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MERS Scare; Interview With Rick Santorum; Zodiac Killer Found?; Fires Force More Than 11,000 to Evacuate; Clinton Defends Hillary on Benghazi, Rove Attacks

Aired May 14, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly virus already here in the U.S. has spread even further today. Is this the beginning of a global pandemic?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead -- 17 countries -- no, I'm sorry -- make that 18 countries now all with confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, including the U.S. Everything you need to know right now about the deadly spreading virus that has no vaccine.

The politics lead.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, they said she faked her concussion. And now they say she's auditioning for a part on "The Walking Dead."


TAPPER: Bill Clinton defending his wife from insinuations, false ones, about her health, the couple returning to D.C. with potential dreams of reigning over it again, but not if our guest Rick Santorum has anything to say about it.

Also in national news, for 46 years, the hunt for the Zodiac killer has led down a rabbit hole of dead ends. But now one man says he found the killer in his own family tree. We will ask one of two people to survive the Zodiac, does he buy it?

You're looking at live pictures right now from KJTV right outside the San Diego area. More than 11,000 people have been evacuated so far because of these fires. There are 350 firefighters out in force, we're told by authorities.

According to same authorities, 1,500 acres have been scorched outside the San Diego area. Thousands of homes are threatened. Even Legoland in the San Diego area has been evacuated. We're going to be keeping an eye on this fire throughout the hour. And we will bring you news as there is news that develops.

We will begin with the national lead about different disaster, however. Any moment now, we're expecting a news conference from health officials in Orlando, Florida. That's the site of one of two confirmed cases of MERS in the U.S. What is MERS? It stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

It kills nearly a third of those unlucky enough to contract it. Just today, a new case cropped up for the first in the Netherlands, which means that MERS has now officially spread to at least 18 countries so far, including the U.S.; 171 people have died from MERS across the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

The organization said that concern over MERS has -- quote -- "significantly increased in both seriousness and urgency."

There are two confirmed cases in the U.S., one in Indiana, the other more recent one in Florida, in both cases, so far, not fatal. The carriers flew into the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. Flew. Flew. Think about that. Tight, confined spaces. Recirculated air. Planes are like incubators potentially for these global contagions.

The CDC posted warnings at U.S. airports yesterday for anyone flying to the Arabian Peninsula. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel even got a brush with precautions taken in Saudi Arabia. That's the country where MERS may have originated. Hagel passed through a thermal imaging screener which may be able to detect fevers on his way to meet the Saudi crown prince today.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is outside CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

Elizabeth, yesterday, we reported on two health care workers who had contact with the Florida MERS patient and became ill. Do we know if they have MERS?


The testing in Florida turned out to be negative. Now, there's a number of health care workers in Florida who had contact with this MERS patient, 18 or so. Two of those patients had indeterminate testing. The testing in Florida wasn't quite sure whether they had it or not.

So, as we speak, behind me, they're doing some testing at the CDC to try to get a yes or a no. And, Jake, I want to add that that patient in Florida is now doing much better. That patient is now fever-free and improving.

TAPPER: (AUDIO GAP) this country with a new virus for which there is no treatment, Elizabeth. And it has also obviously a very high mortality rate.

Put this into perspective. How much concern is there really among health officials, considering the fact that no one in the U.S. has died from this?

COHEN: There still is concern, because, of course, there's lots of travel between the Middle East and the United States. But this is how I look at it. If my husband had just come back from the Arabian Peninsula, and he was ill, he had a fever and a cough, I would be worried about him because of where he has just been. I would be worried about me because I'm a close contact. I would be worried about our daughters.

If I was on this plane, you know, I might be you know moderately concerned. But there were plenty of people on the plane with the -- with the case in Indiana and none of those people got sick. If I was a doctor or nurse who was taking care of a MERS patient, I would want to take precautions. I would be cognizant of what I was doing.

But for the rest of us, this is really is not a high concern.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for some perspective on this outbreak.

The path into the U.S. was not a quick and straight one for either of the confirmed MERS patient in the U.S. The first took two planes from Saudi Arabia to Chicago and then traveled further into Indiana. The second took four planes to get from Saudi Arabia to Orlando, Florida.

