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Erin Burnett Outfront

Gen. Milley Called Chinese General In Consultation With Esper; Ex-Defense Official: Then-Defense Secretary Esper Had Official Backchannel China To Avert Conflict; Milley Feared Trump Actions; PA Republican Move To Subpoena Voter Info For Partisan Probe Into Elections Despite No Sign Of Widespread Fraud; U.S. Capitol Police Request DC National Guard For Sept. 18 Rally; Gymnasts Recount Nassar's Abuse, Rip FBI Over Botched Probe. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 19:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Good to see you. Thanks so much for watching. I'm Jim Acosta.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, CNN learning the nation's top General Mark Milley was not the only Trump official to backchannel China to reassure the country in the final months of Trump's presidency. This is the White House's defense as Milley is kicking into high gear tonight.

Plus, Capitol Police calling for the National Guard temporary fencing around the Capitol going up in the next hour. This is ahead of Saturday's rally, which is in honor of the January 6th insurrectionists. So just who is behind this rally? Our reporter spoke with the Trump loyalists.

And a Republican quits the GOP over the Party's objections to vaccine mandates. He's my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news, Gen. Milley wasn't alone. As calls grow from some on the right for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, to resign over revelations that he contacted a top Chinese general twice in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency to reassure Beijing that the U.S. would not attack China.

Well, we are learning that the Secretary of Defense at the time, Mark Esper, also took extraordinary steps at the same time. A former senior defense official says the Chinese were so concerned about the rhetoric coming out of Trump's White House last year that Esper, the Defense Secretary, had a top deputy, not Milley, a top deputy backchannel Beijing, telling them they were no danger of being attacked.

Well, that is the exact same thing that Milley said. And we've learned today that Milley conducted his call to the top Chinese general in consultation with and with the approval of Sec. Esper. Now, that call for Milley was on October 30th of 2020 and there was one more call after that.

This call from Milley to the same Chinese general on January 8th of this year. Now significantly, January just two days after the insurrection. Now, this is according to a new book by the reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. And here's a crucial thing, we have learned that these calls were not secret.

It wasn't like Milley just got on the phone and call this counterpart and somehow it's leaking out now. No, no, no, not at all. We have learned, in fact, that they were 15 people on each of those two calls. During the discussion on January 8th, Milley tells his counterpart in China, Gen. Li, "We are 100 percent steady. Everything's fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes."

According to the book, Milley also went as far as to promise his counterpart that he would alert them in the event of a strike by the U.S. that in the October call approved by Esper. Also breaking tonight, the White House's defense of Gen. Milley now in high gear, the President making his support for Milley clear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, did Gen. Milley do the right thing, Sir? In your opinion, did Gen. Milley do the right thing?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in Gen. Milley.


BURNETT: And Biden may have great confidence, but this issue is now splitting the Republicans and it may not surprise you to hear that some of Trump's most fervent loyalists are the ones making the case for Milley to be gone.


REP. MATT GAETZ (D-FL): If true, Gen. Milley has broken some very good laws, and we ought to make sure that there is accountability for that.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): He does need to resign. He needs to resign. If he won't resign, he needs to be fired.


BURNETT: Okay. So you see Gaetz and Hawley and add to that Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She tweeted today, "Court- martial Mark Milley." There are though many Republicans urging their colleagues to take a breath and not rush to judgment.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): That some of the allegations seem somewhat far-fetched to me. We don't want to jump to conclusions yet, but we'll certainly vet them and see exactly what happened.


BURNETT: And the former National Security Adviser for Trump John Bolton releasing this statement to us saying, "Mark Milley is a staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law. I have no doubt Gen. Milley consulted widely with his colleagues on the National Security Council and others during this period."

Well, what Bolton says he believes happened, appears to have happened from all of our reporting, 15 people on each call, Esper's approval of that October call.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT live in Washington. And Alex, this new reporting coming in from CNN shows just how worried actually, the former Defense Sec. Esper was about Trump's behavior and how far he went with Chairman Milley to avoid a war.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Erin, and it goes back to how unusually concerned the Chinese were at the same time. We're now learning from a top former senior defense official who spoke with our colleague, Katie Bo Williams, that Mark Esper, the then-Defense Secretary ordered a top policy adviser to send a backchannel message to Beijing to reassure them that message, that order before that October 30th call that Milley made to his counterpart.


