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Puerto Rico Under Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Warning; Joe Biden Focuses on Personal Health Care Experiences in New TV Ad; Trump Makes Numerous False and Misleading Claims at G7 Summit; Iran's President Said No Talks Until U.S. Lifts Sanctions; An Oklahoma Judge Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $572 Million in the State's Opioid Case; House Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Tropical storm warning for the U.S. territory. People snapping up supplies on the island. All public schools closing early today. Shelters have already been opened there. Remember, it was just two years ago that Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and the truth is, it still hasn't fully recovered.

Joining us now Chad Myers, he's in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

Chad, will this island, will it take a direct hit from the storm based on what you're seeing now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Maybe not a direct hit from an eye, but this isn't a category 3 or category 4 hurricane either. So even the glancing blow of this storm, that's what this would get. Rain, wind, maybe even 70 miles per hour. And, you know, some of these power lines are not held up by very much. 70 miles per hour would bring them back down. The entire Caribbean boxed up with watches and warnings right now.

One thing I just noticed from the hurricane hunter aircraft, the pressure is falling and that's a bad thing. That means the storm is getting stronger. Right now it moved over Martinique, St. Lucia, and now it's into the Caribbean. And it's going to make a run at Puerto Rico. It's almost all going to make a run at Punta Cana. This is an area here very popular with tourists in the Dominican Republic.

The storm is getting wider as we speak this morning and it's also going to head into the Bahamas. That's a problem for the U.S. because after it gets into the Bahamas it gets into some very warm-water. Every single model now taking it toward Florida. As it gets into the DR, into Puerto Rico tomorrow and tomorrow night, finally turning to the left, maybe even into the Gulf of Mexico, after it goes over Florida. We'll see.

But that's the problem because the water right here is 88 to 89 degrees, Jim, and that's enough to make rapid intensification. We saw that all last year. We certainly don't want to see that in the Bahamas. SCIUTTO: Yes. That's jet fuel for hurricanes.

Chad Myers, thanks very much.

CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval, he is in Puerto Rico as Dorian moves closer to the island.

Polo, it's only a couple of years there. Of course memories still raw of Hurricane Maria. How are residents preparing as Dorian approaches?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim, good morning. Any disturbance in the tropics will certainly make people here in Puerto Rico extremely nervous. No matter the size or intensity of any potential storm here, and that seems to be the case here, where people are certainly in preparation mode as many people have told to expect at least some impact from Dorian. We've seen people headed to service stations and to stores, loading up on fuel and other provisions as well.

There certainly is, though, an expectation here that the impact will be fairly minimal here especially when you look at the latest forecast showing Dorian passing the island and potentially setting its sights on other nearby territories. However, officials here certainly not taking a chance. There is a state of emergency that's in place. They are prepared to open as many as 360 shelters across the island that could potentially bring in up to 48,000 families.

And even about 70 hospitals across the island have been told to prepare for any potential emergency that may result because of the storm here. As for the new administration that's been in place here, Jim, for less than a month, Dorian is at least going to provide this administration with an opportunity to show the residents of Puerto Rico exactly how they can prepare for any potential threat -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Polo on the ground there this morning.

2020 contender Joe Biden is unveiling his second campaign ad in Iowa this time putting an emphasis on his personal experiences with health care including his late son Beau's battle with brain cancer.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't fathom what would have happened if insurance companies had said for the last six months of his life, you're on your own. The fact of the matter is health care is personal to me.


SCIUTTO: The former vice president adds that Obamacare is personal to him, too. Will voters agree? It's certainly a central issue to the 2020 election.

I'm joined now by Errol Louis, he's host of "You Decide" podcast and Nathan Gonzales, he's editor and publisher for "Inside Elections." Errol, let's begin with this new Monmouth poll that unusually shows a

tighter race, sort of a three-way race, among Democrats with Biden there virtually tied with Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at the top. But previous polls including CNN polling as you well know just prior to this showed him maintaining a big lead. What do you believe?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, my political science professors would kill me if I didn't mention that there's a very wide margin of error on that Monmouth poll. So a lot of those numbers are not necessarily numbers you can take as very precise. But even with that aside, clearly Joe Biden is struggling. There are others who are benefiting at his expense.

SCIUTTO: Wait, struggling with -- I mean, he's leading every poll virtually, right?

LOUIS: Well --

SCIUTTO: I mean, how is that struggling?

LOUIS: Yes. But then you look at some of the other polls, Jim, and you look for peoples' second choices, or you ask -- a few of the polls ask how locked in are you to this position, to this candidate? And you start to realize that a lot of the support is very soft. And to the extent that he's got a bunch of very ambitious people nipping at his heels.

