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Synthetic Drug Bust; Sunken Korean Ferry Crew Failed to Tie Down Cargo Properly; Monica Lewinsky Writes Tell-All Essay

Aired May 7, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Cracking down on dangerous designer drugs from China that are killing American kids. Agents fanning out across the country this morning. Raids going down. Arrests in more than two dozen states. We'll update you.

Also ahead, we hadn't heard from Monica Lewinsky for 10 years, but today it seems no one can stop talking about her. And a lot of what's being said and written isn't very nice. Is that unfair or is it all fair game?

And wait until you hear what Sarah Palin said about Hillary Clinton becoming a grandma. Is it insightful or is it insulting?

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Wednesday, May the 7th, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

We are just now getting details this hour of a massive nationwide drug bust. Agents on the move across this country this morning targeting synthetic or designer drugs. They are dangerous. They're even deadly. And they are everywhere. In just the past several days in Texas, there have been over 100 reported overdoses from synthetic pot. And if that's not bad enough, millions in designer drug profits are flowing directly to terrorists who may be targeting this country. Evan Perez is covering this breaking story for us from Washington.

So get me up to speed on this cross country arrest and just how broad it is in scope.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Ashleigh, this is one of the biggest of these crackdowns that they've had in the last couple of years. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Customs and Border Protection went out around the country today. Twenty-nine states, over 100 arrests have been made today. And what they're targeting are the suppliers of these drugs. Some people call them synthetic marijuana or bath salts.

And they've become a huge problem. They say about 28,000 emergency room visits last year from people who were suffering overdoses. We're talking about heart attacks. Some people, you know, have mental health issues that develop from this. There are even some deaths.

And, you know, beyond the problem of the - the health problem, obviously, in some of these kids who are taking these drugs, there's also this concern, as you mentioned, about terrorism because they've found that some of the proceeds of these drugs are now flowing to the Middle East, to groups like Hezbollah and to terrorist groups in Yemen. And so that's another big concern for law enforcement, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And, Even, I think I was reading that they've released at least one e-mail exchange and they're not saying who said it but they're calling them bad guys who effectively said, and I'm going to quote them, "I don't need anthrax, I have spice." Am I to read into that, that these guys not only are making a lot of money, but they're adoring the fact that they're killing Americans while doing it?

PEREZ: Well, that's right. I mean this is -- this is part of the problem is that a lot of people can find these drug in their convenient stores, in gas stations. They're packaged like candy right there next to the checkout counter. And I think a lot of kids don't really realize what is even in these substances, in these drugs. We have the DEA saying that sometimes they have to test it to try to figure out what's in it. And, you know, every time they figure out what's in these drugs, the people who make them change the formula just a little bit and so the DEA has to start from scratch to try to get it to stop from getting into this country.

BANFIELD: And, you know, they're talking about Hezbollah in particular. And one of the regions where the money's flowing is Lebanon. Hezbollah isn't necessarily considered to be a massive enemy to Americans per say, far more dangerous to Israel, but what about terrorists who target America? Are they naming terrorist groups? Did al Qaeda ever come up in this list? Are they being more specific?

PEREZ: Well, you know, the DEA, for the last couple of years, has been saying that Hezbollah is using some of this simply for fund-raising. You're right that the Hezbollah group doesn't really target Americans very much, but they are targeting some of our allies, like Israel for instance. And they have seen instances in which groups in west Africa that are helping to bring this drug trade forward, which are affiliated with al Qaeda, are also profiting from this. So it's a danger all around, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Evan Perez reporting for us live on this still developing story. Thank you for that. So many issues to this. You might just think it's real simple and real illegal. Maybe not so much. I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, a criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor as well on his resume, and CNN commentator and defense attorney Mel Robbins.

Paul, let me start with you. Why is it that Evan just said you could buy this at the gas station? Why is it so simple to get your hands on what we're apparently busting hundreds of people for today?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this stuff is really scary because as a result of sophisticated computer technology getting very cheap, overseas, these things can be manufactured. I mean are they going to be able to manufacture anthrax at some point in the future? Maybe they will. So this is our test to see if we can deal with this in the criminal justice system.

