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Debt Ceiling Set To Resume With Biden And McCarthy Meeting Tomorrow; SpaceX, Axiom Launch Groundbreaking Flight To International Space Station; Mayor Eric Adams To Look Into Nonprofit Scam Involving Migrants; Suspect In Fatal Stabbings Of Four Students Indicted By Grand Jury; Ukraine Refutes Russia's Claim Of Complete Control In Bakhmut; Ex-Trump Attorney Claims Infighting Caused Him To Leave Legal Team; Researcher's 80-Year-Old Mom And Brother Visit Him Underwater. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 21, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Atlanta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four, three, two, one. Engine's full power. And liftoff Falcon 9. Go Axiom.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together we expand what is possible --


ACOSTA: This was a beautiful sight if you just missed it a few moments ago. Right now four private astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station. The Axiom 2 Mission blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center just minutes ago. We'll go there live in just a few minutes to wrap up some really remarkable developments down there on the space coast.

But in the meantime, it is 6:00 here in -- I should say you're in Atlanta, and in Washington, negotiations are resuming this hour to confront the looming debt crisis. These talks will be at the staff level for the moment but they will set the stage for a high-stakes meeting tomorrow between President Biden and the Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The two men, they spoke by phone earlier today as the president was flying home from the G7 Summit in Japan.

And this new glimmer of optimism, if we could believe it, comes as the prospect of a quick compromise appears increasingly bleak.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you at all optimistic about what we could accomplish today? Could we get there?



MCHENRY: I've been pessimistic for a while and something needs to change.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): What we have right now is Speaker McCarthy and MAGA House Republicans saying that they're going to push the default detonator and blow up our economy if they don't get their way on their budget proposals. That would destroy the American economy.


ACOSTA: Now just a reminder, the Treasury Department says the U.S. could run out of money to pay its debts as early as June 1st. Experts say that would be disastrous for the U.S. and global economy.

We're tracking the state of negotiations with our team of correspondents and reporters. Let's start with Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill.

Melanie, everyone knows the stakes are enormous of course. But that hasn't really done much, it hasn't really moved the needle up until now. Will this meeting tomorrow make a difference? I suppose we won't know until it happens.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that is certainly the hope because negotiators are looking for a much-needed re-set after a weekend of stalled negotiations, rejected offers, sharp words that have been exchanged.

Biden and McCarthy did speak on the phone earlier today and by all accounts it was of course a cordial conversation. They spoke about the debt ceiling. They even talked about Biden's trip a little bit. But perhaps most importantly is that they agreed to keep talking. Here's a little bit more about what McCarthy had to say about that 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 Congressmen 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: Now the good news here is that they have a mechanism in place to continue talking. So that certainly is a positive sign. But the bad news is the two sides are still very far apart. And I am told one of the biggest sticking points is spending levels. Republicans want to cap future spending at fiscal 2022 levels but they don't want to touch defense. In fact they want to plus up defense spending so that means drastic cuts potentially on the domestic side of things, and the White House wants to stick to current funding levels which would essentially be a funding freeze.

And then there's other sticking points like tougher work requirements for government assistance programs. That's something that Republicans have been insisting on. Democrats much more reluctant to go that route, even though Biden did leave the door open a little bit to some form of work requirements for some government assistance programs. And then even seemingly basic issues like the length of a debt ceiling hike have yet to be resolved.

Republicans are pushing for a shorter window, the White House wants to make sure that the hike goes at least two years into 2025 so they don't have to deal with this again until after the next election. So all that to say is there is a lot of work still to do and not a lot of time to do it -- Jim.


ACOSTA: All right, Melanie Zanona, thank you very much for that.

Let's go over to the White House, get that perspective on things, with CNN's White House correspondent Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, what are you learning over there?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden is set to return late tonight to the Washington that's basically the same as he left it, without any clear resolution in sight for how to avert a default in as little as 11 days.

Now you heard there, the president spoke with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he traveled back here to the U.S. but the White House really hasn't given any indication of how that call went from their end. They simply said that the two men spoke and that they are planning to meet again tomorrow.

