Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Rebukes Advisers And Japan, Sides With Kim Jong-un; Interview With Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) On Trump Tweets; Trump's Lawyers Strike Deal With House Committees On Subpoenas; After Fight With Pelosi, Trump Says He'll Work With Dems; Severe Weather Threatens Millions Across U.S.; Feds: El Chapo's Request For Outdoor Exercise Could Be A Ploy. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remember the reason for this day. Our live coverage on CNN continues right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: siding with a dictator. President Trump undermines his own adviser and a key ally and sides with Kim Jong-un, saying he's not bothered by the dictator's latest missile test and applauding North Korea's attack on Democratic front-runner Joe Biden.

Not ready to deal: the president warns that U.S. tariffs on China may still rise substantially, saying he's not ready to make a deal with China but that a trade agreement is likely in the future.

Who will blink first in the trade war?

Deadly storms: 25 million Americans are at risk for severe weather this Memorial Day, with 10 million of them facing flood warnings. Hardest hit are states where severe weather killed at least a dozen people last week and where the situation could still get worse.

And escape plan? He made extraordinary escapes from two prisons in Mexico and now U.S. authorities worry that the notorious drug lord El Chapo could do the same in this country.

What's behind their concern?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta and this is a SITUATION ROOM Special Report.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ACOSTA: He may have bonded with his Japanese host over golf and sumo wrestling but President Trump's real affinity seems to be with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As he wraps up his Tokyo trip, the president has undercut Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (sic) and his own national security adviser by saying he's not personally bothered by North Korea's latest short-range missile test and doesn't see the launches as violations of United Nations resolutions.

And the president could not resist the chance to agree with North Korea's declaration that Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is a, quote, "low IQ fool," even as the president called Kim Jong-un "a very smart man."

I'll talk with Congressman Gerry Connolly on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees and our correspondents and analysts, they have full coverage of the day's top stories.

But first, we begin with CNN's Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown, in Tokyo.

And Pamela, some extraordinary comments from President Trump once again, siding with North Korea's dictator.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right, Jim. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe aim to present a united front but there was a clear divide on North Korea, with President Trump breaking from the Japanese as well as his own national security adviser by refusing to criticize North Korea in the wake of the recent missile tests.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump on foreign soil and on an island when it comes to his unwavering support for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and that regime's dislike of fellow American and former vice president, Joe Biden.

TRUMP: Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.

I'm not a fan.

BROWN (voice-over): All while playing down North Korea's recent missile firings, saying --

TRUMP: Perhaps he wants to get attention. And perhaps not. Who knows. It doesn't matter.

BROWN (voice-over): That statement putting him at direct odds with his own national security adviser, John Bolton, and his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe both say the rockets are a violation of U.N. resolutions. Trump, instead, choosing to side with a brutal dictator.

TRUMP: I view it differently. All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests, there have been no ballistic missiles going out, there have been no long-range missiles going out. And I think that, someday, we'll have a deal. I'm not in a rush.

BROWN (voice-over): On this global stage, the president also levying new attacks on Joe Biden over the Iran nuclear deal.

TRUMP: I look at what's been done by our vice president and the president, when I look at the horrible Iran deal that they made, I can tell you that Joe Biden was a disaster. His administration with President Obama, they were basically a disaster when it came to so many things.

BROWN (voice-over): And when asked about Japan's offer to be an intermediary with Iran, Trump expressing optimism he can cut a deal.

TRUMP: And I know so many people from Iran. These are great people. It has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We're not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We're looking for no nuclear weapons.

BROWN (voice-over): Trump also calling out House Democrats for their oversight subpoenas on his administration, tweeting, "The Dems are getting nothing done in Congress. They only want a do-over on Mueller."

TRUMP: If you look at Comey, if you look at McCabe, if you look at probably people higher than that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should they be punished --

TRUMP: If you look at Strzok, if you look at his lover, Lisa Page, his wonderful lover.

BROWN (voice-over): And he's getting at least one Republican's support for his questionable claims of treason regarding how the Russian probe came to be, from --

[17:05:00]

BROWN (voice-over): -- the former vice president's daughter, Liz Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R), WYOMING: We had people that are at the highest levels of our law enforcement in this nation saying that they were going to stop a duly elected President of the United States. That sounds an awful lot like a coup. And it could well be treason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN (voice-over): Trump's visit to Japan was meant to showcase the personal relationship between the two leaders, including a weekend of golf and sumo wrestling.

