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Erin Burnett Outfront

GOP Blocks Bill to Fund Govt, Prevent First U.S. Default as Dems Hold Talks to Save Biden's Agenda Amid Deep Divisions; Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) Discusses About Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill; Constitutional Scholar: Justice Dept. Should Hold Trump Team Accountable for Attempted Coup. New Dispatch Audio Sheds Light on Petito-Laundrie "Altercation"; R&B Star R. Kelly Guilty of Racketeering, Sex Trafficking; Trump-Backed Candidate Makes Headway in Virginia Governor's Race. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 27, 2021 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Republicans vote against averting a government shutdown and suspending the nation's debt limit as President Biden sounds incredibly optimistic about his own party coming together to pass his agenda, but so few seem to share that optimism in his own party.

Plus, he's one of the nation's top constitutional lawyers and tonight he says Trump tried to stage a coup with a blueprint from a little known lawyer. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe is OUTFRONT.

And he's the expert on the nature preserve that investigators have been scouring for more than a week in the hopes of finding Brian Laundrie. He thinks there's no way that Laundrie is still in the preserve. He'll tell you why. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden's rosy scenario. A scenario not shared tonight by key members of his own party. Right now, Democrats are locked in a stalemate that could kill the President's legislative agenda. President Biden though not letting that get him down.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know me, I'm a born optimist. I think things are going to go well. I think we're going to get it done and I have meetings tonight, tomorrow and for next little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you define success legislatively, by the end of this week?

BIDEN: Well, it may not be by the end of the week. I hope it's by the end of the week.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: All right. Here's the issue, right now progressives in the President's own party are holding his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal hostage because they want to vote first on a $3.5 trillion spending plan. It's a massive price tag. The plan itself hasn't yet been finalized, but it says or they say it will include spending on, well, a whole lot of things, including free community college, free childcare, expanded Medicare, a whole lot of things on climate change and I'm just like the tip of the iceberg here.

This is not a small thing in dollars and it is a big change in the role of government in America. Yet progressive say they will kill the smaller bipartisan - bipartisan, I keep emphasizing that word - infrastructure bill if they don't get a vote first on this still unfinished, massive spending package. Even the second ranking Democrat in the Senate doesn't share Biden's optimism. Here's what Sen. Dick Durbin said tonight when our Manu Raju asked him if he thinks an agreement on what the big bill will look like is possible by Pelosi's Thursday vote deadline.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I don't think anybody has a rosy scenario.


BURNETT: Well, Joe Biden does. But not yet another crucial Democratic vote, Sen. Joe Manchin, he also does not share Biden's optimism.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): That's a heavy lift. There's a lot to do and a lot to talk about. There's a lot in that bill, the 3.5 reconciliation bill, tax codes, climate change, social reforms, there's a lot and people need to know what's in it, so it's going to take awhile.


BURNETT: By the way, it's an understatement to say there's a lot in that bill. By the way, it should take awhile, people should understand what's in it, not be rushing to write it really fast and then pass it in the dead of the night. That's not right.

But as of tonight, Pelosi is pushing ahead with a Thursday vote on that smaller bipartisan bill, even though the progressives in her party say that they're going to kill it if she does it first.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Let me just say we're going to pass the bill this week. I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes.


BURNETT: So either the Speaker believes progressives will cave or she thinks people like Joe Manchin will quickly agree to the spending bill, which, well, he's made clear he's not going to agree to the $3.5 trillion price tag. This is not a rosy scenario for President Biden right now. But still, Biden sums it all up this way today.


BIDEN: We got three things to do; the debt ceiling, continue resolution and the two pieces of legislation. If we do that, the country is going to be in great shape.


BURNETT: Just three things and the country is in great shape. Except moments ago the country moved even further away from one and two on the President's list. Republicans blocking a vote on the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution to fund the government. Democrats needed 10 Republican votes and they did not get that, final tally 48 to 50.

And as for those two pieces of legislation, well, I just laid it out and let's just let - back to Sen. Durbin's words - it's not looking too rosy.

Manu Raju is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill. Look, Manu, there's a lot here, Just even substantively, there's so much talk about process when really there's a lot of substance here that the American people should be getting a lot of detail on it. They haven't been given yet. Is there any clarity tonight, though, on how Pelosi is going to try to pull this off in terms of getting the bipartisan deal even over the finish line?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bipartisan deal is still moving forward for that Thursday vote. Democrats just wrapped up a caucus meeting on the House side more than hours or so discussing their path forward.


