tv Dateline NBC NBC January 17, 2016 8:00pm-9:00pm EST
kids. and if we succeeded and they are healthy, live a long life and have a memory of a good childhood, then we were successful at being parents. successful at being parents. 3 f2 nueva vida y una bella niez, 3 f2 gracias por vernos. >> i had to have a liver transplant. >> i told me i was terminal and i was going to die. >> he had an impressive resume. an impeccable reputation. >> people said, he is the best cancer doctor out there. >> behind these closed doors, a deadly secret. >> my husband, he has absolutely nothing wrong with him. >> healthy patients treated with toxic chemotherapy for cancers they didn't have. >> he said, you need to start this drug immediately. or you will die.
a doctor doing something like this? >> never. his patients never had a chance. never had a chance. >> do no harm. welcome to "dateline." i'm lester holt. for most cancer patients, the disease is the enemy. in this story, the enemy was the doctor. hundreds of victims, millions in profits. it was as common as a broken leg that helped break open one of the biggest medical crimes in the country. three little words. you have cancer. >> he told me that i was terminal and that i was going to die. >> you cling to family, close friends and your doctors. the people you trust. >> i was very scared. >> in one unprecedented case, that cancer diagnosis came with a nefarious twist.
friend. >> tonight, we will bring you inside a web of lies that took years to expose. >> this is the most egregious case of fraud i have seen in my life and i'm aware of in the entire country. >> could it have been stopped sooner before so many were hurt? >> how can somebody miss the red flag? i don't understand. >> you would never guess that 54-year-old monica flag had any serious health issues. >> we were busy. we were very active. >> a lot of traveling. >> a lot of fun. >> even with her busy life, monica says she always took good care of her health. take me back to the spring and summer of 2012. you had a doctor's appointment. had you blood work done. tell me about that. >> i do my annual physical every year.
i had gone back to my primary care. for about three years she had been watching my protein in my blood. >> elevated m protein level can in rare cases develop into cancer. >> she said, you know what? i think you need to go see one of the best doctors around and find out what's going on. let's get a professional opinion from a hematologyist. >> that's when monica went to see this man, a renounced doctor who specialized in blood cancers. >> i'm with michigan hematology oncology. >> here he is in a promotional video for his clinic. >> i received my medical training at the memorial sloan-kettering cancer center in new york. >> he was very highly recommended in the community. >> you were told this was the best. >> absolutely. and i talked to several people. people said, he is the best
he is aggressive but very good. >> he was on the list of top the practice was one stop shopping. he owned his own testing lab, pharmacy and radiation treatment facility. on monica's first visit to his clinic, he diagnosed with smoldering myeloma, a could turn into full blown this must have taken your breath away. >> it was awful. >> suddenly, this is a serious illness. >> correct. >> he told her his approach would be aggressive. she would be closely monitoring with blood tests and painful bone marrow biopsies. over the next few months, monica spent hours and hours at the clinic hooked up to iv drips, getting immune boosters to keep the cancer at bay. >> it was a real big lifestyle
i had never seen a doctor that many times in my entire life. >> luckily, monica had excellent insurance that would cover most of the bills. which quickly started adding up to tens of thousands of dollars in just a few months. monica had been assured that with this doctor, she was getting the best care money could buy. >> i really felt that in a sense it was doing god's work. he was doing god's work. >> this man was the doctor's office manager and worked on the business side of the practice at the main clinic. >> 50-foot ceilings, artwork, grand piano. i thought to myself, oncology bought all of this? >> your initial impression was this is an incredibly successful guy. >> incredibly. incredibly. i really wondered you know how did he it. >> the doctor lived here in a
he ran multiple clinics and personally treated more than 1,000 patients. monica says she had to wait hours to see the busy doctor. what was your impression? >> he was difficult to understand. he was very soft spoken. we had to ask him repeatedly to explain. >> monica was frustrated enough to go back to her primary care physician to talk about getting a second opinion. >> she convinced me that he is the best there is. >> so monica continues to see the doctor. after about eight months, he gave her some difficult news. smolder smoldering. >> he was sitting almost as close as you and said, you now have full-blown multiple myeloma. >> we need to treat is what he said. >> how did you react to that? it's frightening. >> i was very scared.
