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Biden Defends Decision To Withdraw U.S. Troops From Afghanistan Despite Dangerous Gains By The Taliban; The Entire U.S. Now Being Put At Risk By Five Cluster Of The Country With Low Vaccination Rates; 60 Confirmed Dead, 80 Unaccounted For In Condo Collapse As Search Transitions From Rescue To Recovery Mode; Sources: Dems Looking To Avoid "Circus" With Jan 6 Select Committee. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 08, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Officials say even though traveler numbers were down, the rate of confiscated guns has soared. One factor they say, a high number of first-time fliers and others who are out of practice.

Offenders face fines and criminal prosecution. And it can also slow down the screening process for everyone else.

I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage with Wolf Blitzer in the "Situation Room" starts now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden defends the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan sounding defiant about his decision to end America's longest war even as the Taliban are resurgent and gaining ground.

Also, tonight, new evidence of the escalating danger from the Delta variant. Coronavirus cases jumping in the United States. And Japan now declaring a COVID emergency forcing a ban on spectators at the Olympics two weeks away.

That as the search continues in Surfside Florida, the mayor is urging other condos, urging them to get inspected amid fears of another collapse. We're standing by for a briefing by local officials this hour.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.

Let's begin over at the White House with CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, President Biden is clearly adamant, totally adamant about all U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Biden did offer a robust defense of his decision. He said the two overriding objectives had been met that is hunting down Osama bin Laden and rooting out the al Qaeda terrorists that attacked the U.S. back on 9/11. Now, Biden, of course, is a longtime skeptic of this war. He said quite frankly, this decision was overdue. Afghanistan, he said, must set its own course and defend its country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not send another generation Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden delivering an impassioned case to end America's longest war.

BIDEN: The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies, creating a response to the world as it was 20 years ago.

ZELENY (voice-over): The President vowing to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of August, despite resurgent Taliban forces gaining territory moving closer to Kabul.

BIDEN: For those who have argued that we should stay to six more months or just one more year, I asked them to consider the lessons of recent history.

ZELENY (voice-over): In a defensive and defiant appearance in the East Room of the White House, the President making good on a campaign promise and a long-held belief that Afghanistan must control its own destiny.

BIDEN: One warrior fight in Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It's up to the Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.

ZELENY (voice-over): And its biggest decision yet as commander in chief, Biden insisted a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable. He pointed to 300,000 Afghan troops trained and equipped by the U.S. that are in place to secure the country. But he grew testy when asked whether we trust the Taliban?

BIDEN: No, I do not trust the Taliban. It's a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No. But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.

ZELENY (voice-over): Biden is the fourth American president to contend with the intractable conflict of Afghanistan. He brushed aside criticism from what even some military leaders have suggested is a dangerously swift exit.

BIDEN: So let me ask those who want us to stay, how many more, how many 1000s more Americans daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?

Already, we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter? ZELENY (voice-over): The President said he was committed to finding safe passage for 1000s of Afghan interpreters whose lives are in grave danger.

BIDEN: Our message to those women and men is clear, there is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.

ZELENY (voice-over): Biden, who argued against the trip (ph) surge as vice president during the Obama administration, he spoke with an Arab confidence, but with a somber tone at the cost of the long war.

BIDEN: No, there's no mission accomplished.

The mission was accomplished and that we get -- got Osama bin Laden, and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world.


ZELENY: Now despite even some of the criticism, there's no second guessing here at the White House. President Biden has long believed that this Afghanistan war has gone on too long.

But Wolf, the next five weeks or so our critical, is that all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by August 31. But other decisions do remain. That is, do drone strikes, will they be on the table to control some Taliban forces there to sort of keep them in check? Also, will there be civilian control of the airport?


So, there are clearly are many military decisions left to be made over the next five weeks. But Wolf, no question. President Biden confident in his decision that this was a long war, he said, should have been ended years ago.

BLITZER: And they're moving quickly right now. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very much.

CNN's Anna Coren is in Afghanistan for us. She's on the scene live from Kabul. She's joining us right now.

So, what's the latest over there, Anna? What's the situation? How's the reaction unfolding?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, people here really feel that now is not the right time for America to leave. And the reason being is the rapid advances that the Taliban are making across the country. We know that they're they've claimed more than 160 districts, particularly in the north, bordering Iran, bordering the Central Asian countries. It really has been alarming the speed at which the Taliban have been taking over.

