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FBI Releases Newly Declassified 9/11 Document After Biden Order; Trump Falsely Claims He Won Election During 9/11 Visit; Capitol Police Announce Disciplinary Cases Against Officers; Interview With Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) About The Texas Abortion Law And COVID-19 Cases; Unruly Passengers On Flights; Afghanistan War; CNN Hero Helps Combat Cervical Cancer. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Bottom line, that could have been a catastrophe.


WHITFIELD: But it wasn't. He scratched his way to save the day.

All right, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The "CNN NEWSROOM" continues with Jim Acosta right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

9/11 families have been waiting 20 years for this. The FBI releasing the first document since President Biden ordered the declassification of more records last week. And while the 16-page report is heavily redacted, it does detail the logistical support a Saudi national gave two of the hijackers. This is key because families of 9/11 victims have been demanding answers on Saudi Arabia's involvement -- suspected involvement for years.

And now they are eagerly awaiting the release of more documents in the days ahead. A chance of getting some closure 20 years after their loved ones were taken from them.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is here with me.

And Alex, how much do we know from this new document? I do think that this goes to some extent to, I think, take care of some of the feelings that some of these families have had. But they want more information than perhaps we're getting now.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Feelings and suspicions. The question of the ties between these hijackers and the Saudi government. What this document does is it cements the ties between two of the hijackers, the first two who arrived in the States and Saudi officials in Los Angeles.

As you saw there, it's heavily redacted. A lot of it is the summary of an interview that the FBI did with a Saudi who is unnamed in this report in 2015. He was -- he had been a consular official. And it talks about the ties that he had with two people in particular who provided significant logistical support for these two hijackers who arrived in southern California. This unknown -- unnamed Saudi official was in touch with Omar al-Bayoumi. You can see his name there.

He was reportedly a Saudi student in Los Angeles, who's suspected of being a Saudi intelligence agent. And the FBI says that he offered travel assistance, lodging and financing to these two hijackers. Two out of the 19. This Saudi official was also in touch with Fahad al- Thumairy, and Thumairy allegedly tasked this Saudi person with assisting those two hijackers. He was -- Thumairy was a local imam who also worked at the Saudi consulate there.

So you do have this strengthening of the relationship between two Saudi consular officials and these two Saudi hijackers, the assistance that was offered to them. But by no means is there a smoking gun that ties the hijackers to any sort of senior level of the Saudi government or royal family.

ACOSTA: That doesn't sound as though the government was in on it, for example. I mean, we're not anywhere near that level of detail or evidence at this point. And how are 9/11 families reacting? We've seen some of their reactions come in?

MARQUARDT: Yes, we're not even close to that but at the same time the 9/11 families are justifiably, understandably happy with the fact that these documents have started coming out. As you mentioned, this is going to be a process. They did very quickly put out a statement saying that this puts to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in these 9/11 attacks. I'm going to read to you a bit more of their statement.

"Even with the unfortunate number of redactions the report contains a host of bombshell new revelations implicating numerous Saudi government officials in a coordinated effort to mobilize an essential support network for the first arriving 9/11 hijackers. The range of contacts at critical moments among these Saudi government officials, al Qaeda and the hijackers, is stunning."

So they are happy that these first documents are coming out. Of course they're going to be very eager to see what comes out in the remaining documents from the FBI.

ACOSTA: Yes. The families deserve to have answers. And what we've seen so far is alarming. It is very alarming. And I think these families are justified in wanting these answers.

All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

During a visit with firefighters to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, former President Donald Trump repeated the false claim that he won the 2020 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You gave great support. We won the election but what are you going to do? We are fighting like hell and we're going to keep fighting. And you see what happens because elections do have consequences. Nobody ever thought a thing like this would be possible.


ACOSTA: New CNN polling shows a majority of Republicans, 63 percent, support having the twice impeached former president as the leader of the party but they're more evenly divided when it comes to whether Trump will help them win back the White House. For his part, Trump has said it's, quote, "an easy question" as to whether he will run again. He just isn't ready to answer it yet. Of course he may just be teasing us along as he so enjoys doing.