And that the point of this was, according to this top former official, a two-step process to avoid any unnecessary confrontation that could lead to conflict. Erin, you will remember, Sec. Esper was fired shortly after the election. But Milley, as we now know, continued his outreach with the Chinese.


MARQUARDT(voice-over): The White House today standing by the country's top general amid accusations he had gone too far at the end of Donald Trump's presidency in conversations with his counterpart in China, an American adversary.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President knows Gen. Milley. He has been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for almost eight months of his presidency. They've worked side by side through a range of international events and the President has complete confidence in his leadership.


MARQUARDT(voice-over): In a new book, journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa report that Milley feared Trump was in serious mental decline. Milley had two phone calls with his Chinese counterpart right before the November election and just after the January 6th insurrection to reassure him. "I want to assure you that the American government is stable and

everything is going to be okay," Milley told Gen. Li on October 30th. "We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you." On the same call, Milley added, "Gen. Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise."

Sen. Marco Rubio quickly called for Milley to be fired.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): This is treacherous. It was dangerous. It's unconstitutional. And Gen. Milley needs to answer questions about it, because if this is true, he should be fired. He should be fired and he should have to face military justice for what he's done.


MARQUARDT(voice-over): A spokesman for Milley said the general, quote, "Regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia. All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency."


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.


MARQUARDT(voice-over): Milley's fears about Trump's actions and what he could have done had been well documented. In another book earlier this summer, two Washington Post reporters wrote, "Milley told his staff that he believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the insurrection act and call out the military."

Milley has weighted into issues of racial injustice, apologizing for being seen alongside Trump after the brutal Lafayette Square crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters.


MILLEY: My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.


MARQUARDT(voice-over): After Trump lost, a defense official told CNN that Milley's goal was to make sure there was a peaceful handover to Joe Biden. Milley was reportedly afraid Trump could launch a nuclear attack in the final days, so according to Woodward and Costa, he gathered top officers in the Pentagon's National Military Command Center and told them if they got an order to launch, they had to check with him. "No matter what you're told, you do the procedure. You do the

process," Milley said. "And I'm part of that procedure."


MARQUARDT(on camera): The Pentagon Press Secretary declined, refused to comment on anything that came out in this book, but he did talk about the fact that it would be what he called not at all uncommon and completely appropriate for Chairman Milley to want to review safety protocols like those around a nuclear launch, Erin. John Kirby, the Press Secretary also echoing what we heard earlier from the White House saying that Chairman Milley has the complete confidence and support of the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin.

BURNETT: And speaking of that, I know it's common this sort of outreach to the Chinese as an example, that the Secretary of Defense would know what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is doing. Esper's successor, though, because Esper was, as you know, summarily removed after the election, says he was not told all about Milley's contacts with the Chinese. Is that the case?

MARQUARDT: So Miller took over from Esper and he says that he got what he described as essentially a perfunctory heads up about the conversations that Milley was having with no details about themes and content. He did text our colleagues today. He went on to say that I wouldn't have approved of anything of the nature portrayed in Woodward's book.

So Erin that could add fuel to the fire. We should note that a defense official did say that Miller's office was informed appropriately about the conversations that Milley was having, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Alex, thank you very much for your reporting from the Pentagon.

And now I want to go to Leon Panetta. He is the former Defense Secretary, also the CIA Director under President Obama. And this is the first time that the Secretary is speaking out about this topic. I appreciate your time, Sec. Panetta. So let me just start with the bottom line, was what this book says Chairman Milley did appropriate or not?


LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER OBAMA: Well, I don't think there's any question that Gen. Milley was operating in accordance with his constitutional responsibilities. Let's remember that we had, at that point, a very unpredictable president who was not abiding by the Constitution, he was refusing to concede an election, he was inciting a mob to go after the Capitol. He was totally unpredictable in terms of what he would do.

And I think that Gen. Milley, had a legitimate concern about what could possibly happen, and his ability to talk with his counterparts is perfectly in keeping with what a chairman of the Joint Chiefs should be able to do. I think he did the right thing. BURNETT: So let me just go through the timeline of these calls for

you, so that you can explain a couple of details. So call one from Milley to Gen. Li in China happens on October 30th, before the election. And that is the call where Milley says don't worry, I would tell you if we were going to attack. It's important that I say that because that call we understand was made in consultation with, with the approval of the Defense Secretary Esper, so that's important to note.

