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DOJ asks Judge to Block Abortion Law; Senate Hearing on Nassar Investigation; Key Democrats Meet with Biden; South Carolina Man Planned his Own Hit. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired September 15, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department is making a move against the restrictive Texas abortion law. It is now asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of it for now. This comes after the Biden administration sued the state last week saying the law, which bans abortions after six weeks, no exception for rape and incest, was passed, quote, in open defiance of the Constitution.

CNN supreme court reporter Ariane de Vogue joins me now.

Ariane, so how likely does the judge respond to this and issue a stay?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, keep in mind, this judge, in a different challenge, already ruled against Texas once. But this is a really aggressive move by the Department of Justice. They want this law blocked now, immediately. They've already sued. But they want these clinics to be able now to come back and resume performing this procedure.

But, keep in mind, as you and I have talked about, this law was written in a way to make it really hard to block. That was the whole point. And the Department of Justice has said, look, this is a scheme and it's meant to avoid judicial review.

Here's what they wrote in papers last night. There can be no dispute that S.B. 8 is contrary to decades of precedent prohibiting states from banning abortions before fetal viability. And in these papers, Jim, they really layout out now what this law is affecting, how it's affecting women on the ground. They say, for instance, one clinic provided something like 200 abortions in the week before it went into effect. Now it's down to 60.


DE VOGUE: They say clinics out of state are getting tons of phone calls. And the women who can't afford to travel, those with the means, they're having to do that while COVID is surging.


DE VOGUE: So, again, another safety concern.

SCIUTTO: Justice Roberts, his dissent, by the way, not far off of that, saying that this is something of a scheme to get around.

Big picture, though.


SCIUTTO: So this would be temporary if it's issued.

DE VOGUE: Right.

SCIUTTO: On the larger question as to whether laws like this violate Roe v. Wade --

DE VOGUE: Right.

SCIUTTO: Violate precedent, where, when and how will that be decided?

DE VOGUE: Well, in the short term right now things could move quickly depending on what this district court judge does. The district court could enter some kind of temporary restraining order. Texas, then, would likely zoom right to that federal appeals court that's conservative. Then it might end up on the emergency docket of the Supreme Court, where they would be just looking at whether or not to allow it to go into effect or not.

Keep in mind, the court, as you said, did allow it to go into effect in that other challenge that was brought by the abortion clinics. But this one's different, of course, because it's brought by the Department of Justice.


DE VOGUE: It has the heft of the federal government behind it. And the Supreme Court this time could see it differently.

SCIUTTO: Well, meanwhile, the effect on the ground, right, is that fewer women have access. I mean that's just -- that's simply a fact.


SCIUTTO: Ariane de Vogue, thanks so much for breaking it down for us.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the FBI Has fired an agent accused of failing to launch a proper investigation into former USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar. Next hour the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing about the FBI's handling of that investigation into sexual abuse allegations -- sexual abuse by Nassar. And here you see, just moments ago, elite U.S. gymnasts arriving to testify. Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, all arriving on Capitol Hill ahead of their testimony. They've all said publicly they were abused by Nassar.

CNN correspondent Jean Casarez is live on Capitol Hill this morning.

Jean, what more can you tell us about what we'll hear this morning?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is going to be a very riveting, a very emotional hearing because those gymnasts, who are all Olympic and world champions, will be seated at the table. Initially, you will have some remarks from senators and then they will give their statements, their testimony. You will hear from them.

Following that, the senators will be allowed five minutes to question each of them as who they want. And then following that you will have the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and also the inspector general, Michael Horowitz. They will testify, and then be asked questions from the senators.


You know, this hearing today stems from the inspector general's report, and it was that report that -- from that came a statement from Senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran that said, this is scathing. What we are seeing is that the FBI Indianapolis office knew that there were serious accusations against Larry Nassar, and they did nothing for more than a year. And once they did do something, they falsified the complaint. And when they spoke to the inspector general, they did not tell the truth.

And I think the best way to look at this is the timeline because in summer of 2015, USA Gymnastics went to the FBI in Indianapolis and said we have very credible accusations that Larry Nassar sexually abused some of our gymnasts. The FBI in Indianapolis -- why Indianapolis? That's where USA Gymnastics is based. They said, we'll take care of it. USA Gymnastics said we have gymnast one, gymnast two, and gymnast three. They have never revealed themselves. They will today on the Senate floor here. We would like you to interview them.