And of course, there's a propaganda war underway as well, that that's feeding into that fear. But as we heard from President Biden, he said that the Afghan national forces are capable to fight back. And look, we are seeing these fights play out and then they send in airstrikes and commandos and they regain that territory. But we are talking about an area in the country in the countryside that was never the heartland of the Taliban. And yet we are seeing, you know, security forces surrender, hand over weapons, U.S. funded weapons that, we should choose should add.

So, really, Wolf, for people certainly here in the capital, Kabul, there is a great deal of fear about what awaits. Obviously, the talk of civil war is on the cards and the President alluded to that. But he said, it is up to the people of Afghanistan and particularly the government to come together to unite, to read corruption, which, as we know, is endemic in this country, and to decide their own future, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the president, President Biden, moving quickly as I said to get all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, irrespective of what the Afghan leadership wants.

So be careful over there. Anna Coren is on the scene for us in Afghanistan. We'll check back with you.

Let's discuss what's going on with the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. He served under President Bill Clinton. And before that was a Republican senator from Maine.

Senator -- Mr. Secretary, I should say, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, the White House says this war, quote, "has not been one militarily" after nearly two decades in Afghanistan. Did you ever think you'd see the U.S. withdraw so rapidly at a time when the Taliban is clearly gaining a lot of ground?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, we've known for some time that there is no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. And I think one of the hardest decisions the President has to make, or the Secretary of Defense, I know, whenever I had to sign a deployment order, I had to weigh in my own mind, where am I sending this young man or woman? And are they in danger? What are the risks? What is the benefit to the United States?

And I think President Biden weighed that and said, it's time to come back. And if they're not ready after 20 years of, when are they ever going to be ready, I think is the issue. And the President, basically, I have mixed emotions about it, because I worry about what will take place.

On the other hand, we have more really conflicts to deal with. We've got a rising China, an aggressive Russia, we've got domestic terrorism here at home, that present a greater threat to American security than the Taliban do at this point. So, I support what President Biden has said and done.

I hope we carry through on the obligation to bring those interpreters, those people who are allied with us and align themselves with us and fought with us bring them to the United States. We have that moral obligation. And I think the President has made the right decision.

And I remember Don Rumsfeld who passed away just recently, he said, that was one of his rules. Don't criticize your predecessor and don't criticize your successor, because you don't walk in their shoes. And I've tried to follow that rule.

In this particular case, I've listened to President Biden today, I know Secretary Austin, I know that he would give him really the best possible military advice. Understanding that the risk is still there and it may get higher as we near the departure of the American troops. I frankly would have preferred a slower withdrawal and no specific date, but the President has made that decision, and so we are going to go through with it.


BLITZER: The U.S. will go through with it.

The President, President Biden said today, Mr. Secretary, this war has cost U.S. taxpayers more than a trillion dollars large part of that training the Afghan military, have cost the United States a 2,448 American lives, more than 20,000 American troops wounded, many of them coming back severely wounded. Was it worth it?

COHEN: Well, I would point out that these men and women who were served us were following the orders in the direction of the commander in chief saying this was in our national security interest. We should say that many Afghans benefited enormously from our presence, from our investment in treasure and blood. Many women have been educated, many women now have careers that they can pursue, not only Afghanistan, but certainly elsewhere. So there has been benefit.

The problem is that if you're going to try to change the culture and the tradition of a country like Afghanistan, 20 years, as long as it is, isn't long enough. You have to have many more troops, you'd have to have a much longer commitment over 50 years or longer in order to change the culture and custom if you're trying to really change the nature of what Afghanistan has been. Because it's not a 21st century country, it's not a 20th century country.

So, the task was, can we help? And we've done enormous good on behalf of the Afghan people. But ultimately, this is not America's war to lose. It was never ours to win. It's up to the Afghan people to win if they can.

BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens because it's a very, very dangerous situation that's unfolding right now. Irrespective of the fact that the Afghan military has 300,000 troops, but many of them are simply disappearing. They're not up to a fight. The Taliban is gaining ground all the time. We'll see how the civil war finishes up.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

COHEN: My pleasure.

