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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Storm Alberto Makes Landfall In Florida; WWII Veteran Honors Fallen Friends. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 28, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani insisting the White House legal team must get a briefing on the FBI's confidential source before deciding whether the president will sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller.

Now, it's worth noting Republicans and Democrats who have been briefed on the matter say there's absolutely no evidence the Trump campaign was ever spied on.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani says the White House is taking its case to the public, and that special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is illegitimate.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a witch-hunt. That's all it is.

PEREZ: The president's repeated attacks on the probe, including a storm of tweets this weekend, calling the investigation phony and rigged, are seemingly part of a plan to publicly discredit the investigation in case it leads to an impeachment vote.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American -- as it should be -- is the American people.

PEREZ: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told ABC News he wants the public to vote Republicans out of office to safeguard the Russia investigation.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You need to through the bums out. As long as there's a majority in Congress that is willing to do this president's will and as long as we have a deeply unethical president, there's only one remedy, and that is to change the Congress, and to let the investigation go on.

PEREZ: Republican Senator Flake told NBC News there's concern in Congress even within his own party that the president may go farther than just attacking the Mueller investigation.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: There is concern that the president is laying groundwork to move on Bob Mueller or Rosenstein. I have been concerned that we have not spoken up loudly enough and told the president, you simply can't go there.

PEREZ: Still, Giuliani says Trump wants to sit down with an interview with Mueller, but the president's attorney says he's wary of questions of obstruction of justice, particularly those related to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

GIULIANI: If you interpret that as obstructing the investigation, as opposed to removing a guy who was doing a bad job, on the recommendation, in part, of Rosenstein, but you see it as obstructing the investigation, then you can say it is obstruction. And then you can say it is perjury, which is even easier for them, which is where I think, if they are sneaky, they are going.

PEREZ: Sources tell CNN that Mueller's team also wants to question the president about his firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and about Trump's role in crafting a misleading statement aboard Air Force One regarding a June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREZ: And the president's decision to sit down with Mueller could hinge on whether his legal team receives a briefing about a confidential intelligence source that was used during the FBI investigation.

Of course, Erica, this raises new questions about whether the White House -- this is the White House interfering with an ongoing investigation.

HILL: Indeed, it does.

Evan Perez, thank you.

So, is there anything Democrats can do to stop President Trump and his legal team from making their case against Robert Mueller in the court of public opinion?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:36]

HILL: Welcome back.

Rudy Giuliani defending President Trump's constant attacks against the Russian investigation, telling CNN the origins of Robert Mueller's probe are -- quote -- "illegitimate."

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, who serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, appreciate you taking some time for us here.

Rudy Giuliani essentially admitting, as we know, part of the legal team's strategy is to undermine the Mueller probe in the court of public opinion. So, how do you counter that?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good afternoon, Erica.

And, first, gratitude to our fallen service members this Memorial Day.

And to your question, you counter it by making this about the future, and not the past. This is about whether any president is above the law or not.

This is about, you know, whether having a rule of law in America is something that we value or something we're going to invaded upon because of political convenience.

And so I think we should make every effort possible to look forward and make sure that Americans know that our interest in what President Trump and his team did with the Russians is mostly to prevent the Russians or any other enemy from attacking us again, because our democracy can't take continued efforts like the Russians demonstrated, and not to look backward and make this about relitigating the last election.

HILL: I want to get your take on something that your colleague Congressman Adam Schiff, of course, who is the top Democrat on the Intel Committee, something he had to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: The broad question is, how do you counter a president who repeats falsehood after falsehood after falsehood that has the bully pulpit of the presidency to do it and has allies in Congress who are willing to support that?

And, Martha, at the end of the day, there's only one remedy for that, and that is, you need to throw the bums out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: To your point of needing to look forward, is calling your Republican colleagues bums the right way to move forward?

SWALWELL: Well, I think Ranking Member Schiff's point is that if they are not willing to be open to having their minds changed about holding the president accountable, then their seats are going to have to be changed.

You know, the problem here is that I think we have tried to be honest brokers all along in this investigation, particularly the House investigation, and our Republican colleagues have either put their heads in the sand to look the other way or they are rowing in the same direction with the president.

And the American people are exasperated by the constant lies the president is willing to tell about basic accepted truths.

I actually think, Erica, one day, you're going to ask me to come on air and defend whether the sun really sets in the west because the president one up one day and tweeted that it sets in the east. And it's just absolutely maddening.

[16:40:03]

HILL: I can confirm that that will not happen.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: But, as we look at this, is this really leading by this really leading by example when you are resorting to calling your

colleagues on the other side of the aisle -- or your colleagues, I should say, are -- bums?

