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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Says, Excited Where We Are on Reconciliation Package; South Carolina Attorney Shot Three Months after His Wife and Son Were Killed; Kabul Sees Largest Street Protests Since Taliban Seizure. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 10:30   ET


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- here in Texas, Erica, say that this bill goes a long way to ensuring the integrity at the ballot box and of the election process.


But this has been a highly controversial bill as we've followed throughout the summer months. It was what caused Texas Republicans to flee the state a number of times to try to block the passage of this bill. But today, it gets signed into law by the governor here in Texas. And already there are moves to challenge this law in court. Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: Ed Lavandera with the latest, Ed, thank you.

For how this could factor into the national battle for voting rights, another top issue, on President Biden's agenda, including the reconciliation bill, we're joined by Laura Barron-Lopez, White House Correspondent for Politico and CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju.

So, Manu, you just spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moments ago, I understand. What did she tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We actually talked about another major issue that is now consuming Congress' $3.5 trillion package that would expand the social safety net, something that they are drafting behind the scenes, something that they are trying to push through Congress by the end of the month.

But there has been pushback among moderate Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, about that price tag, saying $3.5 trillion is too much. And Manchin last week went further and called for a delay in the process. And just moments ago, I asked Pelosi whether or not she agrees with this and her reaction and she pushed back.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I say don't agree. I'm pretty excited about where we are. Everybody is working very hard. Committees are doing their work. We're on a good timetable. And I feel very exhilarated by it. What you have to know is this is build back better with women, and so our women members are, not that the men aren't energized but the women see this as really transformative for women in workplace, childcare, universal pre-K, family medical leave, child tax credit, so spectacular.

RAJU: How high will you be able to go into terms of a price tag?

PELOSI: Well, the number is the number. 3.5, we can't go above that.

RAJU: But you'll have to go below that.

PELOSI: I'm sorry?

RAJU: You'll have to go below 3.5.


RAJU: Because people like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say that is too much money.

PELOSI: Well you have to go talk to the Senate about that. But we're going to pay for as much of it as possible.


RAJU: So that is the key line, she is not willing at the moment to go below that $3.5 trillion level. Now, she could be just taking firm position in the negotiating right now and, ultimately, the Senate may come back and lower that level, but she's making very clear, she is willing to go as high as possible. That level, a dramatic increase in all levels of government and care, such as Medicare potentially, expanding Medicare, also a range of climate change provisions. This is just a sweeping, sweeping measure. She's willing to push the gas pedal on it. But, ultimately, the question Erica, will she have the votes? Can she keep the moderates in line? Can she keep the progressives in line? That is a big test in the weeks ahead.

HILL: Yes, it certainly is. It all barrels down to the votes. When we look at votes, other votes as well, we were talking about this law in Texas, of course, that Ed was just updating us on, the voting law there, Laura, it is interesting, there is so much else happening when it comes to voting rights and there has been a real push on President Biden to be a little bit more vocal, maybe a lot more vocal in some cases, more forceful in terms of voting rights, especially when it comes to a filibuster carve-out. What are we hearing this morning from the White House, from the president? What can we expect?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right now, Biden's position has not changed since pretty much the campaign, which is that he does not support a carve-out to the filibuster. The White House routinely says that even if Biden were to vocally endorse some kind of major change to the filibuster, they don't think that it would have an impact on those resistant Democratic senators. We're talking about Joe Manchin again, Kyrsten Sinema again. But there is more than just those two who oppose a change to the filibuster. But you're right, Erica, there is a lot going on in the states. Texas is just one of more than a dozen GOP-led states that have enacted laws already that make it harder to vote. And so, increasingly, advocates, activists and Democratic members of Congress are really pushing for some kind of bill at the national level. But, again, the votes aren't there right now in the Senate even though the House has passed not just the election reform changes but also just in the last month they passed a bill that would restore key sections of the voting rights act, and that also doesn't look like it has the votes in the Senate.

HILL: Laura Barron Lopez, Manu Raju, thank you both.

Up next, a deadly boat crash, a double murder and now a stunning admission, a prominent lawyer resigning after several twists and turns involving his own family. We'll speak live with a reporter who says the man was forced out over money.



