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Fences Go Up at Capitol Ahead of Right-Wing Rally; Biden Backs To General Amid Republican Criticism; U.S., UK to Help Australia Build Nuclear-Powered Subs; SpaceX Sends First All-Civilian Crew Into Orbit; FDA Advisers Prepare for Meeting on COVID Boosters; Top Gymnasts Testify on FBI Failures in Nassar Investigation. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 04:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Security is on high alert as the U.S. Capitol's fencing goes back up before a far-right pro-Trump rally.

Students fight back against a book ban that has a Pennsylvania town divided.

And SpaceX launches its first all-tourist crew into orbit.

Welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin in Washington where fences are going up around the U.S. Capitol ahead of this Saturday's right-wing rally. Dubbed the "Justice for J6," organizers say their goal is to show support for the hundreds arrested in the January 6 insurrection. And now Capitol police want to make sure there isn't a repeat of those riots. CNN's Ryan Nobles filed this report before the fences went up.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very clear that Capitol Police and the security forces responsible for protecting this area are preparing for the very worst on Saturday ahead of that rally in support of the people that were arrested for taking part in the January 6 insurrection.

Right now, this area behind me at the Capitol is all open to the public, but in just a matter of hours, security personnel will begin constructing a large fence that's going to wrap around this entire area. And you can already see some of the security precautions that are in place, these are cameras that have been put at strategic places around the Capitol Square so that law enforcement can keep an eye on the protestors and any potential problems that could arise throughout the course of Saturday.

Now, one of the other things that law enforcement has done, is that they have requested that the National Guard be on backup just in case they need them. Of course, the response of the National Guard on January 6 is a big point of contention, the fact that it took so long to mobilize them, to help, is something that many of these different committees up on Capitol Hill are investigating.

And one of the other things that law enforcement is potentially concerned about is the potential for some of these rally participants to bring weapons to this event. That's something law enforcement is tracking right now. Well, the organizer for of the "Justice for J6" rally, as is called, told CNN that's something that he does not think will be a problem.

MATT BRAYNARD, "JUSTICE FOR J6" ORGANIZER: We've got a largely peaceful crowd. We've had two events in Washington DC so far at the Department of Justice and at the prison. And there've been no incidents so far. No one is going to be bringing a weapon who is a part of our crowd. I can assure the police that.

NOBLES: Now while all these precautions are being put into place, to be clear, what's happening on Saturday is markedly different than what we saw on January 6. Of course, the House and Senate, they won't even be in session so most lawmakers won't even be here. And of course, none of those high-profile Republicans that took place in the event on January 6 are also even scheduled to speak. In fact, not one Republican House member has confirmed their attendance to participate in this rally.

So, while there is always that potential for violence, it is clear that law enforcement right now are just preparing for what they are describing as a worst-case scenario.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


CHURCH: The Biden administration is defending America's top military official after claims that General Mark Milley overstepped his authority during the last days of the Trump administration. CNN's Brian Todd has the details.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden backing Joint Chiefs Chairman Army General Mark Milley.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I have great confidence with General Milley.

TODD (voice-over): Following revelations in the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the "Washington Post." Former President Donald Trump and some Republicans in Congress calling for Milley to be tossed out, even court marshaled over the reporting in the book that General Milley was so fearful that then-President Trump would start a war with China in the final months of his administration that Milley secretly called his Chinese counterpart twice to reassure him that the United States would not strike China.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice over): That's treason. I've had so many calls today saying that's treason. TODD (voice-over): General Milley's office defending his calls with his Chinese counterpart saying they were part of a series of calls with America's allies and adversaries at that time, quote, in order to maintain strategic stability. A defense official tell CNN, those calls were not done in secret and followed the same protocols used by other chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Woodward and Costa also report that right after the January 6th assault on the Capitol, Milley called a secret meeting at the Pentagon to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons.


