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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden, Allies Announces New Plan To Pushback On China, Assist Australia In Acquiring Nuclear Powered Submarines; Three New Studies Support Arguments For Pfizer Booster; FDA Advisers To Debate Dueling Third Shot Data On Friday; Attorney: SC Lawyer Hired A Hit Man To Shoot Him In The Head; Both North And South Korea Fire Ballistic Missiles As Tensions Rise; Four Space Tourists Launch Tonight For Three Days In Orbit. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We'll bring you those remarks when they start. But first, let's bring in Jeremy Diamond live at the White House.

Jeremy, what is President Biden going to talk about at this national security announcement?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we have learned according to a senior administration official that President Biden is going to be announcing a new trilateral partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom that seems to be aimed ostensibly at challenging China in the Asia and the Pacific.

One of the -- at the heart of this partnership, what we are learning is that it's going to be the U.S. and the U.K. working to help Australia develop nuclear powered submarines. That is something that the Australian military does not currently have, and that the U.S. and the United Kingdom are going to help Australia develop.

As a senior official speaking to this earlier said that this is extremely rare. In fact, the United States has only once before shared this highly sensitive military technology with another country. And that was with the United Kingdom, some 70 years ago.

And so, while the White House is insisting that this new partnership, which is going to be focused on defense issues as well as cyber issues, they say that it's not focused on any one country. Not to focus on -- sorry, Jake.

TAPPER: Jeremy, let me interrupt, I'm sorry, because President Biden just came out. We're going to listen to him -- his remarks right now.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Johnson, and President Biden. Today, we join our nations and the next generation council (ph) filled with strong candidates for the trust.

We have similar lens. We've always believed in a world that favors freedom, that respects human dignity, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states and the peaceful fellowship of nations. And while we have always looked to each other, to do what we believe is right, we have never lifted each other, always together, never alone.

Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all, the future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures. To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level. A partnership that seeks to engage not to exclude, to contribute, not take, and to enable and empower, not to control or coerce.

And so, friends, AUKUS is born, a new enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. AUKUS, a partnership where our technology, our scientists, our industry, our defense forces are all working together to deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all.

AUKUS will also enhance our contribution to our growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, answers our ASEAN friends, our bilateral strategic partners, the quad, Five Eyes countries, and of course, our dear Pacific family.

The first major initiative of AUKUS will be to deliver a nuclear powered submarine fleet for Australia. Over the next 18 months, we will work together to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this. This will include an intense examination of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear stewardship responsibilities here in Australia. We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide, Australia, in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States.

But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability. And we will continue to meet all our nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

Australia has a long history of defense cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom. For more than a century, we have stood together for the course of peace and freedom. Motivated by the beliefs we share, sustained by the bonds of friendship we have forged, enabled by the sacrifice of those who have gone before us and inspired by our shared hope for those who will follow us. And so today, friends, we recommit ourselves to this course, and a new AUKUS vision.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm delighted to join President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison to announce that the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States are creating a new trilateral defense partnership known as AUKUS with the aim of working hand in glove to preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

We're opening a new chapter in our friendship. And the first task of this partnership will be to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear powered submarines, emphasizing of course that the submarines in question will be powered by nuclear reactors not armed with nuclear weapons. And our work will be fully in line with our nonproliferation obligations.


This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world lasting for decades, and requiring the most advanced technology. It will draw on the expertise that the U.K. has acquired over generations dating back to the launch of the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine over 60 years ago. And together, with the other opportunities from AUKUS creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, the north of England, and the Midlands taking forward, this government's driving purpose of levelling up across the whole country.

We will have a new opportunity to reinforce Britain's place at the leading edge of science and technology, strengthening our national expertise. And perhaps most significantly, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. will be joined even more closely together, reflecting the measure of trust between us, the depth of our friendship, and the enduring strength of our shared values of freedom and democracy.

Only a handful of countries possess nuclear powered submarines. And it is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability and perhaps equally momentous for any other state to come to its aid. But Australia is one of our oldest friends, a kindred nation and a fellow democracy and a natural partner in this enterprise.