How is that really leading by example? How is that taking the high road? How is that moving things forward?

SWALWELL: Well, what it is saying is that you're actually worse than bums if you're not willing to stand up to a president who is attacking a former FBI director, a patriot who served our country in Vietnam like Bob Mueller.

You're not -- you're worse than a bum if you are allowing the president to cash in on the Oval Office, and put Chinese workers ahead of the American workers, when your company is taking a $500 million loan from Indonesia.

You are worse than a bum when you're allowing your daughter to receive trademarks from the Chinese while you're executing trade deals.

And so I think he was probably being kind to them. People want to see a check on the president, but they also want to see us to put on his desk the things that he has said that he would sign that Republicans won't show the courage to do, like immigration reform, like an infrastructure package, like prescription drug reform, and like background checks.

So, I think people are pretty fed up, and they want to see people to start to stand up to the president.

HILL: In terms of Rudy Giuliani, we're hearing more about him and his efforts to keep the conversation actually of course on the Russian probe, to undermine that investigation.

Take a listen to more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: We are defending here, it is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed

a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American -- as it should be -- is the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Rudy Giuliani bringing up impeachment there. As we know, the investigation is not over. We don't have an end date for it.

Are Democrats, though, looking to impeach this president?

SWALWELL: No.

And, actually, Erica, I'd rather see the president impeached at the ballot box by the voters to prove that democracy works. However, as I said, no one is above the law. But, right now, we have not had thorough investigations to find any wrongdoing, because Republicans are not willing to use the subpoena power.

The American people want us to not miss the message they sent in 2016. Many of them were feeling disconnected and that opportunity was out of reach. We should focus on putting it back within reach.

And, you know, President Trump, to his credit, he's identified a lot of the anxieties and the problems in the country, but he's shown no willingness to bring the country together to work and address those issues.

And so I think we are best at beating him on those economic issues and showing them that he's just failed to deliver for them.

HILL: There's still, we should point out, no Trump collusion evidence at this point, correct?

SWALWELL: No, I have seen plenty of evidence in broad daylight, actually.

He invited the Russians on a public stage to hack further, and then once they start offering information to his family, they never turned it down, never reported it to the FBI. And, in fact, Robert -- Roger Stone, one of his advisers, was implicating that -- intimating that more hacks to come against the Podestas.

I think it's out there. Whether it reaches the level of reasonable doubt to get a conviction in a court, that's up to Bob Mueller. We should allow the bipartisan legislation that would allow him to stay in place to come to the floor for a vote.

HILL: We're going to have to leave it there, but that last point, I'm sure, will give a lot of people something to talk about.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, appreciate your time today. Thank you.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

HILL: Mother Nature wreaking havoc today. Millions of people in several states are directly in the path of Alberto, bracing for those heavy rains, for the flooding that comes along with it, while in another part of the country, one city is only beginning to see how bad the damage is from their second 1,000-year flood in just two years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Our "NATIONAL LEAD" now, we can tell you Alberto has made landfall. Some two million people are in the path of this subtropical storm barreling toward the southeastern and up into the Southeastern United States at this hour. These are live pictures for you of Panama City Beach, Florida. And as we mentioned, Alberto just making landfall. It was forecast to make that direct landfall hit around this time within a matter of hours. Significant rain obviously is expected here, flooding as well, sustained winds of up to 65 miles per hour and there are tornado warnings as well for different parts of the region we tell you states of emergency are in effect across Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi as you see there on your map. We showed you those live pictures of Panama City Beach. CNN's Jennifer Gray is about hundred miles west in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Jennifer, it looks a little bit better where you are but possibly not for long.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. It is a little bit better where we are but the winds have picked up significantly since we've been out here in the last couple of hours. I want to show you behind me because it is interesting. You can see the dark skies behind me. If we show you the radar, that's actually the outer band of the storm. We had a little bit of rain rolled through earlier. Now all that rain is to our west, so the dark side skies you see behind me, that's what that is. We're actually situated on the west side of the center so we're getting an offshore wind. So it's actually pushing the water out and so they took that red flag down, they put a yellow one, they're finally letting people back in the water after not letting them in for two solid days. They've been running up and down the beaches telling people to get out. So here on the west side of the storm is definitely doing better, Erica, than the east side where they're getting a lot of rain.

HILL: And so -- and so where is it going to head ultimately? Where does it look like now?