The CDC is trying to track down everyone else who was on board those planes.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is working backwards now to try to determine how many have been exposed and where.

Rene, what have you learned?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that hundreds of people were on these flights with these two MERS patients breathing the same shared air.

We want to show you the first flight path here. This is for the 44- year-old MERS patient in Orlando. This person went from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to London on board Saudi Airlines 113, then went from London to Boston, to Atlanta, to Orlando, all on board Delta flights.

Now, that path put that person in contact with some 532 people in at least 35 states and territories, again, coming in contact with this MERS patient. Now, we do know that the airlines, they have handed over passenger names and contact information so that the CDC can essentially alert these individuals that they may have come into contact or may have been exposed to this. Take a listen to this woman that was on board the flight to Orlando.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in shock that I could actually contract it. We're considered exposed. But there was no level associated with that. They just said to me, you and your husband are considered to be exposed to the MERS virus.


MARSH: All right, so that's the call that she got.

Let's talk about that other case. An earlier MERS patient flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London on British Airways Flight 262, then on to Chicago, all on -- we know that happened on an American Airlines flight before taking a bus to Indiana.

We do know that health officials say the risk of infection being passed from passenger to passenger on board these flights extremely low, but of course they want to take all necessary precautions. So, they're reaching out to all of those people on board that flight with that MERS patient, the most recent one there in Orlando.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

The CDC is still learning about the nature of MERS virus. It's a very new contagion first reported in Saudi Arabia in just 2012. Now, this graph shows the number of worldwide cases over the past year. As you can see, there was a sudden explosion in cases last month, April.

These numbers are not even complete for April or for this month, obviously.

Let's bring in the man charged with leading the defense against MERS in the U.S. Dr. David Swerdlow is the head of MERS response activities for the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Swerdlow, thanks for joining us.

The patient in the Florida case, the most recent one, traveled from Saudi Arabia on May 1. The case was not confirmed until May 11. So, everyone this person came in contact with since those flights is still in the potential incubation period, correct?


We think that the incubation period is about five days. But it's up to about 14 days. So, we're not taking any chances and we're just watching people for a full 14 days.

TAPPER: Are you concerned that we could see an explosion in cases in the U.S. over this incubation period? Or is this just a question of caution and health officials being overly cautious just because we don't want to take any chances?

SWERDLOW: I think you said it perfectly.

We don't want to take any chances with this virus. We don't know exactly how it's transmitted and who will get the -- who could get the virus, and so we're just not taking any chances. We're monitoring everybody. We're asking everybody to take their temperatures, to call the health department if they get sick.

And at the end of the 14 days, we would like to get a blood sample to see if there is anybody who actually was infected with the virus. So, we're not taking any chances. It doesn't mean we think that people are at high risk. It's just that we don't want to take any chances.

TAPPER: Now, we have been told that the chance of spreading this is generally low unless you're a health care worker with a MERS patient or a spouse, somebody who would be in close contact with that patient.

But a professor at Harvard has raised concerns about MERS possibly being able to mutate into something much more contagious. How serious a concern is that?

SWERDLOW: Well, we have been monitoring for any changes in the virus all along. And so far, there's no evidence that there's been any change in the virus.

We're always watching for any chance that there could be evidence of what we call sustained human-to-human transmission. That would be the marker that something has changed. And we have been very vigilant for that and very concerned.

We have done sequencing of the virus, actually looked at the actual genetic code of the virus. And there doesn't appear to be any changes in the virus recently. So, that makes us feel better that there hasn't been a change. But we're always monitoring and vigilant and watching.

TAPPER: Put this into perspective for us, if you would, doctor.

The World Health Organization is not declaring this a global health emergency, but we know 18 countries, 171 people dead. What does it take to be a global health emergency?

SWERDLOW: Well, they're saying that it may not meet the very specific criteria of a global health emergency. But they're not saying that they're not concerned. They're just as concerned as we are and just as vigilant.

And they also are very interested in making sure that countries identify cases, make sure that cases are treated in a way that they prevent any ongoing spread of the disease, make sure that we learn more about the virus, like how it's spread and what the risk factors are.

So, it may not meet the criteria, but it doesn't mean they're not concerned. They're concerned and we are concerned.

