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Iowa and New Hampshire Primaries May Change; State Rep Ends Iowa Bail Reform Program; Scottish Court Rejects Attempt to Block Boris Johnson's Parliament Suspension. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Back, now, to our breaking news. Right now, Hurricane Dorian is churning slowly across the Atlantic, expected to become a Category 4 storm by landfall, late Monday or early Tuesday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says fuel shortages are a big issue. These are live pictures now, this is in North Miami, the line up there, cars trying to get the fuel they need for the possibility of an evacuation, and already running into shortages like this, the state doing the best it can to get more fuel in there.

The governor, also noting potential evacuation orders could come as soon as today. We're going to bring you an update on the track of the storm at the top of the hour, and we're also going to fill you in on each step the state is taking to try to protect Florida residents.

The other story that we are watching this morning? The Iowa caucus, notably one of the most important political events of the presidential election cycle. But Iowa now (ph) has a problem. It's trying to figure out how to get more people to vote when they cannot physically make it to a caucus event.

So Iowa introduced virtual caucuses, a way to vote by telephone. The problem is, DNC is worried that hackers could tamper with that system. So sources telling us that the committee is about to say no to virtual caucuses. Let's discuss now.

Joining me now is CNN senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten. Good morning.


SCIUTTO: So, here's the thing. Like, the thing about Iowa, right --

ENTEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- is how in-person these events are. "Let's get in a room, listen to the candidates," they state their preference. This was an attempt to expand that --

ENTEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- more --

ENTEN: Correct.

SCIUTTO: -- but now, it's running into problems?

ENTEN: Well, now, it's running into problems, right? Iowa caucuses have historically had low voter turnout. Obviously, after the 2016 campaign, where they're trying to bring more people into the process, basically, the DNC said, "Hey, you can't have this system any more. You've got to bring able to bring more people in the process."

They came up with this idea of virtual caucusing via phone. And as you mentioned, that seemed like it might be open to some hackers. And now, all of a sudden, Iowa's going to have to come up with a new plan to potentially sort of allay the concerns from the DNC, that they're not allowing enough people into the process.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, it does show the seriousness of the concerns about hackers --

ENTEN: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: -- in this coming election, which is not undue. You hear this from the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence officials, et cetera, that Russia and other countries will try again.

And this highlights that concern.

ENTEN: I think this absolutely highlights the concern, Jim. And, you know, I think it's just one of many to follow. This is just the primary caucus season, and then get ready for the general election season, see how things go there.

I think the real question is, what's Iowa going to do about this --


ENTEN: -- right? They have to figure out a way to allay the concerns. You know, there are a number of different options. I don't think we should necessarily be panicking that Iowa --


ENTEN: -- is not going to be the first in the nation, that could be the case. But there are a number of different things they might do. You know, maybe they'll try and do something with absentee balloting. We've seen that done in the past, to try and bring more people into the caucus process.

SCIUTTO: But a paper absentee --

ENTEN: Right, right, right.

SCIUTTO: -- ballot -- ENTEN: Not just -- not just calling in. I think the biggest fear, though, of Iowa is the recognition that New Hampshire basically, Bill Gardner, the secretary of state in that state, will (ph) move the New Hampshire primary up if there is another, say, thing that looks like a New Hampshire primary, because they want to be the first in the nation primary. There's sort of been this nice deal going on between Iowa --


ENTEN: -- and New Hampshire.

SCIUTTO: So you mean if Iowa were to introduce ballots, which --


SCIUTTO: -- are not quite a caucus-like step --

ENTEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- then they're competing with New Hampshire.

ENTEN: Like, I think that's the real question. Is Bill Gardner going to see whatever Iowa does as sort of a primary? Because if he does, you know, look, he just won a re-election to the secretary of state's job, basically because he was the protector of New Hampshire's first- in-the-nation primary status. This is the one -- the one big reason why he's that secretary of state right now.


ENTEN: And so if he thinks Iowa starts looking like the New Hampshire primary, then all of a sudden the idea that Iowa's going to go first may be thrown into jeopardy.

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, I know you're going to be on top of it.

ENTEN: I'm going to try my best, buddy.

SCIUTTO: All right.

Well, just a reminder, to join CNN for what is an unprecedented Democratic presidential town hall event, specifically on the climate crisis. Ten candidates, taking the stage to address that issue. It all starts Wednesday night, 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

[10:34:24] There is a push for new reforms that could end the cash bail system in America. But the $2 billion bail industry is standing in the way of change. CNN will take a deep dive, that's coming up.


SCIUTTO: Top 2020 Democratic hopefuls are promising a huge change to the criminal justice system. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are among those calling to get rid of cash bail. They say it disproportionately targets the poor.