Call two is where there are some questions because it happens on January 8th, Esper is no longer the defense secretary, the Acting Defense Secretary is Christopher Miller who was handpicked by Trump. A man who oversees a purge at the Defense Department where senior posts are filled by Trump loyalists.

And Miller now tells CNN today, "I wouldn't have approved of anything of the nature portrayed in Woodward's book." So he's saying basically, I did not know about what happened on the call when I was defense secretary. Does this change anything for you?

PANETTA: Not really. I mean, obviously, the first call was done pursuant to the approval of Sec. Esper and I think that that certainly makes that clear as to what Gen. Milley was doing. On the second call, it was obvious at that point that the President was appointing political people to key positions at the Defense Department and it was coming at a time when there was a tremendous amount of concern about the role of the military.

As you'll recall, every Secretary of Defense signed a letter that indicated that it was very important that the military not be used for political purposes. And we were concerned about what the President might do.

So Gen. Milley understanding that same kind of concern, I think, tried to make sure that others understood that there was not going to be any kind of sudden attack or that we would not find ourselves in the middle of a nuclear war. I think he was doing what he felt was right as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

BURNETT: So Sec. Panetta, let me just get to the heart of it on this, the one part of it that seems to be raising the most questions and that is the specific quote about an attack according to the book on that October 30th call. And again, I emphasize we now understand that this was in coordination with Esper.

But Milley says in part, Gen. Li, you and I have known each other for five years now. If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise.

Look, this is the quote that kind of makes everybody go, huh. And it is the quote that Trump's allies are now saying could be treason. Talk to me, as a former defense secretary about that quote why you feel more comfortable with it?

PANETTA: I feel comfortable with it, because the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs talks to counterparts around the whole world. He talks to his counterparts in China, in Russia as well as our allies throughout the world. And they have these kinds of straight conversations.

And I think Gen. Milley in the tone of that conversation was basically saying, look, you're not going to face a sudden attack. We're doing everything necessary to try to make sure we do not find ourselves in a nuclear war. So I think his words, frankly, ought to be put into that context of having a conversation between two military leaders so that they understood that neither of their country's was on the precipice of a nuclear war.

BURNETT: Sec. Panetta, thank you.

PANETTA: You're welcome. Good to be with you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. You too, sir.


And next, Pennsylvania Republicans moving to subpoena the personal information of millions of voters as they obsess over the nonexistent widespread election fraud.

Plus, as the Capitol Police call for the National Guard ahead of another right wing rally outside the Capitol, we hear tonight from the event organizer about why the rally is supporting the January 6th insurrections.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've been charged with expressing their First Amendment rights in a public building at the wrong place at the wrong time.


BURNETT: And the twist keep coming, tonight, police say the father from that prominent South Carolina family is now admitting he arranged for a hitman to kill him.

And tonight, there's a new investigation into another death, the mysterious death of the family's housekeeper.



BURNETT: Tonight, Pennsylvania Republicans moving to subpoena the personal information of some 9 million registered voters in the State in another desperate attempt to investigate fraud in the 2020 election. This comes as a new CNN poll shows nearly 80 percent of Republicans believe that Biden's win was not legitimate.

OUTFRONT now, George Will. He is, of course, the Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for The Washington Post and author of the new book, American Happiness and Discontents.

So George, I'm really thrilled to have you on and be able to talk to you since obviously like everyone I read your work so avidly. I want to start with that news out of Pennsylvania today. I mean, 10 months since Election Day, no evidence of widespread fraud, multiple investigations and audits, why is this still happening?


GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's happening because a great many Republican elected officials are those who hope to be Republican elected officials are terrified of the next sulfuric tweet from Mar-A-Lago. It's very strange to have a political party, the elected officials of which are terrified of a good portion of their political base.

And because they're terrified of them, they don't like them very much and don't respect them. So this is, in a way a preemptive move. I think many of them are afraid that someone else will get out in front of them. For example, we saw this on, by the way, on January 6th when Josh Hawley started the business of trying to delay certification of the election results and Ted Cruz not wanting to be flanked on with the populous right, joined the clamor.

So this could be local maneuvering on the part of people, currying favor with, at this moment, still the titular head of the Republican Party.

BURNETT: And so let me ask you about that because the new poll, 78 percent of Republicans say Biden didn't legitimately win the election. And I understand Republicans are at this point about a quarter of the electorate, but you're still looking at the vast majority of Republicans. And some Republican lawmakers have been sounding the alarm on what that means for this country, here's Liz Cheney.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Today, we face a threat America has never seen before. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.