The FBI only interviewed gymnast one. It was a telephonic interview, weeks later. The inspector general said, that's not the way to interview a sexual assault victim by telephone. After that, a few handwritten notes were made. No formal complaint. Nothing was done over a year. But they said that they had sent it on to the FBI in Lansing. The inspector general said they could never find anything that showed a communication or complaint was sent to the FBI in Lansing.

Because of that, according to the report, more than 70 young girls, minors, were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, and I'm hearing it was even greater than 100 because the FBI didn't do anything.

HILL: Jean Casarez, thank you. It is infuriating. And if you wonder why it's so hard for victims to come forward, here is yet another example.

Jean, appreciate it.

Just in to CNN, we've learned two key Democratic senators will be meeting with President Biden today as he tries to push his $3.5 trillion budget plan through Congress.

SCIUTTO: That's right, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema have both expressed opposition to that price tag. It's not just Manchin, remember. So the question is, is the president willing to negotiate?

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox just got this information.

So, what more do we know about these meetings? And is there -- are there proposals there to meet in the middle somewhere?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we're going to find that out, Jim. These are significant players. Both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have made it clear that that $3.5 trillion price tag to reimagine the social safety net is simply too high, and they want to make sure that the level of spending that goes into this bill is really looked at, you know, people are going through it, making sure that every program that Democrats are supporting is actually necessary.

And Manchin has made it very clear publicly that he has other concerns about just -- other than just this price tag. And that includes things like the tax increases that will be needed to pay for this bill, as well as other provisions on climate. He wants to make sure that there is an income threshold that is a little lower than what it is now for an expansion of the child tax credit. Those are all issues that Senator Manchin has made clear are problems for him. And that list is very long.

Meanwhile, Sinema is someone who is much more private about what her concerns are, but she has said publicly that $3.5 trillion price tag is a big red line for her.

So I think this is really an opportunity for the president to make sure that he is working with these members. It's very important to give these members individual attention because, as we have made clear in the U.S. Senate, every single vote counts. You only have 50 votes and you have to make sure every Democrat is in line. Right now Chuck Schumer doesn't have every Democrat. So the effort right now is to have the president speak to these members as well.

Jim. Erica.

HILL: We'll be looking forward to what comes out of that.


HILL: Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.

Lauren Fox, thank you.

Also new this morning, the attorney for a South Carolina man accused of organizing a failed hit on himself just answered questions about whether his client murdered his wife and son. A live report is next.



HILL: A bizarre, legal odyssey playing out in South Carolina today. Authorities have charged a man in the shooting of prominent lawyer Alex Murdaugh. Now, it's a hit police say Murdaugh himself orchestrated as part of a conspiracy to commit a $10 million insurance fraud.

SCIUTTO: I mean the details of this are just alarming. Murdaugh's attorney says his client was trying to get off a drug addiction at the time, an addiction that he says worsened in the wake of the murders of his wife and son earlier this year.


RICHARD HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: On that Saturday morning, he was trying to get off the opioids. He was not taking any of them, was in a massive depression, realized that things were going to get very, very, very bad and he decided to end his life. He indicated he called this guy who met him on the side of the road, agreed to shoot him in the head, and this fake car break down. Thirty minutes later, this guy is shooting him in the head. Didn't try to persuade him not to do it. Didn't hesitate at all. And he did.


There was an entrance and exit wound. It was --


HARPOOTLIAN: And Alex indicated he collapsed. He was blind for a while before he was taken to the hospital.


SCIUTTO: Lord, what a story.

Martin Savidge has been following it for us.

Martin, so, I mean, the attorney claims Murdaugh did this to protect his only surviving son?


SCIUTTO: Tell us what's behind this.

SAVIDGE: Buster Murdaugh is that son and he would have inherited, through that insurance scheme, if it had all come through, about $10 million, not to mention whatever else is in the family land because they are a very wealthy family. Very legally prominent, have been for decades in that region of rural South Carolina.

It unraveled because Alex Murdaugh survived getting shot in the head. The plan was apparently, according to law enforcement, which they say now Alex Murdaugh has confessed to, but he wanted this man to kill him. Then the family would get the insurance money and Alex Murdaugh wouldn't have any problems because, well, he'd be dead.

