Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Attorney David Weiss Appointed As Special Counsel; Rep. Ken Buck, (R-CO), Is Interviewed About David Weiss, Hunter Biden; Rep. Dean Phillips, (D-MN), Is Interviewed About Joe Biden; Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Is Interviewed About Challenging Biden In The Primary; At Least 55 People Killed In Devastating Maui Wildfires; Netflix Series Explores Purdue Pharma's Role In Opioid Crisis. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 11, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But now the Justice Department says this case is all but certain to head to trial. Let's get right to CNN's Kara Scannell.

Kara, what does this all mean for Hunter Biden, especially as his dad is running for reelection?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I mean, that means that this investigation is far from over. I mean, it had been going on for five years, Hunter Biden was close to this plea deal until it fell apart under the scrutiny of the judge last month, she was not prepared to sign off on it. So it seemed like everything was wrapping up. But a special counsel appointment means that it certainly isn't. And as the House Republicans continue to investigate Hunter Biden, the Justice Department's investigation and including bringing in those IRS whistleblowers who are saying that they are investigative steps were stymied, it's certainly going to be a continuing thorn in the side of Joe Biden as he pursues reelection, Jake.

TAPPER: So, tell us more about special counsel, David Weiss, and what he might do with these new special counsel powers.

SCANNELL: Well, David Weiss was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. So he was someone that the Biden administration decided to keep on because he was already independent, not someone that Biden had put into place. Now with the special counsel powers, it means that Weiss will have additional resources, he'll have a budget so he could bring in additional staff if he wants. It will also remove him from the day to day oversight of the Justice Department. But otherwise, he will be able to continue to investigate this as they've been.

He will also be allowed to look into charging any potential crimes and other jurisdictions, so he doesn't have to stick in Delaware where this case is kind of gummed up before this one judge. He could pursue charges in other jurisdictions. So that really gives him some of these additional authorities and he will write a report that's required, and Garland today saying that that's something he will make public.

TAPPER: David Weiss has been investigating this for about five years. And I think it's a legitimate question, why now? Why did he ask just on Tuesday for special counsel powers? He had asserted before in writing that he had all the power he needed.

SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, Jake, that is the question today, it's the question we pose to Justice Department officials, and we haven't gotten an answer on it. Because, as you say, according to Garland, Weiss asked for this on Tuesday. And today, in that press conference or a statement, Garland had said that the investigation had reached a stage where special counsel status was necessary. He did not elaborate on what that means. And we have not gotten any response on that so far.

But you know, also, in the court filings, the prosecutors told a judge today that today was the deadline for Biden's team to get back to them. So it's unclear how Tuesday fits with this deadline today. The judge is giving Biden's team until Monday to weigh in on this. But certainly a lot of questions here still on why exactly now, David Weiss needs special counsel status when before he and Garland said that he had all of the authority he needed to decide when whether and where to bring charges, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kara Scannell on top of it for us, thank you so much.

Joining us now, the former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General under George W. Bush, Tom Dupree and here with me in studio, CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray.

Tom, let me start with you. So, Special Counsel Weiss, as a U.S. attorney, he worked on this plea deal that blew up last month, the same plea deal that a Delaware judge said she was not ready to approve because it was, quote, "confusing, not straightforward, atypical, unprecedented," why would the Justice Department appoint someone to be special counsel who wasn't able to get this case wrapped up the first time?

TOM DUPREE, PARTNER, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER: Well, that's a great question. And the special counsel regulations actually contemplate that when you appoint a special counsel, you will choose someone who is outside the Justice Department, that way you can ensure that they're untainted, they are truly independent, and they come in with a fresh perspective. That didn't happen here.

Look, I suspect what's going on is Merrick Garland was approached by Mr. Weiss, who said, look, this case is actually going to go to trial now. I may have to file charges in jurisdictions other than Delaware. I thought this investigation may have been reaching closure, it's not, there's still several chapters to be written. And because I've got to do these additional things I didn't contemplate doing, I want more authority. That's my guess as to how this all unfolded, Jake, but it is a great question as to why he wasn't made a special counsel years and years and years ago.