[09:05:04] At least nine on the debate stage with him at any given time and another 10 in the wings who are also trying to sort of get past him, to get to the nomination, he knows that he's got a target on his back, and certainly I think that's why you see this ad where his strongest point is going to be his association with the Obama administration and with its most popular policy which is Obamacare.

SCIUTTO: Right. No question. Getting more popular.

Nathan, you look at the other message from this poll, and this has been consistent, which is a strengthening of Elizabeth Warren support, and some of that appears the result of a different campaign strategy. I mean, she's out there, she's got a plan for everything. She's got this long selfie line kind of strategy to interact with the crowds afterwards, whereas Biden is more stepping back. Is this the kind of thing that leaves the Biden campaign to reconsider its strategy?

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's probably too early to reconsider, you know, adjusting an entire strategy in terms of the vice president. I think when you look at the Monmouth poll that Elizabeth Warren's steady increase makes sense because it's steady. The thing about the Monmouth poll and Biden dropping is that I think it's harder to believe because there really isn't -- hasn't been a major event that would cause that to happen.

And so I think we also have to remember that this is national poll of a state-by-state race. I think what would be most important is in subsequent polling in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, you know, does it show the same thing this poll showed? Because, you know, as Errol and others have pointed, this looks like an outlier right now. It's possible that Monmouth identified the beginning of a trend but we're not going to know whether it's a trend until we get polling over the next couple of days and the next couple of weeks.

SCIUTTO: OK. We've got another debate coming up. Today is the deadline to qualify for it. Of course you have those markers, on the number of donors under 30,000 but also hitting 2 percent in polls. Right now you've only got 10 people for this debate. So that's a major pairing, culling of the herd as it were.

Do you see some of those candidates who's didn't make this debate quickly deciding to end the race?

LOUIS: No, no, not at all. In fact, apparently the same criteria are going to be used, Jim, for the October debates. So for a number of candidates what they're already saying is, like, look, I didn't make it, but I'm not done yet. And, you know, look, by comparison at this point in the 2008 cycle I don't think Obama had even announced yet, you know, I mean, so there's plenty of time. And those who missed this next one and maybe like Tom Steyer hoped to get on the national stage, get on national television, in October, they've got plenty of time to make their case, to do whatever they're going to do. Won't necessarily guarantee them victory but 'they're still very much in the hunt.

SCIUTTO: OK. The other storyline here beyond of course the presidential, Nathan, is the -- are going to be the congressional races in 2020. And you do see a consistent pattern of GOP lawmakers particularly in the House stepping out, resigning. The most recent is Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy. Now we should be clear he has a personal motivation here, health issues, complications with his wife's pregnancy. That said, you do have a number of Republican lawmakers choosing to sit out.

Is that an indicator that they do not see the environment as a positive one for GOP candidates in 2020?

GONZALES: I think when you take a look at the retirements overall, there certainly are more Republicans retiring and resigning. I believe it's eight Republicans retiring compared to only three Democrats. I put Sean Duffy, the Wisconsin congressman that you mentioned, in a separate category because he's resigning this fall, and not just not running for re-election.

And I think there are different reasons. The Texas -- the "Texadus" as Democrats were calling it, you know, those few Texas Republicans who announced they weren't seeking re-election, and it all happened at one time. I think part of that is a function of Texas having an early filing deadline. So they needed to make that decision earlier rather than later in order to allow other candidates to step in.

But we're -- there are going to be more retirements. We are still well under the average retirements for a cycle. Usually that's about 23 members rolling at about 11, 12 right now so there are going to be more, and really it depends on where do those retirements happen. Is it in a solidly Republican or Democratic seat or is it in a competitive seat such as Texas Congressman Will Hurd? You know, that's a tough open seat for Republicans to hold in this environment.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, I mean, it took six weeks to call that race, Will Hurd's district, before he won it over the Democrat there. Now of course he's not running.

Errol Louis, before we go, the president at the G7 summit was all over the place on next steps for the China trade war. And it struck me that what may really be happening here is the president is dialing back the trade war with China. He saw the way that markets reacted and as often happens with this president, won't say directly, I am changing course but through the kind of maelstrom of confusing signals that's what's actually happening here. Is that how you read it?

LOUIS: The way I read it is that in the end his political survival depends on him making sure that he gets this right.

[09:10:02] He's got two really contradictory sort of political objectives. He wants to be tough on China. He also wants the markets to not tank. He wants to have a healthy economy and he knows that that's critical to his re-election. I think in the end, and I think we can assume that he was always going to resolve this with China at some point, and it was just a timing question. I think he's letting some of the rhetoric get too far away from him to the extent that the markets tanked and the storyline starts to become about a failing economy. He's going to do whatever he can to make that headline go away.

SCIUTTO: It's all about 2020.