What's clear is that they plan to have that vote on Thursday still, on that bill that passed the Senate along bipartisan lines last month. What's less clear is whether there'll be votes to actually approve it out of the House. Also, what's unclear what will happen to that larger plan to expand the social safety net, that price tag initially was $3.5 trillion, but behind closed doors, Pelosi had told her members today that that number has not yet been agreed to as Joe Biden is negotiating directly with senators about the way forward.

Also, she indicated because of the Senate rules, they may be changed in certain ways, trying to warn her caucus that this could take some more time to get that larger bill through. Well, the problem facing Pelosi and the Democratic leaders are that progressives are threatening to sink that infrastructure bill if there is not at least some sort of commitment, a sign off from the key Democratic senators over that larger plan.

A couple of those senators, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema in particular, there's a push to get them to back what this deal may ultimately look like. Now, when I caught up with Joe Manchin this evening about those threats, he pushed back.


RAJU: Will that pressure you to vote, to support a reconciliation bill, their threat to hold up the infrastructure bill? Will that be enough to pressure you to sign on to something?

MANCHIN: Oh, no, no. No, no, I'm not really good on threats.


RAJU: So he also made clear that he was not - he doesn't think it's really feasible to get a deal by Thursday ahead of a key vote here, Erin. So a lot of questions still remaining about getting the two factions on board to get this bipartisan deal through the progressives are threatening could be more than 40 who vote to sink this come Thursday. We'll see if they ultimately stick to that, but that is a real threat here for her leadership. Can she keep the factions together, can she get this through, uncertain as of yet, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu Raju.

And I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer. He is Co-Chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus and a member of the House Financial Services Committee.

So Congressman, I'm glad to have you back. So here we are, you were at the Democratic caucus meeting tonight. So as you walk out here and come to this camera, do you have a clear idea on how all this will move forward?

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Well, this is what I know. First of all, we had a very productive session as the Democratic Party tonight. And I'll tell you, the big takeaway for me is that ultimately we're going to get both bills done, but first and foremost, this week, we're going to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and we talked about this a few days ago. This is an historic once in a century package focused on roads, bridges, fighting climate change, fixing tunnels, like the one I've got between New York and New Jersey, the gateway tunnel.

There's so many things in here that are great for the country, 2 million jobs a year. And this week we're going to vote on it and we're going to get it done.

BURNETT: Okay. So you said you're going to vote on it and you're going to get it done. That's your feeling coming out of this meeting. That's good, that's the bipartisan infrastructure bill that you're referring to. And you said yesterday, I quote you, Congressman, "I just don't buy at the end of the day that folks will vote against it."

Of course, there are progressive members of your party who have said they will do that if they don't get a guarantee on their much bigger plan. Have you had any conversations with progressives that have directly told you that they really will vote against it or do you feel confident that this vote on Thursday, they will all vote aye? GOTTHEIMER: I think at the end of the day, Erin, and I stand by what I said yesterday, I don't know anyone who can go any faction, Democratic Party that can vote against the President's agenda against 2 million jobs a year hard working men and women of labor, all of these infrastructure packages, which are critical to the roads and bridges and tunnels in their districts and helping fight climate change.

So I just don't think in the end, that'll happen but I do believe we have to keep working as we are around the clock, Erin, to your point on reconciliation to make sure we keep advancing the ball there. We've made incredible progress and I'll tell you right now that I'm behind getting something done on reconciliation, it's very important for the people I represent whether you're talking about fighting climate change or reinstating the state and local tax deduction or SALT and getting taxes down or childcare.

There's so much in there that's important, so that's why I believe at the end of the day that we're going to get both done. But you can't go in there and vote against, I just don't see people going in and voting against working men and women of labor and 2 million jobs a year in infrastructure, I just don't see that (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: There are some things, though, you mentioned SALT. There are moderates like yourself who care about that. There are progressives who don't at all to put it nicely. According to Politico's playbook, moderate Democrats are frustrated that President Biden has not done enough to pressure progressives and to call them.

And the quote here that they had was, "The President needs to pick up the phone and call people, a moderate source close to the talks told us. The person argued that the White House has been in 'listening mode' for too long and needs to bang heads to get this vote over the finish line this week."

