Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

DEA Chief On New Plan To Combat Drugs And Violent Crime; White House Begins Reaching Out To Potential Supreme Court Picks; NFL Chief Meets With Civil Rights Leaders Amid Discrimination Claims. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 08, 2022 - 11:30   ET




ANNE MILGRAM, ADMINISTRATOR, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: It's in the world. And so we have an ability to sort of, use resources across the country and across the world. When we did that, we identified a little over 70 locations that we found were hotspots, we then looked at what we could target as phase one, the places that are seeing the most devastating problems and communities, overdose deaths, and drug- related violence.

And as you know, those are linked, they're intertwined and so we stepped back to look at this and to go into those communities. And what the men and women of DEA have done is they have mapped the threats, meaning, it's not enough just to understand that there are 34 places across the country that are really suffering right now, we need to understand what criminal drug networks are operating there, what they're doing.

And so we've done that, and we've identified the locations in those cities, the criminal drug networks, and also the drugs that are being -- that are being sold and that are killing people.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Why haven't existing strategies been working to tackle this problem already?

MILGRAM: So this problem, starting in 2015, every single year, the United States has seen exponential increases in fentanyl, which is, the most deadly drug, 64,000 of those 100,000 deaths. The overdose deaths are attributable to fentanyl. So the problem has gotten worse. And what we've seen is that there's a number -- there are a number of things that are happening.

COVID, of course, is one of them and I think we can ignore that. The other piece is that fentanyl is now in all 50 states. It's lacing every other drug whether that's methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, every other drug, and it's also being sold in new forms, like fake prescription pills so people think they're buying a Xanax or an Adderall or oxycodone. And they're getting fentanyl and they're dying at record rates.

BOLDUAN: On the strategy, on this operation new approach, how long do you give this before, you know, this is working, or it's not, and we need to readjust?

MILGRAM: So we know that we have targeted networks that are engaged in violence, we didn't check that until after we had sort of done this threat work. But so we now know today that the vast majority are already engaged in gun violence, a majority are selling fentanyl or meth and of that majority selling fentanyl and meth, almost every single one of them is involved in gun violence today, or in gun sales, gun trafficking.

So we already know that we've identified a lot of the correct networks. Now, the operations will take place across the country in partnership with the state and locals. And again, if we get new information or new data, we find out it's not working or we see overdoses or violence increasing, we'll have to pivot and look at what's happening. But I feel a lot of confidence now, based in many ways on the work I did in Camden, New Jersey, that you start up front, you identify and understand the threats then you do the enforcement operations to target those networks.

BOLDUAN: You've called fentanyl one of the most deadly substances on the planet and we talk about what it is doing, how it is getting here, and why it is such a problem. There are two places, China and Mexico. In China, the chemicals for these poisons come from China.

MILGRAM: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Why isn't China stopping?

MILGRAM: So that's the right question to ask. And China needs to do more, there is no question. Right now, China has a largely unregulated chemical industry and those chemicals are being shipped on a daily basis to Mexico and to other countries in Latin America, where they're being brought to Mexico. So, the first question is exactly the right question. We know this is happening, China knows it's happening and it has to be stopped.

And it's a critical point because as I said if those chemicals can't get to Mexico, the criminal drug cartels in Mexico won't be able to make fentanyl and meth. And so it is a critical upstream part of our work.

BOLDUAN: How important is the southern border then to cutting off the supply chain?

MILGRAM: The criminal drug cartels have their whole model is relentless expansion. What they want are more consumers, they want more people buying their drugs. And what we've seen is that methamphetamine used to be on the West Coast of the United States, they've expanded it to the East. Fentanyl and opioids used to only be on the East Coast, they've expanded it to the west. It is -- it is -- they will stop at nothing, in my view, to make money, and making money means getting more customers. And fentanyl is so addictive that if they can get fentanyl into someone's body, knowingly or unknowingly because we think in many instances, people do not know --


MILGRAM: -- They're not seeking fentanyl, they're purchasing cocaine or they think they're purchasing Xanax and then they're becoming addicted to fentanyl.

BOLDUAN: And that's where social media comes in. You can't talk about this without talking about social media from TikTok to Snapchat, just the access that drug dealers now have in places that they never would have had before. Are you -- are they -- are you getting what you need from them? Are you sitting down with them?

MILGRAM: My position on social media is this. The social media companies. They know exactly what the drug traffickers are doing. They know exactly what is happening. They track every single piece of data, every single, you know, direct message, everything that happens on their sites, they know. When it came to child exploitation, they put an end to that on their sites.