TAPPER: Yes. And having some direct answers on this would really be good, some transparency is needed.

Sara, Hunter's lawyers reacted with a statement today saying, quote, "It is hard to see why he would have proposed such a resolution if there were other offenses he could have successfully prosecuted and we are aware of none. So another question of my many about all of this is he was, Mr. Weiss, then U.S. attorney now Special Counsel Weiss was ready to basically let Hunter off with a slap on the wrist and misdemeanor and a diversion program, now he wants to be a special counsel?


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean I think that, again, there are questions about why this is happening now and there are also questions about what it means that this investigation is continuing with him as a special counsel. I think the concern always when you are the person who is the subject of a special counsel investigation is these things have a way of ballooning. I mean, in the order, appointing David Weiss, it notes that this was an investigation into Hunter Biden, among others. And then it goes on to say that now a special counsel, David Weiss, can investigate these ongoing investigations as well as any other matters that have arisen or may arise.

And so, I do think that there's a great question here about what is this mean? Does this mean that we have a lot of investigative steps ahead of us that there is more that David Weiss wants to look into? Or is this just a question of, OK, look, if we're going to trial, I want to be able to do this in D.C. or I want to be able to do it in California, and I want to be able to do it as a special counsel without having to partner with a bunch of U.S. attorneys.

TAPPER: In California, because that's where Hunter Biden lives now?

MURRAY: Right.

TAPPER: OK. Tom, the whistleblowers, the IRS whistleblowers, we had one of them on the show a few weeks ago, they said -- they testified before Congress that then U.S. Attorney Weiss, had privately complained he did not have the power to charge in any venue. And the Justice Department pushed back on that at the time. But does this move today suggests that the whistleblowers were correct?

DUPREE: It certainly does seem to validate their testimony, Jake. I mean, that to me, would be the number one reason why Weiss wanted that special counsel designation, because he knew he needed now to charge Hunter Biden in California, and maybe also the District of Columbia. He didn't have that authority as U.S. Attorney for Delaware, that's why he needed the special counsel designation. And that, according to the whistleblowers, is why the guy has been chasing behind the scenes for years saying I want to bring these prosecutions in other states, but I can't because Merrick Garland hasn't made me a special counsel. So what the whistleblower said at the time seemed a little puzzling and perplexing, but I got to say, seems to be borne out by today's events. TAPPER: Yes. And Sarah, I mean, the politics of this are unavoidable, Joe Biden is running for reelection. Now there's a special counsel investigating his son who has already admitted doing things wrong in his book, and was ready to do so before a criminal court.

MURRAY: Yes, I think that if you are Joe Biden right now, you'd be happy to have the attention on Donald Trump and his myriad of legal problems and his various indictments and potential upcoming indictments. And instead, you now have a special counsel when it comes to your son, Hunter Biden, you're also dealing with the special counsel yourself. I mean, Joe Biden is still in the middle of a special counsel investigation that has not shown any sign of wrapping up. And that does make it messy. I mean, he is the commander in chief and so the Republicans, especially on Capitol Hill, are going to continue to take aim at him and anything that appears to be, you know, wrong in this investigation, any daylight between what the Justice Department is doing now, what they've heard from these whistleblowers is going to be a constant source of fodder for attack against Joe Biden.

TAPPER: And Tom, this is -- this trial, and I can't help but think, wow, they should have settled. But this trial, might President Biden have to testify?

DUPREE: Well, that is a $64,000 question. And my sense is the answer is no if this remains a tax case. If the Special Counsel comes up empty as to other charges, other defendants, then it's hard to see how President Biden testifies. But look, American history is replete with examples of special counsel investigations that expanded and ballooned well beyond their original mission, Bill Clinton started with Whitewater and ended with Monica Lewinsky, you never know how they're going to go. So yes, if the special counsel starts looking at Hunter Biden's business dealings and charges arise out of that, I would say there's a very good chance that we see President Biden take the witness stand.

