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Erin Burnett Outfront

"Real Tyrant": Biden's New Vaccine Rules Trigger Right-Wing Outrage Even as Unvaccinated Are 11 Times More Likely to Die; GOP Governors Slam Biden Over New Vaccine Rules Even as Their States Have Some Form of Vaccine Mandate for Schools; United Airlines Workers with Religious Objections to COVID Vaccine Will Be Placed on Indefinite Unpaid Leave; Gov. Newsom's Strategy on Recall: Leave Half the Ballot Blank. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 19:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'll be back tomorrow morning, 8 am Eastern from the Pentagon for CNN special coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Among my guests, the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Jake Tapper will join our coverage from New York as well.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, tyrant, authoritarian, a rotting bag of oatmeal, just some of the names the right is calling President Joe Biden tonight over his new vaccine policies. Tonight, Biden embracing it.

BURNETT: Plus, a major blow to Florida schools trying to protect students by mandating masks, a court just siding with Gov. Ron DeSantis who wants a ban on mask mandates. The Superintendent of the State's largest school district where 13 staffers have died from COVID in a matter of weeks is OUTFRONT.

And the mystery deepens over the shooting of a once prominent South Carolina attorney whose wife and son were murdered three months earlier. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, bring it on. President Biden facing down a barrage of Republican outrage over his new COVID vaccine policies that will impact up to 100 million Americans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your message to Republicans who are calling your vaccine requirements an overreach who are threatening to challenge it in court?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have at it. Look, I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. We're playing for real here. This isn't a game. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: He's referring to Republican governors because some of them are piling on the outrage. The Governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster tweeting, "Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian." And then there's this.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R-AZ): What the Biden administration is doing is government overreach, pure and simple.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): My legal team is already working, and we will defend and protect our people from this unlawful mandate.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): When we see elected officials violate the constitution, we have a responsibility to fight back and that's what we're doing. You should not lose your job just because Joe Biden is having this hissy fit.


BURNETT: In the halls of Congress, the response from elected officials, Ted Cruz calling it utterly lawless, Marsha Blackburn saying Joe Biden is sounding more like a dictator every day. The number two Republican in the House, Steve Scalise accusing Biden of being a desperate politician abusing power.

And not to be outdone, right-wing media cut to the chase.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to elect this rotting bag of oatmeal to get a real tyrant. I mean, that's what Joe Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden couldn't get his act in order and so he decided to issue a tyrannical and authoritarian order here.


BURNETT: Okay. Time for facts and not fake calls of tyranny. Facts, in fact that you would think the GOP would embrace because can you believe that this actually goes all the way back to George Washington? Yes. Vaccine mandates have been part of the United States since 1777, when George Washington required his troops be immunized for smallpox.

I mean, last I checked, pretty much anything George Washington did is sacred to the Republicans who are now slamming Biden for following George Washington's precedent. And now suddenly, it's un-American?

But let me just offer you some more, so I take you back to 1777. But I actually don't even need to do that. I could just show you what the very same Republican governors were calling tyranny against Biden are doing themselves right now in their states. Yes. Every single state in the United States of America has a form of a mandate for certain vaccines for students.

Let me just give you South Dakota where Gov. Kristi Noem, as you just heard, called Biden's plan an unlawful mandate. Well, perhaps you should look in the mirror because she actually has vaccine mandate in her state for school children. I'll read it to you because it's right here in black and white, her policy in her state.

"Any child entering school or an early childhood program in this state, shall, prior to admission, be required to present to the appropriate school authority certification from a licensed physician that the child has received or is in the process of receiving adequate immunization." It goes on to list the illnesses; rubella, mumps, tetanus, meningitis and varicella, which is of course the virus that causes chickenpox. That's the vaccine mandate. I guess it's okay for her but not for Biden. I'm not sure what excuse she'd make for the George Washington precedent.

But the fact is that Noem and her fellow Republicans who are stomping with outrage are hypocrites. Vaccines work, that is why South Dakota and every other state in the country requires them, has mandates for them, just like the COVID vaccines work now.


