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Sackler Family's Ownership of Purdue Pharma; Mattis Comments on Resignation; Death at VA Hospital Rules a Homicide; Lawsuit Over VA Homicide; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:58] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the owners of Purdue Pharma, a company accused in lawsuits of fueling the national opioid epidemic, may give up ownership of the company. The Sackler family is said to be in talks to setting thousands of lawsuits. That potential settlement could cost the family billions, that billions with a "b," billions of dollars.

CNN's Alexandra Field, she's been following this story.

So this is really an attempt by the family to draw a line in the costs, is it now, on these lawsuits?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, this might be an attempt to protect themselves, separate themselves from further litigation down the road, also to settle the matter now because you're talking about states, counties, cities, municipalities coming after Purdue by the thousands. Many of those cases being rolled up into one federal cases that will proceed in October. So this is a settlement that would address those claims, potentially future claims as well.

There is new reporting on the details of a possible settlement coming from "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," NBC. They pegged the potential figure at as high as $12 billion with some $3 billion coming from the Sackler family itself.

Of course we know that for years now the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma have been fighting off allegations about fueling the opioid epidemic in this country with the introduction of OxyContin back in 1996. ProPublica has retained some video of a deposition from Dr. Richard Sackler back in 2015. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how much the Sackler family has made off the sale of OxyContin?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But fair to say it's over a billion dollars?

SACKLER: It would be fair to say that, yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if it's over $10 billion?

SACKLER: I don't think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if it's over $5 billion?

SACKLER: I don't know.



FIELD: That suit was settled.

As for the discussions about a future settlement concerning the federal case this fall, Purdue has put out this statement saying, while Purdue Pharma is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, the company has made clear that it sees little good coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals. The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now.

And, you know, Jim, of course, these settlement talks are something that would have been going on for weeks or months now. But this news coming just on the heels of this major Oklahoma ruling where a judge sided with the state and said Johnson & Johnson was at fault for fueling the opioid epidemic there and deciding that the company would need to pay some $572 million there. So pharmaceutical companies absolutely are going to be taking note of that ruling.

SCIUTTO: But does this effectively put a barrier between them and potential claimants? Because I mention claimants, even if they don't have ownership in Purdue Pharma anymore, can still target the Sacklers, could they not, in a lawsuit?

FIELD: We don't have the official details of the settlement. It's not agreed to yet. These are reports that are coming from people who have been involved with some of the conversation. But certainly the idea here in terms of separating the Sacklers from the company itself would be to protect them.

Also, you're talking about a contribution of some of their personal money. They are looking at the federal case and they are talking about how to include some of the states potentially it seems that are separately going after them. So this is a huge sort of ball of wax that you're looking at and a number of claims that are flying at them.

[09:35:05] SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. And so many lives affected by it.

Alexandra Field, thanks very much for following this story.

A former Trump cabinet member speaking out. Why the former defense secretary, General James Mattis, says he knew it was time for him to step down from the Trump administration. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: New this morning, former defense secretary, General James Mattis, opens up about his final days in the White House and why he says it was time for him to step down. In a "Wall Street Journal" essay adapted from Mattis' forthcoming book set to be released next week, Mattis writes, quote, I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign.

[09:40:09] Joining me now to discuss, former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers.

These are remarkable words, are they not, Chairman Rogers, from the former secretary of defense, who has served this president, saying he advised the president apparently to stick with alliances and allies. The president ignored that and he had to step down.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean this -- James Mattis, I had the great privilege to work with him when I was chairman. He was CENTCOM commander at the time.

Listen, he wasn't comfortable with President Trump before he became secretary. He wasn't comfortable with President Trump when he was secretary. And I don't think he's comfortable with President Trump after he has departed as secretary.

And he has. He was a very big advocate internal. There was lots of internal machinations trying to work with the White House and the national security team to get them to understand the value of a NATO partnership and pushing back on countries like Russia and China and others around the world. And he just couldn't get it there.

