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I Have Responsibility to Get North Korea Deal Done, Says Trump; Staffer Says White House Medical Unit Like a "Grab and Go" Clinic; Lawmakers Livid After Ryan Ousts House Chaplain. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 27, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Joining me to discuss, Isaac Stone Fish, international affairs journalist and a senior fellow at the Asia Society her in New York City. If we look at all of this the President also said he now feels a responsibility to the world to, you know, to go to see this through. There's no denying the historic nature of what we saw earlier today. How much credit does the President deserve here?

ISAAC STONE FISH, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS JOURNALIST: This is certainly an historic moment. And I think on the one hand he is doing what he should be doing. I think there's a lot of concern about the preparation for the meeting. I mean, we saw in some of the details when the North Korean leader met the South Korean leader how carefully calibrated that meeting was. And I think we just want and really need that when President Trump goes into this meeting with Kim Jong-un for it to be as carefully scripted as possible.

HILL: Carefully scripted on the part of what the President will say and bring to the meeting, you mean?

FISH: Which is probably hoping too much. But I think it's so important because his words are going to carry such weight.

HILL: He's also said that they've narrowed it down to two sites. One of which we've learned is Singapore. I mean, what can we read into that? Singapore is a possibility. Is there an ideal site?

FISH: I think ideal for the United States would be in the United States. I think that would be a bridge way too far. The North Koreans are not comfortable with the security. I think it's very smart for them not to do something in North Korea or on the Korean Peninsula. I think it's also possible we'll see something in China because China wants to remind the world that they are the bridge to North Korea. But Singapore is a fairly good choice. It's neutral, it's not too far from North Korea so that their aging planes can make it there safely.

HILL: And the President, we should point out, also praising China today for their role, for the help, China among other nations. As we look at all of this and we're getting this reporting in that a U.S. official has observed some dismantling at a testing site but also points out, look, this could sort of be put back together if it needs to. What should we read into that timing if anything? We had this great meeting and then, oh, look what's happening over here. FISH: I think it's nice to see the North Korean side to take these, one could say symbolic steps to pull back their nuclear program. I think it's important to remember that they do already have a nuclear arsenal. They have other testing sites. It's a very mountainous, opaque nation. It's very difficult for us to know what is going on in other parts of North Korea. It's hard to imagine a scenario, regardless of what happens between Trump and Kim Jong-un for North Korea to give up its nukes.

HILL: Could completely.

FISH: Completely or even, I mean --

HILL: Even partially.

FISH: Even partially.

HILL: How much of this, for North Korea, for Kim Jong-un is also coming down to money and to very real financial needs?

FISH: I think it's a great point. Less because of sanctions and more because the North Korean side is probably very aware of just how much money they can make by taking steps to give up their nuclear weapons and giving up, say, a few of them and keeping most of them. The former South Korean President Lee in his memoirs wrote that in negotiations with the North Koreans to have another summit, the North Koreans asked for $10 billion in seed money to start a bank.

Now I don't think anyone on the South Korean side expected them to start a bank with that money. I think that would have gone to the elite and gone for them to pay money to people they wanted to support the regime. But I think the North Koreans know that it's worth a lot of money to countries around the world and for them to dial down the tensions.

So, really quickly before I let you go, the President said -- he was asked, and he said, no, I don't think Kim Jong-un is playing us here. He's played us before like a fiddle, as he pointed out. It's not happening here. How is there any way to be sure?

FISH: There is no way to be sure. I think we have to be careful. I think that's very much wishful thinking at this point. But who knows.

HILL: Isaac Stone Fish, appreciate it. Thank you. Up next, a CNN exclusive. Current and former staffers of the White House medical unit say Dr. Ronny Jackson ran that office like a quote, grab-and-go clinic. What this means for the future of the man who already withdrew his nomination to be head of the V.A.



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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got your frog legs, turtle patties. Ever ate a snapping turtle?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for letting us make new friends.

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The all new season of "ANTHONY BOURDAIN, PARTS UNKNOWN", starts Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.


HILL: Disturbing new allegations from past and present staffers at the White House. CNN has uncovered exclusive details that paint a picture of a White House medical unit that functioned as a grab-and-go clinic for prescription drugs. These staffers say there was pressure at the clinic to hand out prescription medication without an exam. And that was the practice which was endorsed by Dr. Ronny Jackson. Who just withdrew, of course, his name to lead the V.A. Still President Trump standing by Dr. Jackson in a news conference just moments ago with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You had President Obama giving him an A-plus report. You had President Bush giving him an A- plus report. You have President Trump giving him an A-plus report. And to make statements of things that most people said never happened, never even happened.

