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White House on AT&T-Time Warner Deal; Russian Bombers Intercepted Off the Coast of Alaska; Iran Prepares for "Industrial Scale" Enrichment without Restrictions; Trump: We Will Have Much Lower Prices At Pharmacy Counters; Rockfall Triggers "Short-Lived" Explosion At Volcano Summit; Pilots Describe Horror Flight, Emergency Landing. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired May 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[10:59:57] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: There's much more ahead in the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM. We turn it over to our colleague Fredricka Whitfield.

Fred -- good morning.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you so much. Good morning to both of you.



WHITFIELD: All right. See you later.


WHITFIELD: Like tomorrow morning.

All right. Thanks so much -- Victor and Christi.

All right. Hello -- everyone.

It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

All right. We start with this breaking news. And the back and forth between Trump's outspoken lawyer and mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani, and the White House escalating today to chaos and confusion. Just moments ago, Giuliani -- Rudy Giuliani once again backtracking on his comments that directly contradict the position from the White House this time on the AT&T and Time Warner merger. Time Warner is the parent company of CNN.

Giuliani originally saying on Friday Trump personally denied the deal. The White House jumping into damage control mode this morning saying not the case. Then one hour later, Giuliani scrambling to clarify his original comments.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins me right now from the White House. So Abby -- what's going on?


This all began because Rudy Giuliani was actually trying to defend President Trump against accusations that he was unduly influenced by his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who had been paid by a bunch of corporations including AT&T to lobby on their behalf.

Now in an effort to defend Trump, Giuliani made a statement that really contradicted everything the White House has been trying to say about this AT&T/Time Warner merger which has gone all the way to the courts as the government tries to stop it from going forward.

He said this in an interview with the "Huffington Post". "Trump denied the merger." He said specifically the President himself was involved in that. But then this morning I asked the White House to clarify why, back in November the White House said that the President did not talk to anybody at the Department of Justice about this.

And Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to me in an e-mail saying that, in fact, the original White House statement was accurate still and that the Department of Justice had, in fact, denied the deal -- a direct contradiction to Rudy Giuliani.

So now given another opportunity to walk his statements back, Giuliani spoke to CNN's Dana Bash this morning. And he clarified his statement saying that he had talked to President Trump and President Trump said that he didn't interfere. Giuliani said "He told me directly that he didn't interfere."

So that is a total walk back here -- Fred, of what Giuliani originally said in part because it would be very problematic for this administration and perhaps for the government's case to have the insinuation that President Trump directed the Justice Department to stop the merger especially considering the kind of rhetoric that President Trump often lobs against CNN, which is a subsidiary of Time Warner.

So here, the White House is trying to go back to their original statement which is that no one here at the White House was authorized to talk to the Department of Justice about this case and that the President didn't speak to the attorney general directly about it.

That being said, we do know, Fred -- that President Trump is opposed to this deal. He has been for quite some time. He has talked about it since the campaign trail. It comes as no surprise to anyone that he opposed this merger from the very beginning -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So then, Abby -- what does this mean for the relationship, Trump and Giuliani? No, he's not the White House counsel, but he has been described as President Trump's personal attorney.

PHILLIPS: Well, that's a very good question. Up until this point, President Trump, we know, had been a little bit frustrated with Giuliani because he had gone out in public and made statements that actually exacerbated his legal troubles with his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen; with the Stormy Daniels case; and now again here with this issue of the AT&T/Time Warner merger.

The question is will this all add up to something for President Trump? The two men are actually fairly close, on a personal level. And Giuliani was brought in to help deal with the Mueller investigation. And yet he keeps creating, it seems, more problems for the President.

So it just -- I think it's a lot of times, going to depend. We heard from our sources that the President watches the coverage of Giuliani's comments and grows a little bit irritated with it. But as of last week when Giuliani was making these comments the President, according to our sources, was not ready to push Giuliani aside.

And also, just in the last couple of days, Giuliani actually lost his day job. His law firm said that he would be leaving it permanently as a result of his decision to join the President's legal counsel.

So it's unclear what all of this would mean for Giuliani. He's not necessarily going to go back to his old private practice at the end of this process.

[11:04:59] WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip -- thank you so much.

All right. Let's get some perspective now, more perspective, I should say. CNN contributor Larry Noble -- he is also general counsel for the campaign, legal center and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission; CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post" David Swerdlick; and CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times" Michael Shear.