Just to remind everybody what those Republican governors, of course, know full well unvaccinated Americans are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID and 11 times more likely to die than vaccinated individuals. Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT at the White House. And Kaitlan, it sounds like the President is relishing this fight with the GOP.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, he was certainly expecting it. That's what his aides are saying today when he unveiled those new measures yesterday. It didn't take long before you saw those Republican governors pushing back and the White House says that they knew that was coming.

And you're also seeing the President call out these Republican governors, as you were saying. He may not always be saying their name explicitly, but it's always pretty clear who the President is talking about. And I think that's part of this broader shift that we're seeing from the President as he is growing increasingly more frustrated with these Republican governors that he thinks are standing in the way of vaccinating more Americans or encouraging more Americans to get vaccinated, but also with the people who have yet to get vaccinated. Yesterday describing it as a failure by those 80 million or something Americans to do so.

And so yes, it remains to be seen how this fight is going to play out over this new rule for private companies, because it's still being drafted by the Labor Department, it hasn't even been officially unveiled yet. And a lot of the details still seem to be in flux as well, including how the enforcement of that is going to work, who is going to pay for those tests if you're a worker at a company and you choose not to get vaccinated, is it you pay for it, is the business. Those are still details that we're waiting to find out from the

Department of Labor when they do unveil this in the coming weeks. But Erin, we should note these fights may not be far from over because, of course, we know the White House is not taking other measures off the table. And we asked today if they would consider requiring a vaccine to get on a flight domestically here in the United States, something that currently, of course, is not required, they said they're not taking it off the table and they would do anything that they believe would in the end help save lives.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan.

So let me go OUTFRONT now to Dr. Aileen Marty, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Florida International University and David Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic.

So Dr. Marty you live in Florida, one of the states where the Governor, well, he today called Biden's stance on vaccine a hissy fit, fighting back against President Biden's order, of course, even as things are mandated in Florida. How concerned are you about this pushback from DeSantis?

DR. AILEEN MARTY, PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASE, FIU: I think that we shouldn't be playing politics with something as serious as this disease. The vaccine is incredibly safe. In fact, you've commented about the variolation, which was what was recommended by George Washington back in the 1700s.

And I should add that he had Martha Washington in front of everyone take the variolation to show his troops that it was safe. And actually, that was incredibly dangerous compared to the vaccines we have now, which are incredibly safe and effective. And the combination of using the vaccines and the non-pharmaceutical interventions are our best way out of this.

Anyone who isn't on board with that is not participating in the best citizenship that should exist in this country and that goes for every single one of us, including the governors.

BURNETT: So, David overall, and I know there are some states where it's different, but people, Americans support the vaccine mandates and businesses really want it, because it's pro capitalist because they don't have to worry about all these other protections. And, of course, the governors themselves that are fighting it have vaccine mandates in their own states, so it is completely hypocritical.

However, they've decided that coming out and saying this and fighting Biden is the right political move and that it's going to help them. Will they end up being right?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: They are going to be end up being so wrong and I will hear the caution against playing politics and I will drive right past it. And I would like people to consider if we were not talking about this vaccine issue today, which about 70 percent of the country is on the president side and about 30 percent of the country lines up behind the Republican governors, what would we be talking about?

We might be talking about the rising price of beef, chicken and pork, about which there's very little a president can do but for which the President is going to be blamed. You might be talking about crime numbers, which are elevated over what they were four or five years ago. And again, there's not a lot of President can do about that but the President would otherwise be blamed. We'd be talking about the situation on the southern border, this huge immigration surge, which is very destabilizing. We'd be talking about the terrible images we've seen from Afghanistan.

I mean, almost everything else we might be talking about is a 70-30 issue in the Republican's favor. But Biden has tracked them into talking about an issue where their base is forcing Republican officeholders, including people who are pretty - I mean, Greg Abbott is something of a true believer but Kristi Noem and DeSantis, they're not true believers. This is a good thing to raise money on.