The question now, can they remain standing in the ring together despite these major differences?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now after the press conference, President Trump walked by me and I was able to ask him a question, asked him if he still had confidence in his national security adviser after he publicly broke with him on North Korea. And President Trump in response to that question nodded his head and

said, "Yes, I do."

Now as for Joe Biden and President Trump's criticism of him, which he also echoed in a tweet, Biden's camp responded to that tweeting calling it erratic and unhinged -- Jim.

OK, Pamela Brown, thank you very much. Let's bring in CNN's congressional correspondent.

Phil Mattingly, the president's attacks on Joe Biden are being criticized by a well-known Republican. Tell us about that.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, at least one Republican. We haven't heard from a lot of Republicans and, to be fair, it's a holiday weekend. Perhaps they're on break, not checking their phones and their tweets or what they've seen overseas on Tokyo.

But one Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger, he's a former member of the U.S. Air Force, currently still serves in the Air National Guard, tweeting, "It's Memorial Day weekend and you're taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong."

So there's two things here. One, the idea that politics stop at the water's edge. Clearly the president has decided that doesn't apply to him. Not an unusual thing in the sense that it might not apply but there's also the broader North Korea picture.

I was talking to a number of Republicans before they left for the Memorial Day recess and there's a lot of concern in terms of what is the actual end game here, how he treats Kim Jong-un.

They understand and they've given him a lot of space to try to figure something out to stop the threat that North Korea poses. But there's a sense of a losing patience right now given where things stand.

ACOSTA: OK. And, Phil, meanwhile, the president's attorneys have reached an agreement with Democrats over his financial records. This has been a battle over the last several weeks.

What's the latest on that?

MATTINGLY: That's right. And if you remember, the Democrats subpoenaed Capital One Bank and Deutsche Bank relating to records for the president's finances and some of his entities. They won. This district court siding with Democrats in that battle over the subpoena last week.

They have at least had a modest pause in their back and forth battle right now in a joint filing in the district court, in the Southern District of New York, saying, at least for the moment, they would pause any handing over of documents while the appeal is being heard. It's moving to a circuit court so we'll have to wait and see where that goes.

But at least for the moment, no documents will be turned over. ACOSTA: And the president now says he will work the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After last week it sounded as though they were cutting off any talks on any kind of legislation as long as these investigations are going forward.

What changed?

MATTINGLY: Yes, interesting element here. When the president said that, I was reaching out to Republican and Democratic sources, saying, what does this mean?

Does this apply to everything?

Is this a blanket freeze?

And slowly but surely over the course of the day, they said, well, no, the budget talks, it doesn't apply to that. USMCA, it doesn't apply to that. Prescription drugs, we've been talking to the staff a little, it doesn't apply to that.

I think this is kind of embracing of reality. There has been movement, if somewhat small, on some of these crucial issues and for the White House, who want to show they can get things done, particularly on that trade agreement, they don't want to take that off the table.

A key point here: the president will have to be involved and to be a key player if any of these issues will actually reach the end game, the end stage. There's a lot of question in both parties whether or not that will happen. But at least for the time being, that freeze, maybe just a two- to six-hour freeze. Maybe now, still talking.

ACOSTA: And the president seeing after those theatrics, the deal- making can continue. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia ,member of the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it. I just want to read this tweet again.

Thank you, sir, and happy Memorial Day.

I want to read this tweet again, because it's so incredible -- you can put this up on screen -- from the president, saying, " North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that's sending me a signal?"

Congressman, it is Memorial Day weekend, President Trump is siding with Kim Jong-un to attack a political rival, who is also the former vice president.

What does that say to you? REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think it's really a repugnant act by this president. To actually side with the most infamous dictator in the world, Kim Jong-un, who has brutalized his own people, murdered people abroad in horrible ways.

To side with him against an American political figure, who, after all, has given a lot to this country and who is still recovering from the loss of his son, who was a brave young man and fought for his country in Iraq.