All right. Let's talk about this effort by the White House. You know, the President's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, now walking back in that statement, saying maybe he didn't get that completely right.

So David -- this underscores a real difficulty now in trying to distinguish the difference between Rudy Giuliani, the White House, Trump -- especially when Trump has some historical reference as being critical against the merger of AT&T and Time Warner. So how does one distinguish a difference in opinions and statements here?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning -- Fred. So, yes, I don't know how you distinguish.

Let's take a step back for the second time in two weeks. Mayor Giuliani has gone out in public, in an interview, and tried to cover up one unfavorable narrative for the White House with another narrative that turned out to be just as unfavorable.

It was just last week that he was telling Sean Hannity last week look, no, no, no, there's no campaign finance violation. President Trump was paying installments to reimburse Michael Cohen for money that were paid to Stormy Daniels. Then everybody -- you know, including Sean Hannity looks at it and they're wait a second, but the President said he didn't know anything about it. Now we have a similar situation. Mayor Giuliani tells "Huffington Post" well look, you know, clearly there's no swamp here. We're draining the swamp because AT&T paid this money to Michael Cohen but they didn't get what they wanted. And everybody is looking at him like, wait a second Mayor Giuliani, the Justice Department said they made the decision on AT&T/Time-Warner merger, not the President. And now as Abby just reported, they're having to do clean-up on aisle seven.

The problem for Mayor Giuliani is that it almost appears as if he hasn't read a newspaper or watched cable news for a year and a half. He has been parachuted in here to try and be the President's mouthpiece but he doesn't have a clear grasp on the issues that have led us up to this moment, and that I think is becoming a problem for the White House.

WHITFIELD: But David -- it's been common knowledge about where the President stands on this whole potential merger.


WHITFIELD: I mean take a look here as a reminder.


Donald Trump, President of the United States: AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN -- a deal we will not approve in my administration.

Personally, I've always felt that that was a deal that's not good for the country. I think your pricing is going to go up. I don't think it's a good deal for the country. But I'm not going to get involved. It's litigation.


WHITFIELD: All right. So then Larry -- you've got that. And now you've got the DOJ which is involved in disputing this merger in court. But when you have precedents from the President and he has made reference to the DOJ, you know, being his Department of Justice -- I mean is there really a difference between what the President's point of view on the merger is and what DOJ's legal merit is in court on this merger or not?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, there is some difference. Look DOJ says that they made this determination on their own. But obviously their aware of what the President feels about this. And the administration has its view of anti-trust problems and merger problems. And the Department of Justice carries that out.

That's different than saying that the President called DOJ and said look, I want you to block this merger. And that is what -- that is what Giuliani's suggestion first was, that the President did that. And that would be a totally different thing, totally inappropriate.

But what's happening here, as I listen to this is that I don't think this is their strategy. I don't think they have a strategy. But they've actually now moved us away from talking about Michael Cohen and whether Michael Cohen was a lobbyist because that was originally the issue here and the money that he was being paid by AT&T, Novartis and others.

And one of the questions that is not being answered here is whether or not Michael Cohen actually ever contacted the administration, whether he even discussed the AT&T matter with the President and whether or not their point is when they say that he's draining the swamp is that well, Michael Cohen talked to them about it but he didn't act on it or Michael Cohen didn't talk to him about it.

AT&T's position and Michael Cohen's position was that they never talked to the President. They never talked to anybody --


WHITFIELD: And why would it make a difference had Michael Cohen who, you know, reportedly went on his own, reached out to them and then, you know, really boasted of having, you know, the inroads, you know, to the President? If Michael Cohen did let the White House or did let President Trump know that he was doing this to -- on his behalf or perhaps to persuade upcoming merger or lack thereof. Why would that make a difference, in your view?

[11:09:56] NOBLE: Well there -- two things. One is AT&T, Novartis and the others are all basing their claim that he wasn't a lobbyist, and Michael Cohen is basing his claim that he wasn't a lobbyist on the idea that he never contacted the administration.

Part of the definition of being a lobbyist is that you have to have more than one contact with a covered official, somebody in the administration about an issue on behalf of a client. And if he's never contacted the administration, then he doesn't have to register as a lobbyist.

So if they say he did contact the President or anybody in the White House about the AT&T deal, then he should have probably registered as a lobbyist. That's one thing.

