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Biden And McCarthy To Meet Tomorrow For Debt Ceiling Talks; Wagner Mercenaries Claim They Have Captured Bakhmut; Key Attorney In Mar-a-Lago Docs Case Leaves Trump's Legal Team; SpaceX Launching Mission; Uvalde School Shooting Anniversary. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 21, 2023 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right. Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, live pictures right now from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where in just 90 minutes or so from now four passengers will lift off on a private mission to the International Space Station. The crew on board the Axiom 2 Mission includes the first woman to command a private space flight and the first Saudi Arabian woman to travel to space.

Much more on this historic mission later on this hour.

But first, we continue to cover the fast-changing developments in the high stakes talks to avoid a looming debt crisis. Just a short time ago President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to meet tomorrow for another round of negotiations on raising the debt limit. And staff level talks between the two sides will resume in the next few hours.

The two men agreeing to a one-on-one meeting after what McCarthy called a productive phone call today with the president, as the president flew home from the G7. So before departing, Biden painted a grim picture of the talks telling reporters while there in Japan that he cannot guarantee the U.S. will not default in 11 days when the U.S. government runs out of money and is unable to pay its bills.

We've got team coverage from all of these new developments. Phil Mattingly is in Japan at the G7 summit. Let's begin with Melanie Zanona in Washington, D.C.

So, Melanie, Speaker McCarthy is reacting to this call, calling it, you know, promising, productive.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. And, you know, he did say that the talks are still alive and that they are still ongoing, which is a very welcome and positive development. But I will say the bar is pretty low there and that is because there was a huge setback in the negotiations this weekend. There were rejected offers, there were sharp words that were exchanged. There was a pause in the negotiations. And so the negotiators were really looking for a very much needed

reset today. And the phone call between Biden and McCarthy by all accounts was cordial. It was positive. They talked about the debt ceiling. They even talked about Biden's trip a little bit but perhaps most importantly is that they agreed to meet one-on-one tomorrow while the staff are going to continue meeting later tonight.

Here's a little bit more about what McCarthy said of that phone call.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I believe it was a productive phone call. And so at the end of the phone call, what we agreed to do is we're going to have Congressman Garrett Graves and Patrick McHenry get back together with -- he's going to ask his team to get back together so we can walk them through literally what we've been talking about. I think some of the challenges here, they might not completely understand how we're coming about this.


ZANONA: So, again, it is a good sign that they now have a mechanism in place to continue talking, but the two sides are still very far apart, Fred. And I am told that the biggest sticking point is spending levels. Republicans want to cap future spending at fiscal 2022 levels but they don't want to touch defense spending. In fact they want to plus up defense spending, which would mean drastic cuts on the domestic side of things.

And the White House wants to stick to current fiscal levels in future spending, which is essentially a funding freeze, although when you look at a 10-year score and account for inflation it is a spending cut and that's how score keepers view it. But we are talking tens of billions of dollars apart here. It is a very large gap.

And the other big obstacle here is the timeline because Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen repeated today that June 1st is the deadline that the United States is going to run out of cash by then and Congress just doesn't have a lot of time to find a solution here.

WHITFIELD: All right. Melanie Zanona, thank you so much.

Phil Mattingly, OK, I won't ask you about predictions but President Biden has, you know, had experience, you know, with these kinds of crossroads before so how is he playing it this time?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, it's interesting. Throughout the course of the summit, he has repeatedly taken a kind of more moderate approach to where things stood, talking about how he's been through negotiations like this, talking about the phases of those negotiations and that this is a back and forth and part of a rhythm.

That tone changed at his press conference before leaving the G7. And I think it's really kind of two parts, reflective of the reality. Things are not in a good place, we're not in a good place. I think the president was trying to send a very clear message that he wanted the phone call that ended up happening on Air Force One, that he was open to the meeting that is now scheduled for tomorrow. And for staff to get together, get back together, and start working through things. They simply don't have any time for any other option.


But I think the second piece of this as well is I think when you talk to White House officials, when we talked to people that have been involved in these staff level discussions that kind of fell apart over the course of the last 48 hours, I think the concern you hear from White House officials, from Congressional Democrats is the proposals that have been put on the table by Republicans, yes, Republicans have rejected the White House proposals as not going far enough, not kind of laid out the details of that.

