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Gabby Petito Died of Manual Strangulation; Michael Gerson is Interviewed about his Op-ed Warning; Damning Audio of College Admissions Plot Released. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 06:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: What does that tell you about the circumstances of Gabby Petito's death?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, Brianna, what this tells us is that this was a crime of passion. That it was between two individuals who knew each other, who were in a relationship with one another. In this case, in this context, you know, that would be Brian Laundrie. We don't know of any other suspects. And so it's key because it shows that there was no premeditation, that there was no planning. And it's also consistent, Brianna, with, you know, how and where Gabby's body was found. She wasn't buried. She wasn't hidden. She was at a camp site, which, again, indicates spontaneity.

So, this is, unfortunately, a classic, you know, domestic violence gone too far. And this happens a lot in relationships with domestic violence where things get escalated and a partner dies. And so I think it tells us a lot about, you know, potentially Laundrie's culpability here.

KEILAR: And so, you know, if you can talk a little bit, Doctor, about the DNA here. We know that the coroner sent DNA from the crime scene to the FBI. What are they looking for? What are they maybe trying to even exclude here?

DR. JOHN MARRACCINI, FORMER CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Well, obviously, they'll look for DNA that's foreign to not just the victim, but to the subject of interest. And also, where is the DNA? Because if it's just on the surface of the skin, it has less value in proving an assault than if it's deeply imbedded under nails, especially a fingernail that might be broken or partially broken. So it's not just what is the DNA, who is the DNA, but where is the DNA that will help them in their investigation.

KEILAR: Sara, do you think, you know, even officially, I don't know if -- if in actuality this changes how law enforcement is relating to Brian Laundrie, but do you think that this should officially change how they are seeing him in this case?

AZARI: Well, Brianna, you know, he's been called a person of interest, but that has no legal definition. We talk about subjects, targets and suspects. And Laundrie is most definitely a suspect and a fugitive. So we can call him a person of interest. And like as lawyers -- or the family lawyer says, you know, he's missing. No, he is a suspect.

The idea here is that there -- there has been for several weeks plenty of probable cause to charge Laundrie in this homicide. And the fact that he has not been charged in this homicide is simply because of strategy. You know, authorities need to get their ducks in order before they, you know, issue an affidavit for an arrest warrant and present their case to a grand jury. Otherwise, attorneys like I will walk in and eviscerate the witnesses and the evidence and dismantle the prosecution's case.

So the opportunity is there, while they're looking for Laundrie, they have an arrest warrant for him on that unrelated, you know, federal offense, it gives them an opportunity to conduct a full and complete investigation, go through this DNA analysis, and rule out other suspects.

Because, remember, you know, yes, we're looking at Laundrie, we're almost sure it's Laundrie, but the authorities still need to do a proper investigation and rule out potential other suspects. And so they can arrest him, they can question him on the homicide because he does not get Mirandaized on that. He's not charged with a homicide. And he might actually freely speak to authorities about his role in this offense. So it's really just strategy, not because there's insufficient probable cause.

KEILAR: All right, look, we'll see if that does affect things here.

Sara, thank you so much.

Dr. Marraccini, appreciate it.

A top aide to former President George W. Bush sounding the alarm on a potential second Trump presidency. Why he's calling it a nightmare scenario.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And who really broke up the Beatles? Paul McCartney setting the record straight.



BERMAN: A dire warning from a former top aide to President George W. Bush. In a new op-ed in "The Washington Post," Michael Gerson writes, quote, it is increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a re-elected empowered Donald Trump in 2025 is also the likely outcome.

Michael Gerson joins me now.

Michael, this piece you wrote, I think, does a few things. Number one you say it's coming, or likely coming, a Donald Trump victory. And, number two, you get into the implications.

I want to take the first part first very quickly. Why do you think it is coming, and maybe even likely, that Donald Trump gets elected?

MICHAEL GERSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I'm sorry to ruin people's coffee, but I think the -- we need to recognize the reality here. The first is that all this information is coming out that Donald Trump made a serious, concerted attempt to overturn the 2020 election. So we're gaining information on his lawlessness.

Second, we're seeing that the party, the Republican Party, rather than revolting against this, is embracing it. He's becoming more popular. And this is creating a kind of feedback loop of radicalization within the -- with the president and his strongest supporters.

And we also have to recognize that the political trend, the normal political trends are going in the short and medium term in the Republican direction. This is not just because of bad Democratic messaging, it's because of the coalitions that they have in a presidential election. We're increasingly polarized by education and that -- and Republicans -- it gives Republicans significant advantages on our -- on our map the way it's done.


