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El Chapo Sentencing Today; Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) is Interviewed About Trump's Racist Tweets; Companies Saturated with Opioid Pills. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 17, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:17] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The former drug lord who alluded police in a series of underground tunnels for years could soon speak before being sentenced to life in prison. Right now sentencing is already underway in a New York federal court for the notorious Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He was convicted on ten federal counts earlier this year, all stemming from his time as the, quote, ruthless and bloodthirsty leader as the Mexican Sinaloa Drug Cartel.

Our Jason Carroll is outside of this courthouse in Brooklyn.

This is a day a lot of people have been waiting for, for a long time, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Poppy. Certainly a day that prosecutors have been waiting for, for a long time. They say this might finally be the final chapter in Guzman's notorious life.

He is expected, during his sentencing, to be sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted during his trial on all ten federal counts, including running a continuous criminal enterprise, which carries a mandatory life sentence. He was also found guilty on nine other charges involving the manufacture and distribution of drugs. But that's just really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this story.

This was, according to prosecutors, a billion dollar business that he ran over the course of years. During the course of these years, jurors heard about the 26 murders and tortures of people that this man allegedly either took part in or ordered during his time as head of that drug cartel.

Guzman, for his part, according to his attorney, may actually have something to tell the court during his sentencing, which is underway as we speak.


WILLIAM PURPURA, ATTORNEY FOR JOAQUIN "EL CHAPO" GUZMAN: He has an absolute right of allocution, and I'd be shocked if he did not allocate, speak today, and I do accept that he will speak today. I think he's going to indicate that he was wrongfully brought here to the United States, that he was kept in horrific conditions for a long period of time, but also that he wanted to thank the guards at MCC for treating him in a humane manner and also the U.S. Marshals for treating him well during trial.


CARROLL: And MCC is the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he is being held. But after his sentencing, his attorney also said that it's widely expected that he'll be transported to the Super Max federal facility in Colorado. That is one of the country's most secure federal facilities. The Unabomber is serving out his time there. The Boston bomber is serving out his time there as well. And given the fact that Guzman has escaped from prison twice in 2001 and 2015, federal prosecutors want to make sure that he was serving out his sentence at the most secure place as possible here in the U.S.


CARROLL: Back to you.

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Some terrorists serving out there time there as well.


SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll, always good to have you.

HARLOW: Thanks very much.

[09:35:00] SCIUTTO: Outrage building on Capitol Hill as more and more Republican lawmakers defend President Trump's racist tweets. I'm going to be pressing one sitting GOP lawmaker about that, and that's coming up.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. This morning Republican lawmakers continuing to stand behind President Trump as outrage builds over his racist comments and tweets.

With me now is Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Senator, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me, man.

SCIUTTO: So last night you were on Fox News. You referred to the squad as these four congresswomen are known. You said the reason that there are -- that there's a reason there are directions on a shampoo bottle, in effect, it seemed, insulting their intelligence. You called them whack jobs. And now this morning the president's actually quoting you.

[09:40:04] I just want to ask you, because we've had a lot of conversations on this program, do you think your words have helped or hurt the dialogue on this issue?

KENNEDY: I don't know the answer to that, but they are -- they are heartfelt. I think --

SCIUTTO: Heartfelt to call sitting congresswomen whack jobs?

KENNEDY: Yes. I believe that.

SCIUTTO: Really?

KENNEDY: I believe that the four congresswomen are more famous than wise.

Look, this is America. They're entitled to their beliefs. They are Americans. I'm entitled to mine, Jim. They -- they --

SCIUTTO: But is that -- you said yourself, I'm not sure the president should exchange playground insults with them.

Aren't these playground insults?

KENNEDY: I guess from one point of view you could make that argument. But if it were up to me, I would follow the advice I gave the president and say, let's don't engage in these playground insults. But we're in them.

And if you'll give me a point, I'll share with you my perspective on it.

SCIUTTO: Please, I want to hear your perspective.

KENNEDY: I don't think the president is a racist. I did not believe his original tweet was racist. I thought it was a poor choice of words. It worried me that some immigrants in America -- we're a nation of immigrants --


KENNEDY: Would be offended by his words. He quickly clarified. And here's what I see -- hear the president saying now.

SCIUTTO: But, wait -- OK, go ahead, because I'm curious how you think the president clarified his comments. Tell me how you think he did it.

