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Drug Czar Nominee Drops Out After Bombshell Report; Trump, Mattis to Meet After North Korea Rejects Diplomacy; Interview with Sir Richard Branson; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:33:52] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The man in line to be potentially the next drug czar of this country is out. Congressman Tom Marino drops out after a bombshell report by "The Washington Post" and "60 Minutes" that revealed Marino helped steer legislation, was the chief architecture and sponsor of legislation that seriously restricts the DEA's ability to keep prescription drugs, namely opioids, off the streets. President Trump spoke about Marino's withdrawal a little bit earlier on the radio.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And he told me look, if there is even a perception that he has a conflict of interest with insurance companies essentially, but if there's even a perception that he has a conflict of interest he doesn't want anything to do with it. So whether we have insurance companies or drug companies, and there was a couple of articles having to do with him and drug companies and I will tell you, he felt compelled, he feels very strong about the opioid problem and drug problem which is a worldwide problem, but it's a problem that we have, and Tom Marino said look, I'll take a pass, I have no choice, I really will take a pass, I want to do it.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Joining us now Scott Higham. He's the investigate reporter for "The Washington Post" who helped write this report.

[10:35:03] Scott, thanks for being with us. Thank you very much for your journalism here. Fascinating to read this and also to watch the "60 Minutes" piece. And I think it's important to lay out exactly what is at the crux of this was that Congressman Marino, not to mention a number of other members of Congress, helped push legislation which limits the DEA's ability to fight the opioid crisis. Explain that.

SCOTT HIGHAM, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST Yes. Good morning, guys. Well, the DEA for years had been launching a very aggressive crackdown on the drug industry, and try to stop the flow of drugs that were coming downstream from manufacturers to distributors down to the local pharmacies and doctors. And they were being very successful. They hit these companies with lots of immediate suspension orders

which means that it halts all their drugs, it locks up their drugs, it costs these money -- these companies a lot of money and these companies started getting really upset by this very aggressive crackdown and they began to fight back and they fought back with lobbyists, they fought back with campaign contributions and they fought back by taking some of the best and brightest DEA attorneys and investigators, recruiting them to their side, and then one of those attorneys from the DEA helped to write a piece of legislation that Tom Marino introduced that basically eviscerated the DEA's enforcement tools.

HARLOW: To be clear, not a single member of the Senate or the House objected to this legislation. It passed in both chambers by unanimous consent. President Obama signed it. You know, no fanfare -- I don't think most Americans even knew about it, I didn't know about it. Why? Why did it fall through so many cracks if it had this big of an impact?

HIGHAM: Right. I think a lot of people simply were not paying attention. If you look at the title of the bill.


HIGHAM: It's reassuring patient access and effective drug enforcement act. I mean, who would be against that? I just think a lot of members were not paying attention. They relied upon the word of Tom Marino and a handful of other allies of the drug industry who said that this was going to increase access to legitimate patients and was going to enhance law enforcement when it did neither.

And so I think a lot of the members of Congress, you know, in Senator Manchin's words, were basically hoodwinked. They didn't -- there was no recorded vote, there was no debate. This was passed through a parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent. And so it just sailed through Congress without any debate or vote.

BERMAN: You could make the case it's their job not to be hoodwinked and that the DEA --

HARLOW: And to read it.

BERMAN: -- is supposed to have its own team, you know, analyzing this to make sure it doesn't happen. But bygones right now, what just happened today is Tom Marino, who was in line to be the drug czar, will now not be the drug czar. But what message, Scott, did his nomination send? The champion of this legislation which you write would have weakened drug enforcement, would have weakened the battle against the opioid crisis. What message did his nomination send?

HIGHAM: Well, I think, you know, if his nomination would have gone forward, the message would have been -- one that would have been very, very difficult for a lot of people to hear, particularly families of sons and daughters and husbands and wives who have lost their lives. I mean, it would have been I think ultimately a devastating blow to them. And so I think that Mr. Marino probably did the only thing that he

could do in the face of mounting opposition on Capitol Hill and I think he realized that this nomination was pretty much dead in the water and I think the president realized that, too.

