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At This Hour

Treasury Secretary Calls Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to Discuss Debt Limit; South Carolina Lawmaker Accused of Hiring Hit on Himself Surrenders; Gymnasts Blame FBI for Turning Blind Eye on Sexual Abuse. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 11:30   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN AT THIS HOUR: This 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 and they have the tools to do it. Congresswoman, should Democrats raise the debt ceiling without help from Republicans?

REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): Oh, good to be with you, Boris. And let me tell you what needs to happen. Mitch McConnell and the GOP need to come to the table. This debt ceiling is about the full faith and credit of the United States. It is about not hurting our economy as we are starting to emerge back from this pandemic.

And it is a fundamental responsibility of members of Congress that we pay for this debt. What we have seen is the GOP and Mitch McConnell running up the credit card and then turning around and saying, we don't have anything to do with this. It is unacceptable, we need to come back to the table and get this done.

SANCHEZ: So, CNN has reported that leaders in your party are talking about attaching a debt limit increase on to the must-pass spending bill to keep the government open. Bring us up to speed on where the discussions stand.

CLARK: We're going to do what we need to do to be good guardians of our economy and of the fiscal soundness of this country. When the Republicans were in charge and had the majorities in the White House, we helped them because it is so fundamental. This isn't a partisan discussion. This is about the United States government and meeting the challenge of working families.

And so we will get this done however we need to. But at the same time, we are working on that build back better agenda to put working families and the focus of the policies and investments that we're making. For far too long, it has been on the wealthy and the biggest corporations and it is time to change that and bring those families into the discussion and make the investments that they need to meet the historic challenges they're facing. SANCHEZ: Congresswoman, I've spoken to some economists, including Mark Zandi of Moody's, that say that we should do away with the debt ceiling. They say that all it does is produced drama, that it's just kabuki theater, that at the end of day, Congress wouldn't allow the U.S. to default on its debts. Doesn't it actually make more sense to end the debt ceiling if it is not really making Congress more fiscally responsible?

CLARK: I completely agree. We are one of just two or three countries that still have this. And it is time that we get through this drama and theater that the GOP like to make about fundamental responsibilities and once again put the focus on working families.

The true urgency here is around addressing climate change. It is around making sure that the one in four women who have been forced out of the workforce are able to get back to work because they have the child care and the home care that they need. It is about making sure that every family can -- you know, can buy the prescription drugs and afford them that they need. And have the health care their families need to address this pandemic and the challenges ahead for them.

So, that's where our focus is. And we're going to make sure that we do all of these things, because that is why families sent us to Congress, to take action for them and make sure that we rebuild an economy that works for everyone.

SANCHEZ: Certainly, some hurdles ahead from your party, namely in the form of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. We will be watching. And, hopefully, we'll hear from you again soon. Congresswoman Katherine Clark, thanks for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. So, our special Champions for Change series is back next week. CNN shares stories that spotlight every day people who may not make headlines but are still breaking barriers and inspiring others to do the same. Here is a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Join your favorite CNN anchors for a special week.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Immigrants enrich our country and they're proving it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sharing stories of change-makers.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the most devastating and yet preventable issues of our day.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He hopes the defenseless learn to defend themselves.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Theater teaches courage, confidence, trust.

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WHITFIELD: He is a champion.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Champions for change, all next week on CNN.




SANCHEZ: Some breaking news into CNN. South Carolina Lawyer Alex Murdaugh has just surrendered to authorities after admitting to hiring a hit man to kill him so his son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. The hit man he allegedly hired is already being held at the same jail.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in South Carolina with the breaking details. Martin, you are a veteran grizzled reporter, you've covered a lot of odd and strange stories. The layers on this one, it's like a soap opera. This is a weird.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. It has so many different layers to it, and now we had another one, and that is that, of course, Attorney Alex Murdaugh is now in the custody of law enforcement. It happened about maybe 15, 20 minutes ago. It was a pretty moderate affair. In essence, he was already in the back of an SUV that pulled up to the Hampton County Law Enforcement Center.

It also appeared that he was already I won't say in custody but under the care of law enforcement, judging by one of the people that got out of that SUV. The SUV pulled in between two gates, as is common practice, and then you would eventually see Alex Murdaugh as he was led inside of the building.