BURNETT: And I know, George, that you don't necessarily think American democracy is in danger. But how then do you think Trump's big lie has been able to, frankly grow and metastasize in the face of the fact that it didn't happen?

WILL: Well, first with regard to the threat to democracy. Remember, the point of the insurrectionists when they finally got in the Capitol building was they improvised their purpose as they marched up toward the Capitol, was to disrupt and stop a constitutional function, the certification of the election results. They didn't stop it. They delayed it for a few hours, but Congress rightly made a point of coming back in and saying a delay was all that happened.

Now, about the American people, that portion of as you rightly say, a dwindling group called the Republicans, it is the case that Mr. Trump gets the lion's share of the blame. But let's not equip those people who choose to believe him. American people or these Republicans are adults and they have a responsibility to exercise their intelligence and be as intelligent as possible and believing this stuff, they're not passive. They're not clay in the hands of this man. They're walking around American human beings responsible enough to vote and they ought to be not considered passive victims of this, they are complicit and should be held accountable.

I mean, accountable by public opinion. That's all you can do to such people. But the fact that they persist in believing this after judge after judge, including many Trump nominated judges have failed to find a smidgen evidence about this indicates a will to believe that makes them, let's just say, appropriate followers of the former president.

BURNETT: And there is sort of a cult-like religiosity about it. I want to ask you one other thing to this point about how people have gotten on board with this broader tone and tenor from the Republican Party you might not expect. So this week, Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State was testifying, as you know, about the Afghanistan withdrawal.

But then when the Republican Senator Jim Risch got a chance to talk to him he wanted to talk about something else. Let me play part of the exchange for you, George.


SEN. JIM RISCH (R-ID): Somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and stop the president, cut off the president's speaking ability and sound, who is that person.

ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think anyone who knows the president, including members of this committee knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself.

RISCH: It's been widely reported that somebody has the ability to push the button and cut off his sound and stop him from speaking, who is that person?

BLINKEN: There is no such person, again ...

RISCH: Are you saying that didn't happen?

BLINKEN: Senator, I really don't know what you're referring to.


BURNETT: So there is no such person. The reason I play that, George, though is that that the person asking this question about this conspiracy theory that someone can just like cut Biden off, because extensively they're worried that he's going to lose control or something is the senior most Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, widely respected man with a long career.


What does it tell you when someone like Sen. Risch is peddling baseless conspiracies like this?

WILL: Well, it's very discouraging. He used the phrase it has been widely reported. The former Senator Gene McCarthy of Minnesota once said anything said three times in Washington becomes a fact and I'm sure this has been said three times. But an enormous amount of nonsense gets said three times in this town.

It is discouraging that congressional hearing would become a supermarket for such rumors and frankly, it goes to what we were talking about on your previous segment about Gen. Milley. We're going to have to have Congress exercising its oversight function, investigations into all of this coming from the Woodward and Costa book. But this does not augur well for the ability of congressional committees to comport themselves in a way that augments rather than subtracts further from public confidence and institutions.

BURNETT: All right. Well, George, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. And as I said, I hope everyone will get George's new book, American Happiness and Discontents his new one. So George, thank you.

WILL: Glad to be with you.

BURNETT: And next, the organizer of this weekend's rally at the Capitol, which is in support of the insurrectionists is speaking out tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're being treated so harshly and being held in solitary confinement for nine months without access to medical care.


BURNETT: And why the war over vaccine mandates is prompting one Republican to leave the party. He's my guest.



BURNETT: Tonight, the Capitol police requesting the national guard to help them ahead of Saturday's right wing rally at the Capitol, which is in support of January 6 insurrectionists. We're also learning the temporary security fencing around the Capitol is expected to go up in the next half hour or so.

Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT to talk to just who is behind this upcoming rally.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Washington ramps up security ahead of a September 18th rally in support of Capitol rioters, organizer Matt Braynard is on the defensive, downplaying the concern from law enforcement that his event at the capitol Saturday could spark violence. We learned that law enforcement is preparing for some people on

Saturday to be armed. What are you doing to ensure there is no violence?

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

SCHNEIDER: Capitol Police have requested National Guard assistance for Saturday and CNN has learned D.C. police will be fully activated.

