Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Japan Reacts to Latest North Korea's Missile Launch; Angela Merkel's Speech About Allies with the U.S.; Massive Turnout for the Great Manchester Run; Trump Meets With Staff Amid Kushner Reports; 14 Held By Police Over Manchester Attack; Trump Launches Media Attack On Twitter; Macron To Host Putin At Versailles; Disaster Strikes Sri Lanka; May And Corbyn To Face Live Audience. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHINZO ABE, PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (via translator): In order to deter North Korea, we will take concrete actions together with the United States. We will maintain high vigilance in coordination with South Korea and international community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Japan's prime minister responds to yet another missile launch by North Korea. We're in the region live for reaction.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Social media and the U.S. president, Donald Trump rejects criticism of his twitter use of the controversy about his son-in-law's ties to Russia. Plus this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROWD SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Singing in solidarity. Runners in the annual Great Manchester Run sing "Don't Look Back in Anger" as they remember victims of last week's attack.

HOWELL: And we welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. NEWSROOM starts right now.

HOWELL: All right, good early morning to all here in the states. On the Korean Peninsula, a defiant show of source from one side, retaliation, a vow coming from the other.

ALLEN: North Korea fired a short range ballistic missile from its east coast on Monday, its third in just over three weeks. Japan says it landed in the sea within 200 miles of the Japanese coast.

HOWELL: South Korea calls the launch a provocation and is promising strong punishment from its military. Japan says that it will take concrete action together with the United States. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABE (via translator): We can never tolerate North Korea's continued provocation, ignoring the repeated warnings by the international community. We have launched a firm protest against North Korea. As we have agreed at the G7, North Korean issue is the priority for the international community.

In order to deter North Korea, we will take concrete actions together with the United States. We will maintain high vigilance in coordination with South Korea and international community and take all possible measures to secure the safety of the people of Japan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The U.S. National Security Council says President Donald Trump has been briefed about that launch just hours before that, we heard from the U.S. Defense Secretary on CBS News "Face the Nation." And he gave a grave message about Washington's standoff with Pyongyang. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes. Why do I say this? The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea. We are working with the international community to deal with this issue. This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea.

And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat, if we're not able to resolve the situation through diplomatic means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Not mincing words there, the defense secretary.

Let's get more on reactions from South Korea and Japan. Paula Hancocks is in Seoul and Will Ripley in Tokyo. And Paula, let's start with you this hour. There's a new government in Seoul and yes, anything military would be catastrophic. What is the reaction there to yet another launch by North Korea?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie there was a national security council meeting as soon as that launch was known about. We had condemnation from the government calling this a severe threat to the peace and stability not only of the Korean Peninsula, but also around the world, that coming from the foreign ministry. But we have as you say a new president in South Korea just a few weeks into the job, Moon Jae-in, a liberal candidate, and he has said that he wants dialogue with North Korea. He has said that he supports more engagement with North Korea.

But bear in mind in the three weeks that Moon Jae-in has been president here, there has been a missile launch every single week. So certainly it's difficult to see how that can move forward, how Moon Jae-in would be able to have that engagement with North Korea that he has said that he would like. And certainly we've seen condemnation from around the region once again with North Korea's missile launch. The missile itself at this point is believed to be a Scud missile.

It's not known exactly what kind of Scud. This is a short range missile. So not one of the missiles that is more concerning to the region than the medium and longer range, but certainly just the fact that North Korea is continuing regardless of international pressure, regardless of sanctions and continuing to test the most intense testing really we've sign over the past year and a half in North Korea's history, Natalie.

[04:05:13] ALLEN: And now let's go to our Will Ripley. He's in Japan and has been in North Korea as well and certainly Shinzo Abe sounding very upset that yet again a missile comes close to Japan.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Natalie. I mean, this is always unsettling for the Japanese and particularly Prime Minister Abe who has been trying to push legislation through the Japanese diet, the Japanese parliament essentially, that would allow Japan's self-defense forces to take more assertive actions in Asia Pacific and the North Korean threat is a big reason for that.

