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Erin Burnett Outfront

Dems Scrambling For Options To Avert U.S.'s First Debt Default; Biden: "Not Many Options" If GOP Is "Gonna Be That Irresponsible"; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Discusses About Concerns Of Sen. Joe Manchin; Whistleblower: Facebook Has "Had The Opportunity To Hide Their Problems," Should Declare "Moral Bankruptcy" And Work To Fix It; Group Wants Probe Into Lawyer Who Advised Trump On Election; DC National Cathedral Tolls Bell For Those Lost To COVID. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Democrats scrambling for more options on raising the debt ceiling as the deadline to avoid America's first ever default looms large. The SEC Chairman tonight warns of massive volatility in the markets. He says the U.S. is on uncharted water.

Plus, Gabby Petito's family speaking out and saying, "Someone needs to start talking to help solve the mystery of Gabby's death."

And Rocket Man, new details tonight on what will be William Shatner's historic journey to space at the age of 90. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, going nuclear faced with the real possibility that America will default on its debt for the first time in U.S. history. CNN is learning tonight the Democrats are scrambling for new ways to raise the debt ceiling without a single Republican vote in the Senate. Because right now the Republicans flat out refuse to pay the bills for their own spending.

One idea Democrats are floating tonight is a nuclear option which would get rid of that 60 vote - filibuster-proof vote and a flurry of activity comes as the Chairman of the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler gives one of the strongest warnings yet about the risks of an American default.


GARY GENSLER, SEC CHAIRMAN: We'd have significant volatility in the market and we'd see some breakages in the system. If that were to go into default, we'd be in for some of the greatest challenges we've seen in our financial sector. We'd be in very uncharted waters. The uncertainties abound around this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Right now, though, Democrats are on their own to figure out a way to avoid the possible catastrophe that Gensler and others, by the way, including the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other major financial market players have warned about, because Republicans are making it clear tonight that this they see as a Democrat problem.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I implore them one more time not to play Russian roulette with the American economy. We've been down this path before when you did not have divided government and the party and the majority got the job done. They need to do this. They have the time to do it and the sooner they get about it, the better.


BURNETT: They, they, they, we are all in this together. Sen. Mitch McConnell though has no problem himself voting to raise or suspend the debt limit. In fact, he's done it 32 times in the past, including three times under former President Trump, Washington Post tally there. And let's not forget, he and other Republicans, of course, helped rack up the debt that the United States now needs to pay off. Remember that under Trump's watch alone, the United States of America's debt rose $7.8 trillion, which is a 40 percent increase, so much for the party of fiscal responsibility.

But now McConnell doesn't want to pay the bills due and he thinks he can force Democrats to go it alone through reconciliation, a lengthy process that would mean Democrats have to do it without any Republican help and could push the nation right up to the deadline of October 18. And tonight, President Biden admits that the Democrats are in a corner.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's not much time left to do it by reconciliation. They can keep it on two trenches, they can keep this on the floor for hundreds of amendments. They can just delay this. I don't think they're going to end up being that irresponsible. I can't believe it.


BURNETT: Well, it's a corner the Democrats can't even probably agree on how to get out of. They don't like the McConnell idea, many of them, of reconciliation even as the clock is ticking.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, if Republicans don't come around ...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... should reconciliation be on the table? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is too complicated and too long.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So you think the leadership should call the reconciliation round?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) ...


BURNETT: All right. So there's another problem with going it alone for Democrats and he'll be shocked to hear, it's entirely political shocked. Well, going it alone, though, does make it much easier for Republicans to, despite that 32 vote history of McConnell, people remember the moment. So he can say, "I didn't vote for this and it's the out of control spending by Democrats that are causing this who happened to control the White House, the Senate and the House."

In fact, ads like this, if Democrats have to go it alone, will blanket the airwaves.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their new trillion dollar power grab, Pelosi's socialist style spending plan.


BURNETT: Here's the thing though, let's not forget when the shoe was on the other foot, then-Senator Joe Biden did not vote to increase the debt ceiling in 2004 and 2006. And Biden described his vote as a protest of George W. Bush's policies. Sound familiar? It was wrong then and it's wrong now.

Manu Raju is OUTFRONT live on Capitol Hill. And Manu, down to the wire. I know you're learning Democrats are scrambling to find other ways to lift the debt ceiling, so what are you hearing?

RAJU: Well, there are only a hundred handful of options they truly have.