TAPPER: Wow. Tom Dupree, Sara Murray, thanks to both of you.

How will the special counsel investigation into Hunter Biden impact a possible impeachment inquiry? From the House of Representatives Republican congressman, Ken Buck joins me next.

Then it's all gone. Looked at the horror from the Hawaii fires as people are allowed back to what once were their homes.



TAPPER: Continuing with our law and justice lead, the appointment of U.S. Attorney David Weiss as special counsel in the Hunter Biden probe, Weiss, a U.S. attorney Trump holdover has already been on the Hunter Biden case. The House Judiciary Committee was negotiating with Weiss to try to have him testify about the investigation. Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill.

Republicans still want to hear from Weiss?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they really do, Jake. This has really changed very little in terms of House Republican investigations into Hunter Biden. They wanted to hear from David Weiss because they had heard from whistleblowers earlier this summer who talked about feeling as though the investigation into Hunter Biden was not being pursued the way it needed to be because there was some kind of political interference and specifically Weiss had pushed back on those assertions, saying that he had never asked to be a special counsel. Obviously, on Tuesday, he did make that request. But the argument from Weiss was he wanted to come set the record straight before the House Judiciary Committee.

So today you heard from the House Judiciary Committee spokesman Russell Dye saying exactly that they still want to hear from David Weiss, quote, "We expect the department to fully cooperate with our investigation, including not interfering with 11 transcribed interviews we have requested and David Weiss upholding his commitment to testify." They are arguing that they have not heard anything to the contrary from the Department of Justice. Of course, we have reached out to see if that calculus has changed on their end with a lot of Democrats telling me earlier today that this does sort of change the mechanics of whether or not a sitting special counsel can come and testify about a potentially ongoing investigation. So that is one of the huge question marks coming out of today and something we expect that House Republicans may continue to push on. They have a conference wide call on Monday night to discuss the appropriations process but also to talk about their investigative portfolio. You can expect this is probably going to come up.


TAPPER: Yes, it's easier to call a U.S. attorney than a special counsel to testify before Congress traditionally, it has been at least. How might disappointment complicate things for Republicans who are intent on moving forward on the impeachment inquiry that they want to open targeting President Biden?

FOX: Yes, if you look at what conservatives are saying in statements today, and we should note, Jake, that they are away on congressional recess, but they don't think it complicates anything. In fact, they think that this emboldens their argument that they've been making that they think that the DOJ is politicized, that Hunter Biden has not been investigated to the full extent that he needed to be, that their investigations are making up ground that it would be a dereliction of duty not to continue these investigations. You know, I spoke with one Republican today who argued that despite the fact they may not be ready to vote for impeachment, they have no concerns about opening an impeachment inquiry. And that is an important distinction that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been trying to make that they are talking about opening an inquiry, but that they are not talking about a formal vote yet on impeachment. But as you note, Jake, it is important to point out that once you open those floodgates, it's very hard to pull back members from potentially calling for impeachment at the end of the day.

TAPPER: Yes. All right. Thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Colorado Republican Congressman and member of the House Judiciary Committee, Ken Buck.

Congressman, is Weiss the wrong guy to be special counsel?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): I don't think he is at all I think he's the right guy. He's a Republican appointees. I don't think he's just going to show bias towards the Biden administration or Hunter Biden or the President. I think that he's experienced as a prosecutor having run the U.S. attorney's office, and the most important thing is you don't have to get a whole new group of people up to speed on this prosecution. We have statute of limitations that are running, and you don't want to blow a statue in order to just get someone else on board.

And the allegations of bias were bias regarding the political appointees in the Department of Justice, they weren't to my knowledge, allegations that the U.S. attorney was biased at all.

TAPPER: Right. But speaker McCarthy and the spokesman for Jim Jordan and others have said that U.S. attorney, now Special Counsel Weiss negotiated this plea deal that was rejected, so he shouldn't be the special counsel. It sounds like you don't agree with that.