Now, the U.K. will embark on this project alongside our allies, making the world safer and generating jobs across our United Kingdom.

Thank you. Over to you, Mr. President.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Boris. And I want to thank that fellow down under. Thank you very much, pal. Appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.

I am honored today to be joined by two of America's closest allies, Australia United Kingdom, to launch a new phase of the trilateral security cooperation among our countries.

As Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Johnson said, I want to thank you for this partnership, your vision as we embark together on this strategic mission. Although Australia, the U.K. and U.S. partnership, AUKUS, it sounds strange and all these acronyms, but it's a good one, AUKUS.

Our nations will update, enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century, just as we did in the 20th century. Together, our nations and our brave fighting forces have stood shoulder to shoulder for literally more than 100 years through the trench fighting to World War I, the island hopping to World War Two during the frigid winters in Korea, and the scorching heat of the Persian Gulf. The United States, Australia, United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners are even closer today.

Today, we're taking another historic step, to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations. Because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term. We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.

This about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow. It's about connecting Americans existing allies and partners in new ways, and amplifying our ability to collaborate, recognizing there is no reasonable divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners.

Indeed, this effort reflects a broader trend of key European countries playing an extremely important role in the Indo-Pacific. France in particular, already has substantial Indo-Pacific presence and as a key partner and ally in strengthening the security and prosperity of the region. The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we go forward.

And finally, this initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability, the most modern capabilities we need to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats.


AUKUS will bring together our sailors, our scientists, and our industries, and maintain and expand our edge and military capabilities and critical technologies such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea domains.

Now as the key project under AUKUS, we are launching consultations with Australia's acquisition of conventionally armed nuclear powered submarines for its Navy, conventionally armed.

I want to be exceedingly clear about this. We're not talking about nuclear armed submarines. These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors. This technology is proven, it's safe. In the United States and U.K. have been operating nuclear powered submarines for decades.

I have asked Secretary Austin of the Department of Defense to lead this effort for the U.S. government in close collaboration with the Department of Energy and the Department of State. Our governments will now launch an 18-month consultation period to determine every element of this program from workforce, to training requirements, to production timelines, to safeguards and nonproliferation measures, and to nuclear stewardship and safety to ensure full compliance with each of our nation's commitments of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

We'll all undertake this effort in a way that reflects the long standing leadership in global nonproliferation and rigorous verification standards, in partnership, in consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So I want to thank the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Johnson, for their friendship, but mostly important for their leadership and partnership, as we undertake this new phase of our security cooperation. And the United States will also continue to work with ASEAN and the quad, as was stated earlier, our five treaty allies and other close partners in the Indo-Pacific, as well as allies and partners in Europe, and around the world to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and build a future of peace, opportunity for all the people of the region.

We're joining together, our partnerships are getting stronger. This is what we're about.

I want to thank you all. And I look forward to seeing both of you in person, very soon, I hope. Thank you. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, could you tell what President Xi when you spoke to him last night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are bruisers (ph) still rolling out next week?

TAPPER: You have been listening to a major national security announcement, President Biden joined by the leaders, the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia announcing that the U.S. and U.K. will help Australia acquire and deploy nuclear powered submarines. That's different than a nuclear armed submarine. But we'll talk more about that.

This is a serious stamp about countering the increasing flexing of muscle by China in the Pacific. So let's get you up to speed.

And frankly, we need to take a moment here and acknowledge that the United States on foreign policy has to a great degree been focused either on counterterrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the threat from Russia. We haven't really, in the news media, focus a great deal on China.

So, let's talk about how big a deal this is. The U.S. is going to help Australia, and the U.K. are going to help Australia get a nuclear powered submarines. That doesn't mean a nuclear arms submarine, right?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does not. It's a very important distinction, which, as you -- as we'd note the President took care to make. It is a big deal, no matter how you look at on several levels.

First, in my mind, it really breathes life into the notion of a pivot to Asia, which we've been talking about for a long time.

TAPPER: For decades. Yes.

CLAPPER: For decades. And this is -- it's a very bold step for the Australian Government, the Australian people to take. It conveys --

TAPPER: Why is it a bold step?

