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Judge & Lawyers Wrap Up Conference Call in Stone Case; Federal Judges Association Calls Emergency Meeting over Stone Case; Nevada Democratic Party Communications Director, Molly Forgey, Discusses Early Voting, Campaign Concerns over Getting Invalid Ballot Information, Avoiding the Problems Experienced in Iowa; Ohio County May Need Second Morgue to Handle Surge in Opioid Overdoses. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 18, 2020 - 11:30   ET



JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's no reason to delay for the new trial motion. There's already a three-month delay built in when the Bureau of Prisons decides where he will be designated and so on. She can decide on all of that while that process is going on and not delay the sentence any further.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And the judge -- you say it is not surprising she didn't weigh into it and she is full steam ahead. But there's no way that Judge Berman Jackson isn't aware of what has been going on outside the courtroom, and on the president's Twitter feed even.

What does it mean to you that she seemed to, as Sara said, staying above the fray, that she seems to be at the moment ignoring the outside issues? Is that a message?

RODGERS: I think it is the message that she is going to do her job. Her job is to sentence him. She will be potentially persuaded by the party's positions on sentencing. But she sat through the trial and, therefore, now knows more about it than the current prosecutors on the case.

So she is not really relying on the parties to tell her what to do. She is going to make that sentence up in her own mind. She doesn't have to kind of get embroiled in all of that. She knows what she's going to do, I'm sure, already. She'll listen to the party's arguments and so on.

So I think it is smart of her just not to mention it. Let the executive branch deal with their own problems and she'll just do her job.

BOLDUAN: Also noteworthy, as you just said, and Sara did as well, you have two new prosecutors on the case, as the prosecutors who were on the case have all resigned from the case in protest after all. So now, in addition to the letter that you signed onto, there's an

Association of Federal Judges, they're also holding what "USA Today" is describing it as an emergency meeting to discuss the same thing, this controversy and -- around this case.

And the way it is described is "growing concerns among members" and a, quote/unquote, "deepening crisis" involving the department and Bill Barr.

And there's, yes, a lot of un-precedents that have happened. But this is a lot. From 2,000 former DOJ officials signing on to this letter, that is not only a statement to Barr, but also to other employees currently at DOJ and then this Association of Judges. It is a lot.

RODGERS: What you're seeing is people who are apolitical, who are independent officials, right, not political people, very concerned about where this is going, and people who wanted to kind of wait and see how things played out.

A year ago, I signed onto a letter with a thousand former DOJ employees complaining about how Bill Barr treated the Mueller report and how misleading he was in that context.

Now we have seen a series of events that take us much further than that. We're seeing essentially political activity in prosecutions.

And it's not just about one person's sentence, you know, what Roger Stone gets. It is about where they're going from here, what is DOJ going to investigate.

The president is on Twitter calling for political opponents to be thrown in jail. Is that where Bill Barr is going? That concerns a lot of people.

BOLDUAN: And there's a real question now. Bill Barr sat down in order to kind of do some damage control into the department for an interview last week, he said very, very directly, the tweets make it impossible for me to do my job.

And then the president is continuing to do the same thing this morning in a series of tweets, attacking and in tweets and retweets, and quoting people, attacking the case, attacking anything related to the Mueller investigation.

And I think there's a very real question not just what Bill Barr did, but as you're saying, what Bill Barr does now as it continues.

RODGERS: Of course. And, you know, many people think, including me, that what he's really concerned about is this all being out in the public, being so obvious.

He's working behind the scenes, setting up U.S. attorneys to evaluate political cases, pushing John Durham to try to find some credence to, you know, the myths around CrowdStrike and Russia investigation, all of these politically charged activities of the Department of Justice. It looks like Bill Barr wants those to be on the downlow. And the president yelling about them on Twitter gets everybody riled up and concerned. And it seems like that's actually what Bill Barr is complaining about.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, back to this kind of emergency meeting that will be happening with the Association of Federal Judges, what do you think could come out of this meeting? It is a group of judges that has 1100 members on the federal bench.

RODGERS: Well, what is really interesting about that is, unlike the letter I signed, these are active judges, current judges, not former judges. That said, they don't really have any power to do anything, per se.

What it would be was perhaps they would make a statement like the letter we signed and it just, you know, shows their grave concern about what is going on, talks about the principles of justice and integrity under the law.

So we'll see if they make a statement or not. It looks like now they're just talking it over. They must have been getting a lot of concern from judges around the country about this. And we'll have to see where they go from here.

BOLDUAN: Well, that's understandable.

It's good to see you, Jennifer. Thank you so much. Really Appreciate it.

RODGERS: Thanks.


BOLDUAN: We're just four days away from the Nevada caucuses. And Democratic Party officials there, they're feeling the pressure. After the chaos in Iowa, can Nevada guarantee a drama-free caucus?

