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Did NFL Pull The Plug On Funding CTE Study?; Brazil To Would-Be Parents: Don't Get Pregnant; Chipotle Stock Suffering Following E. coli Outbreak. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 23, 2015 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's interesting. Here in the -- in this country, we were very critical, people in the media and politicians, about the national security apparatus for not looking at the social media and not looking enough into the background of the San Bernardino terrorists.

And now it's almost the flip side, looking perhaps too much. It's an odd place for the national security officials to find themselves.


But it's very difficult to know whether this was a security issue or one of a myriad of other reasons that someone can be denied entry to the U.S.

And immigration officials have said that two of that party were allowed through. It was just the rest of the group who weren't. And you have got to ask why. These two brothers have dual nationality. They're Pakistani passport holders and British, their children too. Was it to do with that? Was it to do with health reasons? Was it to do with any other criminal convictions?

The family couldn't say. They don't know. But they want answers, Jake.

TAPPER: Diana Magnay, thanks so much.

From London to Las Vegas, where earlier today, a woman charged with murder in the deadly hit-and-run incident Sunday appeared in court for the first time; 24-year-old Lakeisha Holloway stands accused of intentionally driving her car on to the sidewalk and directly into a crowd on the Las Vegas Strip three days ago.

She killed Jessica Valenzuela and injured 37 others. Holloway's 3- year-old daughter was in her car at the time.

Let get right to CNN's Ryan Young joining me live from Las Vegas.

Ryan, did Holloway address the court today in any way? RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she did answer the questions

from the judge, but outside of that, Jake, we really didn't hear much from her.

We were expecting maybe to see some family members in that courtroom, maybe somebody to say, hey, we're here with you. That did not happen as well as we were kind of watching the entire courtroom. We were thinking that people would show up, maybe even to take custody of the child. We do know that the child is still in the custody of the authorities here. No one from the family appeared.

She answered the questions and court was over just like that. It was about five minutes altogether. We do know the next court appearance won't be for the next 30 days. And she could face more charges for attempted murder. So this long saga is not over just yet.

TAPPER: And, of course, Ryan, the big question, motive. Are prosecutors any closer to determining a motive?

YOUNG: You know, that's the other part. We were thinking we would hear more in court today. This was just a nuts-and-bolts kind of court appearance, where all they did is talk about the charges she could face.

We talked to the DA afterwards and he talked about the fact that not only could she face the attempted murder charges, but there could be other charges as this investigation continues. We talked with one of the lawyers just after court.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Young, thank you so much.

You're looking at live pictures. Right now, let's show those pictures out of Clarksdale, Mississippi, as a funnel cloud looks to be on the verge of possibly becoming a tornado. We will bring you that story after the break.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our national lead, you're looking at some live footage right now from Clarksdale, Mississippi, rare tornado danger in December. It threatens 45 million people just two days before Christmas.

You're looking at live pictures, as I said, coming from Clarksdale, Mississippi. And you can see a large funnel cloud building there. Severe winter storms expected to strike many Southern states. Thunderstorms have already caused wind damage in parts of Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's been keeping a close eye on these potential tornadoes.

Jennifer, how powerful is this storm, the one that's likely to accompany these potential tornadoes?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the biggest problem with these, Jake, the fact that they are moving so fast. They're moving around 55 to 60 miles per hour.

And so by the time you get your warning, you have little time to get into your safe spot. So you basically just need to be weather aware, know that these storms are in the area. They are very powerful, as we can see. We have already seen one observed tornado just south of Clarksdale in a town called Belleville. And right now, we have that tornado warning in Quitman, about 2,300 people effected. But it's moving very fast to the northeast at about 55 to 60 miles per hour.

Once it crosses over I-55, a lot of people are traveling, of course, with the holiday season. So that's what we are going to see, big problems when this storm gets closer to the interstate. This is a rural part of Northern Mississippi, but look at this. The bigger picture here, we have a lot of tornado watches in effect. And in fact that one tornado warning that we were just talking about is within this one particular box that the Storm Prediction Center has labeled a particularly dangerous situation.

And it was right in that bullseye, more than two million people within this one tornado watch. It goes until 8:00 Central time tonight. But look at all these boxes, the thunderstorm warnings in orange, the tornado warnings right now in effect in the hot pink. And this is all part of the storm system we have been talking about that's going to continue to push east throughout the night.

