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At This Hour

Fencing Surrounds U.S. Capitol Ahead of Far-Right Rally; FDA Vaccine Advisers Meet Tomorrow to Debate Booster Shots; Gymnasts Blame FBI for Turning "Blind Eye" on Sexual Abuse. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Buenos dias. Hello, everyone. I'm Boris Sanchez, in for Kate Bolduan. We're thrilled that you are with us.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

D.C. on high alert. A barrier being put up around the Capitol again, as law enforcement prepared for potential unrest this weekend.

Plus, the battle over booster shots. FDA vaccine advisers are going to vote tomorrow on whether to recommend Pfizer boosters. We're going to ask a doctor what that means for you.

And demanding justice. Gut-wrenching testimony from top gymnasts blaming the FBI for not stopping a monster. We're going to speak to the first survivor to name Larry Nassar as her abuser, just ahead.

AT THIS HOUR: we're following two developing stories. In Washington, D.C., police are on high alert preparing for Saturday's far-right rally in support of those charges in the January 6 insurrection. Crews began fencing off the U.S. Capitol overnight, amid concerns that some rally-goers may be armed. Capitol police have requested assistance from the D.C. National Guard in case there is any violence.

We're also monitoring developments on the pandemic as the Biden administration's booster shot campaign faces serious questions this morning. FDA vaccine advisers are going to meet tomorrow to debate whether there is enough proof that a booster dose of Pfizer's vaccine is safe and effective.

The White House wants to begin offering boosters as early as next week. And now that plan is in jeopardy. We're going to talk to an expert about that in just a moment.

But let's start with our nation's Capitol on high alert. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is live outside of the Capitol with our top story.

Shimon, months after being taken down, the fencing around the Capitol is now back up.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is back up, Boris. And most people waking up this morning who were out here for a run saw a much different Capitol Hill fencing going up overnight and into the morning. The construction workers are done now. The fencing is here. They've bolted it down. They've used these concrete barriers to sort of help keep it down. But it is also meant to protect against any vehicles, cars that may try to enter the Capitol.

Of course authorities here on high alert, concerned of possible threats of unrest with the rally that is expected on Saturday. There is so much concern here that this entire area now around the Capitol, the perimeter of the Capitol, is basically fenced in. It is still open, people can go in today. But I suspect that is going to change probably by tomorrow. Certainly by Saturday people will not be allowed to enter the Capitol grounds.

But the fencing stretches all the way to the corner, around the block and then around and on independence and comes back around the entire perimeter closed off. The big question is the National Guard and how will they be assisting the Capitol police. Will we be seeing them behind these fences?

That is unclear. But we do know that the Capitol police did ask for assistance and the Pentagon is going to help with them that, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, given the threats that we've seen in just the past few months, and attempts at the U.S. Capitol, it is not a bad idea to have extra security there.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.

So, we've discussed the security preps for the event, let's talk about who is actually going to be there. The organizer of this weekend's rally in support of insurrectionists is trying to downplay the threat of violence that Shimon was talking about. He tells CNN that he expects a largely peaceful crowd.

Let's get to CNN's Whitney Wild who joins us now.

Whitney, this is a former Trump aide, what else is he saying about what is going to happen on Saturday?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's laying out a couple of ground rules for the hundreds of people, law enforcement are expecting to arrive. A couple of the ground rules, Boris, are don't wear political paraphernalia. Supposedly on its face this is an effort to try to distance themselves from the politics and instead focus this entire issue on justice for people who as we were charged in their role in January 6.

He also says travel in groups and be respectful of security and law enforcement. The organizer of this event, Matt Braynard, pushing these potential people coming to Washington to be especially cognizant of following the rules, following the laws and not bringing weapons, here is what he told CNN.


MATT BRAYNARD, ORGANIZER OF FAR RIGHT RALLY IN D.C.: We've got a largely peaceful crowd. We've had two events in Washington, D.C. so far, at department of justice and at the prison and there have been no incidents so far. No one is bringing a weapon that is part of our crowd. I could assure the police that.