And now the focus is on Braynard. He's a former Trump campaign staffer from 2016 who pushed election fraud lies alongside Rudy Giuliani in 2020.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The vote count is inaccurate, the one that presently exists. Is that right?

BRAYNARD: I believe that unless the questions that I raise get answered, you can't be confident of what the vote count is, no one can.

SCHNEIDER: Braynard founded the conservative group Look Ahead America and he's now made it his mission to fight for the 600 people charged in connection with the January 6th insurrection. He wants their criminal charges dropped. That's the whole premise behind Saturday's Justice for January 6th rally. You're calling them political prisoners but these are people charged under the Trump DOJ. These are people in some cases assaulted police officers and/or illegally entered the Capitol, so why would they be exonerated?

BRAYNARD: The vast majority of the nearly 600 people arrested have not been charged with any violence. They have been charged with expressing their First Amendment rights in a public building at the wrong place at the wrong time. These are buildings people can ordinarily walk out incident and the fact they're being treated so harshly and being held in solitary confinement for nine months without access to medical care.

SCHNEIDER: These are people that assaulted police officers, who illegally entered the capitol. To correct you, the people who are being held in jail have violent histories or accused of violence.

More than eight months after January 6th, law enforcement is keeping a close eye on the planning for this latest rally near the Capitol. New fencing will go up to secure the complex and Homeland Security officials say they are expecting 700 people. Extremism experts have been watching the chatter online. Jared Holt expects the rally to be a bust since Braynard hasn't attracted many people to other rallies he's held in Washington.

Still, Holt says law enforcement can't let their guard down.

JARED HOLT, FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL'S DIGITAL FORENSIC RESEARCH LAB: As we know from history and experience of extremist violence across the country, you don't have to have a large crowd to cause trouble and create unsafe situations.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And Matt Braynard is also organizing rallies in at least 13 states. He's calling for supporters to head to state capitols across the country if they can't make it to Washington. Now, we've reached out to officials in several states but many tell us they haven't heard from Braynard. They haven't seen him apply for permits but they will be prepared nonetheless -- Erin.

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

And after Jessica's reporting, I want to bring in Ed Caspar. He is a lawyer representing seven Capitol police officers who are suing the former President Trump to hold him accountable for the January 6th insurrection.

So, Ed, I appreciate your time tonight. I know that you're trying to hold Trump accountable for the January 6th insurrection. So when you hear what is happening now, do you see his fingerprints all over Saturday's rally, as well?

ED CASPAR, SENIOR COUNSEL, LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: Well, it's important for people to understand that this highlights the need for there to be accountability for these responsible for the January 6th rallies. Trump certainly is one of those people. We hope that the demonstrations this Saturday are peaceful.


But that was not the case January 6th.

People need to understand and remember that what happened on January 6th was the culmination of months of work to undermine the election results by violence and the people responsible for it really need to be held accountable.

BURNETT: So an internal police memo we've obtained, Ed, warns some protestors may see Saturday and I quote as a justice for Ashli Babbitt rally. For those who do not know. Babbitt was the pro Trump rioter that was fatally shot after storming the Capitol who has been embraced by Trump and his allies.

Ed, just take a listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Who is the person that shot an innocent wonderful, incredible woman?

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): If this country can demand justice for someone like George Floyd, then we can certainly demand justice for Ashli Babbitt. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only person that got kill that day was a Trump

supporter and her name was Ashli Babbitt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And she was murdered.


BURNETT: Okay. Ed, to be clear, Ashli Babbitt wasn't the only person who died following the insurrection. A Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died, a day after responding to the riot, four other officers died by suicide. Three other pro-Trump rrioters also died that day.

How dangerous is this attempt to turn Babbitt into a martyr?

CASPAR: This, again, just highlights the need for accountability. The law enforcement officers that show up at the Capitol every day to protect Congress, they're not showing up as Republicans or Democrats. They're showing up as folks who have families, who have come to work to do their job to keep the Congress safe for all of us. And they did that on January 6th and I know that they will do that on September 18th no matter what kinds of calls are being put out by the right wing organizers of the events.

BURNETT: And, of course, they will and courageously go and do their jobs in spite of it.

Thank you so much, Ed. I appreciate your time.

Next, I'm going to talk to a Republican who just switched parties because of GOP resistance to vaccine mandates and the head of the FBI forced to apologize after America's top gymnast testified about how his agency grossly mishandled the investigation into claims of sexual abuse against their daughter.