[17:10:00]

CONNOLLY: I think it's just a despicable act and unfathomable. Maybe he's suffering severe jet lag. Or maybe he's suffering something else. But it is absolutely an unacceptable statement for the president of the United States, while overseas in a foreign country, to side with a repugnant dictator against the former vice President of the United States.

ACOSTA: And I don't want to dwell on this too long, we'll get to some other weighty matters in just a few moments.

But what's your response to the president referring to the former vice president as a low IQ individual?

He's obviously not.

CONNOLLY: You know, Jim, I worked with Joe Biden for 10 years in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I would say to you, of all the senators I worked with, he was the quickest study.

So you could give him, you know, a ream of material and he would get to the heart of the issue faster than anybody else. He is one of the brightest members of the Senate I worked with. I know from firsthand experience that that's just not true. Nice try, it won't fly.

ACOSTA: And President Trump says he doesn't view the latest North Korean missile test as a violation of U.N. resolutions.

Could that embolden Kim Jong-un, do you think?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. It's almost an invitation to keep it up. On its face, it's clearly a violation of U.N. resolutions, calling for a complete halt on missile testing by the North. Whether they be short- range missiles, intermediate missiles or long-range ICBMs.

This development is clearly alarming to South Korea and to Japan and is developing a capability that we had hoped would be frozen. It exposes the complete, vapid nature of the two summits that Mr. Trump went to with Mr. Kim Jong-un, that were ill-prepared, had no real rationale and, instead of producing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, they actually accelerated the North Korean nuclear development program.

Other than that, it was a success.

ACOSTA: And this is a threat obviously to U.S. troops in the region. South Korea, Japan and so on.

Congressman, the president is directly contradicting his national security adviser, John Bolton on all of this.

From your vantage point on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, who is calling the shots?

President Trump or Bolton?

CONNOLLY: Well, at the end of the day the buck is supposed to stop at the desk in the Oval Office. If John Bolton had any self-respect, frankly, he'd resign, as General Mattis did, frankly, over principle in terms of foreign policy.

If you can't agree with the principal who ultimately makes the final decision, in good conscience, you should resign. There's nothing shameful about that. And frankly, that would be a healthy development in this administration right now.

ACOSTA: And the president also made himself very clear on Iran during this press conference in the middle of the night, over in Japan. He says he doesn't want regime change, he just wants no nuclear weapons in Iran. That was the goal of the Iran nuclear deal, as you know. And President Trump withdrew from that.

You heard him talking about it a few moments ago in that piece from Pamela Brown.

Do you think he can negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely not. Remember that the nuclear agreement with Iran involved Russia, China, the Europeans and the Iranians and ourselves. You are not going to get those five parties to a table, having junked your own agreement, a U.S.-led agreement, and get them to start all over again and have any confidence or faith that this time it will stick.

That's just not going to happen. It was a catastrophic decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear agreement, because, in all metrics, all of the measurements that we set in that agreement, they were being met, every single one of them, on enriched uranium, on the uranium that was weapons grade, on the core reactor of the plutonium production reactor, allowing inspections of nuclear facilities, the Iranians met every one of them.

This was a personal pique by the president because it was Obama's agreement. And as a result, the world is now less stable, especially in that part of the world. To say he doesn't want regime change would also come as news to a secretary of state and his national security adviser, who have clearly been pushing for regime change for a number of years now, especially Mr. Bolton, who's on record on that subject.

So this is a new development. And I think it would come as news, not only to his own national security team but to the Iranian government as well.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Gerry Connolly, thank you very much for joining us on this Memorial Day and we appreciate your time.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Jim. Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

And up next, why is President Trump siding with North Korea's dictator against a U.S. ally and joining Kim Jong-un --

[17:15:00]

ACOSTA: -- in attacking Democratic front-runner Joe Biden?

And jailed drug kingpin El Chapo is asking for two hours of exercise, outdoor exercise a week. Why are U.S. prosecutors worried that could be part of an escape plan?

This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ACOSTA: Tonight, President Trump is facing blowback from some in his own party as he cozied up to Kim Jong-un. The president has taken delight in Kim's taunting of former Vice President Joe Biden, despite anxiety within his administration over recent North Korean missile tests.