It excites the Republican $20 giver, but it doesn't excite people in the suburbs and especially women in the suburbs who are the people Republicans need to win back. So Biden has, I'm sure, maybe he has not - he's not thinking about the politics, but the maneuver he's executed is very politically powerful.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, just keep in mind, DeSantis is fighting this court after court against businesses in his own states who are saying we want vaccine mandates to cruise ships. They want it for their business and he's actually fighting against business. I mean, it's the most counter GOP thing I've heard in quite some time.

But Dr. Marty, if Gov. DeSantis or Gov. Noem, Governor Ducey succeeds in stopping Biden's rules, what will it mean? What will the impact be in the context where people under 12 can't get vaccinated and you're not going to require the 85 million Americans who could to get it?

MARTY: He's not going to succeed. OSHA has the authority, which is where this has been placed by the Biden administration to assure safety in workplaces. And already there are many OSHA mandates that employers have to meet to be in compliance with federal regulations. And already OSHA already since January has had things on the books, some of which are mandatory, some of which are recommendations regarding COVID-19.

Moreover, OSHA already has rules on the books about hepatitis B vaccine, but that is something that only affects the one person who might get hepatitis, whereas being vaccinated not only protects the person who gets the vaccine, but protects everyone around them, so there's no way that he's going to win.

BURNETT: So David, when you look at the Texas Governor Greg Abbott, as you mentioned, you can characterize him as a true believer. He tweeted yesterday these 'protecting Texans' right to choose', that's how he put it by standing up to Biden's vaccine order. I mean, anybody who can just look at that and shake their head. I mean, this is a guy who's defending his State's restrictive new law banning abortion after six weeks and explicitly jumping up and down preventing someone's right to choose.

Will voters care about a contradiction like this? I mean, he knows exactly what he's saying when he's saying I support your right to choose on the vaccine. He actually probably chose the words on purpose. He thinks it's okay to be a hypocrite in that regard.

FRUM: Well, voters aren't an undifferentiated group. I think one of the things we're slow to process is the way that Texas is rapidly becoming a swing state. Look how close the governor election was in or the Senate election was in 2018. Democrats now dominate not only Houston and Austin, the cities where they've been strong for a long time, but Dallas and Fort Worth.

Fort Worth was the most Republican large city in Texas, now the largest city in Texas with a Republican domination is Tyler. San Antonio is democratic. So what is happening in Texas is what's happening in the country, which is the metropolitan areas are becoming more blue and the countryside is becoming more red.

So Texas is very gerrymandered, very unrepresentative, it's hard to vote there and Republicans have - they control more power than their voting numbers would indicate. But Gov. Abbott is walking on an ever finer knife edge. The point of this abortion law, I think it was supposed to lose. It was supposed to rev up Republican voters and not inflamed Democrats, but it won and now where are they?

BURNETT: Now he owns it, because it is.

MARTY: He caught the car.

BURNETT: Yes. David, thank you very much. Dr. Marty, thank you.

MARTY: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the Florida court siding with Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on school mask mandates tonight. The school superintendent who lost 13 staffers to COVID in a matter of weeks will join me next to respond.

Plus, just as President Biden upped the ante on airline passengers, new video service tonight of angry fliers fighting mask requirements.

And Gov. Gavin Newsom facing a recall election in just four days focused on one line on the ballot. I'll tell you what it is.



BURNETT: Breaking news, President Biden's Department of Education opening an investigation to determine if Florida's ban on mask mandates violates the civil rights of students with disabilities. Now, this comes as a Florida Appeals Court tonight sided with the Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on banning mask mandates in schools. And DeSantis is quick to take a victory lap saying, "No surprise here - the 1st District Court of Appeals has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children. I will continue to fight for parents' rights."

OUTFRONT now Alberto Carvalho, he is the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which is the fourth largest in the United States. His district has also suffered major loss with 13 staffers dying of COVID in just the last three weeks.

Superintendent Carvalho, obviously you and I spoke a couple of days ago and now here we are on this development tonight. Obviously, you had defied the Governor on mask before school started, putting a mask mandate in place. Does the ruling from the court now mean that on Monday, masks in your schools are completely optional?

