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NYT: Russian Attorney at Trump Tower Says She's "Informant"; New Allegations about White House Medical Team Drug Culture; Outrage After Speaker Fires House Chaplain; Dr. Gupta's Appeal to A.G. on Opioids. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 27, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think of Veselnitskaya going public with this now? I mean, from what I hear from Richard Engel, it was a contentious interview when he caught up with her. What do you think of the fact that she is speaking out about this now?

SHARON LAFRANIERE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean she didn't actually have any choice because according to her, her e-mail accounts were hacked, and we and NBC got copies of those e- mails and they show that a long series of exchanges between her and the Russian prosecutor general's office about how to respond to the U.S. government's request. And by the way, we have a treaty, mutual legal assistance treaty, which we are supposed to help Russian with their law enforcement cases and they are supposed to help us. And it is supposed to be strictly confidential. That is like having, you know, in our system like having a defense attorney come and sit in on our secret grand jury proceedings.

BOLDUAN: Just amazing. This is an important report that came out to prove what was long suspected but to see hard proof of it is an important moment here.

Sharon, thanks so much for coming in.

LAFRANIERE: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Any moment now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be arriving at the White House as the president caps off a week of diplomacy. What is at stake in these meetings? What does it means a straight talk comes just on the heels of the charm offensive from Emmanuel Macron? We're standing by for that.

Plus, stunning new allegations this morning about prescription drugs and the White House medical team. The CNN exclusive is next.


[11:35:56] BOLDUAN: Some stunning new allegations this morning about prescription drugs and the White House medical team. This as the team still headed up by Dr. Ronny Jackson who's alleged bad behavior cost him secretary of veteran affairs. And now new details are coming out on the culture inside the White House medical unit that he leads.

CNN's M.J. Lee is in Washington with this reporting.

M.J., what are you picking up?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Kate, these are troubling details about the White House medical unit. This is the clinic at the White House run by Ronny Jackson as you said who is also Trump's doctor. Now, five former and current employees who have worked for Jackson at the medical unit tell me and my colleague that there is a grab and go culture when it comes to medication. They could get drugs without being examined by a doctor first. They could casually pick up Ambien for themselves or even their children and sometimes we're told prescriptions were written for someone other than the person that the medication was for. And these practices we're told were all endorsed by Jackson himself and the folks who spoke with us said that there was sometimes a scramble to account for missing medication. We did reach out to Ronny Jackson, and he did not respond. But when Jackson withdrew his nomination for V.A. secretary yesterday, remember he said that the allegations made against him were completely false and fabricated and that he always adhered to the highest ethical standards.

BOLDUAN: Can you tell me more about the culture of medicine being handed out casually, what kind of drugs and also what the White House is saying?

LEE: Yes, let me mention two examples here. One we're told that one well-known Obama official was leaving the administration and he went to the medical unit to get some Provigil. The person was given around 20 pills and that it was treated as kind of a parting gift for that official. And a second example is that one Obama White House staffer went into the clinic and demanded that he needed Z-Paks for himself and his wife. Z-pak is a strong antibiotic. And one of the doctors reject that had request and said that you need to first get an exam because there are serious cardiac issues that can come from taking this antibiotic and that White House staffer got frustrated and responded Dr. Jackson said I can just pick it up and don't need to be seen. Now, they were eventually handed the medicine without an exam. So these allegations date back to at least the Obama administration and some are saying that they continued into the Trump administration as well.

BOLDUAN: So now what is the White House saying about this?

LEE: The White House is not responding to a request for comment. And just on the issue of whether Jackson can stay in his current job because I think that is a very important discussion for us to have, you know, we heard Trump say good things about Jackson the past few days. Even when Jackson was really under fire. So we'll see what happens. But obviously these headlines about Jackson are very troubling.

BOLDUAN: Not getting better for him for sure.

LEE: Yes. BOLDUAN: M.J., thank you so much.

Coming up for us, speaking of drugs, it is the drug that could fight the opioid crisis. But will the Trump administration go for it? Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a personal appeal to the attorney general.

But first, this week's "CNN Hero" is an E.R. doctor in Brooklyn who was frustrated by the amount of young kids that were hurt and killed in street violence. So he views it as a public health problem and formed a nonprofit for at-risk students.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: I don't like pronouncing people dead. It is probably the worst thing that I've ever had to do. I want to preserve life. When I see patients that are coming in with violent injuries, when somebody looks like you from your neighborhood, a lot of this stuff hits home. You realize I don't want this to happen anymore. What do we do about it?