LOUIS: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Errol Louis, Nathan Gonzales, thanks to both of you.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani says that U.S. talks will not happen unless U.S. sanctions on Iran are lifted first. French and British leaders suggested it and President Trump said he would be open to talks with Iran. Quite a remarkable turnaround from this president. Even going so far as to say he would like to see Iran become a great nation.

So will Iran's conditions kill any chance of striking a new nuclear deal or at least beginning discussions of doing so?

Joining me now to discuss this, David Sanger, a national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

So, David, always good to have you. You and I, we covered Iran nuclear negotiations for years now.


SCIUTTO: When Rouhani says no new talks without sanctions, I mean, that said the Iranian foreign minister still did show up on at a plane at the G7 summit. The U.S. president in his departure press conference said he would we open to talking to Iran. Are we seeing in effect the public diplomatic flirtation here between the U.S. and Iran?

SANGER: I think you are, Jim. What you're seeing is the reversal of what happened in the Obama administration where the first entreaties to the Iranians were all taking place in secret. There were meetings between aides in secret. Maybe that's going on now. We've seen no evidence of it so far.

And instead what's happening is the president saying we'll talk without preconditions. In fact, going a step further yesterday and saying that he could imagine putting together some kind of letter of credit for the Iranians so that they could keep their economy afloat while the talks went on, which sounds an awful lot like what he criticized President Obama for doing which was unfreezing Iranian assets, right?


SANGER: And the Iranians holding firm here and saying the sanctions have to be lifted, which is their way of saying you have to go into compliance with the old Obama era agreement before we'll talk to you about amending it, and that's I think the big sticking point.

SCIUTTO: Who has in your view the upper hand here because the president would like to think it is him? But, one -- you know, not revelation but one thing was clear from the G7 was that America's European allies stand in effect with Iran at least on the Iran nuclear deal. They're sticking in the deal. They're looking for ways around U.S. sanctions. Does that give Iran in effect the upper hand in any negotiations?

SANGER: Iran's got two things going for it and one against here. The against it obviously is that the sanctions have been more effective than we thought they would be and you see it just in the Iranian oil shipments. And they've been very clear about the kind of shipments they would need in order to get into discussions with the U.S.

What the Iranians have going for them is that this is the third G7 summit where the Europeans had consistently rejected President Trump's approach. It said we're not going to join these sanctions, we're going foo fulfill our obligations under the 2015 agreement, and the U.S. is the outlier here.

The second thing the Iranians had is that while the U.S. has a maximum pressure campaign, the Iranians have figured out a maximum pressure campaign. And that is to edge up their nuclear enrichment every 60 days, just making it a little more painful and taking them a little bit closer to the capability that actually produced uranium and enrich it again. And the issue is, do they miscalculate? In other words, do they go so over the line that it prompts either a U.S. or Israeli response?

SCIUTTO: Understood. We'll be watching very closely. It would be quite remarkable to see the U.S. and Iran negotiating after all this.

David Sanger --

SANGER: It sure would.

SCIUTTO: Good to have you on.

Still to come this hour, a historic ruling. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay more than half a billion dollars for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic. Could this landmark decision pave the way in the fight against the opioid crisis going forward?

Also ahead, I'm going to speak to a member of the House Judiciary Committee, that committee suing to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. Could a federal judge make that happen?

And convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is dead but the case against him goes on, and today many of his accusers are expected to speak in court.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. Johnson & Johnson says it will appeal the landmark ruling out of Oklahoma that found the pharmaceutical giant liable for helping to create the opioid epidemic in that state. Yesterday, a judge ordered the company to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma.

He says the company misled the public about the addictive nature of opioids. Johnson & Johnson says the decision is flawed and added that quote, "you can't sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis." CNN's Alexandra Field is in Norman, Oklahoma. Alexandra, not the end of it, other states, other communities, municipalities following this court decision very closely.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not the end of the road for Oklahoma as that appeals process will begin and certainly just the start of things as other states around the country potentially look to use the playbook that was used in the courtroom here in Oklahoma.

[09:20:00] The state arguing that Johnson & Johnson had created this public nuisance that cost billions of dollars and devastated thousands of lives. The judge affirming that, saying that the opioid epidemic has ravaged the state and blaming Johnson & Johnson, calling them marketing practices misleading.

Johnson & Johnson is full-throatily defending itself.


SABRINA STRONG, ATTORNEY FOR JOHNSON & JOHNSON: The way in which the company manufactured these medications and marketed them to doctors was extremely responsible. There are warnings on these medications, FDA-approved warnings. It is up to the doctor with their patients to make decisions about who is appropriate for these medications.

BRAD BECKWORTH, LEAD OUTSIDE COUNSEL IN OKLAHOMA'S OPIOID LAWSUIT: Doctors do the prescribing, but they do it based on the information that the drug companies gave. They went to every doctor and said, look, there is a less than 1 percent chance of becoming addicted if you use our drugs every day. That was just a lie.