TAPPER: Dr. David Swerdlow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thank you so much.

Returning now to the story that we brought you at the top of the show, fires forcing 11,000 people to evacuate in the San Diego area.

Let's go to Paul Vercammen. He's in the area in Carlsbad.

Paul, what are you seeing out there?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, as you can see right now, flame, an active flank of flame on the southern edge of this fire.

And you can also see there's a fire captain using a road flare to set a backfire to cut off its advance. We're right here, as I said, on the southern flank. We know of one house that has been burned so far here in San Diego County.

And if we can go ahead and pan around just to the right here, you will see what we call a California conservation crew, an inmate crew actively digging out fire lines here to protect the neighborhood that is just off to the north, and again another wall of flame coming up right here.

Go ahead and turn right here, if you could, please, at 12:00, and this is where they're making a stand. This is a fairly new community, a lot of houses with red tile roofs and stucco. That's a good sign for them, because when the fire can spread through burning embers, you have a whole lot less to catch. So, right now, it's indeed a ground fight.

And if you will stay with me for a second, Captain Miller, a quick question. Talk to us right now about what your strategy and how many flanks is this fire actually burning on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, we're trying to put in a fire break between what is actively burning and what is not burning to stop the fire from advancing towards the houses.

VERCAMMEN: And I realize it's difficult when you're on the inside looking out. But do you know how many homes we have lost?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea. Right now, the fire has got down into the drainages, according to the air attack over the fire, and it's running. We have erratic winds. We have low humidity, down into the single digits. And we're being handed a severe bad hand right now in fighting this fire.

VERCAMMEN: Well, that bad hand, of course, is the wind, and the heat, and the dry, dry, dry conditions. We have been in drought so long. Have you ever seen anything like this in terms of the level of dryness in the brush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Right now, what we're experiencing is volatile conditions, low humidity, high temperatures. And this is extreme. This has gone from just dry conditions to volatile conditions with severe spotting.

VERCAMMEN: And for any Californian, pretty shocking that this is happening right now in May.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, this is something we normally see this until long about October, November, when we have the lowest humidity of the year. This is unheard of this close to the ocean.

VERCAMMEN: All right, I appreciate your taking time out.

Well, as you heard right now, just unusual conditions, and go ahead and show to the right there more of that very active effort to just dig fire lines and seal this off. I will let you know that there is a street behind us. So, that's Good news, asphalt, of course, a natural defense against fire.

But, Jake, they're in for it today. And that we know of, this is one of just four fires -- perhaps the worst -- it's hard to quantify -- but four fires burning in San Diego County right now -- reporting from Carlsbad, back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Paul Vercammen. Stay safe.

Just a recap of what Paul was telling us. About 11,000 people in the area have been evacuated because of these fires in San Diego. We have about 350 firefighters on the scene, the conditions, the weather conditions, low humidity, dry conditions, more than 100-degree temperatures in some parts of the San Diego County, obviously making this a very difficult fire for these firefighters to fight.

Paul Vercammen, we will stay with you throughout the hour. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, Bill Clinton playing defense for his wife, Hillary, on a couples trip to D.C. Would our guest, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, want to take Hillary on if she runs in 2016?

And a shrine for those who lost their lives on perhaps the worst day in American history, at least in some views. We will take you inside the new 9/11 Museum before it opens to the public.


TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures from KGTV. We've been following this breaking news out of San Diego area for you. Fire is forcing more than 11,000 people in the San Diego area to evacuate their homes.

We have on the phone right now, Lee Swanson. He's San Diego Fire Department spokesman and he joins me on the phone.

Mr. Swanson, what can you tell us about the fire? What is being done? We heard 350 firefighters have been dispatched?

LEE SWANSON, SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPT. SPOKESMAN (via telephone): The Bernardo fire, yes, we have 350 people on the line here this morning and still do. But we're getting an upper hand on it. We are controlling more of the fire than we were this morning. We're controlling the perimeter and, controlling -- you know, right now, we're looking at hot spots and doing much better on this fire.

We're trying to free resources to send to Carlsbad, which also has a serious fire going on. Just over -- just across the freeway from here.

TAPPER: How many fires are there, sir?