CLAPPER: Well, the notion of a nuclear capabilities are somewhat controversial, they certainly weren't up (ph) in New Zealand, for example, which of course is not part of this. So, I just think that -- and the fact that given the dependence that Australia has on China for its economy, it's a bold step because clearly the Chinese will view this as provocative as -- and they should.

And also, I think, demonstrates a real pivot away from the distractions that you mentioned, Afghanistan, counterterrorism into a strategic relationship that we've always had a close relationship with Australia clearly. Certainly, I can attest to being in the intelligence domain.


This extent will profoundly extend -- buttress the capability of the Australian Navy. And in a sense, expand the size of the fleet available of attack submarine fleet available to the United States, because we are so interoperable.

So, in my mind and several levels, a really big deal, and coincidentally coming on that right timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, the Australia, New Zealand, U.S. Treaty, so it's yet another layer of the intimate relation partnership we have with Australia and the U.K..

TAPPER: OK, Colonel Leighton, for people who have not been focusing entirely on Chinese as in assertions, aggressions in the Pacific, what has led up to this, that Australia, the United States and the U.K. would feel the need to reassert the alliance and say, and you know, what, we're going to give some powerful submarines to Australia to push back against China. What is China been doing that has the West so alarm?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So Jake, the most obvious thing is what's been happening in the South China Sea. What you have is an area that's been claimed by China by the People's Republic of China for really since they took over Mainland China in the late 1940s. And what those claims are based on natural resources or perceived natural resources in those areas, so it's between Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and of course, China and Taiwan. So that's the first part of it.

So what we're talking about here is making sure that what we call the sea lanes of communication are open. So what does that mean? That means that the trade routes that we use on the open seas need to be protected in the U.S. and Australian and U.K. view, they need to be protected by our collective forces, in order to make sure that no other Navy can interfere with the trade routes as they exist right now. So that means any oil, for example, it comes from the Middle East, any raw materials that come from Africa, things that China depends on a great deal.

TAPPER: Have they been doing that? Have the Chinese been stopping those trade routes?

LEIGHTON: Not yet. But the fear it is that they could and they haven't been doing so directly. And the other part of this is Taiwan. The Chinese have made lots of noises in the last few months about taking over Taiwan as part of their, you know, bring it back into China. They're really making sure that they can go ahead and take over what the Chinese nationalists have had since the late 1940s.

And what they're also doing is they're making sure that civil liberties in Hong Kong are being curtailed. So you have three things going on, on the open side of things. And then beneath all of that, you have a big cyber war that's going on between China and the United States.

And all of that speaks to a large picture where China and the U.S. are really fighting each other in a virtual way. But what is happening now is the United States is moving its focus along with the U.K. and Australia into the Pacific and making good on the plan as General Clapper mentioned --


LEIGHTON: -- to do this over the last few decades.

TAPPER: And we should note that, first of all, it's very clear to President Biden that President Xi who his known for decades, I think, is not a reformer, is aggressive in the same way that Putin longs for the old USSR, Xi longs for the old China of Mao, perhaps, and that this is in President Biden's view part of the struggle between democracy versus autocracy.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that has been the central kind of organizing theme that we have heard from President Biden since he took over office, you know, it is a competition of the U.S. versus China, democracy versus autocracy. But what we're seeing now is just how the Biden administration is actually going to, you know, really bring that to life.

And I think the Biden administration has been clear that they're not going to take on China alone. And by tapping into the U.K., the Brits, and the Australians, two of our closest allies and pulling them in on an effort that is forward looking. Like when you heard President Biden speak about the things that they are going to be sharing together, it's about defense, it's about this new submarine for the Australians, it's about cyber, it's about A.I. These are all forward looking efforts. It's not about, you know, wars of the past, traditional warfare.


I also think it's significant that the U.K. hasn't really been present in the Indo-Pacific for the greater part of the last decade or so. You know, after World War II, the U.K. really left. So this brings them back and it brings them back alongside the U.S. and the Australians.

TAPPER: Let's go over to CNN's New Beijing Bureau Chief, Steven Jiang, who's live in the Chinese capital.

