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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

DC Authorities Prepare for Unrest at Saturday Rally; House Vote on $3.5T Spending Bill on Track for Next Week; Team USA Gymnasts Slam FBI for Handling of Larry Nassar Case; Israeli Data Makes Case for Coronavirus Vaccine Boosters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Thursday. September 16, it's 5:00 a.m. in New York.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We begin this morning with U.S. Capitol Police on high alert right now, determined to make sure this Saturday's Justice for J6 rally does not turn into a violent repeat of January 6th.

Overnight, crews started to fence off the Capitol. Capitol Police have also already requested help in the National Guard, hoping for more manpower on the ground. The rally's stated goal is those charged for the January 6th insurrection.

JARRETT: Authorities believe at least some rally-goers will be armed again and worry it could turn into a riot for Ashli Babbitt. You remember her, a woman fatally shot trying to breach a barrier outside the House chamber on January 6th. The former president's campaign staffer organizing this event now downplaying the threat of violence.


MATT BRAYNARD, ORGANIZED RIGHT-WING RALLY: We've got a largely peaceful crowd. We've had two events in Washington, D.C. so far, at the Department of Justice and to prison. And there's been no incidents so far. No one is bringing a weapon part of our crowd. I can assure the police that.


ROMANS: All right. Meanwhile, Donald Trump's big lie about the 2020 election that sparked insurrection, of course, that lie is alive and well and it is changing the landscape of American politics. New CNN polling shows 56 percent of Americans think democracy is under attack.

Look at Republicans, 78 percent of Republicans don't think President Biden got enough votes to win the election.

CNN's Daniella Diaz joins us from Capitol Hill.

These polls numbers are really stunning, Daniella. And lawmakers will not be in the building on Saturday. So, how much of the police and military presence will we see in the nation's capital?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, law enforcement are bracing for the worst, Christine and Laura. Look, as you said, Capitol Police requested National Guard assistance and D.C. police will be fully activated on Saturday. A stark contrast to what happened on January 6th when rioters stormed the Capitol.

This is all because of an internal Capitol police memo where they share their concerns because there's been recent online chatter after the officer that fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, the Capitol rioter January 6th, came out with his identity. He made his identity public with NBC's Lester Holt.

And as a result, the documents warn that many individuals seeing what's happening on Saturday, this rally as a quote, Justice for Ashli Babbitt rally, which is why law enforcement officials are braising themselves and prepared for whatever happens on Saturday.

But as you said, Matt Braynard, the organizers of this rally downplayed any concerns of any violence on Saturday, said that everyone is coming to be peaceful protesters. But either way, this is going to be completely different than what happened on January 6th, it appears that they have now learned that Capitol police were not prepared for what happened.

JARRETT: You know, while we have you, we have use on the Biden economic agenda. We know that 13 House committees finished wrapping up the package. As Christine calls it the cradle to grave package to remake the social safety net. So, what's the next step in the process now?

DIAZ: Well, they met their deadline, Laura. This is what they wanted. This is what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put on the table. She wanted legislation to be completed by September 15th, which is what happened. But that doesn't mean that this far -- this means, excuse me, that this from over.

Now, they're going to have to reconcile differences between what the House and Senate want, and what moderates and progressives want. But this is all part of the promise that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made to moderate to put the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the floor. But by the end of September -- but progressives want to vote on the $3.5 trillion economic bill to expand the nation's social safety net. This is the bill we're talking about that just was completed by the week of September 28th.

So, lots of deadlines here. But the bigger issue is this is going to be a major test of unity for Democratic leaders because there are moderates that don't agree with this price tag of $3.5 trillion. And progressives are slamming these moderates asking for a smaller price tag which is Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate who moderate Democrats want a smaller price tag between $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, instead of this $3.5 trillion bill.

Take a listen to a progressive Democrat, Ayanna Pressley, said about these two senators and where they stand on the bill.


REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): I know there's some who fear if we're too bold that risk the majority.


