are rushing to sell the debt ceiling deal to their respective parties.

Then, a rare daytime Russian missile attack on Ukraine's capital city just hours after a nighttime assault. Schoolchildren forced to run to shelter and cars dodge missile debris on busy city streets. Is this the new Russian tactic?

Plus, on this Memorial Day, an emotional reunion as a group of Vietnam veterans are reunited for the first time in decades. They recount the story of what bonds them, being prisoners of war being held captive in bamboo tiger cages.


GOLODRYGA: Welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Bianna Golodryga, in for Jake Tapper. We start today with our money and the scramble in Washington, D.C. to

avoid an economic catastrophe, after President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck a deal on the national debt.

Republican and Democratic leaders are waging an urgent campaign today to get as many members on board as possible. Both parties are facing revolts from within their ranks by lawmakers who think their side gave up too much in the negotiations.

But as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports, other members of Congress are falling in line, realizing it's either the deal on the table or a financial crisis.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, you know I never say I'm confident in what the Congress is going to do, but I feel very good about it.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With just one week until the U.S. runs out of money, the White House and House Republican leaders are racing to lock down a bipartisan coalition of votes to get a debt ceiling deal to the president's desk.

BIDEN: It takes the threat of catastrophic default off the table, protects our hard-earned and historic economic recovery. And the agreement also represents a compromise that means no one got everything they want. But that's the responsibility of governing.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Maybe it doesn't do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction that no one thought we would be at today.

DIAMOND: The deal would suspend the debt limit into 2025 and cap spending for the next two years while allowing defense and veteran spending to increase. Spending on other domestic programs will fall by about $1 billion next year, according to White House officials.

And in 2025, spending will grow by just 1 percent. That $1 billion cut looks even steeper on paper, but it's mitigated by a deal to redirect $20 billion of new IRS funding and billions in unspent COVID relief dollars to backstop other domestic spending cuts.

The deal also expands work requirements for food stamp recipients, requiring proof of employment for those as old as 54 years old, up from 49. But veterans, the homeless and people who are in foster care are now exempt from those requirements.

Already, signs of disapproval from hardliners on the right --

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): I'm not willing to vote this country into more debt.

DIAMOND: And the left --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do they still have to worry about the Progressive Caucus and whether or not your caucus will support?


TAPPER: Yes, they do?

JAYAPAL: Yes, they have to worry.

DIAMOND: What's your message to House Democrats who have reservations about this compromise bill?

BIDEN: Talk to me.

DIAMOND: Who got the better deal, Democrats or Republicans?

BIDEN: It's a bipartisan deal.

DIAMOND: The White House scrambling to make its case, offering briefings and making more than 60 one-on-one calls to House Democratic lawmakers so far. A key message, focus on the programs Republicans were trying to cut and what's not in the bill.

BEN LABOLT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: For members of the Progressive Caucus who voted for the signature legislation of this administration over the past couple years that has led to the creation of 12.7 million jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, those are protected and funded in this agreement. And so, if you voted for those items, you should vote for this as well.


DIAMOND (on camera): And as you could hear in my exchange with the president there, clearly, he thinks his appeals to Democrats are best made behind the scenes. But behind the scenes, I am told that the president is making calls to members of Congress. He's talked to congressional leadership as well as a range of different Democratic lawmakers -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, the president saying there, talk to me if you have any questions.

Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill with more.

So, Lauren, what hurdles are left to get this bill actually passed?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, both sides have to whip their members to get the votes that they need.


The coalition for this bill and passing it out of the House of Representatives was always going to be in the center of both the Republican conference and the Democratic caucus. But still, there are some conservatives who are outraged about what they view as really legislation that falls short of what they wanted to see in terms of spending cuts, in terms of some of the work requirements.

And one of those conservatives, Chip Roy, is arguing and warning that tomorrow in the House Rules Committee he might use every tool at his disposal to try to slow this down.

Now, if this does get to the House floor by Wednesday and members can pass it, then the question becomes, how quickly can the U.S. Senate move this bill forward? You know, any one Republican or Democratic senator can slow that process down in the Senate, putting you in a position where you could be hitting right up against that June 5th deadline.