But we're up against something called the Void for Vagueness Doctrine. And that doctrine says it's from basically the 14th and 5th Amendment which says you have to be on notice that what you're doing is criminal if we're going to send you to jail in America.

BANFIELD: Users and sellers alike?

CALLAN: Absolutely. So --

BANFIELD: So the gas station that's selling something that looks like pop rocks and it's actually pop your brain has to know that this week's iteration, Mel, of this drug is illegal?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean I think that one of the things about your question that's interesting is Paul's basically pointing to a challenge that unfortunately could be very successful. And that's because nobody knows if it's actually illegal because it's not laid out in the law.

And what's so scary about this, and you just said it, pop rocks at a gas station, is you think about the fact that the folks behind this have systematically figured out a way to circumvent our controlled substance laws here and they are creating a product, they're packaging it up. Somehow they are putting it into distribution into smoke shops and gas stations and nobody's the wiser except for these two agencies.

BANFIELD: So it's -

ROBBINS: But I'm not one of these people that thinks - I shouldn't say this, but it's true. I'm one of the people that does it and then asks for forgiveness. I don't ask for permission, but I'm (INAUDIBLE) -

CALLAN: Well, this is going to kill kids, you know.

BANFIELD: But this is what I don't understand, are they this quick at changing -


BANFIELD: The formulations that they can get one distribution batch out, and I'm talking Walter White (ph) language here, but they can get one batch out and then, as soon as the DEA has caught up and at least legislators have figured out how to configure laws to name them --

ROBBINS: Absolutely. We're talking millions and millions and millions of dollars.

BANFIELD: They switch out an ingredient.

ROBBINS: Absolutely.

CALLAN: Well, and you're talking about computer technology that's become so cheap and available overseas that these labs are very, very sophisticated. So how do we respond to it? We come up with these laws and here's what the laws say. If we have illegal substances, if you make something that it's called an analog, in other words, it's just like a controlled substance, it's illegal. The old system used to be, they would have to pass a new law outlawing that exact combination of chemicals. So they've come up with a way, the states and the congress, to try to deal with it. But will it be held to be legal by the courts? I don't know.

BANFIELD: You have to be real scientific to figure out just how much of an endorphin rush you have to create to mimic. I can get the same high out of chocolate. That's not illegal. What do you mean by mimicking what a drug can do? There could be so many permutations of that.

CALLAN: Well, you watch the ACLU jump in on this. As a matter of fact, they sent a letter to the Congress opposing one of these laws dealing with synthetic drugs. But it can't just mimic the effect of the drug, it has to be a similar chemical compound.

ROBBINS: It's also the compound, the chemical compound of it.


CALLAN: It has to be clear that they're making a copy of the drug.

ROBBINS: But you what's terrifying is I think every one of us has probably walked into a gas station and looked at and maybe even grabbed - I have the 5 Hour Energy Drink.


ROBBINS: I never for once thought about the regulations on that thing. I just assumed, since it's at a gas station, it must be legal, it must - you know, approved.

BANFIELD: It must be legal.

ROBBINS: And to know that there's stuff that's slipping through the system.

CALLAN: Well, and what if the government says that 5 Hour Energy Drink is an analogue to methamphetamine and it should be illegal and you're going to jail, Ashleigh Banfield, for selling it at your local gas station? So --


ROBBINS: But I think Ashleigh's right, if she didn't know --

BANFIELD: CNN coffee. CNN coffee. That's the answer to everything and that will never be outlawed.

ROBBINS: Is that - that what that is.

BANFIELD: All right, Mel, Paul, stand by. Thank you for that.

A lot of other news that we're covering today as well. We're getting this official word in now on that cause of the ferry disaster in South Korea. This is going to make your blood boil. Something that could so easily have been avoided. Something that should never, ever have been discussed. And yet it was. It was discussed. It was done. And now you're going to find out what's going to happen to the people who did it and what it is, next.