And Steven, obviously, it's still very early there. But what do you expect the Chinese government's response will be to this announcement if they did not already know it was coming? STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Jake, you know, this is obviously not going to sit well with them as one of your panelists just pointed out. They would see this as a provocation.

But you know, also, this is probably in a way not surprising because Australia and China relations have really plunged to a deep freeze for some time. This, of course, was getting really to the point of no return after Scott Morrison, the prime minister in April 2020, caught for international -- independent international inquiry into the origin of the COVID and really seen by Beijing as a thinly veiled attack on China's role in sorting this pandemic.

And that of course -- since then, of course, we have seen China using every possible means to basically attack Australia, not only diplomatically and militarily, but also probably more importantly, economically, you know, China is Australia's biggest trading partner. And but since April of last year, Chinese authorities have made it very difficult for Australian exports to reach this very important market. You know, we are talking about things from coal to beef to barley to wine. The bilateral trade, actually, it dropped more than $4 billion between these two trading partners.

So, this is really seen by many as an example of Beijing using a U.S. ally, a very close one, as an example, to show the rest of the world. But especially U.S. allies and partners, what happened to them if they get too close to what Beijing considers to the anti-China agenda by Washington.

And so, I think this is very important, this announcement, because this is President Biden really telling Beijing that U.S. is committed to standing with its allies, especially like minded liberal democracies in, you know, countering these Chinese aggression as a sort of policies, as you mentioned. And this is also especially important after what happened in Afghanistan, because the events they're having seized by Beijing propaganda machine as an example of U.S. abandoned its ally at critical moments, I think this is again, Mr. Biden trying to counter that message as well. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Steve, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And General Clapper, let me just ask you, I mean, I think one of the baseline thoughts by people watching this right now and trying to understand what it means to their lives is, does this mean we are headed towards some sort of military confrontation with China? Obviously in the cyber realm, that's already happening. Obviously trade wars are going on. But when we start talking about submarines, these are, we should note, Australian submarines, but submarines getting involved in patrolling the seas to counter China, what does that mean in terms of a great power war potentially?

CLAPPER: Well, I think right now, it means greater deterrence and it puts Australia in play, particularly because of the endurance of the nuclear powered submarine and the range that gives them, because Australia's long away from the sea, the proximate maritime areas around China. So I don't think it means directly war. It certainly means the better preparation in the, God forbid, we get into a hostile situation. But I think the important message here is it represents deterrence.

TAPPER: Deterrence.

All right. Thanks, everyone, for all your thoughts. Big story that's going to keep happening. So thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Breaking right now, three new reports just published all backing the argument that if you are fully vaccinated, you might need to get that third shot. We'll have the details next.

Plus, the threatening words from Kim Jong-un's sister after both North and South Korea fire off test missiles. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our health lead. Just moments ago, three highly anticipated studies were released, two from Pfizer, one from Israel, nudging scientists and doctors closer to a definitive answer on the currently hotly debated question, are booster shots for fully vaccinated Americans needed?

Joining us now to discuss, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And Sanjay, we've heard about data from Israel suggesting that boosters are needed for months. What do these studies say?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So let's look at this, Jake. I want to put up the study. This has been making a lot of news, this is going to be discussed on Friday at that vaccine meeting.

Here is the data out of Israel. Let me break it down for you. It's basically month by month saying how well protected are you if you had your vaccine and second dose in January? That's on the left side of the screen going to the right. So you see if you had your dose in January, you're going to have lower protection than going forward.

But look at this graph closely, Jake, there's a couple things to point out. April seems to actually be worse off than March in terms of protection. Why would a more recent set of vaccinations actually have less protection? I don't know, that's curious for sure. Something they're going to suddenly talk about.

But also those vertical lines we're going to nerd out for a second, Jake, but those are called confidence intervals. How confident are you in that number? It can walk it can vary within that line.

And if you look at those vertical lines, tons of overlap there. So point is, how robust is this data? That's what they're going to look at. How meaningful is it?