One person who knows him well is his nice, Mary Trump. She's author of the new book, "The Reckoning: One Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal."


Mary, the book looks fascinating. Just like the last one you wrote about all of this. Based on everything that you've seen from your uncle in the last few days, I guess the question is, are you even more concerned about his mental well-being because I think what we saw yesterday in the fire house was just another example. He just can't give this up. The sore loserism that just is blanketing his party right now.

MARY TRUMP, NIECE OF FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Unfortunately, I don't think people who support him see him as being a sore loser, even though he is, of course, because it's a lie that he won the election. He lost decisively by almost eight million votes. The problem is that he's continuing to be supported by Republican leadership or at least not criticized by them. They are not taking a stance against his spreading the first big lie about the election. They're not taking a stance about his second big lie about the insurrection.

And last I checked, nobody pushed back on the fact that on the 20th anniversary of the worst tragedy to hit this country, he was commentating a boxing match to line his own pockets.

ACOSTA: Right. I want to talk to you about that, what your uncle did last night. He gave color commentary at a pay-per-view boxing match on the 9/11 anniversary. As someone with a degree in clinical psychology, I wanted to get your take on him doing that on such a somber anniversary. I mean, this is bizarre.

M. TRUMP: But it's entirely in keeping in what Donald always does. He doesn't understand dignity. He doesn't understand tragedy. He doesn't understand anything that doesn't pertain directly to him. And he will always push the envelope as long as he's allowed to. And this is the problem here. He's always allowed to.

He's always allowed to get away with it. So you and I might think it's bizarre behavior because it is for any decent human being, but one, he's not a decent human being and, two, what's the -- where's the pushback?

Nobody raised their voices on his side of the aisle against that appearance so he will continue to get away with whatever he can get away with as long as they let him.

ACOSTA: Yes, and I hate even bringing up the subject of the former guy on 9/11 anniversary weekends like this one, especially one as important as this one, but the polling showing how he is favored by so many Republicans right now is really just unbelievable. And then when you see what he said this past week about the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. We can put this up on screen. He said in Virginia, a, quote, "embarrassment." He called it an embarrassment.

"We are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee. He also said in a statement, except for Gettysburg, Lee would have won the war." I mean, all of this is just rife with civil war revisionism. "If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan," he went on to say, "this disaster would have been ended in a complete and total victory many years ago."

Where do you start? And it's just baffling in it's brainlessness and just craziness.

M. TRUMP: Well, and it's dangerousness because people listen to him and, shockingly, as you say, 63 percent of Republicans want him to be leader of their party. He seems to forget the fact that for four years he was commander in chief and did nothing but weaken our position in Afghanistan, first of all. Secondly, he clearly knows absolutely nothing about American history. Robert E. Lee was very far from being a brilliant general.

And beside which, Robert E. Lee was a traitor to this country who was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans which sounds very familiar so maybe that's why Donald identifies with him so much.

ACOSTA: And maybe he identifies with the fact that he's a loser. He lost. Trump lost. They're both losers.

Let me ask you about the book, Mary. You talk a lot about trauma. This country has been through so much trauma. You discussed this moment where your uncle famously ripped off his mask during his bout with COVID. Let's talk about that. You believe he was afraid in that moment. Why?

M. TRUMP: Because he was very ill and, as somebody who had very bad asthma as a child, I know what it looks like when somebody is struggling to breathe, which he clearly was. But beyond that, in my family, showing any kind of weakness, even if it's succumbing to a virus is considered fatal. You don't ever want to admit any kind of weakness at all. And he was probably quite afraid that he was not going to be able to either to pretend that he was OK or continue to recover, which ultimately he did.


But I saw a completely terrified man who didn't know what to do in that moment.

ACOSTA: And one thing you share in the book is that after you first learned your uncle had been elected president you spent a few weeks at a treatment center to figure out why his elevation to the White House had undone you. What did you learn?

M. TRUMP: I think it had mostly to do with the fact that knowing Donald as I've known him my whole life, he's a deeply unworthy person and it just felt like a lot of times in our lives the worst among us has the most success, is the person who is elevated, is the person who is allowed to get away with everything. And again, that goes back to what you said earlier about Donald's identifying with Lee as a loser.