So I don't consider this alarmism. I consider this just description of where we are right now.

BERMAN: As for what it means, you write, many of the professionals and patriots who opposed him, Trump in his final days, would have been weeded out long before he was re-elected. There is no reason Trump would not try to solidify personal power over military and federal law enforcement units to employee as a bully's club in times of civil disorder. There's no reason he would refrain from using federal resources to harass political opponents, undermine freedom of the press and change the outcome of the elections.

You're basically suggesting he would use mere dictatorial powers.

GERSON: Yes, I mean, there would be limitations that he would face in the judiciary and other places. But we've seen that he wants to concentrate and centralize federal power to serve his interests and undermine his opponents. I mean that -- that is what we're seeing from the historical record of his first term. I think he would have significantly fewer obstacles in his second term.

You look at what happened in the Justice Department before the 2020 election. You know, the -- I think the president didn't succeed just because of a few honorable people stood up. But the reality here is that we have a -- a -- the Republican front-runner for the 2024 election would have broken American democracy if he could have broken American democracy. And I think we need to take that very seriously.

BERMAN: You say this is not alarmism. You say it's being descriptive.

Do you think people get it? Or which people or institutions now do you think need to get a better grasp on this?

GERSON: Well, the first one is just the Democratic Party. I mean you look at these trends, which I talk about in the piece, and they are going to need to win in places where they're not currently winning. And that means that they're, you know, the median voter that they're seeking is actually to their right. But right now all of the message -- national messaging of the -- of the Democratic Party is on a $3.5 trillion plan which is defined by that number rather than anything that would be done. And I think that they are focused on internal battles within the Democratic Party. They need to be more focused on this external threat and the reality of who they need to reach.

And I think Republicans need to take this seriously, too, like me. This means that at least in the near term it's important for Democrats to win in, for example, the midterm elections. And this is going to require something hard from Republicans, which is to vote strategically for Democrats because parties don't change unless they lose. And the Republican Party, if it goes from victory to victory with this content, with this message, is a true threat to the republic.

BERMAN: Michael Gerson, always glad to share coffee with you, no matter what the cost.


BERMAN: Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

New cases of the mysterious Havana syndrome reported at the U.S. embassy in Colombia, just ahead of a visit this month by the Secretary of state Antony Blinken.

KEILAR: And William Shatner boldly going where Jeff Bezos has gone before. We are counting down to the historic launch of the New Shepherd rocket, next.



KEILAR: Just in to CNN, more than a dozen U.S. officials at the American embassy in Colombia reporting symptoms of Havana syndrome. Family members have been impacted too. All of this ahead of a visit to Bogota this month by the Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

Kylie Atwood here with the latest developments.

It seems like this story just keeps going on and on, different cities, different countries. We're talking as well now about family members.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, this is significant because, as you said, Secretary of State Tony Blinken is planning to go to Colombia later this month and now we are hearing about these reported cases of Havana syndrome, of -- more than a dozen of them among U.S. officials and their family members serving in Colombia.

And this is growing on a trend that we've seen now, Brianna. There are two other incidents in recent months where a top Biden administration official was traveling somewhere internationally and then there were reports of reported symptoms similar to Havana syndrome.

Now, I just want to remind folks what Havana syndrome is. It's this mysterious illness that U.S. officials, diplomat and U.S. intelligence officers have been coming down with since 2016. It hearted in Havana, Cuba, and now it's been happening in countries around the globe. Place like Australia, China, of course, Cuba, where it first started. We reported that it happened in India when the CIA director was there just a few months ago. So this is happening in a broad spectrum of countries right now.

The State Department isn't reporting on these reported incidents that happened in Colombia over the recent weeks, but what they are saying is that everyone who's coming down with these illnesses is getting treatment that they need. They should report any cases that they are expected to be experiencing here.

We know the Biden administration is doubling down on this, right? The CIA director, the director of National Intelligence are both conducting investigations into what is causing this and who could be causing this. Because we have heard former intelligence officers, former U.S. officials, point the finger at Russia, but the U.S. government has not yet said that.


And we also don't know exactly how this is happening to people.

I should just also note, Colombia, it's significant because we know at least one minor was medevaced. Meaning that this isn't just impacting U.S. government officials, but also their families, Brianna.

KEILAR: Kids, minors.

ATWOOD: Exactly.

KEILAR: Unbelievable.

Kylie, thank you so much for that report.

Coming up, some newly released audio recordings from the college admissions scandal that paint a clearer picture of just how this scam worked.

