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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden In Storm-Ravaged NU, NYC: "This is Code Red"; Biden Warns Weather Disasters Plaguing U.S. Will Only Get Worse: "The Nation And The World Are In Peril"; 13 Miami-Dade School Staffers Died Of COVID Within Weeks; FL Gov. Appealing Ruling Against His Mask Mandate Ban; Texas Gov. Abbott Signs Voting Restrictions Bill Into Law: Bans 24- Hour And Drive-Thru Voting, Empowers Poll Watchers; Texas Governor Signs One Of The Strictest Voting Bills On Heels Of One Of The Strictest Abortion Laws In The Country; Alleged Sept. 11 Plotters, Including Mastermind, In Court Today. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 19:30   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT: starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, a dire warning from President Biden as he tours the devastation from Hurricane Ida.

Plus, one of the nation's biggest public school systems rocked by COVID, 13 employees dying of COVID in a matter of weeks. What's going on?

And a prominent lawyer whose wife and son was shot dead three months ago now report to be shot in the head. But that's not all, now there's renewed interest in two other deaths in the area. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, this is code red. That is the warning from President Biden as he toured the flood-ravaged areas in New Jersey and New York City today. Visiting towns and neighborhoods that just days ago looked, well, pristine and now completely still flooded out. All the while making the hard sell on his domestic agenda, trying to offer his infrastructure and budget plans as solutions in preventing future death and devastation caused by extreme weather.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got to listen to the scientists, and the economists and the national security experts. They all tell us this is code red. The nation and the world are in peril. That's not hyperbole. That is a fact.

To bipartisan plan to modernize our physical infrastructure; our roads, our bridges, our power transmission, our distribution lines, how many bridges I just went through in New Jersey that had been overflown by the river, because the next time disaster strikes, the flood is contained, a fire doesn't spread as wisely and power stays on, not to mention those investments, save lives, homes and create good paying union jobs. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: President Biden making a hard pivot to his economic plan as you heard there, trying to turn the page on crises that have consumed his White House in recent weeks, including a deadly Afghanistan pull out and a surge in COVID. But the Biden agenda is running into massive resistance as I speak and it's notable because it's not just from Republicans who are dead set against Biden's $3.5 trillion budget plan on the table. It's members of his own party standing in the way like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin who calls on Biden to take what he calls a 'strategic pause' on the budget, which other Democrats say is key to tackling the big long-term issue of climate change, an issue that is reportedly affecting 10s of millions of Americans.

The Washington Post reporting one in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer, whether it'd be a hurricane, a flood, a tornado, a heatwave or, of course, a wildfire. You've now, as of today, got formally the biggest ever in California history. The human toll from all of this continuing to grow.

Tonight, another grim announcement, Louisiana officials announcing two more people have died due to Hurricane Ida which brings the official death toll in Louisiana to 20. And that's on top of the 52 people who died in the Northeast, four people still missing, trying to get numbers close to a hundred from a storm.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT live outside the White House tonight. And, Jeff, you spoke to the President just moments ago as he arrived back at the White House, you asked him about his economic agenda, what did he tell you?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: Erin, we did talk to President Biden specifically about Sen. Joe Manchin's resistance. And I asked him if he has spoken to Sen. Manchin, he said he is not but he said something interesting. He said Joe is usually with us at the end, I look forward to talking with him.

So the point is that Sen. Manchin, he has called for a pause, as you said and said simply $3.5 trillion is too expensive, but didn't close the door to any negotiations here. So that is what this moment is. It is a negotiation between the White House and, of course, the Democrats and the few Republicans who are into negotiating.

But the President still sounded an optimistic note as he arrived back here to the White House after spending all day in New York and New Jersey talking to people, seeing their stories, seeing the devastation. He said it was a good day and he does feel somewhat upbeat about the future of two bills and that's important to keep in mind.

