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Supreme Court Hears Bankruptcy Case of Purdue Pharma; Interview with Former New York Assistant Attorney General, Prosecuted Trump University, "Taking Down Trump" Author Tristan Snell; Trump's Request to Have Election Subversion Lawsuit Dismissed Denied by Federal Court; Trump Not Completely Immune, According to Judge; Unbeaten Florida State Excluded in College Football Playoffs; Former Harvard Disinformation Scholar Pushed Out of Job Over Pressure from Facebook. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 04, 2023 - 10:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: All right. This morning, a controversial settlement deal that would give billions of dollars to victims of the opioid crisis, it goes before the Supreme Court. This involves Purdue Pharma, the makers of the opioid Oxycontin, its billion-dollar bankruptcy plan, and the Sackler family.

CNN's Paula Reid with us now. So, what's at stake here, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is a historic case dealing with one of the biggest scandals in American history, the opioid crisis. Now, nearly 640,000 Americans have lost their lives to opioids in the past two decades. And right now, as we speak, the justices are reviewing a settlement related to Purdue Pharmacy, which is owned by -- pharmacy which is owned by the Sackler family.

Now, as part of this settlement, the Sackler family agreed to pay billions of dollars to victims of the opioid crisis, but in exchange, they were granted protection from future lawsuits. Now, as part of this, there's also a big bankruptcy restructuring of Purdue Pharmaceutical. But this is not your ordinary bankruptcy case because this is really looking at the role that this company played in this nationwide crisis and also extends to liability for the family.

But the trustee that is overseeing this bankruptcy has asked the Supreme Court to review this. Saying, look, this raises some real constitutional concerns about the rights of future victims to be able to potentially file their own lawsuits.

Now, as part of this, the Sackler family agreed to pay $5 billion to $6 billion over the course of about 18 years. They have said though, that here, if the Supreme Court decides that this settlement is not valid, that the entire thing will fall apart, if they are not granted this protection from future lawsuits. Now, the justices have been peppering lawyers with questions. I was listening in just a short time ago and they seem, so far, at the outset of the arguments really focused on whether bankruptcy courts can really -- bankruptcy settlements can really extend this kind of protection for people like the Sackler family, taking away the future or potential rights of people who want to sue. So, the arguments are ongoing, but we likely won't get a decision for several months.

BERMAN: And we'll watch very closely what is said during the arguments to see what we can gleam though. Paula Reid, thank you so much for that.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: Let's talk more about this. Joining me now is Former New York Assistant Attorney General Tristan Snell. He helped lead the investigation and prosecution against Trump University. He also is the author of the forthcoming book, "Taking Down Trump". And I want to ask you about a ruling with relate -- relating to Donald Trump that happened late Friday.

But first, on what Paula Reid's laying out oral arguments over this Purdue Pharma and Sackler family settlement. This case I've seen described as one of the most important bankruptcy cases in 40 years. Do you -- what do you see as significant in this?

TRISTAN SNELL, FORMER NEW YORK ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, PROSECUTED TRUMP UNIVERSITY, AND AUTHOR, "TAKING DOWN TRUMP": This case really probes the limits of what a bankruptcy judge is able to do in terms of a settlement. They're pulling in the Sacklers who aren't even parties to this case, and then making far reaching decisions that are going to determine their liability or lack thereof, and the ability of future parties to be able to go after the Sacklers.


BOLDUAN: When it comes down to -- and I don't know if it ends up being an either or, but when you consider what the families of the 600,000 plus people who have been killed as part of the -- from -- in the -- from opioids, it kind of -- I wonder if it's comes down to a what is better for -- what is better and what is right and what is most legal, if you will? Accepting the settlement, but then that offers, if this stands, immunity, legal -- wide-ranging legal protections to the Sackler family going forward, or if they are not provided these protections, these families can continue to battle this out in court but with no guarantees of where this would go in years of, you know, being in court in legal fights. What do you see as -- I don't know, the right balance?

SNELL: Yes, I mean, the -- what the -- what SCOTUS has to figure out here is actually less about what's good for the victims.

BOLDUAN: Right, of course.