So time is really key here. Time is of the essence, both sides recognize that is the case. We should note that Republicans are feeling very good about their whip count, arguing they are on a path, on track to potentially deliver about 150 votes, more than a majority of their majority. So, that just shows you that Democrats and Republicans working very hard really together to make sure they have the votes they node to pass this bill out of the House -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, let's talk more with one of those Republicans. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining me now to discuss is Republican Congresswoman Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma. She's on the House Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us on this Memorial Day holiday.

Never a dull moment. You are working there trying to convince others to support this bill. Why are you, yourself, supportive of it?

REP. STEPHANIE BICE (R-OK): Look, I think this bill contains some really important structural reforms. It's a $2.1 trillion savings, the largest congressionally directed debt -- I'm sorry -- spending reduction bill in history. I think that's something to really be excited about.

GOLODRYGA: So, the narrative that Speaker McCarthy and you are promoting that there's no real win here for Democrats other than the debt ceiling being raised. But if that is indeed the case, then why are dozens of conservative House Republicans threatening not to vote for it?

BICE: They want more. The original limit, save, grow, bill which Speaker McCarthy put together was $4.5 trillion in savings. They indicated early on that was their floor, they wanted to go higher.

But this is a negotiation. You know, we are a divided government right now and we have to compromise.

But some of the things that are in the bill I think are huge wins for Republicans. We have the largest rescission of COVID dollars coming back to the treasury. We have the rescission of the IRS -- $1.9 billion for the 87,000 IRS agents, SNAP benefit reforms, NEPA, which is the regulatory permitting reforms. These are all huge wins for Republicans.

And really, at the end of the day, there are two choices. You either default and put us on a path to fiscal chaos, or you support spending cuts, significant ones. And for me, it was an easy choice.

GOLODRYGA: Well, for some Republicans, that's not an easy choice. Some are leaning towards the former of what you just laid out of those two options. As we heard from Lauren, Congressman Chip Roy is a no thus far. And he tweeted that he knows of multiple Republicans who are also a no because to use this terminology, this bill is a, quote, turd sandwich.

What is your message to those Republicans? Have you spoken to him directly?

BICE: You know, I haven't spoken to Chip directly, but he certainly has a difference of opinion and he's entitled to that. He has a vote just like I have a vote.

And, look, I think that spending cuts are important. When Kevin McCarthy first started negotiating, he made a couple of points. He didn't -- he would not agree to a clean debt ceiling, he wouldn't agree to increasing taxes add he wanted to reduce spending.

All three of those things are part of this act being put forward. I don't know how a true conservative wouldn't support this. It meets all the criteria.

GOLODRYGA: Are you confident at this point that you have the votes needed to pass this deal, from not just Republicans, but Democrats as well?

BICE: You know, I think we have a significant portion of the Republican conference that's going to support this. That number remains to be seen. I've only seen a dozen or so of the Republican conference that indicated publicly they're nos on the bill. But I do think we're going to see a large number of congressmen and women that are going to be supportive of the legislation as we look to the vote later this week.

GOLODRYGA: As you know, to secure the speakership, Kevin McCarthy agreed to a rule that allows just one member to force a vote to kick him out of that role.

Do you think your fellow Republicans who are critical of this deal might just do that?

BICE: You know, that's something that Kevin McCarthy has said over and over he's not afraid of. Look, everybody underestimates Kevin McCarthy. When he went for the speakership, it was 15 rounds, he secured the deal.


When he put together limit, save, grow, no one thought we could get that across the finish line. He did it. When he put this package together, no one gave him -- no one thought he could get that across the finish line either. He's proven time and time again that he has the ability to get these things done.

Why would you force someone out that's been successful, that's been able to give proven wins to the Republican conference in a divided government with a five-seat majority? It doesn't make sense.

GOLODRYGA: So, in your view, would he be willing to lose his job in protection of this bill as it is?

BICE: I don't think he's going to lose his job. There are so many Republicans that have backed Kevin McCarthy from the very beginning, from that speaker's race to today. I don't think that's a concern. Our concern is doing the work of the American people. That is making sure we're reducing spending, which we are, raising the debt ceiling to ensure we don't have a fiscal crisis on our hands and moving the country forward. This package does that very thing.

GOLODRYGA: Republican Congresswoman Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, thank you again for your time today. We appreciate it.