But a bit earlier today President Biden did talk about the state of talks saying that he feels that some of these proposals put forth by Republicans are extreme and that ultimately he believes Republicans need to realize that this needs to be a bipartisan deal and they also need to make some concessions. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it's time for the other side to move from their extreme positions because much of what they've already proposed is simply quite frankly unacceptable. It is time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely -- solely on their partisan terms. They have to move as well.


SAENZ: Now the president also suggested that there are some in the Republican Party which he billed as MAGA Republicans who are trying to hold the economy hostage in part to damage him politically heading into a midterm -- or his re-election in 2024.

Now the White House has outlined a few elements of their proposal surrounding these talks. One thing, as Mel noted, they're hoping to freeze defense and nondefense discretionary spending at current fiscal year 2023 levels. That is something that Republicans have called insufficient. They have also pushed for raising revenues in order to lower the deficit. Something that also does not sit well with Republicans, though President Biden did say earlier that he does not believe tax revenue is off the table.

There are a host of other issues that the White House is eyeing at this moment. But let's also remember that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier today once again stated that she does believe the U.S. could default on its debts as early as June 1st. That is just 11 days away. Laying out a very high stakes week for the president and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as the U.S. is barreling closer to a default.

We will see whether there will be any resolution as they meet here at the White House tomorrow.

ACOSTA: All right. Arlette Saenz, it sounds like they need to move from talking points to talking turkey in these negotiations. Arlette, thank you very much.

President Biden and other top Democrats have been floating the idea of using the 14th Amendment as a last ditch option for paying the nation's debts without congressional approval. Take a listen.


BIDEN: I'm looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority, I think we have the authority, but the question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it could not -- would not be appealed as a consequence passed the date in question and still default on the debt. That's a question that I think is unresolved.


ACOSTA: And CNN's Tami Luhby joins us now.

Tami, I think a lot of Americans are curious about this 14th Amendment idea and are sort of wondering how does it come to this point. But do we know how it would work if the president were to invoke this somehow?

TAMI LUHBY, CNN SENIOR WRITER: Well, the 14th Amendment has multiple sections and Section Four of the 14th Amendment is what everyone is focusing on now in the debt ceiling. And it reads, "The validity of the public debt of the United States authorized by law shall not be questioned." That's the important part of that section that you can see on the screen. So the issue is, can the president actually, you know, override the debt ceiling and say -- and pay the debts because the debts cannot be questioned. And that is an issue that legal scholars have been arguing about. This

is not the first time it's been brought up. It's been a matter of debate for years and years. And it's still, as the president said, unresolved.

ACOSTA: And is this just a short-term fix? Potentially a long-term solution? I mean, obviously you mentioned the court battle there. I mean, I guess it begs the question, would this even work?

LUHBY: Right. Well, the question is, it's probably not a short-term fix. It may not be a long-term fix either if it's not deemed to be legal or constitutional. And so that is the question. And that's why both Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have said that they don't think that it's going to work particularly now. I mean, we're only days away from June 1st. And so the question may not be solved by then and the Treasury Department may not have enough money to pay all of the government's bills and debts on time as soon as June 1st, so we may just run out of time.


Previous administrations, the Obama administration in the 2011 debt ceiling impasse also looked at this and deemed it unworkable. So it's not a quick fix.

ACOSTA: All right, Tami Luhby, and a quick fix might be the only thing that can work right now because we're running out of time. Tami, thank you very much.

Still ahead, liftoff. The second ever private flight to the International Space Station just launched. A recap of that awesome moment and underscoring the word awesome there. If you missed it, you have to watch this. Coming up next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Engine's full power. And liftoff Falcon 9. Go Axiom.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together we expand what is possible in low earth orbit. Ad Astra and Godspeed AX 2.


ACOSTA: Very cool stuff. A successful launch for Axiom's second ever private mission to the International Space Station including a picture-perfect return of the SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to its landing pad. The launch which happened just under an hour ago is carrying four astronauts including the first woman to command a private space flight and the first woman from Saudi Arabia to travel into space.

Let's go to CNN's Carlos Suarez who is live at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Carlos, and you heard a sonic boom there and everything at the end of all this. Pretty amazing stuff. What was it like from your perspective?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it really has been an incredible afternoon here at Kennedy Space Center. We were able to watch as the Axiom 2 lifted off from here and then we were able to hear as the stage one rocket booster landed about eight minutes after liftoff. There was a sonic boom and everyone that was staring up trying to see exactly where it was going to land, ended up really just jumping back and then a number of car alarms out here started sounding.