Robert E. Lee, despite what he did, was pardoned in the early 1970s by Gerald Ford, and he had a career as a college president and was not really punished for his treason. Donald is in the same boat. He has created all sorts of horrible situations for people in this country, and he continues to roam free and make things worse for people's lives because he's not being held account accountable. So this is how we wind up in these situations while the rest of us are sort of left to flounder.

ACOSTA: And I just want to go back to where things are right now with your uncle. I mean, I guess you don't spend a whole lot of time speaking with him. You may not be exactly sure how he's doing financially. But it is rather odd that he would be doing color commentary for a boxing match. I mean, there's talk about having to abandon his hotel here in Washington. Any sense as to -- is he in dire financial straits right now? What is your understanding about that? He certainly is behaving as if maybe things aren't so good right now.

M. TRUMP: Yes, I have no insider knowledge about that, but what I do know is that Donald is absolutely terrible with money. He's driven more businesses into the ground that I can count, including casinos. He's hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Debt which is going to be called very quickly in the last -- in the next two years, I believe. And he can't make money. He throws good money after bad, time after time after time.

He has enormous amounts of debt in his golf courses, et cetera. So I would not be at all surprised that his teasing a run is simply a grift to make money. Clearly yesterday, only the most desperate person I would hope would do color commentary in a boxing match on the 20th anniversary of September 11th, but, you know, I don't really put anything past him, but I do believe that he's probably in some serious financial trouble.

ACOSTA: And I -- not to drag this point on, it is sort of depressing for the country, the fact that a former president can't be involved with the other former presidents on something as important as a 9/11 anniversary. That struck me as well, Mary.

M. TRUMP: Yes, it is depressing for most of us. The problem is he doesn't care about anything but his base. And his base probably views that also as a sign of strength that he is independent and he is the one who is telling the truth and standing strong against all of these other traitors probably in their minds. And it's a big problem because most of us really do understand what's going on.

Most of us understand what's at stake and what this country needs, and most of us understand what we need to do in order to help our fellow citizens. Donald, however, keeps stirring up the paranoia and fear of the, I guess, almost 40 percent of people who support him which is making the rest of our lives miserable.

ACOSTA: All right. Mary Trump, I think you nailed it there at the end. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Again, you're the author of "The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal." An important subject.

Mary, always great to talk to you. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

M. TRUMP: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Coming up next, now to Capitol Hill. The U.S. Capitol are recommending disciplinary actions in six cases involving officers who responded to the January 6th insurrection. Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill for us.

Suzanne, what more can you tell us?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that statement was released this weekend and it started off with 38 internal investigations. Of the 38, there were 26 of those cases they were able to identify officers. Out of the 26 they deemed that 20, there was no wrongdoing in those cases. So you're really talking about a small number, six cases here. What do they include when it comes to misconduct?

Well, three cases of conduct unbecoming of U.S. Capitol Police. One failure to comply with directives. One improper remarks. One improper dissemination of information.


Now none of these acts were deemed criminal or necessary to be followed up by the Justice Department. You might recall, Jim, it was back in February, there were six officers who were suspended with pay while these investigations were going on.

What could they be talking about here? They don't provide details but we do know that it was dozens and dozens of video evidence and anecdotal evidence of that day, January 6th. And so you did hear stories of like an officer taking a selfie with the rioters or another officer perhaps donning a MAGA hat, a Trump supporter hat, that these things may have occurred.

But in the big picture, what the police department, what the Justice Department wants people to know and remember is that it was 1200 Capitol Police personnel who were there. And many of those officers beaten, tortured and tasered. We saw and heard the testimony here on Capitol Hill. And so they want to put it in context.

They say, "The six sustained cases should not diminish the heroic efforts of the United States Capitol Police Officers on January 6th. The bravery and courage exhibited by the vast majority of our employees was inspiring."

We should also note, too, five deaths, one officer who had a stroke, suffered a stroke and died afterwards, four who died by suicide. Now there are more than 600 of those rioters, attackers who are facing charges because of their actions of January 6th.