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Not at all, number one. Hello, Erin. Not at all. This drawing does not bring back to 13 colleagues that I lost and certainly it's not going to influence our position here in Miami-Dade or the position of the other 12 districts across the State of Florida that imposed a protective mask mandate protocol, because it is protective in nature. It's not a political ploy.

And quite frankly, we're getting a little tired into our third week of school when we should be focusing on acceleration of learning, protecting our students, really getting them back into the routine and normalcy that schools bring. And here we have a political legal volleyball game going on where kids quite frankly are the ball and that should not be the case.

BURNETT: So how do you plan to fight this? And I'm sure there's - you probably are well aware of the fact that there are going to be some people who show up and don't wear masks and you're going to have a bit of a brouhaha here.

CARVALHO: Sure. Look, we are a system of close to 330,000 students.


We have a mask mandate protocol that allows for medically endorsed accommodations advised by individuals, experts like Dr. Marty who was just on your program, by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States of America and other experts. And out of 330,000 students, we've only had 79 students district-wide, whose parents have requested an accommodation on the basis of medical needs.

There is no crisis in schools as far as an uproar of individuals complaining about masks. People understand that masks are protective tools that protect them from COVID-19. And I will tell you one thing, the decision of the court today, all it did was reinstate the mask mandate, while an appeal process runs its course.

During that time period in Miami-Dade as well as districts across the State of Florida impacting in excess of 1 million students will continue to enforce a mask mandate for one simple reason, it works and young people, younger than 12 years of age do not have access to a vaccine. With that said, Erin, we're doing our part.

We are providing $275 per employee to ensure that they get vaccinated, 85 percent of our teachers are vaccinated and our community, we have about 98 percent of the people, the residents already vaccinated. We're doing our part. We continue to stay the course to do this right.

BURNETT: So Gov. DeSantis had previously threatened to withhold the salaries of any school officials who defied him. Yesterday, President Biden took a clear shot at DeSantis over that specific threat.


BIDEN: Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools.


BURNETT: Where does it stand right now and what DeSantis has done on that threat? Is he following through?

CARVALHO: Well, we have now received a letter much like my colleagues in Broward and Alachua County's have received, but we expect to receive one. And here's what I think and what my school board members think. The long-term benefit of doing the right thing absolutely outweighs the short-term fear of the consequences, particularly when we're talking about salaries.

And the administration has taken proactive measures that should that be the case, those funds can be replenished. But look, there is no financial consequence that will come in the way of us doing the right thing.

BURNETT: All right. Superintendent, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CARVALHO: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, live pictures from ground zero as the United States is about to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. President Biden releasing a video of the only public remarks that he'll be making for tomorrow.

Plus, the outrage over mask mandates boiling over.



BURNETT: Breaking news, President Biden just releasing a video statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, likely his only public remarks. He is not expected to speak tomorrow, though he will attend the sites. The President honoring those who lost their lives and saying unity is the central lesson of September 11th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: We also saw something all too rare: a true sense of national

unity. Unity and resilience, a capacity to recover and repair in the face of trauma. Unity in service, the 9/11 generation stepping up to serve and protect in the face of terror to get those terrorists who are responsible, to show everyone seeking to do harm to America that we will hunt you down and we will make you pay. That will never stop.


BURNETT: It's a day that remains painful for the United States, a day where 2,977 people never came home after going to work or getting on a plane, including 2,753 people in New York after the terrorist flew two planes into the World Trade Center. And thousands more who survived that day died later or still suffering physically and emotionally from the horror of that day.

OUTFRONT now, Lawrence Wright. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, still remains the seminal book on this topic, it now is in new preface. And he is also a Staff Writer for The New Yorker who has reported extensively on both 9/11 and terrorism.

And Lawrence, I am so glad to talk to you tonight. Twenty years later, when you think about this, is the United States any stronger now than it was before 9/11?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER": Well, there are different measures of strength, Erin. And militarily, we were certainly very strong and very practiced in war, but strength also comes from unity. And as the President was saying, there was a time on 9/11 when the nation was unified.

Now we're in a state of such this union that hasn't been bad since the Civil War, and that weakened us. It also weakens is that our stance in the world has been so discredited. We're not a weak country. We're still the strongest military power in the world in history, but we are not the same country we were.