Let's get more from our analysts and political experts.

And Jackie Kucinich, let me ask you first. President Trump is once again siding with Kim Jong-un over his own national security adviser, saying he's not bothered by these new missile tests from North Korea. Let's listen to the president and get you to comment on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently. I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention and perhaps not. Who knows?

It doesn't matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So in addition to being his own communications director, the president sometimes sounds like his own national security adviser.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the keyword there is, I view it as a man because you really can't overemphasize how much personal relationships -- I'm not telling anyone on this panel something they don't know -- how much personal relationships matter to this president.

And he thinks that if Kim Jong-un gave him his word, that apparently is as good as gold, never mind what's actually happening. Never mind that he's actually violating what he told the president over and over again on several different fronts. That doesn't matter.

The new ground here, while it reiterates some open concern, the new ground is that it was on foreign soil. He is siding with a dictator against his own staff, his own experts, while standing and using their talking points on foreign soil.

ACOSTA: In a country that is rattled often by North Korea.

And Phil Mudd, what does it do to the national security decision- making process when you have a president so publicly disagree with his national security adviser like this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think you have to look at this at two levels. First, go into the Situation Room at the White House in the West Wing and have a conversation about the way forward. If you have a plan strategically the way forward, not only with North Korea but talking to the Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans, if you're a cabinet official, you've sort of got to say, well, we kind of have a coordinated way forward.

But I don't know how this is going to work out, when the president starts tweeting. Then transition to the second part of this, Jim, you go overseas to a conversation with a leader. Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, starts talking to the North Koreans.

What does the president say?

Why are you talking to the North Koreans?

If you're negotiating with somebody overseas, I think if I were in North Korea, China, Russia, I would say, why am I talking to you?

As soon as the president sees this, he's going to decide something different. Inside-outside, very difficult to plan, Jim.

ACOSTA: And April Ryan, this also puts him at odds with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. And as you know, you and I both know, being over at the White House, Shinzo Abe has bent over backwards, trying to get into the good graces of this administration, sumo wrestling and everything.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is bigger than a sumo wrestling match where the two opponents do whatever they do. If there's reason for Abe to worry and for this nation to worry, it's now.

Jim, this is not just about the fact that if North Korea decides to throw a missile -- send a missile to Japan, it's even worse than this from what I'm hearing. The president and John Bolton are not getting along. And this is one of the reasons why he's making these statements that

he's making because of his upset with his own national security adviser. This is a national security issue. He has been upset with John Bolton over North Korea for weeks now.

And this, this comment that he made about North Korea and his friendship with Japan, they don't mix all because of his disdain for John Bolton at this moment. So if you are someone who worries, now is the time to worry.

ACOSTA: And Joey Jackson, I know we're not supposed to be shocked by these things anymore but the president attacking Joe Biden in this fashion on a foreign trip, what did you make of that?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I made of it, Jim, that it's outrageous. Just backing up, obviously, Biden poses a significant threat. He has an obsession of Biden as a result of that.

But on a practical level, a comment like that is beneath the president of the United States. But there's been so many other comments that have made us turn our heads or tweets that have made us turn our heads.

Number two, I think it would be accepted as a compliment, right, for apparently a dictator to have that view of you, because you, obviously, have an opposite view, if you're Joe Biden, of the dictator that we're talking about. And you've expressed that, been bold enough to do it. He hasn't.

Number three, it takes the president off message. And number four, it's Memorial Day. Number five, I mean, how many things can I go on?

I think the fact is, right, when you're overseas and you're engaged in a trip like that, to be demeaning of a vice president, who you're obviously obsessed about, is certainly troubling to say the least.

ACOSTA: And Adam Kinzinger weighing in with that tweet, saying it's Memorial Day weekend and you're taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator, and that from --

[17:25:00]

ACOSTA: -- a fellow Republican. That's pretty striking stuff. OK, guys, stand by. We're going to have more on all of the day's headlines and all of the weekend's headlines on this Memorial Day weekend, we'll be right back.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ACOSTA: Welcome back. We want to talk now about the Democratic investigations of the president up on Capitol Hill. And Joey Jackson, as you know, the president's lawyers have reached

this deal with some of these House committees working on these investigations.