[11:39:59] BOLDUAN: For the full story, go to and of course while you're there nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero."

We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Breaking news coming in on the sudden firing of the chaplain for the House of Representatives. Departure that has sparked outrage from some both Democrats and Republicans.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has some new reporting coming in on this.

Speaker Ryan is at the center of all of this, Sunlen. What has happened?

[11:44:48] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It absolutely is, Kate. A lot of questions being asked of the speaker this morning from members of his own party. Republicans asking the House speaker at a closed door meeting this morning exactly why the House chaplain was fired and the reasons where he did so. The House speaker this morning according to sources in the room, they tell me that the House speaker defended his move, he said that it was not a political issue. He laid out the reasons why he gave insights as to why he did, saying that many members came to him and had expressed specific concerns that they felt that they were not getting proper counsel from the House chaplain. Peter King, of New York, says that is an unsatisfactory answer, leaving that meeting he tells me and a few other reporters that this is such an unprecedented action to be taken, it should have been a very, very serious issue. And Peter King said, look, we still want to know exactly why. Because he says, and other members tell me that they haven't heard these concerns expressed either. And we've heard in recent days from Democrats reacting to his firing wanting to know more, but it is very clear this morning coming out of that meeting that Republicans want to know more as well.

BOLDUAN: And just for everyone -- so everyone knows, the House chaplain serves all members. He is the pastor to all members of the House and has the key duty of saying the prayer at the open of every session of the House of Representatives. So he is involved and can get very close with many of these members. So this is obviously a very big issue for members of both Democratic and Republican Party. Seems like it is more to come, Sunlen.

SERFATY: Absolutely. And as you know from covering Capitol Hill, any give this prayer every morning, but behind closed door, they do have a relationship with members. They are to provide counsel to the members and some people saying that they were unsatisfied, other members saying they have never heard those concerns. So quite clearly a lot of questions yet to be answered about this firing -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Sunlen, thanks for bringing it to us. I really appreciate it.

And let's turn to this now. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta thinks medical marijuana could be the answer to the opioid crisis. About five years ago, Dr. Gupta began reporting on the drug in his award-winning series "Weed." The newest installment is this Sunday, and he meets a former NFL player who says marijuana saved his life.


DR, SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Every morning this, former NFL lineman, Cal Turley, begins his day with a cup of coffee and a few hits of something he calls a necessary medicine -- marijuana. Before pot, he used pills. Lots of pills.

CAL TURLEY, FORMER NFL LINEMAN: Since '96, when I blew my knee out, there was a painkiller, muscle relaxer, sleep aid, anti-inflammatory. Those four are staples in an athlete's regimen of medicine.

GUPTA (on camera): It is the opioid, the painkiller that I think people are really coming to terms with.

TURLEY: Yes, because it is very easy for those to go from one to two to three.

GUPTA (voice-over): To more than a dozen a day. It became a near deadly addiction.

TURLEY: I was completely hopeless. The side effects are very real. Suicide, rage in my family. All these things.

GUPTA: And raging on the football field.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUCER: Cal Turley, he throws the helmet.

TURLEY: Everybody talks about marijuana as this gateway drug and reality is this was my gateway to drugs. GUPTA (voice-over): Football was?



BOLDUAN: Earlier, I spoke with Sanjay about his new view of marijuana medical and his view to try to get Jeff Sessions to legalize it. Watch this.


BOLDUAN: I cannot wait to see the rest of this special after what the clips that I've seen.

GUPTA: Thank you. We've spent a fair amount of time on it. I learned a lot going into this. You walk into these things eyes wide open and it is really eye opening.

BOLDUAN: Marijuana is working for Cal Turley. How is it working for him?

GUPTA: It is so fascinating. So first of all, you saw all those pill bottles. He was on opioids, muscle relaxants, all these different medications. He is on none of that now. He's been able to get off all of those using cannabis. There are three main things that I think are happening. One is that there is good evidence and there is now consensus that cannabis can treat pain. So instead of opioids that treat the underlying pain, you can use cannabis. And when people are trying to stop opioids, they go through this withdrawal. And it is terrible. I mean you get this bone searing pain, nausea, shakes. It gets worse, all of that. Very few things can treat that. Cannabis came. Much in the way it treats chemotherapy side effects for cancer patients. People have known about that for a long time. Very similar with opioid withdrawal. And third thing that was most fascinating to me is that opioids within a few days of taking them do change your brain. They change make is very hard to just say no. Researchers said to me it's egregious to ask people to just say no when their brain has been changed this way. Cannabis can help heal that part of the brain as well. If you had to design something to help get us out of the opioid epidemic, it would look like cannabis.