of the blood that can be fatal. but the doctor explained that he would try to keep her alive with a lifetime regimen of chemotherapy. a toxic cocktail of drugs that can cause irreversible side effects. sadly, we know people who have gone through chemotherapy. when you were told you were going to not only need co-mow therapy chemotherapy but nor your for your lifetime, how did you process that? >> it brought back a lot of -- i have a sister that had breast cancer. and the horror that she had to go through. and then i had a brother die of lung cancer. >> you knew exactly what chemotherapy was like. >> i knew what was in store. absolutely. >> with those three words, you
start chemotherapy, putting her trust and her life in the doctor's hands. though she braced for the worst, nothing could have prepared her for what was about to come. >> he said to me, you need a doctor. zero added sugar, zero artificial sweetener and zero fat. and zero holding me back! oikos triple zero. be unstoppable. mmm dannon all the hard work... time in the service... community college... it matters. it's why we, at university of phoenix, count your relevant work and college experience as credits toward your degree. learn more at phoenix.edu. in my business i can count on
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monica flag had just been blood cancer. full-blown multiple myeloma. >> steve asked him at one point, what are our options? and he said, you need to start this drug immediately. >> or? >> or you will die. >> he said you would die? >> absolutely. >> before starting chemotherapy, monica and her husband steve booked a vacation to costa rica. >> we needed to get away and regroup and start our life of cancer. >> how was that trip? >> fabulous. >> wonderful. >> we had a blast. >> in the back of your mind, this was, we get back, here we go, i'm going to be on chemo, being treated for cancer? >> lifetime. >> monica had her us from strag frustrations with dr. fata. she decided to stick with him. after all, he was considered the best cancer doctor in michigan.
inside the practice, office manager george said dr. fata went to great lengths to ensure everything was done his way. >> he had cameras and microphones in the ceiling and walls. would periodically review that to ensure people were in the right place and saying the right things. >> wait a minute. a lot of businesses have cameras. for security purposes so you don't steal stuff. you are saying in this practice there were cameras to keep an eye on what people were doing? >> yes. >> did you find that unusual? >> well, i did find it unusual. but myself and a lot of others just thought it was something that he required because he was the kind of person that was very controlling. >> it was under the direction of dr. fata that monica was given her first dose of chemotherapy on july 1, 2013. a nurse delivered the cocktail
to rest. how did you feel afterwards? i was frustrated. >> when you went home? >> it was really emotional for steve and i. >> given what she had seep her n her family members go through, monica was bracing herself for the side effects to take hold. something unexpected happened. monica tripped over her suitcase still out from the vacation to costa rica and broke her leg in two places. >> when i fell, i then heard >> steve, you are thinking, oh, no, now this? >> yeah. i remember at the hospital i thought that chemotherapy in the morning and have to deal with this, it was hobble. it was hobble. vacation to his home country of lebanon. in his absence, a young doctor,
making rounds on all the practice's cancer patients. >> and when i met the doctor, he explained to me who he was. >> he didn't usually treat patients who saw dr. fata. so he had never seen monica's medical reports sgle look s s before. >> i found it strange. >> because he had been puzzling over monica's charts. confused by the results of her blood work. >> just looking at the chart, i could not believe what i was seeing. >> the information in front of him just wasn't making sense. he asked monica a series of questions. and then -- sglt >> the next day i went to the office and look at all the -- everything that was scanned in all the blood tests and reports
>> staring at monica's records, he came to an unnerving but inis scape inescapable conclusion. he went back to the hospital and told her everything she believed about her cancer was wrong. did he say the words, you don't have cancer? >> yes. yes. he told me, do you not have cancer.. see how good you'll feel with the new weight watchers beyond the scale program! join for free now and lose 10 pounds on us. working on my feet all day gave me pain here. in my lower back but now, i step on this machine and get my number pwhich matches my dr. scholl's custom fit orthotic inserts. now i get immediate relief from my foot pain.
