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Oklahoma Wins Case Against Drugmaker in Historic Opioid Trial; Epstein Accusers Ask Prosecutors to Continue Investigation; Gun Safety Group Debuts TV Campaign Targeting Sen. McConnell; Rep. Duff: It Could Be A "Raucous Race" To Fill My Seat; Trump 2020 Campaign Distances Itself From Jeff Sessions. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:09] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson vowing to appeal a landmark ruling. On Monday, an Oklahoma judge ordered the company to pay $572 million for its role in the state's opioid crisis.

Now keep in mind, the state wanted Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $17 billion. Oklahoma is just one of the dozens of states, counties, localities suing opioid makers, and this case was the first to reach trial. By one estimate, more than 130 people die every day in America after overdosing on opioids.

Now, it's been almost a year since President Trump signed into law a sweeping bipartisan proposal aimed at tackling the opioid crisis. Now, this expansive bill expanded access to treatment and prevention programs and it tried to curb how often drugs are prescribed. The bill also gave states more flexibility in their approach to the crisis.

Now, one of the things, guys, that I think we're all trying to get our head around here, I guess let's start with this. If you -- anybody who covered the 2016 campaign I think was smacked in the face with this. When we went to New Hampshire, when we went to northeastern states of like holy cow, this is horrific. What's the sense right now of what the federal government -- Bender, I'll ask you this.

I know this has been a big Trump administration initiative. Kellyanne Conway has been involved in it. The question right now of whether or not it's working, whether or not between the court cases and the federal response there has actually been progress in trying to address this?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think you can find progress and certainly the White House has, you know, has found those areas and will highlight them quickly. The most striking thing to me in how the White House has attempted to tackle this problem or not attempted to tackle this problem is as you look at the follow-through on some of these issues. The 10 largest law enforcement agencies under the Trump administration, half of them don't have acting heads of -- agency heads, including DEA which is the largest law enforcement agency and the tip sort of the spear when it comes to fighting this issue.

The acting head of DEA right now, Uttam Dhillon is the third acting administrator of the DEA since Trump has taken office. It's unprecedented in 40 years of the agency. And I think it's -- Mr. Dhillon was put into that position without any support from the law enforcement groups but with support from Kellyanne Conway and acting chief of -- or chief of staff at the time John Kelly. But as this moves on, these are issues -- if this kind of -- if these law enforcement groups are fighting these issues of who's in charge of the agencies, it's going -- just overshadows the question that you have is -- of is whether these problems are actually being tackled or not.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And I want to pull up some of the White House initiatives on the opioid crisis. Again, the president made clear he heard a lot about this in 2016. He made this something he wanted to do. He declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, obviously signed that expansive law or bill into law, $6 billion in new funding as of October 2018. They had a plan aimed at cutting opioid prescriptions by a third within three years.

I guess one of the questions that I've had and I would open this almost to the floor is, you know, you talk to Rob Portman or somebody on the Hill and he makes clear it's morphed to some degree. Meth is now a huge problem. Fentanyl is obviously a major problem as well. Is the federal government capable of getting their hands around something like this either through legislation or through agencies or otherwise?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there is obviously a concerted effort by the administration in a way that we don't see them tackle most things. I mean, there was quite a focus on this and Kellyanne Conway's involvement actually has made a difference. This is something that she's spent a lot of time on so in terms of messaging, I think that they are shining a spotlight on this and that's an important part of the response. But I do think that what we've seen in the last several months since the initiative was announced at the White House is that it is a problem that is almost impossible to get your hands around as a federal government. You do have a lot of members of Congress who are involved in sort of state- level efforts and efforts in their districts to try to do more.

[12:35:02] But one of the big issues is funding and we'll have to see whether there's the follow-through. There -- so far there's been bipartisan support for actually doing the things that need to happen on the ground to make the policies that the president announced a reality. So far we haven't seen as much of that. And they did fall short of doing some of the things they could have done. The kind of public health emergency that was designated when the president came out and made those announcements were not as aggressive as they could have been and a lot of public health officials said that should have been. And they may yet find that in order to really have a comprehensive response that goes beyond these opioids and to the other issues that you talked about, they need to do that.

MATTINGLY: I think one of the interesting things -- I want to pull up this poll. It's a May Fox News poll. Do you think these are major problems the government should address? Look at the top three. Opioid addiction, 79 percent overall yes. Republicans, 79 percent yes. Gun violence. It's the highest above gun violence, above the climate change even for Democrats. I guess one of the questions I have, and you've been out more than I have, are you still hearing about this. Are you seeing this at town halls? Is this still the issue that was I think that was so palpable back in 2016?