BLITZER: And stay with us. We're awaiting this evening's update on the search over at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. We'll have live coverage.

Also ahead, new worries that the entire U.S. may be at risk of a new coronavirus surge because of five clusters in the country with low vaccination rates.



BLITZER: We're following a very troubling trend of the coronavirus pandemic as U.S. cases are up almost 11 percent from last week as the aggressive Delta variant spreads. CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us.

Brian, health officials are increasingly alarmed.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are Wolf. The top health officials on the President's Coronavirus Task Force issued fresh warnings today about the Delta variant. This strain is now threatening to undo some of the progress the country has made in recent months.


TODD (voice-over): An ominous warning tonight from top health officials and experts, the new Delta variant of COVID-19 has gained dangerous traction in America and poses a serious threat.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The Delta variant is assuming more and more dominance in this country particularly in those areas of low vaccinations.

TODD (voice-over): The Delta variant is a more contagious strain of coronavirus first identified in India that's been spreading rapidly across the U.S. and around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This week, the Delta variant is estimated to be the most prevalent variant in the United States, representing over 50 percent of sequence samples across the country up from 26 percent from the week ending June 19.

TODD (voice-over): And the variant is driving some other scary numbers. Johns Hopkins University says almost half the states have seen an uptick of at least 10 percent in COVID cases over the past week.

Tonight, areas of the U.S. with low vaccination rates are a particular concern. Researchers at Georgetown University have identified five significant clusters of unvaccinated people primarily in the southeastern U.S. stretching into Texas and Missouri. Experts warn those areas could be especially vulnerable to outbreaks and could allow new variants to develop.

President Biden's team changing its strategy in recent days, focusing on a more targeted approach to get people vaccinated. BIDEN: Now we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and off times door to door, literally knocking on doors to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus.

TODD (voice-over): One expert says it's time for the Biden administration to consider vaccine mandates.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The unvaccinated also affect the vaccinated. If you are a vaccine person, but you're living among a lot of unvaccinated individuals, your chance of having a breakthrough infection increases. Your chances of infecting others around you who are unvaccinated also increases.

By the way the more unvaccinated people there are, the longer this pandemic is going to be.

TODD (voice-over): Low vaccination rates also plaguing Japan where only 15 percent of the population has been inoculated. Japan has declared a state of emergency for the capital city.

As a result, organizers of this year's summer Olympics in that city say they had no choice but to make a dramatic decision. The Tokyo Olympics will have no in person spectators.

SEIKO HASHIMOTO, TOKYO 2020 PRESIDENT: There are people who are looking forward to the games. To these people, I am so sorry.

TODD (voice-over): Journalist Christine Brennan, who's covering the games says even without spectators, there's another significant risk.


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I think the most troublesome area is the fact that vaccines will not be mandatory for the athletes and the officials who are coming in from around the world for these Olympic Games.


TODD: Now, as the pandemic did at its height in America, it is now being felt again in the U.S. economy. Fears of how this delta variant could affect certain businesses led to a sharp decline on Wall Street today, all three major indexes down, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 260 points, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd, reporting for us.

Let's get some more in all of this, very disturbing information. The former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden is joining us right now.

Dr. Frieden, thanks for joining us.

Could these clusters, clusters of unvaccinated communities around the country set the whole country back in the fight against the pandemic? DR. TOM FRIEDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, RESOLVE TO SAVE LIVES, AN INSTITUTE OF VITAL STRATEGIES: Wolf, we're increasingly becoming two countries divided by COVID. In parts of the U.S. where vaccination rates are high, cases are low and not increasing. In other parts of the country or in communities where there isn't a high vaccination rate we're already seeing increases. And I anticipate in the coming weeks we'll see further increases followed, sadly, by more hospitalizations and more deaths.

The good news, though, is that our vaccines work extremely well even against the Delta variant. So, if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated because it is our way out of this pandemic.

BLITZER: Dr. Fauci also says the vaccine will protect people from the now dominant Delta variant if they are fully vaccinated. But does your risk level change, Dr. Frieden, depending on the overall vaccination rate in your particular community?

