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Felicity Huffman Sentencing; Booker on Joe Biden's Fumbling; CDC Narrows Probe into Vaping. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:33:53]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just hours from now, the actress, Felicity Huffman, will be sentenced for her part in the alarming college admissions scandal. The former "Desperate Housewives" star is the first parent to face sentencing in the case.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: She pleaded guilty earlier this year to paying $15,000 to boost her daughter's SAT scores. Prosecutors want her to spend some time in jail. Will she?

Our Brynn Gingras is following the latest from Boston.

Good morning.

She wrote a letter to the judge. You know, a lot of contrition in that. She had others write letters to the judge. Which way does this go?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean this is going to be huge, right, because this is going to possibly set some sort of tone for the others who have already pled guilty in this case, but also for others like Lori Loughlin, actress, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are fighting the charges. But, hey, listen, this hearing for Felicity Huffman starts at 2:30 this afternoon. And, poppy and Jim, historically, Huffman has arrived to court very early. Last time when she pled guilty in May, she arrived with her brother. But we'll see if her famous actor husband, William H. Macy, will be alongside her because he is one of the 27 people that wrote to the judge supporting Felicity Huffman, saying she made a big mistake here.

[09:35:05]

But let's go over those charges. So it's one single federal charge that she has pled guilty to, and the government is essentially wanting her to spend one month behind bars and pay a huge fine.

Well, her defense has been arguing for quite a while now, essentially saying she doesn't need to go behind bars. She's already admitted to this. She's apologized multiple times. If she could just serve probation and also give community service and also just pay a fine, that should be sufficient. They basically argue that, you know, she paid the least out of all of these parents to the actual scam. That she actually sought out the ringleader legitimately, used his services for a year before she decided to take part in this cheating scandal.

So these are all some of the things that the judge is going to have to consider today before making her decision.

Another thing that's in favor of her, guys, listen to this, is the probation department. So, of course, they always submit a report before these sentencing, and they say, well, who's the victim here? It's not the person who didn't get into college because of Felicity Huffman's daughter might have or it's not the damaged reputation to the college, like basically the government has been arguing. So it's going to be interesting how the judge weighs who is the victim here. And, in that case, that's in favor of Felicity Huffman.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, another victim outside the courtroom, of course, the children and how the effect on all of them --

GINGRAS: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: The parents cheating for them.

GINGRAS: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras, thanks so much.

After taking Joe Biden head on in the second debate, 2020 contender Cory Booker took a different tactic this time around. We're going to speak to his campaign manager and ask him about that change in strategy. Did he stick to it? That's coming up.

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[09:41:28]

SCIUTTO: This morning, a major question following last night's Democratic debate. Is it now fair game to question frontrunner Joe Biden's fitness for office.

Listen to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker after last night's debate where he seems to defend Julian Castro's comments regarding Joe Biden's memory.

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SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we are at a tough point right now because there's a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden's ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling. And I think that Castro has some really legitimate concerns about, can he be someone in a long, grueling campaign, that can get the ball over the line? And he has every right to call that out.

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SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss it, Addisu Demissie, he is campaign manager for the Cory Booker presidential campaign.

Thanks so much, Addisu, for joining us today.

I wonder how you square these two comments from Senator Booker. During the debate he said, quote, we have one shot to beat President Trump. We shouldn't lose it by the way we talk about each other. But after the debate you heard those comments repeated there on CNN talking about his concerns about Biden's ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line. How do -- how are those two consistent?

ADDISU DEMISSIE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, CORY BOOKER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yes, Jim, well, look, first of all, thanks for having me on.

Cory said this all throughout the race, anybody in this race, and that includes the vice president, would be a better president than President Trump is. And we have to unite as a party to ultimately defeat him.

But what Cory was saying and what he will continue to say is that we need a nominee in this party who can excite the base of the Democratic Party and energize folks to come out and vote. And you saw last night he believes that he is the best candidate to do that. He showed that last night on the stage. And I think we'll continue to show that, you know, over the course of (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: Yes, but he said on the stage we shouldn't lose this shot against Trump by the way we talk about each other. And then the moment he walked off the stage, there he was talking personally about another candidate.