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: We're five days from the Nevada caucuses, but already more than 25,000 Democrats in the state have voted, early turnout that the state party is celebrating.

But there are also some real concerns. Sources tell CNN that some of the campaigns have complained to the state Democratic Party they're not getting enough information, including how many of the early ballots have been deemed invalid and why.

Joining me now is Molly Forgey. She's the communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Molly, thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Of course.

One campaign source tells CNN you all held a call with the campaigns last night. What are the concerns from the campaigns about the early voting ballots?

FORGEY: Well, that's right. We maintained a very high level of communication with campaigns. And we know right now our number one priority is getting this right. Protecting the integrity of this process, making sure that every Democrat has the opportunity to turn out, and their voices are heard on September -- excuse me, February 22nd, this Saturday, and you know we're excited to host a successful caucus.

BOLDUAN: We have heard from sources that the campaigns have been floating concerns about what -- not getting enough information. How many ballots so far have been deemed invalid, the early ballots?

FORGEY: You know, there's really a small percentage of folks that have experienced that. And what I can tell you is that we've made sure our volunteers are educated on the process, they know how to deliver the instructions to participants. And we feel very confident in that.

Like you mentioned, we have a lot of participants turning out over these past three days, today included. And, you know, on Saturday, a majority of participants were new to the process and never caucused before.

We feel very good going into caucus day and are very excited about the turnout we have seen so far.

BOLDUAN: Can you give a number? I know that's something the campaigns were interested in, a percentage or how many of the ballots have so far been deemed invalid?

FORGEY: You know, I don't have an exact number for you right now but that is something we are providing to the campaigns.

BOLDUAN: If someone's ballot is deemed invalid, will they be notified so they have a chance to show up and caucus this weekend?

FORGEY: That's right. That's why we're providing their names to campaigns to make sure that outreach happens.

BOLDUAN: It is up to the campaigns to reach out to specific voters?

FORGEY: To their supporters, that's right, yes. If they want to see a list of folks who have turned out, they know they don't need to reach out to them ahead of caucus day and they know who they do need to reach out to.

BOLDUAN: So you send the voter I.D. to the campaigns and the campaigns will reach out directly to voters to say that their early ballot has been deemed invalid?

FORGEY: We provide them with a list of the data of folks who participated so they know how to structure their outreach and make sure they're reaching every voter and every supporter and that their folks come out on Saturday. That's right.

BOLDUAN: Oh. But specifically, you're going to be contacting a voter to say, Ms. Smith, you didn't sign this, so your early ballot is deemed invalid?

FORGEY: Right. That's why we've made sure our volunteers are instructing participants, making sure they know how to complete their ballots, make sure they how to sign their ballots. And that's really important to us and that's our priority right now.

BOLDUAN: So this early voting started this weekend. And it is wrapping up. Are all of the early ballots going to be counted before the caucuses this weekend?

FORGEY: No. They're actually going to be counted at their home precincts along with their neighbors as if they were participating alongside them. So that data will be provided to precinct chairs on caucus day. And that way they'll be able to be realigned and counted just alongside their neighbors.

BOLDUAN: Some people waited more than three hours, more than a three hour wait in -- to vote early. How are you all addressing that for this weekend?

FORGEY: Well, overall, we're really excited to see that folks are turning out, that they're taking advantage of this opportunity. That's why we added an extra layer of flexibility in this process, offering four days of in-person early voting, something, I'll mention, caucus day has never done before. We're doing it for the first time.

We've allowed folks to participate at any location within the county they're registered. They have four days to do so. And they can go to (ph),to find their next nearest location and make sure they turn out before caucus day unless they want to participate on Saturday.

BOLDUAN: But to address the long wait times that folks have seen in early voting, are you increasing volunteers, is there nor staff, is there something that -- are you addressing that or should people expect to wait that long?

FORGEY: Absolutely. That's right. We are addressing that. And that's why we have deployed extra volunteers as needed and we're in constant contact with site leads at early vote locations.

We're making sure they have the support, the supplies, the resources they need. And making sure that, if there's a long line at one particular site, we're informing those folks where they can go, their next nearest location, and make sure they make their voice heard.

BOLDUAN: CNN heard from precinct captains, some precinct captains that there were nervous about this weekend, because they didn't feel they were fully prepared despite there have been hours and hours of training. They were nervous about this weekend and how to handle it.


What do you say to them?

FORGEY: That's right. From the beginning, we developed a very robust training program, one that as encouraged every single community to turn out, making sure we have bilingual trainings. We have training materials in all three languages, English, Spanish and Sinhalese (ph). We've made sure our folks understand not just how to tun their caucuses and precincts and have the foundational knowledge of running a caucus if they're new to the process or a veteran volunteer.