We have that warm humid air in the south, cold dry air to the west. Those air masses are colliding. And that's what's giving us this risk of strong storms. It is not out of the question this time of year. However, it is pretty rare, about a 20 percent chance of storms like this, this time of year. But, Jake, we are going to see damaging winds. We have already had one death in Arkansas due to a fallen tree. And so the threat continues through the night.

TAPPER: All right. We're going to keep an eye on this and go back to the storm chasers if we can when their signal comes back up.

Jennifer Gray, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's turn to our sports lead today. Take a listen to this.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: I found a disease that no one has ever seen. Repetitive head trauma chokes the brain.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The NFL does not want to talk to you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You have turned on the lights and gave their biggest boogeyman a name.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: That biggest boogeyman is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It's the brain disease that neurologists say has been linked to the head trauma suffered by professional football players.

And the fight against this disease that is chopping down gladiators we watch on TV every Sunday is coming to the silver screen. That clip we showed you, it's from the movie "Concussion" starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu says that, if it had not been for him, we might not know about CTE at all.

This movie debuts tomorrow at midnight. It promises to be a giant lump of coal in the stockings of the NFL.

Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta took an in-depth look at the science behind the NFL's biggest problem.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new movie "Concussion" places the NFL and player safety right back in the spotlight.

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: I found a disease that no one has ever seen.


GUPTA: Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu. And the disease he's talking about is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It's an Alzheimer's-like disease with symptoms of memory loss and mood swings.

Researchers like Kevin Guskiewicz believes it occurs from repeated blows to the head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to withstand an impact 157 g's.

GUPTA (on camera): Wow. That's similar to a car accident.


GUPTA (voice-over): And what happens is our brains slosh around inside our skulls, absorbing the force of the hit no matter how strong the helmet.

Humans simply didn't evolve to take hits like that. Yet there are animals that routinely take that kind of force and repeatedly. Think of the woodpecker. They hit their heads about 85 million times over their lifetime and can endure up to 1,500 g's of force with each hit.

That's 10 times the force of a car accident. So how do they do that? Well, for woodpeckers, it's partly due to their tongues which actually wrap around the backs of their skulls, acting like a shock absorber with each hit. And every time their heads hit, the tongue presses down on the jugular vein, slowing down blood flow out of the brain, creating an additional cushion of blood to reduce brain sloshing. Consider the bighorn sheep. They charge at each other at speeds as

high as 40 miles an hour. Bighorn sheep are able to raise carbon dioxide levels in their blood, which increases the size of their brains, in effect making a tighter fit inside the skull.

DR. GREG MYER, CINCINNATI CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: This is similar to what we see when humans go to altitudes. When we have reduced oxygen, we tend to have more blood rush to our head.

GUPTA: Which again creates that tighter fit. In fact, when Myer and his team evaluated number of concussions between high school and professional football players who played at higher altitudes vs. lower altitudes, they found a 30 percent reduction in concussions among those athletes at higher altitudes.

Now, we can't all play football games in Denver, but Myer does believe we can mimic playing at altitude by looking to the bighorn sheep and the woodpecker for some guidance.

(on camera): All right, so let's take a look at this. This is the device.

MYER: And what you see is that there is a C-shaped device.

GUPTA: Tell me if I'm doing this right. I put it on like this, right?

MYER: When you feel it, you should start feeling a little bit more blood sensation in your forehead and kind of your sinus.

GUPTA: I do.

MYER: It's very similar, we describe it to what you feel when you hang upside down, when you feel that blood rush, but it's not to that extent.

GUPTA: Now, this is pushing on my jugular veins.

MYER: Correct.

GUPTA: The veins that take blood away from the brain.

MYER: So it's just supposed to be a slight pressure, a safe pressure on the neck that will slow the blood coming out of the head. And then you're going to have the blood pushing up and filling up that space.

We're trying to do is replicate the same amount of blood volume you have when you lie down.

GUPTA (voice-over): It is still experimental. Myer and his team are currently doing studies with high school hockey and football players to test safety and efficacy. Guskiewicz and others say that ultimate safety isn't going to come from devices, but rather from technique and rule changes.

Bennet Omalu, he's even more strident. He wrote an op-ed for "New York Times" titled "Don't Let Kids Play Football." And that is the message millions are going to hear when they watch "Concussion."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, New York.


TAPPER: Our thanks so Sanjay for that report.