It is believed, according to his attorneys, that he is wanted in connection with what is considered to be the insurance fraud scam, in which he tried to have himself murdered by a hit man, but that all went wrong when allegedly the hit man didn't kill him but only wounded him in the head and that plan unraveled and that is how law enforcement came to bring him into custody.

But, of course, before all of that, he has suffered the loss of his wife and son, both who were gruesomely murdered, and so there is a drug addiction too that his family now says that he has been suffering. So, all of that led him so such a dark place, he felt he had to commit this type of crime. We'll wait for the hearing later today, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, just an odd, odd story. Martin Savidge, we appreciate you walking us through that.

Also developing at this hour, a French airstrike has killed a top ISIS leader in Africa who is believed to be the mastermind of a 2017 ambush that killed four U.S. troops in Niger.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is live at the Pentagon with details. And, Alex, this terrorist is someone that the United States had also been chasing for several years.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, someone who had a $5 million bounty on his head, Boris. This was a French drone strike. The French lead many of the counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Northern Africa. They took out last month their leader of what is known as ISIS-GS, ISIS in the Greater Sahara. It's another affiliate in the same way that we talk with ISIS-K over in Afghanistan.

His name was Abu Adnan Walid al-Sahrawi. He had claimed responsibility for that 2017 ambush against both Niger and American troops. Four American service members were killed in that ambush, as well as, according to the State Department another four Nigerian forces. So the State Department did put a $5 million bounty on his head.

And the defense minister of France, after their strike against him, said that this was a decisive blow to ISIS. Boris, with so much talk about ISIS and their presence in Afghanistan, it is another reminder of how global this terrorist network is. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Their actions in Africa are often underreported. We appreciate you bringing that story to us. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

Now, coming up, you're going to hear from former Gymnast Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to speak publicly about Larry Nassar's abuse. She joins us live in just a few moments. Stay with CNN.



SANCHEZ: Attorney General Merrick Garland is testify before Congress next month about the FBI's failures in investigating the massive sexual assault scandal involving former USA Gymnastics Team Dr. Larry Nassar. Four of the most decorated Olympic gymnasts told gut-wrenching stories of abuse and how it could have been stopped. Here was Simone Biles.


SIMONE BILES, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: I ask that your work be guided by the same question that Rachael Denhollander and many others have asked. How much is a little girl worth? I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table, and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar's guise of medical treatment which we continue to endure today.

We suffered and continue to suffer because no one in the FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers.


SANCHEZ: Joining us now is former Gymnast Rachael Denhollander. She's the first woman to speak publicly about Larry Nassar's abuse.

Rachael, we're so grateful to have you today. And I want to start with the question that you asked in court at Larry Nassar's sentencing. And we heard Simone Biles quote you there. How much is a little girl worth? What was it like to hear that during congressional testimony? And how are you doing today?

RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, FIRST SURVIVOR TO PUBLICLY SPEAK OUT ABOUT NASSAR ABUSE: That testimony yesterday was gut-wrenching, because that question, how much is a little girl, how much is a little boy, how much is a person worth is the question that really hangs in the balance here.


And what we saw yesterday, and what we have seen demonstrated over and over and over again by USAG and USOPC and the very law enforcement that was supposed to protect us is that it's people are not worth very much to them.

And it's gut-wrenching to sit with the reality of the damage that's been done that could have and should have been stopped. And for all of us to continually have to keep raising our voices, and fighting not just an abuser but a system that protected him is exhausting and re- traumatizing. It's a reminder that it's not just the abuser who is untrustworthy. It's everybody around you too.

SANCHEZ: And you've been raising your voice publicly in court as well about the abuse that you survived. I have to tell you that watching you confront Larry Nassar overcoming any hesitation or fear that you might have had about telling your story, that's courage. And it's inspiring. And I'm curious what it takes for you to do that, to do what we saw your fellow survivors do yesterday.

DENHOLLANDER: It's an incredible burden to carry. And that's really why I wrote my book, What is a Girl Worth, is because I want people to understand what it's like to have to speak up, and what's really going on inside our justice system. And to get a behind the scenes look at the Nassar investigation, and what it actually took to stop him helps peel back the layers of what survivors are facing every single day, not just their own personal trauma and the personal cost, but the systems that more often than not are protecting abusers on a daily basis.