The four-member crew that includes two Americans and two Saudis are at this hour on their way on this eight-day journey to the International Space Station. Once there, they're going to get to work. They've got a very busy schedule. They're scheduled to essentially perform well over a dozen experiments, taking a look at a number of things including the effects that microgravity has on the production of stem cells.

That is just some of the work that is going to take place at the International Space Station over the next couple of days.

Peggy Whitson, she is the commander of this space mission, she called the ride out into space, quote, "a phenomenal one." She is being joined by John Shoffner. He is the mission pilot. And then we've got two Saudis that are also on board the SpaceX Axiom 2. Ali AlQarni, he is the mission specialist. He's an aerospace engineer. And then we've also got Rayyanah Barnawi, she is also a mission specialist and she's already made history with this journey. She has become the first Saudi woman in space.

Now earlier this afternoon, as we caught up, as we saw the four-member crew arrive here at Kennedy Space Center we were able to catch up with Axiom's chief technical officer and he talked about the impact of space travel when it comes to other countries, specifically Saudi Arabia. Here's a bit of what he told us.


MATT ONDLER, AXIOM CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER: I think this particular mission incredibly profound. The first woman from the Arab world to fly is really going to change that region profoundly, I think. 30 years from now, women will come up to her and say, you know, I became an engineer or a scientist because I saw you fly on the X-2 Mission.


SUAREZ: It really was an emotional afternoon especially for the families of these four astronauts. When they first got here at around 1:00 this afternoon, they got here by helicopter, and the astronauts spent about 10 to 15 minutes with their families and you could see a lot of them becoming quite emotional. They were crying at the fact that they were saying good-bye to their loved ones.

A lot of it, though, was excitement and you could really tell in their conversations just how proud they were about the journey that their family members, rather, the family members felt their loved ones were about to embark -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And Carlos, tell us a little bit more about what's next for the mission.

SUAREZ: Yes, so it's our understanding that it's going to take them about 15 to 16 hours to get to the International Space Station. And once they are there, they're going to link up with a crew that's already there and then they're going to start the process of getting all of this work done. Again, we're looking at about 20 experiments over the next eight days.

That is assuming that nothing goes wrong and that they're able to carry out this journey for this length of time. They're going to be doing a number of things while they're in space. We're talking about taking a look at a new communication system. They're going to be looking at technology which Axiom says is going to improve the lives of folks that inevitably will take part in space travel.

And as I mentioned, they're going to be looking at some cancer research when it comes to stem cells, more specifically the impact that microgravity has on the production of stem cells. So, these folks are going to be quite busy as they enjoy space for the next couple of days -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. A lot of important work ahead. Carlos Suarez, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Still ahead, the mayor of New York City calls for an investigation over nonprofit accused of lying about homeless vets. Have you heard about this? Being pushed out of a hotel for migrants. It turns out it was not what it's cracked up to be.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: New York City Mayor Eric Adams says more than 70,000 asylum seekers have come into the city and that about 42,000 are still under the city's care. Here is where he placed the responsibility for that this morning.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: If this is properly handled at the border level, if this issue could be resolved while we finally get Congress particularly the Republican Party to deal with a comprehensive immigration policy.


ACOSTA: Our Gloria Pazmino joins us now from New York.

Gloria, there's also this disturbing story of a nonprofit allegedly hiring homeless men to pretend to be veterans and falsely claim they were pushed out of a hotel to make room for migrants?


Very disturbing story. What more do we know about that?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, unfortunately, one of the many sort of ugly sidebars that has emerged in this story. As you said, a local nonprofit is being accused of luring homeless men, offering to pay them money so that they would pose as homeless veterans and claim that they had been pushed out of a hotel in a suburb outside of New York City in order to make room for migrants.

This turns out to have been a complete scam. In the middle of all of it, two very vulnerable groups of people, migrants and homeless people. The attorney general of the state of New York Letitia James has said that she is looking into the matter to see if there is any possible legal action that they might be able to take against the leader of this nonprofit group that allegedly was behind this scam.