One other study, you mentioned that there's three, one other study talked about, this is out of the New England Journal of Medicine. And in this case, they looked at boosters specifically, and said, how well does it compare to people who just got two shots. And what they found was that it did seem to reduce the rate of confirmed infections quite a bit, 11.3 times and rate of severe illness 19.5 times. But it was -- this study sort of started 12 days after the shot. And some of the critics have said, is that long enough to really know the long term value of a booster?

Yes, you're going to get a lot of protection right away after the shot, we know that. But what about a month later, two months later, three months later. This is the contentious part of the discussion, what they're going to have to sort of figure out on Friday.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And what sort of data are we getting from Pfizer and Moderna?

GUPTA: Well Pfizer's presenting sort of similar data, we can show you. There is a sort of waning of the overall effect that drops by about 6 percent every couple of months. Now, this is in terms of the protection and the effectiveness against anybody who has any symptoms of COVID could be really mild symptoms, could be severe symptoms, and you do see drop off.

But the critical point, if you look in that study, and I hope people don't miss this point is that for severe illness, it is still pretty much across the board 96.7 percent effective, that's according to their own study. So for severe illness, the thing that they care about the most, it holds up, and it doesn't really degrade. As far as Moderna goes, they did show it in more breakthrough infections, the further away you get from your vaccines. But again, overall, very good protection against severe illness and no safety concerns.

TAPPER: So we're looking at the population of Israel. Does it make sense to compare the United States to Israel? Israel has a high vaccination rate, higher than the U.S. writ large, it has a much smaller population. Frankly, it's also not as diverse as the United States.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it's interesting because they've always sort of been ahead of us in the vaccine thing. So in some ways, they're sort of a living lab. All the things you say are correct. It's not a perfect sort of lab or analogy, but they are ahead. So we kind of look to them for their data and see is there any of that that's, you know, lessons we can learn here.

So let's take a look at what's been happening in Israel to get a sense of how their numbers have changed. 63 percent of the country vaccine, so higher than we have here. And yet you see there at higher case rates now than they've ever been before. So, and this is after at least boosters in the age group, 60 and older. So we talked about the fact that boosters will hopefully reduce breakthrough infections. But in Israel, in fact, cases are highest -- as high as they've ever been, a little bit higher than that even.

So, I think, you know, it's -- there's lessons there. The vaccines are really good at protecting against severe illness. They may not be as good at protecting against breakthrough infections, and that's an important thing to remember. Because if we keep saying breakthrough infections are going to inspire us to give more and more shots, that may be a little bit of a false metric as Israel showing us.

TAPPER: Right. But of course, the most important numbers are fatalities, and severe illness or hospitalization as opposed to just infection. Infection could mean you have --

GUPTA: That's right.

TAPPER: -- you just have the virus but no side effects at all. How do you expect this new information to impact the FDA's decision on whether or not to officially recommend boosters for people who are fully vaccinated?

GUPTA: You know, Jake, the honest answer is I don't know. I mean, this has been kind of a mess, to be quite honest, because the original messaging came out of the White House. And even though, you know, the CDC and FDA, and you know, the White House were on board with that, it became very clear very quickly that not everyone in those agencies at the FDA and CDC agreed. And you heard about the sort of high profile announced departures of people at the FDA.

There's a lot of back and forth on this. I think where the data seems most convincing as we saw, for example, giving a boost to immune compromised people. That makes sense. They were never able to generate enough of an immune response in the first place. So this boost will help them.

People who are over the age of 60. That's where most of the data that we're seeing out of Israel really is focused on. And there -- as I just showed you, there's some evidence of it. It's kind of -- it's a little bit weak, because huge confidence intervals and things like that, but there's some evidence. But whether or not the FDA will then recommend everybody get boosted, I don't know. I wouldn't think so. But, you know, we'll see.

TAPPER: Let's -- Sanjay, stick around. But I do want to bring in a CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who has the details on the upcoming FDA decision. And Elizabeth, this is not going to be an easy decision for the FDA.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, when FDA vaccine advisors meet on Friday to discuss boosters for COVID-19 vaccines, well it is short to be contentious and perhaps even somewhat bitter.