FRIEDEN: If there is intensive spread in a community, it is possible that people will be at greater risk of breakthrough infections. So far, what we're seeing around the world is that the vaccines that we're using in the U.S. are nearly 100 percent protective, nothing is 100 percent, but they're close to 100 percent protective against severe illness or death.

However, if you have a weaker immune system, you may be at greater risk for a breakthrough infection. We don't yet know whether new variants that emerge after delta will be a problem. What we do know is that the vaccines we're using today are highly effective against Delta, which is now the dominant strain across the U.S. The more people get vaccinated, the sooner the better we can do the fewer deaths, the less economic dislocation and disruption.

BLITZER: Just get a shot. It might save your life, your friend's lives, your family's lives. It's so important.

The CDC, Dr. Frieden, just put out their new ensemble forecast showing new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths will stabilize over the next month here in the U.S. So previously, those numbers had been declining. Is this potentially, potentially the beginning of a new wave?

FRIEDEN: I think we will inevitably see significant increases in parts of the country that have low vaccination rates. Wolf, if you look at Israel and the United Kingdom, which have very high vaccination rates, despite their high rates, they've had surges with the Delta variant. And now in the United Kingdom, they're seeing also some increase in hospitalizations.

The bottom line is delta makes it even more urgent that more people get vaccinated as soon as possible. And one thing that's important about Delta, one powerful study suggests that a single dose of the mRNA two dose vaccines isn't very protective. So, not only do you need to get vaccinated, but you need to get vaccinated soon because you need to get both doses than wait the two weeks after the second dose. BLITZER: So important. Experts are split on whether the U.S. should be doing more testing among fully vaccinated people to catch any breakthrough cases of the Delta variant. What do we need to keep -- what do we need to keep in mind as far as this is concerned?

FRIEDEN: We need real time data on who is getting severe breakthrough infections. Is it older people? Is it people with certain immune compromising conditions? There's just not enough information in the scientific literature about that.

And that's crucially important for us to know, are there people who should get a booster dose? There's no evidence that anyone today needs a booster dose. But if there's evidence that comes to light because there are people getting breakthrough infections, that's really important in terms of diagnosing people and preventing further infection.

BLITZER: Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, thanks so much for joining us.

FRIEDEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're standing by for a news conference in Surfside, Florida on the condo collapse. We expect new information on the recovery effort. That's next.



BLITZER: A news conference is expected to get underway at any moment now updating us on the recovery effort at the site of the collapse condo in Surfside Florida. CNN's Leyla Santiago is on the scene for us.

Leyla, so what is the very latest right now?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you the death toll has jumped to 60 and 80 or feared death. At this point, we are expecting to get new numbers and an update over the next few minutes. We'll keep you up to date on that. But today, it has been the first day of the recovery mission.

At midnight, this shifted from search and rescue to recovery for those workers. And if you stand here and pay close attention, you really can see a difference. There are more -- there is more equipment on that pile. And so, you're seeing a much more accelerated pace for this searched.


For the families who still have loved ones in there, I have spoken to some who say, you know, they had already lost hope before the announcement was made, that this would become a recovery mission. But we were here, when we saw a lot of other family and loved ones coming out, still really struggling to accept what was announced that that officials essentially don't believe that anyone could still be alive under the rubble. I spoke with the one firefighter who said they will continue to search until they can bring everyone home.

Last night, they actually had a moment of silence.


CAPT. KEN PAGUREK, PENNSYLVANIA TASK FORCE 1: When their service was done, we went right back to work, because this is our job. Our job is to do the best that we can as quickly as possible to remove anybody, any victim that's remaining in that building, so that we can bring them home to their loved ones. And then we can go home to ours.


SANTIAGO: And Wolf, the mayor of Miami-Dade today also took some time to make sure and let families know that they are still searching very carefully. And with compassion is the word she use to describe it. In fact, she said that when a they have a tent set up on site, and when a Jewish body is found, they say a prayer and then follow very specific protocols to make sure that families are comfortable and understand that they are caring for their loved ones.

BLITZER: What's the latest Leyla on investigating the cause of this horrendous collapse two weeks ago?

SANTIAGO: Sure. Well, we understand that the top local official has asked the top local county prosecutor rather has asked a grand jury to investigate what caused this and not only has she asked the grand jury to look into the cause, but also ways to prevent this from happening in the future. But Wolf, I remember standing here, hours after this happened, and we were all asking that same question from the beginning. Officials have said there will be multiple investigations, but those will be investigations that will take time.