BUCK: No, I don't agree with that. The plea deal was rejected because there was some ambiguity in the plea agreement as to whether the U.S. attorney's office could continue to bring charges in the future. And in my opinion, I think the toughest decision that this special counsel now is going to have to make is they charged misdemeanors because there was a plea agreement.

This is felony conduct. If the plea agreement has withdrawn and it's fallen apart, they've got to make a decision on whether they charged felony tax crimes and go to trial on those felony tax crimes as well as continue to investigate the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

TAPPER: As Lauren just reported, there could be some issues with the House's efforts to try to get Weiss to testify, although Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan still wants him to show up. How do you expect that to work as in the past U.S. attorneys it's easier to get them to testify than special counsels?

BUCK: Yes, it's a great question. I think it would set a new precedent and a bad precedent. I think that special counsel are assigned to investigate a very serious case. In this case, it might lead to impeachment.

The -- obviously there are political benefits for members of the Judiciary Committee in the House as a whole to investigate someone and be able to talk about that information that's gleaned from the investigation. But I don't think the House Judiciary Committee wants to interfere with an ongoing investigation that could lead to impeachable information coming forward. So I think that the best that we could possibly hope for is a very narrow scope of a hearing, where the special counsel now would not be crossing the line into discussing issues that are involved in ongoing prosecutions.

TAPPER: Have you seen any hard evidence that President Biden broke any laws or did anything wrong in any of this? We've been hearing from Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, talking about investigating the President. But we had Attorney General Gonzales on earlier he said he hadn't seen any evidence that President Biden had done anything wrong.

BUCK: Yes, I haven't seen it. You're talking to a prosecutor of 25 years, I haven't seen hard evidence. Hard evidence to me is visually listening to a witness, hearing a witness being able to examine documents. And so, to me, we've heard a lot of hearsay from new sources, we've heard a lot of conjecture on the internet, but in terms of hard evidence that that Joe Biden was directing Hunter Biden in his really dishonorable conduct in selling the Office of the Vice President or receiving money from Hunter Biden in that regard.


There's certainly conjecture as to those issues that, you know, the fact that Devon Archer testified that Joe Biden was on the phone with many of Hunter Biden's clients doesn't look good. But until we actually have hard evidence of what was discussed, and whether Hunter Biden was directing people to engage his son in these activities, I think that would be criminal conduct and impeachable conduct. I have heard conjecture, I have not seen hard evidence of that.

TAPPER: Yes. And I believe Devon Archer has said that while President Biden or then Vice President Biden would get on the phone and talk to those business associates of Hunter Biden, they never talked about the business per se, for whatever that's worth.

Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck, always good to see you, sir. Thank you.

BUCK: Thank you.

TAPPER: Our next guest says wait challenging President Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries. Will be Hunter Biden special counsel impact his decision? That's next.



TAPPER: Just moments ago, President Biden left to the White House he was peppered with questions by reporters. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you --


TAPPER: Lots of questions about the special counsel appointed to investigate his son, about Maui. As you can see, Mr. Biden ignored reporters' questions. But that is what presidents do especially when you're asked about a family member's growing legal troubles.

The White House is referring all questions about Hunter Biden and the newly named special counsel to the Justice Department and to Hunter Biden's personal representatives. Let's talk about this with Minnesota Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips.

Congressman Phillips, good to see you. You have recently been talking publicly about considering challenging President Biden in the Democratic primaries. Do today's developments, special counsel investigating Hunter Biden, does that make that more or less likely?

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Well, Jake, let me start by changing the conversation from me. It's not about me, this is about a message in a wakeup call that I am trying my darndest to deliver to Democrats 55 percent of whom, before today's news, wanted an alternative to the three candidates in the primary right now. And I've said that from the very beginning, I've had concerns. The numbers are horrific, the polling numbers, 55 percent of Democrats wanting an alternative, Independents about 73 percent want an alternative. And let me just assume that 100 percent of moderate Republican never Trumpers, are saying we want an alternative, we will not vote for the sitting president.