That's why you have you've seen Japanese warships training alongside U.S. ships. You've seen Japanese planes flying as well alongside U.S. planes and South Korean planes. And so all of this cooperation is when you hear Prime Minister Abe talking about concrete action, that is what he is referring to along with perhaps continued pressure on China to impose stronger sanctions.

Japan could perhaps inspect North Korean fishing vessels that go into the waters near Japan known as the Exclusive Economic Zone, those same waters by the way where the missile fell today and where three missiles fell back in March coming very close, dangerously close to the Japanese coast prompting North Korean missile drills for the first time since World War II and even a nationwide missile alerts that at one point actually stopped all of the trains here in Japan last month. Although that alert system was not activated for this latest missile test.

ALLEN: And Paula, back to you. There have been indications that the new leader there in South Korea is open to negotiations. Is that even a remote possibility?

HANCOCKS: Well, this is one of his campaign promises. Moon Jae-in has been very clear that he is open to dialogue. He wants more economic cooperation between North and South Korea. A departure from his predecessor, the former president Park Geun-Hye, a conservative president. She was more hard lined in her approach to North Korea and actually shut down for example the case on the industrial complex which is really the last sign of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

Moon Jae-in wants to re-open the case. He wants to re-engage with the North. And he'll be meeting President Trump shortly as well. Expected in June, he'll be heading to Washington. He has been invited by the U.S. president. It will be interesting to see what kind of relationship they can build together. And of course we have heard the U.S. president at some point saying that it is possible -- that there would be a meeting with Kim Jong-Un. Of course its very difficult to see how that's possible once the missile launches continue.

ALLEN: And to Will Ripley, again, Will, you've been in North Korea several times and those pictures right there of Kim Jong-Un just beaming after this latest test, and you've seen their military might on full display with their parades. Is this a regime that wants to talk or just wants to show its military muscle and get that ICBM?

RIPLEY: Yes, good question. I think there is always a desire on the part of the North Koreans to engage with the United States, but they definitely want do it on their own terms. And I've been told that time and time again during visits to the country over the past few years. Last month in particular when I was speaking with officials in Pyongyang, there were two failed missile launch attempts and I asked why does North Korea continue to do this given the possibility of even harsher sanctions of continued isolation. And the response was that they feel this is really their only option to protect their national sovereignty.

They think that these weapons are protection for their government, from the United States. You know, they look at the U.S. engaging in these joint military exercises. They feel that it's essentially a dress rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea. And at that narrative by the way, that the Kim government has used repeatedly over the last 70 years and they have successfully stayed in control of that country in part by convincing the population that the government needs these weapons and they need to be constantly on guard.

ALLEN: Will Ripley, Paula Hancocks, we thank you both. George.

HOWELL: The German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that it is time for Europe to become self-reliant and to stop depending on traditional allies.

ALLEN: She shared that message during a campaign stop in Munich Sunday. The chancellor didn't mention U.S. president Donald Trump by name, but said her experience at recent international summit was telling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (Translated): The times when we can completely count on others, they are over to a certain extent. I have experienced this in the last few days and that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[04:10:10] ALLEN: Merkel's comments come after President Trump criticized NATO allies and refused to endorse a global climate deal.

HOWELL: For more on what follows the G7 Summit, let's bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen live for us in London this hour. Fred, it's good to have you with us. Let's talk about the context first. Miss Merkel is running for re-election, but these comments that she made, seismic. Your perspective on this.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know I think they're absolutely seismic. And George, I've been covering Angela Merkel since the summer of 2000 so I do have a little bit of experience in dealing with Angela Merkel and she really just doesn't make this kind of comments off the cuff even in a reelection campaign where she is in the lead by far.

She's not someone who will use something like populist rhetoric. She certainly is someone where all of the things that she said she certainly takes very, very seriously. And I think that there are three things that she was talking about which she felt really were unsatisfactory as she put it to the German perspective and to the European perspective.