The infrastructure bill which, of course, is a bipartisan $1 trillion plan. And then the second plan is $3.5 trillion we called reconciliation. That means Democrats only will do this. That's where Joe Manchin comes in and that's where the climate change provisions are. So the bottom line to all of this, the next few weeks are critical here in Washington, here at the White House to negotiating on Capitol Hill to get these bills put together.

But the President sounded optimistic. He did repeat it is a code red. The nation is in peril. Also saying he'll be going out to California early next week to look at the wildfires and also to be campaigning for Gov. Gavin Newsom who's in a recall fight of his own. But as for now, the White House is somewhat confident not exactly sure how the legislative path ends, but they do believe, at least Joe Manchin, the President seem to think he's not a problem. We'll see if that's true, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much from Washington.


OUTFRONT now Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City. He is the heavy favorite to win that race in November. And Eric, I appreciate your time tonight. So President Biden wrapping up his visit to the New York City borough of Queens tonight, saying the devastation in New York shows what he called the existential threat of climate change. But did you hear any specifics about what he's going to do for the biggest city in America?

ERIC ADAMS, DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: No, I did not. And I think it's important, as I stated before. This visit is equivalent to when Jimmy Carter came to the South Bronx. I think it symbolizes how the President is taking this serious and I'm sure he's going to go back to Washington with his team and come up with real ways of how we're going to deal with this climate change crisis that we're facing.

BURNETT: So some things have happened. So, obviously, I know you're hoping that he'll come back with specifics. There were some specifics in New York after what was called Superstorm Sandy, which is now almost 10 years ago - nine years ago. The Congress at that time allocated about $50 billion for recovery efforts to the Metro area.

There was supposed to be coastal levees built up to protect millions and millions of New Yorkers. There was supposed to be a seawall that would affect part of New York City as well, the borough Staten Island. But there is no seawall. These projects really are very early on even if that.

I mean, this can be really frustrating given your position here coming in as potentially the next mayor. I mean, is there anything to show for all that money that came into this area after Sandy when officials promised they were going to make big change?

ADAMS: Erin, you hit on two things that are so important. Number one, bureaucracy, our inability to get out of our own way. That's number one. Number two, look at what you just talked about, you talked about our shorefront, sea walls, how do we keep water out. It was not the sea this time, it was the sky, it was the rain.

Our sewage system was built to handle rainfalls, not Niagara Falls and that's what I saw when I was out there. So we have to think differently and be honest with this problem and we're too bureaucratic when Mother Nature is not going to wait.

BURNETT: All right. Well, the timing of this is such that obviously if you win the race to be mayor, you will be the one facing these massive repairs and this crisis along with no money, major budget deficit in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio says it's going to be a $12 billion budget deficit over the next couple of years.

Where are you going to get the money to fix the problems or does it come on the cost cutting side?

ADAMS: Well, it comes in several different ways. Number one, we're dysfunctional as a city and I believe we're dysfunctional as a country. We create our crisis; the inefficiency, the bureaucracy. Really, we have self, I like to say, self-inflicted wounds that we are putting in place.

If we run a more efficient city, we're going to get the cost savings that we're looking for. I believe every agency in this city can have a three to 5 percent peg or cut in its budget but we must also be smarter.

BURNETT: So you're talking about climate change in the crisis and President Biden talked a lot about that today when you use the word existential. Right now you know he didn't have specifics, but he did talk about the overall issue. The problem is that there is a very different message that a large part of this country hears from certain media outlets like this.


RAYMOND ARROYO, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Biden hopped on this climate bandwagon today to politicize hurricane Ida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very convenient, flooding's global warming, drought's global warming, a snowstorm's global warming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't take long to put the focus on 'climate change' here in New York.


BURNETT: In that last sound bite, the network actually dropped out of the press conference. They stopped taking it live to air once the word climate change was mentioned. What do you say to people who still deny the crisis?

ADAMS: America, let's not get distracted, let's stay focused and let's be ready for the environment. There's no longer a conversation is climate change real and those who want to engage in that while they're sitting in the corner of a flood somewhere, let them do that. I am focused on how do I get my city ready, how do I look at what's taking place across the globe and how do I look at these real issues.

