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The Lead with Jake Tapper

FDA Advisers Vote To Recommend Pfizer Booster Shot For Those 65-Plus And High Risk; Retiring GOP Congressman Calls Trump A "Cancer For The Country"; GOP Lawmakers Keep Saturday's Right-Wing Rally At Arm's Length; Biden Authorizes Sanctions Over Atrocities Uncovered By CNN Reports; Top Gymnasts Demand Answers Over FBI's Failed Nassar Investigation; Missing Woman's Fiance Silent As Search Intensifies. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 17, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Every American, every adult American would be eligible for a booster shot within eight months after their first shot come the week of September 20. Now, there are so many elements of that that ended up not coming to pass. Moderna did not have enough information to move forward.

What was recommended today by the FDA advisory panel was, as you noted, for high risk populations, not every American. But the White House has been constant and consistent in its defense of its decision to lay out a timeline. Here's what they said earlier this morning.


JEFFREY ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: In December, when the vaccines were initially authorized for emergency use, there was not a strong plan in place, and we saw that there was a lag in terms of getting shots in arms.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL: If you want to roll out booster shots to the population, you can't flip a switch and make that happen overnight. There's important planning that has to take place.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, I think that's been the key point we've heard for days now from White House officials. Their plan is in place, they will be ready to get booster shots to whoever the FDA and CDC recommend.

As soon as that happens, a caveat has always been. Those agencies have to recommend that and approve that. That hasn't happened yet. This is just an advisory board, now it goes to the FDA. The CDC advisory board meets next week.

But right now the administration feels at least for this high risk population, it is on track for boosters potentially as soon as the end of next week. JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, the White House insisted again today that their announcement weeks ago that boosters were coming for everyone, that that did not get ahead of the science, did not put political pressure on the FDA.

But listen to the FDA's former chief scientist this morning talking to CNN's Brianna Keilar.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC's committee of outside experts will be ready to start these boosters, this booster program during the week of September 20.

It will be easy to show your vaccination card, you know, get a booster.

My administration was planning for this possibility in this scenario for months.


TAPPER: OK, that obviously was not the bite I wanted to run. But what the bite I wanted to run, the former chief scientists said, what I do think was backwards and not helpful was at the White House made an announcement with a certain date before really all the data had come in, before FDA had had a chance to review it and before that was this public discussion that we're now going to have. So what do you make of this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right. I mean, look, I mean, I think it's very clear that the White House came out and they said, boosters, put a date on it, September 20. And I think most people sort of heard that and thought this was preordained. This was happening for everybody, they were going to be able to get boosters, if there were a certain time period out from their shots.

And they did say during those announcements that we're going to wait for the FDA and CDC to weigh in on this. But it was clearly getting ahead of things. You heard them say, look, we were just doing this to be prepared, I think it's quite possible that you can be prepared without also telling the American people that on September 20, this is happening. We're going to wait for the scientific agencies to weigh in, but this is happening.

So I think it confused a lot of people including, you know, Dr. Paul Offit, who you've interviewed many times, Jake, he's also on the advisory committee, which by the way, is a committee, the FDA almost always takes the advice of the committee, but not always. So that's something to look out for as well. But listen to how Dr. Offit put it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: You know, we're being asked to approve this as a three dose vaccine for people 16 years of age and older without any clear evidence to the third dose for a younger person when compared to an elderly persons of value. If it's not a value, then the risks may outweigh the benefits.


GUPTA: So what he is basically saying is that the original vote was on people over the age of 16 and it was an approval to boost, you know, to a lot of boosters in that general population. What -- there was a set -- that vote went down. The second vote was an authorization, not an approval.

So this is now an emergency use authorization to go ahead and allow boosters, as you heard from Phil, for people over the age of 65 or people who are at severe -- risk of severe COVID. So a change, authorization and a very specific now group of people.