[15:40:00] Calling him names was to me a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.


HILL: CNN national political reporter, MJ Lee, broke this story. She joins us now. So, MJ You spoke with White House medical unit staffers, both present and who were with past administrations. Explain for us what they say was going on there in the medical unit. MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well Erica, we're getting a

new and troubling glimpse into the White House medical unit. This is the clinic at the White House that is run by Ronny Jackson. Who is, of course, also Trump's doctor. Five former and current employees who have worked for Jackson at the medical unit tell me and my colleague, Wanda Summers, that there was a grab-and-go culture there when it comes to medication.

White House staffers and officials could get prescription drugs without being examined by a doctor first. They could casually pick up Ambien. This is a powerful sleeping aid, not just for themselves but even for their children. And sometimes, we're told, prescriptions were written from someone other than the person that the medication was for. And these practices, we are told, were all endorsed by Jackson himself. And the people that we spoke with, Erica, said that because of lax record keeping, there was sometimes actually a scramble to account for these missing meds.

And I should also note, we did reach out to Ronny Jackson for this story. He didn't respond but remember when Jackson withdrew his nomination for V.A. secretary yesterday, he said the allegations made against him were completely false and fabricated and that he always adhered to the highest ethical standards.

HILL: You mentioned Ambien, but what other types of prescriptions are White House staffers able to get from that medical unit without even as much of an exam.

LEE: Yes, well, two examples I want point to you. One, a story, that we were told, of one well-known Obama official who was leaving the administration and he went to the medical unit to get some Pro-Vigil. This is a prescription medication that helps you stay awake. Now this person we're told was given around 20 pills and it was treated as a kind of parting gift for that official.

And the second example is that one Obama White House staffers went into the clinic and demanded that he need ZPacks for himself and his wife. ZPack is a very strong antibiotic that treats infections. And one of the doctors at the clinic declined to give him the meds and basically said, look, you need to get an exam first, because there are serious cardiac issues that can come from taking that antibiotic. And that White House staffer got frustrated and he responded that Dr. Jackson said I could just pick it up and don't have to be seen by a doctor. We're told that person was eventually handed the ZPack without an exam.

HILL: Obviously, this raises more questions. Could Jackson be at risk of losing his job, MJ?

LEE: Well, you know, I think with notable is that Trump has been praising Jackson over the past few days and we heard him do it again just now at this press conference and using pretty strong language too. Saying he's one of the finest men he's ever known, and that the allegations against him are false. So, we'll see what happens. But no question that these headlines about Jackson are very, very troubling. HILL: All right, we know you continue to look into it as well. M.J.,

appreciate it, thank you.

Still to come, lawmakers furious after House Speaker Paul Ryan fires the House chaplain without explanation. More than 100 members signing the letter demanding answers. A conversation with the Congressman who wrote that letter is next.


HILL: Outrage on The Hill over the ouster of the House chaplain. CNN has learned Speaker Paul Ryan asked for the Father Patrick Conroy's resignation. The pastor spent nearly seven years on the job before stepping down last week. His last day is May 24th. Ryan telling GOP lawmakers it was, quote, time for change and not politically motivated. Democrats are so angry they are trying to force an internal investigation. I'm joined by Virginia Congressman, Gerry Connolly, a Democrat. I know that you are not happy about this -- trying to force this investigation. How much support are you finding on the other side of the aisle.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: We have a lot of verbal support in the other side of the aisle, sharing with the outrage but not a lot of fortitude with it comes to putting their name on paper calling for a formal explanation if not investigation.

HILL: In terms of calling for that formal explanation, it has a lot of people scratching their heads. We can't ignore that fact. The Speaker saying earlier that the issue here -- he heard from members that Father Conroy, quote, wasn't replying with requests or not giving good counsel. You have heard similar concerns or sentiments?

CONNOLLY: We have not. In fact, no such cause has ever been provided to Father Conroy or our side of the aisle. I think that is a sort of convenient ex post facto explanation to try to justify this unprecedented act in the middle of the year firing the House chaplain. I mean, just unheard of.

HILL: Father Conroy telling "The New York Times" that his departure was involuntary, you have spoken with Father Conroy?

CONNOLLY: I did. When I heard the rumor last week I went -- I sought out the Father Conroy on the floor of the House as soon as we came back in session this week. And he confirmed the details of what happened. And he was given no explanation, no cause. And neither was the leader Pelosi when she was informed by Paul Ryan of his actions. So that's why we're quite suspicious of these after-the-fact explanations. We think frankly it is probably more political and that could even be a little bit of religious bias thrown in.