But, going back to what the mayor -- the Mayor Eric Adams was talking about there at the top asking for the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to get its act together and do something about immigration reform. That is certainly a tall order. We haven't seen significant immigration reform in this country in several decades.

And in the meantime migrants are continuing to arrive here in the city of New York. In fact, just a couple of minutes ago, while we were getting setup, you could see that city bus directly behind me there in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. There were a couple of dozen migrants that got out and arrived here. They are being bused from Port Authority bus terminal, that's where a lot of them are continuing to arrive.

The city says they have 42,000 people in the care of the city right now. And more than 70,000 people have come through the city in the last year. Now one thing that we are asking questions about, we have yet to get some clarity from city officials is why migrant arrivals continue to increase here in New York City despite encounters at the border being down significantly since the expiration of Title 42 on May 11th.

So we are trying to connect the dots there because the city says migrants continue to arrive, they are strapped for resources, strapped for shelter, asking for federal intervention. And also asking their neighbors outside of their city to share the, quote-unquote, "burden" according to the mayor. So as long as they continue to report these very high number of arrivals, the city will definitely have to continue to ask for help because shelter capacity is really at its end and the city says they have no place to put people if they continue to arrive -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Gloria Pazmino, thank you very much.

Turning to another story we're looking at this afternoon. Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of murdering four University of Idaho students will appear in court tomorrow for his arraignment. He was indicted on four counts of murder and one count of burglary just days ago.

CNN's Mike Valerio joins us now. Mike, what should we expect tomorrow?

MIKE VALERIO, CNN NEWSOURCE NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we're going to be watching a few things here because the trajectory of this case utterly changed last week. A grand jury handed down its indictment on Wednesday saying, yes, indeed, Bryan Kohberger should be put on trial. And, Jim, because of that decision, the path to a jury trial is no longer up in the air like it was before.

There will be an arraignment tomorrow and Kohberger will likely enter a plea. So, Jim, first, we're watching to see how Kohberger pleads to four counts of murder and one count of burglary. Most likely he's going to plead not guilty but there is always the chance that either side could ask for more time and the plea is entered later. Second, the judge is expected to entertain arguments on a gag order which is limiting the information that we know about this case.

And right now, Jim, all of the lawyers involved here, including those representing victims' families and the witnesses cannot say anything publicly about this matter. Nothing at all. Except for what is written in court documents. One of the victims' families wants to make the gag order less restrictive.

And why this matters, Jim, is because six months later we still don't know what prosecutors think the motive is here. We still don't know what investigators think could link the suspect to the four victims. Information is very tight and a less restrictive gag order could increase what we know. So, farther ahead, we'll see if there is a potential timeline. Will a trial date be set or just a status update put on the calendar?

And then finally, Jim, will the state seek the death penalty? After Kohberger enters a plea within 60 days, Idaho prosecutors need to file a written notice if they are going to seek capital punishment. So this is a lot. All of a sudden there is so much to watch now that we know, Jim, that this high-profile case is indeed headed towards a trial -- Jim.


ACOSTA: All right. Very important case indeed. Mike Valerio, thank you very much.

Still ahead, he's a former Trump attorney who played a key role in the investigation of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Now he's opening up telling his side of the story about the infighting he says led him to leave the Trump legal team. We'll talk about that. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claims his troops are pulling out of Ukraine on May 25th. This announcement comes as Russia claims to have captured the war-torn city of Bakhmut after a month's long deadlock. Ukraine claims to hold a small portion of the embattled city but one of their military commanders calls it, quote, "insignificant."

CNN's Sam Kiley has more from Ukraine.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, here in Ukraine, there are conflicting claims about who actually controls the city of Bakhmut.


Now the Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin has announced or he has announced that his mercenaries have captured the city itself. But the president of Ukraine and indeed his senior officers are saying that they do not control all of Bakhmut. There is still a foothold they say -- a small foothold of Ukrainian troops inside the urban area itself, and at the same time, both to the north and the south, Bakhmut more widely is being flanked by Ukrainian forces which ultimately mean that perhaps the Wagner forces may find themselves in the jaws of a trap.

How that turns out, though, will remain to be seen. Not least because Wagner is saying that it wants to hand over control of the city from the mercenary organization to the Russian armed forces on Thursday. That would be a remarkable risk to take at this time and provide a splendid opportunity for a Ukrainian counterattack.