And I want to share with everybody, I love Joe Biden, I think he's a man of decency, of competency. His record, extraordinary. I voted for it, I felt marketed and distributed, I think the world of him. But I also believe my job is not duty bound to the president, to my party, but to the Constitution and country. And right now, I have grave concerns, based on the fact that 55 percent of Democrats are saying we want alternatives.

I am scared. I'm trying to raise that bell be the clarion call, if you will. And I've said from the get go as well, I am not best positioned to do this. There are ample well-prepared, competent, people of great character ready to go. And I think if the President would consider passing that torch now, just imagine, Jake, the energy behind the next generation on the Democratic primary stage, perhaps a woman at the top of the ticket in a year in which reproductive rights are going to be front and center other than the former president being under indictment, and now the son of the president we have right now being subjected to a special counsel.

It's a sad day for America, I want to start with that. I do not think the President is corrupt, I want to make that really clear. But we are duty bound to investigate to ensure the facts come out. And the fact is, we don't know where this goes. And I think it's too much risk for Democrats to take this chance without a backup plan because what we have right now in reserve is awfully consequential and, frankly, frightening.

TAPPER: So, you are worried that a special counsel probe of Hunter Biden could potentially hurt President Biden, not only politically but you said, who knows where this goes in terms of maybe splashing on the President himself?

PHILLIPS: Jake, I really cannot imagine that this reaches the President. I think it's fairly clear that Hunter Biden, a former addict, this is unsavory, probably unethical and possibly illegal, some of what he did, we will find out, I don't think it touches the president. But we all know what kind of an era we live in. It's not what's real, it's how people feel. And these numbers I shared earlier that are so horrendous and frightening were before the news of today.

And if anybody believes this doesn't hurt, you must be living in a different world than I am. And I'm simply calling attention to the facts. And I'm concerned about the Democratic establishment working much too hard to prevent any new entrants, to prevent competition, instead, pursuing a coronation. And frankly, we did something similar in 2008. And thank goodness, a first term senator from the state of Illinois, raised his hand, stood up, met the moment and we had Barack Obama become United States president.

I just think that we should be mindful of history, recognize the consequences of not having a backup plan, Jake, because one of the core elements of successful leadership is a succession plan, being sure that there's somebody able ready to go. And I'd like to see the President actually invite people to the primary stage. And again, not me, you know, I'm a third term congressman from Minnesota, I think I'm able and prepared for the job. But I'm a third term Congressman. I have 60,000 Twitter followers and $250,000 in my campaign account.

There are people ready to go, governors and particular moderate governors of Heartland that I think, I'll tell you what, Jake, I've been someone who always reaches out to people before I talk about them. And sadly, some of us that are not even referenced their names right now, which is a pretty good indicator of how this establishment blocks, prevents and silences people. And I'm here to speak.

I think I'm the only one. I think I'm the only member of the Congress, a Democrat out of 262 people giving voice to the majority, the majority, of Democratic voters in country, and those 80 percent of independents who are saying the exact same thing. That's my job. And that's what I'm going to continue to do.

TAPPER: Doing the math. And I'm doing this on the fly. So correct me if I'm wrong, but I can only think of two Democratic governors from the Heartland who are women, one of whom is from Kansas, and one of whom is from Michigan. Are you suggesting that one of them, specifically I'm just to take a leap here, Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan is somebody you would like to see throw her hat into the ring?

PHILLIPS: I think there are about five names. Everybody watching right now probably knows who they are. They're on the bench. They've got organization. They would have institutional support. They have access to the extraordinary amount of money resources necessary to mount a credible primary campaign.

TAPPER: Everybody doesn't know who they are. I hate to be rude, but everybody who doesn't know who they are because, as you note, President Biden is, you know, basically only being challenged by anti- Vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson. May be by you, although, you know, 60,000 Twitter followers and $250,000 in the bank doesn't exactly sound like you're -- you want to enter the race.

