Return to Transcripts main page


Price Under Fire for Flights; Red Tape Slows Medical Help; Diplomats Ordered Out of Cuba; Fake Blacktivist Accounts Linked to Russia. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:45] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Tom Price's pension for private planes has the Health and Human Services secretary in hot water with President Trump, as well as some of his former Republican colleagues in Congress. And this morning, news that there were even more taxpayer funded flights in question, overseas flights, and ones that involved multiple stops on military plans. For his part, Price is vowing to make amends by paying back some of the costs.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, sources tell CNN that President Trump is not ready to fire Secretary Price, even though some aides are advising him to do just that. And when asked overnight if he is worried about his job, this is how the secretary responded.


TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: I work at the pleasure of the president. The president is a remarkable leader. I'm incredibly privileged to serve in his cabinet and work on behalf of the American people. And I look forward to gaining -- regaining the trust that the American people -- some of the American people may have lost in the activities that I took. And to not only regain the trust of the American people, but gain the trust of the administration and the president.


BERMAN: All right, joining us now, Perry Bacon, senior political writer of FiveThirtyEight, and Salena Zito, a CNN contributor.

Perry, Tom Price says he's going to pay back $50,000 of costs in flights that cost at least $400,000. Just his seat. That's like saying, I'm going to pay you back all $2 of the $10 I actually owe you. It's bad math. But the question is, is this bad PR?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I think it is -- probably it is bad PR in the sense that you could tell in his comments you just showed, he used the phrase regaining the trust of the public and regaining the trust of the president. So he already knows he's in trouble. I mean I don't know what his finances are. Obviously paying the whole amount might have been better than just paying part of it. He may not be able to. I don't know that fact. So that's an important thing to note here. But I do think the way Republicans on The Hill have reacted very negatively to this, the way Trump's White House reacted to this very negatively, that Tom Price, his job and his future is very much not guaranteed at this point.

HARLOW: Selena -- and I should note he made some investments that have made headlines. So he's made some good morning in the stock market. I don't know -- I don't know his net worth. But, Salena, he says, look, my actions were not sensitive enough to my concern of the taxpayer. I mean it's not just bad PR. This is the drain the swamp team, right? The drain the swamp president. The drain the swamp cabinet. And this is like right in the middle of the swamp, no?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, no, absolutely. I mean what he did was wrong. There's no defending it. You know, someone could argue like, well, what he did is legal. It doesn't matter if it's legal, it was wrong. I do believe that he has tried to make amends and has handled the apology appropriately. I suspect there will be more money given as he -- as they sort of unpack and understand, you know, who owes what for the -- for the flights that he took that were inappropriate.

But, you know, one of the things I've always said about Trump supporters is that one of the things that would detach them from him is not necessarily the outrageous things he tweets or says, but if he becomes part of the swamp. And that is what sort of makes it the most difficult for Price right now because he did the most swampy thing you could possibly do.

BERMAN: And, of course, that swamp also includes maybe the secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: There are flights that he took that are now under question. Steve Mnuchin, there are flights that he took that are under question. The EPA administrator as well.

Salena, I want to shift gears, since we're talking about optics, I do want to shift to the Puerto Rico response in the chasm, as we said, between what the White House is saying and what Puerto Ricans are feeling right now. You know, is the White House striking the right tone here? Do they sound empathetic?

ZITO: Well, I think that the people that are on the ground and the people that are sort of coordinating everything are striking the right tone. You -- from the FEMA director to the -- to the people that you guys have interviewed and have done press conferences, they've done great.

The president is the president and his economy of words is always interesting at best. He wants to project that things are going well. We all get that. But there should be a little -- there should be the nuance in saying, look, people are struggling. People need help. We need everybody to come together and sort of, you know, show that American spirit that we showed with Harvey and with -- in Texas and with Irma in Florida. I mean he needs to add that second line to the things that he is saying about what's happening in Puerto Rico.

[09:35:30] HARLOW: There's -- there is a message, Perry, from the president this morning that he wrote on Twitter that we're trying to wrap our heads around and figure out. And he said the fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of rebuilding.

I mean you rebuild America. When America gets destroyed by a natural disaster, you rebuild America. How do you read this?

BACON: Right. There have been two problems with their comment. I guess the first one -- throughout this week, Trump and this comment itself, I don't think Trump would say, we have to decide if we're going to rebuild Texas or Florida.

HARLOW: Right.

BACON: They seem to not really fully understand Puerto Rico is part of America and they need to treat it that way.

The second thing was, I do think the DHS secretary's quote, that this is a quote/unquote good news story, I didn't -- the full conduct is like a little more complicated. But that phrasing is Hurricane Katrina-style, out of touch phrasing. This is not a good news story. She should not have phrased it that way. And I do think that's the kind of comment that can become news for days and can define the administration's response to what's happened in Puerto Rico. They've been slow to response, overly defensive and just the phrase good news story could not be used -- should not be used here at all.