In any case, as far as Ukraine is concerned, Wagner is of symbolic value only. Tactically much less strategically, it is a very limited value and indeed in the past Ukrainian senior commanders have said to me personally that they never saw -- never really saw the reason to be defending the city apart from the fact that it meant that they knew where the Russians were and they knew therefore where they could be killed. That is their words -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Sam Kiley reporting from Ukraine for us. Thank you very much.

Tim Parlatore, in the meantime, is a former Trump attorney who is a key figure in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe. Now he's speaking out. It was a wide-ranging discussion about a case that is now the subject of a criminal or a special counsel investigation. He sat down with my colleague, CNN's Paula Reid, to talk about this and he began by asking -- or she began by asking why he left the former president's legal team.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: It had nothing to do with the case itself or the client. The real reason is because there are certain individuals that made defending the president much harder than it needed to be. In particular, there is one individual who works for him, Boris Epshteyn, who had really done everything he could to try to block us, to prevent us from doing what we could to defend the president.

And ultimately it got to a point where it's difficult enough fighting against the DOJ and in this case special counsel, but when you also have people within the tent that are also trying to undermine you, block you, and really make it so that -- I can't do what I know that I need to do as a lawyer. And when I am getting in the fights like that, that's detracting from what is necessary to defend the client and ultimately was not in the client's best interest. So I made the decision to withdraw.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Infighting is certainly nothing new in Trump world. Is there any specific incident or something that he did to, as you say, prevent you from being able to properly represent your client?

PARLATORE: Well, sure. There was -- he served as kind of a filter to prevent us from getting information to the client and getting information from the client. In my opinion, he was not very honest with us or with the client on certain things. There were certain things like the searches that he had attempted to interfere with, and then more recently as we're coming down to the end of this investigation where Jack Smith and ultimately Merrick Garland is going to make the decision as to what to do, as we put together our defense strategy to help educate Merrick Garland as how to best to handle this matter, he was preventing us from engaging in that strategy.

REID: You said that Boris tried to prevent you from conducting searches? What searches are those?

PARLATORE: This is the searches at Bedminster initially. There was a lot of pushback from him where he didn't want us doing the search and we had to eventually overcome him.

REID: Why didn't he want you doing the search?

PARLATORE: I don't know. You know, Boris is -- you know, he is a lawyer. He spent about 18 months at a big firm doing transactional work and I think he just thinks based on that experience he knows better than all of us.

REID: So you previously testified before the grand jury back in December.


REID: Since you've left, some people have speculated that you couldn't represent the former president because you're a witness. What is your response to that?

PARLATORE: That, unfortunately, it has a lack of understanding as to what actually happened there. So first of all, I was not subpoenaed. What that was is the original subpoena to the office of the former president, they wanted a custodian of records to come and appear. They really wanted somebody, a staffer from down in Palm Beach to come in and talk about, you know, what searches were done so that they could beat them up, and ultimately there wasn't really a good person on the staff to send so we made the decision -- I made the decision to go in myself and to face the prosecutors and to actually speak directly to the grand jury and explain to them what was really going on here.

So, as I went in, and I talked about what we as a legal team had done in searching all the properties, that doesn't make me a material witness or anything like that.


So there is no conflict, there is no issue. I would expect to ever be called back in there. In fact there were a couple of opportunities where I offered to come back, the prosecutors didn't want me back. So it really has nothing to do with that.

REID: A lot of questions in terms of these documents being brought down to Mar-a-Lago, if the nation's secrets were in any way compromised. The former President Trump was asked at CNN's town hall if he had ever shared documents with people. Let's take a listen to what he said.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ever show those classified documents to anyone?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified after --

COLLINS: What do you mean not really?

TRUMP: Not that I could think of. Let me just tell you. I have the absolute right to do whatever I want with them. I have the right.


REID: As his defense attorney, what was your reaction to that answer? Not really?

PARLATORE: Well, I was focusing on the question, did you show any classified documents to anybody, where he hasn't really admitted that there were classified documents there, with the classification --

REID: Well, he said that he declassified them with his mind.


REID: And he had the right to.

PARLATORE: You know, we have no evidence to suggest that he showed any classified documents to anyone. And I think it was something where he got caught on the spot and gave maybe an inartful answer. But ultimately we have no evidence that he showed classified documents to anybody.