HILL: A prominent attorney in South Carolina has resigned from his law firm and entered rehab. It is just latest twist in a series of mysteries surrounding the family of Alex Murdaugh. Police say the 53- year-old was the victim of a roadside shooting over the weekend. He survived what was described as a superficial wound to the head. Exactly three months ago today, his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, were shot to death on the family's hunting property and no one has been charged in those murders.


But they happened as Paul was awaiting trial for a deadly boat crash that happened back in 2019.

CNN Correspondent Amara Walker joining me now. So, Amara, explain, if you could, first the circumstances around that boat crash for us. There is a lot happening with this story.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really is a lot happening. It's hard to really keep up with it. So, suffice to say it's a complex and confusing story to follow. And to make sense of it, let's go back to February of 2019, and that is when 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, the son of Alex Murdaugh, was involved in a deadly boating accident. This is where a 19-year-old woman was killed as a result and Paul Murdaugh, who, by the way, comes from this prominent family, prosecutors and lawyers in that area, he was charged with boating under the influence according to court records, causing great bodily injury and causing death. He eventually pleaded not guilty to those charges.

And I do want to mention just a few months ago, Paul Murdaugh's uncles were on Good Morning America claiming that Paul, after this boating accident, received several online threats, although they believed that these threats were not credible. Now, two years later, in June of 2021, after this accident, Paul Murdaugh along with his mother, Margaret, they were found shot to death outside their home. In fact, it was Alex Murdaugh who arrived home to find them dead. This happening in Islandton, South Carolina, which is a small community about an hour north of Hilton Head Island, and these murderers at this time remain unsolved.

And then you fast forward to this past weekend, as you were mentioning, Erica, you have Alex Murdaugh now resigning from his law firm, saying that he's entering rehab, and also claiming that on Saturday, he was shot in the head. If and how all of this connected, that remains to be seen at this time, Erica.

HILL: Yes, wow. Amara, thank you for helping us make sense of all of those different threads. Amara Walker, live this morning.

Also with us, Kacen Bayless, who is a reporter with the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. And, Kacen, so as we just heard, Alex Murdaugh resigning from his law firm. So, he put out a statement. I want to read part of that for our viewers. He said, the murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret. I'm resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that was exacerbated by these murders. He talked about making a lot of decisions that he regrets. Do we know more about what he's referencing?

KACEN BAYLESS, REPORTER, THE ISLAND PACKET & BEAUFORT GAZETTE: Sure. Thanks for having me on. So Alex Murdaugh released that statement yesterday in the early afternoon. And it was sort of a vague apology. He talked about mistakes that he had made.

Late last night, the law firm that he worked for, actually, the law firm that his family started in 1910, released a statement essentially saying that Murdaugh was pushed out of the firm for allegedly misappropriating money. So, we spoke with two sources in South Carolina's legal community that are familiar with this case and they characterized the amount of money that was allegedly missing as substantial. One source told us that it is, quote a ton of money. Another told us that it is over $1 million.

But right now, it is still unclear whether Saturday's shooting, where Alex Murdaugh says that he was shot, the allegations of misusing money and the June double homicide, it is unclear whether all of these things are related that point. But we're still following up on some leads and we'll keep following up on that this week.

HILL: Absolutely. And as I understand it, as Amara points, no rests, no suspects or witnesses at this point in that double murder from June, but the investigation, according to law enforcement, into the murders of Maggie and Paul, has led to some new evidence involving another episode, a 2015 hit-and-run involving a teen. What more do we know about that?

BAYLESS: Sure. So, Steven Smith was a 19-year-old man who was found on the -- found dead in the middle of a road with his head, major head wound, in 2015. It was initially ruled a hit-and-run. But ever since his death in 2015, rumors have swirled that the Murdaugh family was somehow connected to his death. And throughout their investigation, police case rumors connecting the family to his death, but we've noticed from police documents that none of those rumors were ever really confirmed.

So, shortly a couple weeks after Paul and Maggie were found shot to death in Islandton, SLED announced that -- the SLED, the state law enforcement agency, announced that they were opening up an investigation into his death. They have not clarified what exactly they found other than saying that it is based on information gathered during their investigation into the June double homicide.