WILD: That's the hope. However, the reality, as law enforcement knows could be very different. It only takes one person to cause an enormous problem, to do something outrageous.

Law enforcement is not taking that chance.


That's why you see the fence up. Police Chief Tom Manger saying, if it all goes well and there is no problems, the fence will come down shortly after September 18th.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, no way to take in any chances. Whitney Wild, thank so much for that.

So where are lawmakers going to be, especially the Republicans trying to revise the history of January 6? Some Republican lawmakers are trying to distance themselves from this far-right rally. Though some Democrats are eager to hold them accountable for the fallout from January 6.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is live in Washington with new reporting.

Melanie, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has said that he doesn't believe that any Republicans are going to be attending this event.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: That is right. And we're hearing this are no Republican members expected to speak nor are they promoting on the event and some have encouraged people not to go warning it is a trap. There is clearly concern in the GOP about this being a potential weapon used against them by Democrats and worried about the political fallout.

But at the same time, no Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy have condemned this rally or the cause. In fact there are several members of Congress who have spoken out in support of the jails insurrectionists and there are multiple GOP congressional candidates who are speaking on Saturday, a sign that they view this as beneficial for their congressional campaigns.

Look, I think McCarthy and GOP leaders find themselves in a tough spot. They don't want to be seen as pro-insurrectionist but the base believes the big lie and believes the attack was justified. Adam Kinzinger is one of the few Republicans call out Trump's lies about the election. He was asked about this on "NEW DAY." Take a listen to what he had to say.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): If we have to have this fence put up every time somebody that hates the federal government goes and rallies, it is time for the Republican Party to denounce militia-ism and to say we are a country that takes our disagreements an we discuss them in Congress. We don't do this violently.


ZANONA: So even if Republicans don't attend the rally on Saturday, clearly, it could pose a new set of headaches for party -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, Representative Kinzinger on an island with that argument.

Melanie Zanona, thank you so much.

We want to pivot now to the pandemic, because there is still major questions surrounding America's booster shot campaign. FDA vaccine advisers are set to meet tomorrow to sort out whether to approve the Pfizer request for a booster dose as new data appears to support the argument for an additional shot.

Joining us now is Carlos del Rio. He's the executive associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine and we should note that Dr. Del Rio was involved in the trials for Moderna's vaccine.

Doctor, thank you for joining us this morning. You've been skeptical about the need for boosters right now and you are not the only one. I want to you listen to the head of the national institute of health Dr. Francis Collins, what he told CNN last night.


COLLINS: I will tell you, I was one of the biggest skeptics of the docs in the White House about boosters and I've become convinced particularly looking at Israeli data, Chris. And a lot of that will be presented on Friday, because Israel is about three months ahead of us. They got most of the population immunized in April and we could see that the people got immunized back in January, by the time you got to July, their protection would really tart to drop off. Not just against any infection, but against severe infection.


SANCHEZ: Doctor, you've suggested that Pfizer has been promoting the idea of boosters in the United States potentially without the necessary data to back that argument up. What do you see in the data? Are boosters necessary starting next week?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICNE AT GRADY HEALTH SYSTEM: Well, Boris, what I'm seeing right now, what Collins is referring to is a paper published yesterday in the new England journal of medicine from Israel showing that in people who received a third dose, a so-called booster shot in Israel over the age of 60, they had a 11-fold greater increase in their protection against infection and a 19 percent increase in -- 19 percent increase in protection against severe disease. So there is a benefit of boosters based on that data, particularly in

people over the age of 60. I don't think that -- I think that the data for people over the age of 60 is increasingly very clear and I think a booster likely to be required for them. I'm not sure if it is required for everybody. If you are 30 and you got immunized you may not need to line up to get a booster right now and that is probably what we'll hear tomorrow from the FDA advisory committee.