One is to overcome a Republican filibuster. They need 60 votes for that. That means 10 Republicans will need to break ranks. Tomorrow Republicans will filibuster. They will not get 10 Republican votes. So then the other option, get us an agreement from all 100 senators to set a threshold, just 51 senators to suspend the national debt ceiling. But one Republican senator can object to prevent that, that's expected to happen. So what are the other objects?

Potentially, using that budget process to go through over maybe two- week period to eventually get to a final vote, that would be a simple majority, it can't be filibustered, but Democrats refuse to go down that route even as Republicans are demanding it. So one option that has been increasingly discussed is what to do about the existing Senate filibuster rules that require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

There is discussion internally today and it happened last week about lowering the filibuster threshold to 51 votes just to have a carve out on the debt ceiling issue itself. But to do that, you need support from all 50 Democrats to agree to any changes in the Senate rules. And, of course, one of those senators, Joe Manchin who along with Kyrsten Sinema have dug in, have opposed any changes with those filibuster rules along with a handful of others.

Today, though, Manchin would not explicitly say if he opposes changing the Senate's filibuster rules, only telling me earlier that we will not default. He insisted Congress will never default. We will not allow a default to happen. So we'll see where they ultimately come out.

And one other option too, Erin, some discussion internally about whether the administration on its own can use its constitutional authority to raise the debt ceiling and right at the moment, it's unclear if they're going to do just that. But it's all sorts of options being discussed, as we approach that October 18th deadline.

BURNETT: All right. Well, part of the reason this is all happening as it always does, even though the debt ceiling has been raised 87 times and never once resulted in a drop in spending. Even though the debt ceiling is about money already spent, that needs to be paid back. It's always new spending that sparks the fight and the new spending here, of course, is President Biden's spending package.

And the progressives wanted two and a half - $3.5 trillion, I'm sorry. That was down from $6.5 trillion. President Biden now says $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion and that's what he's offering. Of course, obviously, that's significantly lower than that $3.5 trillion price tag that was a no-go for the moderate senators who determine this here, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

But Manchin have been talking about $1.5 trillion for months. So you've talked to Manchin about the new top line, what did he tell you?

RAJU: Well, he's actually open to that $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion. Of course, so many details need to be sorted out and that's much still low, too low for some progressive House Democrats who want to set that no lower than $2.5 trillion. But he also made it clear that he did have concerns about the way that money would be spent. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm concerned about the inflation, I'm concerned about the debt of our nation. I'm more concerned about our nation and our country turning into a more of a entitlement society versus a rewarding society.


RAJU: So those are in reference to the new programs, social programs that would be created under this massive expansion of the social safety net. He wants those pared back. So Erin, so many issues they still have to resolve even as the Democratic leadership wants this resolved within days.

BURNETT: Right. Even using the words entitlement society completely - look, that is going nuclear on the progressives and what they want to achieve. Manu, thank you very much.

And I want to go to the White House now with Kaitlan Collins. So Kaitlan, the President just spoke moments ago about this looming deadline, what did he say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We asked if this is a real possibility that Democrats are considering this carve out of the filibuster that Manu was just talking about to raise the debt limit. Because you heard the President earlier, he said that they feel like there are very few options right now when it comes to this.

Though he did seem to indicate he thinks in the end Republicans will get on board, but he just told me on the South Lawn that it is a real possibility that they are considering using this so called nuclear option to raise the debt limit, because essentially Democrats have been arguing about this with Republicans about what is the way to proceed here when it comes to raising the debt limit and we know that it's something they're talking about behind closed doors and it is not something that Sen. Manchin has ruled out.

And so clearly it's something that the President has been having discussions with them as well. And other news that he made on this larger reconciliation package as we have been having reporting on these discussions going back and forth between Democrats over what that social spending package should look like, Erin, is when it comes to the Hyde Amendment.

That, of course, is what blocks most federal funding for abortions in most cases. There are a few exceptions for rape and incest and that is something that Sen. Joe Manchin has said his support for that bigger package is conditioned upon. But progressives like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal have said, they will not support it if it does include the Hyde Amendment.

And so the White House has declined to say so far what the President's position on this is. We know he's oppose to the Hyde Amendment, but they didn't say he's not going to sign this if it's included. And I just asked him about it and he said he will sign this package either way if it's included or if it's not, because he just wants to get the bill passed.


And so that is incredibly significant when it comes to these negotiations over the price tag, but also what's going to be included in here?

BURNETT: Yes. And it's such a crucial point that Kaitlan is laying out here about Hyde Amendment, because that's the thing of deep principle, obviously, for both Jayapal and Manchin. All right. Kaitlan, thank you so much with all that news from the White House.