SNELL: You know, they have to figure out, is this beyond the limits of what a bankruptcy court is able to do? I think they're also looking at whether or not this is going to set a very bad precedent in the future that it's especially going to allow, say, individuals that weren't involved with the litigation but are next to it to be able to get this kind of get out of court free card. Definitely feel very sympathetic for a lot of these families who just want to see this end. But I say one thing is that this -- when the Sacklers are saying like, well, if we can't get this, then there's no deal. That's a bluff.

At the end of the day, the reason they're even thinking of doing this deal is because they know they face massive amounts of liability. If this deal doesn't end up working out because it was beyond the bounds of the law, there's some other deal that probably will be able to get worked out that will allow them to pay but fall short of actually wiping them out entirely.

BOLDUAN: It is a really important case, one that obviously we will continue to follow.

Now, about Donald Trump, I wanted to lean on your expertise in this. Because late Friday, the judge providing over Donald Trump's election subversion case in D.C. handed down a pretty big ruling. Rejecting Trump's attempt to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds of presidential immunity. The judge wrote a lot, and in part -- wrote this in part, the court cannot conclude that our constitution cloaks former presidents with absolute immunity for any federal crimes they've committed while in office. What does this mean for this case?

SNELL: This is a big decision and what we're seeing now is the idea that Trump is now trying to throw all of his arguments out there, and this was one of the biggest ones that he tried to throw out there. that he was simply just not able to be brought to justice at all because he's a former president.


SNELL: It was one that was unlikely to succeed, but it's one that he had been banking on a lot as having possibly some traction. The fact that it's been shut down so much is not good for him. Overall, we have this problem, and that's honestly a lot is related to the Sackler problem too of these oligarchs and, sort of, very powerful figures trying to be above the law.

The Sacklers are basically saying they get a court -- get out of court free card. Trump is saying, he gets a get out of jail free card that does a former president. He's just immune from any accountability. I talk about this a lot in my book. And it's really key that we see these decisions come down, especially when we're talking about Trump or any former president, that it's the office that has immunity, if it has any, which is a different discussion. It does, but I don't believe that it should. But it's certainly a former president should not have any. The immunity attaches to the office, not to the person, and that's the principle that was upheld in these decisions.

BOLDUAN: This is really interesting, and I want to get to that other, other, other thing with you another time. Thanks for coming in.

SNELL: Yes, thank you. BOLDUAN: Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: This has to be one of the biggest snubs in college football history. Florida State University did not use a single game, undefeated all season, but they're not going to the college football playoffs. How the heck did that happen? We've got reaction next.



SIDNER: 14 just celebrating making it into the NCAA football playoffs. But you know who isn't? The undefeated team. ACC champion Florida State University left out in the cold. Their coach said he is, "Disgusted and infuriated by the decision." It is the first time an unbeaten power five conference winner will miss out on the college football playoffs. The champion team will instead play the Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Orange Bowl on December 30th.

CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan is joining me now for more on this. Now, I have to admit full on that I am a Gator, but I for once feel really bad for FSU. Why on God's Earth did the CFP committee decide to choose Alabama over FSU when FSU was undefeated, didn't lose a single game?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST AND SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Yes, Sara, this is a tough one. And Florida State fans deserve to be outraged. And the players, your heart breaks for them. They did everything asked of them, as you pointed out, right? They're 18 to 22, 23-year-old young men. They won every game. This is unprecedented. The first time ever, as you said, that a conference champion in the power five who's undefeated is snubbed like this.

But I think the answer, and you're a Florida Gator, is your SEC. The fact that Alabama beat Georgia, a very high-profile game. Georgia, the two-time defending national champs, that was the SEC championship on Saturday, it was 27 to 24.


And because the SEC is really the, you know, the big cheese, right? They're the kings of college football. They've won six of nine and the last four of these college football playoffs, national championships. So, the SEC seems to be on the rise. Alabama seems to be getting better, although they lost early in the season to Texas, and Florida State, there's concern about the quarterback being injured. But all that being said, it is extraordinary. And you do wonder why on Earth that if you're looking at the record then you can't make sense of this, but a committee tried to make sense of it with the power of Alabama and the SEC.

SIDNER: And when you say that, I mean, the undercurrent there is, is this about ratings and money and making sure, because the SEC is huge, you know. Everybody wants to see an SEC team playing, but these guys did the job. They did the work. Is this really about something other than what happened on the field?

