Return to Transcripts main page


Concerns Over North Korea; World Officials Alarmed Over Zika Virus; Jason Rezaian Returns to "Washington Post"; Minors Lured To U.S. Forced Into Slave Labor; Three Escapees Awaiting Trial For Violent Crimes. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 28, 2016 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: They're also launching a missile which could have intercontinental ability, which means it could strike the U.S.

I mean, what -- and you've sat in National Security Council meetings where the U.S. discusses responses to this. I mean, what is the straw that breaks the camel's back, where the US, where China, where others decide we have to take action now to stop, to neutralize the North Korean threat?

JAMIE METZEL, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well that's the big problem, is that the United States and China each have different triggers, if that's the right word. To the United States this is becoming more and more alarming. What North Korea is trying to do is build a missile that could attack, could reach the United States. That doesn't mean that they're going to nuke the United States tomorrow. It just means that if they believe they have a credible threat that buys them some insurance.

China is providing the lifeline to North Korea. China is really the only country right now at least that has the meaningful, short term ability to shut down North Korea's nuclear program, but they're not willing to use that influence because they fear instability on their border, and worse, a reunification of Korea which would be allied with the United States. So the problem we're seeing in international relations is China and the United States each have different threat perceptions of what's happening in North Korea.

TAPPER: China would rather have a nuclearized North Korea than a unified North and South Korea. But let me ask you this basic question. At what point, and again, you sat in on these meetings.

METZEL: Right.

TAPPER: At what level does the US decide it has to take military action to destroy this program?

METZEL: Well I think that there are many steps before military action. Military action is very, very dangerous, because once you strike North Korea, you really have to just get rid of the regime, because they have such conventional capabilities to wipe out the city of Seoul, really in minutes. And so long before any military action is taken against North Korea, there is a lot of things we can do.

First, sanctions can be strengthened significantly, but secondly and I think most importantly, we need to increase the cost to China of inaction. Right now China is getting a free pass. But if the United States increases, not only increases sanctions but continues the rebalancing of military forces to Asia, helps build missile defense systems in Japan and South Korea, which China doesn't like, begins to have more exercises, supports the military normalization of Japan, those are all things that China will perceive as strategic costs to China, and that will, I believe, encourage China to take action.

TAPPER: Jamie Metzel, alarming developments. Thank you for helping us understand them.

Spreading explosively. That's what the World Health Organization says about an entirely different threat. The Zika virus. This as more cases are reported, not only around the world but here in the United States. What's being done to stop its spread may not be comforting. That's next.


[16:37:19] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More now on our World Lead. Two alarming warnings today from top health officials monitoring the Zika outbreak. This is the virus that could expose pregnant women to something that causes deadly brain disorders in their babies. First today the World Health Organization says the outbreak is spreading "explosively" around the Americas. It estimates that at its current rate, some four million people could contract the virus within just the next year.

Also today, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the US now reporting 31 cases in the US in 11 states as well as the District of Columbia. These are people who contracted Zika in other countries then traveled here to the US, but their virus has not yet spread beyond them.

I'm going to bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta. Dr. Gupta, first this question. Principally we've heard about the health affects to pregnant women and their babies. Horrible. A very basic question here. Is the Zika virus a significant danger to people who are not pregnant?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't appear to be, Jim. In fact, most people, 75 to 80 percent of people will likely have either no symptoms or very few symptoms or very few symptoms. So it does not appear to be a significant threat to others. There have been a few cases of something known as Guillain-Barre syndrome which is a sort of inflammation of the central nervous system. They are still not sure if that is directly connected to this virus or not, but for the vast majority of people it doesn't appear to be something that makes them that sick. It's mainly the women who are pregnant.

TAPPER: You have 31 cases now in the US. These are principally people, we are told, who came here after travel to other countries including South America. What, how quickly could this develop into an outbreak here in the US as I understand, one mosquito bites a carrier and that mosquito carries it to someone else? How quickly could this spread?

GUPTA: Well, so all the cases, first of all, 31 cases, all of them were from other countries and people came back here. So there's been no transmission within the United States as of yet. It could happen where you get another person who contracts a case in the United States who hasn't traveled, is getting it from someone in the United States. But what we're hearing and I think the past history of other sorts of illnesses like this reflects this, it is unlikely to start spreading with any degree of significant severity. You could have some local outbreaks, but you know, just simple things in the United States versus these urbanized areas where this is spreading more rapidly in South America. Screens on windows make a difference, air conditioning. It seems less likely to spread here in the United States.

Dengue fever, Jim, would be a good example, a similar sort of illness.

