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Lloyd Austin 911 Call Audio Shows Aide Asked For No Lights Or Sirens; Biden Administration Proposes New Rules To Rein In Bank Overdraft Fees; Dr. Gupta's New Podcast Explores What Weight Says About Our Health. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 17, 2024 - 07:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: New questions this morning about the call made to 911 requesting an ambulance to Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin's home on New Year's Day. In the call, the aide asked the emergency service to be quote "discreet" -- listen.


DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN'S AIDE: Can I ask that can the ambulance not show up with lights and sirens? We're trying to --

911 DISPATCHER: Um-hum.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN'S AIDE: -- remain a little subtle.

911 DISPATCHER: Yeah, I understand -- yeah. Usually, when they turn into a residential neighborhood, they'll turn them off. Is he reporting any chest pain at all?


911 DISPATCHER: OK. Did he pass out or does he feel like he's going to pass out?


911 DISPATCHER: OK. And, like you said, he's awake. He's alert and oriented. He's not confused or anything like that, correct?



MATTINGLY: Austin was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital on January first. It was later discovered President Biden, the White House, and Congress were not notified until several days later. A review is underway into the handling of the situation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, former Defense Secretary under Trump, Mark Esper. We want to talk to you about a lot in that release, obviously. But just given this news -- given what CNN obtained here -- you held this position, right? If this were you while you were serving as Defense Secretary, what do you make of that -- asking -- his aide asking for the ambulance to be discreet when it came to his home given the broader context that not only did the American public not know for days that he was in the intensive care unit, the president didn't know? His own deputy didn't know.

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. Well, first of all, I'm -- we're glad to hear that Sec. Austin is on the mend and he's back home continuing his recovery.

Look, I think it's well-known that Sec. Austin is a very private and personal man. Clearly, his staff knew this as well, and whether or not he told them to do so this is how staff acts on your behalf, and they try and enhance that. They try and meet the needs and the expectations of the boss. And so that's something you have to be very careful of in these roles.

And so, this is clearly what has compounded the troubles -- the initial not notifying of elective surgery and going into the hospital. Then it continuing with staff not being notivated -- notified, let alone the president not being notified.

So this is kind of the culture if you will that has been built up around him that clearly, he recognized and took responsibility for and say he's going to address.

HARLOW: Turning to what is happening in the broader conflict in the -- in the Middle East, we have now seen three different U.S. strikes against Houthi targets in just the last week or so responding to weeks of drone attacks from them and missiles fired at U.S. assets -- at commercial ships in the Red Sea. We've even seen U.S. servicemembers injured -- one -- at least one, critically.

Do you believe that this strategy is now the right one? The U.S. had said if you cross this line we're going to respond. There was a line crossed. And now the question is should there be more strikes like this from the U.S. What will it achieve?

ESPER: Well, first of all, you can't state something and then not follow up on it. It shows lack of resolve and weakness.


Secondly, I thought the strikes, while good, were long overdue. I don't think you can allow a terrorist group like the Houthis to strike commercial shipping and threaten United States Navy warships within impunity.

So I think it was the right thing to do. Our goal ultimately is deterrence. They are not yet deterred. I think when the Pentagon announced the strikes last week they said the aim was to degrade and disrupt the Houthis' ability to conduct such strikes. I believe they've done some of that but clearly, a good chunk of their capacity remains. And I think we should continue doing so until we completely degrade their capability to do it or ultimately achieve deterrence.

I would argue that we should go after their command and control sites as well --


ESPER: -- and that will also add to it. But I think this is going to take a while, unfortunately, until we get them to stop commercial shipping.

And look, the fact is people will argue well, we just shouldn't do it. We can't do it. And my view is what's the option? You just can't allow 12 percent of commercial trade and 30 percent of traffic to get disrupted through this vital strait. And the economic harm it will do around the world is -- can be measured in dollars and time.

HARLOW: Yeah, for sure.

I want to show you this new video of Houthis dancing on the deck of the Galaxy Leader ship in the Red Sea -- the same ship Houthi rebels seized at the end of last year.

When you talk about deterrence -- again, the question is how do you deter that? I mean, the reason that they are carrying this out, they're saying, is because of the U.S. support for Israel in its war against Hamas, and that support is not going to wane.

So do you believe that what these Houthi rebels, about to be declared a terrorist organization by the Biden administration, can be deterred?

ESPER: Well, we don't know but we have to try, right? They certainly have an appetite for conflict with the United States. It's part of their philosophy if you will. They subscribe to the same Shia view of the United States and Israel that Iran does.

HARLOW: Um-hum.

ESPER: You know, death to Israel, death to Iran. I'm sorry, death to the United States.