BANFIELD: $62,000. That's a lot money, isn't it? Exactly how much the owner of the sunken ferry earned for carrying excess cargo on that doomed voyage April 16th. And we now know that it was the excessive cargo that sank that ship. Today, we learned the death toll is 269. Let's remember that most of that toll is teenagers. One diver who was volunteering to help find bodies also dead today. Thirty-five people still unaccounted for in this tragedy.

The prime minister is urging officials to finish the searches by Saturday, this weekend. These images taken today from a memorial to the victims of the tragedy, yellow paper ships, all of them put together to form the larger shape of a heart. Each of them has a handwritten message. One of them reads, "I pray for the children's families and for the missing children."

Sadly, the government says that it miscounted the number of survivors. Only 172 people survived, not 174. One of the survivors was sadly listed twice and one passenger falsely told authorities that he'd been traveling with someone who had sneaked on board and was not therefore on the passenger list.

Police and prosecutors say that the Sewol carried twice the cargo that it was allowed, twice the cargo weight that it was legally allowed to do. And to make matters worse, the crew responsible for tying the cargo down did not know how or just didn't bother to tie the cargo down properly. I'm joined now by cargo ship captain Jim Staples, a marine safety consultant.

When you hear that someone in your industry, and when I say someone, the captain is ultimately responsible for this, could be to blame for all of this, this must be just heart wrenching but it also must make you livid.

CAPTAIN JIM STAPLES, CARGO SHIP CAPTAIN: Well, like you said, Ashleigh, it makes my blood boil. It makes me angry on different levels. It makes me angry with the owner that he would even think about putting greed ahead of the safety of human life. It makes me angry that the captain would even take his vessel in an unseaworthy condition to sea. It makes me angry that the crew wasn't even trained properly, not only in safety but also in the basic cargo operation of lashing cargos. This is just unconscionable, it's unprofessional and it's unforgiving.

BANFIELD: You know, Captain Staples, there was a statistic here I had to re-read it a few times because I thought, there's no way this could be true, but it is. The investigators say that this is not the first time that the Sewol has been cited for carrying too much cargo. In fact, just since it began this route that it was on in March of 2013, it has carried excess cargo 139 times. And for that, they've been able to earn an additional $3 million. How is it that a ship is able to break the law, endanger its passengers, 139 times in one year? How does that happen? And can that happen in America?

STAPLES: Well, they're obviously operating the vessel unsafely. So to diminish some of that weight - the extra weight they were adding, they're doing things like not carrying the proper amount of ballast or fuel in the vessel to make sure it stays stable. So he's doing this all for profitability.

Here in the United States, it's a different story. Now, one of the questions we have to look at is, the other captain of the Korean ferry knew about this condition. Why did he not go to the Korean coast guard and notify them of that problem that they were doing? Here in the United States, we have that outlet.

We have the ISM, the International Safety Management system, which we can go to the company and write non-conformances. If that outlet is not successful and we still have problems, we have the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Coast Guard --

BANFIELD: No one would ever -- this would never happen here. Just please tell me it would never happen, that, in one year, a ship could break the excess cargo rules 139 times and still keep sailing with 500 people on board.

STAPLES: I truly believe this would never happen in this country, because we do have the United States Coast Guard. And, for the most part, most of our mariners will follow the rules and regulations. And that's the beauty about having a United States Merchant Marine, which we're in jeopardy of losing at this time. It's very important that we maintain a U.S. Merchant Marine fleet.

BANFIELD: All right, Captain Jim Staples, it's good to see you. And I'm sorry it's on that note, given it was one of your ilk, a fellow captain, who was responsible for this.

Thank you for being with us, sir.

STAPLES: Thank you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: If you ever visit New York City, you would know that "The New York Post" is a big broadcast source for fun, and this is why. They do headlines like this. Monica Lewinsky. And the stuff that's inside is just plain mean.

This is a story that broke yesterday, but today it's getting all the ink, some of it real cruel, like real, real, real cruel. Come on. It's been 16 years already. Can we give the girl a break?

But wait a minute. Should we give the girl a break? That conversation, next.