But a new CNN investigation has found that change will not some so easy. CNN's Drew Griffin has more.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): $2 billion is roughly how much money the bail bond business reportedly takes in across the country every year. Who pays? Underprivileged people, under arrest, who find themselves facing a decision. Sit in jail for months to await trial, or pay a bail bondsman to get them out.

CHERISE FANNO BURDEEN, CEO, PRETRIAL JUSTICE INSTITUTE: Most people who are arrested are actually low-income or almost no-income individuals. And when we put a ransom on their liberty, it has a dramatic impact on people.

[10:40:00] GRIFFIN (voice-over): Here's how the bail system works. Let's say you're arrested and the judge sets bail at $50,000. If you have money, you can pay it, go free and get it back when you show up for your court date. If you don't have the money, you can sit in jail until trial or hire a bondsman to bail you out.

The bondsman will likely charge you 10 percent, $5,000. That's a fee paid to a bondsman that you will never get back, even if you are not guilty, even if the charges are dropped. Add on interest from payment plans and fees, often, the debt can last for years.

Iowa District Judge Robert Hanson says the system is flawed.

ROBERT HANSON, DISTRICT JUDGE, IOWA: The thing that I know is that monetary bonds do not guarantee that the bad people stay in jail. And monetary bonds do not guarantee that the safe people are released.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Many states are making changes to move away from relying on money bail, but CNN found out that the business that profits from the current system, the powerful bail industry, is working hard to stop reform. It has derailed, stalled or killed reform efforts in at least nine states.

One of the best examples? Iowa. A pilot program called the Public Safety Assessment tool gave judges more information about defendants. And those deemed low-risk could get out of jail without having to pay bail.

Antwoin Stewart, arrested for stealing beer, was able to walk to his job at a bakery every day while waiting for trial, instead of sitting in jail.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN talked to more than a dozen officials in the Iowa justice system: corrections officials, judges, public defenders who supported the program.

But here is where Iowa's story takes a dark twist because in the middle of last year's state budget process, and out of the blue, this line was inserted into an appropriations bill, which stopped Iowa's bail reform in its tracks, "The public safety assessment pilot program shall be terminated."

It turns out, behind the scenes, there was an explanation, you just had to follow the money.

RICK OLSON (D), IOWA STATE ASSEMBLY: Lederman Bail Bonds didn't like the program because there were defendants, people being held in jail, that were getting out of jail without having to post any type of a bond. They were losing business.

GRIFFIN: That was it?

OLSON: Market share.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Lederman Bail Bonds, a huge bail bonds company in Iowa, with 150 agents across the Midwest and a drive-through service, just outside the gates of Iowa's Polk County Jail. It's run by the Lederman brothers. This is Jacob in Des Moines, who told us to talk to his brother, Josh. Josh, in Davenport, declined interview requests.

CNN did some digging, and it turns out the Ledermans may have decided money would do their talking. Since 2017, Josh Lederman has paid a powerful Iowa lobbying firm more than $74,000. He's also donated more than $36,000 to Republican campaigns in 2018. That's more money donated in one year than he's spent in the past 15 years, combined.

And Josh Lederman, for the first time ever, last year, made a donation to a Republican representative in rural Storm Lake, Iowa named Gary Worthen.

Worthen's district had nothing to do with the pilot program, but he submitted the amendment to the budget bill to kill the program. Worthen is co-chair of the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee.

GARY WORTHEN (R), IOWA STATE ASSEMBLY (via telephone): Hello?

GRIFFIN: Representative Worthen, this is Drew Griffin with CNN. Thanks for picking up the call.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Worthen would speak only reluctantly by phone.

GRIFFIN: Can you just explain why you were trying to -- why you did get rid of the Public Safety Assessment pilot program?

WORTHEN (via telephone): Ahhh -- well, from your tone of voice, you've already decided what direction this article is taking. And I'm not here to be misquoted or having my comments taken out of context. And this is why I don't want to be associated in any way with CNN.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): This year, Gary Worthen, once again, included language in the budget bill, making it nearly impossible the program will ever restart. Drew Griffin, CNN, Des Moines.


SCIUTTO: Follow the money. [10:44:32] A victory for the British prime minister this morning: A

court blocks efforts to stop Boris Johnson from temporarily suspending Parliament. This, amid growing backlash over his move there. We'll have more.


SCIUTTO: Developing this morning, a top court in Scotland has rejected a bid to stop British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from suspending Parliament for five weeks, which opponents say increases the chance of a no-deal Brexit, also blocks Parliament from debating it.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo is in London with the latest. So what happens now? Does this mean that this suspension happens for sure?

[10:50:02] BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily. So this court is going to revisit this ruling next week, likely to be on Thursday, and then that's when they'll assess the merits of this case. Why this is important is because Boris Johnson has asked to prorogue Parliament. So that means, suspend Parliament from sitting.