TAPPER: And there was really no disagreement that people over 65 or people with compromised immune systems should get boosters, right? I mean, that wasn't the issue. The issue was the Biden administration came out and said everybody's going to get boosters and FDA scientists were saying, and in fact, there were resignations, the science isn't there. What are you talking about?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it's interesting. I mean, the science isn't clear cut still. You know, I think that you can make a much stronger case for people over the age of 65. But if you look at in hospitals overall, and you say OK, out of 100 people in a hospital 95 of those with COVID are unvaccinated. Five are vaccinated. Those are the breakthrough infections, severe breakthrough infections.

Now who are those five? Well, they tend to be older, you know, people who are 65 and older and have, you know, some preexisting conditions. So yes, it makes sense to have them get the boost.


But in terms of the context of the country, Jake, the vast majority, 95 percent are still the unvaccinated that are in the hospitals. So will this make a difference for those who already have some degree of protection? Yes. But that's a very small percentage of what's actually causing these dramatic surgeries in hospitals right now.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you because the vote was just on authorizing the booster for people 65 and older and people with compromised immune systems for the Pfizer vaccine. So, what about people who got the Moderna vaccine or the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and who are in those groups, 65 and older or compromised immune systems? Do they now go get a Pfizer booster? Or do they have to wait till the FDA acts on the Moderna or J&J shots?

GUPTA: Well, technically speaking, they would. They would wait, you know, because this was purely on the Pfizer. So you looked at people who had had the Pfizer shots in the past. Yes, sort of, they were looking at their immunity, how much it had waned. And, you know, making the recommendation based on Pfizer data.

They did present data overall on the efficacy of all the shots, just how do things stand now, and this was based on a small --

TAPPER: Something's wrong with the shot with Sanjay. We're going to take a quick break. But I do want to talk to you for one second about Sanjay's big special that is going to air. We're going to talk to him about that after the break, but it's on the origins of COVID Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

Coming up, one down nine to go, Donald Trump celebrates the exit of one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him this year. Is this the future of the Republican Party?

Plus, devastating and damning testimony from four elite gymnasts over the mishandling of the Larry Nassar investigation. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman will join us ahead. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our health lead and a CNN special airing this weekend taking a closer look into the origins of coronavirus. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is back with us now.

And Sanjay, let's play a preview of your special.


GUPTA (voice-over): Chan is one of 18 prominent scientists who published a letter in Science Magazine in May of this year, calling for an investigation into all possible origins.

GUPTA (on camera): What would you like to see specifically?

ALINA CHAN, BROAD INSTITUTE: The first thing would be getting access to that database that's gone missing.

GUPTA (voice-over): The same missing pathogen database containing 1000s of bad coronavirus entries that was taken offline by WIV in September 2019.

CHAN: This is a database that the mission was to collect all the viruses in the wild and use it to help prevent pandemics. So this is a pandemic. So, why didn't they share that database with other scientists so they could figure out how dangerous this virus? Where did they come from?

GUPTA (on camera): What is the status of that database now? Have you been able now then as a member of this WHO team or in any capacity to look at that data?


GUPTA (on camera): That sounds concerning, Peter. If it is serious, and we're trying to be as thorough as possible, maybe it mounts to nothing. But I think the fact that you still haven't seen that database, it's just going to raise a lot of eyebrows as we go forward.

DASZAK: Well, broadly so. I think that, you know, China should be more open about the things that they've -- that they've not released.


TAPPER: And Sanjay, that database is only a fraction of information that China has been holding back.

GUPTA: I don't think you could say that the WHO report or WHO study really, in any way, investigated the possibility of a lab leak. I mean, that's just, you know, cutting right to it, Jake.

I mean, the database went down in September of 2019. They never had access to it. The WIV, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that went on and pseudo virology is the place that people are concerned about, they never had access to it. There were concerns about workers getting sick in that lab and maybe having their blood samples drawn to see if they had antibodies, they never had access to it.

So, you know, they talk about the idea now that there's going to be a phase two to this WHO mission or investigation even, but China simply not allowing that. So it's really tough to collect evidence and do a science based investigation if you can't get access to the most basic data.