BICE: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Coming up, a normal work day turns into wartime terror as Russia targets Ukraine's capital city in the middle of the day.

Then, drama in the Lone Star State. The Republican-led Texas statehouse votes to impeach the state's Republican attorney general. A look at the allegations and what happens next.



GOLODRYGA: In our world lead, the latest wave of Russian missile and drone attacks on Kyiv and other locations has Ukrainian officials promising retribution very soon. Ukraine says it shot down 11 Russian hypersonic missiles, but pieces still fell on busy streets.

CNN's Sam Kiley joins us from Eastern Ukraine.

So, Sam, this morning's daylight missile attack is unusual, but perhaps a sign of what's to come from Russia. Can Ukraine's air defense system, as we know, many of them are newly provided by the West, can they sustain continued attacks at this rate?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, Bianna, that's exactly what the Russians are trying to find out in the first instance. They're trying to find out whether Ukraine's air defenses can be overwhelmed and how they can be overwhelmed.

That's why they fire the low-tech Shahed Iranian drones alongside these very much more powerful cruise missiles. There were 30, 40 cruise missiles fired last night, 11 Iskander missiles fired during the day, clearly targeting civilians. All upping the ante and focused on Kyiv with the intent of trying to break the command and control structures behind the Ukrainian defense, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Meantime, Ukraine's top military commander, General Zaluzhnyi, announced over the weekend that it is, quote, time to get back what is ours.

Is this viewed as a sign that the spring offensive is indeed under way?

KILEY: I think the answer to that is yes and no. The Ukrainians make no bones about the fact that something big is coming. That's part of their psychological pressure they're trying to put on the Russians.

They have been conducting shaping operations, you'll have noted in the past, very recently, particularly in the last few days, long range attacks by Ukraine against port cities held by the Russians inside Ukrainian territory, particularly Mariupol and down on the coastline. And also a campaign to rattle the Russians in their backyard with cross border incursion by Russian nationals fighting on the side of the Ukrainians.

So, these operations are already under way while they're simultaneously warning that something big is coming down the tracks towards your average Russian soldier. I think the statements from the general over the weekend very much in that context.

GOLODRYGA: That was released with a highly produced video as well of Ukrainian soldiers preparing for some sort of action.

Sam, I have to ask you, a troubling development, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says he's offering nuclear weapons to nations willing to join the union state of Russians and Belarus. You know, Belarus hadn't had nuclear weapons on its soil since 1990. Obviously, a lot of that rhetoric has changed since the Russian invasion.

How serious does this seem to be?

KILEY: Well, on the one level, it's ludicrous and the kind of weird joke that autocrats are given to make from time to time. On the other, I think, Bianna, what he may be signaling and he wouldn't have done this without a knowledge and a wink or a prod from the Kremlin and from Vladimir Putin is perhaps a threat from Putin to try to expand the nuclear realm back into those territories still left under Russian influence to a greater or lesser extent from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, Belarus would be included in that.

Belarus is set to -- or they've agreed to allow tactical nuclear weapons in the hands and control of Russians, but they said they'll allow them on to their territory as part of the Russian efforts to threaten Ukraine and the wider European community of nations in the face of their support for Ukraine.

But I think this is sort of long-term saber-rattling, attention seeking. I don't think it's particularly being taken particularly seriously in the corridors of power or NATO, as you rightly points out, not less, because Belarus doesn't have any nuclear weapons with which to lure in new members to this peculiar club he's trying to form.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, nonetheless, world leaders are condemning those statements by him.

Sam Kiley, in Ukraine, thanks as always, for your very important reporting.

Well, an impeachment vote, bribery, accusations, phone calls threatening retaliation. Things are getting heated in Texas as Republicans go after one of their own.



GOLODRYGA: In our politics lead, an extraordinary impeachment vote exposing fractures in the Republican Party. On Saturday, Texas state lawmakers voted to impeach Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on bribery and corruption charges. A majority of those votes came from Republicans who voted alongside Democrats.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Texas where Paxton has been temporarily removed from office and state senators are now preparing for his trial.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after Texas lawmakers impeached Ken Paxton, he shared these photos on social media saying there's nothing better than a weekend spent with loved ones.

There was no love from an overwhelmingly bipartisan collection of Texas house lawmakers who voted 121-23 to file 20 articles of impeachment against the Republican attorney general.