[17:30:00] And they've agreed to hold off on enforcing some of these subpoenas for the president's financial records while this court case makes its way. I guess it now has an Appeals Court date coming up in July.

What do you make of that? Do you think this is a wise move for Democrats to hold off? And what are the prospects, do you think, for the President's case once it gets to that appellate court level?

JACKSON: Yes. You know, Jim, first of all, what I make of it, number one, is what's called respect for the law. I think that the Democrats are making the right decision. Let's respect the process. Let's respect the law, even if the other side doesn't.

The fact is, is that in order for you to get to the next level and appeal and win an appeal, right, ultimately, this -- they would have to show likelihood of success on the merits.

So if the Democrats went forward, I think the President would be in a weakened position. However, notwithstanding that, they're saying, let's let it play out.

To the core of the issue, in terms of whether there's a meritorious argument from the White House, I don't think so. The fact of the matter is, is that the judge has been -- Ramos has been very clear with regard to the reasoning as to why Congress has this power.

We all know Congress has the power of oversight and the power of overseeing the subpoenas legitimately issued, and I think an Appellate Court will uphold that. I think the other court that it'll get to, let's see what happens at the Supreme Court. It's heading to that level.

But we are in an unprecedented time in terms of the President trying to exert significant power that he doesn't really have. And so we'll see what the pushback brings, but I think that the Democrats, in terms of from a legal perspective, are on very solid ground.

ACOSTA: And, Jackie Kucinich, what do you think of this move for Democrats? Because, obviously, they weren't getting very far with these subpoenas and with these hearings and so on.

Is it wise counsel to let the courts deal with this? Because, ultimately, that's where a lot of these things are going to end up.

KUCINICH: Well, they're winning these judgments. This is the second one, I believe, that they've won. But this slow down the process.

They knew this, though. I mean, that -- and that's some of the arguments that you're hearing from members who kind of want to push for impeachment, that this is going to continue getting tied up in the courts. Now, so will impeachment. ACOSTA: Right.

KUCINICH: So it really is, they are in a kind of an impossible position right now. This is going to be a slow process no matter what, at the end of the day.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, April Ryan, President Trump now says he can work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

We saw last week, they were saying, well, we can't work with the Speaker if they're doing all of these investigations. And now, he's -- he seems to be backing off of that a little bit. What did you think when you heard that from the President?

RYAN: They mocked her. They put out a propaganda video on her. They lied on her. And now, the President wants to work with her. It says a lot about a woman from Baltimore, doesn't it, who started out in Little Italy.

Bottom line, this president knows that Nancy Pelosi has him where it hurts. You know, if he sits back and follows through on what he says he's going to do -- I'm not going to do anything because of these investigations -- one, he looks like a child who's having a temper tantrum.

And thinking back to 20-some-odd years ago, when I was at the White House when Bill Clinton was impeached, he worked for the American public. Even if that was a diversionary tactic, he was working for the American public.

And that precedent has been set there. So if this president decides not to do something, he looks bad. The American people will make the decision at the polls in 2020.

But ultimately, he realizes that Nancy Pelosi is the only thing that he can deal with to help him get any legislation through. It's about Nancy Pelosi and doing -- and working with her and doing what she wants.

ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, does that mean, though, that Nancy Pelosi won this battle if the President is backing off now and saying, well, I can work with the Speaker, work with the Democrats on some of these issues after he was just saying, what, three days ago, four days ago, that he was cutting it off? It was not going to happen.

MUDD: Four days ago is ancient history, Jim. I think he wins both ways. First, he gets to --

ACOSTA: The President wins both?

MUDD: The President does. First, he gets to demonize Nancy Pelosi. You know, anything in America, if you take a cinnamon doughnut, 50 percent of America says I hate it, 50 percent of America says I love it. If you take milk, 50 percent of America says I hate it.

He's going to say I hate Nancy Pelosi, and people are going to be behind him, saying I hate her too. And then four days later, he gets to say, but I work with the Democrats. I want to move forward.

So on both sides of it, he gets to I demonize her, and he gets to say I'm dealmaker. Whether it's North Korea or the Democrats, he gets it both ways.