TAPPER: Yes, and I can't wait to watch more.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. You can see Sanjay's special on "The Origins of COVID-19." That's Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

Turning to our politics lead now, President Trump today gloating over a House retirement. Ohio Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez said he will not seek reelection. The conservative is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump earlier this year.

And while spending time with his young family factored into his decision, Gonzalez acknowledges that the, quote, "toxic dynamics" in the Republican Party were a significant factor in his decision. And he went on to tell "The New York Times" that Donald Trump is a, quote, "Cancer for the country."

Trump taunted Gonzalez in a statement just hours later saying "One down, nine to go."

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what else are we learning about Gonzalez's retirement and how are Republican lawmakers responding? MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gonzalez became a clear case study in how Donald Trump is completely remade the House Republican Conference. Gonzalez himself was once a prized recruit, a Cuban American, a former NFL player, a conservative, but after voting to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection, everything changed.

He told "The New York Times" that a quote, "eye opening" moment for him was when travelling through the Cleveland airport earlier this year with his family including his two young children. He was escorted by two uniformed police officer, he said, quote, "Is this really what I want for my family?"


Now, he also acknowledged that this would be a brutal primary fight against Max Miller, a Trump -- former Trump aide endorsed by the former president. But he said that even if he won, he would not want to return to a Republican Party dominated by Trump loyalists citing those toxic dynamics as a reason for him quitting.

Now, some Republicans who came to his defense, particularly the ones who voted to impeach the president, like Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who tweeted "Trump is a weak man who preys on fear. I couldn't imagine being his age and obsessing about myself so much, knowing my legacy was destroyed."

And Trump of himself crowing about this, criticizing Gonzalez, criticizing his decision saying "one down, nine to go."

Jake, it's still unclear if all 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, besides Gonzalez, will run for reelection. One to watch out for, Fred Upton, a veteran Michigan Republican who I'm told still has not made a decision on whether to run next year. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with my panel. And Bill Kristol, let me start with you.

First of all, we should note for people who don't know, Congressman Anthony Gonzalez is a very conservative Republican. This is not a moderate, this is not a liberal Republican, he's a very conservative Republican. And he's basically, and not the first and he won't be the last, chased out of the Republican Party, chased out of office. And -- but he says, Trump's a "cancer for the country."

Do you think he's -- that his retirement, though, in a way is actually giving Trump more power?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE BULWARK: Well, let's see what happens. You know, I think he -- I mean, he's a very promising 37- year-old Republican. Republicans were thrilled when he ran, it was a four years ago originally as a Republican. He won easily last time.

I think he would have won the primary actually against Miller. I saw some private polling about three weeks ago when he was OK. And I think he would have had a lot of support because he is quite -- he is a conservative, he's not a renegade on some other issues.

But it is -- it tells you a lot, two things, I'd say. It wasn't just that he wanted to spend more time with his family, he was worried about the security of his family, and he's a tough guy. And you know, he's not, you know, easily spooked. But he's genuinely concerned, I think, when you start getting death threats with your home address on them and so forth.

And the other thing is, I think he thinks he would have won, but I think was telling thing, and Manu mentioned this as, he didn't want to come back to be part of this House Republican Conference because this House Republican conference, ultimately, when Donald Trump says jump, Kevin McCarthy and Elise Stefanik say, how high?

And I think he felt in good conscience, he couldn't vote for Kevin McCarthy for leader. He couldn't be running for the House and saying that, you know, I'm going to be part of, you know, turn over for the House from the Democrats to Republicans.

Three of the huge question is, does Nancy Pelosi pick up the phone and say to the Ohio Democrats, why don't you guys nominate him in that district? The Democrats can't win it with a left wing candidate. It's a pretty Republican district. If he was a Democratic nominee, he could win the seat and he would be --

TAPPER: Disagrees with Democrats on everything other --

KRISTOL: He'd be the Joe Manchin of the House.