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monica flag had just gotten the shock of her life. after beginning chemotherapy for she was told she did not have cancer. i think about that moment when it must have been like to have someone tell you you don't have cancer. i mean, you want to shout it to the world? >> i did. i called everybody i knew. it was. i was extremely happy. but i had a lot of anger. >> anger because this young doctor also seemed to be telling her that her misdiagnosis was no innocent mistake. after reviewing her charts, he concluded that dr. fata had been
>> i see a patient one time and milwaukee a make a decision on a busy day, anybody can make a mistake. but this patient has been followed for a long time. >> he said to me, you need to find a new doctor. i will help you get your records. i don't want you to see dr. fata again. >> why was he so suspicious of his boss? it turns out, he had questions about dr. fata's aggressive treatments style for months. he says he saw dr. fata giving chemo to patients who were far too frail for the treatment. >> i always felt like, you know, some of the patients are too old, getting ing ting are getting chemotherapy and are too sick. he was the go lf -to guy. >> he thought he was overtreating many patients. but monica's case appeared to be more egregious. her treatment was completely
at this point, he had already decided to resign. but the idea of publically criticizing such a highly regarded doctor seemed like career suicide. >> why would anybody believe me? over him. >> he had no idea that he was not the first medical professional to have suspicions about dr. fata. >> my biggest concern were for those patients. >> back in 2010, angela swantek, an oncology nurse was shadowing one of fata's nurses. tell me what that day was supposed to be and how it went. >> that was the first time i got a glimpse of the infusion. patients were sitting stacked right next to each other. there was really no room for a family member to sit with them. >> as she watched the nurses work, she says she immediately
administered the wrong way. >> out of 16 chairs that out of the patients that were sitting there, i don't think there were one that was getting anything appropriate. >> she says patients were getting drugs at higher doses and for longer time periods than she believed was medically necessary. and she was worried about the consequences to their health. to be clear, the things that you observed, are these things that are just unusual or just plain old wrong? >> they are plain wrong. plain old wrong. >> you are not supposed to do them that way? >> no. no. there's no gray area with chemotherapy. it has a specific route over a specific time. >> angela turned down the job and left as quickly as she could. when you left that office that day, you are driving off, what are you thinking? >> i was horrified. sitting in the parking lot, i remember getting into my car and i thought to myself, these patients have no idea the horrible care that they are receiving. >> she never saw any patient
but came to her own conclusion about what was behind dr. fata's treatment plan. >> so i thought to myself, oh, my gosh, i know exactly what he is doing. he is keeping these patients in the chair so he can bill the insurance company for more money. >> you summed that up -- >> in 20 minutes. >> now three years later, this doctor was thinking the same thing. monica's cancer diagnosis looked like part of a scheme to bilk patients and insurance companies. monica's treatment would have cost close to $200,000 a year. >> she was a 50-year-old, a professional woman who is healthy, most likely has good insurance. so dr. fata would have given this treatment until she died, maybe one decade. unnecessary treatment. he chose her, you know, for a reason.