KENNEDY: OK, this is what I -- this is what I hear the president saying. This is not China. This is not North Korea. This is America. If you hate America, if you think America was wicked in its origins, if you think that most Americans today, including but not limited to white people, are evil, racist and --

SCIUTTO: Well, who said that? Who said that they hate --

KENNEDY: Let me --

SCIUTTO: I know, but I get your point, but who -- but I just have to challenge your premise. KENNEDY: OK.

SCIUTTO: They didn't say they hate America. They didn't say all white people are racist. And, by the way, President Trump has criticized this country repeatedly. I'll just remind you, once, I mean, he compared the U.S. to Russia. You may remember this in 2017, Bill O'Reilly noted that Putin is a killer. The president, I'm quoting his words here said, there are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent. The president -- as a sitting president compared his country, our country, basically put it on a level with a dictatorship.

KENNEDY: This -- well, you raised the issue of the four congresswomen, and let me say it again, this is what I believe. I believe that the four congresswomen think that America was wicked in its origins.

SCIUTTO: How so?

KENNEDY: I think -- I think they -- well, you'll have to ask them. I think that they --

SCIUTTO: Well, but if you're making allegations, I'm curious, based on what?

KENNEDY: I'm -- let me -- let me -- let me -- let me -- let me -- let me finish my -- well, for example, let me give you an example. Well, let me finish my thought, though.

I think they also think that America is even more wicked today. I think that they believe that many Americans, maybe most Americans, are racist, are misogynistic, are evil.

SCIUTTO: But how do you -- what do you base that statement on? How do you know that they believe most Americans -- I mean it's quite a charge to make. And many of the charges the president has made are flat out false. He said that they're pro-terrorist. You know, read the interview that the president misquotes. In fact I should say Ilhan Omar --

KENNEDY: Well, let me -- let me -- let me put it --

SCIUTTO: In fact she said that al Qaeda committed atrocities. So many of the president's critiques of them are outright false.

So I'm curious how you -- how you accuse them of believing that most Americans are racist. I just -- I just -- you've got to back it up if you're going to make that claim.

KENNEDY: Well, I don't have time to replay, and you wouldn't replay it anyway, all the various interviews that the -- the four congresswomen have given. They have made anti-Jewish statements. The other night Congresswoman Pressley said, I think I know what she meant, I'm quoting her now, she said, we don't need any more queers who won't be a queer voice, closed quote.

Now, do I think that the congresswoman is homophobic? No. Do I think that she hates gay people? No. Nor do I think that the president is a racist or hates people of color.

But I certainly, when I first heard that comment, Jim, and -- and I think if we're being honest you did, too, it made me cringe. I, frankly, agree with --

SCIUTTO: But did anything the president say make you cringe. As you note, we're all children of immigrants. The question -- unless you're Native American. The question is just how far back -- how many generations. I'm Italian-Irish. My grandparents I -- I assume you've got Irish blood running through your veins. And as you know --

KENNEDY: I'm Scotch-Irish. Yes.

[09:45:00] SCIUTTO: Scotch-Irish. As do I.

As you know, Irish were not welcome when they came here. Irish need not apply. Italians were not welcome. They were often told to go back to their countries. Why is it OK in the year 2019 for the sitting U.S. president to give that message to today's immigrants in this country?

KENNEDY: Well, I think that's why the president quickly clarified his remark. When I first heard his words, I honestly did not think they were racist. I did worry that many immigrants in America would be offended by them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Fair.

KENNEDY: And I think that's why -- why he quickly clarified to say, what I'm saying is, this is America, you're free to leave anytime you want to if you hate our country so much.

SCIUTTO: Right. We, I mean, we will disagree on whether criticizing the country constitutes hate.

But, Senator Kennedy, I do appreciate --

KENNEDY: No, it's the degree -- no, wait, wait, wait, Jim, it's the degree of criticism. Now it -- and it's the way you criticize.


KENNEDY: I don't think it's fair -- I don't think it lifts America up to be anti-immigrant. I also don't think it lifts America up to call people queers.


KENNEDY: I don't think it lifts America up to spread anti-Jewish tropes and say it's all about the benjamins. I don't think any of this lifts America up.

SCIUTTO: OK, on that -- on that I think -- on that issue, I think we're agreed.