[11:50:27] BOLDUAN: That's amazing. No one will forget that you have been researching, studying the impact of various ways that marijuana has affected all of our lives in this changing landscape for almost five years now?

GUPTA: Five years. And before that, I was not that impressed. I did not think the evidence really stacked up at all. But as you start to look at other labs that are not federally funded, you go outside the United States, a different picture starts to emerge, and I think the last five years have really proven that.

BOLDUAN: As I watch this, I am blown away. How is it as a society we did not know that opioids and painkillers were going to be so addictive and also seem to have also been so off on the medicinal benefits of marijuana?

GUPTA: I think until our last days as journalists together hopefully here, we'll be asking that question in some ways. I think with regard to the opioids, I think we did know. I think there was evidence that showed it wasn't that effective long term, that it could actually induce more pain in people taking the opioids and there was evidence of its addictiveness, even before people started prescribing it like crazy. But you would have to be a cynic or somebody who was a conspiracy theorist. It's all about money. There's two plants. One is poppy, one is cannabis. Poppy goes on to be one of the biggest in our country. And the other is marijuana.

BOLDUAN: You also wrote a letter to Jeff Sessions asking for his help in this. What do you hope to accomplish?

GUPTA: I think there's something very specific here. Cannabis is considered a schedule I substance. What that means is they are listed as having high abuse potential like heroin. It does not. You can abuse it, certainly, but not like that. And two, it's listed as having no medicinal benefit. Nobody thinks that that's true. Even the National Academy of Science has issued statements saying, these are the things cannabis can be used for. If they can reschedule it as something else, it opens greatly paths of research. Everybody who is responsible for this want more research. The people who are critics say, we want more research. Researchers are saying the same thing, but if it's a schedule 1 substance, it's very hard to get that research done. One of the researchers we worked with, it took her four years just to get a project off the ground. People don't have that long. Tens of thousands of people are dying right now of the opioid epidemic, and this could be an important tool.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for being on with us. Thank you for all of the work you're doing.

Sanjay, it's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: Don't miss Sanjay's special report, "Weed 4, Pot Versus Pills," on Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Just moments ago -- I want to show you a video -- Donald Trump welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House. He's saying, look, we have reporters, too.

And then they'll walk into the White House for a day of meetings. Top on their agenda, Iran and trade. Much more to come of this big meeting at the White House between the German chancellor and President Trump after the break.


[11:58:01] BOLDUAN: We have breaking news on the sudden firing of the chaplain for the House of Representatives. Questions and outrage came afterward from both Republicans and Democrats. Now Democrats are demanding action. Let's get back over to Capitol Hill. Sunlen Serfaty is back with me.

What's happening now, Sunlen?

SERFATY: Some House Democrats came really making moves on the House floor at this moment. As you can see on the House floor, House Democrats are essentially trying to force an investigation into why what's come from Speaker Ryan's resignation, which is trying to force a select committee, call for a select committee, potentially a special counsel to investigate his firing, and now there is a motion on the table to push it aside. It is expected essentially this motion would go down so that would not happen. But this push by House Democrats really underscores how much concern and consternation there is behind the scenes about what led to his firing, about the reasons that Paul Ryan is giving publicly for -- to call for his ouster. We heard that not only from House Democrats but notably from some House Republicans this morning, wondering why he was fired, wondering why there's not more of an explanation coming from speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. And you know these House chaplains. They give these prayers on the floor every morning, and some crumbling up here on Capitol Hill if anything the House chaplain said in any of those prayers could play into it. A lot of members being asked if potentially the House chaplain, if there was some dissatisfaction on the part of the House speaker. Clearly, Kate, a lot more questions and a lot more moves by the House Democrats to push this issue -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Some Democrats saying, flatly, they think it's politically motivated and they think it dates back to a prayer the chaplain made during the tax debate, hoping there wouldn't be winners and losers as a result of the tax code. But many more questions still, not a lot of answers yet.

Sunlen, thanks so much.

And thank you all so much for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts next.