On the one hand, some of Donald Trump' comments as far as the German economy is concerned saying that Germany was, "bad for exporting a lot of cars to America." It was the comments he made around NATO as well and saying that the other NATO countries not pairing but he calls their fair share was unfair to American taxpayers. And they didn't feel like the other European countries that they really got the assurances from America that they would have wanted as far as the security of Europe is concerned.

So certainly there were several things that Angela Merkel didn't like. And then of course there was also the Paris climate deal with the U.S. being noncommittal on that, as well. And I think those are the things that prompted her to make those remarks that she did make. But certainly people in Europe are taking very seriously and I was going through the German press earlier today, they're taking those very seriously as well. And wondering what the long term consequences of her remarks but also of a Trump presidency for Germany and for Europe are going to be, George.

HOWELL: Also within that domestic audience within Germany, Fred, we saw these images a moment ago of the U.S. president walking alongside Angela Merkel. The question is this, how is she perceived with this new U.S. president? Her relationship is. I she credited for being strong enough or criticized for the opposite with him?

PLEITGEN: I think that it certainly is going to be a lot different than it was before. You know, Angela Merkel was always one who had very, very good relations with the Obama administration. I think we saw that also as President Trump was on his foreign trip, former President Obama was in Berlin and actually had a venue there with Angela Merkel near the Brandenburg Gater, which drew a lot of people to come and listen to the two.

So those relations were always good and many people in Germany don't believe that the sort of very dry and very analytic Angela Merkel is someone who can deal very well with someone like President Trump who of course makes these off the cuff remarks, and he's a lot more flamboyant than the German leader is. Now having said that, Angela Merkel is someone also whom I've seen in the past be able to navigate these kind of waters.

You know, she went through really a cutthroat party that she was the head of, where people trying to oust her from the party leadership when she was still the opposition leader and she managed to go through that with her style that she has. So she is obviously going to try and work with this administration, but at the same time, I think she's very realistic about the fact that it's going to be difficult and I think right now the Germans feel really misunderstood by this new U.S. president.

And I want to just give one example. He was saying how the Germans are so bad about exporting all these cars to America, well the Germany is just saying look, we created 110,000 jobs in the automobile industry in America and produced about 900,000 cars in America just in 2016 alone. So that's the German perspective. They're on all of this and certainly one of the reasons whey Angela Merkel gave that speech as well.

HOWELL: Angela Merkel certainly fired up and her words being heard around the world. Fred Pleitgen live for us in London. Fred, thank you.

ALLEN: Of course Mr. Trump now back in Washington after those high profile meetings.

Let's get more perspective from Sylvia Borrelli. She's a reporter from "Politico." She joins us now live from London. Thank you for joining us Sylvia. (INAUDIBLE) play off what we just heard from our reporter, Fred Pleitgen, about Angela Merkel the most powerful leader in Europe and seeming to not be pleased with how the meetings went with Donald Trump.

SYLVIA BORRELLI, "POLITICO": Hi, Natalie. Yes, actually, you know, I actually think Angela Merkel was in a position where she was speaking at a campaign rally at a beer festival in a conservative constituency in southern Germany. So, we also have to put these comments into context. And, you know, she's speaking to her voters and she's up for re-election in September. And the Germans love some degree of healthy criticism to the U.S. So, while it is true as Fred was saying that

[04:15:00] Angela Merkel wasn't pleased with the statements Donald Trump made about Germany and the NATO discussions, that the same time -- I wouldn't read too much into this because Angela Merkel wouldn't pick a campaign rally to decide that she is announcing a major shift in foreign policy. Although at the same time, she is looking to more European integration and to stronger ties with France as the U.K. prepares to leave the European Union. And so this might have been a message to the U.S. and to Europe and other German allies that Germany is going to look more into Europe rather than across the Atlantic.

ALLEN: And what of the big picture of Donald Trump's big eight-day trip abroad -- this was kind of a test for him on the global stage, now of course he goes back to the Jared Kushner story. But how do you think he was received beyond Angela Merkel and what is he facing now?