what to do with his serious allegations when the office manager came to ask about his impending departure from the practice. >> i asked him why. and he said, i will tell you but not here. >> not in the hallway. dr. fata has a camera. >> they went downstairs to a room where they were sure no one was listening or recording. the doctor told george dr. fata was giving chemotherapy to a patient who didn't have cancer. >> i didn't believe him, because quite frankly, i knew of all of the other hands that were involved inpatients. >> surely, somebody would have said something. >> somebody should have said something. >> here comes this doctor with a wild story. >> wild story. this is left field stuff. >> you are not buying it. >> i'm not buying it. i thought he was trying to get out of his contract. >> it was a few days later, thinking about all of the comments that other practitioners made over the time
training. but he was aware that dr. fata's unusually aggressive treatment was sometimes a point of conflict in the office. >> nurses said, i don't necessarily agree we should have given this injection or doctors saying, i don't really feel comfortable with the treatment plan that dr. fata has. >> suddenly, all these little conversations come back to mind. >> these conversations come to mind. i started to think maybe, maybe the doctor has something. >> george decided to find out more. he spoke to a nurse in the office who said she had recently confronted dr. fata about giving one particular drug to patients who didn't need it. he then made copies of all the practice's financial records and took them to an attorney who was an expert in whistle-blower cases. together, they tipped off the office of the u.s. attorney for the eastern district of michigan. >> i remember the case came in on a friday afternoon. we had just accepted a tip from a whistle-blower there was a doctor who was prescribing
didn't have cancer. i think most of us were skeptical about whether that would be true. >> just in case those stunning claims were true, she launched a team of investigators. what they found would surprise everyone. >> it seems like each story is worse than the next one. joint and skin symptoms. it's proven to help relieve pain, stop further joint damage and clear skin in many adults. doctors have been prescribing humira for 10 years. humira can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened, as have blood, liver and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions, and new or worsening
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everyone in this room has a story to tell about the once esteemed cancer doctor dr. fata. >> we had complete trust in him. >> what i would say, it's gotta stop. she would say, she's going to die. >> here at this hotel, right next to dr. fata's clinic, former patients and their loved ones gather regularly to lend support to one another. i met with 25 of them who came to tell me their stories. some were sick but were grossly overtreated while others like monica never had cancer at all. including this woman. >> when i got the diagnosis, my world was shattered. >> did he tell you it was terminal. >> i told me i was terminal and that i was going to die. >> robert never had cancer either. >> then you find out you don't have cancer. the doctor told me i didn't have
i was like -- i was happy but my whole world felt gone because of what i went through. >> tracy's husband had a pre-cancerous condition that didn't require aggressive treatment. but dr. fata gave him chemo for seven years. he suffered horrible side effects. >> your husband david's quality of life was robbed. >> yes. he just could not heal. he was full of infection. >> his immune system was breaking down. >> his immune system was gone. he ended up losing both of his legs. >> her husband passed away last spring. >> he was being poisoned. i don't think he had a chance. as long as he was with fata. >> this woman's mother was treated too aggressively. she died within a few months of meeting dr. fata. >> i look at my mom's picture every day and i have a picture to apologize to. the guilt never goes away, even though i know it wasn't my fault.
fault. but it never goes away. feeling guilty. >> this man almost died of hea failure as a result of excessive chemo. >> i spent close to two weeks in icu and isolation. i had my heart stopped and i mean, it was -- my sis ystem was shutting down, and it was all to the over chemo -- the poisoning of the amount of chemo. >> like chris, many of the victims are still dealing with lasting consequences of the unnecessary drugs. >> i lost all my teeth, all but one now. i'm still trying to figure out how to pay for it. everything is falling apart on me. >> this man is another patient who never had cancer. >> i had to have a live transplant. >> as a result of the chemo? >> as a result of the chemo.
amount of pills to stay alive. >> all of them were initially taken in by dr. fata's credentials and what they thought was an impressive work ethic. >> he was at the hospital at 6:00 in the morning. he was at the hospital at midnight. now i know why. because no one could cover for him. now it all makes sense. >> same business model for everybody how he was going to maximize his dollar amount out of everybody. >> going to treat you aggressively. if you don't get the treatment, you will die. >> interesting, he diagnosed you all with cancer of the kind that you candidate hold up a c.a.t. scan and say there's a tumor. the kind you couldn't see for yourself with your own eyes. it was really a matter of absolute trust. >> yes. >> these patients have even more reason to be frustrated. dr. fata it turns out could have been stopped years earlier. >> you called it a chemo mill. what did you mean by that? >> just the volume. it was just like get them in,
them in. >> it was back in 2010 that an oncology nurse spent her morning in dr. fata's clinic for that job interview and left horrified. but she did not go quietly. even though she had no idea some of fata's patients didn't even have cancer, she sent a formal complaint about what she saw to michigan's health department. i read your report. you cut to the chase. >> i listed specific drugs. i said patients were being harmed and that the physician was doing more harm than good. i even put, you know, he needs to be investigated by medicare and blue cross blue shield. >> this is serious. also urgent. because lives were at stake here. you assume you heard from the state right away. >> no, no, i didn't. >> you didn't get a call. >> no, no phone call, no follow-up. >> nobody interviewed you. >> nobody interviewed me. >> a letter in the sale say mail? >> nothing.