SANCHEZ: And you've argued that getting the unvaccinated on board and getting shots in those arms is potentially a bigger priority than booster shots, is that correct?

DEL RIO: Well, that is absolutely correct. We have close to 100,000 people in the hospital right now in our country.


And I could tell that you 90 plus percent of those hospitalize ready not vaccinated.

So getting more vaccine to the people already vaccinated is go to do very little to sort of lessen the burden of our hospitals and ICU and health care system and decrease mortality. Close to 2,000 Americans are now dying daily as a result of COVID.

We have to get the unvaccinated vaccinated in order to really change the course of the pandemic.

SANCHEZ: Doctor, I find it interesting that the FDA has been so reliant on this data coming out of Israel. Specifically because Israel in terms of population and in terms of number of people that have been vaccinated there, it makes an imperfect model for the United States. What do you make of that?

DEL RIO: Well, we have to also remember that there is a clinical trial, right? Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, Novavax all have now completed their analysis on their first cut under phase three trial. They're still following the participants. So there is data that Pfizer will present from the clinical trial data and I think we'll see similar results out of that. I'm looking forward to looking at data tomorrow because we have more than just the Israeli data.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, and, Doctor, we mentioned at the top you were part of the team that helped test the Moderna vaccine. Moderna has come out and said it's working on a new type of booster that would protect people against potential future variants. How exactly would that work?

DEL RIO: Well, there is a lost work happening right now, trying to develop what we call a pana coronavirus vaccine. A vaccine that will target that the current variants of COVID that are in circulation will be attacked but future variants and future classes of coronavirus because we have come to realize, Boris, that coronavirus is the most dangerous virus coming forward into the future. When we think about future pandemics, this will not be the last pandemic we see in the coronavirus and we need to be prepared for future ones.

SANCHEZ: A daunting note to end our conversation. Dr. Carlos Del Rio, we always appreciate your expertise.

DEL RIO: Happy to be with you.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, top gymnasts blaming the FBI for not stopping a president tor from sexual abusing other girls. Will any FBI officials face criminal charges? We'll discuss with two experts next.



SANCHEZ: Demands for justice are growing louder as four top gymnasts take on the FBI. The four bravely telling their horrifying stories of being sexual abused by their four top gymnastics team Doctor Larry Nassar. All four women during testimony before Congress yesterday squarely blaming the FBI for turning a blind eye on them. The gymnasts and senators alike are calling for the agent who mishandled the case to be prosecuted.


MARONEY: These FBI agents have committed an obvious crime. They falsifying my statement and that is illegal in itself. Yet no recourse has been taken against them. The department of justice refused to prosecute these individuals.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The inspector general's findings in his July report paid a shocking paint of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): It is not just those two FBI employees who are to blame. This failure was systematic. There must be accountability for the individuals and institutions that enabled Larry Nassar, anything else is unacceptable.


SANCHEZ: Let's discuss these systemic failures an the potential for accountability with Asha Rangappa. She's a former FBI agent and legal and national security analyst and Jennifer Rodgers, a CNN legal analyst.

Asha, let's start with you. The two agents that lied about the investigation, one of them has been fired, the other one left the bureau of their own accord. But as you just heard, the survivors who testified and at least some of the senators want to see criminal charges. How likely do you think that is to happen?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it depends on what these individuals were told when they spoke to the office of the inspector general. So, the office of inspector general basically compelled some of the witnesses, including the supervisor special agent to sit down for interviews after the Department of Justice declined to prosecute them for misconduct.

And so in that situation, Boris, you have kind of the similar situation you had in the Bill Cosby case, that if you then use statements that they made to prosecute them, that is a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights. So I think it really depends on what promises were made and about what conduct.

But if there is lying to -- to the inspector general or other misconduct that DOJ didn't promise them that they would not prosecute, that could potentially still be on the table. I think we need to learn more about that possibly from the Department of Justice.