I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He is the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. So Congressman Jeffries, I really appreciate your time tonight. Sen. Manchin, I don't know if you heard, I played a sound bite, but he said he is more concerned with this nation turning into an entitlement society than a rewarding society. That's the quote and that's his concern about some of what the progressives have in this bill. Can Manchin specific concern, his use of words like entitlement society, be satisfied in a way that doesn't alienate progressives?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, what progressives want to accomplish and what the House Democratic Caucus wants to accomplish is to make sure that hard work is rewarded, which is not necessarily the case in many spaces throughout America. Certainly that's not the case with homecare workers, essential workers who care for the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the elderly, doing incredibly important work for our families throughout America, but not necessarily being paid in a manner that allows them to live even a decent life.

That needs to change. That's part of the Build Back Better Act. We want to make sure that the hard work in terms of childcare workers who care for our children enable both women and men to go off to work, allow the economy to work in maximum efficiency, that those childcare workers are rewarded. So I certainly would disagree with the characterization of an entitlement society.

We want to make sure that that basic American contract, which is if you work hard and play by the rules, you can provide a comfortable living for yourself and your family that that contract is not stamped null and void.

BURNETT: So President Biden told House progressives that the bill has to come down from the $3.5 trillion to somewhere between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion. Obviously, I know there are some in the progressive caucus who say, look, we came down from $6.5 trillion, so take a hike. But there are others who may be willing to work with him if $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion is what, say, Sen. Manchin will get on board with. Is Biden's new price range acceptable to you, the $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think rather than discussing the number, President Biden himself has said explicitly to us during that meeting, with the House Democratic Caucus, is let's focus on the things that we're trying to do for the American people, drive down the high cost of life saving prescription drugs which is a promise, (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: Right. Look, so I understand exactly what you're saying and I agree with you. But I do think ultimately given this focus on the number from people like Congresswoman Jayapal and, obviously, she's very focused on the substance as well. But the number matters a lot here and so let me phrase the question to you this way, can you accomplish the substantive things you want in your agenda not having them expire in the year 2025 for between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion? JEFFRIES: We certainly are going to try to accomplish everything

that's important to making sure that we help the middle class, those who aspire to be part of it, working class folks, young people, seniors, and that, I think, is where our focus should be. Ultimately, we'll have to arrive at a number, but the discussion right now in my view should be around this subject.

BURNETT: Okay. So let me ask you about this other complication, which is significant, because this is a matter of morality and principle for those who care deeply about it and that is the Hyde Amendment, whether the bill will include it or not. It is, of course, the statute that blocks federal funds from being used for most abortions.

Now, the two key figures in this process who have passionate views on this, Sen. Manchin and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and they are completely at odds, take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you vote for a bill that has the Hyde Amendment in it?


MANCHIN: I've been very clear, I'm not going to vote for anything that eliminates the Hyde Amendment where we have had it and where it is right now (inaudible) ...


BURNETT: So Jayapal says it can't be there, Manchin says it has to be there. They both say they will not support it if they don't get what they want. They're emphatic, because as I said, this is an issue for each of morality and principle. How do you resolve that?

JEFFRIES: I have great respect for both, Congresswoman Jayapal and, of course, Sen. Manchin. There are 220 Democrats in the house. There are 50 Democrats in the Senate. We're all going to have to find the highest common denominator in terms of moving forward to get done what we need to get done, which is President Joe Biden's agenda to build back better for everyday Americans.


And so with respect to the Hyde Amendment, their strongly held views, I certainly support getting rid of the Hyde Amendment. It hurts in particular low income women and women of color, many of whom come from neighborhoods like those that I represent. But I'm not prepared to say personally one way or the other what I will do without seeing the ultimate package.

And I think there's so many different moving parts, so many different issues to resolve, but at the end of the day I believe we will get those issues resolved because we know the stakes are too high for the American people who've been suffering in the midst of a public health crisis and an economic crisis connected to the pandemic. BURNETT: Congressman Jeffries, I appreciate your time. I always do. I

thank you.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the Facebook whistleblower testify saying the company knows it's harming people and the buck needs to stop with, she says, Mark Zuckerberg, so what's going to happen?

Plus, breaking news, Gabby Petito's family speaking out and pointing fingers at the family of Brian Laundrie, saying somebody needs to start talking, and calls for an investigation tonight into one of the architects of Trump's attempted coup. Why even Republicans are calling foul a little known lawyer named John Eastman?