The other thing here is the President has not yet said whether he approved or disapproved of Michael Cohen actually selling access or selling his knowledge of the President to clients while he was the President's personal attorney. I think a lot of people would find their personal attorney selling information about them objectionable and fire their attorney.

So that's another point here is that we never really talked about what he thinks about what Michael Cohen did. So, you know, there is the issue now of whether he interfered with the Department of Justice investigation and there's also just the issue of the relationship between Michael Cohen, these companies and the White House.

WHITFIELD: And then Michael -- what does this discovery mean to you?

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well look, I think one of the things that it means is it underscores the kind of fears that are inside the White House going forward on all of these investigations because Giuliani is the kind -- offers the kind of imprecision and lack of discipline that they are so worried about with the President. The two of them are two peas in a pod.

And what you don't want when you're facing investigation, whether it's Michael Cohen and the investigation in the southern district of New York or it's the President and the Mueller investigation is you don't want to be making these statements. You know, it's one thing to be making them in the public sphere of public opinion. You can go back like Giuliani did today and you can correct them and you can sort of clean it up a little bit.

But when you're making those kinds of comments under the sphere of an investigation, if the President were to somehow be deposed or go in for an interview with the Mueller team, you have to be precise. You can't say one thing and then later come back and say oops I meant something different. That has legal implications.

And so the idea that they're putting Giuliani out as the spokesperson who is not disciplined like that, despite the fact that he's a lawyer, it just underscores all of the nervousness and worry inside the White House.

WHITFIELD: But it's interesting you touched on that Michael. The imprecision that seems to be demonstrative of the President and now you're seeing that same kind of imprecision from Rudy Giuliani. Well, maybe it is not they as you refer to but maybe it is the President who prefers this style of Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani is simply carrying out the orders, you know, or the direction from the President which is separate from what the White House, in general wants, or separate from what White House counsel wants. And this is the consequence of that, perhaps -- Michael.

SHEAR: Yes. Look, I absolutely agree. I think if the question out there is why in the world would the White House and the legal team and the political advisers around the President want this to be happening? Why would they want Giuliani to be out here sort of giving all these interviews and making all these statements without actually knowing what he's talking about or knowing the details, the answer to that question -- the only answer to that question has to be because the President wants him to be because this is what the President is comfortable with.

These -- they're like echoes of each other and if the White House counsel or the White House political advisers were in charge, I can't imagine this is where they would want things to be.

WHITFIELD: And so David or Larry -- take a stab at why would it be that this is what the President wants, you know, for Rudy Giuliani to kind of throw it out there, to get this kind of like scramble of attention, knowing that the White House, the White House counsel is not seeing this as beneficial?

SWERDLICK: So let me -- I'll take a quick stab at it and then I'll defer to Larry on the legal particulars. But in terms of the optics and the politics, to follow on what Michael is saying, the President has continually been looking for the pugilist, the lawyer/spokesperson/sidekick/henchman who can go out there and make the case to the American people that there's nothing to see here; that all the legal troubles of the administration are sort of a witch hunt or smokescreen.

And you know, so far he has not found that in Rudy Giuliani even though Rudy Giuliani was the mayor of the largest city in the western hemisphere and a former prosecutor. He's not getting the job done right now.

WHITFIELD: All right. Larry -- last word on that?

NOBLE: Yes. You know, I think that this is part of who Trump is. I think it reflects Trump and I think they're aiming at their audience. They're aiming at their target audience, their supporters.

And I don't think they're giving enough consideration to the legal ramifications of all this because there doesn't really seem to be a solid legal strategy here. It seems to be just throw the stuff out there, cause some confusion, back away from it and maybe he thinks if you say enough different things, they can't nail you down on any one thing but it's not the way it works.

[11:15:03] WHITFIELD: Larry Noble, David Swerdlick, Michael Shear -- thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

SHEAR: Thanks -- Fred.

NOBLE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Tensions rising in the Middle East after President Trump pulls out of that Iran nuclear deal. Iran saying it's ready to start nuclear enrichment on a, quote, "industrial scale" if the deal is scrapped.

Plus acid rain, explosive steam and fiery projectiles -- the new and frightening dangers for people living in the shadow of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on the Big Island.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Breaking news now: U.S. stealth fighter jets have intercepted a pair of Russian bombers in international air space. The mid-air drama unfolded off the Alaskan coast early Friday morning. The Russian long-range bombers flew into the Air Defense Identification Zone which extends about 200 miles off Alaska's western coast.