SIMONE BILES, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST GYMNAST: I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system.




BURNETT: Tonight, leaving the Republican Party over COVID.

New Hampshire State Representative William Marsh announcing he's switching the party registration from Republican to Democrat and has a very specific reason. His reason is that Republicans and his state are fighting against COVID vaccine mandates. State Representative Marsh joins me now.

I also want everyone to know, Representative, you're also a doctor. So these objections to vaccine mandates obviously aren't new among Republicans. So what led you to do this now? STATE REP. WILLIAM MARSH (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Erin, this started back

in June. We had a bill on the house floor that basically would have put in place DeSantis-style restrictions against what I consider reasonable precautions to control COVID. I spoke out against that on the house floor and I won the New Hampshire House did not pass that measure. It's been an interesting summer.

I won't go into some of the behind the scenes stuff but yesterday they decided to hold a rally in support of DeSantis regulations prohibiting businesses from mandating vaccinations for employees, prohibiting schools from mandating masks, and prohibiting businesses from deciding that their patrons needed to be vaccinated and wear masks.

We all know what's happening in states that have followed that path. People are getting sick. People are dying, including an increasingly high percentage of children.

Republicans I understand that term don't prohibit businesses from taking the actions they need to protect patrons and employees. Business has failed when you subject them to those rules.

BURNETT: So, let me -- you mentioned the protests and we do have some video that I'll share, State Representative, of anti-vaccine protesters in your state. So, this video everyone is looking at is just yesterday. They are pushing the Republican House Speaker for more action against the mandates.

So, just listen to this.


SHERMAN PACKARD (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE HOUSE SPEAKER: You need to tell them that they have to stop this in Washington. Once it stops in Washington, it won't come into this state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need you to help us now.

PACKARD: We're trying to do everything we can. So you're yelling at the wrong people. We're out here trying to help you.


BURNETT: So, the speaker egging them on. They don't want mandates. How dangerous is this?

MARSH: Well, the real dangerous thing is subsequent to that event, the speaker filed a bill to prohibit businesses from requiring the very things we're talking about. I can't sit by in silence while such a policy is being put into place. Doing that would betray the confidence of my former patients who are now my constituents and put their trust in me for years. That's too high a price to pay. So, rather than attending the rally, I went to Clark's office and released the press release I'm sure you've seen.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about some of the Republicans in your state are taking queues from lawmakers whether it be at the national level, you mentioned DeSantis and clearly he's a leader and Abbott, as well. One of those at the national level is Senator Rand Paul. And I mentioned him because he's a doctor like you are and he said this about vaccine mandates.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): They can also tell me I can't have a cheese burger for lunch? Will they tell me to eat carrots only and cut calories? That would be good for me but I don't think big brother ought to tell me to do it.


BURNETT: So, what do you think of Senator Paul, a doctor like you, saying something like that after receiving the same medical training you did?

MARSH: Very much so. Senator Paul is a board certified ophthalmologist, just as I was for great many years, I have since retired.

But the issue is not the government putting policies in place. The issue is whether we're going to prevent businesses from putting policies in place. And that's a bridge too far.

I did see some point with the government not mandating certain things. I'm not going to fight that too much, although, in certain venues such as health care facilities, we do have an obligation to keep people safe but that doesn't necessarily apply universally. To prohibit businesses from putting in place the policies they need to keep themselves in business, that's not what Republicans do.

BURNETT: All right. Well, there is the bottom line.


And I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, State Representative.

And next, breaking news just coming in about the prominent South Carolina lawyer who police say now admits he arranged for someone to try to kill him. This as we're also learning authorities opened a new investigation into the mysterious death of the family's housekeeper.

Plus, America's top gymnasts take on the FBI for its handling of sexual abuse claims against their disgraced doctor.


MCKAYLA MARONEY, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST GYMNAST: I'm so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma.



BURNETT: Breaking news, another bizarre twist in unsolved murders, an alleged suicide by a hit man, and the prominent Murdaugh family from South Carolina. Tonight, we are learning that South Carolina police are investigating the 2018 death of a housekeeper who worked for the Murdaugh family, who died from injury sustained and a trip and fall accident at their home. But no autopsy was ever done.

This is the same family who members were mysteriously shot and killed in June and we're learning tonight that the family patriarch, Alex Murdaugh arranged for a hit man to kill him so that his son could collect millions in life insurance.