ANN JOHNSON (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE/GENERAL INVESTIGATING COMMITTEE: Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he's allowed to stay the top cop on the take.

LAVANDERA: Paxton called the impeachment vote a politically motivated sham and ugly spectacle.

Former President Donald Trump's support didn't held either. Trump called the impeachment vote unfair led by the radical left Democrats and RINOs, Republicans in name only.

Paxton is accused of a litany of criminal acts including bribery and obstruction of justice and that he's unfit for public office.

ANDREW MURR (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: The evidence is substantial. It is alarming and unnerving. LAVANDERA: Paxton's impeachment moves to the state senate. Lieutenant

Governor Dan Patrick will preside over the trial. In an interview with CNN affiliate WFAA, Patrick would not say when the trial will take place.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R), TEXAS: We will all be as responsible as any juror would be if that turns out to be.

LAVANDERA: One of those jurors and senators is Angela Paxton, the attorney general's own wife. There are calls for her to recuse herself but she has not said what she will do.

KEN PAXTON, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Every politician who supports this deceitful impeachment attempt will inflict lasting damage on the credibility of the Texas house.

LAVANDERA: As House representatives prepare to cast their impeachment votes, some lawmakers say Paxton was vowing retribution for anyone voting against him.

REP. CHARLIE GEREN (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Several members of this house while on the floor of this house doing the state business received telephone calls from General Paxton personally threatening them with political consequences in their next election.

LAVANDERA: Paxton has been under indictment on felony securities fraud charges and remains under FBI investigation for a scandal involving a campaign donor. Paxton has denied all wrongdoing.

PAXTON: This shameful process was curated from the start as an act of political retribution.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Bianna, Texas Governor Greg Abbott hasn't said much about this impeachment and what has happened here in the last few days. And that's put him in the crosshairs of former President Donald Trump who put out on social media that he's been missing in action and not speaking up on Paxton's behalf.

So, the fissures in Texas Republican politics right now are just breaking open -- wide open -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, it's interesting that we haven't heard from Governor Abbott given he's so outspoken on many other issues.

What's the makeup of the Texas senate, and what would it take for him to be officially removed?

LAVANDERA: Right. So, there's 31 state senators there, 12 of them are Democrats. So, assuming they all vote to remove Paxton from office, they would need at least nine other Republicans to vote for removing Paxton from office.

But the wildcard here remains that Paxton's wife who has a number of options. If she doesn't recuse herself, she could be present or vote absent. All of that could affect how many Republican votes are needed to remove Paxton from office.

So, that's what's going to -- so many people will be watching very closely in the weeks if not months ahead.

GOLODRYGA: Quite the drama unfolding in our home state.

Ed Lavandera, thank you.

Well, CNN political commentators Van Jones and S.E. Cupp are with me now for more on this.

Welcome both of you. Happy Memorial Day.

S.E., let's start with you. So, more than half of Republicans in the Texas statehouse voted to impeach the attorney general. What is going on there within the Republican Party? Should we worry about that and look at that as the party as a whole or is this a one-off based on this one person?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, it's not every day you see Republicans holding Republicans accountable anywhere. And in Texas, that Republican state GOP is the largest, the richest and the most powerful in the country.

Democrats are no threat to Republicans in Texas. So they didn't have to do anything, even if they suspected General Paxton was guilty of some stuff to survive and still be the dominant party in Texas.

The fact that they took this on and had done so secretly since March I think said they were real worried about him. Now, I'm not involved in the inner workings of Texas state politics, and there might have been some personal grievances going on here, but clearly, this is a remarkable and kind of rare situation these days for this Republican Party.

GOLODRYGA: And 20 charges we should note.

Van, Paxton was re-elected by a wide margin of Texas voters just this past November. So some of those who are not in agreement with this impeachment say that this is not going with what voters are saying, and this is actually speaking against voters and they don't have a say. What do you make of it?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's why you have an impeachment process because sometimes you elect somebody and they start doing terrible things. If he wasn't doing terrible things when he was elected in November, or if it wasn't widely known, then the voters would have to wait for a re-election to deal with possible real malfeasance.