KRISTOL: It would be a lot of fun.

TAPPER: So, you know, one of the things that I'm tempted to say is, does somebody has to be killed before somebody will -- it's already happened. People have been killed. There was the deadly insurrection, not to mention the stochastic terror that Trump inspired in Tree of Life synagogue in El Paso, not to mention how he handled the deadly pandemic. I mean, I just don't even know what to make of this anymore.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yes, I don't think it's based on anything other than loyalty to President Trump, because Republicans think -- the Republicans who are in charge think to win to remain in power, they can't make him mad. So, I don't think they're really thinking about even what -- we have to remember the Republicans who support Trump, they went through the insurrection too.

TAPPER: Right.

MITCHELL: They fled for their lives, too. And they're still not, you know, speaking against him. They're not challenging the election misinformation because they don't want to make him mad. And it's, at this point, the Republican Party, the central tenet is, are you on Trump's good side or not? TAPPER: Yes. And I know that you're not a Republican, but when you look at Congressman Gonzalez basically leaving, and again, he, you probably disagree with everything he stands for when it comes to policy issues, but he stood up and bravely said, this is a lie and my party's infected with this lie and it's really bad for the country. Does it disappoint you? I mean, just Democrats never going to have that scene (ph).



LEGER: Because, you know, I care about this country. I care about this democracy. And what's lacking on the Republican side is people who are willing to put -- enough people who are willing to put country over party, and you see what happens when you when you do that.

I think what's going to have to happen is that somebody is going to have to stand up to Trump and win and succeed. And then other people will say, OK, maybe we don't need to be so afraid of the orange man behind his computer ranting and raving.

But until that happens, I'm afraid you're going to see more people like this who I don't agree with on probably any policy issue, but at the end of the day, there are some things that are more important than policy disagreements like what -- who cares about our policy disagreements if we actually don't have a functioning democracy anymore.


TAPPER: Ryan Lizza, I want you to take a listen to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said and get your reaction.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, I would say to my Republican friends, and I do have some, take back your party. Don't let your party be hijacked by a cult. Essentially, that is what is happening. And it isn't good for the country.


TAPPER: A cult. What do you think?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, she's not the first person to say that. I mean, the Gonzalez -- there's no constituency left in the Republican Party for a congressman like Gonzalez. So, he felt like he was a man without a country even if he had won that race.

And I think you're right, I don't think he -- Max Miller is not, you know, this incredible candidate that it's going to be, you know, a picnic for him to win that primary.

This battle was briefly possible for the Kinzinger, Gonzalez, Bill Kristol wing to win after the insurrection in January, right? There was a moment with a window opened where Trump could have been seen through the -- in the rear window of the Republican Party.

And in the spring, it all shifted. Trump reasserted his power. Kevin McCarthy changed his mind about Trump. People like McConnell, who give very forceful speech against Trump basically went quiet. And we're in the situation we are in now where he's -- the party is defined by Trump, not by ideology.

TAPPER: Although I guess we'll see tomorrow, there's this rally in support of the insurrectionists. And I guess we'll see tomorrow how powerful that sign is. I mean, you have President Trump, former President Trump, in issuing one of his statements, basically saying these people are being persecuted unfairly. These are people who were charged with crimes by first his own Justice Department and then the Biden Justice Department, but they committed violent crimes. And yet police say that they're only expecting about 700 people or so.

MITCHELL: Yes, I think the rally tomorrow, you know, of course, law enforcement is preparing for the worst, they don't want to repeat of January 6, but the signs show that it may be small in number.

But the bigger question is, how many people agree with the premise of the rally, which is that Donald Trump should have won the election, you know, based on the big lie, and therefore, they sympathize with the people who have been arrested and charged. And I think that sentiment is more widespread in the Republican Party than maybe some of the party leaders would like to admit.

TAPPER: Oh, sure. I mean, a poll just came out this week, saying that a majority of Republican voters think that Donald Trump won the election.