And Jim, I can tell you, there is a great deal of concern and worry about a rally that is coming up. That is Saturday, the upcoming Saturday, September 18th. That is when we expect to see the sympathizers of those who have been charged for the January 6th attacks. And so tomorrow, we'll see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Republican and Democratic counterparts meeting with the Capitol police chief to discuss all the precautions that they're going to be taking regarding security, what kind of measures.

They say that they've got communications enhanced between the various departments. And, Jim, they might actually decide to put up that fencing again, at least some of that fencing, to bolster this building and many others that might be in some sort of danger -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Probably a good idea. All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for that.

Coming up, the DOJ taking action where the Supreme Court would not, suing Texas over its six-week abortion ban. Can they make the case? That's next.



ACOSTA: It's the Lone Star State versus the White House, and the lawsuits have only just begun after President Biden announced new vaccine requirements that could affect 100 million Americans. Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott vowed to fight the policy.

And on abortion the reverse is playing out. Days after the Supreme Court refrained from blocking the nation's most restrictive abortion law, the Justice Department sued, saying Texas' six-week ban on abortions and the accompanying bounty framework is unconstitutional.

I'm joined now by Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Let's begin with this abortion law. It was specifically written it seems with these core challenges in mind. They try to design a better mouse trap, it seems, from that standpoint. Do you think it's going to survive this barrage of lawsuits, and what are your thoughts on how this is playing out right now? MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: You know, I don't think it can

survive at all. And certainly all the legal scholars I've talked to have said the same thing. I don't think it was intended to survive, which is really the perversity of this whole thing that people that have been sworn to defend and protect the Constitution have come up with this construct with vigilantes and bounties in order to subvert that Constitution.

It can't last. This is something that just can't be this way. But that wasn't the intent, I don't think. Even as we sit here now, there are clinics that are closing. There are women having to flee the state.

ACOSTA: That's already happening?

ADLER: That's already happening in the state. And it's not right. And it is -- to me, it's such a misuse of power and it goes against the oath.

ACOSTA: And let's go back to what Governor Greg Abbott said when asked about the provision about, you know, rape and incest. Even if a woman is raped, under this law, she essentially has to carry this pregnancy to term. He brushed that off and here's what we had to say.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Let's make something very clear. Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them, and getting them off the streets. So goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape so that no woman, no person will be a victim of rape.


ACOSTA: Are you seeing any such effort under way to completely eliminate rape from occurring in the state of Texas?

ADLER: I mean, certainly you'd like to see that happen, but the suggestion of the governor has known all along how to rid our state of rape and just wasn't letting people know is obviously outrageous. And this is unfortunately something that is part of our society and now to adopt a law that says someone has to go to term with that pregnancy is not something that's supported by the people in the state.

ACOSTA: And on the flip side, the governor is using the economic argument to fight the president's new vaccine policy. He tweeted this. We can put this up on screen. "Biden's vaccine mandate is an assault on private businesses. I issued an executive order protecting Texans' right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine and added it to the special session agenda. Texas is already working to halt this power grab. Today the surgeon general said companies are relieved by the announcement."


How are businesses in Austin reacting to this right now? ADLER: Well, I think that most businesses are welcoming the indication

that they can go ahead and enforce a vaccine ban. I mean, it's quite the opposite. That's true. If you're wanting to open up the economy, if you're wanting to have events, you have to do masking, you have to do the vaccinations.

No one has a right, I believe, to put other people in danger. And that's what the governor is defending as opposed to the right to be able to be safe and to live and, quite frankly, to keep your businesses open and functioning. So it is a real perverse place that we're in right now. It gets more surreal in Texas by the minute.

ACOSTA: And the president was kind of going after the Republican governors on all of this. Let's watch.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be blunt. My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you and these life-saving actions. Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools.

If they'll not help, if these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way.


ACOSTA: It sounds like the president wants to have this fight. Good idea, do you think?