RYAN: Yes.

KUCINICH: Though I will say he does -- by going after Nancy Pelosi, it will solidify her caucus behind her in a way that maybe it wouldn't have been. By really taking it to her like he did.

And it also harkens back to what happened with Hillary Clinton. Some of these attacks are exactly the same, calling her crazy, saying she's mentally unfit.

It goes back to that and reminds, you know, maybe some of these suburban women that aren't so sure about the President what they don't like about him. So I think there is a political risk to what he's doing.

RYAN: Yes.

KUCINICH: And, you know, with Nancy Pelosi, especially, it's baked in. He's not --

(LAUGHTER)

KUCINICH: I'm just saying people who don't like her don't like her.

MUDD: Yes, yes.

KUCINICH: No one's changing any minds on Nancy Pelosi.

ACOSTA: And, April, do you want to get in on this?

[17:34:59] RYAN: Yes. You know, it solidifies her power. It solidifies her as a woman in that town in power. It solidifies that she's strong enough to be able to go against this president who does not play politics.

He doesn't play fair. He plays a street game, and she's shown that she can do it, too. Even though he may not like her speaking style, she has a style that has knocked him to his knees.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you very much, all of you. Great talking to you on this Memorial Day weekend. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, dangerous tornados and flooding are threatening millions of Americans tonight. We will bring you the latest in just a few moments on that. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:09] ACOSTA: Tonight, storm-ravaged states in the Central U.S. are bracing for more. CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us from El Reno, Oklahoma. Omar, tell us about the devastation that you're seeing in El Reno and

what residents can expect as it appears more severe weather is on the way.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. The tornado that ripped through here was only on the ground four minutes, but even that was enough to leave everything in its path virtually unrecognizable. I mean, you look no further than what used to be this motel here behind me.

And this didn't happen in a vacuum, either. It came on the tail end of a month in this region that brought severe and, at times, deadly weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Tornadoes, flash flooding, and water rescues. Spring storms devastating towns across the central United States. And today --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holy cow!

JIMENEZ (voice-over): -- another huge twister touching down near Charles City, Iowa. Now, millions in the region are left grappling with the potential for more.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R), OKLAHOMA: We've got water still rising in the east, so we're not out of the woods, yet.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): All 77 counties in Oklahoma now under a state of emergency. Along the Arkansas River, the Army Corps of Engineers forced to allow more water through the Tulsa area Keystone Dam just to keep up with the high levels.

LT. COL. ADAM WEECE, MILITARY CHIEF OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: That equates to approximately a thousand school buses per second going through the dam.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Over a thousand people in the flood zone around Tulsa have been evacuated as the waters continue to rise.

STITT: We're still monitoring the inflows coming into the watershed, into the Keystone reservoir, so it still could get worse. We don't know exactly where the waters are going to peak.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The Tulsa County Sheriff's Department has been patrolling the area. Some homes nearly swallowed by the river. The flooding comes as a powerful EF3 tornado cut a path over two miles long in the small town of El Reno, Oklahoma.

MAYOR MIKE WHITE, EL RENO, OKLAHOMA: It's basically touched down right here and hit these 15, 16 spots here at the mobile home park.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): This mobile home park and nearby motel took a direct hit. STITT: You can see that devastation in person. It's just

unbelievable how violent, and you just can't imagine anybody being able to survive.

People that are on the top floor of that hotel, it was just kind of wiped out. Then when we saw the trailers, they're just completely demolished. One had the floor there, but a lot of them just kind of were -- just kind of -- it looked like they were blown up.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The Governor touring the damage there today, taking a phone call from the President who's overseas in Japan.

STITT: I'm out here actually touring the tornado damage right now. And pretty devastating. We've got two fatalities.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): At least 12 have died from the severe weather in the Midwest over the past month. And this El Reno tornado came on the heels of another major storm system. That one centered on Missouri, spawning more than 170 reported tornadoes just last week alone.

CHELSIE MAYO, EL RENO, OKLAHOMA RESIDENT: There's no proper reaction to this, and you feel everything. You feel sad. You feel angry.