BORRELLI: Well, Trump's trip seems to have gone from peak to trough and Saudi Arabia (INAUDIBLE) being the peak of the trip. Overall, Trump said that the trip was great and he forged new relations with American allies. I personally think he probably was better received in the Muslim world in countries where perhaps his predecessor wouldn't had as much success than he was in Europe. And I think his traditional allies were a bit disheartened by his comments on trade, on NATO and of course the Paris Accor.

Now he's gone back to the U.S. where probably he faces the major difficulties. We've seen him on Sunday meet with his legal counsels and a senior White House staff to try to manage the fallout of the Jared Kushner allegations. He tweeted that when there is news coming out from sources that are not identified, it's probably the fake news media making up the stories band. So now he's back to business as usual.

ALLEN: Yes, he is. Even though, you know, he brought some -- a team that was going to try to dial back those tweets. We'll wait and see if that happens. We really appreciate you joining us, Sylvia Borrelli with "Politico." Thank you.

BORRELLI: Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead, a show of solidarity, thousands of people turn out for the Great Manchester Run to honor the victims of last week's terror attack.

ALLEN: Meantime, some of those who knew the Manchester suicide bomber are trying to understand what turned him into a killer. We'll hear from a friend of Salman Abedi, ahead.

[04:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. Manchester has wrapped up an emotionally charged weekend less than a week after the terror attack that killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert. Thousands people descended into the city center for the Great Manchester Run. Take a look there. As you can imagine, there was heavy security presence at that event.

CNN's Phil Black is live in Manchester following the story for us. And Phil, this is a city that is determined to reclaim itself.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes George, that's right. What we saw over the weekend I guess were two sides to this city, this community. One, where the people who still clearly grieving and a lot of that happened just here behind me, this growing memorial in the center of the city. This is where people lined up for long periods of time to come down here and leave their offerings and stuff, reflect and think about what happened and think about the victims. On top of that, you are also seeing a lot of people going out of their way to really show that their lives and this community will not be changed as a result of the attack. They're doing that in lots of ways.

But the biggest, clearest example was that huge event, the Great Manchester Run which despite the security concerns that people had about gathering in big crowds, it still attracted tens of thousands of people. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: Young girls, tensed, single minded ready to launch through the streets of Manchester. For their parents watching from the side, the emotions are more complex. Is one of yours out there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, our daughter just holding in there. The little one in the blue.

BLACK: The little one in the blue. What's her name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Roxie.

BLACK: Roxie. Tell me what you're feeling this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm proud and I'm nervous. I'm proud of her that she's doing it. All right

BLACK: Girls, boys, men and women came to run and cheer defying those who murdered 22 people just days ago, including seven of the city's children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just showing that we can start over.

BLACK: On your mind this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bit, yes. It's going to a while.

BLACK: He's not alone. More than 35,000 people turned out, all of them aware this was more than a running event. Many more yellow shirts, ribbons and beads, the symbol of Manchester. The crowd honored the victims with silence. There were some tears, too. And huge applause for the police and emergency services who responded to the attack and worked to make sure this event could happen.

Did you have second thoughts being here are today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it made me want to see it more actually. It made me more determined to come together and show that we won't be defeated.

BLACK: What does it mean to you to be here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, because of the recent events, just to show that we want to stay united.

BLACK: Show me your back. Rule 22. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't let them change you, how you live your

life.

BLACK: A short distance from the run, people stood in a long line waiting to leave flowers and messages at the city's growing memorial.

[04:25:03] Others have been busy painting bees on walls and people are waiting for hours to have bees inked into their flesh with all money going to the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, something that I want forever and I know when I look back on it, I will know that I helped.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: The people of Manchester are exploring many ways to prove their resilience. (INAUDIBLE) show it more powerfully than the pride and happiness of a young girl and the love of her parents. The investigation is still leading police to raid properties and to make arrests. That happened again overnight, 14 men are now in custody in connection to this attack. Back to you.

HOWELL: It's a beautiful story. Phil Black, thank you so much in Manchester.

ALLEN: Very brave parents letting that little girl run, Roxie.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

ALLEN: That was sweet.

HOWELL: Yes.