ADLER: It's like the cavalry coming over the hill in Texas to have the president doing this. And he's absolutely right. We have local school boards, elected by the neighborhoods trying their best to keep their children safe and now they've been sued by the attorney general for these local policies, local determination, trying to preserve this local freedom and liberty interest to keep your kids safe. And our state is on the wrong side.

ACOSTA: And how are your hospitals doing right now? ICU beds, it sounds like they are filling up quickly as a result of the Delta variant. What's it like? I mean, just to give us a sense of what it's like on a local level.

ADLER: We were at a real crisis point a couple of weeks ago. The numbers have started to come down. But even with that, our ICUs are still overextended. All I can say is thank God again for local governments, local school boards that have really moved forward with the masking and the vaccinations that everybody knows works.

You know, I was in our ICUs the other day and virtually everyone there is not vaccinated. This really is a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point. And we had someone, a Texan, 47 years old, die of gallstones because he couldn't find a space in a hospital to take care of him. That's not right. ACOSTA: All right. Mayor Steve Adler, thanks so much for coming in. We

appreciate it. Good to see you here in person.

ADLER: Jim, good to be with you.

ACOSTA: We'll get down to Austin as soon as we can.

ADLER: Please come.

ACOSTA: Thanks so much.

Show some respect. President Biden, that's his message as he takes on unruly airline passengers who refuse to wear a mask.


ACOSTA: It's being fought in courtrooms, school board meetings, and maybe even your local grocery store. Probably your local grocery store. But the war over wearing masks seems to be at its most heated and dangerous in the air on those airlines, prompting President Biden to call on travelers to, quote, "show some respect."

CNN's Brian Todd has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I get in anybody's face?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I get in anybody's face? All these people on a plane. I didn't get in nobody's face.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A man argues with an officer over wearing a mask onboard a flight, then refuses a request to get off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not leaving the flight. Get a supervisor.

TODD: This video posted on Instagram shows a passenger on a JetBlue flight in a rage over mask wearing rules. JetBlue says he and another customer were asked multiple times but would not comply with the federal mask mandate.



TODD: On this American Airlines flight, a passenger, later cited for public intoxication, confronts a pilot. The man does sit down. Then, starts chewing on his mask. Then, growls at the flight crew. He was arrested when the plane landed in Salt Lake City.

It's not clear if this incident was related to the rules for wearing masks on passenger flights. But what is clear, is that out of more than 4,000 incidents of unruly passengers reported by the FAA so far this year, about three quarters of them involve disputes over mask- wearing rules.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we don't stand up, it's only going to get worse.

TODD: It's gotten so bad that President Biden has announced the TSA will now double the fines passengers will have to pay if they break the rules. The president getting personal, sounding exasperated.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television, toward flight attendants and others doing their job, is wrong. It's ugly.

TODD: Could the new fines curb this kind of behavior?

DAVID SLOTNICK, SENIOR AVIATION BUSINESS REPORTER, THE POINTS GUY: I think it potentially could. The airlines and the flight attendants unions have been calling for harsher penalties. They think that's what's going to make the difference. They actually want to see criminal prosecutions, not just these civil fines.

TODD: More and more flight attendants say they fear for their safety. The head of a prominent flight attends union weighing in on the causes.

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: People are coming to the door of our aircraft in a combative mood.


NELSON: They have been led to believe that the safety precautions that we have in place are a political issue, rather than a public health necessity. And it has created this atmosphere that we have never seen before, and what can very quickly turn into a mob-like behavior.

TODD: But one industry analyst cites other factors. People letting loose after not being able to fly for months. Alcohol intake. And --

SLOTNICK: Just people who are maybe frustrated or stressed out because their flights have been delayed and they had to deal with all the extra precautions because of COVID, maybe airport restaurants being closed, fewer services on board. And people just ending up at this, sort of, higher stress level that ends up boiling over.

TODD (on camera): Analyst David Slotnick says one thing he worries about, in the months ahead, is if another COVID variant starts spreading which could lead to even stricter rules which could also lead to more unruly incidents. But stricter rules could be coming anyway. White House officials now saying they're not ruling out mandating COVID testing or requiring proof of vaccination for domestic flights.