So there are some connection there with information that SLED has learned but they've remained tight-lipped on what exactly they've learned about the death of Steven Smith in the wake of this June 7th double homicide.

HILL: So, it is sort of another thing that if you're putting up on the board as we're looking at all of these different events that have transpired and as Amara laid out for us too, there were these charges pending involving that boating crash, that boating accident in 2019. Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial, as I understand it.

There has been a lot written about just how prominent the Murdaugh family is within the community. Is there any sense that that prominence has impacted any of the investigations?

BAYLESS: See, that is really why I think this story has gripped this state so much. I think that there is a lot of trepidation and suspicion not only about these ongoing investigations but also the family itself. So like you just said, you talk about their prominence, for 86 years, three generations of this family served as elected prosecutors in the five county 14th judicial circuit, which is where my newspaper is located.

So, there have been rumors about that. At this point, we think it is best to stick with what we've reported. The story has received a lot of interest and, obviously, there are a lot of rumors going on around right now. At this point, there are a lot of accusations, but right now, we're just sticking to what we've reported.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. Well, that is why it is good to have you with us, right, to not only help cut us through some of that, right, so we can understand what is actually happening on the ground, what types, excuse me, which investigations have been opened, maybe what is changing. So, Kacen, I appreciate it. We'll be staying in touch with you, because, as you point out, this is definitely a story that has gripped folks and not just in the state but nationwide as well. Thanks again.

BAYLESS: Great, thank you.

HILL: Up next, women fighting back against Taliban rule, protests on the streets of Kabul turning violent.


[10:50:00] HILL: Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Taliban have assured the U.S. they are letting American citizens still in Afghanistan, as well as some Afghan citizens, leave the country. Now, this news comes amid protests in Kabul this morning in what appears to be the largest demonstration in the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power there.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in Doha this morning. So, Sam, we're also hearing the Taliban have just announced the first members of their government. What more do we know there?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very strikingly, it was a caretaker government. All of these ministries are being taken or described as caretaker roles. Now, the first takeaway for the international community is that, certainly, at the first glance, at any rate, there were no significant names that would suggest that this is an inclusive government. This looks like a very hard line exclusive Taliban government.

The prime minister, Mullah Mohammad Hassan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a key figure, he's emerged as deputy prime minister. He was often being tipped as foreign minister. You'll recall that he was in charge of the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban and inter Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government at the time here in Doha. But above all, and I think this is absolutely key, Sirajuddin Haqqani has been announced as interior minister.

Now, he is one of the family heads of what is known as the Haqqani Network. So, he himself under U.N. sanction over alleged terrorism activities. His network is part of the Taliban but is semiautonomous within it effectively. The most successful inadvertent commerce (ph) terrorist attacks against the Afghan government but also against civilian targets for many -- for two decades were often carried out by his network, which is the dominant force of the Taliban between Kabul and the Pakistani border heading due east through Jalalabad.

Historically, he has personally, and his organization has had connections to Al Qaeda and he is going to be a very difficult figure for people to negotiate with over the future movement of the American citizens in and out of Afghanistan and the movement of Afghans who might be wanting to emigrate following the Taliban takeover because he is under U.N. sanction. So he's a strong hardliner.

The counter to that argument, because I have heard from some diplomats speculatively here in Doha, is that, indeed, the Taliban have some serious interior issues on their plate. They don't have a particularly effective intelligence system. They don't have the sort of government structures that would allow them, for example, to be effective in the combat against the so-called Islamic State Khorasan, ISIS-K, responsible for the murder of those 13 Americans, servicemen and women, and the 170 Afghans, and a hard liner, such as Haqqani, might be useful.


His relation -- Khalil Haqqani has also picked up a ministry. So, a lot of Haqqanis in this new government.

HILL: Yes, wow, it paints quite a picture. Sam Kiley, I appreciate it. Thank you.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today. I'm Erica Hill.

Stay with us. Boris Sanchez continues our coverage after a quick break.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Hello, everyone. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

Here is what we're watching at this hour. Up close --