So Congressman, this is a tough question, but do you feel like President Biden is doing enough or do you feel that he is somewhat afraid of the progressives?

GOTTHEIMER: I mean, he's made it pretty clear that he wants this bill to his desk immediately.


He said that right after 69 senators voted for it, including Bernie Sanders and (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: Yes. But I think we're talking about two different things, I'm sorry.

GOTTHEIMER: No, no, no, I just want to get the answer of that. Like I know how much he wants this and my, obviously, I don't know all the phone calls he's making. But I'll tell you, I've spoken to the White House several times over the last days. I know how important it is to them and they keep stressing that so that we get this done.

And they, of course, care about both bills. They're both critically important to the President's agenda, including this one that we're going to vote on this week. So I have no doubt that they're going to keep pushing folks to get on board, because we all have to get there.

But again, I've heard directly from all the people around the President and the President in the Oval Office last week of how important this bill is to him and to the country.

BURNETT: Okay. So one final question, Congressman Ro Khanna was just on CNN earlier tonight and he said, "We're going to respect and get behind our president. I think it's actually really hurtful to the Democratic Party that you don't have people showing the President respect."

Of course, the progressives have driven the legislation for the larger package. What do you say to someone who might say and I wasn't saying it to you personally, but moderates like yourself are disrespecting the President right now?

GOTTHEIMER: I'm not sure I understand that I got to talk to - Ro is a good friend, so I'll talk to him about that. I think it'd be very disrespectful to vote against the President's bipartisan infrastructure package this Thursday. That's why I really believe. And frankly be respectful to the country, given how much we need infrastructure.

So we're going to get that done and I think the best way we respect the country and respect everyone we represent is to work on both these packages and to keep making sure they both get across the finish line. I know I'm committed to that and that's why, first and foremost, we got to get everyone behind this bipartisan bill on infrastructure investment, the historic largest infrastructure in a century. Let's get it done this week and make sure we keep working around the clock on reconciliation until that gets across the finish line too.

But there are two separate pieces of legislation, we should look at them as such and keep working on them as such.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.


BURNETT: Good to talk to you again.

GOTTHEIMER: Good to talk to you.

BURNETT: I want to go now to David Axelrod, former Senior Adviser to President Obama. Look, David, I understand what the Congressman saying from what he sees. He sees these as two separate things and looked at the much smaller one that's ready to go is a bipartisan deal. He's right about all of that.

But there are many in his party who do not see them as two separate things. They see them as part and parcel. You don't get one without the other. How do they get through this? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. There's no doubt the word of the day is leverage. Everybody in a divided house, almost down the middle and a divided Senate exactly down the middle, understand they have leverage. And if Joe Manchin has taught them anything, it's that. That their votes are meaningful and they're trying to leverage their votes for the best package that they can get and this is a headache for the speaker. It's a headache for the president for Chuck Schumer.

I wonder, Erin, whether Mitch McConnell hasn't unwittingly given them a little bit of a gift tonight by voting down the debt ceiling, because that's something that everybody recognizes has to get done. You can't destroy the full faith and credit of the US. Now it has to go through the reconciliation bill. It's going to take a week or two to incorporate that into the reconciliation bill. There are procedural reasons for that.

And I wonder if, A, this makes it more urgent for everyone to get behind the reconciliation bill and, B, whether it buys them a little bit of time.

BURNETT: Well, that's a really interesting point, a thoughtful analysis there. So I do wonder, though, David, what you just make of the general point here of what progressives want. They want a vote. I mean, this is what they're saying. They want to vote on a massive spending bill that is transformational, whether you agree with it or not, it is transformational. That's why they want it. That's why the people who don't want to don't.

But they haven't even finished writing it and agreeing on it and they want to force a vote on it before anything else. In some ways that sounds quite toddler-esque. Okay, I'll be honest. Why not more conversation here about the substance?

AXELROD: I think, again, the answer is leverage. They want to make sure that they get the best deal they can and they know that there are people who may have a different view. Sen. Manchin being one on some of the elements of their package and so they're holding that hostage.

But look, at the end of the day. I think all Democrats understand that if these two bills go down, it's not just the President who's going to be damaged, it's going to be the Democratic Party. It would be disastrous for the party. So I think there's a lot of posturing going on and I have no doubt that people feel strongly about what they're advocating for.