Last month, President Biden came out and talked about the booster program even gave a date for next week to start that program up. And that has made many scientists quite angry. They say the President of the United States should not be talking about something until FDA and CDC scientists have been able to look at the data and weigh in on their thoughts.

So let's take a look at what some of this data is. At issue is whether two shots are enough to protect people. U.S. and Qatari studies suggest the two shots are sufficient to protect against severe illness, against severe COVID-19. But there is rarely studies that suggest the two shots are not sufficient to protect against severe COVID-19.

And out this hour from the New England Journal of Medicine, and Israeli study that shows boosters do protect against severe illness. That Israeli data is based on their booster program that started on August 1st. They've already given booster shots to millions of people.

Now, there's another layer to this. We've already talked about shots protecting against severe illness. But what a booster shot protect against infection. We know that sometimes people get two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine and they get an infection, they get COVID-19. Typically they don't get very sick.

One camp says that's not a big deal. These people don't get very sick. Another camp set says, well, those people are still possible of spreading COVID-19 around and we don't want that. So let's take a listen to something that Dr. Rochelle Walensky said recently.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In early August, we started to see that there was some waning with our vaccine effectiveness, just with regard to infections. People weren't getting that particularly sick yet, but just with regard to infections, and that foreshadow we may be seeing this soon with regard to hospitalizations and severe disease.


COHEN: So the vaccine advisors are going to be debating this on Friday as Americans wait to hear, will they be getting a COVID-19 booster shot? Jake?

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

So Sanjay, clearly behind the scenes, this is a huge mess (ph), what's your reaction?

GUPTA: I think the FDA has really taken this opportunity in some ways to signal their independence here. They want to make sure they're independent. And we and we saw this, you know, look at the beginning of this -- the whole vaccine authorization process last year. You remember that with President Trump and the FDA, the FDA saying look, we are going to wait until we are convinced. And we may see some of that here or they may sort of play it down the line saying, we understand that the White House has talked about boosters across the board. The evidence is strongest only for certain age groups, 60 or 65 and older.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Look out for Sanjay's new book titled, "World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic". It comes out October 5th. We'll talk all about it with him when it comes out.

Coming up next, even more twists that prominent South Carolina lawyer now admits he hired someone to shoot him in the head. And now a new investigation involving the death of a housekeeper at the family's home. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, a stunning twist in the investigation into the shooting of the prominent South Carolina Attorney Alex Murdaugh. You may recall Murdaugh's son and wife had been killed months before he was shot. Now Murdaugh's own attorney confirms what investigators revealed overnight that Murdaugh had hired a hitman to shoot him in the head.

The apparent goal to fake a murder so that his surviving son could collect $10 million in life insurance. But Murdaugh survived the shooting. And the stage case is raising new questions about those unsolved murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul back in June.

CNN's Martin Savidge has been digging into Murdaugh and his claims and has the new revelations coming to light.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A shooting on the side of this South Carolina road is now embroiled in charges of conspiracy and insurance fraud. Prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh said he was shot in the head on September 4th, after he pulled over to check his tires. But he has now said he asked this man Curtis Smith to do it.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: Realize that things were going to get very, very, very bad, and he decided to end his wife.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): His lawyer tell CNN that the 53-year-old suffered a fractured skull and brain bleed, but survived. An affidavit alleges Mr. Murdaugh provided Mr. Smith with a firearm and directed Mr. Smith to shoot him in the head. Smith is charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

It is not clear whether Smith has an attorney or how he intends to plea on the charges. Murdaugh who has not been charged, told South Carolina police he was in such a bad financial position. He thought death was his only way to ensure a life insurance payout for his son, his attorney says.

HARPOOTLIAN: He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion. Suicide exclusions are only good for two years, and he didn't realize that. So he arranged to have this guy shoot him.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): His lawyer says that Murdaugh was in a massive depression from the shocking unsolved double murder of his wife and son three months ago and that he also has a severe opioid addiction.

HARPOOTLIAN: His father died of cancer that same week. Most people couldn't get through that. He got through it with the use of opioids.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Just one day before the shooting, Murdaugh had abruptly resigned from his law firm after being accused of misappropriating funds, which his lawyer says has been primarily used to purchase drugs. Attorneys for Murdaugh now claim that Smith and others, "Took advantage of his mental illness and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs".