[11:20:02] CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne joining us now on the phone. So Brian -- Ryan, what more can you tell us?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, we know that this intercept is the first such intercept by U.S. jets of a Russian bomber for about a year. Now Russia conducted a series of these flights in May and April of 2017. So it's been quite some time since Russian bombers have kind of done these long-range probing flights off the coast of Alaska.

As you said, this did take place in international air space but it does fall in the U.S. military's Air Defense Identification Zone. So U.S. and Canada as part of NORAD will fly and intercept any foreign aircraft, foreign military aircraft in particular that operate in this area.

So officials not overly concerned about this. It could be that Russia is attempting to retrain its pilots to conduct additional training but it has been some time and they'll be looking to see if Russia continues these kind of probing activities in the near future.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Browne -- keep us posted. Thank you so much.

BROWNE: You bet.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, the tensions and rhetoric are ratcheting up in the Middle East in the wake of President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Violence along the Gaza border between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers escalating and Iran is now threatening to restart its nuclear program on a, quote, "industrial scale".

Also just today the commander of Iranian army ground force said Israel's security is further threatened by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the nuclear pact.

We have team coverage on the unfolding situation: CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, live in Jerusalem; and senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran. Good to see you both.

So Elise -- to you first.

Hundreds have been injured and a Palestinian killed in protests along the Israeli/Gaza border in recent days. Israel and Iran are trading blows across the Syrian border, firing missiles at each other. And the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is set to open on Monday. Could the controversial move plus increasing tensions in the region spark even more violence? It's a lot at once.


I mean look, you have a couple of things all coming together as you said -- the situation in Gaza, the situation with Iran, and Israel for the first time trading direct fire last week in Syria, and now this controversial move of the embassy opening. And you also have the beginning of Ramadan starting early this week.

So certainly a lot concern that heightened tensions will escalate. In Gaza there's been some protests for about seven weeks now. Friday it really came to a head with those protesters -- one killed, several hundred injured. There is a big concern right now that a lot of protesters are calling for breaching the wall on Monday -- certainly Israel is ready for that.

And when it comes to Iran, again you know, those tensions have been really escalating over the last several weeks. But with President Trump pulling out of the Iran deal, now Israel really kind of sees Iran as weakened. Their currency is really plummeting.

So I think from Israel's perspective, this is really a prime opportunity to go after what they have been concerned about for some time, which is Iran's growing military presence in Syria.

So certainly, Israel is fighting all of this at once but I will say that that opening of the embassy, the U.S. support and even you know, some Arab support -- you saw the Bahraini foreign minister tweeting the other day in support of Israel's self-defense. I think all that support is really giving them the confidence that they feel that they need to fight back against Iran at this time.

WHITFIELD: And then is there a way to generalize, you know, how the President's decision, you know, to leave the Iran deal might be received there in Israel?

LABOTT: Well, listen, I think that, you know, when you talk to U.S. officials they say, you know, previous administrations, in particular they cite the Obama administration, has been very tough on Israel, thinking that if they could, you know, put the squeeze on Israel for settlement or something else that would motivate Israel to, you know, cooperate and make concessions to the Palestinians.

This administration clearly has a different take and has been really in lockstep with Israel not only on Iran but on the Palestinian issue and on Jerusalem. So again, I think it's what the U.S. hopes and I think Israeli officials do say that that support, that knowing that the U.S. really has Israel's back no matter what and trying to see everything from Israel's perspective is giving Israel the kind of confidence that it needs. And hopefully that will be enough to make some concessions to the Palestinians.

[11:24:53] I will say though that, you know, all of this support and certainly the support of Arabs is taking a little bit of the oxygen away from this embassy move. And I think that, you know, the U.S. officials certainly expected more outrage from the Arab world.

So I think there will certainly be a lot of protests tomorrow, but I don't think that the Israelis are expecting the kind of serious violence that they might have.

WHITFIELD: All right -- Elise. Let's get to Fred Pleitgen in Tehran.