AXELROD: And by the way, on the bill itself, a lot of the things that you're talking about were the things that the President advocated for months and months and months ago. So the details have to be spelled out, but the essence of it has been out there for quite a while.


I think they will get there. I don't think it's going to be a $3.5 trillion package. It's probably going to be in the twos and they need some assurance from Manchin and Sinema that it's going to move forward. But this is the messy business of legislating and it's going to be a hairy (ph) week, but I think the stakes are so large, I believe they're going to get there.

BURNETT: All right. David, thank you so much, as always, for your perspective.

And next, the nation's top constitutional law scholar saying unequivocally tonight that Donald Trump did try to stage a coup and the former president is setting the stage for the next election fight.


TRUMP: In truth, they're not after me, they're after you, I just happen to be in the way. That's what's really happening.


BURNETT: Plus, CNN obtains new dispatch audio of police responding to a call about Brian Laundrie allegedly slapping Gabby Petito.

And singer R Kelly found guilty of all counts in the sex trafficking trial, which could mean decades behind bars for the once thriving R&B superstar.



BURNETT: New tonight, the Chair of the January 6 Select Committee saying more subpoenas will likely be issued this week. This as the nation's top constitutional law expert says former President Trump had a blueprint to carry out a coup that day from a little known lawyer named John Eastman.

Eastman wrote a January 2nd memo laying out a six-step strategy for the former Vice President Pence to overturn the election.


And that strategy laid bare for the public to hear when Eastman spoke at the January 6th rally. He did. He spoke there before the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol just listened to this.


JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: We know there was fraud. We know that dead people voted. Machines contributed to that fraud. They put those ballots in a secret folder in the machines, sitting there waiting until they know how many they need. All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o'clock he let the legislatures of the state look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School. So professor, good to have you on again and I know you call this an attempted coup, not just in the general use of the word that so many have adopted, but in a very specific way. You say Eastman delivered the blueprint, so tell me why you now feel so confident that that is exactly the word which describes exactly what it was he was trying to do and that that was Trump's intention.

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: Well, there's no doubt from the information we now have about the meeting that Trump was holding with people like Giuliani and Eastman shortly before the insurrection that we all saw on live television that they were planning step by step to twist arms and pressure people, including building a gallows if necessary with Pence's name on it in order to get the vice president to perform a role that the constitution doesn't assign the vice president and that is to discard the votes of states that didn't accord with Trump's plans.

There were seven states that Eastman said we were going to say had disputes about the election. There were no ongoing disputes. The Electoral College voted indisputably on December 14. It was a long simmering plan carried out in great detail and there's nothing you can call it other than a coup. It was seditious conspiracy, that's the term that the U.S. Criminal Code uses, 18 US Code Section 2384 and then it led to inciting an insurrection.

It's all part of a long plan much more public than most coups that we see and what worries me is that although they didn't succeed this time, because pence wouldn't fold and they wouldn't do what he was being told to do, if they have Gingrich (ph) as vice president it would have been different next time around. We'll have Kamala Harris. She's obviously not going to help Trump steal the election.

But they have another backup plan and they've made it clear what it is. That backup plan is to get states to disregard the votes of the people, even after the suppression of votes and the counting by people who are partisans. If it doesn't go their way, they're going to have state legislatures named Trump slates.

And I've explained in this op-ed in The Boston Globe, how that would be illegal, but we have to gird our loins and get ready to fight it. We can't simply sit back and watch all of the debates about the debt ceiling and the infrastructure plan and all of the rest important though it is, we can't just let that go on while we go over the cliff and destroy our democracy.

BURNETT: So the former president is still on this. He was back in Georgia this weekend, essentially campaigning, continue to attack the Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for not helping him overturn the election in Georgia and that was not all that he said. I want to play this for you.


TRUMP: When Stacey Abrams says I'm not going to concede, that's okay, no problem. Oh, she's not going to concede. She's not going to concede. Of course, having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor. I bring voter fraud to the forefront in order to save our nation from corrupt elections. They say I'm being aggressive, but you have to be aggressive to weed out this horrible election corruption. We won on the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe.