But look, at the end of the day, I say this repeatedly. Iran is supplying, supporting, inspiring, and funding all these activities, whether it's the Houthis in southern Yemen -- or in Yemen or Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Shai militia groups in Iraq -- you name it.

So we have to get together -- the Western democracies and the Arab States, quite frankly, and figure out a plan to ultimately deal with Iran to staunch these flows of weapons and material and funding going into these countries or else this is just going to continue. The cycle of violence and terrorism will go on for, what, another four decades and that's what we're up against.

HARLOW: Quickly, the Biden administration is about to redesignate Houthis as a specially designated global terrorist entity -- not specifically a foreign terrorist organization. But this is a -- this is something that they rescinded -- that the Trump administration had put in place right at the end. I think it was January 11. And then the Biden administration came in and undid that and now they're redoing it.

Why does it matter? What difference will it make?

ESPER: Well, I think it makes a difference because it will apply a certain amount of sanctions on the Houthis. You know, the ability for the United States to trade with them and to deal with them. It will place other constraints as well.

I think it was a mistake to withdraw the sanctions in 2021. I understand why they thought that might work.

But the other part of this is while they designated one set of sanctions -- especially designated global terrorists -- they're not -- the Biden administration are not applying the foreign terrorist organization --


ESPER: -- sanctions, which are far stiffer. They have criminal penalties.

And the concern is it might somehow prevent or scare off humanitarian groups -- humanitarian aid going into the people of Yemen. It seems to me that we can find a way to kind of carve that out while still applying the full weight of U.S. sanctions on the Houthis.

And by the way, I don't think U.S. sanctions are sufficient. We should have global sanctions. Certainly, the Western democracies apply sanctions on the Houthis to kind of stop this bad behavior from them and to curtail their attacks on the Red Sea shipping.

HARLOW: The reason the Biden administration rescinded that was because they thought it would hamper getting aid into Yemen. But as you point out, conditions have certainly changed a lot since then.

Secretary Esper, thanks very much.

ESPER: Thanks, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: Well, former President Trump inspires extreme feelings from those who love him and certainly those who don't. Some of those who love him are also cashing in and becoming hubs of pro-Trump communities.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When Trump was indicted for all these different things did people stop buying his merchandise?

WHITEY TAYLOR, OWNER, TRUMP TOWN USA: No, they bought it more.




MATTINGLY: It is no secret that Donald Trump's supporters are quite loyal. They often wear that loyalty on their sleeves, literally. Every time he holds a rally the crowds are decked out in Trump memorabilia -- shirts, and hats, and scarves, and gloves -- you name it. Have you ever wondered, though, where Trump's most fervent followers get all that stuff?

CNN's Elle Reeve recently spent some time at a store that housed inside what used to be a church where Trump is the religion. She went to learn more about the unwavering faith voters hold for the former president.


WHITEY TAYLOR, OWNER, TRUMP TOWN USA: The mugshot was really hot. And this stuff lasts probably about two months -- it stays really hot. But the first week that we -- the mugshot came out we sold like 2,000 t- shirts.

REEVE: What's that?

TAYLOR: That's Trump's balls.


REEVE (voice-over): Whitey Taylor runs a busy Trump store in Boones Mill, the town of fewer than 500 people in southwestern Virginia. We visited a week after Christmas with the Iowa caucuses just days away. Taylor predicted Trump would win the Republican nomination and then business would really boom.

TAYLOR: You can only get these here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much are these?




REEVE (voice-over): Customers were bullish, too. What the superfans bought offers some insight into what they want politically. The merch is not just simple campaign slogans. It's defiant -- even vulgar -- aimed at buyers who enjoy being mad at the state of America and think there's one guy who will fix it.

REEVE: When Trump was indicted for all these different things did people stop buying his merchandise?

TAYLOR: No, they bought it more.


TAYLOR: Because they knew it was like Russia collusion. This is all -- just all bull (bleep) -- made up bull (bleep). Now he has gained a lot of people because of this administration that we have now -- yeah. We --


REEVE: You get people coming and saying that?

TAYLOR: Oh, yeah -- definitely, yeah. They'll just come in and say never again will I be that stupid, you know.

WILLIAMS: Hi. Welcome to the Trump Store.


REEVE: What have you observed about what people are looking for?

WILLIAMS: People want our economy better. They're very scared I think because of the way things are going. They feel like where we're at right now is not -- is, like, stagnant.

REEVE: Were you interested in politics before Trump?

WILLIAMS: Yes, and it's strange because I've also been Democrat.

REEVE: Really?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So I am a firm believer in believing in a person and system that's going to make positive changes. I think in the past, I made some quick judgments about my voting. And so I'm very more selective and it's more thought put into it.

REEVE: What's coming up right now?

TAYLOR: Who knows? The more the Democrats talk about MAGA crazy people than the -- you know, something will spin off of it.