But Milley instructed top military officials not to take orders from anyone, including then-President Trump unless Milley was involved.

The authors write Milley, quote, was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.

That rationale doesn't cut it with Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): It is the essence of a military coup, for lack of a better term. That's what it would equate to. I don't think there's any doubt that at a minimum he should be fired if this is true.

TODD (voice-over): The Pentagon Press Secretary says General Milley's actions were above board.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It is completely appropriate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the senior military adviser to both the secretary and president to want to see those protocols reviewed on whatever frequent basis that he wants to do that.

TODD (voice-over): Woodward and Costa also write that after the racial justice protests at the White House in June 2020, Trump accused then- Defense Secretary Mark Esper of trying to take away his authority by not imposing the Insurrection Act, then screamed at others in the room. Quote, you're all f-ed up, he yelled, everybody, you're all f- ed, every one of you is f-ed up.

TODD: Former President Trump in addition to calling Milley's reported actions, quote, treason has issued a statement calling the Joint Chiefs Chairman a, quote, dumb ass, weak and ineffective. Who Trump says concocted a fake news story along with two authors who Trump says he refused to give an interview to because he says, they write fiction not fact. Trump says he never thought about China, a possibility alluded to in the book. And that the people who told that story are, quote, sick and demented and those who printed it just as bad.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Under a new trilateral security pact, the U.S. and U.K. will share highly sensitive nuclear technology with Australia, so that it can begin to build its own fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. The Chinese Embassy in Washington slammed the new partnership for its, quote, cold war mentality. We get more from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: A major announcement from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia with leaders of all three nations coming together on Wednesday to issue new strategic trilateral partnership causing it AUKUS.

Now what this group is these three democracies, Maritime democracies really coming together to deploy nuclear powered submarines for Australia to patrol the South China Sea. Of course, keeping an eye on China, and aggressive eye on China is the central role of all three nations here.

Now, in a joint virtual address, President Biden joined by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made this announcement on Wednesday evening in the U.S., late Wednesday evening in the U.K. and early Thursday morning in Australia. President Biden said it's key for these countries to once again work together.

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

ZELENY: Now China was not mentioned by either of the three leaders during the announcement, but that sub text was very clear. Of course, China's rise has been a central focus of the Biden administration. President Biden leading that conversation as he meets with world leaders. He'll be doing that again next week at the United Nations.

But clearly Australia for the first time will have this nuclear- powered submarine system to really keep an eye more on the South China Sea and the aggressive steps that China has been making there. So certainly, a unique partnership by a group of allies certainly, but by these three leaders coming together to do a joint announcement, again, of a group called the AUKUS, they are making the case, led by the U.S. and President Biden, to try and stop or slow or certainly keep an eye on China's rise.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER: And CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us with more from Hong Kong. So, Kristie, one might imagine China won't be too thrilled by this latest development. What's been the reaction so far from Beijing?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as China's embassy in Washington DC have reacted angrily to this new security pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the last 30 minutes issuing a statement condemning the pact saying that it, quote, seriously undermines regional peace and security.


Earlier we heard from a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC calling on these three countries to, quote, shake off their cold war mentality. Of course, it was on Wednesday when these three nations announced this joint security pact for the Indo-Pacific region with the aim of working together on cybersecurity issues, on advanced technologies like AI and quantum computing, and to help Australia gain access and acquire a nuclear-powered submarine.

Now the U.S. President Biden has made a point that this is not a nuclear-armed submarine, it's a nuclear-powered submarine, but it will have conventional weapons. He said the aim here ultimately is to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region for some time to company, but China does not see it that way. It sees it as a very provocative move.

Let's bring up the statement from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman. This spokesperson spoke, again, just in the last half hour or so saying this, quote, the nuclear submarine cooperation between the U.S., U.K. and Australia seriously undermines regional peace and stability, intensifies the arms race, and undermines international nuclear nonproliferation efforts. The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the U.S. and U.K., once again proves that they use nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical gaming and they adopt double standards on nuclear nonproliferation. This is highly unresponsible. Unquote.