Senator Kennedy, we will have to leave it there but I do appreciate, as always, you taking the time to join us and have a conversation. KENNEDY: You bet. Thanks, man.

HARLOW: That was a really important conversation.

SCIUTTO: I just find it -- you know, those kinds of charges that they hate America or they believe most people are racist, you know, in this country, they're getting thrown around all the time, certainly by the president as well, often easily disproven, but at least without corroboration.

HARLOW: And to say they're more famous than they're more -- than they are wise, you can agree -- you can disagree on principle and policy --


HARLOW: But he seemed to be questioning their intellect there.


HARLOW: OK. All right. Wait for this. A shocking, new investigation this morning from "The Washington Post" that shows just how big the opioid crisis is getting. Seventy-six billion opioid pills sold in a seven-year period. How hard it was to pry this data out of the hands of those that held it tightly. We'll talk to one of the reporters who worked doggedly for a year to get it.


[09:51:47] SCIUTTO: Folks, listen up for this story. This morning, really a stunning "Washington Post" report showing just how easy it was for doctors to prescribe copioates (ph) -- copious amounts of opioids and just how easy it was for people to get their hands on pills that are highly addictive and to do so for years.

HARLOW: Seventy-six billion. That is how many opioid pills like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone flooded the market from just 2006 to 2012. This information comes from a database maintained by the DEA. It's all coming to us as part of the largest civil action case against big pharma countries in U.S. history.

But to get it, it wasn't just released. Journalists at "The Washington Post" had to wage a, quote, year-long legal battle for access to these documents and data while the drug companies, the DEA, and the Justice Department fought them every step of the way.

One of those journalists who joins us now this morning is Scott Higham.

Thank you so much for being here, but more for what you've done in fighting this fight over the last year.

How hard was it to get this, and why?

SCOTT HIGHAM, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, thank you, guys. Good morning. It was extremely difficult. We've been trying to get this data for

three years now. And it's been kept secret by the DEA and by the drug companies, have fought very, very hard for the release of this information. And basically what it does is it provides a road map to the opioid epidemic. It traces the path of every pill in the United States, from manufacturer to distributor to pharmacy in every single town, county, and city in America.

HARLOW: Amazing. Amazing.

HIGHAM: And so it's quite a remarkable data set, and it shows that during that time frame, from 2006 to 2012, in just seven years, the 76 billion pilled saturated the United States in communities across the country. And a lot of these communities --

SCIUTTO: You use the phrase -- go ahead, sorry.

HIGHAM: Have been very hard hit.

SCIUTTO: You use the phrase road map. And I think it's so indicative because the does -- the data shows it does follow the road. It follows the highway, even, as it's spread.

But I want to ask particularly about what the map of this distribution shows. Look at that darker area around West Virginia, the Appalachian states there, highest concentration of these pills. Why there? Was it targeted specifically?

HIGHAM: Well, if you believe the plaintiffs, who are suing about two dozen companies, they would tell you that it was targeted, that they believe this was part of a business plan by the drug industry. They knew exactly where these pill were going. This data shows that they knew exactly where these pills were going day to day, month by month, year to year, and they didn't stop the flow of these pills.


HIGHAM: And so you see places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, even places like Nevada, South Carolina just really ravaged by these pills.


HARLOW: And as you point out so aptly in your reporting, they knew what the volumes were. They knew, quote, town by town where these pills were going, to Jim's point, pointing out that map.

The question now becomes, Scott, they can afford any fine. We know these companies can. Criminal liability. How do you think this shakes out in the end?

HIGHAM: Well, we'll have to see. Right now there are, you know, there are no criminal charges pending against any of these companies or the executives. There are these civil cases. But there's a lot of DEA agents that we've talked to over the years who believe that they had enough information to file criminal charges against these companies. And I think as more information comes out, we'll have to see what happens. But a lot of material is starting to come out in this massive lawsuit in Cleveland. 2,000 cities, towns, and counties are suing and they're slowly starting to get access to material that's been kept secret for many, many years.

[09:55:32] SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Scott, thanks so much. We appreciate it. Listen, reporting matters. This is certainly an example of it.

HARLOW: Amazing reporting.

SCIUTTO: We have breaking news coming up on a Democratic push now for impeachment. Please stay with us.