HARLOW: Yes, is that -- is that.

Thank you guys very, very much. I was just going to say, is that the heck of a job, Brownie, comment of this storm.

BACON: That's -- you got what I was going to say.

BERMAN: It could be. And, look, she's down in Puerto Rico today.


BERMAN: She arrives there very shortly.


BERMAN: She'll have a chance to correct that if she wants. But she may be feeling pressure from the White House as well because there seems to be one response from Washington here that is, we're doing a great job.


BERMAN: So who knows where the pressure's really coming from.

HARLOW: Yes. BERMAN: Nobody is taking care of us. One sick woman's plea in Puerto Rico. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he has a heart-wrenching trip with her to the hospital. That's next.


[09:41:31] BERMAN: All right, this just in to CNN, another Florida nursing home resident has died. This after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air-conditioning at the facility earlier this month. That makes 12. Twelve patients who died after the hurricane hit on September 10th. All of the deaths are under criminal investigation to find out exactly what happened.

HARLOW: We've just learned from Puerto Rico's governor that 36 of the hospitals throughout the island are now open and do have power. But this is nine days after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico. Many of the sick and injured still struggling to get care, frankly still struggling just to get admitted to the hospitals.

BERMAN: Yes, people -- people with chronic illnesses don't have access to medicines that they need to survive.

And as CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta found out, doctors are up against a frustrating bureaucracy.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is 62-year-old Josafina Alvarez's (ph) reality. Look at what happened to us, she pleas. Nobody is taking care of us.

For two weeks, Ms. Alvarez has been here, in a shelter, an hour outside of San Juan, but may as well be on a different island altogether. And like thousands of others, she's become really sick.

DR. ASTRID MORALES, VOLUNTEER: We have no hospital to get her because all the emergencies are closed because they have no electricity. And we have no place to get her. She's -- she's getting more complicated.

GUPTA: Dr. Astrid Morales, a volunteer at the shelter, has tried everything to get Alvarez to a hospital.

GUPTA (on camera): The ambulance we saw just left, no patient.

MORALES: Yes, because they have no authorization from the -- their bosses to get --

GUPTA: That seems -- that seems ridiculous.

MORALES: Oh, tell me about it.

GUPTA: I mean we're in the middle of a -- we're in the middle of a disaster, in the middle of a crisis --

MORALES: And we're cut --

GUPTA: And you're waiting for paperwork?


GUPTA: This is a very treatable problem under any other circumstance.

MORALES: Yes. Sure.

GUPTA: Get her to the hospital. Put an IV in.

MORALES: Probably a few hours of IV antibiotics and then she can go home.

GUPTA: What happens if she doesn't get this?

MORALES: Well, she might get her infection to the blood and get complicated with sepsis and even death.

GUPTA (voice-over): There's no communication anywhere here, so we give her our satellite phone to try and call for help.


GUPTA: Puerto Rico's secretary of health finds a hospital for Alvarez, but then the same problem, how to get her there.

GUPTA (on camera): We can take the patient. And I'm a doctor. We can take the patient ourselves. I mean I know time's of the essence here. The health secretary is there.

MORALES: Well, he already accept the patient. So she --

GUPTA: Yes. So we can -- we can do that.

We can't even believe what's happening here. I mean she is -- there's no power. There's no water. She's a diabetic. She doesn't have insulin. She has an infection that could threaten her life. No ambulance will take her to the hospital. That's what's happening here.


Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wants to sit from this side.

GUPTA: OK. (INAUDIBLE) she has the ulceration (ph) here.

Can you move the wheelchair up, please. There's nothing about this that makes sense. I mean look what we're doing here. We're transporting a patient. This is not an ambulance, but it's the only thing that we really have right now to get her to the care that she needs.

There are probably thousands of patients who are in similar shelters, no power, no water, no medications, no way out. There are probably thousands more who are still in their homes and haven't even been able to get to a shelter. So she's just one example of what's happening here.

[09:45:15] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been (INAUDIBLE) a bit.

GUPTA: So we're trying to just get her into the triage area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, one more. Watch out. Watch out.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


HARLOW: If that doesn't bring it home for all of us, I don't know what -- what will?

BERMAN: What would have happened? What would have happened otherwise if they had not been there?

HARLOW: No, if Sanjay, his team didn't put her in the CNN car to take her to the hospital.

BERMAN: And that's not the right vehicle to get to a hospital either. You can see how tough that was.

HARLOW: All right, we do have some more breaking news this morning. The State Department ordering all non-essential diplomats and families out of Cuba after a string of these so-called sonic attacks.