BURNETT: Now, Professor, I don't want to put aside the fact that he said, the very last thing he said we won the Arizona forensic audit. Of course, it wasn't an audit. But to the extent that it had a conclusion, it was actually that Biden won by a larger margin in Arizona than had originally been reported. And the reason I say that is that the President though, went to a rally and said the exact opposite, that his message is resonating. There are people who will never actually even look at what the headline was from that audit that was not an audit and they will just listen to what the President said.


Is there anything at this point that can be done to combat this message that Trump is so successfully sending?

TRIBE: He's an obviously very successful actor, tremendous delivering of an absolutely phony message. We don't have any actors on our side that are equivalent, so we have to be vigilant with the truth. We have to fix up the election laws to make it much harder for them to steal elections.

HR 1, the first bill that the House of Representatives put on the floor, HB1 (ph), would protect the franchise. The Congress has ample powers, we have to use them. And the Attorney General of the United States has to go after the conspirators, including the president through the federal criminal laws. We can't simply expect the system to cure itself because his ability to lie, absolutely lie through his teeth, while people say, yes, yes is extraordinary and that's the way tyrants grab power.

They propagate as gerbils (ph) called it the big lie. People are eager to show their loyalty by pretending to believe it even if they know it's phony and the result is that democracy is going to be very fragile and we need to both hold accountable those people who were involved in the coup and in the insurrection and then we have to fix the election laws to make sure that they are stronger than they now are. That's a very tall order, but it's indispensable (ph) if we're going to survive as a democracy.

BURNETT: Right. Well, that's certainly not the way things are going if you judge by the current legislation and its lack of progress. Thank you very much Professor Tribe.

And next, a Florida rancher who's an expert on the nature preserve while investigators have been searching for Brian Laundrie, he's going to join me. He says there's no way Laundrie is still there alive. So how does he know? Well, I'm going to ask him. And R Kelly forever branded a predator says an attorney after the R&B star is found guilty of sex trafficking.



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Tonight, new police dispatch audio obtained by CNN reveals Utah police were told that Brian Laundrie hit Gabby Petito before they questioned the couple in mid-August. This as authorities say the manhunt for Laundrie, which is now in its tenth day, will be, quote, scaled back and targeted based on intelligence.

Athena Jones is OUTFRONT.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The search for Gabby Petito's fiance Brian Laundrie entering a new phase. After teams spent days scouring the 25,000-acre Carlton nature reserve near the family's home, no large scale search efforts were apparent there on Monday. The North Port Police spokesman telling CNN he expects the FBI-led search to be scaled and targeted based on intelligence.

FBI agents visiting the Laundrie home on Sunday. The Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino telling multiple news outlets, the FBI requested some personal items belonging to Brian Laundrie to assist them with DNA matching. And Brian's parents provided the FBI with what they could.

Laundrie and Petito had set off on a cross-country road trip in her van in June. Posting regularly on social media sites like YouTube.

GABBY PETITO, YOUTUBER: It's 10:00 in the morning but it rained all afternoon yesterday.

JONES: But Laundrie returned home in Petito's van without her on September 1st. Her family reported her missing ten days later.

Laundrie's parents told North Port police on September 17th that they had not seen him since September 14th when they say he left home with a backpack telling them he was headed to the nearby reserve.

Meanwhile, CNN has obtained a dispatch audio recording related to an August 12th incident in Moab, Utah, in which police pulled Laundrie and Petito over for questioning after receiving a 911 call saying the pair were involved in some sort of altercation. The 911 caller told police he saw Laundrie slapping Petito. In the audio which has portions of personal information redacted, police used a shorthand RP for reporting party.

OFFICER: Do you have a phone number for the RP, maybe, just a landline and or a location where our victim's at?

911 DISPATCHER: The phone number is -- I'm not sure but the female who got hit, they both -- the male and the female -- both got into the van and headed north.

RP states a male hit a female domestic. He got into a white Ford transit van.

JONES: But during a more than hour-long traffic stop captured on body camera, Petito told police she slapped Laundrie. He told police he pushed Petito to try to keep her from hitting him again.

PETITO: We have been fighting all morning and -- and he wouldn't let me in the car before.

JONES: Officers concluded the situation was the result of a mental health crisis and suggested the two separate for the night. No charges were filed.


JONES (on camera): Brian Laundrie has not been named a suspect in the homicide of 22-year-old Petito. Two separate rewards, totaling $30,000, have been offered to anyone who provides law enforcement officials with information on Laundrie's whereabouts -- Erin.