Now, with about nine weeks to go until the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union, that means Parliament wouldn't be sitting for five of those weeks, leaving only a month left, for those lawmakers that disagree with Britain leaving the E.U., or disagree with the way in which it's leaving the E.U., to have their voices heard, to table legislation, to put forward bills to try and shape the course of events.

So they argue that the prime minister is trying to thwart that and trying to muzzle them, essentially. So next week is when we will hear whether or not the court has decided that the prime minister actually acted unconstitutionally and unlawfully -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So the deadline as it currently stands, October 31st, just a couple months away. With the suspension of Parliament, is there still a way for opponents of a no-deal Brexit to stand in the way of that?

NOBILO: In theory, yes. Because really, the opponents have had three years to try and coalesce and come up with some kind of united front, to try and stop Brexit. Now, they haven't done that.

They will still have those four weeks, they'll have some time to try and put forward their own version of events, to try and form, perhaps, a government of national unity or to try and put forward a bill, which would essentially tie Boris Johnson's hands, forcing him to ask for an extension or forcing him to make sure that he leaves the European Union with a deal only.

But they haven't done it until now. As I said, they've had three years to do so. There has been a real uptick of activity in Westminster. There's obviously a sense of urgency now. All of the disparate groups that oppose a no-deal Brexit are trying to work together to find some kind of mechanism to stop it from happening. But Boris Johnson and his government maintain that any attempts to

actually stop a no-deal Brexit will be counterintuitive, and only make it more likely. So we're in a very confusing constitutional position at the moment, Jim, involving not just the government, but also the queen and many other lawmakers, and now the courts.

SCIUTTO: Amazing. So much uncertainty after all these years. Bianca Nobilo, thanks very much.

New this morning, several high-profile protest leaders in Hong Kong have been arrested in a police round-up. Already, at least two of those activists posted bond and had been released. Those arrests, however, come ahead of a massive march planned for tomorrow. Organizers cancelled the rally after failing to get a permit from police, but crowds are expected to show up anyway. It's an important anniversary.

At any minute now, we're going to get a new update from the National Hurricane Center as Hurricane Dorian strengthens, on its way to Florida. Stay with us, we're going to bring you all the latest.


[10:57:27] SCIUTTO: This morning, the brother of Olympic gold medal- winning gymnast Simone Biles, is sitting in a Georgia jail, facing murder charges. He was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting at a New Year's Eve party in Ohio. It left three people dead.

Athena Jones joins me now with the details. What do we know about the details of the case at this point?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about Tevin Biles-Thomas. He's been charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter, felonious assault and perjury. So, serious charges in connection with this shooting on New Year's, in -- or New Year's Eve, I should say -- in Cleveland, Ohio.

Now, according to a statement put out by the Cleveland police and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, this was at a party right before midnight, around 11:30, where some uninvited guests -- an uninvited group -- walked into this party, where invited guests were there. There was a conflict that broke out, gunfire. This left five people injured -- three of them dead, I should say, two survived the gunshots.

So right now, Biles-Thomas is being held in Liberty County, Georgia, being held without bond, having been arrested just yesterday. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Cuyahoga County on September 13th, so a couple of Fridays from now, but very, very serious charges here, three people dead after the shooting, where they say he was the shooter.

SCIUTTO: And is this the first we've heard about his involvement? Because this, of course, goes back several months, to New Year's --

JONES: Certainly. I mean, we're talking about the very end of last year, and this is the first we're hearing of it. Clearly, they have been investigating this. According to their statements, they have been committed to securing an arrest in this, the investigation goes on, but this is who they've identified as the shooter, and therefore he's facing these very serious charges.

SCIUTTO: And I know it's early, but has Simone Biles made any statement regarding this?

JONES: So far, no statement from her. Our sports division has reached out to her. Nothing on her Twitter yet, so we'll have to wait and see what she says in response to this serious story here.

SCIUTTO: All right. Athena Jones, thanks very much. We know you're going to continue to follow the story.

We continue to follow the story of the approach of Hurricane Dorian to the coast of Florida. Those tracks, as you could see there, put it hitting the panhandle in the next several days, likely Tuesday morning, somewhere just north of Miami, and getting stronger as it goes there.

It's a Category 2 now, strengthening, it is predicted, to a Category 4. That's a minimum of 130 mile-per-hour winds. We're going to get an update in seconds, really, at the top of this hour, on the latest measurements of that storm, wind speeds, how strong, as well as the timeline. We're going to bring you those details as we have them.

We also heard from the governor of Florida, earlier this morning, saying that evacuations were being considered for parts of Florida, though those decisions have not yet been made.

[10:59:58] Thanks so much to you for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto. We're going to stay on top of all the hurricane news in the coming hours, at the end (ph) days (ph). "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.