Brian Todd, CNN, at Reagan National Airport.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Telling people to vote but then telling them to leave one question blank. What could go wrong with the Democratic strategy in the California recall? We'll be keeping tabs on that.

Plus, tonight, CNN's Jake Tapper takes a closer look at America's longest war and asks the tough questions about what went wrong.


ANNOUNCER: $2 trillion. Thousands of lives lost.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I go to my grave, I'd like that question answered.

ANNOUNCER: What went wrong in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we had a definition of winning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Corruption was one of the reasons of how things turned out.

TAPPER: Was Pakistan our enemy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but Pakistan was not our friend.

ANNOUNCER: The tough questions that still need answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If everybody gets an A but the overall effort is still an F, who do we hold accountable?



ACOSTA: California Governor Gavin Newsom is getting help from President Joe Biden, as Newsom fights to keep his job. The president will join Newsom for a rally in Long Beach, California tomorrow, ahead of the state's recall election on Tuesday. Newsom has been on a campaign blitz over the last few weeks, urging voters to keep him as Governor. And recent polling shows his efforts may be paying off.

CNN's Natasha Chen joins us now from Los Angeles. Natasha, Governor Newsom is actually asking voters to leave half of the ballot blank. That's puzzling but maybe there's a good reason behind it. What Can you tell us?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, this ballot only has two questions, which sounds really simple. But it can get confusing, which is why the Newsom campaign wants voters to focus on that first question, which asks voters whether they want Governor Newsom to be recalled.

Now, if the majority says, no, then he stays in office. Pretty simple. If the majority says, yes, that's where the second question becomes important. That one asks voters, who should replace Newsom if he is recalled? And lists 46 candidates to choose from.

Now, here's where it got hairy last time around, in 2003 when Governor Gray Davis was recalled and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took over. At that time, Democrats were told, vote against the recall, but also vote for the lieutenant governor as an alternative. That got very confusing.

So, this time around, they're keeping it simple. Just answer the first question to vote no. And that is what we're hearing from the voters here in Beverly Hills. They have told us in this very left-leaning area that they are voting against the recall. And they tell us that it's primarily because they want to keep California leadership out of the hands of Republicans.


DEANA DELSHAD: I think more than Gavin Newsom, I believe in the Democratic rights and what Democrats stand for. So, although he's made many mistakes, I want a Democrat in office.

I think we're so divided in this state, and it's frustrating to hear both sides and the division within, like, our own friends.


CHEN: And while there are a lot of pressing issues that the voters are thinking about, including wildfires and the homelessness crisis, we're hearing that mainly people are concerned about the pandemic response. They are concerned that if a conservative, like front-runner Larry Elder on the other side, takes over, then Elder has talked about rescinding a mask mandate. Take -- rescinding vaccine requirements.

And so, that's something they're very fearful of. They like the way that Newsom's leadership has responded to this pandemic. That's the way they would like to keep it. In fact, a couple of voters told us today, they would prefer the devil they know than the angel they don't -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, there certainly would be major, major changes afoot in California if Larry Elder were to become the Governor. And Democrats sound optimistic about Newsom's chances. But when the President of the United States comes in at the last minute, that means it may be just close enough that Democrats need to pay attention.

All right, Natasha Chen, thanks so much. We appreciate it. Coming up, chaos at school board meetings on everything from mask mandates to critical race theory.


ACOSTA: Some of it even leading to violence. What's behind the anger? You might be surprised. Next.


ACOSTA: All across the country, the battle over mask mandates has turned school board meetings into screaming matches. But in parts of Florida, opponents of mask mandates admit they are using the hot- button issue as a way to attack the public school system and make fundamental social changes.

Here is Evan McMorris-Santoro.


BRENDON LESLIE, FOUNDER AND EDITOR IN CHIEF, FLORIDA'S CONSERVATIVE VOICE: This board is only focused on forced mask mandates, raising our taxes and making our kids believe they can change their gender at any given moment or maybe encouraging them into thinking they can identify as a zebra.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When angry speakers raise hell at school board meetings in Florida, like this one in Lee County, it's becoming clear that, for many, this goes way beyond masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's get your kids out of these government-run schools. These tyrants got to go.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Betsy Vaughn is a school board member. She says masks are being used as part of an all-out attack on public schools.