This is why we have all these checks and balances in our system, to try to make sure people can't sneak in there and start doing horrible stuff. I agree with S.E., it is unusual to see any political party discipline its own when it doesn't have to. Maybe they could have slipped this one under the rug. But I hope it starts to catch on, because the lack of accountability,

we have a lot of people running around in Washington, D.C. right now that probably shouldn't be there. And this might be setting a good example.

GOLODRYGA: And, S.E., this now heads to the state Senate where his own wife sits. Should she recuse herself? Do you think she will?

CUPP: Well, I don't know her. So I don't know what's going on in her mind. This must be a very awkward, weird position to be in. Let's not forget, one of the things he's accused of is, you know, involving a mistress. I don't know where her head space is. I would hope she would recuse, just for optics' sake and so, she doesn't have a conflict there.

But I don't know. That would be a very interesting soap opera to watch.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, so far indeed.

Let's move away from Texas and to Washington, D.C. where it looks like a soap opera may have come to an end hopefully. We'll believe it when we see it, Van. But let's talk about the debt ceiling. Several Republicans are not on board with this deal.

And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal actually told Jake yesterday that the president should be concerned about support among the Progressive Caucus.

What are you hearing from Democrats? Would they actually stand in the way of this passing?

JONES: Well, I think there's a frustration that the Pentagon is held harmless and working poor people are going to be forced to work more with the work requirements, and just a frustration that why -- food stamps and work requirements even on the chopping block given the fact that we all know the price for all of us has been going up and up.

So there's some disquiet. There is some discontent. But the Democratic Party is not going to prevent America from paying its bills.

But, you know, there's a different standard here. You can't do anything -- it's got to be non-defense. The Pentagon which has a lot more money than most poor folks, they'll be held harmless, but we'll put the axe to the low-income folks. I think that's the rub.

GOLODRYGA: S.E., talk about this moment and the significance of it, vis-a-vis the relationship between Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy who both have two days now to get their parties in line to support this deal.

CUPP: It's pretty remarkable. Joe Biden did something he promised he wouldn't do, which was negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling. He did. I'm sure Kevin McCarthy is grateful for that. But Kevin McCarthy also did things he promised Republicans he wouldn't do. You know, a lot of Republicans on the far right are very upset that

they didn't get more spending cuts. Now, from my position, I wish they had been more upset about spending during the Trump administration. No surprise they've rediscovered the debt and spending this go-around.

But listen, the saying in wash is, if there's something in it that makes everyone mad, it might actually be a good bill. And you got folks, to Van's point, on the left that are upset with Biden forgiving stuff away and folks on the other side up with McCarthy for not getting enough. This might actually just be a good deal.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that's what compromise I guess is all about. If this bill does pass, it would get us through to 2025 and past the 2024 election.

But on that note, Van, yesterday, Jake asked New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu about a possible run for him for president. Here is what he had to say.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The money has been lined up, the support has been lined up. There's a pathway to win. All those boxes are checked. The family is on board, which is always a big one. I've got to make sure it's right for the party and right for me.

When I start doing something, I'm 120 percent in. I think pretty soon we'll make a decision, probably in the next week or two.


GOLODRYGA: Pretty soon we'll find out, if he's not 100, but 120 percent in, Van. If he does announce, as we know, he'll joined several other GOP contenders in this race right now. What do you think he specifically would bring to the race?

JONES: Well, I think he brings the kind of sunshine optimism. I think he's a real contrast to the DeSantis type and Trump type. He's more like Tim Scott. You have two sunshine, optimistic, can-do, positive conservatives in the race.


But that's also a problem because if you have a whole bunch of people like that, it just makes it harder for the front-runner right now, ex- President Trump to win.

GOLODRYGA: Is sunshine what the party needs, S.E.?

CUPP: Yeah, I would also add common sense. He's a common sense conservative. He's not afraid to call a spade a spade. He'll call out Trump or other members of the far right fringe for doing stuff that are just bad for the party.

And I think the Republican Party's problem over the past many years, they forgot what winning looks like. The goal is to win so you can implement policy. I think Sununu understands that's the goal.

GOLODRYGA: We'll see what he decides over the next week or two as he said.

S.E. Cupp and Van Jones, thank you. Great to see you.

CUPP: Thanks.

JONES: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Coming up, when reality is stranger than fiction. A look at the true story of the young woman caught sharing highly classified material.