ASMA KHALID, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes. I mean, I think it geographically depends on where you are. You mentioned the New England states. New Hampshire and Massachusetts have been dealing with this problem for a long time and this even predates I think 2016. I mean, I remember going out with I think some of the Massachusetts delegations back in like 2014 who were forming, you know, relationships on bipartisan pieces of legislation with members of Congress in Kentucky and West Virginia.

And so this has been going on for a while. I think part of what makes the conversation difficult this cycle is that President Trump is in office and for a lot of Democrats that has become the dominant narrative. And so when you talk to voters, it's really hard I would say to talk about some of the other issues, whether it's climate change, opioid prescription, pain killers because President Trump and defeating him is really the number one priority for most Democrats.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's interesting. And this was a differentiator for people with Chris Christie in New Hampshire to some degree back in 2016. I'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Also, keep an eye in Ohio. Obviously the Oklahoma case, there's two counties suing in Ohio. I think that case comes to trial in October. That could be kind of a bellwether for what happens going forward related to pharma companies.

All right, coming up, from hip surgery to home construction, Jimmy Carter's latest plans, coming up next.


[12:41:41] MATTINGLY: Topping our political radar today, lawyers for Deutsche Bank and Capital One now staring at a 4 p.m. deadline to reveal whether or not they have President Trump's tax returns. A three-judge appeals court panel in New York saying last Friday they need to know and threaten to seek a court order despite the banks' insistence they, quote, have contractual obligations that prevent them from answering the question. Now congressional Democrats want the tax returns as part of their investigation into Russian money laundering.

House Democrats asking a court to hurry up and decide on what it will or won't make Don McGahn do. The Democrat-led Judiciary Committee filing a motion to expedite a ruling on a lawsuit Monday aimed to compelling the former White House counsel to testify. Now McGahn is the most cited witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the president's potential obstruction of justice. And Democrats view his testimony as crucial to building their case against the president.

You've got to love this one, former president Jimmy Carter ready to put hammer to nail once again and resume work for habitat for humanity after hip surgery last spring. We're told the 94-year-old will help build 21 in the Nashville area this fall just months after suffering a fall at his home in Georgia. Besides hip surgery, the former president has undergone various other medical treatments in recent years including treatment for cancer in 2015. Tough dude.

All right, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he's done apologizing for what America stands for. Pompeo just wrapped up a speech at the American Legion Convention in Indiana where he told the audience to ignore the critics, America is, get this, great.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Some of our leaders would say that the idea of America or of Americanism means inherent racism or sexism. Others say that America is a code word -- Americanism is a code word for a narrow-minded nationalism. I'm not going to apologize for America anymore.

No, Americanism is something that we must be proud of.


MATTINGLY: And before we go to break, I may or may not have forgotten this actually happened. In fact, I think I was sitting at this table one year ago today that the president, channeling those Verizon commercials, can you hear me now?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I believe the president is on the phone. Enrique? Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): President Trump, how are you? Good morning.



[12:49:08] MATTINGLY: This hour, at least a dozen of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers are in a Manhattan courtroom. Despite his death in jail last month, a judge made the unusual decision to hold off on dismissing the case against the financier. And by doing so, he's giving Epstein's alleged victims a chance to tell their stories to the court for the record.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us outside the courthouse in New York. And I guess, Shimon, the big question right now, tell us what you're hearing or what you've heard from inside the courtroom.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, really powerful moments really, Phil, inside this courtroom behind me. Several of the victims have come forward, they have spoken to the judge. And they're angry. They're angry at how this case has essentially ended and that Jeffrey Epstein, because of irregularities at the jail, because of people not doing their job, was able to take his own life and essentially avoid prosecution.

[12:50:03] One of the victims called him a coward. Many of them crying when they were speaking to the judge. One of the victims telling the judge I feel very angry and sad. Justice has never been served in this case. Then she called Jeffrey Epstein a coward.

And then another victim, really a powerful moment here crying as she described how Jeffrey Epstein raped her on her private island while she said to him no, stop. And then she described how she ran from the property to her villa and while she was running, she hurt her feet. She came to her villa and she was bloody, trying to escape Jeffrey Epstein.