[16:45:02] Huge number of cases around the world, and you get intermittent pockets in the United States, but it has never spread sort of widespread at least, in the United States.

TAPPER: You look at the map of the countries that have been most affected by this, these are the countries that a lot of Americans travel to. What are health officials recommending to pregnant women?

GUPTA: Well it's been interesting, and these are some recommendations from the native countries that frankly I hadn't heard before. One of them being, I'm sure you've heard, Jim, in El Salvador saying don't get pregnant. And don't get pregnant for two years. Which is a bit of certainly arbitrary advice. Brazil has even suggested delaying pregnancy. I had a chance to talk to the deputy director for the CDC about this, someone who is overseeing this, and I asked is that good advice? Is that advice that the CDC would agree with? Take a listen.

You may remember during the influenza pandemic in 2009 we saw very serious complications of influenza in pregnant women. We saw pregnant women die, we saw them lose their babies, we saw them have critical illnesses. We urged people to take precautions and to get prompt treatment of influenza. We didn't advise against getting pregnant.

So even in the past when there's been situations of concern, and certainly it's frightening, but the advice to not get pregnant is not something the CDC is advising, nor would they recommend it if there were cases in the United States.

TAPPER: It's just remarkable to hear that in countries affected. Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much, and I do want to note before we go, that in about five minutes Sanjay will be answering your questions about the Zika virus on our Facebook page. You can find that by going to Really a worthy conversation on this.

Still, no sign of three dangerous prison escapees, including one dubbed Hannibal Lecter. Now new arrests connected to this case. Were they helped from the outside?

And in our National Lead, how the federal government actually placed several children right in the hands of human traffickers and what's being done to stop this from happening again.


[16:45:11] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. None of us have been as happy to go back to work as this guy today. After Iran stole 545 days of his life from him, "The Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian, helped to open up the paper's brand new headquarters here in Washington today.

An emotional secretary of state was also there as Jason thanked "The Post" for helping to keep his story alive.


JASON REZAIAN, FREED FROM IRANIAN PRISON: For much of the 18 months I was in prison, my Iranian interrogators told me that "The Washington Post" did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, and that the United States government would not lift a finger for my release. Today I'm here in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong in so many ways.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In the military, as you all know, and in other dangerous callings, the most sacred pledge that you can make is to never leave a buddy behind. Like most pledges, it's a lot easier to say than to do.


SCIUTTO: Tears all around there today. Rezaian was jailed by Iran for almost a year and a half. He was released as part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran. Before that moment, he was held in such isolation from the rest of the world, he says he never knew that he had become a worldwide story.

Now to our National Lead, they fled the United States seeking freedom and safety, but instead found pain and despair, forced into child slave labor.

That has been the terrible reality for some of the tens of thousands of children who enter the U.S. illegally and alone every year. In 2014 several children ended up working and living in these deplorable conditions in a slave labor ring in Ohio.

And now a six-month Senate investigation, bipartisan, says the federal government delivered the minors into the hands of their captors. The investigation also found that the government does little to prevent other children from being exploited in the same way.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman headed the investigation. He joins us now. Senator, I imagine people at home are just trying to figure out how this could have happened. In the simplest terms, how did the U.S. help or allow these children to end up as slave laborers? SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: People are outraged. They opened up their morning paper about seven months ago in Ohio and saw that a U.S. government agency had actually placed kids with criminals and traffickers.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and myself took on this investigation. It is bipartisan and also outrageous that this is happening.

Frankly, Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement have not taken the steps necessary to address this so that it doesn't continue to happen.

SCIUTTO: Now the initial numbers we see are six to eight, single digits, but we also are told that they don't know for sure how many -- can you estimate how many children?

PORTMAN: Well, unfortunately, it's a lot more than six to eight. It's six to eight who were part of a case that was brought and indictments that were actually done by our U.S. attorney in Northern Ohio. But, no, there's a lot more than that. Unfortunately --

SCIUTTO: Hundreds?

PORTMAN: I think so. They don't have good numbers for this. There's also instances, as you know, not just of child labor, but also sexual abuse and other cases because they aren't doing the right screening to know where these kids are going.

They're sending these kids not to their parents or family members, but to people who say they're friends of the family, but they don't check that. They are checking the homes before they go there as you would in any other child placement like foster care.

And they are not doing the follow-up visit. It's just the basics they're not doing. As a result you have these tragic circumstances as what happened in Ohio. These kids were working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Their paychecks were going to the traffickers so they weren't getting paid for those terrible work conditions. You just saw the photograph of the trailer where they were living. They were living with multiple adults.