BURNETT: No. And so much has fundamentally changed. I mean, after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, President Biden said this about the terror threat specifically involving Afghanistan and al- Qaeda. Here he is.


BIDEN: But I also know that the threat from terrorism continues in its pernicious and evil nature. But it's changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too.


BURNETT: Now, it's true that it's expanded and it's changed.


BURNETT: It's also true that the U.S. strategy for dealing with it had expanded and changed even as troops remained in Afghanistan, right? So, that is all true. And Afghanistan as it is to many extremists has long played a core role. I mean, with the Taliban in charge again and America now gone, is Afghanistan again, Lawrence, do you think, going to become a breeding ground for terror, a headquarters?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER": That's certainly the greatest fear that any American should have. Al Qaeda was not a powerful entity before it went to Afghanistan and opened up those training camps. There were only about 170 names on the al Qaeda list, maybe 300 people in total on 9/11, and they were empowered by the training and the plotting that they did in Afghanistan.

Now, it's franchised into different affiliates that reach from Morocco to Bangladesh and 30,000 to 40,000 members. So, you know, al Qaeda has much expanded but hasn't had the access to those training camps that are so invaluable.

BURNETT: Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and you wrote extensively about their stories and of course, now, there are growing questions, there have always been but to this day still questions what the Saudi government knew, when it knew it, what it was okay with, all of these questions. And, of course, the Saudi government as you know fought tooth and nail to keep certain documents classified.

But now, President Biden just ordered a review of classified documents related to 9/11 and they suddenly changed their tone, and the quote just came up from the embassy, the Saudi embassy is this: the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States welcomes the release of classified documents relating to the attacks against the United States on September 11th, 2001. Any allegation the United States is complicit in the September 11 attacks is categorically false.

OK. Look, you've done reporting on some of the questions that never answered about members of the Saudi government. What do you think?

WRIGHT: Well, I've thought about this a lot, Erin. You know, the Saudis say something similar before the 28 pages, if you recall, that families of the victims of 9/11 had demanded that had been retracted from the 9/11 report and they were damming.

But I don't think that it's Saudi that we're talking about in the sense of what secret is so precious, so fearsome, that three presidents in 20 years would pass and the American people couldn't be trusted to know it? And the only answer that I have, the great unanswered question is, why did the CIA keep the information from the FBI that al Qaeda was in America and they knew in March of 2000 that two al Qaeda operatives were in the United States.

This is 19 months before 9/11. And they hid that information from the FBI, which had the authority to follow them, to clone their computers, to arrest them. It was the best chance to stop the plot.

And that question has never been satisfactorily answered, if there is one explosive piece of information that is still lurking out there, I would hazard yes, it might be that. BURNETT: It's incredible, as you say, no answer thus far.

Lawrence Wright, thank you very much.

I want everyone to know not only is that the most incredible book written out the topic but a new preface. And I appreciate you as always, Lawrence.

WRIGHT: Thank you so much, Erin.

BURNETT: And I want all of you to know that we have a full day of special coverage on 9/11 starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. Jake Tapper, Wolf, and Paula Reid will be live from "9/11: 20 Years Later". And at 7:00 p.m., don't miss Victor Blackwell's special report, "Front Row to History". He talks to the class that President Bush was visiting. Remember the book about goats when he first heard about the attacks and nobody has forgotten about the image. Victor is going to talk to the class.

And at 8:00 p.m., a special tribute of celebrities and musical guests, "Shine a Light". And then at 9:00, the CNN film "9/11: Remember the Victims, the Survivors and the Heroes".

And next, United Airlines doubling down on a mandate for employees, now saying if you don't get vaccinated, you're going to go on unpaid leave even in the case of religious exceptions.

Plus, a new twist in the mystery surrounding a prominent South Carolina family. Why that family patriarch is now explaining that his gun shot wound to the head was not self-inflected.



BURNETT: Tonight, United Airlines doubling down on the vaccine mandate saying even employees who cite religious reasons not to be vaccinated, right, who go with the religious exemption, saying nope, sorry, you're going to ask for a religious exception, we're going to put you on indefinite unpaid leave. That is a mandate.