And the straw that broke the camel's back is when the president announced, by the way, without I think consulting, including General Mattis, that he was going to pull away from the Kurds operating in Syria at the behest of the United States to fight ISIS. That's the -- that was the straw where General Mattis said, that's it, if I -- if I can't advocate and no one's going to take this seriously, he felt that that was quite a blow to the U.S. standing in the world. And I think he rightly said it's time for me to go.

SCIUTTO: So if he left, if the person -- one of the people standing up for alliances, he left, the president didn't listen to him and he left, who is standing up for those alliances now in this administration, if anybody?

ROGERS: You know, it's a great question. I'm not sure we know.


ROGERS: And I think he was one of the few people that could stand up in any meeting and hold his head up and have an argument about why he thought the policy was right, wrong or indifferent.

And, by the way, I don't recommend every time somebody disagrees with the president they resign their office. I mean it means you just dig in, you use -- you use your best arguments. At the end of the day, a decision has to be made and it might not go your way. But what you see with Mattis, General Mattis, was that over a period of time the direction he thought the United States should go for our long-term national security interests was just going in a completely different direction, and I think he came to the conclusion, and I know he said this internally, certainly, something of the notion, hey, listen, he deserves to have somebody that's going to be more in line with where he's going. I'm just not that guy. And the, of course, the Syria event happened with us walking away from the Kurds, again while they're on the battlefield, and I think he thought, that's it, we -- we -- you know, they -- this is not what I can consider good behavior by the United States and in good conscience can stay.

SCIUTTO: We saw the president's approach to allies and adversaries, frankly, play out over this weekend at the G-7. The president defying America's closest allies on Russia' readmission to the G-7. They pushed back hard. And the president pushed for Russia.

I mean so we're seeing the effects, are we not, of the president's positions, but also the fact that he doesn't have advisers, it seems, that stands up to him on these positions anymore.

ROGERS: Yes, this -- this one's an odd one as well because you're going in with the confrontation of trying to bring Russia back. I mean they were violating the INF treaty and now that we've stepped away from it, they've increased their missile testing that's really concerning to our allies, you know, former eastern bloc countries and across Europe. And, you know, this tacit understanding that they get to keep Crimea, that was never recognized by the EU or the United Nations, none of that is helpful.

And given where we are economically in the world, I would have thought that there'd be much better time spent by the administration trying to work through some of our issues with Europe.

And, unfortunately, that just didn't happen. And I -- you know, and I think, as James Mattis pointed out, in this tribalism of politics is starting to tear us all apart.

You know, it was a funny thing, Jim, but not in politics, I wouldn't argue it's tribalism. I think politics now looks a lot more like middle school. You know, lots of cyber bullying. There's some pushing and shoving going on. Lots of name calling. Not very much compassion in the hallways.

And, you know, we've got to get over this in a hurry. And we're going to have to re-establish relationships with our European allies. We've got a real competitive power challenge from China that we are going to have to be together on. All of those are really important issues that I wish the administration would focus on.

SCIUTTO: Well, there are a lot of voices like yours. Doesn't appear that they're -- that they're landing with this president or this administration.

Mike Rogers, always good to have you on the program. ROGERS: Hey, thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: At least 11 suspicious deaths at a West Virginia VA hospital now under investigation. The death of at least one of those veterans ruled a homicide. It's a remarkable story. We're going to have a live report coming up.


[09:49:27] SCIUTTO: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now investigating 11 suspicious deaths at a medical center in West Virginia. At least one death, that of 82-year-old Army veteran Felix "Kirk" McDermott, has now been ruled a homicide. His family is suing.

CNN's Rene Marsh is here with more.