Now earlier we also heard from China's Washington Embassy spokesman who issued this statement saying that the countries, quote, should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular they should shake off their cold war mentality and ideological prejudice. Unquote.

So quite an angry response to this new trilateral pact from China. Back to you, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Kristie Lu Stout, appreciate it.

The world's first all-civilian space flight crew is now orbiting the earth.


CROWD: Five, four, three, two, one! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ignition. And liftoff.


BRUNHUBER: That was the SpaceX rocket taking off Wednesday with no professional astronaut on board. The four-person crew is led by billionaire Jared Isaacman who funded the mission, dubbed Inspiration4. They'll be in orbit for the next three days. SpaceX hopes that this will be the first of many similar tourist missions paving the way for a new era of space travel. CNN's Kristin Fisher has a closer look at the mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a spectacular and successful nighttime launch from the Kennedy Space Center. And what makes this Inspiration4 mission so extraordinary is just how ordinary the crew is. None of them are professional astronauts and yet they're going to be orbiting the earth the next three days before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

On board, a 29-year-old pediatric cancer survivor and physician's assistant at St. Jude's Children's Hospital. There's also Dr. Sian Proctor who applied to be an astronaut back in 2009, came this close, didn't quite make the cut. She was devastated. And now she gets to achieve her lifelong dream.

There's also Chris Sembroski who was watching a Super Bowl commercial for this mission. He entered a sweepstakes. His friend got the golden ticket but gave it to him. That's how he ended up on board.

And finally, the commander Jared Isaacman, a billionaire businessman and entrepreneur, a pilot, and he's really the brainchild for this mission. He went to SpaceX back in October about something totally different, mentioned in a passing comment hey, if you ever want to send me into space, I'd be game. And now here he is in orbit less than a year later.

JARED ISAACMAN, INSPIRATION4 CREW MEMBER: I wouldn't say pressure because pressure would mean like I'm nervous about the outcome here. I think that responsibility is really the word, right, and that this is a big responsibility and we have to execute really well and get it right so that the door can stay open for all the other missions to follow.

FISHER: Jared Isaacman talks a lot about opening up space travel to everyone and democratizing space. And that's really center to SpaceX's founding mission, which is to make humanity multi-planetary, to colonize Mars. And so, in order to do that you have to prove that your everyday person is capable of dealing with the rigors of orbital space flight. And that is exactly what the Inspiration4 crew is going to spend the next several days doing.

At the Kennedy Space Center, Kristin Fisher, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER: As some experts push for approval of COVID booster shots in the U.S., others say not so fast. It will be up to the Food and Drug Administration to make sense of all the data. We'll have what to expect ahead of a key meeting.

And ahead, one of the innovative new methods to try to rid the world of carbon pollution. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: The former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a warning for those living in the Northeast. A surge of the COVID delta variant is on its way. Dr. Scott Gottlieb says a spike in cases will likely coincide with the reopening of schools. But he doesn't think the Northeast will be hit as hard as the Southern U.S. mostly because of higher vaccination rates. Gottlieb also believes more employees will eventually require their workers to get both the flu and COVID vaccines.

Ahead of an important meeting on Friday with vaccine advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a new agency document says the benefit of COVID boosters may be limited. It's one perspective of many as advisers prepare to hear conflicting information. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When FDA vaccine advisers meet on Friday to discuss boosters for COVID-19 vaccines, well, it is sure to be contentious and perhaps even somewhat bitter. Last month President Biden came out and talked about the booster program, even gave a date for next week to start that program up. And that has made many scientists quite angry, they say the president of the United States should not be talking about something until FDA and CDC scientists have been able to look at the data and weigh in on their thoughts.