I think White House officials have been taken aback by the fact that Republicans did not come off their original proposal really at all to some degree, to some degree added new things in to that proposal, which they found more objectionable, and the president's point throughout the course of his press conference talking about how this has to be a bipartisan solution, this has to get Democratic votes, that is a very important one to keep in mind.

That is what's going on behind the scenes as they try and figure out the policy. They got to figure out how to get this across the finish line as well and throughout the course of the last decade. T these types of deals are generally driven by Democratic votes with Republicans that get them over the finish line. I don't think this is going to be any different. So I think that's part of what's going on here is Democrats in the White House saying to Speaker McCarthy, we understand these are your policy priorities, you're going to need our votes, how are you going to try and thread the needle here with your conference?

And that's not something that I don't think anybody has an answer to right now. And I think that's a large part both on the policy and on voting counting side that they're going to be trying to figure out over the course of the next 24 to 48 hours -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Very important to work toward.

All right, Phil Mattingly, Melanie Zanona, thank you so much to both of you.

All right, let's talk more about all this looming debt crisis. With us now, David Gergen, he is a CNN senior political analyst and a former adviser to President Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

All right, David. Great to see you. So to Phil's point, you know, how important is it for it to be bipartisan? How can it be bipartisan?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Fred, it's just so clear, we're dangerously close to the brink now. And if we go over the cliff, as we might well as that tick tock, tick tock goes on, we're down to 11 days, if we go over the cliff, we're going to go into recession and a lot of other things that are extremely unpleasant. So normally, in any normal White House years, one would assume they'll come to it. They'll come to it -- both sides will come to Jesus and they'll need to exercise some signals back to their base but they'll come together and do it in a bipartisan way.

That's been the norm. And I hope that that occurs again, that this Monday conversation with the president and McCarthy is a critical conversation because they won't get together again if it's a real mess or if they're impossibly apart. But nonetheless, we're in a situation now where the whole world is now looking at what's going on. And what they're seeing is not only the United States but what we all saw in the G7 conference that Biden just came from, is how weak our political leaders are in country after country, how little approval they have from their constituents.

There's a survey just out in the last few hours that shows that a study of 22 leading major countries, only four, only four have leaders with approval leaders above 50 percent. Not one of those four countries, which has over 50 percent is a G7 country. They're all smaller countries or not in the G7. So you can see we're in an unusual situation with so little around the world to get hard things done. And this is a hard one that the U.S. is now pushing.

WHITFIELD: This is a hard one but this country has been at this juncture before. And you used the operative words.


WHITFIELD: You said, you know, it's been the norm to come together because we've been in this place before.


WHITFIELD: But everyone kind of agrees, these are not normal times anymore. What is normal in fact? You know, abnormal has become our normal. So what will it take for both sides? I mean, each is going to have to negotiate, will have to give and take a little. What are those items that are likely where we're going to see that kind of wiggle room between these sides?

GERGEN: I think the problem now is it's not just the substantive issues, whether it's climate change or raising defense spending or lowering spending and Medicare and Medicaid and other domestic programs. It's not just that. It is whether we still have the bipartisan will to do big, hard things.

Now, we've been very pessimistic here in the last few months and we've actually had by elections in 2022, the country did revert to the norm. That's what saved the Democrats, frankly, was that they said that the Republicans did better than they expected and the Democrats survived it. But I think we just have to understand we're in tough times, we're not going to get there unless we do drop our opposition to each other.


We've got to stop yelling at each other and this is a big, big test. If we go down on this mission after we've done it successfully for so long, we haven't fall down on the debt since the early days of the republic, for over 120 years we've been able to get this problem solved. It's just unbelievable we're now sitting here not knowing for sure, not having that inner confidence we'll get over it, they're just posturing. It's not clear that that's what's going on. We're much closer to the cliff as I say than we have been in past normal practices.

WHITFIELD: So the sitting president, you know, has experience on his side. He's done this before.


WHITFIELD: He helped negotiate for President Obama as the vice president, going to Capitol Hill, you know, 2011, 2013, make sure, you know, that the country doesn't default. So is his posturing different as the sitting president or does he draw upon those same kind of negotiating skills that he used as senator, as vice president, and revisit those things or is it different?