BURNETT: Tonight, Facebook trying to save face, the social media giant hitting back at whistleblower Frances Haugen after her compelling testimony under oath before Congress today. For more than three hours, Haugen answered questions from senators about the massive trove of internal documents, thousands of pages that she has and that she now has put out there that she's leaked and her claims that the company put profits before people. Brian Stelter was there and he's OUTFRONT.



FRANCES HAUGEN, FORMER FACEBOOK PRODUCT MANAGER: The only way we can move forward and heal Facebook is we first have to admit the truth.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT(voice over): And the truth according to Frances Haugen is that the social media giant is hiding what it really knows about its impact on its users, including the spread of misinformation.


HAUGEN: Facebook likes to paint that these issues are really complicated. Facebook prioritize that content on the system, the reshares over the impacts to misinformation, hate speech or violence incitement.


STELTER(voice over): Haugen testifying to the Senate about what the company did and did not do to confront the spread of misinformation leading up to the 2020 election and beyond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): On 60 Minutes you said that Facebook

implemented safeguards to reduce misinformation ahead of the 2020 election, but turned off those safeguards right after the election and you know that the insurrection occurred January 6th. Do you think that Facebook turned out the safeguards because they weren't costing the company money because it was reducing profit?

HAUGEN: Facebook, changed those safety defaults in the run up to the election because they knew they were dangerous. And because they wanted that growth back, they wanted the acceleration on the platform back after the election, they returned to their original defaults. And the fact that they had to break the glass on January 6th and turn them back on, I think that's deeply problematic.


STELTER(voice over): Another big focus of the hearing how Facebook and its other social media apps, including Instagram, negatively impact kids.


HAUGEN: Kids who are bullied on Instagram, the bullying follows them home. It follows them into their bedrooms. The last thing they see before they go to bed at night is someone being cruel to them or the first thing they see in the morning is someone being cruel to them.


STELTER(voice over): Sen. Richard Blumenthal calling the revelations jaw-dropping and comparing Facebook to Big Tobacco.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): It is documented proof that Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children. And it's not just that they made money, again, it's that they valued their profit more than the pain that they cause to children and their families.


STELTER(voice over): The word addiction coming up over and over again during the testimony.


HAUGEN: It's just like cigarettes. Teenagers don't have good self regulation. They say explicitly I feel bad when I use Instagram and yet I can't stop. We need to protect the kids.


STELTER(voice over): In a tweet Facebook responding saying Haugen didn't actually work on these issues directly. She was a product manager tackling misinformation and had no direct reports and never attended a decision point meeting. But Haugen brought receipts, research from inside Facebook documenting the damage being done.


HAUGEN: There are organizational problems.


STELTER(voice over): And during all this, where was Mark Zuckerberg? Senators called out his absence and quipped that he was sailing, referring to his recent uploads to Facebook and Instagram.


BLUMENTHAL: Rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing.



STELTER(on camera): No new comment from Zuckerberg today. Meanwhile, Erin, you caught me at the airport, I apologize. But Haugen will be here soon, too. She's flying to the U.K. She's testifying to Parliament. She has a lot more to say, Erin.

BURNETT: Wow. It's really significant going straight there. All right. And, of course, safe trip home, Brian.

All right. Well OUTFRONT now Michael Smerconish, host of CNN SMERCONISH. So, Michael, today on Capitol Hill, something that seemed to finally unite many Democrats and Republicans was their frustration and anger at Facebook. Senator after senator from both parties were placing blame on Facebook saying it needs to be fixed. Okay. But should the government be involved in fixing?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: If Facebook doesn't fix itself, Erin, I think the government will have no choice. I mean, what's obvious about this issue is that polarization threatens democracy. Now we see the proof that Facebook contributes and knows that they contribute to that level of polarization. I think that up until now we've all understood that bombastic personalities have driven this country into a partisan ditch much more subtle, but yet there has been the role of Facebook through the newsfeed and negativity engages people, misrepresentation, misinformation, all that hostility, which we all don't like.

Unfortunately, there's an addictive nature to it and they've been playing us through their algorithm. One other thing if I might.


Before coming on tonight, I went online because I need a new suitcase and I Googled a particular type of suitcase. I know I'm about to be bombarded with ads for different type of suitcase products.

BURNETT: Yes. SMERCONISH: We all get that. What I don't think we've recognized is

it in the same way that you indicate an interest in a type of political debate and issue, similarly you're tripping the wires where you're fed that sort of information.