BRENNAN: I know it is about something other than what happened on the field. Let's be honest about what it is. You're absolutely right, Sara. It is more than just the game itself on the field, because if you're doing that, then you're going to pick the undefeated team. That said, it is a committee doing the deciding and the selection. It's not a computer. It is your human beings.

And for example, I'll give you this little anecdote. Over the last week, leading up to the championship weekend, the Southeastern Conference, the SEC, the big broad-shouldered SEC, all powerful. They did a really good job of getting out there in the media and talking about what would happen if Alabama did beat Georgia. And that Alabama, they were pushing their cause, so to speak. They were lobbying for Alabama.

The ACC, obviously, also a very strong conference did not do as much of that lobbying. And you and I are journalists. We get people all the time, public relations people that are pushing this or that agenda. Well, the SEC did a very good job of playing the game, as the rules would allow it, with getting out there in the media to say, what about Alabama? Alabama deserves it. And that could have, with human beings making the decision, Sara, that could have had a bit of an impact.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you, this isn't going to happen again next year, is it? There's going to be a change, thank goodness

BRENNAN: There is, yes. It's going to go to a 12-team playoff. And ironically enough, if they've had the 12 teams this year, we wouldn't even be discussing this. Although there will be -- there will still be many controversies because you'll have teams that should have made it that were, you know, on the bubble there too, but nowhere near as big a deal. So, this one's going out with a bang. That's -- there's no doubt about the four teams. This is really the controversy to end all controversies.

SIDNER: It's really rough. I just want to say congratulations to FSU on their undefeated season. Thank you so much, Christine Brennan.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, accusations of academic meddling at Harvard University. Why one researcher says she was put out of a job in order to protect a relationship with Facebook founder and mega donor Mark Zuckerberg. We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: Now, new this morning, big accusations of academic meddling against Harvard University. A former researcher at the school whose work focused on online disinformation, now says that she was pushed out of a job in order to protect the school's relationship with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. CNN's Clare Duffy has more on this reporting. She's joining us now. Clare, tell us more about this researcher and what she's now accusing the university of.

CLARE DUFFY, CNN BUSINESS WRITER: Yes, so Donovan is accusing the university of, as you said, shutting down this research project which looked into technology and social change to protect its relationship with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, attended Harvard and is a major donor.

Donovan alleges that restrictions on her research by the school started following a $500 million donation from Zuckerberg's philanthropy to support a new university wide center on research in artificial intelligence at Harvard. Now, Donovan's research project was officially shut down by the school earlier this year, and she has since taken a new role as an assistant professor at Boston University.

This disclosure also details close relationships between Harvard leaders at Harvard Kennedy School and current and former Facebook executives and people close to the company. And Kate, this really raises questions about academic freedoms at Harvard. And in this crucial online disinformation space, especially as we go into the 2024 election season. Joan Donovan is one of the most widely recognized researchers in this online disinformation space, and I will say much of her research has been critical of Facebook and other social media platforms.

Now, Harvard is strongly denying these allegations. In a statement, a Harvard Kennedy School spokesperson told CNN that Donovan's allegations of unfair treatment and donor interference are false. The narrative is full of inaccuracies and baseless insinuations, particularly the suggestion that Harvard Kennedy School allowed Facebook to dictate its approach to research. Harvard said that Donovan's research project was shut down because she was not a faculty member and the school also pushed back on this idea that donors have any influence over this claim kind of academic research.

I will say CNN also reached out to Meta, Facebook's parent company for comment on this report, and the company declined to comment, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Let's -- wow. Let's see where this goes. Great reporting. Thank you so much, Clare.


BERMAN: All right. With Donald Trump riding high in the polls. Fresh sounds of alarm about what a second Trump presidency might mean, including a new warning just this morning that if he's elected again, he would never leave office.



BOLDUAN: A vote for Donald Trump, "May mean the last election that you ever get to vote in." The warning just this morning from a former Republican member of Congress about a second Trump presidency.

BERMAN: New reporting that the Israeli military has ground troops now operating in Southern Gaza.

SIDNER: New report sheds light on the stress air traffic controllers are facing and the huge shortages of staff.