So I'm just guessing Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Jared Polis, Pete Buttigieg, you haven't mentioned or alluded to Vice President Harris, but she certainly is a woman and she's next in line. Do you want all those individuals to enter the race?

PHILLIPS: Jake, let me just say this, you know, like I said, right now, the only thing preventing three, four, five, six, eight, of the names you just mentioned, from appearing on that stage and making their case to Democratic voters, the only thing preventing that is we have an incumbent president, who essentially with an institution around him, the establishment, protecting those entrance. Nobody is willing to take a step that might affect their future, perhaps that's why I'm the only one doing this.

This is not about reelection for me. This is about our country, the future of democracy, and doing anything I possibly can to stop Donald Trump from returning to the White House. I, you know, Jake, in 2016, I woke up the morning after the election, I saw fear in my daughter's eyes for the very first time in my life. And I promised them I would do something. I ran for this seat, flipped a district that had been in Republican hands for 60 years, because of Donald Trump.

So for anybody who thinks I'm trying to do something to undermine Democratic chances that I'm paving a path for Donald Trump. It's actually, if you look carefully at what I'm trying to say, it is just the opposite. And there are about six people maybe that are prepared. I like people that have some executive experience that have some legislative experience, and are people of good character and competency. And yes, I think it's time to turn the page, Americans are asking to turn the page.

And by the way, it's not too late. In six weeks, six months, it might be. So this has to be litigated. And the conversations have to start right now. That is the only thing that I'm here to ask. That's my job.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips from the land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota, thank you so much, really appreciate your time. Have a good weekend.

Back with our Law and Justice Lead, a federal judge has just issued a protective order barring Donald Trump from publicly disclosing quote, sensitive information related to the election interference trial, the election fraud trial. And while Trump has a right to free speech, Judge Tanya Chutkan warns that right is quote, not absolute. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is with us now. Katelyn, this is quite a serious warning today from the judge. She's going to be scrutinizing every word he says every word he types.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Jake. And she said exactly that in this hearing to his lawyers and to the Justice Department, the first hearing that both sides were before her. She also said quite a few other things, primarily this idea that as she's going to be overseeing this case to trial, there is justice and there is politics. And justice and Donald Trump getting a fair trial as a criminal defendant that a jury isn't tainted that comes first.


That's first and foremost, her decisions are going to be made based on politics. A quote from her directly was the fact that he is running a political campaign, Donald Trump, currently has to yield to the administration of justice. And if that means he, Trump, can't say exactly what he wants to say, in a political speech, that is just how it's going to have to be. And so in her protective order that she issued after the ruling, she did bar Trump from sharing publicly some of the information he's never been seeing before that he will get to see as evidence in this case, things like witness transcripts when they testified to the grand jury, talk to the FBI recordings that the Justice Department has of those witness interviews or some of those also information from other agencies and anything they got back from subpoenas and search warrants.

TAPPER: All right, Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.

Two days ago, a community stood here and the pictures we're showing you right now. Today, it's basically just a pile of ashes. Coming up next, we're going to get a bird's eye view of the destruction from the deadly Hawaii fires.



TAPPER: And we're back with our National Lead. When the wildfires began in Hawaii on Tuesday, Maui's warning sirens were not activated. That's according to state records, which show other parts of the emergency warning system were triggered including phone and radio alerts. CNN's Veronica Miracle reports now from the island of Maui where residents are still waiting to get back into some of the hardest hit areas.


CHIEF JOHN PELLETIER, MAUI POLICE: When the mayor said it's all gone, it's all gone. It's all gone. It's gone.

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unimaginable shock, an entire city burned completely to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devastation, everything gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody lost everything.

MIRACLE (voice-over): We surveyed the damage from above and the destruction is difficult to imagine.