BERMAN: A milestone in the pandemic. The U.S. reopening its Canada and Mexico borders for fully vaccinated travelers.


BERMAN: Newly released audio recordings reveal conversations between the man behind the 2019 college admission scandal, Rick Singer, and his clients. Dozens of phone calls were entered as evidence in the recent trial of John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz, who, on Friday, became the first parents to be found guilty in the scam by a jury.


CNN's Laura Jarrett joins me now with this. This is pretty interesting to listen to.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Yes, John, their elaborate scheme is now infamous, the subject of a Netflix film, dozens of podcasts and a book. But hearing from the parents caught up in this cheating scandal, in their own words, is adding a new level of detail in a case that has already taken down Hollywood actresses, wealthy businessmen, coaches at elite universities and more. The laughter, the awkwardness at times, and the blunt deals all caught on tape.


JARRETT (voice over): Money and phony athletic credentials got their kids into college and now could land these parents behind bars for years.

NATHANIEL MENDELL, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY: Even these defendants, powerful and privileged people, are not above the law. They broke the law and now they face the consequences.

JARRETT: John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz were found guilty on fraud and bribery charges for paying over $2 million to a college admissions consultant named Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the Varsity Blues scheme. Their lawyers tried to argue the families were duped by Singer into making what they thought were legitimate donations to schools. Little did they know, Singer had begun cooperating with the government and the feds caught some of their most brazen conversations on tape.

JOHN WILSON: Yes, so --

RICK SINGER: Cause the athlete -- the athlete gets first priority.

WILSON: The athlete gets first priority and then the legacy will help, and then --


WILSON: Some additional side door money, or do you have to do all three?

JARRETT: The recordings, played for the jury at trial, offering a clear picture of the scam. Wilson paid Singer $220,000 to get his son into USC and $1.5 million for his twin daughters to get into Harvard and Stanford. But Singer said a coach at Stanford advised they couldn't make their plans too obvious.

SINGER: I can send him your 500,000 that you wired into my account to secure the spot for one of your girls.

I asked him for a second spot in sailing, and he said he can't do that because he has to actually recruit some real sailors so that Stanford doesn't catch on.

WILSON: Right.

SINGER: OK, so Stanford --

WILSON: Yes, no. He's got to actually have some sailors, yes.

SINGER: Yes, so that Stanford doesn't catch on to what he's doing.

JARRETT: Abdelaziz paid Singer $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California. Their plan, according to court documents, to claim she was a basketball recruit based on falsified athletic credentials. Singer explained the plan to Abdelaziz over a phone call recorded as part of the investigation, saying a new former athletic department official at USC was involved.

SINGER: I'm not going to tell the IRS anything about the fact that your $300,000 was paid to Donna -- Donna Heinel at USC to get Sabrina into school, even though she was wasn't a legitimate basketball player at that level. So I'm not going to -- I'm not going to say that to the IRS, obviously.


SINGER: You're -- you're OK with that, right?

ABDELAZIZ: Of course.

JARRETT: Donna Heinel was charged in 2019 and has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney told CNN, quote, Rick Singer is a known liar. Nothing he says about my client since he became a government informant can or should be believed.

Abdelaziz and Wilson just two of dozens of parents involved in the scandal, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin, who pleaded guilty and served short prison sentences. Abdelaziz and Wilson are facing up to 20 years in prison now for their involve the.

MENDELL: John Wilson and Gama Abdelaziz used fraud and bribery to get what they wanted. What they did was an affront to hard-working students and parents.


JARRETT: A lawyer for Abdelaziz suggested he will appeal the jury's verdict in this case. Unclear if Wilson will do the same. But, for now, the two face sentencing early next year.

BERMAN: My eyes were popping out of my head listening to that.

JARRETT: I -- I wish the camera could have caught your reaction to these tapes.

BERMAN: I can't believe they said those things out loud.

JARRETT: It's pretty bold.

BERMAN: I mean the guy laughing, we actually -- Stanford's got to let in some sailors.

Oh, my goodness.

All right, Laura, thank you so much for that.


NEW DAY continues right now.

KEILAR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, October 13th. And I am Brianna Keilar with John Berman on this NEW DAY.

Some breaking news, the United States is entering a new phase in the pandemic comeback after a nearly 19-month freeze. The White House will reopen the borders next month to all fully vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico.

BERMAN: You are Brianna Keilar.


BERMAN: I can confirm that as a second source.

KEILAR: Thank you.


BERMAN: This border thing is a huge deal for people with families across the border, loved ones they could not see.