We have to start wrestling with this reality and asking what has to change, because what we saw yesterday in the FBI hearing is just a blown-up picture of what survivors are living every single day. And we've got to start grappling with that reality.

SANCHEZ: And, Rachael, I want to make clear for the folks at home that you are an attorney. So, in terms of the legal aspects of a case, you know what you're talking about. The survivors and several of the senators at the hearing called for the FBI agents who botched this investigation to be prosecuted, but twice now under both the Trump and Biden administrations, Department of Justice officials looked at the case, they declined to prosecute.

You have a chance right now to send them a message. Do you think they need to act and revisit this case? Do you see grounds for a criminal prosecution here?

DENHOLLANDER: Absolutely. If a citizen were to behave, lying to the Department of Justice, lying to the FBI, lying to the investigators the same way that these FBI agents behaved, you can bet there would be grounds for criminal charges.

There are grounds for criminal charges here. The question is whether or not we care enough to do it. And if action isn't taken, then the message that everybody sending is it actually doesn't matter what you do as law enforcement because we're not going to hold you accountable. So, yes, sending that message loud and clear is absolutely critical.

SANCHEZ: Rachael, it does strike me as we're talking about the Department of Justice that no DOJ officials appeared at that hearing. A couple of them, including the attorney general, Merrick Garland, are going to appear before the same committee next month.

First, what's your reaction to DOJ officials not being there, and what do you want to see lawmakers ask them during that hearing? DENHOLLANDER: I was very upset that they were not there, because, again, what it communicates is this isn't a priority. And when you communicate this isn't a priority, it tells survivors you don't matter and there's no reason to speak up because our justice system isn't going to protect you anyway. Their lack of presence, they sent that message loud and clear.

And what I really hope to see coming out of next month is a continual push for honesty and for transparency not just about what happened but about why there's nothing being done about it and what has to change to enable something to be done about it.

And, really, that goes also to the power that the Senate has. Because the reality is that our qualified and sovereign immunity laws here in the states are almost a complete bar often to criminal prosecution of bad acting law enforcement, and almost always a complete bar to civil prosecution, civil cases against law enforcement who have caused incredible damage through outright corruption and gross negligence.

And until we have mechanisms for holding law enforcement accountable, what we've really done is create a system where they have all of the power and yet none of the accountability. We have got to start having those hard questions. The DOJ needs to act but the Senate needs to act too. They have a lot of power to make an impact from a legislative standpoint if they will value the women and the children around them.

SANCHEZ: And, Rachael, after the I.G.'s report came out detailing how the FBI mishandled the case, you told Kate Bolduan on this show that this is a common problem that survivors walk through all of the time. Given the publicity that you're now attracting to the story, do you think that this specific story may change the calculus here, change things?


DENHOLLANDER: Well, again, that's going to depend on our willingness to act. Because the reality is that you don't get good trained law enforcement. The difference between what Detective Munford of MSUPD was able to accomplish and Angela Povilaitis, the assistant A.G., accomplished in 15 months versus what the FBI accomplished in the same amount of time, that shows us that this can be done.

You can approach these investigations and you can do them very, very well in a trauma-informed way that literally changes the world. We can stop child abusers and sexual abusers. The question is whether or not we're going to equip our law enforcement to do that, and then also have mechanisms accountable for when they don't, for when they act corruptly, like the FBI did.

Equipping and training requires resources. It requires prioritizing. Getting law enforcement and prosecutors who actually can do what Andrea and Angela did. That requires resources. It also requires legislative changes so that there are safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place when you have that acting law enforcement. Whether or not we're going to make those changes is what we're going to have to watch in the next coming year. There's a lot of ability to do the right thing. The willingness is the question.

SANCHEZ: It is a huge question. And given all the hurdles you've had to jump in just telling your story, we tremendously appreciate you sharing your story with us this morning. Rachael Dehollander, thank you so much for your time.


SANCHEZ: Stay with CNN after a quick break. Inside Politics with John King is up. Thanks for joining us.