(on camera): So the view from above, it's apocalyptic. You can see a row of cars clearly trying to make it out many of those stuck in accidents in a traffic jam on a one lane road. All of those cars reduced to ash. (voice-over): Lahaina residents will be allowed back into the city today to see the destruction up close, but not without a forewarning from the governor who told the local T.V. station in Hawaii. I want to caution everyone Lahaina is a devastated zone. They will see destruction like they've not seen in their lives. Everyone please brace themselves as they go back as some may be able to return to their hometown today, many others are still missing, and the amount of people unaccounted for remains elusive.

PELLETIER: Honestly, we don't know. And here's the challenge, there's no power. There's no internet. There's no radio coverage.

MIRACLE (voice-over): And there's fear, the climbing death toll will go even higher.

PELLETIER: I do not know what the final number is going to be. And it's going to be horrible and tragic when we get that number.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Thousands are still displaced and thousands of travelers are still waiting to get off the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we're just visitors. We're leaving primarily because we're just using up food and resources that the locals need.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Nearly 11,000 people remain without power.

GOV. JOSH GREEN (D), HAWAII: We're talking about more than just days. We're talking about weeks to months, in some cases, to get energy fully restored.

MIRACLE (voice-over): And shelter space on the island is filling up quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're kind of at the limits, and some of the essential Maui wants and we'll have to be creative with our team after this, to try to get more folks on the west side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have tsunami warnings. I think should have been utilized. I think this could have been handled so much better in so many ways.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Questions are now starting to circulate among the people who inhabited this one's paradise island. Why weren't they warned sooner?

GREEN: I think that the tragedy would have been very difficult to anticipate, especially as it came in the night with high winds. But that does not mean that we won't do everything we can in the future to stop this.


MIRACLE: Jake, the police made an announcement that they're opening up that behind a checkpoint so that residents can go in. They actually started opening it up early. And so right now we are in that line. And you can see just through here through the maps how crazy busy it is. This is the checkpoint. This is where we are and there are cars all behind this as well. This goes on for miles. We anticipate as residents get in of course. They're going to see the destruction. And we imagine it will be chaotic. There are hundreds of people here trying to get back. Jake?

TAPPER: Veronica Miracle on the island of Maui, thank you so much.

And we know so many of you watching and listening want to help the victims of these wildfires in Hawaii and you can. Head to, where we have a list for you of vetted resources. Another way you can do this is to text Hawaii, H-A-W-A-I-I to 707070, 707070. That's a good way to donate for the good people of Hawaii.


We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: In our Health Lead today, the U.S. Supreme Court just inserted itself into the opioid crisis. Yesterday the court blocked a settlement that would have protected the family behind Purdue Pharma from any opioid related civil claims. Until recently Purdue Pharma which manufactured OxyContin was controlled by the Sackler family. The Sacklers withdrew billions of dollars from the company before it filed for bankruptcy. The family had agreed to contribute up to $6 billion to produce reorganization fund on one condition that the Sacklers received a release from civil liability.

But the Supreme Court order means the settlement payments to victims are now paused. And the court will take up the case and hear oral arguments in December. Timing, of course, is everything because it just so happens that basically hours ago, Netflix premiered a new six episode series called painkiller which takes a semi-fictionalized look at the opioid crisis and how Purdue Pharma cashed in on OxyContin at the expense of those who became hooked on the drug.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Purdue is a real company bought by you and Arthur. They actually make something those people in there they don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But you've never brought a drug to market, son. It takes a decade. And we've got nothing in the pipeline. It's a dead end.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's for damn sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You develop OxyContin, we understand pain. I understand pain. All of human behavior is essentially comprised of two things, running away from pain and toward pleasure. It's a cycle, pain, pleasure, pain, pleasure, again and again. [17:50:15]

Well, this circle is our existence. It is the very essence of what it means to be human, to be alive. But if we place ourselves right there between pain and pleasure, and we have change the world. We finish what Arthur started.


TAPPER: And the director of painkiller, one of my favorite directors, Peter Berg, joins me now. Peter, congratulations on the series. It's amazing. I do want to get your reaction to this Supreme Court order. Because I know in the production of painkiller you work closely with actual families and actual advocates impacted by the opioid crisis. Are you hearing anything from them about the Supreme Court, putting the settlement on pause?