So, let's take a look at what some of this data is. At issue is whether two shots are enough to protect people. U.S. and Qatari studies suggest that two shots are sufficient to protect against severe illness, against severe COVID-19. But there are Israeli studies that suggest that two shots are not sufficient to protect against severe COVID-19. And from the New England Journal of Medicine, an Israeli study that shows boosters do protect against severe illness. That Israeli data is based on their booster program that started on August 1.

Now there's another layer to this. We've already talked about shots protecting against severe illness, but would a booster shot protect against infection. We know that sometimes people get two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine and they get an infection. They get COVID-19. Typically, they don't get very sick. One camp says that's not a big deal. These people don't get very sick. Another camp says, well, those people are still possible of spreading COVID-19 around and we don't want that. So, let's take a listen to something that Dr. Rochelle Walensky said recently.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: In early August we started to see that there was some waning with our vaccine effectiveness just with regard to infections. People weren't getting that particularly sick yet, but just with regard to infections and that foreshadowed that we may be seeing this sooner with regard to hospitalizations and severe disease.

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


BRUNHUBER: One Pennsylvania school district is now in the spotlight for banning books that deal with race and U.S. history. And students aren't happy about it.

Plus, powerful testimony from top American gymnasts calling out the FBI for turning a blind eye to sexual abuse by their former team doctor.


ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter. Why did none of these organizations warn anyone?




BRUNHUBER: America's most elite gymnasts are calling out the system that so badly failed them. The group of star athletes testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday over the FBI's botched investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar. A scathing Justice Department Inspector General report found agents failed to properly document complaints by the accusers and then lied about it. CNN's Jean Casarez reports.


MCKAYLA MARONEY, U.S. GYMNAST: They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.

ALY RAISMAN, U.S. GYMNAST: I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar's plea deal.

SIMONE BILES, U.S. GYMNAST: I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system.

MAGGIE NICHOLS, U.S. GYMNAST: Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to LIG investigators?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Maggie Nichols, elite gymnasts and members of the Olympics United States gymnastics team giving emotional testimony, ripping the FBI for failing to protect them from their sexual abuser.

MARONEY: I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma.

NICHOLS: The survivors of Larry Nassar have a right to know why their well-being was placed in the jeopardy of these individuals who chose not to do their jobs.

RAISMAN: It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.

CASAREZ (voice-over): One by one, the decorated gymnasts told their stories, recounted the years of abuse by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor.

BILES: I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar's guise of medical treatment, which we continue to endure today.

MARONEY: That evening I was naked, completely alone with him on top of me molesting me for hours. I told him I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go. He turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Nassar is currently serving a 40 to 175-state year prison sentence after 150 women and girls came forward to expose, he abused them over the course of 20 years. But today's congressional hearing, a result of the scathing report from the Justice Department's inspector general's office revealing FBI officials investigating the allegations against Nassar made false statements and failed to properly document complaints by the accusers at the time.

MARONEY: Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.

CASAREZ (voice-over): One FBI agent already fired, Michael Langman, according to "The Washington Post," interviewed Maroney in 2015 about her allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar and is accused of failing to launch a proper investigation.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The FBI's handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau.

CASAREZ (voice-over): FBI Director Christopher Wray, who did not lead the bureau at the time, also being grilled today.

DURBIN: What am I missing here? This man is on the loose molesting children, and it appears that it's being lost in the paperwork of the agency.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I share your bewilderment. I share your outrage. And I don't have a good explanation for you.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Wray apologizing to the victims and vowing to do more.

WRAY: It's my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.

CASAREZ: The Department of Justice was invited to testify at today's hearing. They declined. Senator Richard Blumenthal said by them just not showing up, it appeared as though they don't care about the abuse of little girls.

CNN though has now learned that Attorney General Merrick Garland does plan on coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, but at this point, they have still declined any prosecution in this matter.

Jean Casarez, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BRUNHUBER: The former Minneapolis officer sentenced in George Floyd's killing will be back in court today.