So Fred -- Iran has reacted to the news of the U.S. pullout with threats of a stepped-up nuclear program but that's really not all. A new photo showed Iran's Supreme Leader spotted at a book fair, checking out a Farsi edition of Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House". He shared the picture himself on Instagram. So could there be a real danger behind these threats, this bluster? What does this mean? What's the symbolism even with that book reading?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean it certainly has a lot of symbolism that he would be pictured with that specific book. And clearly the Supreme Leader of Iran has been lashing out at President Trump throughout the entire course of this week. I mean Elise was just alluding to it.

This has been a big week, if you are here in Iran as well. First of all the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear agreement, then that altercation that happened on the Golan Heights and on Syrian territory but especially the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear agreement.

I mean it's one thing to be pictured they're reading "Fire and Fury" but the Supreme Leader of Iran also said earlier this week that President Trump's corpse would be fodder for worms while the Islamic Republic of Iran would still stand. So some serious fiery language.

And I think one of the interesting things is while the Iranians have actually not yet said that they were part of that altercation that took place in Syria with those two sides firing rockets at each other, those two issues do serious seem to be intertwined for the Iranians.

And you were mentioning that Iranian commander, the general who was saying that Israel's security would be at peril with the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear agreement. I want to read part of the statement that he said.

He said "The treatment of the nuclear deal by Trump will fail to produce the results desired by the Zionists -- obviously referring to the Israelis -- and would rather speed up the annihilation of the usurper regime." So if anybody thought that the Iranians were going to back down, that certainly doesn't seem to be happening.

At the same time though, Fredericka -- I think it's really important to point out that there is still a lot of diplomacy going on as well. The Iranians say they do want to salvage the nuclear agreement. The foreign minister of Iran is going to go around to Russia, China, to the European countries to see if they can find some way forward to preserve the agreement without the United States actually being in it. That's going to be very difficult.

But as you said, if that fails the Iranians say they can start up their nuclear program again very, very quickly and that there will be no restrictions on it -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Fred Pleitgen, Elise Labott -- thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right. President Trump lays out his plan to bring down prescription drug prices in this country after accusing drug makers of profiting off Americans. So does the President's plan really get to the heart of the issue or is there more work to be done?

A former White House health adviser joining me next.



WHITFIELD: President Trump laying out his vision for lower drug prices promising his administration's actions will reduce what consumers pay at the pharmacy and end abuse of the system. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Today, my administration is launching the most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people. We've been wanting to be doing this. We've been working on it right from day one.

It's been a complicated process but not too complicated and today it's happening. We will have tougher negotiations, more competition and much lower prices at the pharmacy counter, and it will start to take effect very soon.


WHITFIELD: The president went on to blast drug makers and health insurers for profiting off Americans.

Joining me right now, CNN contributor, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, the health care policy adviser for the Obama White House. The administration's plan seeks to increase competition, improve the negotiation drug price, and reduce consumers out-of-pocket spending on medicines and create incentives to lower list prices. So how do you see all of this?

DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I was largely a big nonevent. You know that for sure because the stock prices of the pharmaceutical makers, pharmacy benefit managers went up. It went down temporarily and then went back up. They didn't think this was serious. It's certainly not going to affect their sales or profits.

There are few good things in what the president suggested probably having Medicare's formulary rules change so that there could be some more competition, estimates by various experts have put that savings at about $500 billion per year.

But fundamentally the president didn't deal with the main issue which is drug prices and how we'll get the actual prices lower. He was worried about trying to change the rebates and that would actually get a little more money to the people who are buying the drugs.

But in the end, this is not a serious proposal to bring the drug prices down. There is not comprehensive, not the most comprehensive legislation on drug prices. So, I don't see how this is actually going to make a big difference and no one else, I think, who seriously follows drugs sees it either. The stock market certainly reacted in a different way.

[11:35:06] WHITFIELD: So, do you see the president's plan, I mean, his pronouncement on pharmaceuticals similar or different from his vision of a more competitive health care industry? Because he proposed that after succeeding particularly in removing the individual mandates.

EMANUEL: Well, he hasn't had much more competitive health care marketplace either. He has a lot of rhetoric, but that's very different than a lot of action. That actually changes how things are happening.

You know, he's very good on the rhetoric, but I think the actual policies here are not very effective in achieving what he would like to say. Let me make an important point about 40 percent of drugs are paid for by Medicare and Medicaid, and about 60 percent of the pay comes from private insurers.

There is nothing in what the president proposed that will help those of us who get insurance through our employer or privately. It really is focused to the extent that it's focused on anything, it's focused on Medicare. That's very important for elderly people and seniors.