I mean, there's no -- there's no description of -- you know, I've never been through this. We all hear the horror stories of the past, and it's horrible to live through it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JIMENEZ: And the tough thing now is this isn't over. There are parts of Arkansas that are already seeing rivers crest at record levels, and those are levels that are still expected to rise.

And in Tulsa, city officials are telling residents who live along the levees to have their evacuation plans ready, as they are preparing for a level of flooding they haven't seen in more than three decades -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Omar Jimenez, thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

Coming up, authorities worry the drug lord known as El Chapo, infamous for breaking out of two prisons in Mexico, might be plotting another escape. This time, here in the United States.

[17:43:53] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: The infamous drug kingpin, El Chapo, managed extraordinary escapes from two prisons in Mexico. Now U.S. authorities worry he is looking to do the same right here. And our CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into that.

Brian, it would be extraordinary for that to happen on U.S. soil. What are you learning? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the people who prosecuted

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and secured his conviction are seriously worried tonight.

They are fighting a request from El Chapo to be allowed two hours of exercise a week because they contend those short windows of time and space could give the kingpin all he needs to make another break.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): This high-security prison in Manhattan has been called tougher than Guantanamo. But tonight, federal prosecutors say they are concerned that one of the world's most notorious, violent drug lords could be trying to bust out of it.

Prosecutors are fighting a request by former Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquin El Chapo Guzman. The 61-year-old, who was convicted of 10 counts including drug distribution in February wants two hours of outdoor exercise a week, earplugs to block out prison noise, and the ability to buy bottled water at the commissary.

El Chapo's lawyers say he is suffering mental fatigue from cruel and unusual conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. That for 2-1/2 years, he's been in solitary confinement with no access to fresh air or sunlight.

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

[17:50:02] TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors say the request for outdoor exercise for El Chapo is especially risky because the only outdoor exercise space at that Manhattan prison is on the roof, leaving El Chapo at risk of being broken out of jail in Hollywood style, like Ice Cube's character in "XXX 2."

While that may sound far-fetched, experts say it's not. In 1981, an inmate tried to escape from the rooftop of the same prison where El Chapo is being held. That inmate's friends hijacked a helicopter and attempted to lift him out after trying to cut through the wire mesh that covers the exercise yard.

They failed, but other jailbreaks with helicopters have succeeded, such as this one in Canada in 2013. Two inmates got away but were recaptured a few hours later.

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

TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors in El Chapo's case argue they have reason to be concerned, saying a helicopter escape from the Manhattan prison would be, quote, elementary by comparison to what the convicted drug lord has already pulled off. At Mexico's maximum-security Altiplano prison in 2013, El Chapo

disappeared while walking through a shower stall. Turns out there was an escape hatch in the floor that led to an elaborate tunnel complete with electricity, lighting, tracks laid out along the ground, and a modified motorcycle cart for transportation.

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

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

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

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

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tonight, prosecutors are also concerned that if he is not placed under restrictive conditions, El Chapo could conceivably also run at least part of the Sinaloa Cartel's operations from inside that Manhattan prison.

Now, El Chapo's lawyers say he's been a model prisoner, and they call the prosecutor's concerns hysterical, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Brian, is he likely to stay at that prison in Manhattan? You can almost see the gears turning in his mind right now.

TODD: Yes, that's right. Not likely he'll stay there, Jim. He's probably going to be transferred to the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, which is incredibly secure. It houses terrorists and other notorious murderers.

No one's ever even tried to escape from there, but we've heard concerns from former DEA agents that El Chapo's associates from Sinaloa could be casing even that prison for its vulnerabilities.

ACOSTA: All right. Brian Todd, fascinating stuff, thank you very much.

Coming up, President Trump sides with Kim Jong-un against a U.S. ally and joins the North Korean dictator in attacking Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.

[17:53:35] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Happening now. I'm with Kim. President Trump defies the American tradition that politics ends at the water's edge, taking advantage of his trip to Japan to praise North Korea's Kim Jong-un, downplay the concerns of his own national security adviser, and insult former Vice President Joe Biden. Why is he siding with a dictator over Americans?

Fast track. President Trump's attorneys strike a deal to speed up a court fight over Democrats' demands for his financial records. What are they hoping to gain, and why are House Democrats willing to bargain in the midst of his high-stakes battle?