GERGEN: Well, I would have said that on numerous occasions over the last two or three years Joe Biden has shown that he understands how to make the system work and he's done that pretty successfully, even though people didn't have a lot of confidence in him at times. But I have to tell you right now it's not so clear. I thought he made a tactical error of some magnitude when he insisted going for month after month after month that he would never negotiate over the debt ceiling, he would never sit down with the other side and negotiate.

And so the result was we didn't have negotiations. And now, you know, rather late in the game from the point of view of a lot of folks, he said OK --

WHITFIELD: Was that misinterpreted that he didn't want to negotiate on items, whether be, you know, military veteran benefits, Social Security, that he was saying there are certain things I'm just not negotiating on?

GERGEN: Well, that would have been a much more persuasive argument and president actually made it. But he didn't. He made the sweeping argument that there would be no negotiations period. It was going to be a clean bill. It was surely not a clean bill. It is in fact as about as cluttered as we've ever seen them in this situation. So I think that's a sign of weakness, frankly. And at the very time he was doing that at the G7 meeting, he changed his mind and announced that the United States would now provide F-16s to Zelenskyy.

You know, that was a big compromise as well. So in the last few weeks, major, major issues he's changed ground, he shifted ground. And I think it's harder to negotiate successfully when you do that.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. We'll leave it there. David Gergen, great to see you.

GERGEN: Thanks so much. Take care.

WHITFIELD: Thank you.

All right. Still to come, at the G7 Summit, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with multiple world leaders, including President Biden, and said his government is developing new plans with allies including training on advanced fighter jets such as F-16s. We'll go there live to Ukraine next.



WHITFIELD: While at the G7 in Japan, President Biden pledged a new $375 million military aid package for Ukraine. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy calling the new assistance powerful. The U.S. is also backing a plan to provide F-16 fighter jets and training for Ukraine's forces.

Zelenskyy got a strong and welcomed show of unity from G7 leaders. They pledged ongoing support for Ukraine and announced another round of sanctions on Russia. And as the war wages on, Russian-backed mercenaries are claiming they have captured the town of Bakhmut after months of brutal fighting. Ukraine refutes that and says it still holds some of the territory.

Here's what President Zelenskyy said about it earlier today.


PRE. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): I clearly understand what is taking place in Bakhmut and we all clearly understand why all of that is taking place. I cannot share with you the tactical views of our military, of our warriors, but as of today we can see that the country, which dozens times is bigger than we are, cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war, and we understand that a bit more and then we will be prevailing.

And that is why we are acting how we are acting, valuing lives as a people. The hardest is what if Bakhmut had some military tactical mistake, for instance, and people could be surrounded. Then all the military know what could happen. How we could create the situation for people not to be captured. Now our people are accomplishing a very important mission. They are now in Bakhmut.

I will not share where exactly, but it witnesses that Bakhmut is not occupied by Russian federation as of today.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Sam Kiley is in southeastern Ukraine.

Sam, we're hearing the leader of the Wagner mercenary group saying once again his forces are ready to pull out of Bakhmut. What would that mean?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suicide. It would be -- it's entirely consistent with the kind of, frankly, buffoonish sort of statements that Prigozhin has been making for months. If the Wagner Group were to pull out, the Ukrainians would move in and kill any Russians that they found there. It would provide the most perfect opportunity for a counter attack that the Ukrainians could possibly dream of. It's inconceivable and it's just similar to his various other threats to walk off the job in the past.


And his jibes at the central government of the Kremlin, everybody in the Russian administration other than Vladimir Putin himself. But really this is attention seeking, trying to elevate his status, I think, within Russia at a time when at least in the temporary and tactical level he might be able to claim a degree of military success locally within Bakhmut city itself.

But of course we also know that the Ukrainians are flanking the Wagner mercenary group on two sides, in the north and the south, and arguably could be in a position to crush them if they are able to consolidate those flanking maneuvers and bring artillery to bear on what is now effectively a free fire zone for the Ukrainians against the rubble, and Russians that remain inside Bakhmut.