BURNETT: Right. Okay. All of which is true. But Sen. Ted Cruz brought something up that I know is - it's just an intellectually challenging issue. He said, look, some Republicans are concern when it comes to big tech about political censorship. So there's the question of when the monitoring on the site goes too far. Let's just put it this way, when does politics determine what misinformation is as opposed to facts?

So for example, back in February, Facebook said it would remove posts that falsely claimed 'COVID-19 is manmade or manufactured'. And Facebook dropped that rule in May when the Biden ministration said, oh, we're going to look into whether COVID was leaked from the Wuhan lab. No. Leak doesn't mean the same thing as manmade, obviously. But it makes the point that somebody in politics can determine fact from fiction or what's appropriate on a site and that could be political censorship. How did tech companies walk that line?

SMERCONISH: So I think it's impossible. I mean, the revelations from The Wall Street Journal based on Frances Haugen's information is that they've got 40,000 folks. There's a football stadium, a small football stadium full of people at Facebook who do nothing but try and police this content.

I don't think that any amount of AI, artificial intelligence, or any type of oversight, you can't look over the shoulder of 3 billion users and so there will be things that will not be policed. And I think there are elements of subjectivity to this. The biggest issue is what are we doing about Section 230 which gave them carte blanche, gave them immunity for the content that they put on their platform.

BURNETT: Right. And so whether they're a media company and all these fundamentally crucial questions. All right. Michael Smerconish, thank you so much, as always for your thoughtfulness.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the family of Gabby Petito is speaking out tonight saying they believe Brian Laundrie is alive and hiding.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's too coward to kill himself, too coward to come forward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's just on the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And anyone that live in that house is a coward. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And new calls for an investigation to John Eastman, a little known lawyer who tried to convince Mike Pence to overturn the election. One person leading the charge against Eastman is a former Republican Attorney General and he's OUTFRONT.



BURNETT: Tonight, turn yourself in. That's the message from Gabby Petito's parents in their sit-down interview speaking directly to Brian Laundrie. A massive manhunt still underway for the 23-year-old after Petito's body was found in Wyoming more than two weeks ago.

Laundrie's sister is also speaking out tonight. Pleading with her brother to come forward, and bring an end to all of this.

Leyla Santiago is OUTFRONT.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been three weeks since Gabby Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, has been seen. His sister, insisting she has no idea where her brother is.

CASSIE LAUNDRIE, BRIAN'S SISTER: I do not know where Brian is. I'd turn him in.

SANTIAGO: She also expressed a range of emotions, feeling worried about him but also angry.

LAUNDRIE: I would tell my brother to just come forward, and get us out of this horrible mess.

SANTIAGO: Cassie says she lived in the same home with her brother and Gabby. And never saw him get violent with Petito.

LAUNDRIE: I don't stand for that. I wouldn't let that happen.

SANTIAGO: On Monday, Cassie also revealing to protestors staked outside her home that Brian flew home on August 17th, just five days after police pulled over the couple with Petito telling officers Laundrie hit her after she hit him.

The attorney for Laundrie's parents confirming in a statement to CNN that Laundrie flew home the 17th, and returned to Utah on august 23rd to rejoin Gabby. And that, quote, Brian flew home to obtain some items and empty and close the storage unit to save money as they contemplated extending the road trip. The couple was last seen together a few days later, August 27th, when they left a Wyoming restaurant together.

By September 1st, Laundrie was back in Florida without Gabby Petito. Cassie says she saw Brian during that August 17th trip but she says

the last time she saw her brother was when he went camping with his parents at Ft. De Soto Park on September 6th and there was no discussion about Gabby.

LAUNDRIE: We just went for a couple of hours, and we ate dinner and had s'mores around the campfire, and left. And there was nothing peculiar about it. There was no feeling of grand good-bye. There was no nothing.

SANTIAGO: Today, Gabby's parents and step parents speaking out on Dr. Phil's show saying they believe Brian is definitely alive and in hiding.

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, TV HOST: Do you believe he's hiding somewhere?


MCGRAW: Why do you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he's a coward.

MCGRAW: And they believe his parents know more about Laundrie's disappearance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody needs to start talking. I do believe they know a lot more information --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- than they're putting out there.

MCGRAW: Last week, the attorney for Laundrie's parents released a statement saying, quote, Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is and were, quote, concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him.

According to the police, Brian Laundrie's parents claim they last saw him on September 14th. They reported him missing three days later. When asked about her parents' involvement, Cassie told ABC --

LAUNDRIE: I don't know if my parents are involved. I think if they are, then they should come clean.