TAPPER: But falsely, I should say. I think falsely --


TAPPER: -- that Donald Trump won.

LEGER: Yes, it's an excellent point. So we shouldn't really be focused so much on the numbers tomorrow because it's the ideology that's the problem. It's the people in Congress who still support the big lie. It's the people who are silent and don't speak out against this and allow the majority of Republicans to think somehow that Donald Trump won the election. That is the problem.

TAPPER: Tia reports that they've had trouble lining up speakers for the rally. So, at least there is some sense of shame, maybe somewhere within the Republican House caucus.

KRISTOL: Yes, well, I would hope so. But I understand what Nancy Pelosi was saying there, Republicans take back your party. But in the absence of that, don't the Democrats have some responsibility to have a bigger tent and welcome in dissident Republicans? And yes, Gonzalez is too conservative for most Democrats.

But you know what, it would be -- if you think it's important that Democrats hold the House, they should recruit Gonzalez. Or if not Gonzalez, at least Kinzinger, there's an open seat in Illinois next to him or others. I mean, I really do -- and it doesn't have to be Republican officeholders, it could be younger people who are, you know, more Republican ish.

I think a more aggressive effort on the part of the Democratic establishment, Democratic leadership from Biden and Pelosi on down to get what Buttigieg calls future former Republicans into the Democratic Party and visibly so would help the Democrats. Go from being a 51 percent party to being maybe a 54 percent party.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

KRISTOL: That can make all the difference.

LIZZA: Well, I think it's fascinating that that hasn't happened. If you read any of the sunken scholars of democracy who really worked up and worried about Donald Trump, and you look at countries outside of the United States, when a right wing movement starts to gather strength, the recommendation always is that the left and the center have to join together to oppose it.

And for some reason, the Democrats have not yet seen the fear of this as so acute that they would follow, you know, Bill's advice and bring in some of the Republicans. I think a lot of them would say they have their own dissident Republican in Joe Manchin that they have enough trouble dealing with, they don't want more.

LEGER: Right. And then what is the center, though? Right?

TAPPER: Right.

LEGER: Like the center has moved pretty far to the right, I think so. I think that's a good sentiment and it makes sense. But in our current reality, I think it's hard to accomplish.


TAPPER: And what is your reporting about there having trouble getting the speakers? Why? Why are they having trouble?

MITCHELL: I think it's, you know, first of all, again, the Republicans who were at the Capitol on January 6, I don't think they want to get anywhere near something that could repeat what happened that day. So you have a lot of incumbent members of Congress that even though, again, they agree with the sentiment, people like Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, she's not going. She's made it clear she's not going, but she has not distanced herself from that.

I think it's just their leadership has probably told them this may not be the event. Also, I think Donald Trump, even though he endorsed the sentiment, he is not necessarily endorsed the event. None of his inner circle is speaking at the event, the event doesn't really have star power. So, I just think it was a lot of risk and not much reward for showing up.

TAPPER: All right, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

A CNN report brought the shocking evidence of atrocities to the world. And today, President Biden's administration is taking some action. That's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, all the hallmarks of a genocide, thousands executed, hundreds of thousands without food in a conflict over the northern tip of Ethiopia, Tigray. Today, President Biden signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against parties involved saying, "I'm appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations."

Those reports are a direct result of the incredible work by CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nima Elbagir, she's been documenting and uncovering the atrocities for months for us. And Nima joins us now. Nima, you saw these harrowing images with your own eyes, what is the status on the ground right now?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to warn our viewers that these images are incredibly graphic and disturbing, but they are important. What you see here is the bodies that we saw that we were able to film that showed victims tied using plastic cord and ropes, you saw very clear signs of torture on their bodies, it was very clear that they had been executed before they had been thrown into the water.