Now, CTE has some football players running scared. This past year, three NFL players swore off the game because they said they were afraid they would ultimately end up in a morgue, another sad story that ended in a blitz of violence like Junior Seau or Dave Duerson, both of whom committed suicide while in the throes of CTE.

So little is known about CTE. And there's no way to determine while the players are still alive if they have it. But a study hoping to change that lost one of its biggest backers just this week. Guess who? That's right, the NFL.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines' reported yesterday that the NFL vetoed given money that had been previously set aside for the study.

I want to talk about this with "USA Today" sports columnist Christine Brennan.

Christine, we should say this CTE study is going to get funded anyway. The National Institutes of Health is going to pay for it, but why would the NFL back out?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": It's mind-boggling.

Embrace it, right? You're the NFL. As the movie says, Jake, you own a day of the week. You can handle the pressure. You can handle the criticism. They're angry because one of their chief critics at Boston University, Dr. Robert Stern, who has been controversial with some comments against the NFL, the concussion settlement, what have you, they're angry that he's leading this research.

But for my purposes at this point, as you look at this, and this week of all weeks, with the "Concussion" movie coming out, let it go. Let the survey go. Let the research go. If it's your chief critic, then take those answers and be better off for it.

TAPPER: Yes, what better way to have credibility for the report?

Now, CBS, "60 Minutes," aired a report last month on the NFL.

I want to play something that commissioner Roger Goodell told CBS' Steve Kroft.


STEVE KROFT, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Are you concerned about what they may find?


KROFT: Worried that you're sowing the seeds of your own destruction?

GOODELL: No, we want facts. We think the facts will help us develop better solutions and that's why we're advancing medical research.


TAPPER: We want the facts, Goodell says, and then they pull support for the study.

BRENNAN: Yes. And again, the PR nightmare of this, Jake, to me is the issue because the NFL is funding other projects. They've sent that up to eight projects. Roger Goodell has kids that play sports, so many officials have kids who play sports, you talk to them individually they care about these issues.

So the overwhelming thought, kind of the feeling you get from this kind of news is that they don't care. And as a reporter covering the league all these years, I can say they actually personally do say they care.

But then when something like this comes out, it seems to me it sets them back and takes them to a place they don't even want to go, which is even more stunning that they would pick this fight at this time.

TAPPER: Yes. You've seen this movie, "Concussion." do you think it's going to hurt the NFL or is it awash? What's your take?

BRENNAN: I think it will be what you want it to be. In other words, if you don't like Roger Goodell, if you're angry with the NFL, if you think it's unsafe, you will go home and tell your kids don't play the game. That's it. We're not going to be involved with football.

If you love football, you'll probably watch it and race home to watch the bowl games and although the full complement of games on Sunday in the NFL. I think it will be what you want it to be. It is troubling and eye opening.

For those who haven't been paying attention to this story over the last 10, 12 years, Jake, I think they will learn a lot and they will be troubled by it.

TAPPER: What do you think parents will do? There's a great NPR series this week, David Green, one of the hosts talking to parents about the decision they make with their kids about whether or not to play football, whether or not they're allowed. Will this movie fuel those discussion discussions?

BRENNAN: I think it will and I think it should. I think the NFL should welcome that not because the NFL is going to go out of business any time soon. Maybe will there be football in 50 years, I don't know.

But there's certainly going to be football in 20 or 30 years. People are already in the feeder system, they will be for a while. It's the most popular sport in our country, but I do think it will fuel a conversation that the nation should have. TAPPER: Christine Brennan, always a pleasure to have you. Merry Christmas. Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

Now to our Buried Lead, Brazilians got a new and unusual set of doctors' orders today, don't get pregnant. Brazilian health officials warning would-be parents to put their pregnancy plans on hold after hospitals there saw a spike in newborn babies with a neurological disorder with harrowing symptoms.

Officials have identified more than 2,400 cases of this across the country including 29-related infant deaths. Mythologists suspect the culprit behind this crisis is a disease carried by mosquitos.

But doctors are not positive mosquitos are to blame and have no idea how long this health crisis could last. They also worry the disease could go global. Remember the summer Olympics are set to be held in Rio in just eight months.

In our Money Lead, Chipotle's crisis, the restaurant stock sales reputation suffering after an E. coli outbreak. Can the Mexican food chain survive the crisis? That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back. We've been tracking live pictures of the skies over Clarksdale, Mississippi. We've got storm chaser, Mike Prendergrast on the phone. Mike, we'll look at your video when it unfreezes in a second, but tell us what you've seen out there.