Murdaugh's lawyer tells CNN an arrest warrant has been issued for his client and Murdaugh claims to voluntarily surrender to police tomorrow.

Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yet another twist in the Murdaugh's family mysteries. An affidavit alleges a prominent South Carolina family attorney Alex Murdaugh admitted he hired a former client to kill him, so Murdaugh's only surviving son Buster could collect a $10 million life insurance pay out.


Murdaugh survived a shot to the head while allegedly dealing with car trouble on the side of the road this month. Sixty-one-year-old Curtis Edward Smith has been charged with multiple crimes, including assisted suicide, aggravate assault and battery, and insurance fraud, after Murdaugh allegedly gave him a gun to shoot and kill him. It's unclear if Smith has an attorney at this time.

Murdaugh's attorneys issued a statement saying, quote, Alex is not without fault and attributed his actions to a 20-year opioid addiction that worsened after his wife and son were murdered this summer. One of his lawyers telling NBC's "The Today Show" Wednesday --

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: Was in a massive depression, realized things were going to get very, very bad and he decided to end his life. He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion.

GALLAGHER: The day before the shooting Murdaugh resigned from his law firm. The state has opened an investigation into allegations he misappropriated large amounts of the firm's funds. Days after the shooting, he announced he was entering rehab.

The 53-year-old is described in the affidavit as a codefendant of Smith, who appeared before a judge on related drug charges this morning.

Murdaugh has yet to be charged.

HARPOOTLIAN: I think he will be charged. I think that what we -- what he doesn't want and we don't want is an effort to deal with these issues, distracting from and using law enforcement resources that could be used to solve the murders of Maggie and Paul.

GALLAGHER: Three months ago, Alex Murdaugh called 911 saying he found the bodies of his wife Maggie and youngest son Paul both shot multiple times outside their home in Islandton, South Carolina.

DISPATCHER: Are they breathing?


DISPATCHER: Okay. And you said it's your wife and your son?

MURDAUGH: My wife and my son.

GALLAGHER: During the investigation into their murders, authorities say they found information that prompted them to reopen a different unsolved case, the death of 19-year-old Steven Smith whose body was found on a Hampton County road back in 2015.

At the time of his murder, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh was facing charges related to the death of 19-year-old Malory Beach in a 2019 boating accident. He had pleaded not guilty but the charges were dropped after he died this summer. The murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh remain unsolved.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It wouldn't be a stretch for folks to think he probably lied about the circumstances in which he wife and son were shot.

HARPOOTLIAN: Clearly, he was distraught about their deaths. He did not murder them.


GALLAGHER: And again, Alex Murdaugh's attorney did see that he plans to turn himself in, those arrest warrants were issued for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. But I do want to go back to their housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, Erin, because in addition to the coroner requesting that they look into that because of inconsistencies like her death being labeled natural as cause of death even though, you know, she had a fall, but another reason was, quote, information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh. His attorneys have yet to comment on this latest investigation.

BURNETT: Really interesting point, right, because information gathered during this just unbelievable story.

All right. Dianne, thank you very much.

And next, the head of the FBI grilled over his agency's failure to properly investigate the disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.


CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I share your outrage, and I don't have a good explanation for you.




BURNETT: Tonight, the director of the FBI apologizing to the more than 150 women and girls who say they were sexually abused by the disgraced former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Jean Casarez is OUTFRONT.


MARONEY: They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.

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

BILES: I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system.

MAGGIE NICHOLS, US GYMNAST: Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to OIG investigators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

CASAREZ: Nassar is currently serving a 40 to 175-year state prison sentence after 150 women and girls came forward to expose he abused them over the course of 20 years. But today's congressional hearing a result of the scathing report from

the Justice Department's inspector generals office revealing FBI officials investigating the allegations against Nassar made false statements and failed to properly document complaints by the accusers at the time.

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

CASAREZ: One FBI agent already fired, Michael Langman, according to "The Washington Post" interviewed Maroney in 2015 about her allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar, and is accused of failing to launch a proper investigation. Langman declined to comment as did the FBI and the inspector general's office to the paper.

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

CASAREZ: FBI Director Christopher Wray who did not lead the bureau at the time, also being grilled.

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

WRAY: I share your bewilderment. I share your outrage and I don't have a good explanation for you.

CASAREZ: Wray apologizing to the victims and vowing to do more.

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

CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BURNETT: Thanks for joining us.

Anderson starts now.