And why that matters is between what we saw on the ground with the bodies and what we were able to figure out when we started analyzing satellite imagery of Humera town, you can see it here in this imagery, you -- we were able to show that there were at least seven mass detention facilities inside Humera and two others outside not taken together. That points towards the methodical campaign of torture, execution and detention and what we are hearing from on the ground. I've just been sent new pictures, exactly like the ones we just saw you as awful, as appalling.

Since we were on the ground within the last week, eight more bodies, eight more victims have floated downstream into Sudan, six of them bearing the same marks of torture and execution. So not only was this happening when we were there and has been happening for months, even today, Jake, it is still happening in Tigray in Humera.

TAPPER: And Nima, Biden's executive order authorizes broad sanctions on those involved, including the Ethiopian government. What is the government of Ethiopia saying about this?

ELBAGIR: Well, I want to read you from what the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called an open letter to President Biden and he said, "While threats to national, regional and global security continues to be a key component of U.S. interests in many parts of the world, it remains unanswered why your administration has not taken a strong position against the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front." The TPLF, of course, are the ousted -- the previously ousted rulers of the Tigray region.

What he's saying here, Jake, is that he is rejecting these sanctions. He's rejecting this call by the U.S. administration to grant not only a ceasefire in the region, but also incredibly important unhindered humanitarian access. As you said, hundreds of thousands are starving because of this government's actions. And it seems that for now, they're saying that the U.S. cannot force them to save the lives of their own people, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nima Elbagir, thank you so much as always for that important reporting.

Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman will join me next. The action she wants to see after the hideous mishandling of the Larry Nassar case by so many parties, including the FBI. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, they're some of the most decorated athletes in American history and now they're hoping a renewed focus on one of the biggest scandals in the history of sports can finally bring them justice. Earlier this week, we all saw Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about how the FBI grossly mishandled investigations into the sexual abuse they and hundreds of others suffered at the hands of disgraced Dr. Larry Nassar.

Joining us now, Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman. Aly, great to see you. Before I get to my questions, I know this is a very difficult week for you and your fellow gymnast. How are you holding up?

ALY RAISMAN, THREE-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Thank you for having me on and thank you for asking. You know, to be honest, I'm doing better than I thought I would be doing. I'm definitely really exhausted right now. I think after this interview, I'll definitely lay down. I'm very drained.

I -- but to be honest, I feel really supported and really validated, which is a really nice feeling. And so that is something I'm really, really grateful for.

TAPPER: Yes, that's good to hear because I've saw a lot of support, nonpartisan, bipartisan all over the world expressed for you and your fellow gymnastics. Let's dive into it because Wednesday's hearing was specifically about FBI failures in the Larry Nassar investigation.

You testified it took more than 14 months for the FBI to contact you despite you requesting to be interviewed multiple times. The FBI Director Christopher Wray, he apologized, but I still haven't heard an explanation as to why these hideous crimes were not taken as seriously as they should have been. Have you? RAISMAN: No, I have not. And, you know, we've been saying for years that we want a full, complete, independent investigation and we still want that.


I think there needs to be an investigation of the FBI, USAG and USOPC and also looking at the interplay among all three organizations because if we don't have answers, then we're relying on guesswork and people that enabled our abuse might still be in positions of power. So, saying that you're sorry, you're -- we will never forget this will happen again. It's not enough. Those are just empty promises that we've been hearing for years.

TAPPER: Right before the hearing, the public learned that the supervisory FBI agent who mishandled the original case, had been fired. The Washington Post identifies him as Michael Langman. Langman, however, is not being prosecuted, even though the Inspector General says that he lied to investigators. Do you think Langman should be prosecuted? And is this one action,, this firing against one FBI agent, is that enough?

RAISMAN: You know, because there has not been a full independent investigation, I don't have the answers. And I think that we all deserve answers. And I think that kids going into sports or schools or anywhere, I think anyone should be able to go into gymnastics and feel safe, knowing that they have the answers and that the people that enabled us aren't in power anymore.

And so I think that, to be honest, I don't know. And I don't want to rely on speculation or guesswork to decide if someone should be prosecuted or not. I want to actually see the facts and the answers. So I think an independent investigation is crucial in this time.