SANCHEZ: Jennifer, both the Biden and Trump administrations looked at this and decided not to prosecute as Asha pointed out.


Justice Department officials refused to request to appear at this hearing. I want to you listen to what Aly Raisman said about that this morning on the "Today" show. Here she is.


ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: Very disappointing that nobody from the Department of Justice came. It just to me sends a message that they didn't think that it was worth their time, which is really concerning.


SANCHEZ: That issue, I think speaks volumes about where the DOJ stands on this. Why do you think no one from DOJ was at this hearing and can this public pressure campaign change the calculus here?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it could change the calculus as far as whether we hear from DOJ about this. I don't think it will change a calculus about decision making in terms of criminal charges because I think those decisions have been made and DOJ likes to keep a close hold on its prosecutorial discretion and didn't like other folks telling it what to do.

I understand the anger at DOJ not showing up to defend their decisions. Again, those decisions are made behind closed doors, DOJ typically doesn't explain why or why not in terms of criminal charges. But I understand the frustration with them not at least coming in and giving some explanation of the way that they typically decide these cases. Something to kind of give the victims some sense that DOJ is listening to them and is concerned about what happened here.

So I wouldn't be surprised to see them appear at another hearing to explain some of those things. But you would not expect them to be willing to give a deep dive into the decision-making process because DOJ typically refused to do that in all cases.

SANCHEZ: And that is something that the survivors as you noted are furious with. Let's play McKayla Maroney's account with her interview with an FBI agent. She said that she described her encounters with Nassar, the abuse in a three-hour phone call and some of the testimony that is just really infuriating. Here it is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARONEY: I begun crying at the memory over the phone and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agency's silence and disregard for my trauma and after that minute of silence, he asked, is that all? Those words in itself was one of the worst moments of this entire process for me. To have my abuse be minimized and disregarded by the people who were supposed to protect me.


SANCHEZ: Asha, as a former FBI special agent, when you heard that, what was your reaction?

RANGAPPA: I was shocked. I read the OIG report. I can't imagine where this kind of interview would be conducted over the phone. Not only is it a sensitive interview, a sensitive victim interview, but it is really important to be face-to-face, to be able to, you know, have that meaningful back and forth to make the interviewee comfortable and also to read the other signals going on.

And so that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of kind of the lackadaisical approach at best and complete malfeasance and dereliction of duty at worst in terms of handling of this. This was the only one interview they did of three victims that were.

What I'm worried about here is both with the way this was handled and if there is no criminal follow-up with some of the more egregious behavior. This could chill a lot of future reporting. I mean, we've seen people who are complicit in not following their moral duty when they see things that happen and don't report it. But these FBI agents had a legal duty to follow, that they didn't.

And I think that this could have ripple effects when people say, wow, you know, if the FBI won't handle this, who will? And I think that would be a really, really unfortunate consequence of what is being uncovered.

SANCHEZ: Asha Rangappa, Jennifer Rodgers, we have to end this portion of the conversation there. We thank you both for joining us.

The broader conversation about these brave women and their testimony doesn't end though. Coming up later this hour, we're going to speak with former gymnast Rachel Denhollander. She's the first woman to name Larry Nassar as her sexual abuser.

Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.



SANCHEZ: Well, it's just about 29 minutes past the hour.

And later in afternoon, President Biden will again make another pitch on his economic agenda. It comes as CNN has learned that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss the looming debt limit that is just a few weeks ago. McConnell has vowed to oppose raising the debt ceiling.

Here to discuss is assistant speaker, Congresswoman Katherine Clark.

Congresswoman, we appreciate you being on with us today.

Senator McConnell's spokesperson told CNN Daniela Diaz and Betsy Klein that the minority leader told the treasury secretary, it is a unified Democrat government engaging in a partisan reckless tax and spending spree. They will have to raise the debt ceiling on their own --