PETER BERG, DIRECTOR, "PAINKILLER": Well, you know, Jake, first of all, hello, Jake, thank you for having me. I've been talking mainly to a very knowledgeable individual named Barry Meyer, who wrote the book painkiller that our show is used, intensive as source material. And you know, it's interesting, it's basically -- it really comes down to the Sacklers, who have always been very, very good with lawyers, and very, very good at sort of hiding the nest egg of money and making little payments that sound kind of big when you read about them. But that really are just basically interest payments on their fortune.

Finally, the Supreme Court has stepped in and said, well, hold up. You the net -- the nest egg is in play. And you thought you were going to be able to sort of make one lump payment, not even a lump payment, but a $6 billion payment over the next two decades. And protect your nest egg. Not so fast. It's surprising that it happened that day our show came out. But I think it's the right thing to do.

TAPPER: The opening scene in every episode features a real life mom who lost a child or an adult child to OxyContin addiction. Why did you decide to take this this approach? And how did you choose the mom?

BERG: I mean, we were told by legal that we had to put sort of this standard disclaimer in front of every episode. And what you're about to see is based upon facts, some of the facts have been changed that type of thing. That didn't sit so well with me in relationship to Purdue Pharma. And the Sacklers felt like we're sort of letting them off the hook.

So I thought it might be interesting if we could find parents whose children had actually died from opioids and OxyContin specifically, to read the disclaimer, and then basically say, OK, what isn't fiction, what is real, is it my 23-year-old daughter died of an oxycontin overdose. And this is real. We thought that that would kind of set the tone for what we were trying to do with the show.

And what was particularly alarming was that we set out a call and just the L.A. area, just this southern and central L.A. area, to see if there were any parents who had lost children who would be willing to talk. And within one day, but 10 hours, we had 80 families, 80 from just this one little area of L.A., who all wanted to come forward and tell their stories.

TAPPER: Yes. Unfortunately, there's no shortage of families reeling from this. In your directing career you took on the Saudi royal family in the film "The Kingdom." In your writing and directing career you took on al-Qaeda and Lone Survivor, the Boston Marathon terrorists and Patriots Day. What are we to make of the fact that now you're looking at the Sackler family?

BERG: I think I'd better hire some lawyers, Jake. I'm going to need a bigger lawyer. I mean, I think there been, you know, some, there's been so much great work done from, you know, Barry Meier, who I mentioned earlier, to the writers of "Dopesick" to the series, "Dopesick." Nan Goldin, that photographer has an excellent documentary out now.

There have been many films, books scripted and unscripted about this war, the opioid war. And I'm proud to be part of a team that continues to beat the drum. And I think the decision we saw yesterday in the Supreme Court is validation admitted to drum definitely worth beating.

TAPPER: Well, it's a powerful show. Peter Berg, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.

BERG: OK, Jake, great to see you buddy.

TAPPER: The vote that could help transform transportation in one major U.S. city. But first here is to CNN's Wolf Blitzer with what is next in the Situation Room. Wolf?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, we're going to have much, much more on the devastating Hawaiian wildfires which have already killed at least 55 people. I'll be joined here in the Situation Room by the state's governor, Josh Green. We'll get his assessment of the conditions on the ground right now in hearted Maui, and what to expect the hours and days ahead. All of that and much more coming up right at the top of the hour in the Situation Room.


TAPPER: In our tech lead, yo, Robo taxi. In San Francisco you can now hail a cab without a driver. California regulators approved 24/7 operation for two Robo taxi companies. What could go wrong? The Robo taxis allow users to request a ride similar to Uber or Lyft with one major difference. There's no one in the front seat.


Be sure to tune in this Sunday to CNN State of the Union. I will be talking to Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono about the devastating wildfires in her home state. I'll also talk to a Republican presidential candidate Will Hurd, Democratic Congressman Dan Goldman. It's 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday only on CNN. The coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". I'll see you Sunday morning.