BURNETT: And, Leyla, I know you actually just had a chance to speak to Brian Laundrie's sister. You know, just -- just moments ago on the phone. What did she tell you?

SANTIAGO: Well, Erin, Cassie Laundrie is not willing to do any more on-camera interviews at this point. But we did briefly talk about the last time she spoke to her parents, Roberta and Chris Laundrie. She says it was about two weeks ago, and that the conversation was very short because their attorney has made it clear to her that they cannot answer any of her questions. [19:35:08]

So despite the fact that she, herself, has a lot of questions, she said the last time she talked to the parents, it was a very short conversation about Cassie's children. Now, we have reached out to the Laundrie parents' attorney. Not only to talk about this but also to talk about what was said on Dr. Phil's show today. And we have not heard back.

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

With that, new reporting, I want to go to Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida.

So, Dave, you heard -- Leyla just spoke to Brian Laundrie's sister, Cassie. And, you know, she says her parents refused to answer her questions. She hasn't spoken to her parents for two weeks. They won't talk about Brian. And their attorney is advising them not -- not to speak to her we also understand.

What does that tell you that they're not just stonewalling investigators, they won't even talk to their own daughter?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Yeah, good evening, Erin. It shows that they are doing everything possible to incriminate themselves in the court of public opinion. In a court of law, it's different. The lawyer represents the parents, not Gabby. And Gabby has been cooperative from the beginning. Unlike the parents, Gabby has been talking to investigators.

Unlike Brian, she has not run and hid. And there was something very interesting at the beginning when the parents released a statement saying that it is our hope that the search for Ms. Petito is successful. That, to me, was not just cold and heartless, it was a tell that they knew more than they let on because they referred to Gabby, 22 years old, who lived in their home for more than a year, who is said to be part of their family, they referred to her not as Gabby but as Ms. Petito.

Notably, Cassie, the sister, has always referred to her as Gabby.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes, she has.

I mean, it is incredible. And -- and Gabby's parents now speaking out in their first sit-down interview today. You know, I played a brief clip of that. I'm sorry. Dave, from with Dr. Phil. They are talking more about how they tried to contact Brian Laundrie's parents. They started worrying about their daughter. They know their daughter lives with the -- with -- with that -- that couple, right? The Laundries. And they reach out. So just listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police officers called her. Detectives called her.

MCGRAW: But you all called?


MCGRAW: You called? You called? You called?

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

MCGRAW: You called and you called.



MCGRAW: And what did you get?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then, I would send texts on top of that.

MCGRAW: No response?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the texts. I mean, I -- going to call the police, right? You know, just letting you know because we have no idea. No responses. No -- a normal parent, when you text someone that they are going to call the cops because you can't find your child, they would reply.



BURNETT: Well, he is right about that. Any normal parent would reply. And these are parents, you know, who -- who -- you know, who -- that -- that -- the daughter of Gabby Petito's parents, Gabby lives in their home. I mean, it is -- it just seems damning.

ARONBERG: It sure does. To charge the parents with being an accessory after the fact, which is a serious felony, we would have to show that they knew that Brian committed a crime and they did something to help prevent his arrest or punishment. It's not enough that they lawyered up. It's not enough that they remain silent. They have got to do more, like sanitize the van. Like, destroy evidence. Like, buy him a plane ticket to get out of town.

But you can create an inference that they knew that Brian committed a crime by the fact that they never reported her missing, Gabby missing. They never told anyone. And that they've lawyered up and remained silent to this day.

BURNETT: I mean, you know, he's home for 13 days. His fiancee's reported missing. He comes home with her car, she's not with him and his parents. They don't ask? They don't care? I mean, it doesn't make sense. I'll just say, as a human being, it doesn't make sense but I understand the difference between that and the court of law but I think that's what everyone wants to understand.

All right. I appreciate your time. It's good to talk to you again.

ARONBERG: Thanks, Erin.


Next, a group of legal experts want the California Bar to investigate a little-known lawyer who tried to help Trump overturn the election.


JOHN EASTMAN, LAWYER: We know there was fraud. We know that dead people voted.


BURNETT: And the director of the National Health Institutes is stepping down and there's still no permanent FDA commissioner. Shouldn't Americans be concerned about the complete lack of leadership right now in public health?



BURNETT: New tonight. A bipartisan group of more than two dozen former public officials and lawyers demanding that the California Bar investigate John Eastman. Eastman is a lawyer who tried to help Donald Trump overturn the election and his efforts included a six-step memo in which he urged the then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw out seven states that President Biden won so that Trump could be declared the winner.

