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Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) on Hurricane Preparedness; Doctors Suspect Connection between Vaping and Lung Disease; Bail Industry Blocks Changes. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 08:30   ET



[08:31:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the entire state of Florida is on high alert this morning as Hurricane Dorian is expected to make landfall as a catastrophic category four hurricane.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Darren Soto. His congressional district is in central Florida. All of Florida in the target of this storm right now, Congressman.

You've been watching the forecast alongside the rest of us. Just as a human being, as you look at this forecast, what are your concerns?

REP. DARREN SOTO (D-FL): Well, we know it's going to be a category four it looks like and hit central Florida. And, you know, while we know the drill, we also know the devastation that could happen. We're telling our constituents to prepare and take it seriously. We also have had FEMA briefings and know that FEMA is ready to go as far as resources and personnel on the ground.

Florida's called a state of emergency for all counties. But the uncertainty, obviously, is something that has a lot of people on edge around here.

BERMAN: You know, it's so interesting, you're from Orlando and Orlando is often a place people go -- fall back to from the coast in these hurricanes. But there really might not be a place that's that much safer than any other in the state right now. So what's your message to your constituents?

SOTO: Well, even though it hits the coast first and it may be reduced from a four to a one or a two, we're still talking about huge sustained winds that could do damage. We have -- we're at the end of our wet season, so flooding is also a big concern regardless of where you are in Florida.

So people are preparing, getting sandbags, getting batteries together and propane tanks and flashlights and just making sure they're ready just in case it could be a week for some places, particularly in the rural areas of the district, before they get power back up. And, you know, we hunker down and wait for the storm to go past and then it's touring the district to make sure that FEMA's doing its job.

BERMAN: Have you made any decisions about how you intend to ride out the storm?

SOTO: I usually ride out the storm in my house and then get picked up right afterwards by local sheriff's office to go around and tour the scene. One of the big issues is whether each county can get the designation of individual assistance which is FEMA relief. If you're county is not qualified, then you're not entitled to all these benefits. So that's obviously a big part of the job, making sure that we're able to get the full breadth of FEMA benefits for our constituents.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about something that's become a little bit of a political angle on all this, which is, when it looked like the storm was going to make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, the president was criticizing Puerto Rico. A very different tone as the storm now looks like it'll make a direct hit on Florida.

What do you make of that disparity?

SOTO: Well, it's like night and day. In Florida, we should have great concern, according to the president, and we all need to rally together and take this seriously. While in Puerto Rico, he has kind of an attitude like they should be grateful that they're even part of the United States and that we help them. And it has a lot to do with the massive failure that was the Hurricane Maria response. The highest death toll in modern history. A seven month blackout. And the president just is unable to take criticism. And so he continues to have this personal vendetta. And I just thank God that Hurricane Dorian didn't hit Puerto Rico in a major way because I don't have a lot of confidence that they would have been able to sustain a recovery when they're already in a vulnerable position.

BERMAN: You know, it's not that the message to Florida is wrong, it's that it's not consistent with his message to Puerto Rico, is that correct?

SOTO: Exactly. You know, my home state of Florida, obviously a place where he's familiar with, a place where he won last election, so he's got a positive love for Florida. But, Puerto Rico, my family's native island, the fact that they criticized him, and rightly so, he's just held a personal grudge since then. You'd figure a president would unite us rather than be so sensitive and attack fellow Americans.

[08:35:03] BERMAN: The president canceled a scheduled trip to Poland. He was to be there and speaking at a press conference on Monday morning. Staying behind now because of the hurricane.

How do you assess that decision?

SOTO: Well, it's a wise move. You know, we need our executives and our leaders on the ground because these things are so unpredictable. When we saw Hurricane Irma, it was supposed to hit the southeastern part of Florida. It went in through the southwest. We saw Hurricane Michael go from a category one, off the Yucatan Peninsula, to a category five, eviscerating the panhandle. So leaders need to be around and they need to be able to lead. And regardless of our political differences, the president and I and others in the federal, state and local governments need to work together for all Floridians. This is a serious storm that's coming.

BERMAN: It is a serious storm. It could be the worst storm to hit the east coast of Florida in more than three decades.

What is your most specific area of concern this morning?

SOTO: Definitely preparation and then concern that everybody is ready to go and then flooding. I know on the coast we'll have to worry about wind damage, but we saw during Hurricane Irma, Jacksonville flood, even though it wasn't even near the storm. And as I said, we're at the end of the wet season, so places that may not get heavy winds could still see a foot or two of water coming into their living rooms. So that's one of the big concerns right now in my district, which is holding a lot of water right now already before the -- Hurricane Dorian even hits.

BERMAN: We were just hearing about that, how much rain you've had already.

Listen, Congressman Soto, thank you very much for being with us. Please keep you and your loved ones and your constituents safe over the next few days.

SOTO: Thanks, John.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to take a quick break, but coming up, doctors are now reporting more cases of sudden and severe lung disease possibly linked to vaping. Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at the symptoms and what e-cigarette companies are saying, next.


[08:40:59] CHATTERLEY: Welcome back to the show.

"Here's to Your Health." Doctors are reporting an uptick in the cases of severe lung disease, which they say could be caused by vaping. The most recent update from the CDC last week says the agency is aware of at least 193 possible cases in 22 states reported since late June.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the story of one teenager's life-threatening illness.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That's 17-year-old Tryston Zohfeld, a previously healthy athletic teen from Texas whose symptoms initially baffled doctors, and then took a turn for the worse.