DEMISSIE: Well, no, I don't think -- I don't think this was a personal attack. Look, I think we're at risk of -- at risk of overextending in the metaphor, we're picking the best player to take the ball down the field. And Cory believes -- he wouldn't be in this race if he didn't believe that he was the best candidate both to take on Donald Trump and to unify the party. And so we're going to continue to make contrasts where we feel it's appropriate, but ultimately we have to bring this party together. We have to bring this country together. And Cory showed last night that he's the right candidate to do just that.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about the issues here. A moment in the debate when candidate Beto O'Rourke said, hell, yes, we're going to take your AR- 15. Taking a more aggressive standpoint on what are known as assault rifles, semiautomatic weapons, long rifles, et cetera.

Does Senator Booker support a buyback program as opposed to just a ban of future sales of weapons in that category?

DEMISSIE: He does. And he believes -- he -- we have to have an aggressive program to get guns off our streets, illegal guns off our streets. He's been the most aggressive candidate in this field on gun safety reform. It's something that he's been talking about way back since the spring.

And what he said last night on the stage I think is really, really important here, which is that it should not -- it should not take these issues coming to our communities, whether it be gun control or poverty or violence against trans Americans. Whatever it might be, it needs -- we need to have empathy and a compassion for our fellow American that extends past our immediate communities to all Americans. And that's the kind of president he's going to be. And on gun control, look, he will put his record beside anybody and put his plans up against anybody's in this race in terms of his aggressiveness in getting guns off the streets and keeping our community safe.

SCIUTTO: Does that position, though, specific to a buyback, does that hurt the Democratic candidate, whether it's Senator Booker or someone else, with independent voters, moderate Democrats in some of these swing states that you'd have to win to win the White House?

[09:45:15]

DEMISSIE: I absolutely don't think so. I heard Senator Coons say that earlier. And I just completely disagree.

The American people are with us. The American people are with Cory Booker. They believe in universal background checks. They believe in assault weapons ban and, yes, they believe in getting assault weapons on the streets in any way we possibly can. Folks are dying. Folks are dying, hundreds by the day, by gun violence, and Cory is not going to rest until we get these guns off the streets and keep our communities safe. He's not going to rest in this campaign and he's not going to --

SCIUTTO: OK.

DEMISSIE: Let another news cycle go by in terms of talking about these issues. He's going to keep talking about it. He's going to talk about it in the general election when he's the nominee. He's going to take it to Donald Trump and ultimately he's going to win.

SCIUTTO: OK.

A quick question for you before we go. One word, one issue that did not come up in the debates, if at all, impeachment, on the same day that House Democrats in the Judiciary Committee voted to begin steps towards an impeachment proceeding. Why is that?

DEMISSIE: That's a good question. It's a good question. But Cory's been clear on his position on impeachment. He believes that the House should start impeachment proceedings immediately. He said that back in the spring. He still believes it now. And, look, it's up to the House to do that. I think the leader is doing the best job, the speaker is doing the best job that she can in bringing her caucus together. And, ultimately, we'll see what happens on the House side. But Cory believes that impeachment proceedings should begin.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DEMISSIE: Donald Trump is violating the Constitution and he needs to be held accountable for his actions.

SCIUTTO: Addisu Demissie, Cory Booker presidential campaign, thanks so much. And we'll be right back.

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[09:51:26]

HARLOW: Just last night the CDC said there are now 380 confirmed cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use or vaping. And this week, the president said he wants to ban all flavored e-cigarettes. The FDA currently working on a plan to pull every flavored vaping product, including mint and menthol, from the market in just 30 days. Juul's most popular flavors are mint and mango, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's like -- it's like candy.

Yesterday, the president was asked if he has spoken to his own teenager son about the dangers of vaping. Here was his response?

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We haven't told him anything but don't vape. Don't vape! We don't like vaping. I don't like it.

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SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Caleb Mintz, and his mother, Meredith Berkman, both testified before Congress this summer about the dangers of vaping.