Thirteen people died in New York. We saw people dying from rain fall. We had this new turn in our city, flash floods. So if they're not clear that we have an issue with our climate, then we're not going to allow them to get in the way of saving other people of the city.

BURNETT: All right. Eric Adams, thank you very much.

ADAMS: Thank you. Take care.


BURNETT: So I want to go straight to Gloria Borger now, our Chief Political Analyst. And Gloria, I want to ask you about something that the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York said, but first President Biden, the context here, coming to do this. He's had a rough month, political fallout from Afghanistan, the surge in COVID and now, obviously, going to the south, coming to the New York metro area, going to go to California and talk about climate. Did he make a dent at all today in shifting the focus back domestically?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say so quickly, but obviously the old political adage is never let a crisis go to waste and that is exactly what Biden was trying to do today. I mean, you see the evidence. Mr. Adams talked about it. You saw the streets of New York. You heard the people and you heard the President of the United States say this is code red.

If people don't want to pay attention to it, that's fine, but here's what we need to do. We heard during the campaign, Biden talking about build back better. Today he was talking about we have to build back differently, because we don't want to confront these same problems down the road, because we know that they will reoccur and I think that's the message that he was trying to get across.

And the other message is that government is your friend. I mean, we hear this a lot from Joe Biden. Government can help you solve the problems, whether it's on infrastructure, whether it's reworking the social safety net in the country. This is a part of it and he is sending to Congress 10s of billions of dollars in proposals to help with disaster relief.

The problem is people want that money fast. And as you and I know, Erin, Congress doesn't move that fast.

BURNETT: No, it doesn't. And when you saw Biden today meeting people in New Jersey and New York who were devastated, we saw his strength, his compassion and yet you heard Eric Adams just say, what I specifically said, did you hear any specifics about what he's going to do. There wasn't even a pause.

BORGER: No, I mean, look because ...

BURNETT: "No, I did not."

BORGER: ... right. And that has got to come from the New York delegation, from Mr. Adams should he be elected, from the city and state officials who say this is what we need and this is how we need to spend the money. When Mr. Adams is talking about getting rid of bureaucracy, what you want to do is not have someone in Washington tell you where the problem is. You want to have people on the ground tell you where the problem is and I think that's one way to get to a solution here.

But what the President was doing was saying we're here to come to the rescue, we're going to give you the money, but we want to make sure that it works this time because we can't keep doing this over and over again.

BURNETT: All right. Gloria, thank you.

BORGER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, CNN learning 13 employees of Miami-Dade public schools have died of COVID in the past three weeks. The superintendent is OUTFRONT.

Plus, Texas Governor Greg Abbott's answer when asked to defend his State's controversial abortion law.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R) TEXAS: Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the states of Texas.


BURNETT: Plus, multiple terror warnings just days ahead of 9/11 as the accused mastermind and four others have a day in court today.



BURNETT: Tonight, 13 employees in Miami-Dade public schools have died of COVID since mid-August, the school district and a local's teachers union tell CNN. Another union official telling a local Florida outlet that the deaths occurred in the span of 10 days. All 13 employees were African-American and all of them were unvaccinated. The school district resumed classes just two weeks ago.

OUTFRONT now Alberto Carvalho. He is Superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools which is the fourth largest school district in the United States. And Supt. Carvalho, I appreciate your time. And look, the details of this tragic situation are really just coming out. There are a few things that show how this happened. What can you tell us about who these 13 people are when they contracted COVID?

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Number one, thank you so much for having me, Erin. About four of them were teachers. The other staff members were non-instructional staff, particularly bus drivers.

And from information obtained from their families, most of them really contracted COVID-19 prior to the beginning of the school year. And unfortunately, as you said, all of them were unvaccinated according to their own families, which represents, quite frankly, the danger of disinformation and misinformation which is so common these days regarding the vaccination of individuals in our community. BURNETT: I mean, it's tragic because, obviously, the vaccine is free

and widely available. It's being thrown out because there isn't even enough demand for it. I mean, it's just so tragic. I do understand the death started happening on August 16th which is a week before classes resumed. Many teachers but no students were back in school.