Elise Labott covering all of this.

This is significant.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's very significant, Poppy. We've had about 21 diplomats that have suffered these mysterious concussion-like symptoms. Fifty attacks on these 21 diplomats. And the State Department says it cannot protect its diplomats anymore.

After an exhaustive review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to pull out. He's ordering the departure of all of the families of U.S. personnel, all of the non-essential, personnel, the embassy in Havana is going to operate at a reduced staff, a very skeleton staff, and the U.S. has suspended visa services immediately. It will not be issuing visas.

The State Department says that it cannot -- it doesn't know what's going on. It doesn't know who is involved. They feel that the Cubans must know a little bit more than they're saying. The Cuban government cooperating, insists it's not involved. But certainly these attacks, Secretary Tillerson feels that for safety issues he needs to take out those employees and their families.

BERMAN: All right, Elise Labott for us in Washington. Thanks so much.

We have more breaking news we want to tell you about right now.

A U.S. Marine Corps osprey has crashed in Syria. Military officials say that one U.S. service member was injured, but the injuries are not life threatening. An official also says the cause of the accident was not due to enemy activity, describing it as a hard landing.

I will say, though, this underscores the fact -- and it is a reminder -- U.S. military personnel are in harm's way in Syria.

HARLOW: Absolutely. The Russian government, a fake social media campaign, how Twitter and FaceBook were used to exploit racial tension and dupe American voters. A new report ahead.


[09:52:00] BERMAN: This morning, new evidence that social media platforms were used by groups linked to Russia during the 2016 election. A fake campaign called Blacktivist on both FaceBook and Twitter posted content intended to exacerbate the racial divide in the run-up to the election.

HARLOW: And this as Twitter representatives told congressional investigators on The Hill that they took action on some 200 accounts after determined they were also linked to Russia and sought to interfere in American politics. A source with knowledge of the matter told CNN, some of those Twitter accounts also promoted anti-Hillary Clinton stories.

Let's go through all of this. Our senior media reporter Dylan Byers has the details.

So, first of all, talk to us about this Blacktivist -- is that -- is that -- do I have it right?


HARLOW: Is that what it's called?


HARLOW: What was the -- what -- what was purpose there?

BYERS: Well, the purpose was effectively to exploit the racial tensions in the United States. It was an account that effectively looked like it was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Basically trying to incite outrage over the police shootings of African-American men, police treatment Of African-American men, but it was not legitimate. It was backed by Russians and effectively advancing the cause, which we now understand to be the general intention of Russian meddling through social media, which was to amplify political discord, to basically pit Americans against one another. And it did that by promoting videos, photographs of men with, you know, being pinned to the ground with handcuffs on their back, messages that told people that they needed to take action against police brutality. It looked a lot like a legitimate account, but it was geared toward pitting Americans against one another. And it was doing that in key markets like Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri. It was organizing events. And it actually had a following, over 360,000 likes on its FaceBook page. That is more than the verified Black Lives Matter account.


BERMAN: The goal was dissension on both sides.

Now, Twitter executives, they spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. And the ranking member of that committee, Mark Warner, he didn't like what he heard. Or, I guess, more accurately, he didn't like what he didn't hear, right?

HARLOW: Didn't hear.

BERMAN: He was deeply disappointed, he said. And he sounded angry about it after the Twitter folks were in there. What went on inside? Do we have any idea what he wanted to hear but didn't hear?

BYERS: Yes, there's a great deal of frustration on Capitol Hill at both the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees. The reason for that is they feel like the scope of what FaceBook and Twitter have searched for, found, and are turning over is so narrow. And there's good reason for that frustration because what FaceBook did was it -- it -- under pressure from Congress, it went and looked for ads that were specifically tied to the Internet research agency, which is that shadowy Russian troll farm we've talked about in the past.

[09:55:00] That's it. They just found the accounts that were, obviously, linked to that. Twitter came along and just found the accounts that matched up with what FaceBook had found. So anything more sophisticated -- I mean we're talking about anything that was bought with a different currency, bought with -- through an IP address that wasn't Russian, anything more sophisticated than that, didn't find. So, Warner, other lawmakers, feeling like FaceBook and Twitter aren't putting forward a good faith effort to turn over what they have.

BERMAN: All right, very interesting, Dylan, and not over yet, right?


BERMAN: We're going to see these guys up on Capitol Hill this fall for sure.

BYERS: No. We're -- this is the tip -- the tip of the iceberg.

BERMAN: All right, Dylan, thanks so much. Great reporting.

All right, coming up for us, outrage after racial slurs are written on the doors of four -- five black cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School. What's really interesting here is the response from the general in charge of this school.


Lt. GEN. JAY SILVERIA, SUPERINTENDENT, U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY: That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.