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CNN Reports, Kabul Airport Bomber Released From Prison Days Before Attack; Biden Admin to Boost At-Home Testing With $1 Billion Investment; NYPD Union President Resigns After FBI Raids Home, Union Office. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 06, 2021 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And now, you have this remarkable, new reality, where it's the Taliban who is policing a terror group like ISIS-K. I just wonder what kind of future that portends there.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the first question this raises that everyone in Washington will be talking about is the issue of whether the U.S. should have handed over Bagram or whether there was a way to hand it over with some kind of guarantee that the more dangerous terrorists -- because there were hundreds of very dangerous terrorists being held at Bagram in the prison at that air base, whether they could have been moved to a different facility or whatever the case may be.

We did hear from the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, who said, listen, if we wanted to keep control of Bagram, that would have entailed leaving 5,000 troops on the group. But now we know that Abdul Rahman al-Logari was released from that prison. And I remember that day very clearly. It was the morning that the Taliban took control of Kabul. And we were initially very concerned about the security situation because we knew that the prisons at Bagram Parwan Prison and Pole Charkhi had been -- essentially, the doors had been opened and the prisoners had been free.

The Taliban did that to let all their prisoners out, but, of course, in the process, hundreds of ISIS-K prisoners potentially also flooded out. And now, we see the Taliban is dealing with the aftermath or the consequences of that because there have been a string of attacks, the most prominently recently, of course, the explosion at the mosque here in Kabul, but also explosions and attacks in Jalalabad. And the Taliban have been responding with raids here in the capital and throughout the east of the country, but it appears that they face a pretty significant challenge now in the form of this ISIS-K insurgency, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question, so much there for the people to bear. Clarissa Ward, great to have you on the ground.

HILL: This morning, Taiwan's defense minister is warning China could have the ability to mount a full-scale attack on them by 2025. China, of course, has flown a record number of military aircraft into Taiwan's air defense zone in just the past few days, in fact, more than 150.

SCIUTTO: President Biden says that he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, raised his concerns about Taiwan. Another high-level diplomatic meeting is set to take place today between the U.S. and China in Switzerland.

CNN International Correspondent Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong. Ivan, I mean, the volume of these air missions over Taiwan airspace, plus the genuine concern being expressed by Taiwanese leaders, the president, the defense minister, about a Chinese invasion. What is the level of concern right now that that's imminent?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was such that this defense minister was meeting with Taiwanese lawmakers to discuss a new military budget, about $8.5 billion, with the proposal of Taiwan building long-range missiles. And the argument he was making is that if China wanted to, they could invade Taiwan now. But as he put it, we'd make them pay a price. The price would not be as high in 2025.

And just look at the numbers. I mean, China's population is 1.4 billion people. Taiwan is a democratically ruled island of 24 million people. And China views Taiwan as a breakaway region of China even though the communist party in China has never ever ruled Taiwan.

And the flights that were being conducted, a lot of records were broken over a long holiday weekend in china. The biggest record was 56 Chinese warplanes, that's bombers and fighters and other aircraft coming into Taiwan's air defense identification zone. That tapered on Tuesday to just one warplane. And we haven't had any reports of such military flights today.

They have caused concern not only in Taiwan, where you have the defense minister saying this is the most tense as I've seen the relations in 43 years of my career, but they also raise concern with the State Department putting out a statement on Sunday.

I'm sure that this is one of the issues that will be discussed between Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, who has gone to Zurich to me with Yang Jiechi, the senior Chinese official, but there are a whole host of other flashpoint issues that are going to be very important to discuss between Washington and Beijing there. Jim, Erica?

HILL: Ivan Watson, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, the Biden administration is hoping that a new in-your-face campaign with messages straight from COVID survivors may convince the unvaccinated to finally get their shot.



SCIUTTO: The Biden administration is now ramping up efforts to boost testing for COVID-19. This morning, a White House official tells CNN it is making another billion dollar investment in at-home tests. HILL: Now, at the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching a new ad campaign today to encourage vaccination.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joining us now with more on that. So, look, they're really trying to, I guess, reach the millions of folks who, it seems, had decided they're not going to get a shot.