[16:50:07]Mattresses even underneath the trailer for some of the kids, so deplorable living conditions. This just can't happen in Ohio in the 21st Century.

SCIUTTO: And they must have just felt so helpless. They're illegals here so it's not like they can go to the authorities and say help me out.

PORTMAN: According to the indictment, they were threatened and their families were threatened and they were living in fear.

SCIUTTO: This caught my eye that as part of your investigation you found that HHS, Department of Health and Human Services, that they knew they had a problem. Even when they were alerted to the evidence, they didn't act immediately to stop, is that right?

PORTMAN: They still haven't in a sense. We had testimony today from HHS still not taking responsibility for this. You know, frankly they were overwhelmed with the surge of kids coming in. They had the funding to do it, by the way.

They gave back 20 percent to 25 percent of their funding, but they did not put the systems in place to keep this from happening. Again, just the basic checks on who these people were, who they were giving these kids to, how the kids were doing.

Make sure they didn't have criminal histories and if they did to ban them. Until this week, Jim, there was no criminal record that was bad enough to automatically say you're not going to send that kid there.

So you can be sending these kids to child molesters, rapists, murderers for that matter. Finally, this week they did say, yes, there are some crimes that are so bad that we're not going to send those kids to those people.

SCIUTTO: To say the least, I have to ask what happens next for these kids. So you find out about them, you get them out of there. Do they stay in the U.S.? Do they have to go back? They came in illegally, are they deported?

PORTMAN: These are kids who came in illegally, unaccompanied minors. The idea is you put them into this HHS detention facility, a shelter, and find them somewhere to go, a home, while their immigration case is pending.

What's happened, unfortunately, is again they have a lot of kids coming in. They aren't being careful as to who these kids go to. Frankly a bunch of the kids are not showing up at their hearings.

Part of the problem is they're sending some of these kids actually to illegals themselves who don't want to show up at a hearing, so the whole system needs to be looked at.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. You feel for them. Thanks for looking into it.

PORTMAN: You bet you.

SCIUTTO: Appreciate it. Senator Rob Portman.

A criminal so dangerous and scary that he's been known as Hannibal Lecter, and he's still on the run. New information about how he escaped jail with two other accused criminals. That's right after this break.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Topping our national lead today, at least five people are under arrest in connection with a jail break in Southern California last Friday. But there is still no sign of the three extremely violent inmates, Jonathan Tieu, Bac Tien Duong and Hossein Nayeri.

The third escapee is facing kidnapping and torture charges for allegedly burning a man with a blow torch and dismembering him. Investigators believe that the escapees, two of whom have known gang ties, had help from the outside.

Let's get right to CNN's Paul Vercammen, who is live outside the jail in Santa Ana, California, that they escaped from. Paul, what do we know about those that were arrested in connection with their escape?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, they were all from the Garden Grove, Westminster area and that is where the sheriff has gone on TV and radio, Vietnamese TV and radio and implored the community to help find these violent criminals.


VERCAMMEN (voice-over): In and around Little Saigon, authorities made a series of arrests, probation violations, and outstanding warrants of associates of the two Vietnamese escapees. Authorities released a new wanted poster of an escapee and attempted suspect that features identifying tattoos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see a new poster here with a better picture of one of the escapees, Bac Duong, with numerous tattoos and a I think a better picture for someone who may encounter him.

VERCAMMEN: The Orange County sheriff has been harshly grilled over this escape, Hossein Nayeri, who fled to the U.S. to Iran before. He was housed in the tank.

That's a general inmate population area where he want consort with dozens of other prisoners. They called Nayeri the breakout ring leader. He's charged with torture that includes rubber hoses, a blow torch and mutilation.

SANDRA HUTCHENS, SHERIFF, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Certainly based on his past, he's a little more sophisticated than the other two individuals, so that's a belief of mine.

VERCAMMEN: Hutchens vows changes to jail policies alluding to the head check or body count. The three prison escapees got a huge jump by leaving being eyeballed at the 5:00 in the morning check and not discovered missing until 9:00 p.m.

New video reveals more about the inmates' path out, crawling in plumbing tunnels before they climbed through an air duct, got on the roof and rappelled four stories to freedom.

HUTCHENS: It's every sheriff's nightmare. You never wanting to have an escape from any jail. They do happen, and you certainly don't want maximum security prisoners who are a danger to the public to get out of your jail. So it's not a good day. VERCAMMEN: The sheriff says they got help escaping from the outside and an investigation continues into whether anyone assisted them inside.


VERCAMMEN: And they are still looking for whatever it was that they used to cut through metal inside that jail. Back to you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Paul Vercammen, thanks so much. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you now over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."