And more widely of course, they are really keen to soak up as much of the Russian capabilities as they can in this concentrated and strategically insignificant location ahead of what they hoped to do which is to launch a counter offensive against much more widely against Russian-held territory across the country sometime this summer.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sam Kiley in eastern Ukraine, thank you so much for that.

All right, still ahead, CNN's exclusive interview with Tim Parlatore, the latest attorney to depart Trump's team and why he did it.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The real reason is because there are certain individuals that made defending the president much harder than it needed to be.




WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Tim Parlatore, one of Donald Trump's key attorneys, announced this week that he is leaving the Trump legal team. Besides working on the January 6th investigation, Parlatore played a key role in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation.

CNN's Paula Reid sat down with Trump's former attorney and asked him about a letter his firm sent to House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner in April discussing what then President Trump knew about documents taken from the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So the letter says that he was unaware of these documents being placed because it was chaotic, they all were shipped down to Mar-a-Lago. How can you declassify something with your mind if you don't know that it's in one of these boxes?

PARLATORE: These are two unrelated contents. So there's the issue of classification or declassification, which is separate and apart from the issue of document management and what goes in the boxes. And one of the things that we were trying to explain there is that the processes that are in play in the White House, in the Oval Office, they don't match the same level of, you know, care, if you will, that are done in the intelligence agencies and in the military.

And so marked documents, whether classified or declassified, and unclassified documents get mixed in. And now this is not just about when packed up to leave. This is about the four years while they're in office. Now since we've submitted this letter, we found out that the archivist has testified that every administration going back to Reagan has had the exact same issue. And that's really what we were talking about there. So the procedures for declassification is a separate issue from how these boxes were packed and how the documents were kept during that four years.

REID: There has been a lot of talk and in this letter you mentioned this certification that was done by the Trump legal team about the extent to which they searched for documents. A lot of questions about whether it was accurate. But in this letter you said, quote, "The certification stated that a search was conducted and all responsive documents found were provided, not that the search turned up all possible materials." Why that phrasing?

PARLATORE: Evan Corcoran used a standard form certification at the time, and this is what happens. When you get a subpoena, you do your search, you send back the certification saying all responsive documents that were found, you know, were attached.

In my opinion it probably could have been a little bit more clear to say all that were found. If I were writing it, I'm a little bit more of a smart guy and I would probably have said, you know, dear DOJ, since you didn't give me as much time as I wanted, we did as complete of a search as we could have and this is all we found within that limited period of time. You want to give me more time?

REID: But was there any concern that the client may have been retaining additional classified documents and that's why it would be careful --

PARLATORE: No. Not at all. That's standard language. You know, he took it from a standard form certification and that is what is used. So it's not, you know, an attempt to hide that there's additional things and nor is it intended to be a blanket statement that nothing else remains. You know, if a lawyer were going to write that, they would actually put in nothing else remains. REID: As a lawyer, what was it like watching that town hall with your

client under multiple criminal investigations?

PARLATORE: It's -- look, it's different when you have a client that is talking. You know, most of my clients, when the criminal investigation is going on, that is the only most important thing in their life and they don't talk to anybody except for me and their spouse. So it's always a little nerve-wracking, especially when you know that he's going to be asked questions about it.


You know, but, ultimately, I didn't think that he said anything too terrible in there. You know, maybe some inartful (ph) things like that. But, ultimately, nothing that really changes the tenor of the investigation.


WHITFIELD: All right, Paula Reid, thanks for bringing us that interview. And in that interview, Parlatore also stated that differences with Trump advisor, Boris Epshteyn, were key in why he stepped aside.

When asked his response to Trump appearing at the CNN town hall, he admitted that, quote, "It's different when you have a client who's talking." You just heard him say that. But he didn't think that Trump said anything, quote, "too terrible." All right, you can watch much more of this interview on

All right, history in the making. We'll take you live to the Kennedy Space Center where four private civilians are about to blast off to the International Space Station.



WHITFIELD: All right, the countdown is on. Next hour, SpaceX will launch four passengers on a private mission to the International Space Station. The Axiom-2 mission will launch aboard a SpaceX rocket from the Kennedy Space Center and into the history books.