It comes as airlines are facing increasingly angry passengers lashing out against flight attendants and fellow passengers over mask mandates.

Dan Simon is OUTFRONT.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The incidents keep wracking up.


SIMON: On Wednesday, this passenger on a JetBlue flight hurling expletives at flight attendants after refusing to put on his mask according to the airlines. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let it go viral.

SIMON: The woman he's traveling with threatens to sue the airline as the two are eventually escorted off the plane. Passengers cheered.



SIMON: On Monday, this passenger who Salt Lake City police said was intoxicated is seen removing his mask and growling in his seat.

The 61-year-old shouting the president's name being arrested after tangling with flight attendants at an American Airlines flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden, really?

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


SIMON: President Biden on Thursday addressing the turmoil in the skies and announced the TSA will double fines on travelers that refuse to mask.

BIDEN: If you break the rules, be prepared to pay.

SIMON: The FAA reporting there are more than 4,100 unruly passenger incidents so far this year. The majority of them more than 3,000 involved alleged mask violations.

The incidents not only putting flight attendants in danger, but they also distract pilots, according to a public service announcement by the FAA.

PILOT: An unruly passenger we need to get off the airplane.

TRAFFIC CONTROL: Do you need authorities on the ground?

PILOT: Yeah.

DENNIS TAJER, AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: An unruly passenger is not just creating havoc and violence in the space that they live in, they are spreading that out through the airport and they are distracting the pilots.

SIMON: As for this newest incident, the airline releasing a statement saying the two customers were asked multiple times but would not compile with the federal mask mandate. They will not be allowed to fly JetBlue in the future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel for the flight attendants, I do.

SIMON: Passengers tell us flying during COVID is stressful enough, and hoping their flight isn't the next one to go viral.

BRIANNA CONTRERAS, TRAVELER: If nobody is following the rules, then that's really difficult and stressful for everybody.

ALEX THIBEAUX, TRAVELER: People who freak out about wearing a mask don't really respect other people's safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think wearing a mask is based on empathy.


SIMON (on camera): Not wearing a mask on a plane will get expensive. Those new TSA fines referenced by President Biden, first time offenders face a fine from $500 to $1,000, second-time offenders face a fine from $1,000 all the way up to $3,000.


SIMON: Erin?

BURNETT: That is serious.

All right. Thank you very much, Dan Simon.

And next, the murder mystery in South Carolina. Still, nobody named as a suspect in the killings of a mother and son, while the father, a one-time attorney, is now facing new questions about his new gunshot injury.

And it's the one question that could make all the difference in California's recall election. We'll show you.



BURNETT: Tonight, the South Carolina family murder mystery growing stranger by the day. The family patriarch, a once prominent South Carolina attorney, says he was shot in the head on the side of the road three months after his identify wife and son were murdered. But there's questions arise about who is behind the roadside shooting of Alex Murdaugh. The family spokesperson insists it was not a self- inflected wound and that a suspect is still at large.

Amara Walker is OUTFRONT.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mystery in South Carolina deepening tonight after prominent Attorney Alex Murdaugh said he was shot in the head on September 4th as he pulled over to check his tires. His lawyer, Jim Griffin, tells CNN the 53-year-old suffered a fractured skull and brain bleed, a family spokesperson denied it was a self-inflicted wound and said a male driver in a blue pickup truck stopped to ask if Murdaugh was having car problems, when he replied, he was shot. The Hampton County Sheriff's Department is correcting its statement

saying the attempted murder resulted in no visible injury. Just one day before the shooting, the prominent South Carolina attorney had abruptly resigned from his law firm after being accused of misappropriating funds, some of the many twists and turns at the powerful Murdaugh family.

Three months ago, the double murder of Alex Murdoch's wife Maggie and his 22-year-old son Paul thrust their family into the limelight. This is a portion of the 911 call Murdaugh made saying he found them both shot dead in front of his home in Islandton, South Carolina.

DISPATCHER: Is he breathing at all?