FIELD: Oklahoma was awarded $572 million from Johnson & Johnson by the judge. Of course, Jim, the state won't see that money any time soon because of the appeals process. But really, this ruling will send a message to other pharmaceutical companies as they think about going to trial or settling in other states, not to mention the fact that you've got federal trials starting in October in which thousands of plaintiffs are looking to hold big pharmaceutical companies responsible for their part in the crisis.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we should note that the plaintiffs had sought $17 billion, so they got one-thirty-fourth of what they thought there, so a loss, but not as big as they might have. Alexandra Field, thanks very much. Let's speak more now about this with former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl.

Lis, so first question here, is Johnson & Johnson the right culprit here or one of the right culprits here? The "Wall Street Journal" notes in an editorial piece today, it manufactured 1 percent of Oklahoma's --

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right, that's the 2000 deaths --


WIEHL: Since 2000. So only 1 percent, and all of the other companies admitted the other companies that are being sued have already settled. So Johnson & Johnson is the only one that have the temerity, if you will --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WIEHL: To go to trial, and those lawyers that suggested going to trial, I don't know if they still have their job with Johnson & Johnson, let's say.

SCIUTTO: But getting -- the worry was $17 billion --

WIEHL: Right --

SCIUTTO: And they paid half --

WIEHL: And Johnson --

SCIUTTO: Half a billion.

WIEHL: Right, and Johnson & Johnson stock is actually up the last time because of this, because they were looking at they were going to settle for more. We'll have to go for more. But the thing here though, this bigger than this case even is that it is sort of now all right a fair game. Now, if you go for trial and Johnson & Johnson has sort of played the card on this, a jury and a judge in this case may say, look, it's the -- it's the manufacturer's fault, not the doctors fault for who prescribes this with the patient as we just saw back before --

SCIUTTO: And was that the result of this, that it's not both of them, doctor and manufacturer --

WIEHL: Right!

SCIUTTO: But principally manufacturers, is that the idea?

WIEHL: Principally manufacturers, because the idea here being that the manufacturer who is the sales person really coming into your office and it's becoming a very human thing. I am the sales person for the manufacturer, J&J saying here's my drug and it's a really good drug.

And listen very carefully, if your patient takes this drug -- I mean, that's --hear it, every day, every day, once a day or twice a day, whenever it's prescribed, you will not become addicted. Now, what did I just say? You and I know even as lay people --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WIEHL: That's crazy, right?

SCIUTTO: But shouldn't a doctor be held responsible for exercising drugs --

WIEHL: Well, there you go, all right --


WIEHL: There you go, right? Shouldn't the doctor be held responsible for that? I mean, they gave me my -- MD -- when they gave me my JD not. But I even know that, come on.


WIEHL: That doesn't make sense, but we're reading it with the glasses now of 2019 --

SCIUTTO: Sure --

WIEHL: With what we know about --

SCIUTTO: A long history --

WIEHL: Exactly, thank you --

SCIUTTO: Tell me about -- you said the public nuisance law which was the basis here --

WIEHL: Right --

SCIUTTO: And an unusual basis to hold the company --

WIEHL: Right, very unusual --

SCIUTTO: Responsible.

WIEHL: Public nuisance law is when your dog barks and I'm your neighbor and you can say --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WIEHL: Stop your dang dog from barking. With the company it's dropping water, you know, dropping public water, you know, something in your land use, that kind of stuff, even the dog barking and it's on your property, things like that. This is a huge departure from that. But it still works.

It's a little bit of a twist of the public -- of the public nuisance law. It still works. I like it from a legal point of view, I'm not sure it's going to hold on an appeal. Again, with the trial, more difficult things because it will be picked apart upon appeal. Also the FDA rulings. This drug is approved, the FDA approved --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WIEHL: That will be a huge issue --

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: What's the regulator's rule? Exactly --

WIEHL: Exactly --

SCIUTTO: I mean, they put their stamp of approval on this --

WIEHL: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Right --

WIEHL: Look for that to be a huge issue on appeal, not an issue on settlements, that's why settlements are easier.

SCIUTTO: OK, well, we'll be -- we'll be watching it closely, Lis --

WIEHL: You got it --

SCIUTTO: Thanks as always. Another member of President Trump's inner circle faces a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee. What will the panel do if the White House invokes executive privilege once again? We're going to ask a Congresswoman on the Judiciary Committee next.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures all over the place this morning, they've been up and down, lack of consistent messaging from the White House on trade has investors searching for the answers, watching for this month's consumer confidence index as well, we will keep you on top of all the news.

Big question, will it rise like it did in July or fall like it did in June because of those trade tensions?