Great to have you on. Congratulations to you for the work you've been doing. I met -- you know, I met you on the train when you were heading down to D.C. and you've been one of the earliest public voices on this.

If I could ask you, as a mother, first, so flavored vaping, they're going to ban that. That's the idea there. And that's a step, of course, because it targets kids in particular, it seems. But do you believe that vaping in general is just dangerous by its very nature?

MEREDITH BERKMAN, CO-FOUNDER, PARENTS AGAINST VAPING: I am not a doctor, and I'm not a public health expert, so I don't want to comment, although I will tell you that a recent study came out that shows even just vaping -- just plain vapor with nothing in it can cause changes like arterial stiffness.

But our focus as Parents Against Vaping is on the flavors. And we're really happy, you know, this week that finally the FDA will use the full authority that it's always had and should have used earlier to take those flavors off the market because they hook kids and they've led to the youth vaping epidemic that we're seeing now.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: So I -- thank you both for being here.

I went to the FDA five years ago and interviewed the guy who runs the, you know, the tobacco division.

BERKMAN: Mitch Zeller (ph).

HARLOW: Yes, Mitch Zeller. We invited him on the program next week. We'll see if he can join us about this.

I mean they've known about this. They've been trying to do something about this for years and now it is coming to a head where the FDA, Caleb, says, the increase in high schoolers vaping up 80 percent from a year ago, up 50 percent in middle schoolers.

You were one who vaped.

CALEB MINTZ, TESTIFIED TO CONGRESS ABOUT JUUL SEMINAR TO HIS 9TH GRADE CLASS: Yes.

HARLOW: Your mom came to your room. You were vaping with your friends trying to hide it. You testified before Congress talking about the lead manufacturer of these e-cigarettes, Juul, coming into your school. Let's listen to this.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What impacted those quote/unquote totally safe comments have on your classmates, some of whom may have already started vaping.

MINTZ: From my classmates who were already vaping, it was a sigh of relief because now they were able to vape without any concern.

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HARLOW: Were you misled?

MINTZ: Yes, I believe -- I think parents were misled, teens were misled, and I think everyone was misled.

HARLOW: To what effect?

SCIUTTO: So --

HARLOW: Oh, sorry.

MINTZ: Well, I think that when the speaker came into the school, they gave off the, you know, idea that Juul is totally safe and that it was --

BERKMAN: That's what they said?

MINTZ: That's what they said, totally safe, and that it was going to be FDA approved in the future, which never actually happened. And I think that this really helped kids continue vaping without fearing any kind of consequences.

HARLOW: Jim. SCIUTTO: So, Meredith, is it your concern here that the vaping leads to other habits potentially as well, right, both old school cigarettes, other -- marijuana smoking. Is that another fear for parents as they -- as they examine this.

[09:55:12]

BERKMAN: Well, actually, it's the nicotine that's a gateway drug. And so since these flavored e-cigs like Juul, the market leader, and some of its copy cats contain, you know, huge amounts of nicotine -- I know, you know, early on Sanjay Gupta did a report talking about the nicotine arms race that Juul created. And so it's the nicotine that is a gateway drug that leads -- it basically, for the developing brain, and your brain develops until you're 25, it reprograms adolescent brains for further addiction and it does lead to other things.

Vaping, they -- the reports show that a kid who vapes is four times more likely to begin smoking regular, traditional cigarettes, and that's a real fear for all of us because so much work was done over decades. This was -- this was not a generation of kids that would have been initiated into tobacco use. And so, you know, that's why the FDA should have acted. They've had full authority for so long. We don't want to look back. We'll look forward. We're very grateful. And we want to make sure now that these flavored products come off the market completely and immediately and that there's follow-through. But that doesn't mean that our work is done at all.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, you guys are doing yeoman's work. We appreciate what you're doing.

BERKMAN: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely.

And, Meredith, your group called Momvocate (ph), to speak up about this. We know you won't stop.

Caleb, thank you for your testimony, for coming on, Meredith, as well.

We'll be right back.

BERKMAN: Thank you.

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