The crew on board includes the first woman to command a private space flight and the first Saudi Arabia woman to travel to space. CNN's Carlos Suarez joining me now, live from the Kennedy Space Center. And, so far, I don't know, behind you, to me, it looks picture perfect. So, when's -- is the countdown on still?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far, so good, Fred. Right now, we're still looking at about a 75 percent chance of a launch at 5:27 Eastern Standard Time. The four-member crew is scheduled to spend eight days aboard the International Space Station. And they're going to perform a number of experiments and take -- including taking a look at the effects of microgravity on the production of stem cells. As you mentioned, this private mission is only the second ever to the International Space Station. Earlier this afternoon, we were able to watch as the four-member crew said good-bye to their family members. We're told that, at this hour, the four-member crew is strapped into the space capsule and that they're going through their prelaunch checklist.

Now, aboard the Axiom-2 space mission is Peggy Whitson. She is the commander of the space mission. She's a former NASA astronaut and a commander at the International Space Station. He's got a great deal of experience in space, having spent 665 days in space.

The mission pilot is John Shoffner. And the two of them are going to be joined by two Saudi nationals. Ali Alqarni, he is a mission specialist. And Rayyanah Barnawi, she is poised to make some history. Later this afternoon, if this capsule, this rocket, is able to take off. Because she would become the first Saudi woman in space.

Again, right now, Fred, the folks here are confident that they're going to be able to lift off at around 5:27 this afternoon. There is some concern about some of -- some weather maybe moving across the area, which might either delay things or put things off. But, right now, again, we're being told that it seems that things are a go.

Now, once they're able to lift off from here at Kennedy Space Center, it is going to take them about 15 to 16 hours before they get to the International Space Station. And for the folks who have come out to watch this liftoff, they're also going to be able to see one of the rockets land near the Kennedy Space Center. That is something that usually does not take place, at least here near the landing area. It usually happens out at sea.

But, again, we're going to be able to see that -- one of those rockets land shortly after liftoff -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right, liftoff on the way to the International Space Center. All right, well, you keep us posted there from the Kennedy Space Center. The clock, as I see it now behind you, yes, it's still going. So, one hour from now. And we'll see about that liftoff. All right, thank you so much. Carlos Suarez.

All right, joining me right now, ahead of today's launch, is former commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hatfield. He's also the author of the upcoming novel, "The Defector," which will be out October 10th. I had to say it like that.

Chris Hadfield, great to see you. So, what are you looking forward to with this now scheduled liftoff one hour from now?

COL. CHRIS HADFIELD, FORMER COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: Well, first, you know, astronauts love liftoffs. And to have the current, most proven and active, safe rocket that exists is sitting right there on the pad that Carlos and everybody is looking at. And it's got four people on board, including a very good friend of my, Peggy Whitson. So, I'm really looking forward to that rocket doing its job and getting them away from the world. And then, 16 hours later, docking with the space station, joining the crew that's living up in space right now.

And it's just like where every time we do this, we're taking new steps. We're doing stuff we've never done before. There's a lot of science, a lot of technology. But it's such a grand human adventure, including more and more of the world. And, I mean, I love the whole thing. But, first, the main thing we got to look forward to is getting that rocket off the pad in Florida.

WHITFIELD: That's right. Well, your friend might know what this, you know, is going to feel like and what it's feeling like now, even though I'm sure every mission is different. What are these four feeling? What are the butterflies they might have? What is the, you know, feeling of kind of playing everything in their mind, everything that has been rehearsed and practiced and the anticipation of what's to come?

HADFIELD: Well, it'll be different in their four different stomachs right now.


HADFIELD: But Peggy, she's the most experienced astronaut in American history. Six hundred sixty-five days in space. She's commanded the space station twice.


HADFIELD: She's done 10 space walks. You know, she's terrific.

So -- but she's feeling very responsible for the other three right now. They're all brand-new rookies. None of them professional astronauts like she is. But she's been working with them for months and months to get them ready for today.

So, she -- I'm sure she's calm about the vehicle. She's launched several times before. But she understands the weight of being the commander.

The other three, everything's new. Even the stuff that doesn't matter and the stuff that does matter. It's all got the same sort of import to them. So, it's kind of overwhelming.

John on board, he's a deep, experienced pilot, air-show pilot. And Ali is an F15 pilot. So, at least they've got a little bit of aerospace experience to draw on. For Rayyanah, you know, she's wearing tremendous responsibility of the first woman of her country to ever fly in space, setting a tremendous example for them.