HARLOW: Hopefully it's a wake-up call to every single one of the folks that we put in charge of reading through this stuff carefully and knowing all of the impacts of it. It wouldn't be if it wasn't for your reporting. Thank you very much for what you did.

HIGHAM: Well, thank you very much, guys. I appreciate it.

HARLOW: North Korea has put the Trump administration on notice, I suppose you could say. They said diplomacy is off the table for now until they have a missile that can reach the East Coast of the United States. This as the president meets with his Defense secretary at any moment. What then? Stay with us.


[10:43:23] HARLOW: At any moment President Trump is set to meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis. Likely at the top of the agenda the ongoing threat from North Korea.

BERMAN: It would be a good subject to discuss given that North Korea now says it will not even think about engaging in diplomacy until it develops an ICBM capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States. Kim Jong-un until then has no interest in deescalating tensions with the United States.

CNN international correspondent Will Ripley joins us live. And Will, you've done so much work inside North Korea right now. Explain this new threat.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is essentially North Korea saying what officials were telling me in Pyongyang when I was there a few weeks ago, what North Korea's foreign minister said at the United Nations and told Russian media within the last couple of weeks that essentially North Korea doesn't feel that diplomacy with the United States would get them anywhere right now.

And so they have said that the time for talking is over and what they want to do, according to an official I spoke with yesterday, is to demonstrate to the United States their nuclear deterrent capability, to show the U.S. that they have a long-range missile, an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the East Coast of the U.S. with a nuclear tipped warhead and to show that, to prove that to the U.S., this official says two more steps need to happen.

One, they need to launch a missile and let it travel the full distance which would be highly provocative, the most provocative North Korean missile launch ever, perhaps, depending on which direction they point it. Because remember last week North Korean state media was reviving that threat to launch a salvo of missiles towards the U.S. territory of Guam and then this official said North Korea needs to detonate a nuclear device above the surface. [10:45:01] We haven't seen an aboveground nuclear test since 1980 when

China was the last country to do that. That was 37 years ago. And North Korea talking very seriously about doing that. It will, obviously, be at the top of the agenda when President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis meet -- scheduled to meet any moment now. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Will Ripley, we're watching that very, very closely. Thanks so much for your reporting.

Moving on, he has had lunch with President Trump, hung out on his private island. It would be nice to have a private island. Hang out with former president Barack Obama.

Next, Richard Branson talks about both in his new book provocatively titled "Finding My Virginity."

HARLOW: Did he find it?

BERMAN: Stay tuned.


[10:50:07] BERMAN: So this morning Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin empire is out with a new book with the cheeky title, "Finding My Virginity," he dedicates an entire chapter to President Trump.

HARLOW: He also details for the first time his 10 days with former President Obama and the first lady on his private island after they left the White House. It is a fascinating read of his 50 years in business and what is to come. Sir Richard Branson joins us now.

Congratulations on the book.


HARLOW: "Finding Your Virginity." OK, I won't ask you if you found it but cheeky title indeed as John said. You write, "You can only lose your virginity once but in every aspect of my life I try to do things for the first time every day." You wrote this. No ghost writer. Why now?

BRANSON: Well, I think everybody should write a book. You know, I think you write a book for your children, for your grandchildren, everybody has fascinating experiences in their life. And I've had the last 20 years have been very full on, whether it's a space program or anyway just tons has happened and I think I love reading autobiographies. I think people learn from autobiographies.

I try to make it a gripping read rather than just a whole lot of, you know, year by year factual. And losing my virginity my first book sold millions so hopefully people will enjoy the next book.


HARLOW: It is a fascinating book.

BERMAN: You can do a prequel to "Finding My Virginity." Somewhere in between there, between losing and finding it.