So you're going through among the 13 people who died. I know you said about four were teachers, one perhaps in the cafeteria, one maybe security and school bus drivers. Obviously, the majority are more than anything else. This is what we understand now and obviously one person was unknown and it sounds like you're able to tell us that was a teacher as well.

So I know that some of the teachers, as I indicated, had been back in the classroom getting ready, but it sounds like from your understanding, they did not contract COVID at work.

CARVALHO: That's exactly the information we have. We do not have a single case that originated in the schoolhouse where there was contact that led to the infection and then subsequently and tragically the death. But look, I think this underscores the big tragedy that we see occurring across America. Even though in my community, 98 percent of individuals have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. There is still a lack specific to individuals that represent ethnic minorities in Miami-Dade.

And this is a result of understandable historic facts that have in a certain way prejudiced the understanding of these communities about the viability of the vaccine, one that is reinforced forced by absolutely insane pronouncements about the safety of this vaccine.


And that's having a dramatic impact in our community.

BURNETT: So you lay out the facts here and it's true. But, of course, all of the 13 were unvaccinated, as you say, their own families have told you. But as I point out, the vaccine is free, it's readily available for anyone who wants it. I know this is going to be really tough for you and I'm sure you think about this and you discuss it every day. But why not mandate the vaccine in your school district, especially now that you've had 13 people die?

Well, short of a mandate to vaccinate individuals which in the State of Florida at this point is not allowed. We are coming up with the second best option, which is a financial incentive that rewards those who have already been vaccinated with a $275 stipend and incentivizes those that have not yet been vaccinated with the same level of stipend.

But look, I think we need much more. We need information, accurate information throughout our communities, not only Miami-Dade but across the country that sensitize our communities to the viability of the vaccine. You said it, it is free, number one. It is safe. It is the best preventive manner of avoiding COVID-19, particularly recognizing that 84 percent of all of those who are currently hospitalized in Miami-Dade are unvaccinated individuals. The misinformation is having an impact in our communities and it needs to stop.

BURNETT: It is and you mentioned that you can't have a mandate because you can't in Florida and the seven-day average of new COVID deaths in your state is higher right now than at any other point in the pandemic, which is unbelievable if everyone listening can just pause for a moment with a widely available free vaccine. You have a higher seven-day moving average of deaths in Florida than at any point during the vaccine.

That would seem almost impossible to accomplish and yet that's where you are in your state. And Gov. DeSantis, he is the one who's preventing mandates. He says go ahead and get vaccinated. He encourages people to do so. But he is adamantly against vaccine mandates and here's what he just said the other day.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: It's about your health and whether you want that protection or not. It really doesn't impact me or anyone else.


BURNETT: What do you say to the Governor? He says a vaccine is about your health and whether you want that protection or not. It really doesn't impact me or anyone else.

CARVALHO: Well, it certainly is impacting me personally. As a leader of this school system, it is impacting our colleagues and co workers and certainly the families of those who have perished to COVID-19.

Look, we're in the state right now that unfortunately we are fighting to maintain one of the most viable and inexpensive means by which you can prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is the mandatory use of masks. We are making vaccines widely available to individuals in our community, but it is a battle every single day.

You talked about the positivity rate. Look, we were down just three months ago to a positive rate that was approaching 2 percent. We're back to 9.75 percent. Even though it has dropped by about 2.7 percent over the past two weeks, it is still exceedingly high and there's no need for that to be the current condition in Miami-Dade.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Supt. Cavallo, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

CARVALHO: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing new voting restrictions into law today saying election integrity is now the law of land but his claim doesn't add up.

And a former pastor with a message to fellow Christians, don't bring god into the war over vaccine mandates. He's my guest.


