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In a segment that airs in Tuesday's episode of "Real Sports" (11 p.m., HBO), Soledad O'Brien reports on the deaths of several members of the U.S. military tied to dietary supplements sold at their bases and ties those deaths to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and his ongoing efforts to limit the supplement industry from being regulated.
The first half of the 16-minute segment recounts the death of a young soldier at Fort Bliss in Texas, who died of a heart attack during training. That death was linked to a supplement called Jack3d, which the soldier bought at an on-base GNC outlet.
Several more military deaths have been linked to that supplement and others. Because, O'Brien reports, "Unlike medical drugs, medical supplements don't have to be tested on humans or approved for safety by regulators before they're sold."
And that, she reports, is because of the Hatch-sponsored Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
"It's kind of unusual," says Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Usually we're talking about a drug and food law that's designed to protect the public. And here was one that fundamentally seemed designed to protect the industry against regulation."
Weismann makes no bones about what she believes happened.
"If you look at money, that's usually what talks," she says. "Who was the No. 1 recipient of campaign contributions from the dietary supplement industry? Orrin Hatch."
That was true in 2010 when Hatch "wasn't even up for re-election," Weismann says. "They're rewarding him for being a staunch supporter. Even when he doesn't need the money, he still gets it."
Since the law was passed in 1994, the supplement industry has expanded from $9 billion a year to an estimated $30 billion. And Utah has benefitted greatly it's home to nearly a fifth of the supplement industry.
The "Real Sports" report also ties the senator to a lobbying firm that works on behalf of the supplement industry Walker, Martin & Hatch. The partners included the senator's son, Scott Hatch, and one of the senator's former aides, Jack Martin.
O'Brien reports Scott Hatch left the firm in 2011 and has insisted he "never personally lobbied for the supplement industry. And both Hatches have publicly denied that Scott Hatch ever lobbied his father."
Hatch does not defend himself in the report because he refused repeated interview requests from "Real Sports." O'Brien goes so far as to show up at Hatch's senate office unannounced and is told the senator is not in.
Hatch's press secretary, Matt Whitlock, does go on camera and states that the senator won't appear because O'Brien is using "a piece of legislation that he sponsored over 20 years ago … to kind of try and connect him" to the soldiers' deaths.
"You don't think there's any connection?" O'Brien asks.
"I think that you could try … to do some logical gymnastics to make a connection there," Whitlock says, "but I think that that's not something we're going to have, you know, Sen. Hatch come speak to you about."
O'Brien goes on to report, "In the two decades since the law passed, Hatch has never stopped fighting to limit regulation over the supplement industry." That includes his opposition to an amendment that would have required supplement makers to register their ingredients with the government.
And she questions whether any other politician is truly supporting the troops if they oppose efforts to ensure the safety of supplements.
"Well, they're not supporting the troops if they're fighting against greater regulation of the dietary supplement industry. It's that simple," Weismann said.