But even there, the savings will be relatively modest, but it does nothing for the majority of Americans, who get insurance through the private sector. The government isn't going to lower those prices. It's not going to regulate the maximum price that drug companies can charge.

And the consequence is maybe it will lower what people who are on Medicare pay, but that will be about the extent of the reform here. It won't even lower it substantially. We should hold the president to his promise that the prices are going to come down substantially and quickly, which is something else he said.

I think if we come back here in six months, a year, even two years, there's no chance that either of those statements are going to be true.

WHITFIELD: He said there will be tougher negotiations, but you're saying without some sort of legislation, there really is no power that the president or government has to entice pharmaceuticals in which to lower these prices. So, what is --

EMANUEL: I think you summarized it perfectly, which is negotiations require some leverage. If you don't tell the drug companies, you know, there is a maximum price you can charge, or we are going to regulate how much you increase the prices from year to year, what's your leverage over them?

Well, they have some more leverage by saying, look, we're going to reduce the number of drugs we have to cover as part of Medicare. That's a little bit of leverage. But estimates are that that is worth $500 million.

Let me remind the viewers that the total amount of spending in drugs is about $470 billion. So, that's 0.1 percent savings, that's not serious savings, considering that next year everyone is anticipating drug costs to go up by about 6 or 7 percent, 0.1 percent savings is not worth talking about.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Zeke Emanuel, good to see you. Thank you so much.

EMANUEL: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: All right. After weeks of dealing with the dangers from boiling lava, toxic gases, earthquakes even, people living near Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano are facing a new very terrifying threat. The story next.



WHITFIELD: President Trump has approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii because of what you're seeing here, freeing up federal emergency funds for areas hit by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the past two weeks.

And now people living near the Kilauea Volcano are facing a new, frightening prospect on the big island, ballistic projectiles, some weighing as much as several tons could potentially spew out of the crater.

Here's how that would happen. The lava lake inside the crater is sinking because of the recent fissure eruptions. If it drops to groundwater level, that could trigger steam-fueled explosions which could potentially shoot huge rocks of ash into the air, a nightmare that is putting residents on edge.

Joining me right now is Forrest Lanning, FEMA's volcano program manager for the Hawaii region. Forest, this is really incredible. People have seen eruptions from Kilauea and that, in and of itself, is always fascinating.

But something is very different here when you talk about the potential of tons of material, these boulders, et cetera. So, how big might these boulders be? How close to a real possibility is this?

FORREST LANNING, FEMA REGIONAL PROGRAM MANAGER, VOLCANIC HAZARDS: Well, first of all, the crater is actually inside a national park, and it's pretty much an uninhabited area. The national park is closed and there is a high risk of an explosion at the summit, that could shoot rocks up to the size of a car.

But that would be confined to a radius less than a mile around the summit, which has already been closed off. There's a possibility of ash debris that could range -- ash fall that could range from several thousand feet to up to 20,000 feet into the air, but the ash fall that will all be confined to 20 miles.

WHITFIELD: OK. But wait a minute. You're talking about the national park. I've been to that national park. While it's closed, the images we're seeing right now are not all in the national park.

[11:45:03] So, there's already the threat of the molten lava that is coming through the fissures and we've seen historically when lava comes from the crater and it travels many, many miles, it goes into communities, neighborhoods, streets, right into the ocean, et cetera.

And those are not -- you know, these are things that are happening right now. When people hear that there could be boulders, giant projectiles, you can't convince me or somebody else that it will be limited to just within the park area of a mile. So, let's talk about what really is a very dangerous, huge threat right now. What should people brace themselves for, potentially?

LANNING: Well, the area that you're seeing the lava fissures are happening are lower down on the mountain, much lower down. It's in an area called east rift zone. That is where the -- they are not in the same locations.

There are two active areas, the summit and then down in the Leilani Estates where the 15 fissures, which actually have temporarily paused right now. Now, with the lava lake sinking, the lava is moving to a different location of the volcano.

And it's likely that it's heading down the hill and there will be high possibilities for more lava fissures. The risks to the residents down there is mostly lava fissures and then some sulfur dioxide gases being emitted from --

WHITFIELD: Which is really serious and a big deal.