GOLODRYGA: In our pop culture lead, a high-profile FBI interrogation gets a Hollywood makeover.

Jake sat down with the director of "Reality", a brand new docu drama premiering on HBO tonight.


TAPPER: Reality is stranger than fiction. "Reality" being the name of the new film based on the FBI encounter and arrest of Reality Winner.

You might remember Reality Winner. She's the former government contractor who pleaded guilty to leaking a classified NSA document which provided details of a 2016 Russian cyberattack on a supplier of U.S. voting software. If this plot point sounds somewhat familiar, it's because the government is still plagued by leaks from inside actors.

We recently watched as agents arrested 21-year-old Massachusetts air national guard employee Jack Teixeira for allegedly posting highly sensitive documents online. And, of course, their cases are quite different.

But in the case of Reality Winner, the transcripts really tell a story so engaging that it literally became dialogue for this new film.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you guess how many people might have printed out that article?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not many. That article has made it outside of NSA, okay, obviously, because we're here. And the most likely candidate by far and away is you. So now -- I don't think -- I don't think you're, you know, a big bad master spy or anything.


TAPPER: With us now, Tina Satter, the writer and director of "Reality" which premiers on HBO which is, of course, owned by CNN's parent company, Warner Discovery.

Tina, your film brings viewers into this extended, unfiltered encounter between Reality Winner and these FBI agents.

Why did you want to showcase her story in this fascinating way?

TINA SATTER, DIRECTOR, "REALITY": Well, when I stumbled upon that transcript, reading the transcript, I could not believe sort of what a complete document it was. It had a beginning and an ending and was this really capsule of this young woman going through this very specific moment in her life.

But it really held -- it had exposition about who she is in her own words. You watch her go head to head with these FBI agents. It has unexpected diversions in the conversation. It's very tense and fraught to watch her move through it, but she also has these sparks of humor. It just was this incredibly rich event that it actually happened. And to me, it felt so challenging and exciting to think of using that transcript as the basis for a material event.

TAPPER: So, Reality Winner, her motivation was she thought the public needed to know.

Tom Nichols recently wrote an article in "The Atlantic" about people who take this on themselves, to leak government information. And he wrote, quote, the romanticized versions of these stories failed to account for the various shades of narcissistic behavior on display in all of these cases. People who has, in the cases of Snowden and Winner, think of themselves as the ultimately arbiters of the social good are all nemesis to national security, no matter what their reasons, unquote.

Now, that's Tom's view. I'm not saying this is my view. But do you think that her actions made her a threat to national security regardless of why she was doing it?

SATTER: I think it's been proven now that there wasn't actually anything there -- I mean, I think they have those laws in place on the chance there is when that stuff is leaked. I think it was proven that hers didn't.

I think in that quote you're reading, I don't believe that at all was true of reality when she took this action. I mean, I think she was a very idealistic person and literally already served the government.

She was like kind of acting in this rash way of, I can see this information they're saying is not true, this place is asking them to send it and I have proof of it. I'm going to send this proof. You know, it wasn't a high and mighty position of she is going to solve the problem. It was almost an everyday kind of choice, I can see this, because of the access I have, I'm going to send the information out.

TAPPER: One interesting thing about the cinematography is about how it handless moments redacted in the FBI transcript. Here's a sample.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a really bad one for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember what you did to get to that article?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Other than seeing it on the front page --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember what search terms you might have put in?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably -- I'm not very sophisticated.


TAPPER: Really an interesting decision. You could have gone with anything, but you have her disappear and reappear. It also reminds us that you're working directly from the FBI transcript. Tell us about that decision.

SATTER: Yeah, I'm sure you and obviously many of us have seen documents with those redaction marks on them, but it's really sort of amazing when you come to it on the page. You're reading along, and suddenly there's this black bar. Immediately there's this implicit idea of control and who can control what we can read or see or know.

And it feels very powerful and scary to see on a page. And something has been disappeared. It was a filmic way of finding an unseen hand that can disappear the speaker even when she's talking about something, trying to fight for her own autonomy, and that can just be done to her and really disappearing them on the film felt like a great film metaphor to go along with that redaction mark.


SATTER: That's very surprising mood, too.