ALEX MURDAUGH: No, nobody is --

DISPATCHER: Is she -- okay.

WALKER: The murders remain unsolved but during the investigation, the South Carolina law enforcement division announced it had gathered information that led authorities to another unsolved death. Investigators are now looking into the cold case of 19-year-old Steven Smith, the teen was found dead on the side of a road in 2015. It was initially believed he was killed in a hit and run but former South Carolina highway patrol trooper Todd Proctor told Fox News in June that he had his suspicions.

TODD PROCTOR, FORMER SC HIGHWAY PATROL TROOPER: There was no evidence that pointed towards this being a hit and run or vehicle being involved in it. It looked like it was more staged like possibly the body had been placed in the road way.

WALKER: The Murdaughs have not been accused of any wrongdoing in this case. In 2019 Paul Murdaugh was allegedly involved in a deadly boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory beach. Prosecutors charged with Paul with operating the boat while under the influence. He has pleaded not guilty and charges were dropped after his death. More than two years later, allegations of an attempted cover-up.

Attorneys of Connor Cook, a survivor of that boat crash, filing a petition in July alleging that law enforcement officials may have information regarding a conspiracy to misdirect a criminal investigation away from now deceased Paul Murdaugh, in order to blame Cook.

The South Carolina Department of Resources filed a motion opposing Cook's petition, calling it a fishing expedition and frivolous.

The Murdaughs have a long and powerful history in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Three generations of Murdaughs served as region's top prosecutor for nearly a century, including Alex Murdaugh's late father, Randolph Murdaugh III. Some wondering if the family's prominence may have influenced these investigations.

Alex Murdaugh's brothers refuted that perception on "Good Morning America". UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see words like dynasty used and power, and I

don't know exactly how people use those words, but we're just regular people.


WALKER: And, Erin, in a statement obtained by CNN from his attorney, Alex Murdaugh says in part that he is immensely sorry to everyone he has hurt and he's made a lot of decisions he truly regrets. He has entered a rehabilitation facility to be treated for an opioid addiction according to his attorney and also, his license to practice law has been suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court, and as you mentioned, there are no arrests made, no suspects named in the shooting of Alex Murdaugh and the double-murders of his wife and son -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Amara, thank you very much.

With all these details there, I want to go to Jake Shore, who is a senior writer for "The Island Packet" and "Beaufort Gazette" newspapers.

So, Jake, thanks so much.

Let me just start with this. There is a lot of questions about what led up to this moment when Alex Murdaugh just the other day got a gunshot wound to the head that ended up being, well, it's unclear how bad it was but he's alive. He's okay.

What can you tell what can you tell us from your reporting and why the family, suddenly, today, came out and, you know, said we want to make sure everyone knows this wasn't self-inflicted?



This weekend a lot of events happened. I mean, on Saturday, we got word that Alex Murdaugh was shot in the head and he was being airlifted to the Savannah Hospital. That is all we knew for a couple of days.

And, you know, the following day we got word from, SLED, the SC Law Enforcement Division, the agency investigating the case that it was Alex who called 911 and said he had a superficial gunshot wound to the head.

And on Monday, a statement was released by Alex Murdaugh that kind of shocked everybody that he was resigning from the family law firm and entering drug treatment. It was a kind of vague apology issued to his family and friends and colleagues. You know, we weren't really sure what that was about.

And then on Monday night, "The New York Times" reported that, you know, his law firm said they discovered he had misappropriated funds. And, you know, he resigned after that.

After the law firm gave that statement, he resigned and it kind of made sense why the statement earlier on the day when he said he was entering drug treatment and he was going to resign. So, it put more context on the shooting on Saturday. You know, the news about him calling 911, the superficial gunshot wound to the head, then the actual statement itself. It kind of put it in a different light and caused questions on --

BURNETT: For sure.

SHORE: -- whether it was self-inflicted or not.

BURNETT: Look, I mean, all of this is, I know, raising all these questions and, of course, you had the double murder a few months ago of his wife and son, Paul.