ALLEN: British police now have 14 men in custody, they are conducting more raids trying too track down people contacted to Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed the 22 people.

HOWELL: CNN's Atika Shubert spoke with a friend of Abedi. He says that he never thought that the young man that he knew could be a killer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last images of Salman Abedi on his way to carry out the attack that killed 22 people. Police released these photos to the public for help in retracing his movements. Those who knew Abedi are also looking back. Local rapper, Gecko, (ph) still can't fathom how his friend turned into a mass murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's always been happy person. I don't know what happened. They brainwashed him, but he's always been happy person. The Salman I knew from ages ago is not the person that just went and bombed kids. No way.

SHUBERT: Police now believe Abedi assembled the bomb here at a short term rental apartment in the city center just a mile and a half from the arena. In north Manchester, police are also still scouring this apartment Abedi represented weeks before the attack. But many of the arrests have happened here in south Manchester where Abedi lived. Two years ago, Gecko (ph) he was another friendly face in the neighborhood. And then something changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time I see a picture of him in like Facebook or whatever, I just think how like -- I still don't know. I don't understand how. He was the most laughable person two years ago (INAUDIBLE). How did he just switch like in two seconds. I don't know, man. This is all confusing to me. We still chilled together and he kind of left because he was like going to be religious.

SHUBERT: Parts of south Manchester are known to be rough, gang land, but it's also the kind of place everyone knows each other and the attack and its aftermath has hit the community hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I even cried because I found out it was someone I know. Someone that done such a bad thing like that is someone that I know. So I even ended up crying in my bed when I found out, I was like what is going on here, like what's happening. People are just telling me yes, it's him. I couldn't believe it. Until now I still can't. When I his picture and I think, no, no, he was alive two seconds ago.

SHUBERT: Police are still trying to understand how Salman Abedi plotted the attack. His friends are trying to understand what turned him into a killer.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Manchester.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: The U.S. president is back in Washington and dealing with family troubles.

HOWELL: How Mr. Trump is responding to allegations that his son-in- law, Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret back channel to talk with Russia. That story ahead.

Plus, tough talks ahead for the Russian president and the newly elected French president. What's likely to be discussed in the footsteps of Peter the Great at Versailles. We'll get into that coming up.

[04:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: 4:32 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, we welcome back our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. It is great to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen.

Here are our top stories. U.S. President Donald Trump is back in the White House after returning from the G7 Summit and he immediately called staff meetings on Sunday. This comes amid reports that his son- in-law and senior aide requested a back channel with Russia for Trump's team. And Mr. Trump is again accusing the media of peddling fake news calling the White House leak fabricated lies.

HOWELL: He called it fake. We just keep covering the news. The White House has yet to officially respond to the reports about Mr. Kushner. But, Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly says he's not troubled by the reported attempts to set up a back channel with Russia. Kushner's contests with Russia are coming under increased scrutiny. The FBI is looking into holes in the White House.

ALLEN: British Police have made three new arrests in connection with the Manchester terror attack bringing the number of people in custody to 14, 22 people were killed, many of them young people, teenagers in last week's suicide bombing. Britain's Home Secretary said some behind the attack could still be on the run.

HOWELL: North Korea does it again launching a missile this Monday drawing strong protests from South Korea and from Japan. Tokyo says the ballistic missile landed in the sea within 200 miles of Japan's coast. South Korea is promising strong punishment for North Korea and Japan now saying that it will take concrete action together with the United States.

ALLEN: This is North Korea's third missile test in just over on three weeks.

Let's bring in David McKenzie, from Beijing. We just heard about South Korea and Japan and of course Beijing could be a player in trying to thwart Kim Jong-un's desires with his missiles. What might we expect from Beijing if this continues, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly what the Trump Administration hopes Natalie is that China will use its economic leverage over North Korea to try and to slow or stop the progress of the North Korea -- North Korean Leadership of developing nuclear weapons. We've just got a response to this latest missile test from the Chinese Government.