TAPPER: Yeah, like the real-life matrix. That's kind of how I felt about it, in a great way.

The film is "Reality". It's on HBO. Tina Satter, thank you so much. Congratulations.

SATTER: Thank you very much.


GOLODRYGA: Up next, they spent months as prisoners during the Vietnam War. Now, these veterans are reuniting for the first time in decades.



GOLODRYGA: On this Memorial Day, we have a touching tribute to endurance and freedom. This year marks a half century since the signing of the Vietnam War peace agreement and the return of nearly 600 U.S. prisoners of war.

Last week, some of those men got together to share memories and celebrate being alive.

CNN's Nick Watt was there for it.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Major Mark Smith and Sergeant Ken Wallingford, then and now.

SGT. KEN WALLINGFORD, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: I haven't seen this guy outside of one funeral that we went to for one of our buddies in 50 years.

WATT: That's how long it's been since they were released from a jungle prison camp. Now, back together to celebrate that half century.

Listen, I don't want to keep you from your dinner.

MAJOR MARK SMITH, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: It's a good thing, because I'm hungry.

WALLINGFORD: And then he really gets mad.


WATT: 1973, they and hundreds of other POWs dined with the president at the White House.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Never has the White House been more proud than it is tonight because of the guests we have tonight.

WATT: Exactly 50 years later to the day at the Richard Nixon library, the same food, Neptune salad, beef, strawberry short cake. There just aren't as many men left alive to enjoy it.

WALLINGFORD: We considered Richard Nixon the guy really responsible forgetting us home. To this day we love the man.

WATT: Every man at this table was held at the same POW camp. There's Smith and Wallingford in 1972. Both were badly injured and captured after the brutal battle.

WALLINGFORD: The explosion went off. I was an agnostic before I went to Vietnam. Heard of full conversions? You're looking at one.

SMITH: I'm the guy who he'd never get captured because that only happened to losers. AK round hit me in the shin, went off behind me and knocked me out.

WATT: They were held in bamboo tiger cages.

Explain to me what a tiger cage is.

WALLINGFORD: Have you ever been to a zoo and seen animals in cages? They put these logs, 5 by 6, 5 by 5 into a cage. A little door you had to bend down to get in.

WATT: Held in those cages because they would not do as they were told.

SMITH: We made no statements, we wrote no letters, we made no broadcasts, not one.

WATT: Fifty years on, these men are grateful.

WALLINGFORD: Every day is a great day. I don't care what the weather is like outside.

WATT: And no regrets.

SMITH: Major Retired Mark Smith, that's what I do.


WATT (on camera): Now, Smith and Wallingford are clearly very different people and they've led very different lives since Vietnam. Smith lives in Thailand, his entire career involved with military matters. Wallingford lives in Texas, was in banking and real estate. Right now, he's retired and traveling the world with his wife.

Very different people, but it was amazing to see the bond these between these two men forged in such an intense, intimate setting, just seven men in that small jungle camp that they were held in. Their ease and intimacy around each other was kind of stunning to see.

But today, we've also got to think about the 58,220 American service personnel who did not make it back from Vietnam.

Back to you, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: We thank -- we thank every single one of them for their service. What a special piece, Nick. It looked like you really enjoyed spending time with those two American heroes. Thank you so much for bringing us their stories.

Well, ahead on "THE SITUATION", one of the top Democrats in the House, Congressman James Clyburn, will join Wolf Blitzer.


Then, "The Little Mermaid" makes a big splash at the box office. But is the movie's collection complete? That's next.


GOLODRYGA: In our pop culture lead, from a sea princess to a box office queen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You broke the rules. You went to the above world.

ARIEL, THE LITTLE MERMAID: A man was drowning. I had to save him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This obsession with humans has to stop.

ARIEL: I just want to know more about them.


GOLODRYGA: Disney's live action, "The Little Mermaid", swims to the top of the U.S. box office, raking in $117.5 million. That is the fifth best opening for a Memorial Day weekend ever. The remake of this 1989 animated film has been the subject, sadly, of some racist tropes because Disney cast Ariel with a black actress, Halle Bailey. Her performance is earning solid reviews from critics.

I can't wait to take my little girl to see that movie myself.

Well, thank you so much for joining me for this especially edition of THE LEAD.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer and "THE SITUATION ROOM."