Now there is another mysterious case resurfacing surrounding the death of 19-year-old Steven Smith. And Amara mentioned him in her reporting here. That he was found dead on the side of the road in 2015. Authorities have said something from the Murdaugh murder investigation has led them to review this cold case. The implication being that somehow these murders are related. It is unclear, right? They're not pointing to the Murdaughs as suspects at this point.

You, though, have read all the documents and the interviews in the investigation. What did you learn about why it might be connected?

SHORE: Yeah, that's the kind of the big question, Erin, is, you know, reading through all the documents, it was a really strange case. He was found in the road and it seemed like a hit-and-run according to police at the time.

And then the highway patrol investigating the case started to cast doubt on that. I listened to plenty of interviews where the highway patrol investigators were telling family members that they didn't really think this was a hit-and-run. They chased a lot of rumors tying the Murdaugh family to this case. A lot of members, this is a small town in Hampton.

And they said that they -- there was, you know, the Murdaughs were tied in but there was no evidence of the rumors until the murders, you know, when they said they were going to reopen the case into Steven Smith's death.

BURNETT: All right. Jake, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. Bizarre and deeply disturbing situation and obviously a lot we still don't know.

Well, up next, California Governor Newsom with a new strategy in the final days and hours leading up to the crucial recall election.


[19:51:29] BURNETT: Just four days until the recall election in California, and for all the talk about candidates looking to push Governor Gavin Newsom out of a job, for him, it comes down to one line on the ballot.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No on the recall. No on the recall.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's been one message from Democrats in California about the recall election. From the foot soldiers knocking doors in neighborhoods --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vote no. Vote no. That is all you got to do.

LAH: To the ads on TV.


LAH: To Governor Gavin Newsom himself. Ignore half the ballot.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Don't even consider the second question.

LAH: Tell me what this is.

But there are two questions on the recall ballot.

Question one is quite simple.

DARRY SRAGOW, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah. You either want to keep the governor in office or kick him out.

LAH: More than 50 percent of voters need to decide to keep Newsom on question one for him to survive.

Here's what's a potential concern for Democrats, whether you vote yes or no.

SRAGOW: Question two if you choose to answer it has 46 names front and back and you get to pick one.

LAH: Among the more than 40 colorful challengers on question two, there is a millionaire running ads featuring a bear, a YouTube star running as a Democrat but not backed by his party.

KEVIN PAFFRATH, YOUTUBE STAR: My name is Kevin Paffrath running for governor.

LAH: And reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner.


LAH: Ignore them all says the Democratic governor. Keep it simple. It's Newsom or nothing. Why? This. 2003. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated then Democratic Governor Gray Davis in California's last recall election.

Davis wasn't the only high profile Democratic choice on the ballot. Then Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante also ran with this slogan.

CRUZ BUSTAMANTE, FORMER CALIFORNIA LT. GOVERNOR: Vote no on the recall and vote yes on Cruz Bustamante.

LAH: It didn't work, and helped usher in a Republican to the governor's mansion and his eventual re-election.


LAH: Not this time. Democrats rallied behind Newsom keeping party backed Democrats off this year's ballot. But that could also backfire, warned Sragow.

SRAGOW: This is not the Gavin Newsom party. It is the Democratic Party with no serious viable Democratic candidate on that second question. If the recall wins, we're going to have -- we'll likely have a Republican governor.

LAH: Polls show the leading candidate on question two is conservative radio host Larry Elder. But the second question only matters if a majority of voters don't back Newsom. Some Democrats dropping off their ballots are following the Newsom strategy.

How many questions on this ballot?

SHIRLEY JONES, CALIFORNIA VOTER: I just answered the one.

LAH: But not everyone. Ellie Choate got lost thinking beyond yes or no. What happened on question two for you?

ELLIE CHOATE, CALIFORNIA VOTER: I had to stand there for 29 minutes and decide if I -- how I was going to vote because it is just an absurd system.


LAH (on camera): Reporters asked the Newsom team if it had any second thoughts about this strategy. The campaign said it had, quote, zero regrets, Erin, saying Democrats have been down this road before in 2003 and the party saw what happened -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, thank you very much. It's a fascinating one to watch.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.