Like you mentioned, we're doing trainings around the clock. That's going to happen every day up until caucus day. We're offering one-on- one training, in-person trainings, hands on, via webinar, you name it, we're doing it the.

The number-one thing we know going into this is getting the process right and making sure we're protecting the integrity of this process and that our precincts have the support they need to execute a successful caucus on Saturday.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Can you assure folks that the caucuses will -- that the caucus will go without a hitch on Saturday?

FORGEY: Yes, we're feeling very confident. We had our heads down, working around the clock the last three weeks. And we feel very good, very confident. We know we'll have the most accessible and most transparent caucus in Nevada history.

BOLDUAN: Will you be able to report a result by the end of the night? That could sound like a ridiculous question but, after Iowa, it is not so ridiculous.

FORGEY: Sure, absolutely. Like I said, our number-one priority is getting the process right, making sure results are accurate. That's our number-one priority. And we know, we understand everyone wants to know the outcome of the Nevada caucus because we play a crucial role in this primary as the first diverse state to make its voice heard. That's our priority right now.

BOLDUAN: As we -- as was learned and highlighted following Iowa, communication on the night of the caucuses is definitely at a premium and very important. So your job -- your job in the next five days is a very crucial one.

Molly, thank you for coming in.

FORGEY: Thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a grisly new measure of just how bad the opioid crisis has become. One county in Ohio may need to open another morgue to handle the influx of dead bodies.

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: Consider this, an opioid epidemic so out of control in one county looking into opening a temporary morgue to handle the influx of bodies. That's not happening somewhere else. That is happening right now in Ohio.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta has been tracking this and he joins me now.

Sanjay, we're talking Franklin County. It's the biggest county by population in the state of Ohio.

What is happening there?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been talking about these drug overdose deaths in many places around country for some time, but as you mentioned, Kate, Ohio has been particularly predisposed to this.

And you know, what often happens in these opioid deaths, these overdose deaths, they don't come in a steady stream. They come in sudden tragic clusters and it immediately overwhelms law enforcement, hospitals and, as you mentioned, even the morgues.


MIGUEL HERNANDEZ, RECOVERED FROM ADDICTION: It's difficult out there. It's not worth it. There's nothing out there in those streets that are worth it.

GUPTA (voice-over): The streets Miguel Hernandez is describing are in Franklin County, Ohio, home to the Ohio State University and a pivot point in recent presidential elections.

But this county has also now become known for overdose deaths. So staggering in numbers that county officials may have to bring in a temporary morgue just to store the bodies.

DR. ANAHI ORTIZ, FRANKLIN COUNTY, OHIO, CORONER: This facility is a small facility, so it's been hard.

GUPTA: County coroner, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, took to Facebook to share the sad news that, in less than a week and a half, they saw at least 28 overdose deaths. Ten of these occurred on the same day.

According to Dr. Ortiz, they most likely died from Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, roughly 100 times more potent than morphine.

Here's what happens. Cheap synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl, make their way into the local drug supply, overpowering it. And drug users suddenly have no idea what they're getting.

HERNANDEZ: It's a game of Russian roulette, pretty much. You don't know when that bullet is going to hit if you're playing the game.

GUPTA: Miguel was able to overcome his addiction. But he's seen this happen before in Franklin County and it's far from the only place.

It's also hard to reconcile what's happening here with the recent headlines about opioids. In January, U.S. officials announced that drug overdose deaths were down in 2014, reversing a longtime trend.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me get to a couple of the numbers. 4.1 percent overdose deaths declined overall in our nation. And that is the first time in 29 years, nearly three decades.

GUPTA: Another program across the country have made a difference. Supervised injection sites, reigning in opioid prescriptions, and increasing access to addiction treatment, and the overdose reducing drug, Naloxone. All of it has made a difference.

The problem is, at the same time, deaths involving synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl, actually increased 10 percent from 2017 to 2018. During that same time in Ohio, Fentanyl played a part in nearly three- quarters of the overdose deaths.

ORTIZ: We have more techs that work with the physicians doing the autopsies and they are -- they don't take lunch. These guys don't take lunch.


GUPTA: One thing I want to point out, Kate, as well, for more than three years in a row, as you know, life expectancy dropped in the United States. Most common causes, premature death, drug overdoses, suicide, liver cirrhosis, typically due to alcoholism. They're called deaths of despair. And the United States is unique in having deaths of despair.


So we see some good news here, but we have to address this underlying concern as well if we really want to solve the problem.

BOLDUAN: Because it's far, far, far from being solved.

Sanjay, thanks for shining a light on it as always. I really appreciate it, man.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, he's not on ballot but he will be on the debate stage in Nevada. What will be the impact of Mike Bloomberg making his debate debut tomorrow night?