MIKE PRENDERGRAST, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Well, we were following a very large and dangerous tornado for probably a good 30 minutes from near Clarksdale, Mississippi, heading northeast. This thing was long track, it was on the ground. It was just a beast.

We've just pulled off of it because that one is leaving us because these things are moving so quickly and they're so hard to see with all the trees. And there's one coming up from our south now headed towards the Batesville, Mississippi area, off Interstate 55. That's where we are right now.

TAPPER: All right. We'll check back with you when that picture gets back. Thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend.


TAPPER: In our Money Lead, Chipotle stocks suffering as people continue to get ill from an E. coli outbreak traced to their stores. This week, Chipotle shares fell to their lowest level in 19 months.

Now adding insult to injury the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's investigating five additional cases connected to the Mexican fastfood chain since October more than 50 people from nine states have fallen ill. So can the chain recover from this crisis in the New Year? Let's bring in Howard Bragman, the founder of Fifteen Minutes PR. Howard, it appears Chipotle is trying to do some major damage control.

HOWARD BRAGMAN, FOUNDER, FIFTEEN MINUTES PR: Well, they clearly need to do some major damage control. I work on crises and controversy, and everybody likes to call everything a crisis. This truly is a crisis. Their customers don't have the faith in the product they once did.

The stock is crashing. Their sales are crashing. They're really in pain right now. I think they will recover because really three factors. One, the CEO is out there talking about it. He's not hiding. He's addressing this issue. That's number one.

Number two, they're making real changes in the way they treat food safety. In terms of how they treat their product to ensure this doesn't happen again. And that's really important.

And the third thing is the trend line that's going and that is people want faster, fresher quick food or fast food as we call it. They've really benefitted from the fact that Americans are eating healthier than they did five years ago.

And I think they will survive it. And the caveat I would throw in there, Jake, if this keeps being a problem, then they're going to have a problem. And they're going to have to do a lot of promotions, a lot of assurances at the local level, and a lot of work on social media to tell customers it's OK to eat here.

TAPPER: Well, that's the thing. They're out there saying a farewell to GMOs, our food is healthier and the people are getting sick. Can customers ever have confidence in the food?

In the '90s four people actually died from an E. coli outbreak linked to Jack in the Box. In 2006, Taco Bell saw its sales slashed when it was linked to an E. coli outbreak. What can Chipotle learn from those two companies? How did they regain their customers' trust?

[16:55:08]BRAGMAN: Well, it was a very different time then. You have to understand there was no social media back then. But what they did was they solved the problem very, very quickly. And what Chipotle does is has to address the problem.

They have to go above and beyond and make sure that they -- they're absolutely transparent in a way you didn't have to be in the '90s, which is why they came out talking about boiling onions and chopping tomatoes, and things that we would traditionally think is minute.

But people kind of want to know that particularly the foodies out there who are the Chipotle aficionados out there. The other thing they can learn is they are going to get through this as long as this is the end of it.

It's rare that these things will kill a company or kill a brand. I think this brand is still very strong. I think they will survive. They're kind of fortunate there's not a lot of competition in the marketplace in that healthy fastfood arena.

What I think it does do is create an opening for another company to come in and say Chipotle is having these problems, how can we get our share of that business that's out there?

TAPPER: I would say this would be great news for health-ish competitor like Subway except Subway has not had such a great year because of its spokesman Gerald Fogel going to prison for child pornography related charges. How can Subway get its reputation back?

BRAGMAN: Well, they're very different things. I don't think many people blame Subway for Jared's transgressions. It's one thing -- it doesn't say I'm not going to take my kids there to eat healthy.

When you're actually questioning whether you want to take your kids to this restaurant, is it good for them, that's a different problem, in fact a bigger problem. And I don't think subway's suffered the same kind of financial losses and the stock hits and the customer loyalty issues.

So there is, you know, you can almost always come back. The way you don't come back is not addressing the problem. The problem continues and you look like you don't care. That's not the case here. Chipotle cares a great deal and it's a very critical time in their history.

TAPPER: Howard Bragman, thanks so much. Happy New Year to you.

Coming up, changes at airport security lines mean you might not be able to decide whether you go through certain screenings. That's ahead.