GRAY: Well, after it makes landfall, it is going to continue to head to the north and we are planning on significant flooding in inland location. Southern Alabama could see anywhere from six to ten inches of rain. We could see flooding in Georgia, Alabama, the rest of the State of Florida as well as Tennessee, South Carolina. And so flooding is going to be a huge concern as well as the tornadoes. You mentioned we need to be on the lookout for tornadoes anywhere from say Panama City Beach all the way through the Big Bend of Florida.

[16:50:18] HILL: All right, Jennifer Gray, I appreciate it. Stay safe as always. Also, I want to update you on a story we've been following out of Maryland where first responders are looking for a missing man in Ellicott City after rescuing some 30 people this morning because of historic flash flooding. 39-year-old Maryland National Guard Sergeant Eddison Hermond was swept away trying to rescue a woman's cat. The flood waters carried parked cars down main streets. Record levels of rain bursting into homes, into businesses. Take a look at this building on Main Street hanging an SOS flag from the window. You see it there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R), MARYLAND: They say this is once every thousand year flood and we had two of them in two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: He's referring there to the 2016 flooding disaster which killed two people, damaged dozens of buildings in Ellicott City. Authorities are still assessing the damage from this latest flooding. That picture really says something. He fought in World War two before the United States was officially involved. Meet the veteran who says he's the last living member of the Flying Tigers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] HILL: Welcome back on this Memorial Day. Today of course we remember the men and women who have died fighting for our freedoms. President Trump paying his respects to the nation's heroes this morning laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. At a Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, a stark reminder that American service members and their families continue to make the ultimate sacrifice. The body of Army Staff Sergeant Conrad Robinson arrived back in the U.S. today. The 36-year-old husband and father died while serving in Kosovo. Today can be especially difficult for those who served with the fallen, the battle buddies who often regard one another as family. 97-year-old Frank Losonsky is one of the last surviving members of his military family, the Flying Tigers. You might recognize the famed World War II group by the iconic shark's tooth paint job on their planes. Jake Tapper has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK LOSONSKY, VETERAN, WORLD WAR II: Well, it was -- it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wasn't the only one. There were quite a few of us and most of them are all gone.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 97-year-old Frank Losonsky is a Flying Tiger, one of the last. The famed American volunteer group entered World War Two months before the rest of the United States --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These amazing young men have astounded the world --

TAPPER: -- defending America's Chinese allies against the Japanese as part of a covert military operation.

LOSONSKY: We all just jumped in. We were glad to give them help.

TAPPER: Their iconic planes were painted with a shark's toothy snarl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 50 grinning tiger shark planes.

TAPPER: By the summer of 1941, before the United States had entered World War Two some 300 American pilots, mechanics, nurses, and crew were already overseas training to defeat Japan in the Pacific working with the Chinese. Then came December 7th, 1941 and their mission changed.

LOSONSKY: We got the news over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

TAPPER: Losonsky logged the news in his diary. Now he and his team were on the front lines defending not just their allies but their own homeland. Losonsky was just 20 years old. As a crew chief, he was in-charge of maintaining the Tigers P40 planes. 100 of them total.

LOSONSKY: That was a real good airplane. It was like a tank. It has -- it has 30, it could take a lot of shots.

TAPPER: That small fleet would be responsible for downing nearly 300 enemy aircraft in the first months of the war for the United States.

LOSONSKY: We never did worry about when the boys would go out to fly, ensures the devil they come about six o'clock and when they came in they do a barrel roll so we knew it was them.

SAM KLEINER, AUTHOR, THE FLYING TIGERS: Were you involved in painting on the shark face onto the P40?

LOSONSKY: Yes.

TAPPER: And now, more than seven decades later, Losonsky's story inspiring a new generation. Author Sam Kleiner has spent years collecting stories and research for his new book The Flying Tigers.

KLEINER: I think there was a real rush to capture this story while there was still some link to the living members of the Flying Tigers.

You must have been really proud.

LOSONSKY: I was.

TAPPER: Looking through photographs at Losonsky's home in Georgia, the two men are surrounded by mementos of his service with memories of his old friends including those who never made it back.

KLEINER: They scored the first victories against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor and helped to inspire Americans that we could win what felt like an unwinnable war. And so their heroism became a real inspiration to Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One reason for their amazing success against seemingly impossible odds.

LOSONSKY: They're a good bunch of boys and they'll never be forgotten even though they're gone that people are going to remember the Flying Tigers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: You can read more about Frank and his team in Sam Kleiner's book, The Flying Tigers. It's out now. That's it for THE LEAD on this Memorial Day. I'm Erica Hill in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Brianna Keilar who's in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, discredit Mueller.