BURNETT: Tonight, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing into law an election's overhaul bill that puts new barriers on mail-in voting and empowers partisan poll watchers, among other things. It's the latest in a controversial list of laws that Abbott has recently enacted, including a law banning all abortions after six weeks, which the Supreme Court just upheld. Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice-over): Last year, about 127,000 people cast their presidential ballots at drive-thru voting locations in Harris County. It was an idea born out of the pandemic and celebrated by local election officials as a secure way of making voting safe and convenient.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to experience mail ballot fraud, plain and simple.

ABBOTT: Election integrity is now a law.


LAVANDERA(voice-over): Drive-through voting is now banned in Texas. It's one of the extensive measures included in a controversial election bill signed by Republican Greg Abbott. Critics call it one of the most restrictive election laws in the country, Republicans deny it will make voting harder.


ABBOTT: It does make it easier than ever before for anybody to go cast a ballot. But it also however make sure that it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box in Texas.


LAVANDERA(voice-over): The election bill also bans 24-hour voting, sets new identification rules for voting by mail and gives partisan poll watchers more access at election sites.




LAVANDERA(voice-over): Mike Collier, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor says Republicans in Texas are feeling the political tides turning against them, especially in the biggest cities which now vote overwhelmingly democratic.


COLLIER: They don't want to lose their grip on power and they will assault democracy in order to retain power and I think that's very, very dangerous.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Gov. Abbott signed the election law as a new Texas politics project poll shows Gov. Abbott's job approval rating at 41 percent with 50 percent disapproving of the job he's done. And the same poll also finds that 52 percent of Texans say the state is headed in the wrong direction.

In recent weeks, Gov. Abbott has continued to push for a hands off approach to the COVID 19 pandemic even as cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed. The election bill is just one of several controversial laws supported by the Governor and Texas Republicans.

The governor signed a bill that allows Texans to carry firearms without a permit, as well as limiting the way issues of race are discussed in Texas classrooms. There's also the bill which went into effect last week that outlaws abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.


The governor was asked why the bill didn't make exceptions for victims of rape and insist.

REPORTER: Why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: It doesn't require that at all, because obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion. So, for one, it doesn't provide that. Rape is a crime and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.

LAVANDERA: Critics quickly pointed out that most women don't find out they're pregnant until after six weeks.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Erin, there's been a great deal of outrage this afternoon at the governor's comments there following the question on abortion and why women who are victims of rape and insist weren't excluded in this abortion bill. So, the governor dealing with the fallout of that this afternoon.

And the governor is also announcing that he will bring back state lawmakers on September 20th where they will hammer out the redistricting plan here in the state and all of this needs to be done as this state heads into a gubernatorial primary season this early spring -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Ed, thank you. So, I want to go straight now to Matthew Dowd, long-time Texan, who served as chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection campaign.

So, Matthew, you've been obviously critical of Governor Abbott. You even talk to yourself about running for statewide office. So, your point of view here I understand. But Abbott is offering a lot of red meat to his base, redistricting, that anti-abortion law, taking on critical race theory.

What does this mean for his political standing in the state?

MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIST, BUSH-CHENEY '04 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, he -- what is fascinating is how consistent he's been in the last year, which is either not dealing with a huge problem, the grid and other problems in Texas and then foment other sort of culture war problems in order to sort of not deal with those problems of things Texans don't want to deal with or there is a highly unpopular or spreads a lie about the election, which is and then creates a solution to solve a non-exist problem, which makes it harder for people to vote in the state.

His numbers have fallen to the lowest point they've ever been since he's been governor. So they're at the lowest point. He's at 40 percent approval, 51 percent -- 41 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval. He's in trouble.

It's going to take the right candidate with the right message and the right campaign to beat him. But he's vulnerable because he's gone against the interest of the majority of Texans.

BURNETT: So, let's talk about the anti-abortion law because this is at the core of that point. Ed was just talking how, you know, Abbott was asked earlier to explain why his law would ban abortions at six weeks and to be clear, many women don't know they're pregnant at that time and of course, this would force rape or incest victims that don't know at six weeks to carry their pregnancy to term. That's the law now in your state.

So, he said, well, no, you got the six weeks and proceeded to say this. Here it is, Matthew.


