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At This Hour

New Information on Iran Hostage Release Negotiations; Withering Criticism of Michigan Governor Over Toxic Water; Trump Teases with Special Announcement Today. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 19, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Shane was hiking with his girlfriend, now wife, and a friend on the Iraq border when they were arrested, charged with spying and entering the country illegally.

Now, Shane, you're free, obviously, which is great to see.

Generally speaking, it's been two days since the prisoners who were held, in some cases, for years, were released. You've been there. What are they going through right now?

SHANE BAUER, SENIOR REPORT, MOTHER JONES & FORMER IRANIAN HOSTAGE: I mean, it's hard to say what they're going through in particular, but it's this time is definitely taking me back to those moments, those first moments of freedom for me. They were like nothing else. I remember touching down, you know, on the ground, the first time seeing our families. It was pure elation. You know, at the same time, it was kind of confusing. I was readjusting to being around people. To constant stimulus. You know, just kind of thawing in a way. Coming out of this very difficult experience. And entering a new experience of readjustment that is in many ways also really difficult.

BOLDUAN: The "Washington Post" is reporting some new details that Jason Rezaian, "Washington Post" reporter, is telling them the little he is really saying about his experience and what this very slow transition is like back to freedom. He has been describing in a new article what it was like to be held in the prison, what it was like to be held in solitary confinement at certain points. You were also held in solitary confinement. What was it like? And how do you process it now, once you're out?

BAUER: I mean, solitary confinement is, you know, an experience where in many ways time is your main enemy. You have nothing, really, to push forward. For me, I noticed my mind started to slow down after months in solitary confinement because I wasn't having interactions. We're social creatures. We need human interaction to stay sane. And coming out of that and going back into society is difficult because you become accustomed to being alone. And you have to build up the muscle of being around people again.

BERMAN: It's horrible to even imagine. No one should have to go through that.

We were talking about Loretta Lynch, who expressed reservations about it deal before it happened, the idea that maybe you're sending messages around the world, if you capture Americans we will do a swap, we will release some prisoners. You know, you have an interesting perspective on this. Being someone who was a prisoner, how do you think we should assess whether this type of trade is worth it?

BAUER: I mean, look, Iran has been imprisoning Americans, innocent Americans, for years. This has long been a part of Iran's foreign policy. It thinks that by holding Americans, it has -- it can exert some pressure against the U.S. politically. I mean, I think the way that we should think about this is not like ISIS, where they're trying to extract a ransom or even get a prisoner exchange. This is leverage in talks. And the fact that these four Americans were all released at once is a major indication that things are going forward. Iran has basically given up what it sees as, you know, a kind of insurance policy with the United States.

BOLDUAN: Shane, do you think this is a different Iran that we're talking about today than the Iran that the United States was dealing with when you were in prison?

BAUER: In some ways, it is. I mean, there's a different president who is -- you know, has expressed willingness to engage with the U.S. and has been engaging with the U.S. At the same time, it's different on the U.S. side. When I was in prison, there was no engagement with Iran other than some limited nuclear talks with the P5-Plus-One. Now, our secretaries of state -- our secretary of state talks to his counterpart regularly. That wasn't happening then. You know, Iran is, I think, slowly changing and has been opening up and showing a willingness to engage.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating perspective from someone who has been on the inside, is going through what these four Americans are dealing with now.

Shane Bauer, great to see you. Thank you so much.

BAUER: Thank you.

Still ahead for us, he says it is his Katrina, a disaster, a negative on his record. But the governor of Michigan is still resisting calls to step down amid a toxic water crisis in his state. Now he's going to be facing more lawsuits right ahead of him giving a State of the State address today.

[11:34:37] BERMAN: Plus, a live look at Iowa right now. Yes, John Wayne still at the podium there. Donald Trump is getting ready to speak. Donald Trump says he has a big announcement coming today with a very special guest. Is he about to pick up a key endorsement? Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: The mayor of Flint, Michigan, is heading to Washington to look for more help with the toxic water crisis facing her city. This is at the same time Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is now admitting in an interview with the "National Journal" that it could be his Hurricane Katrina. Snyder has been facing withering criticism for what has become a disastrous cost-cutting measure.

BERMAN: Left drinking water for thousands of people tainted with dangerous lead, the initial effort to save money now an effort to save lives. Governor Snyder expected to offer solutions tonight in his State of the State address. But many angry Michiganders want him to resign. Some even want him arrested.

Our Jean Casarez is in Flint with more details.

Good morning, Jean.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. It's a very big day today in Washington. Also right here in Michigan.

I want to show you right behind me. That's the Flint River. This was the water source for the community of Flint, Michigan. The water source that now state authorities have revealed the water contained lead and people were drinking it, washing their clothes in it, cooking in it, bathing in it.