BANFIELD: Monica Lewinsky wants you to know a few things. Number one, she's really, really sorry about the whole Bill Clinton blue dress and the Oval Office affair. She's really sorry. Really.

Number two, whatever happened, she says it was between two grown-ups who were aware of what they were doing. You got that?

She also says it's time to finally tell her side of the story. You can't read it yet though. You can't read the "Vanity Fair" article just yet. You got to wait one more day.

CNN's Randi Kaye got an early look. Have a peek.


RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: From the arms of the president to the pages of "Vanity Fair" magazine, it's been a long road for Monica Lewinsky, but she's found her voice and she has plenty to say.

In her tell-all essay for the magazine, she writes, "It's time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress," the world's most famous intern, opening up to "Vanity Fair" about her affair with President Clinton, the scandal it created in 1998 and what she calls the global humiliation.

Now 40, she is determined to have a different ending to her story, and hoping to give a purpose to her past.

Lewinsky says she was inspired to speak out by Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death in 2010. He was humiliated as after being caught on a Web camera kissing another man in his dorm room, telling "Vanity Fair" his story brought her to tears.

After her affair, she had strong suicidal temptations. She's hoping to help others in their darkest moments.

In her essay, Lewinsky dishes on the affair and the ugly aftermath. "I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton," adding, it was a consensual relationship, that she was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.

At the time, the president tried to protect himself, too.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I did not have sexual relationships with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

KAYE: But seven months later, President Clinton spoke to the American people again, this time, a different story.

CLINTON: Indeed, I did have a relationship with miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.

KAYE: Monica Lewinsky spoke with ABC's Barbara Walters about that.

MONICA LEWINSKY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN: I felt like a piece of trash. I felt dirty and I felt used and I was disappointed.

KAYE: We haven't heard much from Lewinsky since then. This interview with Larry King on CNN in 2002 was one of her last.

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: Was there a little, like, you know, flirtatious thing going on?

LEWINSKY: Sure. There had been this flirtation and that really was where it began and that's where it started, and from there it's sort of the --

KING: Took off?

LEWINSKY: The match lit.

KAYE: Silent for more than a decade, she's quick to note in her essay that the Clintons did not pay her off to keep her quiet.

Though she's done little professionally over the years besides promote her own handbag line, it wasn't for lack of trying. In fact, she can't even get a job. After getting her masters degree at the London School of Economics, she told the magazine, because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my history, I was never quite right for the position.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BANFIELD: For all those critics who are saying shut up and go away, then why do you put her on the front page? And why on the inside are you so incredibly mean? She was 21 back then. She's 40 now. She has really taken it on the chin.

Coming up after the break, that lady, right there, Mel Robbins, with what she thinks. One word before we go to break.

ROBBINS: Disgusting, the response has been disgusting to her. I think Monica is brave. Everybody else that's criticizing her, disgusting.

BANFIELD: Why and why not, next.


BANFIELD: Monica Lewinsky's tell-all essay in "Vanity Fair" hasn't even hit the newsstands yet, but, boy, has it hit a nerve, because there is some serious buzz in the political world and every other world it seems.

Everyone's in a tizzy over this, the former White House intern opening up about her affair with Bill Clinton and the price she has paid since, revealing the pain the scandal has caused her, the stigma that has stuck with her for 16 years.

Lewinsky says she wants to take her narrative back. She wants to give it some purpose. After all these years, you would think some of the anger and hate directed at her would have waned, abated, I don't know, people would have gotten bored with it. No. There are writers taking this opportunity to bash her for a mistake she made when she was, oh, I don't know, 21. Maureen Dowd, who is not 21, wrote in "The New York Times" yesterday, quote, "Monica is in danger of exploiting her own exploitation as she dishes about a couple whose erratic lives are of waning interest to the country." Now that's the nicest of them.

This morning's "New York Post," which I showed you before the break and if you missed it, pretty pictures, but mean, "My Life Sucks," and said that she's whiny.

It actually said -- Andrea Peyser, who does a lot of mean writing, she took a real swing at Lewinsky, saying, "Lewinsky, I'd recommend you use your special talents to forge an exciting new career in whatever it is you do best."