And then we also heard from another victim who said that Jeffrey Epstein won in death, but then she found her voice, she says, and she was able to come forward and tell her story. And that's what we're hearing here behind our time and time again. And you can understand the pain and the anger certainly that a lot of these victims have felt because after the first case was brought against Jeffrey Epstein, many of them did not get an opportunity to have their voices heard, to come into court and tell the judge and tell the public what it is that Jeffrey Epstein did. And now, again, that was potentially going to happen in this case.

But as you said, Phil, the judge here taking an unprecedented step allowing these victims to come in and talk and tell their side of the story. And we should hear more from them later on after they come out from the court. But nonetheless, an unprecedented day here and some powerful moments inside this court, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Shimon, unprecedented, powerful and very necessary. Thanks, Shimon outside of the courthouse.

Up next, a gun safety group takes its message straight to Senator McConnell's voters.


[12:56:20] MATTINGLY: Leading today's lightning round, every town for gun safety is launching its first rounds of television ads targeting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today. They're part of a more than $350,000 campaign buy hitting McConnell's home state of Kentucky, along with states that are home to three other Republican senators. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown, Connecticut.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pittsburgh. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mass shooting in El Paso.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell Mitch McConnell to stand up to the gun lobby and pass bipartisan background check and red flag laws to keep guns away from people who pose a danger to our communities.


MATTINGLY: Abby, there's been a balancing between interest groups on this issue both for and against more restrictive gun laws at least compared to what they're used to be. What's your sense right now of what's actually going to happen on this in the weeks ahead?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems like there's a little bit of momentum to do something, but I do think that when Republicans talk about background checks and Democrats talk about background checks, they're not really talking about the same thing. I think Republicans are going to try to create something as narrowly tailored as possible that can allow them to say I did something, we did something, we didn't just let this all go. But it's going to fall, I think, probably far short of what Democrats want which is universal background checks.

I think you'll see President Trump start to support that but I also don't think it's going to be easy. I think you're going to get a lot of Republican pushback, House and Senate. It's going to be a tough slog.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Something to keep an eye on the weeks ahead.

Congressman Sean Duffy announced that he was resigning, obviously having some family issues. We're thinking and pray for his family on that one. But he made an interesting comment on Fox. Take a listen to this.


REP. SEAN DUFFY (R-WI): This is a Republican-leaning seat but I'm going to tell you what, Democrats have a lot more money than Republicans. The smaller dollar donors in the Democrat Party are a lot more aggressive than the Republican side, so if we could outspend two to one it could be challenging. But I think with this seat and the love for President Trump in conservative policies that have grown our economy, I think we're going to hold the seat but it will be I think a raucous race.


MATTINGLY: Julie Davis, you cover the Hill, is Sean Duffy's seat really in play?

DAVIS: I mean, it used to be a competitive seat, it used to be a Democratic seat. David Obey used to have that seat, a Democrat, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee a long time ago. But it has really shifted and is now -- you know, Sean Duffy won that race in 2018 with a more than a 20-point advantage. President Trump had a more than 20-point advantage there in 2016. So it's hard to imagine that this is going to be competitive.

But it is kind of intriguing that it's a Democratic governor who gets to set the special election now and decide when it's going to be. And there is a world in which he could decide to put that special election on the day of the Democratic presidential primary in 2020. And that would obviously drive up turnout among Democrats. So perhaps Sean Duffy is a little bit worried about that prospect.

MATTINGLY: I know. All right, we've got to make these last two quick, which means, of course, Bender, this one is going to you. The Trump campaign announced its Alabama campaign team. One name was omitted from that, it was the former attorney general. Does that surprise you?

BENDER: No, it surprises no one. They -- it is a little surprising -- they named 15 Alabama politicians to this political team in Alabama, including three members of the state Public Service Commission who apparently even outrank Jeff Sessions there. Trump's treatment of Sessions causes a little wincing in two places in the country, Alabama and the Republican majority in the Senate, neither of which are going to do anything to upend Trump's chances of winning the re-election.

MATTINGLY: Asma, we've got 10 seconds.

KHALID: All right.

MATTINGLY: Is Joe Kennedy running against Ed Markey in primary in Massachusetts?

KHALID: OK, just real quick. If anybody has looked at the Massachusetts delegation, it is entirely Democratic. So for Joe Kennedy to rise up and enter the Senate, there is only one path and that is essentially to challenge either Markey or Warren.

MATTINGLY: Keep an on it. That could be huge.

All right, thank you very much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Alex Marquardt is in for Brianna Keilar.