ABBOTT: 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.


BURNETT: Does the answer that he was going to get rid of all rapists as opposed to giving women the opportunity to not bear a rapist child carry weight with anyone?

DOWD: No, I mean, it's absolutely ludicrous. A couple fundamental things that are completely wrong in what he said. First of all, they don't have six weeks as you pointed out. Matter of fact, they have probably two weeks at most because of the gestation cycles and menstrual cycles and all of that that women don't have an understanding where they are on that. He gets that part wrong first of all. He gets that wrong.

Secondly, what is he going to do like Tom Cruise "Minority Report"? Is he going to find out like precogs that he's going to find out who is a rapist before they rape? Because he's talking about rapists after they rape.

So how does it solve a problem to arrest a rapist after he's already raped somebody, a woman that could get pregnant by a rapist? That's what is so ludicrous and so outrageous about what he's saying. It's in some crazy weird land that he lives that he says these things, but I think he is -- the only thing he can say because he's trying to defends the indefensible, which is rowing over Roe versus Wade and taking away a woman's right to choose.

BURNETT: One more thing I want to ask you here, as you got allies of former President Trump like Jim Jordan, campaign aide Jason Miller, saying Trump is all but certain to announce soon he's running for president in 2024. That would kick this off now. Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" tweeted the other day that Trump could always not pull the trigger but this is what he's told several people, sooner rather than later.

So is it possible that we end up with Biden and Trump again?


DOWD: It's possible. It's also possible we end up without Biden or Trump. If Joe Biden doesn't want to run again, he obviously cedes it to the Democratic primary, Donald Trump makes machinations. I think this is fundamentally about Donald Trump and people around then who make money off people that are diluted enough to contribute to him and then allow that money to be spent on who knows what the millions of they race.

And so, I think it's much more of a scram and the flimflam artist that he is, raising money and spending on stuff. I don't think he's going to run but, you know, it's up to him. You never know.

BURNETT: Yeah, you never know. Perhaps he himself does not know. It's very possible, the vicissitudes on any given day.

DOWD: That's true.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time, Matthew, as always.

DOWD: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, a former pastor shutting down fellow Christians who believe God gives them an exception from COVID vaccines. Plus, a shocking twist in a murder mystery, a prominent attorney

resigns and enters rehab after claiming he was shot three months after his wife and son were gunned down and murdered.



BURNETT: Tonight, a former evangelical pastor calling to end religious exceptions for the COVID vaccine. In an op-ed, Curtis Change writes and I quote, my plea to my fellow Christians, if you insist on refusing the vaccine, that is your right. But please do not bring God into it. Doing so is the very definition of violating the Third Commandment, Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy God in vain.

And Curtis Chang is OUTFRONT now. He's the former pastor and co- founder of Christians and the Vaccine, a campaign working to persuade evangelicals to get vaccinated.

So, Curtis, you know, in your op-ed, you talk about this and you say religious exceptions for the COVID vaccine make a mockery of Christianity and religious liberty. These are your words. Tell me why.

CURTIS CHANG, CO-FOUNDER, CHRISTIANS AND THE VACCINE: Well, they make a mockery of religious liberty because religious exceptions require a religious belief to be sincerely held to justify that exception and there is simply in Christianity, there is no religious belief that justifies not taking the vaccine. There is no Scripture, there's no creed, there's no theological tradition. It's only in the minds of some pastors and many Christians who have listened to misinformation and frankly, are taking their cues from the cultural wars and for politics and not from the bible.

BURNETT: So, our Elle Reeve has done a lot of reporting on the issue of vaccine skepticism among evangelical Christians and, you know, you mentioned pastors. And I just wanted to play what she heard from those pastors who are fueling the skepticism you refer to. Here they are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would rather die free than I live on my knees.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How is it living on your knees to take the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're vowing against your convictions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Members of my congregation can do what they want to but they can watch my video and know I'm not getting it.