MILGRAM: They could do the exact same thing here if they choose to do so and we have not seen them willing to take those steps to really look at their platforms to really say OK, we cannot allow this to happen. We simply have not seen them do that yet.

BOLDUAN: Look, because these stories are heartbreaking. That one child, 13 years old, seventh-grader out of Hartford, Connecticut last month died from a fentanyl overdose.


BOLDUAN: He was at school when he collapsed. When they looked, there were 100 bags of fentanyl in this boy's bedroom. I'm -- setting aside policy for a second, how does it feel as the head of the DEA to hear these stories over and over again, happening to just young kids in America?

MILGRAM: My first reaction when I get those calls is, you know, how do we make sure that that life is not -- is not in vain, that someone's -- that someone who's an overdose that we prevent the next person from overdosing and dying? And so we immediately go into sort of DEA investigation mode, how do we support the state and locals. But beneath all of that is just this incredible sadness and pain that there's not a day that goes by where I don't talk to a parent, a child, a loved one, a friend of someone who's been lost during what is just a devastating milestone of 100,000 American deaths.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN: Many thanks to the DEA Administrator Anne Milgram for that, who also made the point to me off-camera that she believes that many families, parents, all of us underestimate just how deadly and dangerous fentanyl really is and can reach all of us even unknowingly. Thanks for that. Coming up still for us, this just into CNN, the White House has begun reaching out to potential Supreme Court nominees. Details are in a live report next.



BOLDUAN: Developing right now, CNN has learned the White House is reaching out to potential Supreme Court nominees, the first step, and what the Biden administration hopes will be a smooth road to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. CNN's John Harwood is live at the White House for us. What more are you learning about this, John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is a process that Joe Biden is going to savor. He has worked in this field for decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now he's got the opportunity to shape the court. It's a process that began after he became President before Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, so they've been tentatively examining potential candidates. But now it's getting serious.

You've got the FBI, which is reaching out to vet the backgrounds of some of these candidates. You've got candidates submitting documents for review to the White House, documents about their record in the law. We have a clear top tier, that is to say, the front runner is Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed just a few months ago, with all Democrats and three Republicans for the DC appeals court, which is the next step below the Supreme Court.

You've got Leondra Krueger, who was a California Supreme Court Justice, Michelle Childs from South Carolina, who's a federal district judge, somebody championed by Jim Clyburn, the member of the House leadership who's close to Joe Biden. So you've got the FBI vetting, you've got the document review. They will subsequently be the candidate. Interviews are not at that stage yet but this is something that promises to produce a win for President Biden and one that he is very much looking forward to.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, John, thank you. Also, new this morning, retired Pope Benedict is asking for forgiveness for his handling of sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church, but he's also denying any personal wrongdoing. Benedict was responding to an independent report that criticized his actions in four cases while he was Archbishop of Munich, Germany.

In a letter released by the Vatican, Benedict said this. "I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate." The 94-year-old also added that he is at the end of his life and will soon be judged by God. Coming up for us still AT THIS HOUR, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sits down with civil rights leaders as a league faces blockbuster allegations of racial discrimination. One of the civil rights leaders is our guest.



BOLDUAN: Now to the Winter Olympics, athletes have closed out another action-packed day of competition including a record-breaking performance from U.S. figure skater, Nathan Chen. CNN's Coy Wire is joining us live in China with the highlights. Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hey, Kate. Nathan Chen's a student at Yale plays several instruments, one thing he hasn't done, win an individual Olympic medal. Men short program figure skating The three- time defending World Champs had a new world record with a score of 113.97, two Team Olympic medals to his name but now has a commanding lead add it into the long program Wednesday night Eastern Time seeking that first-ever individual Olympic medal.

And 18-year-old American-born star Eileen Gu competing for her mother's homeland China, making her highly anticipated Olympics debut in the freestyle skiing big air. She lands a, 1620, just the second woman to ever pull it off in competition. Eileen says she wants to unite people, forge friendships between nations in hopes that her performance today encourages more girls to go out there and break their own boundaries. Two more gold's up for grabs for Gu at these games.

New Zealand had never won a Winter Olympics gold until 20-year-old Zoi Sadowski-Synnott changed the game, winning the snowboard slopestyle. Her dad went viral, Kate for cursing up a celebratory storm on the news back home. Zoi told me he's now getting endorsement offers, listen.


ZOI SADOWSKI-SYNNOTT, GOLD MEDALIST, OLYMPIC SNOWSTYLE: Dad, oh, yes, hopefully by then, his whiskey endorsement and -- comes through.