They are using very standard language on this particular test saying that they oppose any moves by North Korea that break U.N. sanctions such as this and that they want all sides to get together and discuss negotiate, to try and ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula. But with these repeated tests like this, Natalie it seems that China's leverage as it is, isn't necessarily working in slowing Kim Jong-un's move to develop nuclear weapons that threatened the region and beyond.

And certainly that lead to questions, well, could China to more. Well, at this stage, it appears that they want to really push negotiations and the enforcement of the existing sanctions but not necessarily harsher sanctions which is what Japan and the U.S. might be trying to push at the U.N. Security Council, Natalie.

[04:35:00] ALLEN: Right. Shinzo Abe of Japan indicated, you know, that he would work with the United States from concrete steps. How is the working between Donald Trump and the Chinese leader when it comes to North Korea? MCKENZIE: Well, certainly President Trump and Xi Jinping appear to have developed a pretty good relationship certainly in comparison to President Obama and the Chinese leader. And repeatedly President Trump has said that the Chinese hold the key to solving the North Korean situation. But as I've said, over the last few weeks, you've just seen an increase in activity in testing these missiles in North Korea.

So, it appears that the leverage and the pressure being placed by China at this stage isn't enough for the North Korean to change their calculation at all and if anything, we've seen them increase their activity rather than decrease it, Natalie?

ALLEN: Absolutely. David McKenzie for us from Beijing, thank you.

HOWELL: So, at North Korea, the list of things on the president's agenda, he's first week back at the White House and he has a great deal to do reportedly considering a staffing shakeup. He's also set to decide whether or not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord this week.

ALLEN: Sunday, he held staff meetings amid the latest revelations involving his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, more on that now from Ryan Nobles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White House has yet to confirm or deny the report that Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser of the president, attempted to set up a back channel of communication between the Russian Government and the transition shortly after the president was elected but before he was inaugurated. In fact, no one from the White House has rushed to Kushner's defense, but there was a Republican who took on that responsibility, South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham. Listen to what he ever says on "STATE OF THE UNION".

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know who linked this supposed conversation, but just think about it this way. You've got the Ambassador to Russia reporting back to Moscow on an open channel, hey, Jared Kushner has got to move in to the embassy. I don't trust this story as far as I can throw it. I know it makes no sense that the Russian Ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we're monitoring. The whole story line is suspicious. I've never been more concerned and suspicious about all things Russia than I am right now.

NOBLES: Now, Graham's defense of the White House is more than any staffer of the White House has offered up, instead they've sent out administration officials to answer questions on this more broadly saying that they don't know specifically about Jared Kushner, but the concept itself wouldn't necessarily be that big of a problem.

Both H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, and John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary answering questions along those lines. Also spotted at the White House on Sunday was Marc Kasowitz, the high- powered attorney brought in by Donald Trump to represent him in his personal capacity as these ongoing investigations into Russia continue.

Kasowitz, seen with Ivanka Trump leaving the White House South Lawn on Sunday, an indication that the president is gearing up his legal team for a long battle ahead.

Ryan Nobles, CNN at the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: President Trump jumped to Kushner's defense in a statement to the "New York Times," he said, "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person."

President Trump was pretty quiet online during his foreign trip, but now he is back to tweeting, he tweeted Sunday the fake news media works hard at disparaging and demeaning my use of social media because they don't want America to hear the real story.

HOWELL: Well, Mr. Trump is aggressively defending his son-in-law's character, Representative Adam Schiff on the top Democrat on the house intelligence committee is voicing concern over Kushner's security clearance. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, there is another question about his security clearance and whether he was forthcoming about his contacts on that if these allegations are true and he had discussions with the Russians about the establishing of back channel and didn't reveal that, that's a real problem. But I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance to find out whether he was truthful or he was candid. If not, and there's no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[04:40:00] HOWELL: Adam Schiff there.