angela finally got a response. what was that communication? >> the very first sentence was sometime ago you filed an allegation against the above named physician. we did a thorough investigation and found no evidence of the violation of the public health code. so the case is closed. thank you. sorry. >> in the years that followed, angela's 2010 complaint, dr. fata's practice grew by leaps and bounds. how many of you saw or had interactions with dr. fata since 2010? virtually all of you. >> i would question how many people are alive that saw him before 2010. >> but three years later, after monica's broken leg, her chance encounter at the hospital and a tip from the office manager, federal prosecutors were finally on the case.
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cancer clinic. it turns out he was one of the top medicare billers in the country. >> as we reviewed files and tried to make sense of his strategy with treating each patient, each time we looked at it the only strategy that made sense was how do you maximize his payment? when we looked at it lou that lens through that lens, it it made sense. >> there were hundreds of victims that were over treated or who were treated for a can sen cancer they never had. you built your career chasing fraud. >> this is the m most egregious case i have seen in 34i life my life and i'm aware of. >> they der termined he billed medicare for $225 million. and lined his pockets with as
government and insurance companies. >> he built his own diagnostic testing center. a radiation treatment facility and a pharmacy. of course, all of those facilities helped enable his scheme. because he could refer his patients to his own clinics for those unnecessary treatments. >> was that also part of how he was able to shield himself by keeping everyone inside his steer sphere? >> that was part of his scheme. if he is sending people to his own pharmacy, fewer questions about why someone needs those treatments. >> questions that were asked on the inside were explained away? >> well, you know, people often ask, didn't people inside know this? he lied to everybody. at one point when he was questioned about something that he called a maintenance protocol about whether that was necessary, he fabricated his own study and showed it to his colleagues and said, look, this is the protocol i'm following.
>> he was charged with healthcare fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. he pleaded guilty to 16 counts. fata did not respond to interview requests from "dateline." what keeps many up at night is that dr. fata was never charged with a crime directly related to the harm he caused them. you call it murder? >> murder. >> prosecutors called it fraud. >> flat out murder. >> it was fraud. however, it's more than that. he disabled so many people. it's just -- the fraud as far as i'm concerned is a very small part of it. >> why fraud? why not murder? attempted murder? >> we didn't have a statute we could use. also, there is no evidence that he intentionally set out to kill people. so we did the next best thing which was charging him with statutes that exposed him to life in prison. >> you couldn't find evidence that he specifically was giving this to kill people? >> right.
their lives as long as possible and continue to use them as a commodity so that he could make money. >> many of the victims we spoke to, including monica and steve, have filed civil lawsuits. some of the suits name affiliated hospitals. and all the healthcare professionals working in fata's clinics, including the other doctor. those suits have not been resolved. but it's the state agency that didn't take any action after the nurse's complaint that has drawn ire from dr. fata's victims. >> for all we understand, the know. she could have broken the case lives. picture? >> yes. it didn't happen. >> the bureau of professional licenses told "dateline" there was not enough information substantiate angela's allegation.