But I would argue that by playing small, that that is what will risk the majority. The ultimate persuasion tool is impact. That is the best case we can make to the people. And they don't care about ant antiquated Washington procedures or process. They care about impact. I might also add when it comes to Manchin and Sinema, let the record reflect to the real obstructionists are because progressives are at the table and we are doing the work of making these investments to meet the moment.


DIAZ: Bottom line here, Democratic leaders are going to have to deal with trying to please both progressives and moderates in their party, in the House and the Senate. Because of the slim majorities in the House and Senate, Democratic majorities, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only lose three votes and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can't lose any votes. So we're going to be watching that very closely.

JARRETT: Yeah, and Democrats have no room for error. This is the make or break moment.

We appreciate you're the one following it for us, Daniella. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. So, what's in it? You've heard about the process here. You know, the politics, the tricky politics. What's in the $3.5 trillion plan. Remember, it's ten years. It's not a direct injection right away. It's over ten years.

Democrats are suggesting a remake. Funding programs that would improve the lives of working families and retirees, programs like paid live, expanded child and tax credits, dental, hearing and eye benefits for Medicare recipients, free pre-K and two years of community college, and there are investments in clean energy.

To pay for all this, Democrats want to tax the rich putting the bill on the top burners, people making more than $400,000 a year, the top tax rate rises to 39.6 percent. And big companies would have to pay for it. The top corporate race jumps from 26.5 percent from 21 percent. That peels back some of the 2017 tax cuts, but these rates are still well below where they were before.

The rationale, tax reform, it enriched shareholders, not works, and companies paying a smaller share of taxes. In fact, company share of taxes is the lowest in 50 years.

JARRETT: Now to profiles in courage on Capitol Hill as star gymnasts called out the FBI over massive failures in investigating former U.S. team doctor, Larry Nassar, for serial sexual abuse.


SIMONE BILES, OLYMPIC GYMNAST: It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect USAG and USOPC.

MCKAYLA MARONEY, OLYMPIC GYMNAST: I ask you, please do all that is in your power to ensure that these individuals are held responsible and accountable for ignoring my initial report, for lying about my initial report, and for covering up for a child molester.

ALY RAISMAN, OLYMPIC GYMNAST: Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest. It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.


JARRETT: The athletes now demanding someone from the FBI be held accountable.

CNN's Paula Reid has more on this.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Good morning, Laura and Christine.

Well, there are few areas of bipartisan consensus in Washington. But on Wednesday, lawmakers of both parties were United, in their anger and disbelief over how the FBI mishandled allegations of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. Now in a stunning hearing, we heard powerful testimony from four elite U.S. gymnasts who all testified about how they were abused by Nassar.

Now, the hearing wasn't as much about the abuse or about Nassar, but it was focused on what these women say is the system that failed them and allowed Nassar to go on to abuse others.

Now, Simone Biles, one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, she testified about how disappointed she is in the FBI and other entities that failed her and other sex abuse survivors. Let's take a listen to part of what she said.

BILES: I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

REID: Nassar pleaded guilty in 2018 and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison, but before he went to prison, he was allowed to abuse dozens of additional girls because the FBI according to the inspector general report and the testimony we heard Wednesday did not act on complaints that were coming forward.

Now, McKayla Maroney testified how she spoke to an investigator in 2015. And that investigator did not do proper follow-up or properly document her allegations. Now, Aly Raisman, she also testified how the FBI dismissed her complaints.

Now, FBI Director Christopher Wray who did not take over leadership of the agency until 2017, he appeared before lawmakers Wednesday after the testimony of those four gymnasts where he was pressed by lawmakers about how the FBI handled this so egregiously.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I want to be crystal clear: the actions and inaction of the FBI employees detailed in this report are totally unacceptable. These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse. And the work we do certainly is often complicated and uncertain. And we're never going to be perfect. But the kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and '16 should never have happened. Period.


REID: Now, despite these stunning allegations of misconduct, the Justice Department has not charged any of the FBI investigators who are accused of mishandling this investigation.