BLITZER: Leyla Santiago, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

Joining us now Josh and Rachel Spiegel, their mother, Judy is among the 80 people still unaccounted for. I met with both of them last week when I was down there.

Rachel, and Josh, thank you so much for doing this. I know how painful and difficult it must be. It's been what two weeks since the building collapse? First of all, Rachel, how were you doing especially given that they've now declared this a recovery mission?

RACHEL SPIEGEL, MOTHER LOST IN CONDO COLLAPSE: I think for us, it's still been really hard. I don't think any of us are doing well of my dad, especially. Not doing well, you know, even though they changed it from rescue to recovery, we still have the same notion that we want to be reunited with my mom, no matter what the outcome, and we are not going to stop until we find her.

BLITZER: Josh, you're a trauma surgeon. How are you holding up?

JOSH SPIEGEL, MOTHER LOST IN CONDO COLLAPSE: I'm trying to keep my work experience out of this. And in all honesty, there's nothing like this that's ever happened. And we're experiencing it firsthand, unfortunately. And we're trying to get through it as a family.

BLITZER: Rachel, have you gotten any word at all about your mom, from officials down there?

R. SPIEGEL: We've heard nothing. We were however, on the family meeting just now, we were actually in this room on the call. And they did confirm on the meeting that they have found 64 loved ones. They said that they I believe it was either 39 or 40. folks that have been -- the families have been informed, but there's still many people I guess they're doing the DNA testing and, and still processing various factors. But it does give us hope that, you know, maybe our mom has been found and we haven't been notified yet. Or, you know, we believe that that the team is doing everything in their power to continue to find the missing. And we just really -- we're hopeful that we'll have an answer soon.

BLITZER: Yes, we hope and pray together with you. Josh, how do you try to grieve as a family when you still don't have the answers?

J. SPIEGEL: It's extremely difficult and I think every one of us is going through things a little bit different which makes it also a struggle. We're trying to keep our own mental sanity while also trying to support each other and that's something that's extremely difficult. But we're a strong family and we thank our mom for that. And --


R. SPIEGEL: But there's no rulebook for this, you know, this is really challenging, almost unheard of, I mean, really unheard of. And, you know, we're definitely struggling through it. I mean, we have a great support system for one another. But I mean, all of us are going in roller coaster as at different paces, in different ways. And, and it's really hard to navigate.

J. SPIEGEL: It's extremely difficult.

BLITZER: Well, I -- we had a chance to meet when I was there in Surfside, and I can only I think speak for all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. We've send -- we send our love. We know your mom and dad have been married for almost 40 years. And Judy Spiegel is a very, very special woman. And we're praying together with you, I know you've been dealing with this. It's just an awful situation. And, you know, we just pray and hope that you guys go, we'll get through this and move on. But Josh and Rachel, is there any final word you want to say before I let you go?

J. SPIEGEL: We just want everyone to continue to pray for my mom, get the word out about her and how amazing she is. And we just thank all the first responders and everyone who has been helping in this extreme, extreme effort to find everybody.

R. SPIEGEL: And we need to just support my dad, because, you know, obviously my mom is the rock of the family. But as you just said, you know, my parents have been married almost 40 years. I don't -- and they have a wonderful, wonderful marriage, I think, life for my dad moving forward. I think that we all haven't really been able to grieve and yet because we don't really have that final answer. But I think that life moving forward is going to be really different and, and strange and weird.

And, you know, we're going to need to lean on each other and our friends, you know, the friends that we've had for a lifetime and the new friends that we've made through this journey. But we have really appreciate your love and support. So thank you.

BLITZER: Well, we do love you. And we do send all of our thoughts and prayers with you and your dad, your other brother. And we just wish, you know, obviously the best. Thanks to both of you for joining us. We'll stay in very close touch.

R. SPIEGEL: Thank you so much.

J. SPIEGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we'll have more news right after this.



BLITZER: Right now we're learning more about the Democrats strategy for the upcoming House Select Committee investigation of the January 6 insurrection up on Capitol Hill. Sources say the Democrats are looking for ways to keep the committee from becoming a partisan circus.