Within a 150-mile radius of here, anybody gets company in they bring them here.

REEVE: Why did you come in today?

DALE COPELAND, SHOPPER FROM NORTH CAROLINA: To get some Trump stuff so I can advertise and support him. In '06 and '08, I, like, lost everything I had.

REEVE: Yeah.

COPELAND: But I barely survived. I mean, I don't know I did. And this is leading up to the same thing again. So it's coming. The downfall (PH) is coming.

REEVE: And do you think Trump could prevent that?

COPELAND: I think he can. I think he can put the brakes on it and turn it around.

MARY-JEAN PALMER, SHOPPER FROM FLORIDA: I often wonder what encourages people to be a Democrat because I don't see a lot of kindness. I don't see a lot of help for our country. And I see a lot of talk and no action.

REEVE (voice-over): He got into this business at the very beginning of Trump's takeover of the Republican Party. Taylor's a serial entrepreneur and attention seeker, and he prayed to God to guide him while selling racing merch at the Daytona 500.

TAYLOR: My son said, "Dad, what's God telling you?" I said, "He came in my spirit. He wants me to help Trump."

I said, "I'm going to order 1,000 t-shirts." He said, "Dad, but that's crazy. You know how crazy you get. Just get 100." I said, "Go big or go home, boy." I said, "If God is telling me, we'll sell every one of them and if not, we'll throw them in the trash can and leave."

All we had was a white t-shirt that said "Hire the Vets, Fire the Idiots, Trump 2016" on the front -- red, white, and blue. And on the back, it said "Finally Someone With Balls, Donald J. Trump," OK? And I became known as the balls man on the tour.

REEVE (voice-over): Taylor opened the store in the fall of 2020 inside a 100-year-old church. After the election, the big seller was "Stop the Steal."

REEVE: Did you think the election was stolen?

TAYLOR: There's no doubt that the election was stolen -- yeah.

REEVE: And what did you think of January 6?

TAYLOR: It was a bad thing. But if you look back and you actually look at the tapes and stuff they were let in.


TAYLOR: But they still should have never went inside, OK? You never go in somebody's house or a house -- a public house like that -- yeah.

REEVE: Does that complicate what you think of Trump at all that he --

TAYLOR: No, no.

REEVE: Why not?

TAYLOR: Definitely not. Because he definitely didn't tell them go and storm the house.

REEVE: Would you have any interest in running this store if Trump weren't so controversial?

TAYLOR: I doubt it. I like his controversy. You know, we need something that we can laugh about and be happy about. There's liberals that think they can in here and actually tell me what

to do. The last one was a professor from UNC and she was just telling me what a great job Biden's doing. And I tried to tell her to leave.

REEVE: But do you not appreciate, you know, her coming in --

TAYLOR: Oh, I --

REEVE: -- and wanting to mix it up a little bit, you know?

TAYLOR: Oh, I love it, yeah. But she don't want to hear what I have to say. She wanted me to only hear what she had to say.

REEVE: You've said that you want to rename this town Trump Town?

TAYLOR: Why not? The boons (PH) are dead. The mill is gone. Let's change.

REEVE: Do you think other people would support you with that?

TAYLOR: Not really, but it doesn't really matter. It's good controversy if it never happens.

REEVE (voice-over): Elle Reeve, CNN, Boones Mill, Virginia.


MATTINGLY: And our thanks to Elle Reeve for that report.

HARLOW: Also, this just in. The Biden administration proposing a new rule that would reduce bank overdraft fees. It could save American families, they estimate, $3.5 billion a year -- about $150 per household.

Back with us after a slight technical delay is Jared Bernstein, the president's top economic adviser. I appreciate you for sticking around and coming back in.



BERNSTEIN: Thank you for -- yeah.

HARLOW: So, obviously, the banking lobby is not a big fan of this. They want you guys to hold off and see what it might mean. They're concerned about what it might mean for credit unions and other smaller banks -- community banks.

Why is this necessary do you think?

BERNSTEIN: Well, we start from the premise that junk fees are trash and it's time to take out the garbage. When companies sneak hidden fees in families' bills that makes it harder for those families to make ends meet. And that's why we're taking, as you said, new action to close a loophole that allows some of our biggest banks to charge excessive fees on overdraft loans.


Now, this only applies to our largest banks with assets over $10 billion. And these banks typically charge fees on these overdrafts that are well beyond the amount of the overdraft itself. I mean, this is how a $4.00 coffee on your debit card can end up costing $40.

By closing this loophole we can cut that average fee by half, saving families, as you said, $150 a year for an average family affected by this -- $3.5 billion if you accumulate all those savings up.

HARLOW: And --

BERNSTEIN: That seems very useful to us in terms of making ends meet for these folks.