HARPOOTLIAN: This guy shooting him in the head, didn't try to persuade him not to do it, didn't hesitate at all.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Smith appeared in court today on unrelated drug charges. He'll now be transferred to Hampton County for charges in the Alex Murdaugh case. Records show the connection between Murdaugh and his alleged shooter going back more than a decade when Murdaugh represented Smith in court, first in a personal injury suit and then for a traffic infraction.

Murdaugh's lawyer says he spoke to Murdaugh at a detention center on Monday, and explains why he finally came forward.

HARPOOTLIAN: He didn't want to law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime --


HARPOOTLIAN: -- instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul.


SAVIDGE: The risk of sounding like a broken record there is yet a another twist late this afternoon and that's coming from SLED, that's the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. They put out a statement saying based on a request from the Hampton County Coroner earlier today, as well as information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh, SLEDs opening a criminal investigation into the death of Gloria Satterfield.

Gloria Satterfield was a housekeeper that worked for the Murdaughs. She reportedly tripped and fell and then died in 2018. Now it appears that SLED has some questions not only about how she died, but also questions about money that was supposed to be paid to her sons. Yet another death and another investigation tied to the Murdaugh name. Jake?

TAPPER: Martin Savidge, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in Criminal Defence Attorney Joey Jackson, he's also a CNN Legal Analyst. Joey, I hardly know where to begin, but now there's this 2018 death of a Murdaugh family housekeeper, Murdaugh's wife, Maggie and his son, Paul, were shot and killed back in June. Paul was also involved in a boating crash that killed a young woman in 2019. I mean, the only thing that's clear here is that we don't know everything.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We do not, Jake, but perhaps we will, and we'll learn soon. So remember when something like this happens, where you have someone, right, who allegedly was involved in this conspiracy, I say that everyone's alleged innocent until proven guilty, it opens up a number of things. Now, it's very unusual, first of all, to have your lawyer on TV basically admitting to every underlying element of every charge.

Yes, there was an agreement with respect to the $10 million. Yes, he indicated that he wanted this person to shoot him in the head. Yes, he was involved with respect to his own death because of this whole life insurance issue. But that opens up a number of things, because now you have something so the police are going to want to know, a, was there any involvement in the June killing of his wife and son with respect to that? What, if anything, did you know or were you involved with anyone who could have done this, if you didn't yourself?

And then, b, to your initial question, what about that housekeeper? It raises the specter of if you had any involvement in that. So no, we don't know anything yet but we very well could soon because you have someone who is speaking very readily, the attorney and the client, with regard to their actions, their activities and their past history.

TAPPER: And we should remind people, this is a very powerful family in a small town in the south. So, one of the reasons why this is getting where it is, is because now it has become a new story, not just locally, but nationally. And there's so -- there's new focus and attention on this.

Now Murdaugh's attorney is pushing a lot of the blame for the September 4th shooting on this hired hitman to -- who's allegedly took advantage of Murdaugh. Take a listen.


HARPOOTLIAN: He arranged to have this guy shoot him. He called this guy who met him on the side of the road, agreed to shoot him in the head. And this fake car break down, 30 minutes later, this guy shooting him in the head, didn't try to persuade him not to do it, didn't hesitate at all.


TAPPER: So you're a defence attorney, can you ever think of any reason why you would go on TV and admit that your client committed a crime like that?

JACKSON: I would not, right. Everyone handles things differently. No one has a monopoly on wisdom. But I could tell you that I think, a, I think the lawyer believes they have the client dead to rights. And remember, Jake, everything the lawyer is peddling goes to what we lawyers call mitigation. None of this excuses your involvement. Conspiracy, which is the act to agree with someone else to commit a crime is an independent crime in and of itself.


Then you get to what you agree to do which is kill me for life insurance, that in effect, is a crime. And then the fraud relating to that as a crime. So all of these things, none of what the attorney said goes to excusing the client and is not a defense. It simply provides mitigation.