[11:40:06] And that leads us to 1:00 this afternoon because more lawsuits because more lawsuits we expect to be filed, class-action suits from people in this community saying that they physically are ill from drinking and using that water. Their future health concerns could be even worse, and property values have lowered because their pipes now have the lead and the copper coming out into the water source.

Now, of course, as you said, the mayor of Flint is in Washington, D.C. at the National Conference of Mayors. She just got off a conference call with Clinton advisers and really wants a meeting with White House staffers to try to talk about this concern and their thoughts. But later on today, it's all about the capital of Michigan, Lancing, Michigan. Many organizations will rally on the steps of the capitol in protest of the governor's State of the State address tonight to the community. But the fact is protesters believe the governor not directly responsibility but they do believe that he has a say in all of this and he didn't act fast enough.

BERMAN: All right, Jean Casarez for us in Flint, Michigan. Thanks so much, Jean.

I want to talk more about the health crisis with Dr. Dean Sienko, of Michigan State University. He's spearheaded an initiative to treat the estimated 27,000 children exposed to the toxic lead in Flint's water.

Dr. Sienko, thanks for being with us.

You're now working with this community. Just give us a sense of the scope of this problem right now.

DR. DEAN SIENKO, COLLEGE OF HUMAN MEDICINE, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, we think thousands, particularly children, have been exposed to the lead in the water. And we're particularly concerned with the youngest children in that population. So the younger the child is, the more we are concerned. But nonetheless, this is a citywide contamination, and something we're going to have to deal with at a broad level.

BOLDUAN: Doctor, at this point, do you think you have your hands around how big the problem is, how many children have been -- how many children have been affected and what kind of treatment you're going to be able to offer them?

SIENKO: We're considering anyone who drank Flint city water to have been exposed. And we know that certain parts of the city, particularly whether it's older housing and increased poverty, is going to have a more concentrated problem. So we'll focus our efforts in those areas, but the whole city has been exposed.

BERMAN: You know, you're a medical professional. You're not a politician. Yet, there's a lot of finger pointing going on now to the leaders in Flint, to the leaders in Michigan right now. Do you think there needs to be repercussions? Do you think people need to be held accountable for these decisions that were made that have a direct impact on the people you're now treating?

SIENKO: Well, I think people are interested in accountability. And there are a number of teams that are investigating this, looking into this. And I'll leave that decision to them.

What we're focusing on now is, what can we do to help the children. We're looking at helping them through education. There's been talk about universal pre-K, talk about universal Head Start. We're trying to improve their nutrition so that they know of food nutrition they can do that will mitigate the effects of the lead exposure, and as well as health care, so that if we identify these children early on, we can get them into appropriate care.

BERMAN: Let's hope you get the help you need. I think everyone supports your efforts right now for that community, which needs help after being severely wronged.

BOLDUAN: Appropriate care they never should have needed.

Dr. Sienko, thank you.

SIENKO: Thank you both very much.

BERMAN: It's the biggest political mystery of the day. Who will be Donald Trump's mystery guest at an announcement? Is a big endorsement on the way? Our political panel weighs in.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, random cell changes, dozens of cameras, dogs, military guards, just a sample of the new amenities for el Chapo in his latest prison stint. But will it be enough to keep this drug boss behind bars this time?


[11:48:13] BERMAN: Happening now, Donald Trump in Iowa at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum. You're looking at live pictures right there. Donald Trump is the one on the left. The man behind the woman speaking at the lectern, that's John Wayne, or a facsimile of John Wayne. This is Winterset, Iowa. The critical caucus is in Iowa just 13 days away.

Now, Trump promises a major announcement today, a very special guest at one of his campaign events today. Hmm.

BOLDUAN: Hmm, we all say collectively.

Let's bring in two conservative voices to talk about this, CNN's S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator; and Scottie Nell Hughes, chief political correspondent for USA Radio Network and chief contributor and news director for Tea Party News Network, and a Trump supporter.

As we wait to hear from Donald Trump and as we wait to find out who this big guest is and what this major announcement is, Scottie, we have to ask you, the big Tea Party supporter, is Sarah Palin? Do you have any information that this will be a Sarah Palin endorsement, as everyone speculates it will be?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's the rumor that you're hearing, and it's obviously causing some panic amongst the Cruz campaign, as you have the Cruz spokesman going this is more of a hit to Sarah Palin than it would be necessarily Ted Cruz. That's opposite. Sarah Palin amongst the Tea Party is truly considered to be one of the top leaders, top spokesman. So this endorsement in Iowa is huge, to be honest with you. For her, after a couple races, she's kind of stayed out of, for her to get involved in this while it's still a primary means she really does believe in what Donald Trump says and he's going to accomplish what he wants to do.

BERMAN: S.E., Sarah Palin has said nice things about both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Sarah Palin was decisive, very helpful to Ted Cruz in his Senate run. If Sarah Palin -- and we don't know this is going to happen -- but if she does back Donald Trump, will that make a difference in Iowa and beyond?