director said that after dr. fata was arrested, new measures were implemented in order to better protect the health of michigan citizens. investigators have recovered about $13 million of dr. fata's $17.6 million in fraudulent profits. whistle-blower george and his attorney are entitled to $1.7 for athe lerting federal authorities. victims. individuals are waiting to hear ty restitution they will receive. last july they were able to have their day in court at his sentencing hearing. one by one, they stood before the judge and told their stories with dr. fata just a few feet away. >> the day of sentencing was very tough for me. to listen to people reiterate who they were and where they are
>> prosecutors asked for the maximum under the law, 175 years. at the dismay of many victims, the judge decided to send the 50-year-old to prison for 45 years. >> this is a very light sentence for the magnitude of the crime and how many people it affected. >> i don't know. i'm disappointed right now. i don't know what i would say. >> fata is behind bars and has appealed his sentence. monica realizes just how lucky she is after a broken leg, a chance encounter and a twist of fate. if you hadn't broken your leg, if the doctor hadn't looked at your charts, a lot of this wouldn't have unfolded the way it has. how do you process that now when you look back at where we are? >> i thank god. thank god i broke my leg. it shouldn't have happened. i have tripped and fallen on things before.
how i broke my leg that day is a gift from god. >> a gift that may have saved countless lives. in a few minutes, i hope you will join me for the first democratic presidential debate of 2016. live from charleston, south carolina. political director chuck todd is up next with a live preview. lease a 2016 lincoln mkz for $289 a month only at your lincoln dealer. the citi double cash card comes in very handy with cash back twice. with 1% when you buy and 1% as you pay. with two ways to earn on purchases, it makes a lot of other cards
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good evening. it's a big night in american politics. we are less than ten minutes from tonight's democratic debate between the three top candidates. i'm chuck todd here in charleston, south carolina. the three candidates, hillary clinton, bernie sanders and martin o'malley are backstage the podium p clin . setting broad themes for today's debate. they went all over this morning.
change versus continuity. this will be the final showdown, face to face, before the iowa caucuses, which are two weeks from tomorrow when the first votes will be cast. tonight's debate will be moderated by lester holt. he will be joined by andrea mitchell. all of us, including the correspondents and experts, will provide real time analysis. go over to nbcnews.com. right now, let's get into pre-debate action. we will go down to an dree drea mitchell and kristin. >> i'm with andrea mitchell moments before the debate. >> we are so excited. this is the opportunity and just before iowa, last debate before iowa to see the candidates, see hillary clinton, bernie sanders and martin o'malley. what are their differences? help the voters decide.
away. set the scene of the backdrop to the debate. you have been you have been on the campaign trail. a lot of sharp attacks. >> a lot of elbows. the time cog not be better, as you know. they have been going at each other, the intensity of the campaign. she has been acknowledging to supports that perhaps they underestimated him. he has so much support. here where he in south carolina where she has the enthusiasm and the passion.er roots with the african american voters. so this, ironically, could be her firewall if he as current polls suggest, and if it turns out that the way, he could win iowa. he has a strong neighborhood connection to new hampshire. being from vermont. so, this could be the place. in south carolina to test whether he has legs to go further. >> so much at stake for each of these candidates, andrea, just break it down by candidate.
>> we to want hear hillary clinton and see how does she go after him? how tough is she going to be? big foreign policy questions, you know, at stake as well as we see this weekend. and, for bernie sanders, this is the test of, is this going to be the polite democratic campaign or what we've seen on the campaign trail? >> and let's just pause, we have secretary clinton entering right now. shaking some hands. >> and governor o'malley. >> and shaking debbie wastzer man sholt's hands. here is senator sanders that we have all three candidates now walking out on to the stage preparing for the pivotal debate just 15 days before the iowa caucuses, the last time these candidates face off. before the voters have their say. so talk about the anticipation that you feel just being here, andrea, that we all feel? >> it's so exciting.
shout questions or try to ask them questions. we see them as rallies. you can hear the cheers from inside the theater. this is the chance to get into talk about the things they care and, how they handle the pressure from each other. >> well, there's no one better to do that than you and lester, and we are very excited about that. and chuck, i'll toss it back to you. >> thank you, kristin. the candidates are on stage right behind me. you hear the cheers there. by the way, we went from all those red ties at the republican debate last week, it is nothing but blue on stage with our candidates. let me go to another observer, none other than they pal, the chief correspondent of the washington post, and dan, i tell you, in the last 72 hours, suddenly the democratic campaign became the republican campaign. there's fighting, there's all sorts of exchanges. there is a debate that people are actually anticipating with baited breath. what a 72 hours for hillary clinton.