But, mostly, what they're thinking about is, please let us leave Earth today. Don't let that 25 percent of the weather --

WHITFIELD: Right. HADFIELD: -- slow --

WHITFIELD: Keep the bad weather away.

HADFIELD: Let's go, you know?

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh. It's exciting.

HADFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) dangerous. You just (INAUDIBLE.)

WHITFIELD: Colonel, I have so many questions, so little time. But you -- because you've done this before. I mean, you've -- you know what the International Space Station experience is going to be like. You know what the launch is and all that good stuff.

So, for the 15 hours that they will be traveling before they get to the International Space Station, I'm sure that's very individual, too, about what they're going to experience. But then, once they do connect with the Space Station, then what? I mean, what's that greeting going to be like? What's -- what are they feeling in their bodies to make that transition? I mean, all that good stuff.

HADFIELD: I think it's a real privilege they get 15 or 16 hours between launch and docking. A chance to kind of relax and adapt your body to weightlessness and look out the window at the world before the main event of docking happens. So, it's almost like a little -- a free period of adaptation.

But when you dock and you open up the hatch, equalize the pressure, and you float inside, suddenly, it's like going from a car on a long road trip to going into grandma's house. And then, she's there welcoming you and there's all these noises, smells. And the place is huge and it's been there, like, for decades already. There's hundreds of experiments going on. The super experienced astronauts are there already. Everything is just kind of overwhelming.

Now, suddenly, you don't just float around a little capsule but you can fly for a hundred feet. You know, it's hugely liberating. And that's just the start of the experience. So, it's an amazing human transition.

And we've come so far since, like, Al Shepard launched from the same place 62 years ago. When you look at the crew. Look what they're doing. Where they're going. Look at the rocket they're on. Amazing amount of progress just in less than one human lifetime.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's incredible. And, of course, yes, I'm replaying in my mind all the images that we've seen of, you know, astronauts kind of floating around and kind of shooting from one end to the other. But I guess I just didn't think that it was a huge space. I thought that maybe that was just a myopic view that we had of one space. So, how huge are we talking?

HADFIELD: Well, imagine if you had a bunch of city busses all sort of bolted together, so that you're confined by the size of each bus that you're in. But then, you go through a hatch and you're in another city bus, and then another city bus. It's actually pretty roomy.

I would go half a day on a space station and not see another astronaut. We're all busy working in our environments. So, it's kind of this -- and the windows are fantastic. You're working away and then you float by. And there is an entire continent floating by. Some place you've only read about and it's right there, reminding you of the magic of where you are.

So, yes, it's bigger and more magnificent than they're imagining sitting there on the pad right now.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that is cool. Well, you've just taken us through the magic, a little microcosm, a little taste of the magic. Colonel Chris Hatfield, so good to see you. What a pleasure. Thank you so much.

HADFIELD: Good to see you, Fredricka. Be well.

WHITFIELD: Thank you.

OK, so, it's been almost a year now since that horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children, two teachers were killed. The community is still searching for answers. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz sat down with families of the victims and survivors, and he is joining us live, next.



WHITFIELD: A year ago this week, a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 student and two teachers. Outside the classroom doors, law enforcement waited for 77 minutes before breaching the scene and ending the massacre.

And one of those students was Lexi Rubio, a 10 year old who made honor roll earlier that day. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz spoke to Lexi's parents about those 77 minutes. And how one year later, they still don't have answers.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: What is your understanding of what went wrong that day?

KIM RUBIO: My understanding is the first group of officers that come in, they were shot at. They retreat and they never go back in. They let children die in that classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding? Oh, (INAUDIBLE.)

RUBIO: And I can't even explain to you what they've taken from me.



RUBIO: It's more than just lives. You know, maybe Lexi's gone immediately. But that's what they've taken from me, those answers, had they engaged immediately and my child is deceased. Then, I know in my heart that she wasn't scared very long. But because they waited so long, now I'll never know. I don't know if it was fast and I don't know if it took 30, 40 minutes. And that's hard. That's hard to sit with.