They're hoping this could change that.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are. And they've chosen this time because the folks at the Department of Health and Human Services tell me, look, back in the winter and spring, when we did our research, it showed the positive messages would work to get people vaccinated. You want to hug friends and family again. You want everyday life to go back to normal. But they said their more recent research showed a different kind of approach would work, an approach that really informed people that, hey, there are actual consequences to not getting vaccinated and we're going to introduce you to people who did not get vaccinated and who suffered those consequences.

So, let's take a look at parts of some of these new ads.


TERRELL, COVID-19 SURVIVOR: I've been in the hospital for 76 days now. And by the grace of God, I'm still here. It was a lot of dark times. I died three times. They gave me a 5 percent chance of living.

AMANDA, COVID-19 SURVIVOR: I got COVID. I was intubated and in a coma for 11 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few months ago, I contracted the delta variant COVID-19. I haven't been the same man since. I went from being a man who loved to play outside with his children and exercise to a man who barely has enough energy to make it through the day.


COHEN: So, these are real people. These are not actors. The hope is that these messages, these personal messages from these COVID-19 survivors will resonate with the nearly one out of four Americans who still has not gotten even a single COVID-19 shot. Erica?

SCIUTTO: Let's hope it breaks through. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

HILL: Well, that message to get people vaccinated is important, as we know, but perhaps nowhere is it more needed than in rural America where the vaccination rate in many areas is much lower, the mortality rate from COVID is double what's seen in urban areas. In fact, new data from HHS shows eight states are still at 85 percent ICU capacity, or in this case, it's even higher. This is despite the downward trend we've been talking about over the last few days in overall cases, but most importantly in hospitalizations.

Joining us now is Alan Morgan. He is the CEO of National Rural Health Association. Alan, it's good to have you with us.

As we look at those numbers, right, it highlights in many ways issues that have always existed for rural communities versus urban communities. We know that just in general there tend to be people with more comorbidities, perhaps less healthy in a number of rural areas, and with less access to health care. COVID has made that worse. What is your biggest concern this morning?

ALAN MORGAN, CEO, NATIONAL RURAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION: Yes. We're looking at new mortality data just coming out, just -- it's striking in both its disturbing nature and shocking nature but, unfortunately, it's not surprising. If you live in a rural town and catch COVID today, you are more than twice as likely of dying from it than your urban counterparts.

And that just indicates that our strategy to date hasn't been working, and the fact that you mentioned, that the rates are going down nationally, we're entering a much more disturbing phase of this crisis when it comes to rural Americans.

HILL: Part of that more disturbing phase has to do with staffing. We've talked about staffing shortages around the country, but specifically in rural areas this is a concern. And I know you've also cited in recent days you have concerns about how vaccine mandates may impact staffing issues.

MORGAN: Yes, that's absolutely right. Because of the workforce shortages that we're seeing, it is imperative that all hospital workers become vaccinated today. They really are community assets. We need them healthy and on the job. But saying that, we have to recognize we're seeing in some of our rural hospitals unvaccinated rates as high as 40 percent.

So, it's not a hypothetical. Once vaccine mandates go into effect, we are going to see health service disruption; So, there needs to be plans put in place by both the federal and state governments to deal with these workforce shortages as they arise.

HILL: As we look at that, there are also -- I know you've pointed to this national disconnect in general, again, one of the many things now exacerbated, and really now we see in a spotlight because of COVID, but the disconnect between rural and urban areas in this country. With this increased spotlight, do you see any real action that could lead to change?

MORGAN: Well, I think the important thing is change how we're talking about this. The focus needs to get away from what the federal government thinks that we should be doing, and it really needs to be on leadership within these rural communities. What do we need to do to keep our businesses open and our health care up and running? I think that change in conversation has to happen, number one. And number two, we have to get the vaccination rates up.

HILL: Yes, the vaccination rate is so key. What about testing? The Biden administration announcing a billion dollar investment, additional billion dollars in at-home testing. How could better access to at-home testing make a difference in rural communities?


MORGAN: Testing is of paramount importance because these rural communities, we have to know what is the prevalence of COVID in our communities. And so testing, tracing, efforts towards vaccination is all important.

I think going forward, we just have to have a focus on these rural communities. We have to recognize that rural is not a small version of urban and really have targeted federal and state initiatives towards these rural communities.