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

And now, I want to bring in Alan McEwen. He is a Florida rancher who's worked for 30 years near the nature reserve where police have been looking for Brian Laundrie and, of course, he has a deep knowledge of the area and has helped police in their search.

So, Alan, I really appreciate your time. And, you know, you know this area better than anyone. It's been nearly two weeks since Brian left his family home. Said he was heading to the nature reserve. You know that nature reserve. Is it possible he's still there alive?

ALAN MCEWEN, LONGTIME FLORIDA RANCHER: No, ma'am, not at -- not -- not in my thoughts, no way, not after two weeks being underwater the way it is with rain we've had.


There's just no possible way. I don't even think he was there, to begin with.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, that is a crucial question here. I mean, tell me about it because you know and I have got some pictures coming up.

But I mean, you know, you have spent 30 years around this, 25,000 acres of swampland, snakes, alligators, almost all of it, uninhabitable. But, you know, I know some people have said oh maybe Brian was killed by wildlife but I know that you're not sure at all that that's the case. Tell me why.

MCEWEN: Well, for one, like I said, I have been here all my life. I've ran ranches around here. I've had cattle get loose over there from my place here. I've had to go over there and chase so I know that area pretty well. And right now, it's about 90 percent underwater. But any animal that's

not a reptile right now -- I don't care if it's a hog, deer, whatever, they've gone to higher ground. There's a lot of swampland over there. A lot of places you're going to sink. You know, there is not a lot of places that are dry except for maybe the main power line running through there and a few roads that are going on.

But to survive in there with the mosquitoes and everything else and the wetness, I mean, there's very few dry spots in there. There's just -- there's no way. And the theory I hear that, you know, he's been eaten by a gator maybe or something like that. That theory's not going to happen right now.

You know, you can -- we're not at a gated community where you can walk up to an alligator and say hello basically or feed him or anything. You get these gators in the woods. You walk up to them, 90 percent of them, they ran from you. They are going to scatter. They're more scared of you than you are of them.

And a gator to eat or take down a person or any animal of any size is going to take it down under the water and bury it. For 10 to 14 days before it even eats it, waits for it to get rotten. And we assume -- we hope nothing like that has happened to anybody here. But if it did, if they --, you know, are using their infrared or night vision, whatever they are using, they would pick up that person.

BURNETT: Right. Because it would -- it would be there and obviously -- yeah, they have it.

MCEWEN: It would be there and obviously.


MCEWEN: But the other thing is you got to look at there's no buzzards flying anywhere. Whenever you see anything dead normally anywhere, the first thing you are going to see is a buzzard in flight and they haven't seen any buzzards in flight anywhere.

BURNETT: Well, Alan, I really appreciate your adding all of this -- this context because I think it's really important. People want to know and -- and, of course, most of us don't have in any way the sense that you do. So thank you so much.

MCEWEN: Yes, ma'am. Appreciate you. Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, R&B star R. Kelly could be going behind bars for decades after he was found guilty tonight on all counts in his sex trafficking trial. And the governor's race in Virginia neck in neck tonight. The pro-Trump Republican candidate gaining momentum against a Biden ally.


GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The vaccine is -- is something that I believe people should be able to make their own decision on, not imposed on. (END VIDEO CLIP)



BURNETT: Tonight, a stunning fall. R. Kelly guilty. A federal jury finding the R&B star guilty of all counts in a high-profile sex trafficking case that could put him behind bars for decades or even the rest of his life.

OUTFRONT now, Sonia Moghe, who's been following the trial since the beginning.

And so, Sonia, you know, I know you are outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse where all this happened. So the trial as I know was nearly six weeks long. Tell me about it, what happened here, and how this outcome seemed to surprise R. Kelly?

SONIA MOGHE, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. Well look, we heard from 50 witnesses during the course of this trial. Some of them were women who say they were underage girls when they were sexually abused by R. Kelly. They testified the singer knew their ages but had sex with them, anyway, in some cases, even recording these sexual encounters. And one victim we heard about from multiple witnesses was, of course, the late singer Aaliyah who married R. Kelly when she was just 15 years old.

Now, prosecutors showed a copy of Aaliyah and R. Kelly's marriage certificate. It lists Aaliyah's age as 18 at the time of their August 1994 wedding and one witness had testified that he actually bribed a local state worker to get an ID for Aaliyah to make her appear older than she was so she could marry R. Kelly. The 20th anniversary of Aaliyah's death fell right in the middle of this trial, Erin.