TAPPER: One that you've been calling for, for years, I might note. So you and your teammates spoke about how you were failed by the adults around you who were meant to protect you. As you just stated, that includes USA Gymnastics, the Olympic Committee and the FBI. That's a lot but are there others, are there other organizations, other adults outside of those three groups that failed you?

RAISMAN: You know, I definitely think MSU is one of those organizations but, you know, furthermore, I think -- again, I hate to sound like a broken record, I don't have all the answers. You know, there are people that, you know, from my own experience, I can think that maybe enabled my abuse or I can speculate from hearing other people's stories or experiences, but that's truly why we need an investigation to look at if there was another organization or another person involved outside of those organizations. I don't know.

TAPPER: The U.S. Olympic Committee created something called SafeSport in 2017, that's after Nassar was arrested. The USOC says SafeSport is, quote, a wholly independent body to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in Olympic National Governing bodies, unquote. You say the SafeSport needs a lot of work. Is this not enough as it's not a strong enough system to protect younger gymnasts in place right now? RAISMAN: Yes, you know, I know from, you know, from experience of talking to teammates or just other survivors, or even honestly, from my mom, when my mom has reported different types of things to SafeSport, SafeSport, often will -- they try to avoid doing it like they'll say you need to pass it on to this person and then the person that we actually report to will say, will actually go back to SafeSport, and it's like they play hot potato with who should take the report. And I think that we really have to look at who SafeSport is funded by. I don't believe it's a completely independent entity, and it needs to be.

And I -- you know, I think that USA Gymnastics and USOPC really need to start taking a hard look at what they have set up. Since we've spoken out, there is not mandatory training for every single staff member athlete. Every single adult that steps into the gym, in my opinion, every single child that's in the gym needs to be educated so we can prevent emotional, physical, sexual, mental and everything in between for abuse.

Without an independent investigation, without an entity that's completely separate that the reports are going to and without education and prevention, we can't believe in a safer future. And USAG and USOPC are not doing that right now.

TAPPER: And lastly, you have so many fans, because of your athletic prowess, and now beyond that, because of your courage and your strength and your boldness, so I have to ask a lot of people care about you a lot, they love you from afar, what comes next for you? What's your next chapter?

RAISMAN: Oh, well, thank you that I'm very, very grateful for the support. I feel really, really lucky. And to be honest, I've learned over the last few years that the way a survivor heals is linked to how their abuse is handled. And as many people saw our abuse has not been handled well.

But I will say that the way that people have supported us has truly made such a big difference in my healing. So, I just want people to know how much I appreciate that. It doesn't go unnoticed, it's what's helped me get out of bed on Wednesday morning, yesterday morning and today.


I do have a show actually coming out with "Lifetime" on Friday the 24th of September. And the show is all about I go on a journey with some survivors. We have conversations, we talk about healing, prevention, education, and all different things. So I'm very grateful to have the platform that I have. And I wanted to give other people the chance to share their stories because everyone's story is important no matter who you are.

TAPPER: Aly Raisman, thank you so much for your bravery and your strength and for making the world a better place for the next generation, not just of gymnasts but of survivors. Thanks so much for joining us. RAISMAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: A woman who was sharing her life and travels on YouTube is now missing and her fiance is not talking but his sister is. That's next.



TAPPER: Our national lead now, she went on a cross country trip with her fiance and she has not been seen since. And the man who may know the most about her whereabouts is saying nothing to the police. Today, the search for 22-year-old Gabby Petito is growing increasingly desperate as her family's actually begging her fiance's family to force him to talk, saying that even total strangers are working harder to help bring her home.

Police say her fiance Brian Laundrie drove their van thousands of miles back to Florida alone on September 1st. CNN's Athena Jones has more on this tragedy and mystery.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the search for Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito missing for weeks continues in Wyoming --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I need from everybody here is help.