HILL: Alan Morgan, good to have you with us. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Gabby Petito's family believes that her fiance, Brian Laundrie, is still alive. Hear why they're calling Laundrie and his parents cowards, right after the break.



HILL: The outspoken president of the second largest police union in New York City has now resigned. Ed Mullins stepping down after the FBI raided his home and office at the union's New York City headquarters. This is all in connection with an ongoing investigation. SCIUTTO: CNN's Brynn Gingras, she has been following this from New

York. Brynn, do we know what this investigation is about?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. We're still trying to get a better idea exactly what investigators were looking for during that raid. We know, of course, the search warrants that were conducted are sealed, so that would obviously give us a little bit more information.

It's obvious that there were some serious credible allegations against Ed Mullins, enough for investigators to get that search warrant. And then we saw them carrying out a number of boxes from those two locations, the headquarters of the union and also the home of Ed Mullins.

And also it's very notable that within the same day, the executive board of that union met and asked for Mullins to resign, which he agreed to, all this coming out really in less than 24 hours. And I can tell you there are a lot of members of that union that I've spoken to who really felt like they were left in the dark yesterday, not knowing what was going on with their union president, who has held that post for nearly two decades, only receiving a letter later in the evening talking about his resignation.

I'll just read part of it to you what was sent to the members. The nature and scope of this criminal investigation has yet to be determined, however, it is clear that President Mullins is apparently the target of the federal investigation. We have no reason to believe that any other member of the SBA is involved or targeted in this matter.

And, as you guys said, this is a very outspoken president for the union for the last 20 years, not making friends with many people in the city, especially Democrats, like the mayor, who had a news conference today who talked about the allegations he still faces at a disciplinary level within the NYPD, which the commissioner actually did not comment on. Guys?

HILL: A lot there, we know you'll continue to follow it and bring us the latest. Brynn, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, tensions ratcheting even higher between the families of Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito now breaking out in the public. Both recently spoke in T.V. interviews, Laundrie's sister, Cassie, says she has not seen her brother in weeks. And if she did, she would turn him in. The attorney for her parents made a change though. They now say Laundrie left to go hiking on September 13th, a day earlier than the family's original version of events.

HILL: Meantime, the Petito family telling Dr. Phil they believe Brian Laundrie is in hiding, and they're calling on him and his parents, calling them, quote, cowards.

CNN Correspondent Jean Casarez joining us. So, Jean, it doesn't sound like there's been a lot of direct communication between these two families. So, is it now just all out in public?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not only that but there is not communication between Cassie, the sister of Brian, and the Laundries, his parents. Cassie has really come out and she said, look, the FBI does not want me to talk but I'm going to say some things. And she's saying that she wants Brian to come forward. She wants law enforcement to find him if he doesn't turn himself in because she has answers.

She's also giving a lot of cast. She's saying that on August 17th that he actually flew from Salt Lake City back to Florida to go through a storage unit that he and Gabby had. She said she saw along with her children. She said that when he came back on September 1st, that he did come over to her house. She also said that on September 6th, when the family went to the Desoto campgrounds, that she went with her husband and children and sat around the campfire and had a meal and smores and things.

One thing she's not saying is any conversation that she had with Brian because the obvious is there, especially at the campground. Gabby is not there. Now, the FBI, she said, knows everything. They quite possibly are asking her to not speak about everything. She's declining to talk about that. But her parents, she says, have been told by the family attorney to not say anything. But does that mean including communicating with Gabby's family.

Listen to what Gabby's family said -- her father, when they realized that Gabby was missing and they didn't know where she was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You called, you called, you called?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't tell you how many times.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did you get?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing. Voicemails.

JOE PETITO, GABBY PETITO'S FATHER: Then I would send texts on top of that.


PETITO: One of the texts, I mean, I'm going to call the police, right, just letting you know, because we have no idea, no responses. A normal parent, when you text someone that they're going to call the cops because you can't find your child, they would reply.




CASAREZ: And CNN is in communication with the Laundrie family attorney, and we're continuing to try to find out all answers to these questions that are posed by others.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just heartbreaking for Petito's family. Jean Casarez, good to have you on the story.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HILL: And I'm Erica hill. Stay tuned.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break.