HILL: Speaker Ryan is a catholic as well. Correct?

[15:50:00] CONNOLLY: I think that is immaterial. That doesn't mean Speaker Ryan can't be the handmaiden of an action that pleases those who don't like having an urban Catholic Jesuit chaplain and the sort of point of view and experience that brings with it. Many of those people have also complained about the Jesuit Pope in Rome. So, it is not far-fetched to suspect there could be something else at work here. And Speaker Ryan handed to that element in his caucus.

HILL: So, you are saying here then -- just to make sure I understand you correctly, sir. That you believe Paul Ryan is essentially doing somebody else's bidding here?

CONNOLLY: What I said was that's one theory. I mean, there are several theories here. If it is all about Paul Ryan, the most prominent there is he objected to a prayer the chaplain offered on the eve of the tax cut vote because he talked about make sure -- whatever tax bill we pass is fair to all Americans.

HILL: I want to play that actually, sir. Let me just stop for a second. Let me play for folks at home so they can here as well.


HILL: Here is that clip.


REV. PATRICK CONROY, U.S. HOUSE CHAPLAIN: As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May they're efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.


HILL: Is this a similar sentiment that you heard from Father Conroy in the past?

CONNOLLY: I think it is a very common sentiment for lots of people of faith. It is a sort of a cardinal element of Catholic social justice doctrine, but not just Catholic. And there is nothing I just heard, and you just heard sharing with your viewers that would be offensive or objectionable. To fire the chaplain because he prayed about fairness on the eve of a major vote is jaw-dropping. I mean it's stunning and --

HILL: Did you hear anything about the concerns at the time.

CONNOLLY: No. No, there was no warning about this at all. Everything we're hearing is sort of after the fact.

HILL: Are you confident that you'll get an answer and get to the bottom of this?

CONNOLLY: I hope so. I think Speaker Ryan has an obligation to the House to explain himself beyond just the comments at a closed session of the Republican caucus. The whole House hires the chaplain. The whole House deserves an explanation from the Speaker.

HILL: Representative Gerry Connolly, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

HILL: Just ahead, breaking news, stunning revelation about the Russian lawyer who was in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump Jr. Why she is actually much closer to the Kremlin than we originally thought.

But first, we want to take a moment to honor this week's CNN hero. An emergency room doctor in Brooklyn who decided to do something about the stunning number of homicide victims he saw in his line of work.


DR. ROB GORE, FOUNDER, KINGS AGAINST VIOLENCE INITIATIVE: I don't like pronouncing people dead. This is probably the worst thing I've ever had to do. I was to preserve life. When I see patients that are coming in with violent injuries, when it somebody that looks like you from your neighborhood, a lot of this stuff really hits home. And you realize I don't want this to happen anymore. What do we do about it?


HILL: So, what is he doing about it? To find out how he's working to end violence in the community, just log on to and while you're there nominate someone you think should be a CNN Hero.


HILL: An opioid addiction has taken the lives of thousands of Americans. And in a new CNN special report our medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores whether medical marijuana could be part of the solution. Noting that in states where's medical marijuana is legal deaths from opioid overdoses have dropped by 20 percent. He recently spoke with my colleague Brooke Baldwin about those conclusions.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: As a medical profession, do you think cannabis is a realistic option for opioid addicts?


BALDWIN: You do?

I do. And look, that is not an easy thing to say. And I think there's been a lot of doctors who will say, look, it's an illegal substance and that is true. But I would say it shouldn't be medicinally an illegal substance. We know it could treat pain. The National Academy of Science has said that. They released a statement basically saying after reviewing all the research that can treat pain, we know opioid addicts have a really hard time coming off because they withdraw. And they start to have the withdraw symptoms, headache, worsening pain, nausea, vomiting. We know cannabis could treat that as well as it does chemo therapy patients, for example, who are cancer patients.

And also, I think what was really interesting to me -- and this is the first time I learned this -- is that when you develop a brain disease and you're addicted to opioids, you can't just say no. Your brain is fundamentally changed. We know -- and I've seen this firsthand now -- how cannabis can help repair the brain. So, it's not just treating the pain and withdrawal but actually helping someone no longer being an addict. If you had to design a substance to help lead us out of the opioid epidemic, it would probably look very much like cannabis.


HILL: And that is just the beginning. Don't miss the latest installment of Sanjay's ground-breaking reporting, weed 4, pot versus pills. It airs Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

I'm Erica Hill, thanks for joining us. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.