WHITFIELD: Shimon Prokupecz joining me right now. Shimon, I mean, it is so hard to hear of the families' anguish. And it's remarkable, too, that she is able to recall and express and share.

What are families asking right now? I mean, law enforcement isn't providing the kind of details and footage that you and your teams here at CNN are able to provide.

PROKUPECZ: Right. So, one of the things that family members want to know is exactly how their children died that day. Because it took law enforcement for so long to enter that classroom, you hear Kim Rubio there talk about how all she's wondering is if her daughter suffered and for how long.

And if only the police had entered much sooner, her belief is that at least maybe if her daughter died fairly quickly, once the gunman started shooting, that she didn't suffer. Some sort of solace, some sort of hope that maybe her daughter didn't suffer.

Now, the other parents of survivors wanting to know exactly what their kids went through in those 77 minutes. What those kids went through when they were finally rescued and ran out of those rooms. What kind of injuries, exactly, they suffered. And the traumatic, the sort of psychological effects of all of this. And that is what they've come to us for, the families, asking us to help them kind of give them a view of what happened on that day.

WHITFIELD: And is there an explanation for the refusal, I guess, of the law enforcement of not providing that kind of information that they are asking you to be able to supplement?

PROKUPECZ: Well, law enforcement will say it's because -- well, it's mostly the D.A. there. She's been conducting this investigation. That she's prohibited all of the law enforcement agencies from releasing any information. She's prohibited the mayor, who is in charge of this town as an elected official, from viewing any of the material.

He has a separate investigation that's ongoing into the local police department to try and figure out exactly what they did that day, and whether or not anyone needs to be fired. And he is not even able to get answers to some of those questions, and, in fact, that we have more material than he does. And so, he comes to us and says, well, how is it that you have more information than I do? How is this the right way to proceed? And so, we discuss all of that -- all of that in the hour. And then, we sit with the families in the hour and watch with them, the video of their kids being rescued. And then, we show all of that. We show the kids being rescued. We show the injuries, the horrific injuries that some of them suffered.

And even now, Fred, I could tell you, I just received a text from a family member just now asking me if they can help with some information. You know, so, we are in a very unique position now, as journalists, because law enforcement is not doing this for the families to try and provide them some information.

WHITFIELD: And then, Shimon, Uvalde city officials say they've announced, you know, that they will have a press conference tomorrow, ahead of Wednesday's one-year anniversary. And Mayor Don McLaughlin saying in this statement, I'm reading now a portion of the statement, saying, "May 24 is going to be a difficult day. We are holding the news briefing to balance the news media's need to tell a story and the need of Uvalde residents to have space and privacy to reflect on the last year without the fear of intrusion." There are no -- end quote on that statement.

As far as we know, there are no city sanctioned events planned for this week in Uvalde. What's being said of that statement, that announcement?

PROKUPECZ: So, there is -- I -- there's no -- there is nothing significant that's going to come out, in terms of the investigation. They're just doing this, sort of, to kind of give the media an opportunity to understand what the plans are for Monday and just the -- for Wednesday. And the logistics of where the media will be able to go.

But in terms of any kind of answers for the investigation or anything that's happening in terms of that, that's not happening tomorrow.


PROKUPECZ: And he's just going to just have a conversation with the media about what they can do.

But, look, there's also, Fred, what's happening in this community is that the family wants one thing, the city wants another thing. And then, every time the two sides get together, they can't come to an agreement about what to do. And that's why we're not seeing any city- sanctioned event.

WHITFIELD: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. Extraordinary reporting that you've been doing over the last year. And, of course, people can watch tonight. You should watch tonight. A new episode of "The Whole Story" with Anderson Cooper. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

All right, thanks so much for being with me this weekend. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues with Jim Acosta in a moment. But first this week's CNN heroes. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD (singing): (INAUDIBLE.)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They all have different stories. And the point of what we do is to let them tell that story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The day will come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we see each other.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes they're silly. But beneath the silliness, they're really revealing. Sometimes they're really heartbreakingly real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Weather (ph) is hard for me to understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, think about being in a position where nobody has ever really cared what you feel. And, instead now, you talk about what you feel and a whole bunch of people go, yes, it's life- changing. We can plant a seed in that child of self-confidence, self- worth. It's just so powerful.