JONES (voice-over): And Petito's family pleads with her fiance Brian Laundrie to tell them where he last saw Gabby. Laundrie sister telling ABC.

CASSIE LAUNDRIE, BRIAN'S SISTER: Me and my family wants Gabby to be found safe. She's like a sister and my children love her. And all I want is for her to come home safe and sound and this to be just a big misunderstanding.

JONES (voice-over): Petito and Laundrie had been travelling cross country for months in her white 2012 Ford Transit van.

GABBY PETITO, YOUTUBER: Gabby Petito never go to that side.

JONES (voice-over): Documenting their journey on social media, including YouTube.

PETITO: Hello, hello and good morning.

JONES (voice-over): Petito's family last heard from her in late August. Her last Instagram post was August 25th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing else --

JONES (voice-over): Petito's parents believe she was lost in the Grand Teton, Yellowstone area of Wyoming. They reported her missing on September 11th. But local police found Petito's van and her fiance Brian at the home they shared with his family in North Port, Florida. He returned there alone September 1st without reporting her missing. Laundrie, official say, is not cooperating with police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have never spoken a word with Brian.

JONES (voice-over): Weeks earlier on August 12th, police in Moab City, Utah were called to a possible disorderly conduct situation captured in this body camera video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going on? How come you're crying?

PETITO: I'm not crying, we're just inviting this morning some personal issues. Anyone help me in the car before --

JONES (voice-over): Petito described in the police report as confused and emotional and manic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't talk to each other tonight.

JONES (voice-over): The the officer suggestion the two separated for the night. One of the officers concluding the situation was the result of a mental health crisis. No charges were filed.

CHIEF TODD GARRISON, NORTH PORT POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, they added disturbance. Yes, it was captured on body camera their interaction with law enforcement. But beyond that, you know, I don't know what it has to do with the disappearance.

JONES (voice-over): The FBI office in Denver said Thursday it is joining multiple law enforcement agencies investigating Petito's disappearance. A lawyer for the laundry family saying earlier this week they would not be commenting.

Petito stepfather who was in Wyoming to help look for her begging Brian Laundrie to help.

JAMES SCHMIDT, STEPFATHER OF MISSING WOMAN: This is the love of your life. If that is true, then do the right thing. We need to do it now. Stop waiting.


JONES: And CNN affiliate KSTU reported Petito was last seen checking out of the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 24th. We know that's also the last day her mother saw her via FaceTime. And we just learned from the lawyer for Gabby Petito's family, that her last text to them said, no service in Yosemite. Her family does not believe she sent that text but it's not saying more right now. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Flames are now threatening the world's largest tree, the creative solution some officials are trying. That's next.


[17:58:20] TAPPER: In our Earth matters series, you're looking right now at the world's biggest tree, older than the Roman Empire in 270 feet tall, swaddled in fire resistant material. Park Rangers and firefighters are racing against the clock to protect the wooden giants against a wildfire rapidly approaching Sequoia National Park.

A park official tell CNN, "We basically told the fire crews to treat all our special sequoias like they were buildings and wrap them all up". Officials estimate 10 percent to 14 percent of all living giant sequoias were wiped out by a single fire last year.

It's not all bad news. Those wooden beasts have actually adapted to fire releasing seeds when the temperature is right. A few months after last year's devastation, babies sequoias popped up all over the forest floor.

Turning to our out of this world lead, in a new update from outer space, moments ago we got to see and hear from the first all-civilian crew to orbit the Earth are currently zipping around the planet every 90 minutes. The SpaceX crew says they're spending their time doing science and medical research, staring out the window at the amazing views, making artwork, even playing the ukulele and of course eating cold pizza. the crew splashes back down onto Earth tomorrow night around 7:00 p.m.

Join me for State of the Union Sunday in the wake of the FDA's major booster vote today. I'll talk to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Plus, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn in South Carolina that's at 9:00 and noon, Eastern only on CNN.

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

Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you Sunday morning.