BETSY VAUGHN, VICE CHAIR, LEE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD (via Skype): I would say there are some that really believe, and there are some parents that it's a legitimate concern. There are others that are just jumping on a bandwagon, because they see it as an opportunity for bringing in -- this is my personal opinion -- bringing in more people for their agenda.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Vaughn is right.

STATE REP. SPENCER ROACH (R), FLORIDA (via Skype): Yes, my constituents are pissed. I mean, we're seeing 500 to 1,000 people attending school board meetings now that really couldn't draw a crowd of 20 to 30 people prior to COVID.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Republican State Representative Spencer Roach is thrilled that mask mandates are bringing new people into the crusade against public education.

ROACH: So, I never used the word public school. I use the term, government school, because that's what these are. And it should be looked at in the same context as government housing or government health care.

So, I think this anger really --

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): You mean like there shouldn't be government schools or what are you saying?

ROACH: I think, as a parent, you should do everything possible to avoid having your child in a government school.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Roach doesn't support mask mandates. But what he's really after is control over classrooms.

ROACH: Whether you're talking about critical race theory, whether you're talking about sex education, whether you're talking about school of choice, mask mandates, bathroom policies, transgender sport policies, the crux of the debate is who is best positioned to make decisions for your child? A parent or the government?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Roach is pushing a constitutional amendment in Florida that would force school board candidates to run under partisan affiliation. He says board members like Vaughn don't represent the ideology of conservative Lee County. Vaughn is a registered Democrat, but she says critics are misrepresenting what her school board's agenda is on masks and critical race theory.

VAUGHN: It's not a theory that we would be teaching. You know, maybe in some advanced class, perhaps. But it's not the kind of thing that we would normally teach in school.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Florida Republicans, including Governor Ron DeSantis, say school boards have a dangerous influence. They tie masking to debates over things like race.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We're also, Dan, not going to support any Republican candidate for school board who supports critical race theory in all 67 counties or who supports mandatory masking of school children.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Roach says the momentum from the masking fight could put fundamental changes to Florida schools within reach.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): So, really, when we're hearing from school board members that they're worried people are coming here to try to really dismantle the public school system, they're not wrong. You do want to do that?

ROACH: They're not wrong. I would tell you this. You know, the government school system, right now, is a monopoly.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That kind of language is what Vaughn means when she says, there's a hidden agenda in the mask debate.

VAUGHN: It angers me. It appalls me. It saddens me.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): Does it scare you?

VAUGHN: Yes. You know, I taught English. I taught literature. One of my very favorite books to teach to my seniors was Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four." I see some Orwellian aspects in what is happening.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN, New York.


ACOSTA: "Nineteen Eighty-Four," indeed.

All right, in the meantime, with cervical cancer killing thousands of women in countries around the world, this week's CNN hero left her Beverly Hills practice in Los Angeles to begin a mission to eradicate cervical cancer globally, one woman at a time. Meet Dr. Patricia Gordon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: free cervical cancer screening. Screen and treat for free of charge.

DR. PATRICIA GORDON: There are 350,000 women dying a painful, undignified death, globally, and it's almost 100 percent preventable.

So, this is everything you need to screen and treat a patient.

We bring in these big suitcases. We teach local healthcare professionals the see and treat technique. At the end of the week of training, we pack up that suitcase and give it to the nurses that are going back to their clinics.

Within a day, we can literally save 20, 30 lives, depending on the number of women we screen. That there are 8,000 women who are alive and well and able to provide for their families is, honestly, the most rewarding thing that I could have ever imagined in my life. I think I'm the luckiest doctor that ever lived.


ACOSTA: And go to right now to learn Dr. Gordon's full story and see her in action.



ACOSTA: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

Twenty years after 911, brand-new details on suspected Saudi government support for the hijackers.


ACOSTA: The FBI releasing the first document since President Biden ordered the declassification of records last week.