BRANSON: I will find it in the end.

BERMAN: That's OK.

BRANSON: Good to be found.

HARLOW: Oh boy. Are we going to go down this road, gentlemen?

BERMAN: No, we're not. We're going to move on. Look, you say everyone should write about their experiences. Your experiences are at a slightly different scale than most people's, including intimate experience with the former president, President Obama, and the current president, President Trump. You write about having lunch with him at his apartment and you said you were intrigued by the invitation. How did that lunch go?

BRANSON: Well, I mean, I was slightly shocked and slightly surprised because, you know, normally when you meet somebody you talk about a ton of interesting things and he, for some reason, either wants to tell me about his latest bankruptcy and how the people he'd rung up to get financial help from, they've refused him, and how he was going to spend the rest of his life trying to destroy those people.

And that -- and he's talked about it, this is going to be my life's mission. And it just seemed like, a -- you know, just was strange. And I told him so. I just said, I thought you'd be -- you know, you're wasting your own efforts, your own energy and you're wasting their energy, they haven't done anything overtly wrong to you.

And then if you contrast that, obviously, with discussions with President Obama or Michelle Obama, you know, you're talking about, you know, gun control, you're talking about death penalty, you're talking about drug reform, you're talking about Iraq, Iran, you know, I mean, you know, what's going on in the world, and you know, it is very interesting seeing the very different personalities.

HARLOW: You did -- before we get to the Obamas being on Necker Island, you did, though, go into that lunch with things you care about, I mean, criminal justice reform, climate change, for example. If you were invited to the White House, because I assume you haven't spoken to the president since about those things, what would your argument be?

BRANSON: Oh, I mean, for instance, in America you've got a massive heroin epidemic at the moment. I as a businessman do is I look at which companies are doing things differently, so Portugal, they had a heroin epidemic in the year 2000. They -- the president went on television and said, no more people will go to prison for taking heroin ever again. And in fact, we're going to set up places throughout Portugal where they can come, they can get their clean needles, they can get -- we will supply the heroin, and then after a few months when they were ready to get off we'll help them get off. They got rid of the problem completely in Portugal and it's become a

nonevent and everybody is now useful members of society again. So I'm part of something called the Global Drug Commission and we are trying to get governments to treat drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem, and to work with people who have alcohol problems, who have drug problems.

BERMAN: The president said he has a major announcement on that next week. We'll wait to see what the plans are there. As Poppy was saying, you know, you had the Obamas to your private island for 10 days. There hasn't been a lot of insight into their life post- presidency.

HARLOW: Until now.

BERMAN: Until now. Tell us, you know, what's on their mind? What was that like?

BRANSON: Well, look, it was the day after the -- they'd stepped down and they wanted to relax. And they did relax. You know, we had a friendly competition with President Obama, kite surfing competition, which he won, and you know, he's -- and, you know, he hadn't been surfing for eight years since he had been president. He was glad to be back battling the water and obviously we had some wonderful conversations about life in general, but the main thing was, you know, this was rest time. They weren't going to get distracted by what was going on at the White House.

[10:55:07] HARLOW: Finally, you end this book with these letters to your children and your wife, that you write before you go on a hot air balloon mission where you think you might die. What is the message for Richard Branson, the risk taker, the daredevil, to his children?

BRANSON: Well, my kids are now, I'm afraid, have taken on my zest for adventure, so we now have to either watch them, you know, climb the matter horn or, you know, do great adventures or I go on them with them, and I prepare to go on with them, so my poor wife has to watch the three of us go on these adventures.

BERMAN: You reap what you sow. You reap what you sow. Now it's your turn to worry.

Sir Richard Branson, great to have you here. Congratulations.

HARLOW: Congratulations.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

HARLOW: President Trump's pick to be the next drug czar -- you just heard Richard talking about the epidemic in this country. Well, this man who was going to lead the ship on how to turn it, he is out. A bombshell investigation is why. More coming up.