And we did hear from several employees and former-live-in girlfriends of R. Kelly who testified about the strict rules he had for female guests at his home and recording studio. The women testified they had to ask for permission from R. Kelly or his associates to simply leave a room if they wanted to get food or even use the restroom.

Now, prosecutors say this was a method of coercive control that R. Kelly used to control his victims. But defense attorneys say R. Kelly was a man whose home was also his recording studio, and that he was simply trying to keep people safe in there.

Now, the first witness that we heard from in this trial was a woman named Jerhonda Pace, and shortly after the verdict, she took to Instagram to say, quote, for years, I was told for speaking out about the abuse that I suffered at the hands of that predator. I am thankful to expand with those who were brave enough to speak up.

Now, Erin, we were not allowed inside that courtroom during most of this trial. In fact, it was only today as the verdict was read that we were allowed in there and we were able to see R. Kelly's reaction when this verdict came down of the he was completely emotionless. Keeping his eyes just straight forward, not moving at all. His defense attorney saying he was taken by surprise by this verdict. And that the team was disappointed.

BURNETT: So what happens now? What are the next steps?

MOGHE: Well, Erin, there will be a sentencing in May for R. Kelly but he still has several other trials ahead of him. He has a case in the northern district of Illinois in Chicago federal court as well as a state case in Illinois and a state case in Minnesota, as well.


So his time in court is certainly not over right now.

BURNETT: Of course, all relevant to time behind bars, as well.

Thank you very much, Sonia, who as I said has been covering this from the start.

And next, the Trump-backed Republican candidate in the Virginia governor's race gaining steam, and the gridlock in Washington is helping him make his case.

And one American citizen's cloak and dagger escape from Afghanistan. What she didn't know? She was part of a secret-CIA operation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had no -- I -- being scared was not an option.



BURNETT: Tonight, a major warning sign for Democrats. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, one of the most reliable predictor of races across the country, moving Virginia's governor's race from leaning Democrat to as to toss-up, despite President Biden carrying the state by ten points. So that's a big deal.

Is the Trump-backed Republican candidate gaining steam because of the Democratic stalemate in Washington?

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm tired of people sitting around doing chitty chat. Let's pass these bills and let's lift up our families.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terry McAuliffe is sounding the alarm. Fearful that the messy stalemate in Washington could spell trouble for him and his fellow Democrats.

MCAULIFFE: You know what the stakes are. ZELENY: He is running for a second act as Virginia's governor. But he

is facing stronger-than-expected headwinds and potential fallout from a deep Democratic divide, threatening to derail President Biden's sweeping economic agenda.


MCAULIFFE: We control the House, the Senate, and the White House. We need this infrastructure. I can tell you, as a former governor, it is absolutely critical for our bridges and roads so let's get it done. Quit talking.

ZELENY: His November race could offer clues for the Democratic Party's prospects of keeping control of Congress in next year's midterm elections. With early voting already underway, he's locked in a tight contest with this Republican businessman.

YOUNGKIN: All right. Who's ready for a new governor?

ZELENY: Glenn Youngkin is a former private equity executive trying to appeal to voters as an outsider.

YOUNGKIN: It's no longer Republicans against Democrats. This is about Virginians standing up and saying no! This left liberal progressive agenda which have been trying to turn us into California east, Virginians are saying no more.

ZELENY: As Youngkin tries to turn the race into a referendum on Biden's Democratic agenda, McAuliffe is working to make it all about the man who still fires up Democrats like few others can.

MCAULIFFE: Donald Trump wants to use this election to begin his comeback in this country. He said it. He's endorsed my opponent four times.

ZELENY: For the next five weeks, the Virginia contest offers a window into the lingering power of Trump who believes Youngkin should embrace him more.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement. Does that make sense to you?


ZELENY: But also, serves as a test of Biden's standing after a summer of setbacks.

Is he making your race more complicated for you?

MCAULIFFE: Listen. You always hope the president of your party is 20 points up. Of course, you would. But this is my race. It's not President Biden's race. This is my race.

ZELENY: Yet, McAuliffe is a Biden Democrat.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's great to be with my friend and your once and future governor, Terry McAuliffe.