HARLOW: Jared, just to be clear, some of the changes the banks have made -- because they've been criticized for a long time for this. Like, Bank of America went from a $35.00 fee to a $10.00 fee. JPMorgan changed a lot of sort of how they -- it's only above $50.00 --


HARLOW: -- of an overdraft. We give you a day to sort of rectify it before you're charged.

You're saying that's not enough.

BERNSTEIN: No. And, in fact, that's important because some of the banks you've mentioned have done the right thing but a lot haven't. There are about 175 banks that would be affected by this -- again, with assets over $10 billion.

I think it's interesting you mentioned some of the lobbyists coming out against this. The banks you've mentioned that have cut their overdraft fees so they wouldn't be necessarily hit by this have been highly profitable. So you don't need to rip your customers off to make a profit in this business and if you do, you might think about a different --


BERNSTEIN: -- business model, at least as far as President Biden is concerned.

HARLOW: Well, I appreciate you coming in. We'll watch where this goes. Jared Bernstein, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well many Americans focus on weight loss to start out a new year, but what does our weight actually tell us about our health? Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us next with the answers.

(COMMERCIAL) [07:55:57]

HARLOW: So, someone watching their New Year's resolution or everyone watching was to lose weight for New Year's, right -- reach new health goals. Well, there is a new season of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's "Chasing Life" podcast and it digs into what weight actually tells us about our health more than a decade after the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease.

MATTINGLY: Now, the health condition which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer is common and the disease has proven to be both medically and culturally complex.

Joining us now, CNN chief's medical correspondent and the host of "Chasing Life" podcast, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Look, this is an issue that I feel like everyone thinks about constantly, particularly heading into the new year.


MATTINGLY: The first episode focuses on the relationship between body weight and our health. How should we be thinking about weight as it pertains to overall health?

GUPTA: Well, as you mentioned, it's complicated and it's something that we've been thinking about for a long time. But about a third of the nation's adults now in this country could be classified as obese, which is -- you know, I mean, when you were growing up how many people did you know that was obese? It's obviously changed a lot.

Add another twist over the last few years, which is these new weight loss medications -- Ozempic, and Wegovy, and Mounjaro. Everyone knows these medications now and they cause people to lose a lot of weight. Does it also make them healthier? The answer seems to be yes.

So there's a lot going on here.

What is sort of interesting is that for a long time -- and I mean 200 years or so -- we looked at something known as BMI (Body Mass Index) to sort of determine is somebody actually too heavy. And now we know that is a really very overly simplified measure. It was created for Belgian soldiers back in the 1800s and has little relevance. I predict that it's going to go away.

So how do you then draw the connection between weight and health? That is what we wanted to explore this season. We're really excited about it.

Our first guest was Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford. She is an obesity medicine doctor at Harvard. We asked her about this issue specifically, starting off. Here's how she answered.


DR. FATIMA CODY STANFORD, OBESITY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN AND SCIENTIST: You can't just judge the book by its cover and assume --

GUPTA: Right.

STANFORD: -- that someone that is larger is unhealthy and someone that is lean is healthy, right? That's the assumption that people make and I call that practicing street corner medicine. We're going to -- we're going to coin that today on the show, Sanjay.

I want to look beneath --

GUPTA: Street corner medicine. I like it.

STANFORD: -- the surface of the individual and see what's going on. Because someone who's lean may be very unhealthy, and someone who is heavier may be healthier.


GUPTA: So she is talking about -- essentially saying OK, now we're going to look under the hood of a patient, which is what she does as an obesity medicine doctor.

And let me just show you a few of the parameters that you'd also look at. And again, you've got to do a little bit more digging. But what is their waist circumference, for example? Their blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL, which is the good cholesterol, and blood sugar. In particular, these are the factors that she says -- in combination with weight -- you have to sort of really evaluate to determine someone's health.

HARLOW: You do. I wonder -- so those are some of the other things they look at. How does this all change how doctors work with patients on their health? Because you're right, Sanjay -- I mean, every year, growing up and going to a physical they tell you your BMI.

GUPTA: Right. I -- well, I really think -- and I'm just predicting here that BMI is going to become a thing of the past because it's just too much of a gross oversimplification.

But I'll tell you something that's interesting is that when you look at these weight loss medications, you look at lifestyle changes, and you even look at things like bariatric surgery, these are some of the tools. For a long time, people said hey, look, it's got to be lifestyle almost unequivocally because --

HARLOW: Um-hum.

GUPTA: -- people can always lose weight just by consuming less and moving more.

And what we're starting to see is that there are actually different types of overweight and obesity -- different classes. You can even call them class A, class B, class C. And they respond to different things. So there are some people who seem to respond better to lifestyle changes and others who don't.