Now, on to Paris, French President, Emmanuel Macron is preparing for his first meeting with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The two leaders will meet at the Palace of Versailles to mark an art exhibit on Russian Emperor, Peter the Great's Visit to France 300 years ago.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in Moscow following the story. Clare, good to have you. Which topics will be on the table for these leaders?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, the French President has promised tough talks focussing in particular on the conflict in Syria, the two countries that France and Russia have backed opposing sides in that conflict. They are also expected to touch on fighting terrorism in general and the situation in Ukraine, France as part of the Normandy format of that diplomatic kind of grouping that's been working towards a resolution in Eastern Ukraine, but there's a good reason really for Russia to want to sound out this new French president.

He, among his fellow candidates for the presidency, was the least friendly towards Russia by far. You will remember his closest rival, Marine Le Pen, openly advocated lifting sanctions. She even visited Moscow a month before the first round of that vote. So, he is definitely not Russia's first choice for the presidency, but now that he's here, they are trying to reach out.

You will remember of course they clashed as well after Macron accused Russia of hacking into his campaign and leaking emails online at the time that the Kremlin call that pure slander. But, you know, the fact to this visit in itself is being seen as something of a - of a small victory here in Russia coming after a trip to the Middle Eastern Europe by President Trump which yielded very little in the way of clues as to repressed mob (ph) -- the promised repressed mob (ph) between the U.S. and Russia.

I want to read you a tweet from a prominent Russian senator, Aleksey Pushkov he tweeted over the weekend, "the invitation of the Russian leader to Paris by the President of France shows the final rejection by the EU of efforts to isolate Russia. Obama's policy has slowly died." So, you can see that Russia is very much kind of hoping that this signals that the EU in the absence of it is or past one the absence but with less reliance on his traditional allies of the U.S. and the UK is more willing to give Russia a seat at the table.

And certainly the optics of that meeting and all the grandeur of the Palace of Versailles is something that that Russia will certainly welcome, George.

HOWELL: Clare, the question about cyberattacks as well, you remember the last cyberattack right before that election, there was never an official word pointing to Russia; however Russia did respond saying that, you know, that nation had nothing to do with that cyberattack. Will cyberattacks be a point of interest here as these two leaders speak?

SEBASTIAN: It hasn't been mentioned officially by either party, but certainly that is something that will be - we'll see on Macron's mind. It was - it's less than 48 hours before the election that it was revealed that emails from the Macron campaign have been essentially dumped online and cyberattacks, but the evidence pointed to Russia.

They said at the time the Kremlin called it pure slander, you know whenever they've been accused recently of government sponsored hacks that is the line that they have taken. We have nothing to do with it. It can't be proven. So, if this comes up in conversation, we expect this to be an area where they - where they strongly continue to disagree among the various other issues where they - where they still, you know, somewhere a part, George.

HOWELL: Clare Sebastian, live for us in Moscow. Clare thanks.

ALLEN: Coming up here, disaster strikes Sri Lanka, severe flooding kills dozen of people and authorities say those who remain stranded could be at risk from crocodile attack.

HOWELL: With this, more of the rescue efforts there ahead, plus remember Freddy? The CNNs Brexit camper van is hitting the road yet again ahead of the British General Election. We'll show you where it's headed. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:45:00] HOWELL: Welcome back. Turning now to the flooding in Sri Lanka, the ministry of disaster management now says that at least 169 people are dead, more than 100 are missing, after a severe monsoon.

ALLEN: It's tremendous the water that's come in and the lives lost, Meteorologist, Allison Chinchar has the latest for us. Hi, there, Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hello there. Yes, and unfortunately more rain is expected into this region in the coming days. So, we take a look again some of the images coming in and you can see just how high the water was able to come up in some regions as high as 5 meters, again, now that's not widespread, but even still causing a lot of problems.

Obviously, you could see a lot of the folks trying to get out to the street, not able to get a lot of necessary supplies. Now, the good news is they are having helicopters that are able to come in now and start to provide some of those reliefs now that they've got at least a temporary break from the rain.

But, look at some of these totals, I mean we're talking widespread amounts of 200 millimeters, but some areas picked up as much as 450 millimeters of rain. And this isn't over a span of say a couple of weeks. This was in most cases 24 to 48 hours.