Now, under the Trump administration and then again under the Biden administration, Justice officials reviewed the evidence and determined they couldn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. They didn't move forward.

But CNN has learned that next month, the Attorney General Merrick Garland and his deputy Lisa Monaco will both hear before lawmakers and that will be an opportunity to grill them about why no one has been held accountable. One thing we've heard again and again from these women is that they want someone to be held accountable so it doesn't happen to more women -- Laura, Christine.


ROMANS: Paula, thank you for that.

That was some of the most powerful testimony I've ever seen on Capitol Hill. You can see the veteran senators, too, Chuck Grassley asking the Justice Department to resist whether they will look into the FBI.

JARRETT: They have to.

ROMANS: This is an example every single authority, adult, failed those women, failed those girls and women, and other people were hurt because of it. It's just the grown-ups fell down on their job from protecting them.

JARRETT: From top to bottom, and the question was why? Was it pure mismanagement? Was it because of conflicts of interest? Was it because they weren't believed? Or was it because they didn't take them seriously and didn't care?

If one person is able to stand up and put their hand up and say we need to take this seriously, maybe the hundreds of women would have had to be hurt.

ROMANS: Just unforgivable.

All right. FDA advisers set to meet tomorrow to decide the next schedule of COVID booster shots. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest for us, next.



JARRETT: Tomorrow, FDA advisers meet to discuss the next steps with COVID vaccine booster shots. The data out there already shows some waning immunity from these vaccines over time. And some of that evidence comes from Israel, which the International Institutes of Health director Francis Collins says has even caused him to rethink his position on booster.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I will tell you, I was one of the biggest skeptics of the vox in the White House about boosters. And I have become convinced particularly looking at the Israeli data, Chris. A lot of that will get presented on Friday, including by some of the Israeli scientists, because Israel is three months ahead of us.

They got most of their population immunized in April. And what they start to see, people who got immunized back in January, by the time they got to July, their protection really had started to drop off. Not against any infection, but even severe infection. That's the signal that you might want to watch for and say, hmm, might be time to do something with a booster.


ROMANS: The FDA's unusually neutral tone on boosters is in stark contrast with President Biden, his health advisers, they're enthusiastic about the booster campaign. They hope to begin next week.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta breaks down the data for us.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Laura, let me try to talk you through at least a couple of the studies, showing you what the data is showing and what it really means.

First of all, take a look at this bar graph. I want to make sure you understand this and the viewers understand this. It's a little complicated but the far left, represents people vaccinated in January. Next, February, then March, then April.

What they're trying to show here is what is happening to your overall effectiveness of the vaccines. If you got vaccinated earlier in January, the earn was you would have the lowest level of protection. Then February was slightly higher because you're closer to now then march and then April.

Look at two things that jump out at you, one is that March is actually the month, people that got vaccinated that month seem to have the highest protection. Why would that be? People that got vaccinated in April that would have been more recent. Why is March higher?

I bring that up because you can start to see some of the confusion. Also, you'll appreciate this, but the black lines in the middle of the bar graph, they represent something known as confidence intervals. How confident are you that you're actually at the right number.

Well, if you look at the black lines, you get the impression there's a pretty wide confidence interval that they're not that confident in the numbers. And therefore, it can really sort of be pretty similar, really, all of these months, not that much of a difference there.

Now in terms of what has happened with the boosters since Israel started rolling out the boosters. Take a look there as well. This is 12 days after people received boosters. It's compared to people who received two shots. What they saw was the rate of confirmed infection dropped by 11.3 times, the rate of severe illness by 19.5 times.

But again, this is just starting 12 days after the booster which may not be very much time.


The big question is, what does that sort of protection look like long term?

Are you giving a lot of protection and really bolstering up the walls of protection for a short period of time? And then it sort of wanes off over time again? Or does this actually create a longer, durable level of protection as a result of the boost?

They don't know that yet. And I think that's what's going to come up at this FDA meeting as well.