REID: Did you ever ask him if he showed documents that didn't go through the traditional declassification process to anyone?

PARLATORE: That would not be a discussion that I'd be -- even if I did have that conversation, ethically, I'm not allowed to talk about my conversation with him.

REID: I mean, I'm now a journalist. I'm a recovering attorney. 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 racking, 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.

Yes, maybe some inartful things like that, but ultimately nothing that really changes the tenor of the investigation.

REID: In the special counsel's investigation, CNN has recently learned that the special counsel is particularly interested in the surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago. Particularly on what happened to it after they asked. Are you aware of any gaps in the surveillance footage that has been provided to the special counsel?

PARLATORE: Not at all. None.

REID: And on that surveillance footage, Walt Nauta, who's a lower- level Trump aide, is seen moving boxes out of storage. We know he's spoken with investigators. Well, we have learned that they believe that he may have given some misstatements to investigators. Do you think Walt Nauta will be charged in this investigation?

PARLATORE: I don't. I don't. I think that if there was some inartful statements made because he was a little bit confused, ultimately the fact that somebody is moving boxes is not evidence of obstruction. It's evidence of an ongoing operating business.


ACOSTA: After this interview aired, CNN heard from a spokesperson for the former president who said Mr. Parlatore is no longer a member of the legal team, his statements regarding current members of the legal team are unfounded and categorically false.

And we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: Now to a family reunion like no other off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. In a tiny 100-square-foot lab, more than 22 feet below the surface, yes, you heard that correctly, a diving explorer medical researcher spending 100 days living under water, enjoyed the company of some familiar faces. His brother and 80-year-old mother paid him a visit on the 81st day of his mission. And Dr. Joseph Dituri joins us now.

Great to see you. Almost three months since you've seen your family face-to-face. I guess, first of all, are we talking to you while you're under water right now? What's going on? Take us for a ride here. What's happening?

DR. JOSEPH DITURI, DIVING EXPLORER: I am 100 percent submerged right now -- I'm 100 percent submerged and I've been down here for I think 82 days now.

ACOSTA: Amazing. And, I mean, what kind of training did your 80-year- old mother go through just to get down there? Walk us through this. She came down to visit you. What was all that like?

DITURI: You got to forgive me, remember, you called her 80 on national TV.

ACOSTA: Yes. Exactly, yes.

DITURI: But she had to go through --

ACOSTA: That's all because it worked. Yes.

DITURI: -- some diver training. She had to go through some diver training, basically learning how to clear, learning how to Valsalva, and learning what to do and how to motivate under water.

ACOSTA: And you're able to video call your older brother while all of this was going on? Take us through that. I mean, this is pretty remarkable stuff here.

DITURI: It's a great family reunion. You know, when you have the love and support of your family, you can do anything. And that's the truth. So we were able to call my brother in Utah, my brother Michael came down who incidentally I trained to dive a lot of years ago. And then, you know, my mom said, yes, I could probably do it. So I said, great. So she stepped up and made the ultimate commitment. But this is just testament to what you could do as you age. An aging population can say I could do anything.

ACOSTA: And tell us more about the goal of your mission. It's dubbed Project Neptune 100. What's a day in your life like under water? What does it look like? And just the mission itself. What can you tell us?


DITURI: My 100-day undersea mission has several outreach points. We're talking about science, technology, engineering and math to kids. We're also talking to my friends that are experts in the undersea and hyperbaric community about how to protect, reserve and rejuvenate the marine environment. Most importantly I'm a PhD in biomedical engineering so I wanted to do the clinical research on what happens to the human body as you live in this isolated, confined, extreme environment over a period of time.

You know, I want to crystallize my understanding of the mechanism of action of hyperbaric medicine such that we can apply it across a really broad spectrum of things like an aging population for instance, and maybe, you know, those like my mom who are -- or, you know, my mom is 49 so I don't want to hear it.


ACOSTA: And tell us about -- I mean, your digs there. They're about 100-square feet. I guess it gets a little tight in there. But it's --

DITURI: A hundred square feet is about all I have.