Here is a look at the forecast though because we are expecting some more rain especially to that hard hit south-western region of Sri Lanka where again we could be looking at in the next 48 hours to pick up at least an additional 50 to 100 millimeters of rain. That likely will cause even more problems not just with the flooding but also mud slides that it could then trigger as well.

This is not the only region however where we've been dealing with flooding. The United States has also been dealing with it and that's part of a bigger severe weather that has been taking hold for much of this region. Now, what we've been noticing with the main threats going forward throughout the weekend have been flooding, strong damaging winds and also hail and that threat is going to continue through the day, Monday.

And in the states, this is a big holiday, it's Memorial Day, so a lot of folks want to be able to get outdoors that is going to be a little bit harder in some of these locations especially the green and yellow shaded areas including cities like Riley and also into Atlanta.

Now, you also have to factor all of that rain on top of some areas that have already had so much rain to begin with. Take, for example Missouri in the southern portion of the state around the big tourist destination of Branson, we had three people originally that were missing, unfortunately some of those have turned deadly as we, you know, continue to see a lot of the flooding problems that they've been dealing with.

The good news at least in this region is the rain is done temporarily. That will allow some of that water to begin to recede, but now the flooding threat begins to shift to a different area. And in addition to the flooding, we also had other forms of severe weather, damaging wind gusts near hurricane force wind, but also the potential for tornadoes and very large hail.

Some areas are reporting hail size of baseballs and softballs, that's not just going to dent a car that's going to total your vehicle and we had multiple reports of that size. Overall, as we looked at the weekend, this ended up being the third biggest outbreak that we ended up having in the United States so far in 2017 because of the amount of damaging wind and hail reports.

Here's a look at the forecast going forward. You can see more rain is expected in states like Texas and into Louisiana, but also on the northern side of the storm, areas of the northeast expecting some heavy rain as well for portions of New York and also into Pennsylvania. So again, if you have some outdoor plans today, you may want to keep the umbrella handy.

[04:50:00] ALLEN: Well, we have a holiday, that's what's important again.

HOWELL: Allison, thank you so much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Allison.

HOWELL: The UK's general election is fast approaching and the political race is tightening.

ALLEN: So, our Richard Quest is dusting off "Freddy the Brexit van" and getting on the road again and he'll give you a little preview of where he's headed, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: British Prime Minister, Theresa May and Labor Leader, Jeremy Corbyn will face a live TV audience in the coming hours. We'll be taking questions about their party's policies going into the June 8th General Election.

HOWELL: Here's the thing, the recent polls said - in recent polls, the Labor Party has been narrowing the Conservative's lead. Both parties suspended campaigning after the Manchester terror attack, but they got right back to work on Friday. Miss May called for the first snap election last month hoping to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks.

[04:55:00] ALLEN: During the Brexit campaign, our Richard Quest hits the road to hear from voters in his trusty camper van, it's been parked, now he's reared up and...

HOWELL: ...back on the road.

ALLEN: ...belt the head out, here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: It's been a long cold lonely winter for poor old "Freddy Brexit", locked up in storage, ignored and unloved ever since that referendum last year. Oh, dragged out for a brief rainy day and black hole (ph) when the sun didn't shine, a very sorry sight beside the sea. But not even Freddy would have predicted he would be needed so soon to ride once again after Theresa May called a snap general election.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We agreed that the government should call a general election to be held on the 8th of June.

QUEST: All hands to the hump to get Freddy ready again. So, Freddy passes his road-worthy tests and freshened up for another big road trip just like last year's Brexit journey. Happy days in Cambridge and the caravan park in Maples where Freddy was in his element. Once again, Freddy will help us understand the British people as they make their political choice.

This year, he will embark bark on a weeklong trip from Cardive, the Capital of Wales to the mining heartland of Newport, the seaside wonder that is western superman, historic bath and ending the week outside the royal residence of Windsor Castle. So, join me all aboard as Freddy returns to the road and we keep our fingers crossed he'll last the course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:00:00] ALLEN: Happy trail, Richard. Thanks for watching. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. "EARLY START" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)