And then, he made these comments on January 6th just before the actual insurrection.


JOHN EASTMAN, LAWYER: 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 1:00, 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: Just to be clear here, obviously, what -- what he alleges happened did -- did not happen. But you saw Rudy Giuliani eagerly nodding on the side.

OUTFRONT now, one of the former officials who is demanding the California bar investigation, Grant Woods. He is the former Republican attorney general of Arizona and former chief of staff to the late- Republican Senator John McCain.

Grant, I appreciate your time tonight.


BURNETT: So based on the evidence that exists and what you are aware of, what do you think the California bar should do to Eastman?


WOODS: Well, first, they need to -- they need to start an investigation. They need to take it seriously. And I think discipline is -- is in order here. The same group of people, along with -- there's an organization called States United and many other organizations that have been fighting for our democracy for well over a year now. We looked at what Rudy Giuliani did, and we petitioned the New York bar association to suspend him from the practice of law. They did.

And I think that could be in order here in California. You saw this -- this guy didn't look like the law professor there. He didn't look like the former dean of a law school which he was. He looked like some sort of ranting maniac there, and he was saying things that he knew were false or should have known were false.

And those were reflected also in days earlier in the memos that he was writing to the vice president of the United States, trying to get him basically to have a bloodless coup in this country. He knew that the law wasn't there, what he was saying the Constitution said as a fact was not a fact. And he knew that the -- the underlying -- fraud that he was alleging had already been thrown out in 60 out of 60 lawsuits across the country.


WOODS: This is -- a lawyer takes an oath and they need to be better than that. And we're just not going to say, well, that was a year ago, that was a long time ago. We are going to stay on this, and we're going to ask the bar associations to discipline their lawyers when they need it.

BURNETT: So, you know, the -- the role of vice president pence here is so important. And he is now downplaying, significantly, what happened on January 6th. He actually did an interview last night on Fox News. Let me play a clip for you, Grant.

WOODS: Okay.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration's failed agenda by focusing on one day in January. They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and in 2020.


BURNETT: They want to use that one day to demean the character and intentions of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump. What do you say to the former vice president?

WOODS: Well, he also needs to keep in mind the 81 million who voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They kind of leave that out of the equation. It was basically not close. I -- I just think -- and also, this exacerbates, again, shows how -- how glaring this misadvise, wrongful advice was by Eastman, someone who should have known better because look who he is dealing with. He was dealing with Mike Pence who he won sycophant of the year four years running against some very, very tough competition.

So this is a guy who wanted to please president Trump. He wanted to, you know, get patted on the head again. But even he couldn't do it. Even with this former dean of a law school giving him these bogus reasons why, supposedly, he could do it.

So, Pence -- I don't know what his problem is. He's a sad, sad character. That's all I can say. It's almost Shakespearean in its sadness.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, so much Shakespearean about this.

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

WOODS: Okay. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Trump's former-press secretary who once touted the administration's response to the pandemic, now changing her tune.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the way we handled COVID was -- was tragic.


BURNETT: And new details tonight about "Star Trek" legend William Shatner's historic trip to space at the age of 90.



BURNETT: Tonight, a solemn moment for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

That's the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. ringing its bell 700 times to mark the 700,000 people who have died in the United States from COVID-19. Comes as the very health agencies tasked with fighting the pandemic or God forbid the next one are facing an absence of leadership. Director of the national institutes of health, Dr. Francis Collins, is stepping down. And the FDA has been without a permanent leader for almost nine months.

OUTFRONT now, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who advised the White House medical team under President George W. Bush.

Dr. Reiner, OK, the White House says they will announce a nominee for the NIH. Senate hasn't moved quickly to fill any positions. I mean, it is pretty stunning, right? You are facing the biggest public health crisis in American history and the FDA's gone nine months without a permanent leader. Now, Dr. Collins, obviously, incredibly respected leader and face of the NIH stepping aside.

And we are just going to have nothing?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yeah. You know, I -- you know, we hear a lot of different voices and, you know, in recent weeks, we -- we've seen what happens when the folks speaking to the country aren't speaking from the same page. We saw the president announce an ambitious booster plan to boost the entire country essentially all age groups starting at the end of September. And then, in multiple steps, finally, having to walk that back as both FDA and CDC advisory committees balked on the original administration plan.

And this all speaks to a lack of -- of coordination.