DR. KAREN SCHULTZ, PEDIATRIC PULMONOLOGIST, COOK CHILDREN'S MEDICAL CENTER: His chest x-rays went from having what we would have thought was a little bit of pneumonia to having a complete whiteout of both of his lungs.

GUPTA: Look at the striking difference to this other scan of his. MATT ZOHFELD, TRYSTON'S FATHER: When the doctors start telling you

that they're worried, then you get worried.

TRYSTON ZOHFELD: I was throwing up everywhere and my heart was just completely pounding and I really couldn't breathe.

SCHULTZ: We eventually had to put a tube down his throat because his lungs totally failed and were not working.

M. ZOHFELD: Within 48 hours of being admitted to ICU, they had him in a medically induced coma.

T. ZOHFELD: They had me on this big machine that was pretty much breathing for me. If that didn't work out, then nothing else was going to work out.

GUPTA: Doctors at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth ran a battery of tests looking for what caused Tryston's mysterious illness, but they all came back negative. But then came a possible clue.

SCHULTZ: His cousin came forward and started talking about the fact that they had been vaping up in his bedroom.

T. ZOHFELD: He immediately went home and grabbed all the vapes and everything, brought it back up to the hospital, showed them, you know, like this -- this is what we've been doing.

GUPTA: Tryston's case is like many others across the country now being investigated by the CDC, with health officials saying there could be a link between severe lung disease and vaping.

SCHULTZ: We do not know what causes this at this point. The best guess is that it is inflammation within the lungs so that you are not able to breathe.

GUPTA: While it's notoriously difficult to prove cause and effect, it's not just lung disease health officials are looking into. The FDA has been conducting another investigation into what could be a link between vaping and seizures. All of this in the midst of what's being called an epidemic of vaping among young people.

M. ZOHFELD: It doesn't matter if your kid's a straight A student, it doesn't matter if your kid's, you know, one of the star players on the football team, you can't be naive to what they are doing.

GUPTA: Fortunately, for Tryston, after 18 days in the hospital, he is recovering well, and is sharing his story because he wants to enlighten other people around his age.

T. ZOHFELD: I definitely feel like I was given that second chance for a reason. I'm definitely not the only one. I'm just the one spreading the word at the moment.


CHATTERLEY: And Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. Sanjay, great to have you with us.

The selling point here was that these were safer than traditional cigarettes. So what are the companies saying here?

GUPTA: Well, that -- I mean they're dealing with a lot. As you pointed out, Julia, these numbers, just a few isolated cases a few weeks ago, and now close to 200 of these, you know, people who are getting sick, even hospitalized.

Headline is that they're not planning on stopping sales of these products. They're saying that we don't know exactly what's happening here. Is it the e-cigarettes themselves? Is it the e-liquid? Could it even be that people are putting THC into these devices, you know, sort of, and that's causing a problem?

Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul, and, again, no specific brands have been named, but he was asked about this on CBS, specifically what they're planning on doing. Take a listen.


KEVIN BURNS, CEO, JUUL LABS: Worrisome. Worrisome for the category, worrisome for us if we contributed to it. The CDC is leading the investigations. We're obviously in close contact with them. If there was any indication that there was an adverse health condition related to our product, I think we'd take very swift action associated with that.


GUPTA: So they're still going to be available, Julia. The company does say that they're going to strengthen some of their ID checks for underage users to prevent that from happening, but it's still out there and these numbers still continue to grow, Julia.

[08:45:04] CHATTERLEY: Yes, worrisome.

Sanjay, thank you so much for that.

GUPTA: Yes. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, new reforms could end the cash bail system in America, but there's a $2 billion industry standing in the way and profiting off the poor. CNN follows the money, next.


BERMAN: The $2 billion bail industry disproportionately targets the poor where one arrest can means a lifetime of debt, even if the charges are dismissed. And perhaps equally puzzling, the industry is blocking reform to possible changes to the system across the country.

CNN's Drew Griffin follows the money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE 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.

[08:50:11] 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.

GRIFFIN: 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.

JUDGE ROBERT HANSON, IOWA DISTRICT JUDGE: 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: 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.

Anton Stuart (ph), 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.

ANTON STUART (ph): That's why I said it saved my life.

GRIFFIN: CNN talked to more than a dozen officials of 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. HANSON: Lederman Bail Bonds didn't like the program because there were defends, 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 (on camera): As a --

HANSON: Market share.

GRIFFIN: Lederman Bail Bonds, a huge bail bonds company in Iowa, with 150 agents cross the Midwest and a drive-thru 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 Lederman's 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 Worthan. Worthan's district had nothing to do with the pilot program, but he submitted the amendment to the budget bill to kill the program. Worthan is co-chair of the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee.

REP. GARY WORTHAN (ph): Hello.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Representative Worthan, this is Drew Griffin with CNN. Thanks for picking up the call.

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

GRIFFIN (on camera): Can you just explain why you were trying to -- or why you did get rid of the Public Safety Assessment Pilot Program?

WORTHAN: Well, um, from your tone of voice you've already decided what, uh, what direction this article's taking and I'm not here to be misquoted or having my comments taken out of context. This is why I don't want to be associated in any way with CNN.

GRIFFIN (voice over): This year, Gary Worthan, once again, included language in the budget bill making it nearly impossible the program will ever restart.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Des Moines.


CHATTERLEY: We'll be right back.


[08:59:20] CHATTERLEY: Welcome back to the show.

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BERMAN: Great to have you with us here this morning.

CHATTERLEY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Please come back.

It's been.