[11:50:09] S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, I was at an event with Sarah Palin in Las Vegas where CNN's Jake Tapper asked her about all of the candidates. She very clearly said that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were her favorites. I know that the Ted Cruz campaign will be disappointed, and they have said as much. If she in fact backs Donald Trump who the Cruz campaign is now calling the progressive. Look, I think that any time that the Trump campaign gets sot of the trappings of a traditional campaign, whether it is an endorsement like this or something else, it is looking good for the campaign. Sarah Palin as Scottie said has a lot of credibility with the Tea Party crowd, but I am not sure that she is going to be pulling in any moderate Republicans or even sort of the establishment Republicans with the endorsement, and frankly, you know, like as much as I like Sarah Palin, I'm just wondering why she wants Hillary Clinton to win so badly, because I think that if Trump is the nominee, you know, as others have said, I think that Trump gets creamed by Hillary.

BOLDUAN: And you know what, Scottie, to S.E.'s point, to be a progressive, that is where Ted Cruz is hitting Donald Trump on right now, saying that his conversion to being a Republican is nothing like Ronald Reagan's, that Donald Trump is much more of a Democrat before he became a Republican. Is this something that is going to stick? How do you respond?

HUGHES: Well, obviously, it is not sticking. The latest CBS poll comes out to say that 42 percent of evangelicals, who this is all about right now -- and the short game about Iowa, and evangelicals and the control of the party, and so it is fight for the evangelicals. 42 percent of them support Donald Trump as compared to the 25 percent that support Ted Cruz. And Sarah Palin's endorsement would encourage the 42 percent of those numbers to grow. So it is right now all about the evangelicals. The idea of painting Trump as a progressive is smart on the Cruz campaign, but I don't think that necessarily it is going to work.

BERMAN: S.E., I am old enough to remember when Rand Paul tried to paint him as a progressive.


It happened in the very first Republican debate when he said that Donald Trump is really a Democrat, and it did not work then. And at the time, Ted Cruz could not have been more on the sidelines. Ted Cruz gave Donald Trump a pass for months, and now for him only to discover what every other Republican candidate seems to have known for a long time, that Donald Trump may or may not have supported the Democrats over the years, a does it make Cruz seem inauthentic?

CUPP: Well, no, Ted Cruz is a canny politician, and he was waiting for the opportune time to start attacking Donald Trump. He didn't want to do it too soon, and he saw what happened when the people like Rick Perry went after Donald Trump, and it was campaign ending. So I think that he was just waiting. I think that something interesting, and Scottie was just touching on this, the Sarah Palin endorsement with the evangelical crowd will be an important thing. It is just so interesting though, because Donald Trump, in the midst of these mistakes that he has been making on the religious issues, has questioned people like Ben Carson's Seventh Day Adventism, and even Ted Cruz's evangelical roots, and I want to know what he has to say about her Pentecostalism, because she had to defend it vigorously when she was the V.P. choice for John McCain. Donald Trump has to say that he has the most mainstream religion as a Presbyterian, and I'm not sure that -- that is a very interesting matchup for Donald Trump when it comes to his evangelical bone fides.


BOLDUAN: A question on that point. When he said yesterday, a lot of people have been making hay about his flub, saying two Corinthians instead of Second Corinthians. Is that a problem for Donald Trump on top of the "I drink my wine and I eat my little cracker" comment that so many people talk about.

(LAUGHTER) HUGHES: No, he has come out to the say that he has not had a Bible

study in the penthouse every week. It just makes him more authentic, that he makes mistakes and he'll admit them and show them, but he does it in his own way. And the whole thing of making him a progressive actually backfires, because it is making him more realty, and talking about lose more health insurance, and more money to the government than your pay check, and those are not Democratic or liberal issues, but American issues. And the more they want to put him as a progressive, that is going to broaden him across the base, and makes him stronger going into the general.

BERMAN: S.E. and Scottie, stand by, because, moments ago, Donald Trump in Winterset, Iowa, he spoke about this appearance later today where he will have a mystery guest who will perhaps endorse him. Listen to what Trump said.


[11:55:13] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Towards the end of his life, he was an incredible guy. He said some things to me that were very special. And so this is a very great honor. That is going to be a very big event, and you will be very impressed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a fan of a Sarah Palin?

TRUMP: I am a fan of Sarah Palin.


BERMAN: I mis-advertised there. He was talking about the one meeting with John Wayne, and he would not tell us what happened with him. It is interesting that he met him.

BOLDUAN: I don't think John Wayne can't endorse him tonight.

BERMAN: And in a Q&A asking about his endorsement -- or about his appearance later today, he said effectively, no one knows what it is going to be and you have to basically tune in and watch.

Ever the showman, and Donald Trump projecting what may happen later today. Who knows?

BOLDUAN: Or may not. Let's just throw it out there. We will see.

Scottie and S.E., thanks so much. Great to see you.

CUPP: Sure.

HUGHES: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We will be right back after this.


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