Rene, according to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a person of interest has now been barred from working with veterans there. What do we know about this case, and are all 11 deaths now under suspicion?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: They are calling this a string of suspicious deaths at this VA medical center. And now it's all under investigation, Jim. Both the VA inspector general and federal law enforcement, they are all involved in looking into this. The VA said that it's looking into it, and I'm quoting, potential wrongdoing at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center. That's in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

[09:50:20] And we do know that in a claim filed last week by the family of Felix "Kirk" McDermott, a patient who died at the hospital, they allege that he was injected with a fatal dose of insulin, either negligently or willfully, by an unidentified person while he was a patient there. We should note that this 82-year-old Army veteran did not have diabetes. This claim also states that nine or ten of these patients also died the same way.

Now, we're going to hear from -- let's hear from Senator Joe Manchin. He represents West Virginia. And he's also a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. He says investigators have their sights set again on that person of interest. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): The person is no longer in contact with any patients whatsoever. And there's an investigation. That's what we know. We did not know that there was a homicide that was connected with this.

And what we're hearing about, there could be more victims. We don't know for a fact.


MARSH: All right, now as for the medical center, a spokesman said that allegations of potential misconduct that we've all heard about do not involve anyone currently working at the facility. So making it clear that whoever this person of interest is no longer has contact with patients there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

We're joined now by Tony O'Dell, he's an attorney representing the family of the deceased veteran. And he's with me now.

Mr. O'Dell, we appreciate you joining the program this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, if we can, let's start with the circumstances of McDermott's death here as the lawsuit claims. It says that a fatal dose of insulin was injected either negligently or willfully. Talk us through the circumstances here.

O'DELL: Well, the family was contacted back in October of 2018 when they were told that eight, nine, ten other veterans had died under suspicious circumstances where they all had severe hypoglycemic events and that Mr. McDermott fit the circumstances that would make him potentially one of the victims. So they asked for permission to exhume his body, which they did. And the report came back, the autopsy report came back in February of 2019 and confirmed that he did, indeed, get an insulin shot in the abdomen and that it was a homicide.

SCIUTTO: OK. Talk a little bit about the notification by the VA because it's also the family's contention that that months' long delay was a failure by the VA here, that these suspicious circumstances should have been communicated earlier.

O'DELL: This is absolutely -- first of all, it wasn't really the VA that contacted the family. It was the office of inspector general --


O'DELL: Which is really a different division, a sort of a watchdog of the VA. The VA still never contacted the family.


But, still, a long delay here in them finding out.

Do you know why it took so long for the family to be notified of these circumstances?

O'DELL: We actually think this is just a huge system failure because each time there's a death under suspicious circumstances or unexpected circumstances, it's supposed to be a (INAUDIBLE) event in a hospital, which means that they're supposed to do a root cause analysis to find out how this could have happened. And we believe, based on some of the calls we've been getting about potential other victims, that this stretched all the way back to at least June or July of 2017, which is ten months before Mr. McDermott died. And we've been told that there are actually victims all the way up until July of 2018. So just a system failure. SCIUTTO: OK. Now, let's talk about what happens next here now because

they've already ruled this death as a suspected homicide, but you have ten other cases here. How does this proceed from here?

O'DELL: Well, when you -- when you sue the federal government, you have to put them on notice, which is what we've done. And that's -- that's what triggered the avalanche of media attention on this case, which I thought brought this case into light. But you have to give the government six months' notice before you can file a lawsuit. And we just filed that notice of claim. So we have to wait our six months before we can file a lawsuit.

SCIUTTO: OK. Well, listen, Mr. O'Dell, please pass on our best to the family here. These are just horrible circumstances, particularly for a veteran. And we send them our best.

O'DELL: Thank you very much.

[09:55:01] SCIUTTO: Coming up, a major tropical storm is now just hours away from hitting Puerto Rico before it strengthens and takes aim at Florida. We're tracking the latest on Tropical Storm Dorian.


SCIUTTO: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off today.

[10:00:01] Tropical Storm Dorian is getting stronger and closer, now just hours away from hitting Puerto Rico. And after that, if the latest forecast.