REINER: You know, we have -- we've seen CDC struggle with -- with messaging. As you said, there is no formal FDA -- permanent FDA commissioner because it's being -- because Dr. Woodcock was really blocked by a handful of senators, I think including Senator Joe Manchin. And we are really in need of a unifying voice from this administration.

BURNETT: Uh-huh.

REINER: That -- that the American people can listen to and we just not had that.

BURNETT: So, throughout the pandemic, you know, obviously, Trump administration, also the Biden administration, though, a real lack of coordination, right?



BURNETT: I mean, so what do you attribute that to? Because it -- I mean, for very different reasons. You just gave the booster-shot example. But we saw it on masks, before. I mean, there was never speaking with one voice and -- and -- and -- it's frankly a bit unsettling.

REINER: It is. And one thing that strikes me is that from the beginning of -- of this administration, we've really not heard from the secretary of health and human services, Xavier Becerra. All of these agencies that we speak about, CDC, FDA, CMS, NIH, they all come under the umbrella of -- of HHS. And Secretary Becerra really has been absent from this discussion.

BURNETT: Yeah. And -- and by the way, Secretary Becerra knows how to handle media. Knows how to handle all of it, right? Long, long career before where he is now.

Now, the Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham is out with a new tell-all memoir. This morning, she came on CNN and she said she will never forgive herself for her and the Trump administration's role during the pandemic. Here is the clip.


GRISHAM: I think the way we handled COVID was -- was tragic. I think that the president's vanity got in the way. I -- he was -- he was working for his base. He was not working for his -- this country. I was part of that, and I don't think I'll ever forgive myself with -- with respect to COVID. I don't think I can ever redeem myself.


BURNETT: What's your response to that? I mean, obviously, she played along. She aided. She abetted. She amplified.

But she is saying this now, that she'll never forgive herself. How do you take that?

REINER: Well, tell that to the 700,000 Americans who are dead. I have no respect for former administration top-ranked officials who remained silent while the president told the country that this was no big deal. That it was just the flu. That it was the kung flu, when the president refused to wear a mask, when the president encouraged states to open up before they were ready.

When the president said we were doing too many tests, when the president endorsed hydroxychloroquine. Now, you know, they were silent then. I don't want to hear from them now. I have no respect for these people. It would have mattered back then if they spoke up.

BURNETT: Right. Dr. Reiner, thank you very much.

REINER: My pleasure.

BURNETT: And finally, tonight, sci-fi turning into reality. "Star Trek" actor William Shatner is headed to space at 90 years old. Something to celebrate here.

Kristin Fisher is OUTFRONT.


KRISTIN FISHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He led the USS Enterprise on an intergalactic odyssey. Now, he will get to go on his own odyssey.

WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: Things I've only played as an actor, I am going to see firsthand. FISHER: "Star Trek's" iconic Captain James Kirk will soon get to go

to space, for real.

SHATNER: I'm thrilled and -- and anxious and a little nervous, and a little frightened about this whole new adventure.

FISHER: Blue Origin announced on Monday that actor William Shatner will be on the company's next flight, alongside Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's vice president of mission and flight operations.


FISHER: Shatner, Powers, and two others will lift off from a remote stretch of west Texas next Tuesday, less than three months after the company's first crewed launch.

The crew will enjoy about four minutes of weightlessness during an 11- minute suborbital trip to space. Similar to what Jeff Bezos, his brother, and two others did during the summer.

SHATNER: On Tuesday morning, I go to the edge of space and -- and loosen the restraints around me and be weightless, and looking into the vastness of the universe.

FISHER: Shatner who played Captain Kirk on the hit-television series "Star Trek," and went on to start in seven "Star Trek" films joked about this opportunity years ago.

AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: If you were given the opportunity to go into space, would you?

SHATNER: If I got a guarantee that I would come back.

FISHER: That opportunity is now here. And 90-year-old Shatner seems surprised, himself.

SHATNER: Because 55 years ago, I was destitute. And I'm looking up at the sky, at the astronauts stepping on the moon. And -- and I had a little bit to do with those astronauts. And 55 years later, I'm going to the -- into space. I want to come back and -- and tell you about how I really felt when I saw these things that we've only learned about, secondhand.

FISHER: His fans are excited to hear about his mission, too. Many taking to Twitter to express their excitement.

Late-night host, Stephen Colbert, even making a joke about the mission tweeting I hope William Shatner doesn't have unrealistic expectations of what space is like.

Kristin Fisher, CNN, Washington.


BURNETT: And thanks to Kristen and thanks to you.

"AC360" starts now.