DITURI: And realistically, I have chambers that are about eight feet in diameter and about 17 or 18 feet of useable space. But you really don't have that much space because there is equipment and racks and you know, the bed takes up a portion of that. So you wind up having about 100 square foot of really usable space and then the moon pull, which you exit through and go out and go diving. That was the picture that you saw with my mother standing there coming into the pool. It was so great to see her.

ACOSTA: All right. Very good. And I'm sure the seafood is fresh as well. I mean, I got to think it doesn't get any better than that where you're at right now.

DITURI: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: Dr. Joseph Dituri, thanks so much for your time. Great stuff. We appreciate it. Best of luck to you.

DITURI: Thank you so much, Jim. It's a pleasure to meet you.

ACOSTA: Say hi to your mother for me. Don't -- make sure I'm not in trouble there. Thanks so much. All right.

DITURI: Yes, sir.

ACOSTA: All right. In the meantime, the 2010s was one of the most consequential decades in recent history with political, social and technological upheaval that redefined American culture. Tonight the CNN Original Series, "THE 2010s" is back with an all-new episode examining the Obama presidency and the seismic political shift s that put his legacy on the line.


JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: John Boehner had been in Congress for a long time when he becomes the speaker of the House.

JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I like the president personally. We get along well. But the president isn't leading.

ZELIZER: During 2010 he had encouraged Tea Partiers to run, but initially he's setting out and saying, I'm going to work with Obama. We're going to work on issues like the budget together. That quickly falls apart. As Congress debates raising the debt ceiling, many Tea Partiers are saying we won't do it, which means the whole nation will go into default.


ACOSTA: And joining us now is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, who you saw in that clip just a few moments ago. He's also a historian and professor at Princeton University.

Julian, great to see you. At the dawn of this decade, we saw President Obama decisively defeat now Senator Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. I remember covering that election. I was covering Mitt Romney for that one. But Obama faced multiple obstacles when trying to enact his second term agenda. There was a lot going on in that second term. And it was not always easy sledding for the president at that time, was it?

ZELIZER: Not at all. You had the Tea Party Republicans who had taken over the House in 2010. And they were obstructionists and they were causing immense problems for the president, you know, forcing him again in 2013 to deal with the debt ceiling. He's also still dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 fallout. There is a lot of anger in the electorate about how that was all handled.

And there's big changes in foreign policy that are taking place. In 2011 Osama bin Laden had been killed but then you have new challenges emerging such in Syria and other parts of the world, and all of this is part of what's in the mix as well as growing divisions and tensions over race and policing.

ACOSTA: And how did what was brewing in American politics in 2012, 2014, set the stage for what we saw happen during the 2016 presidential election. I assume we're talking about Trump here. And you know, you and I both know, he was rising, you know, in visibility in Republican Party politics throughout that time period.

ZELIZER: He is. I mean, he really comes to the national stage with the birther movement back in 2011. He's getting more and more interested in running and he sees the Republican Party with the Tea Party moving sharply to the right, finding a platform on conservative media outlets, and seeing something that in many ways he thinks he can capitalize on. And some of those economic tensions within the GOP are playing out with anger about immigration, for example, and different trade agreements.

And all of that comes together as well as growing backlash to Black Lives Matter, which emerges during this period and offers him the platform he's looking for.


ACOSTA: Right. That was when he was really test driving a lot of his lies and conspiracy theories.

And Julian, we're also seeing history from Obama's second term repeating itself to some extent on an important front right now with president and congressional Republicans in this showdown over the debt ceiling. Tell us about some of those parallels.

ZELIZER: Yes, look, 2011 was really a turning point. One of the first things the Tea Party Republicans do is they threaten not to raise the debt ceiling unless Obama concedes to pretty big spending cuts. And they weren't playing around. This wasn't a symbolic vote where they knew it was going to pass anyway. Tea Party Republicans were ready to send the country into default if Obama didn't concede.

So it was a normalization of a tactic that had not been used as a normal tactic in partisan warfare. Obama in the end agrees to spending cuts in 2011 and many people think that is when the GOP on this issue really crossed a threshold and today it's playing out again where I think many of the younger Republicans think this is something you can do. This is a legitimate tactic and we see the fallout right now in the risks.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, the risks are huge.

All right, Julian, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Make sure to tune in for a brand-new episode of "THE 2010s." That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.