REEVE: So you expect them to model your behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I expect them to use their bible and use their brain.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: So, those are two pastors and you heard the second pastor there, Greg Locke, saying people should use their bible, and they would come to the conclusion that it's against getting vaccinated. What do you say to those pastors?

CHANG: Well, notice he never actually cited any biblical verse to justify that, because there isn't. And, in fact, the weight of Scripture would compel Christians to actually take the vaccine out of love for neighbor even if you don't think you need it for yourself. That's the second greatest commandment Jesus offered, love your neighbor as yourself.

And so, for somebody who is trying to actually care for the vulnerable, students who can't get vaccinated themselves, a patient, an immuno-compromised patient, a customer who is elderly who might be more at risk, the love of neighbors should compel you from Scripture to take the vaccine.

So, there is no actually biblical warrant for resisting the vaccine and in fact, our project, Christians and the Vaccine has produced video after video debunking and refuting attempts by conservatives to hijack biblical values to justify anti-vaccination, and that's really what is going on.

It is a hijacking of God and belief in God to justify a position that actually stems from the culture wars of our day. It does not stem from the bible or from Scripture tradition and it really bring God into a place to justify one's own personal beliefs.

BURNETT: And you mentioned the politicization, the hijacking, right? And you talk in your op-ed how some Republicans have been calling COVID vaccines, quote the mark of the beast which of course is a symbol from the Book of Revelations that shows allegiance to Satan.

So how do you breakthrough to people who have such deeply held believes? I mean, even those pastors you heard there, how would you breakthrough to somebody WHO believes that?

CHANG: Well, we're inviting them to actually look at Scripture. So we invite folks to come to our site, Christians and the where we have a video how to read scripture, in particular that passage about mark of the beast. And what you'll find is that it completely unjustified and again, it's twisting and distorting Christian passages, biblical passages to justify believes that actually stem from somewhere else.

One way you can tell that this is not coming from Scripture or coming from Christian tradition is by looking at the very simple fact that historically evangelicals including white evangelicals that form the core have been immunized from a whole host of diseases. So it's insincere to say there say religious conviction when throughout history, Christians and evangelicals have taken the vaccine and have actually supported vaccine mandates.

BURNETT: Curtis, I appreciate your time in explaining this. Thank you very much. I encourage anyone who hasn't seen his op-ed to please -- to please do so, so you can see his full argument there. Curtis Chang, thank you.

And next, a prominent South Carolina attorney says he was shot in the head. His wife and son were murdered three months earlier by gun.


And now, there's renewed interest in two other deaths.

Plus, days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the alleged mastermind behind the attack appears in court.


BURNETT: Unsolved double-murders. At the heart of them, a prominent and powerful South Carolina. Its patriarch claims he was shot in the head months after his wife and son were murdered.

Here's Amara Walker.


DISPATCHER: Is he breathing at all?

ALEX MURDAUGH: No, nobody is --

DISPATCHER: Is she -- okay.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina attorney, frantically calling 911, saying he found his wife Maggie and son Paul both shot in front of his home earlier this summer. The unsolved double killings just one of the many twists and turns deepening questions surrounding this powerful family.

On Saturday, three months after the killings, the 53-year-old reporting he was shot. His lawyer saying it happened as Murdaugh changed a tire in a rural area west of Charleston. Police say he was treated for a superficial gunshot wound to the head Saturday. The day before, Murdaugh suddenly resigned from his law firm amid accusations that he misappropriated funds according to his law firm.

Murdaugh's statement obtained by CNN affiliate WCSC reads in part: The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret. I'm resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders.

KACEN BAYLESS, REPORTER, THE ISLAND PACKET & THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE: One source told us that it's, quote, a ton of money. Another told us that it's over a million dollars.

WALKER: The killings of Murdaugh's wife and son thrust a deadly boating accident in February 2019 back into the limelight. Prosecutors charged Paul Murdaugh with operating the boat wild drunk. Nineteen- year-old Mallory Beach was killed that night. He had pleaded not guilty and charges were dropped after his death.