I do want to point out one thing. We talk a lot about Israel. I think Israel is an interesting place to look at because throughout this pandemic, they've been a little bit ahead of us. They started vaccinating. They're at 63 percent vaccination in Israel. They've obviously been boosting now for some time, something that we are considering doing. Take a look at where they are in the trajectory of the pandemic. Right

now, in terms of cases. This is just cases. Not necessarily symptomatic or hospitalizations or deaths, they're at the highest numbers they have been, despite the fact that so much of the country has been vaccinated. And they have started getting boosters.

So, just to keep that in mind, the boosters may not necessarily bring down case rates. People may still carry the virus in their nose and their mouth, probably not get that sick, or sick at all. But the boosters may not change that dynamic very much. And that's another point that this FDA committee is going to be talking about on Friday.

So, we'll see. Previously and previous vaccine meetings it's always been pretty clear cut that the vaccine was going to be authorized here, guys. I'm not so sure. So, we'll get back to you after this meeting takes place.


JARRETT: A lot to unpack there, I'm sure.

ROMANS: Yeah. Looking at all of that real time data. I mean, we're learning more about the disease all the time what we do know the vaccines are safe and effective and they prevent, as Sanjay said from severe illness.

JARRETT: Right, the whole point is trying to not end up in the hospital.

ROMANS: Al right. To South Carolina where a prominent attorney is just hours from surrendering to authorities in a bizarre murder mystery that takes another twist. That's next.



ROMANS: All right. In South Carolina, the Murdaugh family mystery deepens this morning. This is the case of a prominent attorney whose wife and son were shot and killed three months ago. Now police say Alex Murdaugh arranged to have a former client skill him in a suicide fraud scheme, an insurance fraud scheme so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh is expected to turn himself in this morning.

CNN's Martin Savidge is following it for us.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh said he was shot in the head on September 4th after he pulled over to check his tires. But he has now said he asked this man, Chris Smith, to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Realized that things were going to get very, very bad. And he decided to lead his life. SAVIDGE: His lawyer tells CNN that the 53-year-old suffered a

fractured skull and brain bleed but survived.

An affidavit alleges, Mr. Murdaugh provided Mr. Smith with a firearm and directed Mr. Smith to shoot him in the head.

Smith is charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing a firearm and insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. It is not clear whether Smith has an attorney or how he intends to plea on the charges.

Murdaugh who has not been charged told South Carolina police he was in such a bad financial position, he thought death was the only way to ensure a life insurance payout for his son, his attorney said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion. Suicide exclusions are only good for two years, and he didn't realize that. So, he arranged to have this guy shoot him.

SAVIDGE: His lawyer says that Murdaugh was in a massive depression for the shocking unsolved double murder of his wife and son three months ago. And he also has a severe opioid addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His father died of cancer that same week. Most people couldn't get through it, he got through it with opioids.

SAVIDGE: Just one day before the shooting, Murdaugh had abruptly resigned from his law firm after being accused of misappropriating funds which his lawyer says has been used primarily to purchase drugs.

Attorneys for Murdaugh now claim that Smith and others, quote, took advantage of his mental illness and his inability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy shooting him in the head, didn't try to persuade him not to do it. Didn't hesitate at all.

SAVIDGE: Smith appeared in court today on unrelated drug charges. He'll now be transferred to Hampton County for charges in the case.

Records show the connection between Murdaugh and his alleged shooter going back more than a decade when Murdaugh represented Smith in court, first in a personal injury suit and then for a traffic infraction.

Murdaugh's lawyers said he spoke to Murdaugh on Monday and explains why he finally came forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; He didn't want law enforcement to focus more time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul.


SAVIDGE (on camera): Getting to the fact that Alex Murdaugh is expected to turn himself in to authorities today, it's possible he could get a bond hearing on the same day. If he gets bond, he's more than likely able to make it. So, that means within 24 hours he can be back on his way for the drug rehabilitation program he's supposedly entered himself into -- Christine and Laura.

JARRETT: Martin, thank you.

And if that wasn't enough, South Carolina authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the mysterious 2018 death of Murdaugh's longtime housekeeper and handling of her estate.