LANNING: Yes. That's why the residents need to heed to the warnings of the Hawaii County Civil Defense. There are mandatory evacuation areas in the vicinity of the fissures and they need to listen to that. You can't put on a dust mask for sulfur dioxide. You have to leave the area.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, the island is sizeable. People are not living on every square inch and foot of the island, when you talk about evacuations, are people being encouraged to leave the entire island or are you saying that there are parts of the big island that just simply will not be impacted by any kind of lava flow or projectiles and lava and there are places on the big island that you can continue to live safely?

LANNING: Absolutely. Absolutely. The island is -- I mean, the big island is actually really big, and this area is very limited to more sparsely populated area. The asset we're seeing on the news is the only area affected by the lava flows and the sulfur dioxide.

Now the sulfur dioxide can increase and blow into different directions, and that's where the local residents need to listen closely to the Hawaii County Civil Defense on knowing where that sulfur dioxide gas is going. It's mostly going to be an irritant.

It would be trouble breathing or maybe some burning of your lungs, but it's not -- as long as you leave, you'll be fine. The rest of the island will more or less not be affected by this.

Like the Kona coast where most resorts are. At the worst-case scenario, they may see ash in the atmosphere. It could whip around the volcano when and if they have a pressure explosion.

WHITFIELD: It's a big island but have you been to the Kona side and the Hilo side?

EMANUEL: I have. In fact, I was just there, literally days before the eruption started.

WHITFIELD: Then you've seen -- OK. Then you've seen that the lava flow, there is still remnants of the lava rock on, you know, both sides.

EMANUEL: That's right.

WHITFIELD: So, it really can impact both sides, Kona and Hilo.

EMANUEL: Well, there are six volcanos on the big island. Kilauea is only one of them and it's not even the largest of them. So, if Monoloa and Monokea are the largest point and Monoloa is an active volcano, but it's hibernating, so to speak. Kona is not directly in risk of anything from Kilauea.

WHITFIELD: OK. Forrest Lanning, very optimistic and we appreciate it. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: The pilots of a Southwest Airlines flight that had an engine break apart are talking for the first time about their harrowing experience. The high-stakes drama unfolded a few weeks ago when shrapnel from the exploding engine broke a window, a passenger was sucked partly through that window and died from her injuries. But the plane made a safe landing thanks to the calm actions of the pilots. Polo Sandoval has the story for us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Southwest 1380, are you descending right now?

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: Yes, sir, we're single engine descending, have a fire --

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the engine failed on the Southwest Airlines flight last month, Pilot Tammie Jo Shults didn't panic instead she relied on her extensive Navy experience.

TAMMIE JO SHULTS, PILOT, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: My first thoughts were actually here we go, just because it seemed like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.

SANDOVAL: Shults, who navigated Southwest Flight 1380 to safety, discussed the incident for the first time since the April 17th emergency that left one passenger dead. Shults said on ABC's "20/20" that she wasn't even supposed to be in the cockpit that day. She had traded with her pilot husband, so she could attend her son's track meet.

SHULTS: Dean being the amazing husband he is said, you go to the track meet, I'll switch and take your trip. So that's why I was on the trip.

SANDOVAL: Shortly after the Boeing 737 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport, a fan blade on the left engine broke, the debris from the engine struck the body of the plane, cracking one window which eventually broke open.

[11:55:07] The passenger in the seat next to the window was pulled partially out of the aircraft but was brought back in by other passengers. However, the passenger, Jennifer Reardon, didn't survive.

MARTY MARTINEZ, PASSENGER (via telephone): You can imagine everybody was going crazy and yelling and screaming.

SANDOVAL: First Officer Darren Ellisor (ph) also spoke with ABC News about the incident.

DARREN ELLISOR, FIRST OFFICER, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: We were passing through about 32,000 feet when we had a large bang and a rapid decompression. There was shaking, everything. It all kind of happened all at once.

SANDOVAL: Shults said she and her first officer used hand signals to communicate in the cockpit because of the noise level.

SHULTS: It was loud and there was -- it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.


SANDOVAL: So, why share their story now? These pilots saying that it was out of respect for Mrs. Reardon's family, hoping to give them time to heal. They felt the time was right now to share their story and exactly what happened in that cockpit -- that cockpit that day.

In the meantime, the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board continuing to look into this, Fred, but as you'll recall from the very start of this, it suspected metal fatigue for being responsible for that fan blade that became detached and set off that catastrophic chain of events.

WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.