Because, remember, the day before the shooting occurred, it had been revealed by his law firm that Alex Murdaugh had allegedly stolen millions of dollars from the law firm. In fact, they let him go. There was a separation from the law firm. And also Murdaugh had admitted publicly to having an opioid addiction going back some 20 years.

So police were always suspicious when the very next day it looks like somebody tries to kill him, especially when two months earlier somebody did kill his wife and son.

And so this raises the question, if the attorney now was lying about himself getting shot and nearly getting killed, what else could he potentially be telling law enforcement that isn't true, especially pertaining to the murders of his wife and son?

Here's the attorney again representing Alex Murdaugh speaking this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But did he -- did he -- did --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Dick, he didn't murder them. Does he perhaps know who did and why?

HARPOOTLIAN: I don't think he does. I don't think he does. But Jim Griffin and I are working on and investigating an individual or individuals we believe may -- may have -- have some culpability.


SAVIDGE: Of course, law enforcement is not going to take the word of his attorney or of the man himself. They don't know if there is a connection with this bizarre scheme to defraud an insurance company and the murders of his wife and son. It's so more complicated now today than it was just 48 to 72 hours ago for law enforcement to figure out.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, at the root of it, it's a family tragedy.

SAVIDGE: Yes, absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Martin Savidge, thanks so much.

Well, a GOP senator is threatening to place a hold on every State and Defense Department civilian nominee by this administration. That is, unless the leaders of those agencies step down. A familiar Republican behind it. Details on the political standoff over Afghanistan coming up next.



SCIUTTO: A Republican senator says he will now hold up every single nominee for the State and Defense Departments unless Secretary of State Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resign. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is one of several GOP lawmakers who has called for the leaders to step down in the wake of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He says that his hold would apply to any civilian nominee at the deputy and secretary levels, as well as ambassadors. I mean it's an enormous move here. It would force Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to take time-consuming, procedural steps to advance those nominees.

So, at the same time, in Kabul, the Taliban are thanking global leaders for pledging more than a billion dollars to address the immediate humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The U.N. says that millions of people right now are at risk of running out of food and the economy is on the verge of collapse. Lawmakers asked Secretary Blinken about this just yesterday.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: When it comes to food, when it comes to medicine, when it comes to the basics, the -- we, the international community, irrespective of anything else, ought to be able to provide that, provided that we can do it knowing that the assistance is going to get to the people who need it and not diverted or used in any other -- in any other way.


SCIUTTO: So here are the facts on all the aid money that went to Afghanistan. With U.S. troops and diplomats out of the country, it is one of the last remaining tools that the U.S. government has, and, that is, has to hold the Taliban accountable.

So, in 2019, the World Bank said that the Afghan government relied on foreign aid for three quarters, 75 percent of all of its funding. So how much has the U.S. spent of that figure over the years and, crucially, where did it go?

So here's the number. Aside from military spending, the United States has spent approximately $145 billion for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan since 2002. Remember, that's not military stuff, that's reconstruction, food, other forms of aid. This according to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

2019 is the last year we have complete data for aid. And that year it was the number one destination for U.S. foreign aid around the world at $4.7 billion. That's roughly 10 percent of all the money this country sent overseas in the form of aid.

We should note, it is down significantly from the peak. It peaked in about 2011 when U.S. forces also peaked there, came down to just under $5 billion in the most recent year. [09:55:04]

Here's the problem, though. Not all of that money has been well spent. In fact, an alarming amount of it was lost. According to that same inspector general's report, between May of 2019 and the end of -- May of 2009, rather, the end of 2019, $19 billion, it was found, went to waste, fraud and abuse. How much of that is -- of the total figure? Nearly 23 percent of all the U.S. taxpayer money, that's your and my money, sent to Afghanistan over the decade lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Blinken did say the nearly $330 million pledge this year will flow through non-profit groups and U.N. agencies because of the ongoing sanctions on the Taliban. But it remains to be seen whether that money can actually get where it's needed most and make a real difference there.


HILL: A great breakdown. Jim, appreciate it. I like the facts.

Minutes from now, a crucial hearing on Capitol Hill. Some of America's most well-known elite gymnasts set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is now looking into how the FBI handled or perhaps mishandled the investigation into disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, the man who assaulted and molested hundreds of girls and young women. Our live coverage is next.