coaster for her. and chuck, what we're looking at tonight is the opening of the closing arguments in this campaign for these two candidates. but all focus is on sanders and clinton. we know that she's going to be tough on him. he's changed his position on guns in the last couple of days. he's got a new plan health care that he put out just before the debate. there is a lot of substance on the table tonight that they're going to go after one another on. >> ultimately, dan, this feels like this is two candidates that have to try to convince the democratic electorate that you want change or continuity with a little bit of change. it seems that's been the struggle for hillary clinton. bernie sanders has had an easier time making that radical change argument. >> very true. i think the other issue is electability. she's going to push that question on him throughout not only the debate, but the final
and new hampshire. raise questions in voters minds about whether bernie sanders can actually win a general election. he is going to try to show that he's got a grassroots movement. we know he's got some significant following, but what he's going to try to do is say he can bring out voters in november that she can't do. >> how much, you know, it's interesting this electability environment. i have spent time that there, electability is a word you don't hear in iowa and new hampshire, you'll hear it in future primaries, but not in the first two contests. >> well, that's right, and i an affect in iowa and new hampshire. i mean, those states are somewhat immune to the kinds of arguments that we hear from candidates at later points in the campaign. i think that in iowa, new hampshire, they've gotten a very close look. and, really, you know web it's a cliche, but there is an effort going into the ground game, identifying the last hard supporters for each candidate
and so the question of electability in iowa will probably be less important than it is later. >> all right, dan, i'll let you get to your seat to you can start writing and reporting. thanks very much. let me go back to kristin welker, she spent much of the day talking to the campaign. she's backstage, we see everybody getting wired up. what are you hearing back there? do you see nervousness, jitters, smiles, what are you seeing? >> chuck, you can feel the anticipation back here. there certainly aren't a whole lot of smiles. this is game time. the candidates are talking to their top aids. they're getting miked up, they've going over their last minute thoughts and ideas before they step outen to that to that stage as we've been reporting all night. this is the most pivotal debate yet. it's coming just days before the all-important iowa cause kuss before the voters weigh in and it comes about 24 hours after vermont senator bernie sanders
piece of gun legislation, and just hours after he released the pay-for plan of his health care plan. so expect secretary clinton to draw sharp lines where with him over both issues, but also to paint him as a flip-flopper. we've seen that in her language and based on your conversation, of course, he signalled that that will be her line of attack as well. and, for martin o'malley, the stakes could not be higher. he is polling in the single digits. this is his chance to really have a breakthrough moment, based on my conversation with senator earlier in the hour, doesn't seem like he's going to be in attack mode. but he might need to draw the sharp lines if he really wants to break through and get on the map of this very competitive race. chuck. >> kristin, i am curious here, i feel like this entire predebate few hours has all been about bernie sanders, him releasing this plan, about him changing this position on guns, it's about him releasing a tax plan. this is a debate that's going to be about bernie sanders for
something changes, no? >> what an incredible tactic, clinton campaign off of its game. is he successful? we'll have to see when they take the stage, chuck. >> all right. kristin welker, backstage, going to be a a doozy. thanks very much. what are we going to see tonight? there is an electorate that's not as antsy as the republicans. democrats are doing something that hasn't happened often. elect a president for a third straight term. hillary clinton being seen more as the continuity candidate with barack obama. sort of progressive change, pragmatic change, she described that herself. bernie sanders trying to tap into the progressive i'd listic movement. we've seen it, he's got energy neighboring state of his, but he's also got energy in iowa now. this is the final showdown between these candidates before iowa, new hampshire take place. after this, they are going to be racing to iowa, and i guarantee