ZELENY: And he's embracing Biden's vaccination mandates which Youngkin opposes.

YOUNGKIN: But the vaccine is -- is something that I believe people should be able to make their own decision on, not imposed on.

ZELENY: A year after Biden carried the state by ten points, McAuliffe is warning Democrats against complacency.

MCAULIFFE: This is a big race for the country. I think this race sends a signal that the Democrats going into '22, there is some wind behind their back I think.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, Democrats have many advantages here. The commonwealth of Virginia has been trending Democratic for the last several presidential elections. But it's not nearly as blue as, say, California where Governor Gavin Newsom won big earlier-this month.

So, Erin, there is no question there is an early bellwether for those 2022 midterm elections and McAuliffe tells me he is intentionally trying to sound the warning signal. He believes that the party's ability to govern in Washington will be judged by voters in all parts of the country -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

And next, unnamed U.S. government officials whisking an American woman in Afghanistan to safety. But what she didn't know was it was a secret CIA operation. Wait until you see the story.



BURNETT: Tonight, a U.S. citizen flees Afghanistan with the help of strangers. Only to learn later she was part of a secret CIA operation.

This is a story and Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT with it.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shaqaiq Birashk was in her apartment when she got a call from an American.

SHAQAIQ BIRASHK, EVACUATED AFGHAN-AMERICAN: And I said, who is this? He said, I'm a government -- U.S. government official.

MARQUARDT: No details about who he worked for?

BIRASHK: No, nothing at all.

MARQUARDT: The American wanted Birashk to leave Afghanistan. The historic evacuation was underway and she was in danger. Just days before the phone call, she was filming Taliban fighters just below her balcony.

BIRASHK: So, they are here.

MARQUARDT: She told the U.S. official she didn't want to leave on her own. She wanted to bring Afghans with her.

BIRASHK: He said, well, my priority is you. I understand that you're -- you feel this responsibility towards the people that you have worked with. But unfortunately, my priority is you.

MARQUARDT: Birashk is an Afghan American who worked for the Afghan government and on a U.S.-funded project. She was born in Afghanistan and moved to the U.S. at 13 years old. She returned as an adult, spending most of the past-four years working with local organizations.

Hours after getting the call from the mysterious official, she changed her mind after a friend who was evacuated convinced her.

BIRASHK: I got my pass port, and then I just head downstairs.

MARQUARDT: A driver in a Toyota Corolla picked her up but didn't know exactly where to go. Just tell me where you are and I will help, the American texted. Birashk shared her location as they drove through the dark and Taliban checkpoints.

BIRASHK: Taliban members came and just smacked the front of the car and, you know, kind of waved at us and said don't move, stop here. And then, our driver was like I'm not going to listen to him.

MARQUARDT: The American official was tracking them. I see you, he texted. Just follow the road until you see a gas station. Then, you will see my guys.

BIRASHK: I wasn't scared because I wasn't -- I didn't have the time to be scared. I had no -- I -- being scared was not an option.

MARQUARDT: They went the wrong way. The American texted, you missed the left turn. Around midnight, they finally arrived at Eagle Base, a CIA base just east of Kabul located by "The New York Times" where helicopters were ferrying people inside to the airport. Birashk was met by Afghan special forces and then Americans, including the American guiding her.

BIRASHK: I had mentioned his name and I said is that you? He said yes that's me. And then, there was a sigh of relief at that point that I knew that we have made it. You know, there is no more checkpoints.

MARQUARDT: On the base, their phones were taken away. They were asked not to reveal the base's location. The next day, they were flown to Kabul airport and out of the country to safety.

What do your friends and colleagues who are still in Kabul, still in Afghanistan telling you about what they think the future is going to look like? BIRASHK: They continuously say life -- Afghanistan is now a body

without a soul, seeing the way that everything that they had worked for the past 20 years has been just shattered in front of their own eyes. The promises of the international community, never leaving them behind and now they are left with nothing.

MARQUARDT: Now at home in Denver, Birashk says she and others like her are suffering from survivor's guilt.

BIRASHK: To this day, I am still processing the information and processing the reality on the ground. It just feels like it's a ongoing nightmare that, you know, I haven't been woken up from.

MARQUARDT: Alex Marquardt CNN, Denver.


BURNETT: Incredible story. Thanks so much to all of you. It's time now for Anderson.