SWANSON: Well, the Bernardo fire is still about 1,500 acres, something like that. There's a fire in Carlsbad. There's a fire on the marine base at Camp Pendleton. And there's another in the northern edge of the county. So, we're trying to keep on this fire and defend this, we're trying to free resources we can to go assist those others.

TAPPER: Do we have any idea what started these fires? Is it all because of the extreme weather conditions? The drought, low humidity, the high winds and the heat?

SWANSON: I don't know yet what started them, but it's those conditions certainly fuel them and it's driving them. The humidity here is about 3 percent to 4 percent right now and I think it's about 100 degrees. And the wind is predicted to be gusting about 50 miles an hour.

TAPPER: Do you know if there have been individuals wounded or injured as a result of these fires or so far, have the evacuations taken care of risk to the people there in San Diego?

SWANSON: As to the Bernardo Fire, which is the one that San Diego has its most resources on, there were three minor injuries to firefighters yesterday, none that I'm aware of today. And, one of those people yesterday was a heat exhaustion issue, which is obviously one of our major concerns. We've got to keep these guys hydrated.

TAPPER: For the most part, are people cooperating with the evacuation?

SWANSON: Yes. And we have not had to do any evacuation on this fire today.


SWANSON: On the Bernardo fire.

TAPPER: All right. Lee Swanson, spokesman for the San Diego Fire Department -- thank you so much. We appreciate it. Good luck to the firefighters.

Let's go back to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's live on the ground, in the middle of all this, in Carlsbad, California. You heard at least three or four fires being described there.

What are you seeing, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, flaring up all around me right now as this inmate team trying to seal off a blaze. You can see it's burning fiercely in the canyon and just right now, flip over to the right, please -- we've had another flare up right here. This is the southern edge of the fire as they try to defend this flank and this neighborhood.

It's just been an absolutely dastardly day here, Jake, in terms of these winds because they are pushing the flames all around. They've been able to get helicopters up. And that pop you heard, I'm guessing, was either a transformer or a eucalyptus tree. It's getting awfully hot where we stand right now.

So, basically, you've got fire on several flanks here in Carlsbad. We know of a big fire in Fallbrook, and maybe one in Rancho Bernardo. One that started by a truck at Camp Pendleton.

All right. I'm going to race in and get a bag. Hang on a second. This belongs to my cameraman.

Anyway, Jake, very fluid situation here and below us -- go ahead, show the streets. The California conservation corps is going to try to retrench somewhere else.

They came in here to lay down fire lines. They didn't get engines in here because they had to make choices. And the choice is, whether or not they let these canyons burn or go into structure protection for the individual houses in this neighborhood.

There's been quite a number of evacuations. One statistic was 11,000. We hear that nearby Legoland was evacuated as well.

So, they have their hands full, as you heard Mark Miller, the captain, say to us not long ago. And now, the next concern will be you see these flames in front of us. They're now headed due east. And you can see the houses off in the distance. So one of the next areas they need to make a major stand is going to be over here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Paul, please be safe. We'll come back with you in a few minutes. To those horrific fires in the San Diego County area.

Our politics lead is going to be next. What Bill Clinton said today in defense of his wife? That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead. Time for the politics lead now.

Since his wife returned to, quote-unquote, "private life", former President Bill Clinton may be second only to her when it comes to knowing what's going on in her life, sources close to him say. And though he attended the Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit here in Washington today to discuss the economy, journalists being journalists, he was asked about controversy surrounding her and her potential presidential run.

Now, to the former president, Republican strategist Karl Rove's attack on his wife, the insinuation that she may have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall in 2012 was, as one Clinton adviser put it, to me was so stupid as to be a low-hanging curveball.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: First of all, I have to give him credit, you know, that embodies that old saying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. First, they said she faked her concussion. Now, they say she's auditioning for a part on "The Walking Dead." Now, they say she's really got brain damage. If she does, I must be in tough shape because she's still quicker than I am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this is their way of inserting her age or her physical capabilities into the 2016 debate?

CLINTON: I don't know, but if it is, you can't be too upset about it. It's just the beginning. They'll get better and better at it. I mean, you know, it's -- I'm still waiting for them to admit there was nothing to Whitewater.