More than two years later, allegations of an attempted cover up followed. Attorneys of a survivor of the boat crash filing a petition in July, alleging that law enforcement officials may have information of collusion and/or a civil conspiracy to shift the blame for the boat accident away from Paul Murdaugh by wrongfully shifting the focus to petitioner.

After Paul was killed, his uncles told "Good Morning America" that their nephew received several threats after the deadly crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think it was a credible threat. If I was I would have tried to notify someone but I guess maybe I made a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know of anybody that would truly be an enemy or truly want to harm them.

WALKER: Two weeks after the killings of Alex Murdaugh's wife and son, the South Carolina law enforcement division opened its own investigation into another unsolved death. In 2015, 19-year-old Steven Smith was found dead on the side of a road which was initially believed to be the result of a hit and run. Authorities point to information gathered during the Murdaugh investigation that led them to review this unresolved case but not pointing to the Murdaugh as suspects in the death.

BAYLESS: This story gripped this state so much. I think there is a lot of trepidation and suspicion not only about these on going investigations but also the family itself.


WALKER (on camera): And, Erin, you know, some people seem to be asking whether or not the Murdaugh family's prominence has played any role in the investigations.

Look, we don't know the answer to that but it's no secret that the Murdaugh family has a long and influential history in that region in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and in fact, three generations of Murdaugh have served as top prosecutors for more than 80 years.

But we want to make clear that authorities have not accused the Murdaughs of any wrongdoing in the 2015 case. We reached out to Alex Murdaugh and his lawyer. No comment yet.

BURNETT: Amara, thank you very much. Unbelievable story we'll continue to follow.

And next, days ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the trial of the alleged mastermind resumes.


[19:57:02] BURNETT: Tonight, the United States warning the foreign terrorist organizations will try to exploit the anniversary of 9/11. This as accused mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohamed and four others were in court today. The U.S. still seeking justice 20 years later. They're in court now.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Days before this somber 20th anniversary of 9/11, five of the alleged planners of the attacks have appeared in court for the first time in 18 months. The most famous, Khalid Sheik Mohamed, often called KSM, the accused lead plotter of the attacks that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.

The court appearance underscoring 20 years after the attacks, this trial is still not over.

JAMES CONNELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR AMMAR AL BALUCHI: It's just one more example of how having this case at Guantanamo means a whole lot of issues that would not be in play if it were taking place anywhere else.

MARQUARDT: Today's proceedings were a pretrial hearing for the men one of whom is KSM's nephew. Family members of those killed on 9/11 were in attendance. He defendants wore traditional clothes, provided to them by their lawyers.

Journalists watched from behind thick glass in a gallery at the back of the courtroom, on a 40 second delay to make sure classified information was not revealed publicly.

The charges date back to 2012, 11 years after 9/11. They include terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy and murder.

The defense team argues that interrogations that were tainted by torture done at so-called black sites should not be allowed as evidence. In the past, some victims' families have called for the death penalty.

CLIFF RUSSELL, 9/11 VICTIM'S BROTHER: It has to be the death penalty. It doesn't have to be an ugly death.

MARQUARDT: The proceedings have been delayed by all kinds of bureaucratic headaches and other issues. The latest among them, the COVID-19 epidemic. KSM had been charged in 2008, but former President Barack Obama stopped the case, hoping that KSM and others would be tried in civil court in the U.S. instead and Guantanamo would be closed.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I'm absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it. And my administration will insist on it. MARQUARDT: A fierce political backlash reversed those plans.

President Joe Biden hopes to succeed where Obama failed, closing the prison facility which was built the year after 9/11.


MARQUARDT (on camera): And with the 20th anniversary coming up this weekend, an intelligence bulletin has been issued jointly by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center, saying that foreign terrorist groups, Erin, are expected to exploit this anniversary for propaganda purposes. This anniversary, as well as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, groups like al Qaeda and ISIS could use this in their media to recruit and to radicalize -- Erin.

BURNETT: Alex, thank you very much.

And thanks to all of you.

Anderson starts now.