My client was on opioids, my client had very difficult things happening with the family, everything else. And so it's very bizarre, very unusual. And, you know, quite frankly, hopefully, SLED will get to the bottom of it too, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

TAPPER: I also just find it odd that you would hire somebody to shoot you in the head and he shoots you in the head, but he doesn't succeed. It seems like something that a hitman could succeed at doing but we'll find out more. Joey Jackson, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Turning to our world lead, increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula after both North and South Korea launched ballistic missiles today provoking an angry back and forth between top officials from both countries.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul, Korea. Take us through what happened, Paula, and North Korea now is claiming this is some kind of new missile system?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So Jake, North Korean state- run media has just reported on this and they're calling that this -- the ballistic short-range missiles railway born so presumably fired from a railway which is an interesting new development. Now we --this comes just a couple of days after they claimed that they have those long-range cruise missiles that they fired over the weekend. Technically, that didn't break any rules. But what happened on Wednesday did, ballistic missile technology is a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang.

Now Japan's Prime Minister has called it outrageous. The Defense Ministry saying that they believe that those missiles landed in their water, so their exclusive economic zone. But then on the other side of the DMZ, just a few hours later, you saw South Korea test firing a submarine launched ballistic missile. Only the seventh country to do this and the only non-nuclear country to do this. A number of other systems being tested as well.

The South Korean President Moon Jae-in was in attendance. He watched the test firing. And he did say that this wasn't in reaction to what Pyongyang had done a few hours earlier. But also did say that increasing the missile arsenal of South Korea can only help as a deterrence to North Korea. Now quite quickly afterwards, we had a response from Kim Jong-un sister Kim Yo-jong slamming South Korea, saying that their missile launch was simply in self-defense and not out of the ordinary. Also pointing out that the relationship between North and South Korea was going to degenerate very quickly, given what President Moon had said.

And just a bit of context, Jake, just a couple of months ago, we were talking about the leaders of North and South Korea exchanging letters, things were looking hopeful. And then on Wednesday, you have missile launches on both sides of the DMZ.

TAPPER: Paula Hancocks in Seoul, Korea, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, making history for Americans heading to space, not one of them an astronaut. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our out of this world lead today, a first for space. Tonight, four American civilians will blast off onboard a SpaceX rocket and orbit the Earth for three days. This will be the first mission in the history of spaceflight to go into orbit staffed entirely by non-astronauts.

CNN's Space and Defence Correspondent Kristin Fisher is live for us near the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. Kristin, is it still all systems go for launch tonight?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: The crew is in the capsule, the weather looks great. All systems are still go for launch in about two hours and five minutes. Jake, the reason that this mission is so extraordinary is because of how ordinary the crew is. None of them are professional astronauts and yet they're going to be orbiting the Earth for three days before splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean.

On board, Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old paediatric cancer survivor and current physician's assistant at St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Also on board, Dr. Sian Proctor who tried to become an astronaut back in 2009. She came this close, she was a finalist, didn't quite make it. She was devastated. Now she's getting to achieve her dream.

There's also Chris Sembroski who saw that Super Bowl ad for this flight, entered a raffle. His friend got the golden ticket and then gave it to him. That's how he ended up here. And finally, the mission's leader and commander Jared Isaacman, who is an entrepreneur, a billionaire, he funded this flight. He's also a pilot.

And he went to SpaceX back in October and said, you know, they were talking about something totally separate. But he said, hey, if you guys ever want to send a private crew to space, think of me. Now, less than a year later, here he is strapped on top of this Falcon 9 rocket about to blast into space. And big picture, Jake, the reason this is also important is because when SpaceX founder Elon Musk founded SpaceX, he did it with the goal of making humanity multiplanetary. He wants to colonize Mars. And in order to do that, you have to be able to prove that you're everyday American, you're average human, people who don't necessarily have the right stuff. As government NASA astronauts were pretty much required to do, you have to prove that the everyday astronaut is able -- be able to survive in space, capable of dealing with all that g-force. And so that's why this mission is so important and that's what the inspiration for crew is attempting to do, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kristin Fisher have fun tonight. Appreciate it.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. And if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can also listen to The Lead podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.