WIRE: He says a whisky endorsement.

SADOWSKI-SYNNOTT: He reckons. I think he might be taking the purse but he also said that he's got a toilet paper and mouthwash endorsement. I wish he washed his mouth but --

WIRE: Oh from their borrow moment.


WIRE: I think that the toilet paper endorsement because of the potty mouth. SADOWSKI-SYNNOTT: Yes.


WIRE: Kate, Zoi told me when she first heard that dad went viral, she didn't even want to watch it, said that he must have been sinking beers she says. Zoi has a shot for one more gold at these games.

BOLDUAN: I wouldn't want to watch it either. I mean, if my dad was going viral. It's great to see you, Coy, thank you so much.

WIRE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let's turn to this. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell meeting with civil rights leaders as the league is rocked by racial discrimination allegations. Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL and three teams claiming the league is rife with racism. Goodell calls the lack of diversity among head coaches unacceptable. After the meeting, an NFL spokesperson put out this statement. We had a productive and thoughtful conversation.

And as the NFL shares the goal of ensuring that everyone has equitable access to opportunity. We look forward to continuing the dialogue. So let's learn what happened in this meeting. Joining me now as Marc Morial, he's the president of the National Urban League. He's one of the civil rights leaders that met with Goodell. It's good to have you here, Mark. What was your biggest take? What is your biggest takeaway from that meeting?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Thanks, Kate. It was a constructive conversation, but nothing is resolved. And that's what's important. Nothing has been resolved, and much more work needs to be done. We need to see action on the issue of black Head coaches, as well as diversity and ownership within the ranks of the National Football League. 32 teams, 32 head coaches. When the Rooney Rule was adopted many years ago, there were two black coaches -- two black head coaches.

Today there is one black head coach. So, the Rooney Rule, when it comes to head coaches is clearly not worked. Is it a toothless tiger? Is it obsolete? Does it need to be reformed? Or does it need to be scrapped? Clearly, a new system is necessary to ensure that the discrimination in the head coaching ranks at the National Football League does not continue. We once had eight black head coaches. Now, we're down to one.

So, maybe the rule worked for a while, but now it seems as though many owners do not take the National Football League's stated commitment to diversity amongst its head coaching ranks, particularly insofar as black head coaches are concerned, seriously.

BOLDUAN: So much more work to be done very clearly, you're saying. No concrete steps coming out of it which makes me wonder because, in your letter calling for the meeting, you said that you're being asked to do everything within your power, including "direct action at next week's Super Bowl." What would that be, Marc? And are you all still going to be taking direct action at the Super Bowl?

MORIAL: I think we were going to continue this conversation because there's a commitment for further meetings and further discussions. But make no mistake about it. We have heard from advertisers, we've heard from mayors of cities, state legislators, the National Football League is a sanctioned monopoly sanctioned by the congressional act.

The National Football League enjoys significant public dollars support in terms of subsidies for stadiums, training facilities, and the like. This is not your average American business. This is a business, which is heavily supported by the public and supported by public dollars. Given that, we think that we want to see action and constructive steps by the National Football League. And the discussion yesterday was that start, but it's not a start that solved the problem. The problem continues --

BOLDUAN: That's why I'm very bad.

MORIAL: -- And we're looking for concrete steps from the National Football League, concrete changes to his hiring practices in the near future.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you. The Houston Texans. They just hired a black head coach and Lovie Smith. The attorneys -- in reaction to this, the attorneys for Brian Flores put out a statement saying that Flores is happy that the Texans hired a black coach but also said this. We would be remiss not to mention that Mr. Flores was one of three finalists for the Texans' head coach position.

And after a great interview and mutual interest, it is obvious that the only reason Mr. Flores was not selected was his decision to stand up against racial inequality across the NFL. Marc, what do you make of this? I mean, did you discuss retaliation against Flores in your meeting with the NFL?

MORIAL: We clearly made the point that Brian Flores deserves to be a head coach in the National Football League.


MORIAL: As a football fan and an -- as an observer of professional football, I don't know why the Miami Dolphins fired Brian Flores. To be quite honest, given the fact that he took a losing franchise and turned it into a winner, and with a break here or a break there, he would have made the playoffs. He deserves to be treated fairly and he stood up and risked his career to stand up for fundamental principles. So we support the notion that Brian Flores should be a head coach in the National Football League.

BOLDUAN: Marc, thanks for coming on. We're going to continue to follow where this goes from now.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you also for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts after this break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)