Let's discuss with CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip. She's the host of CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

Abby, how did they do that? Is that wishful thinking from keeping this special committee becoming very political?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it will be very, very difficult. I think there are a lot of Democrats, first of all, who really do want to get to the bottom of the part that of this that is like a live wire, which is Trump's role in getting to the insurrection. And that's going to be very difficult for Republicans to swallow, even though it might be necessary. I do think, though, that what you're hearing from Democrats is that they want to follow the facts. And if they take a methodical pathway to this, if they avoid the kind of circus atmosphere that you saw during the Benghazi hearings, it might very well be possible, but it will be very difficult.

BLITZER: We know Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader and the House is going to name five Republicans to this select committee. (INAUDIBLE) presumably a little bit of a different agenda than the Democrats.

PHILLIP: Absolutely. I mean, the agenda is to play defense for Donald Trump and to, to actually it seems to obscure what really happened in the January 6 insurrection. A couple things I would be looking out for one, you got Republicans trying to make this broader than just about the people who were there on January 6, they want to make it about Black Lives Matter and Antifa. That's a big factor in all of this.

And the second thing is, is a hyper focus on the decisions of people like Speaker Pelosi and others who were in positions of power leading up to the insurrection. Those are things are important, but it's not the whole picture. And I think you'll see Republicans trying to focus pretty narrowly on some of those other things in order to distract frankly, some of the other issues.

BLITZER: On select committee, will continue for months and months. Abby, thank you very, very much.

Also, tonight, the seven suspects have been killed following the assassination of Haiti's president. CNN's Matt Rivers is joining us with all the late breaking developments.

Matt, we're learning new details about this brazen killing. What's the latest?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is such an ongoing situation, Wolf, that it seems like every hour that goes by we're getting new information from a Haitian government authorities. What we've heard from the country's police chief is now as you mentioned, seven different suspects that allegedly took part in this brutal assassination have been killed by the country's security forces. Four of them died during a gun battle, and three of them later died of their injuries at the hospital later on.

We also know a number of different people are have been detained as a result of their alleged role in this including at least one American citizen in all this, Wolf. But beyond that, in terms of motive in terms of the amount of foreign nationals involved, we're not exactly sure we know a number of the people that have been killed and/or detained are foreign nationals. We know like I said, one at least one American and involved, but --


BLITZER: Matt hold on for a moment, Matt we're going to get back to you. But the mayor of Miami- Dade, Daniella Levine Cava is making a statement.

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MAYOR, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: -- operation continues throughout the day 15. We're here at the end of day 15. Since our last briefing, our first responders have continued to work on the pile with great skill and ongoing urgency. They're using the heavy equipment, the heavy machinery and their manpower and woman power to sift through the rubble. And today, they have recovered four more victims. The total number of confirmed fatalities is now 64. There are 40 identifications and 39 next of kin identifications, 200 people are accounted for, 76 are still potentially unaccounted for.

Our detectives have continued as they've done for the last two weeks to audit and verify every single report that has been received. And they're working to identify those who've recovered -- who are recovered as quickly as possible.

So reporting these numbers has not gotten any easier. Please join me in keeping these families in your prayers.

Today we did bring some of the families who have lost loved ones to the site for a visit at their request. We held a moment of silence with our first responders. They pause their work on the pile briefly to honor the victims and their families. And they received an aerial salute by the Miami-Dade County Police Department. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, is a key partner on the site as you've heard, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them. They have been working very hard, they brought in incredible personnel, expertise and support. And they have tagged 182 specimens from the evidentiary debris at the original collapse structure and additional 32 from the demolished building.

Their teams have been scanning the site with LIDAR twice a day and flying drones to collect essential imaging that will support the fact finding process. The public also has a very important role to play in this investigation. So if you have any photos, if you have any videos related to the collapse, please visit NIST online portal at NIST at You can scroll down to the Champlain Tower Self Collapse link to submit those materials. The wonderful team that is staffing the Family Assistance Center is continuing to provide critical services to the family in need of care and compassion. And just today, they served 33 families. So that brings our total to almost 200 families served at the Family Assistance Center.

I want to thank all of the organizations that have joined us there. It's over 25 who are on site today. It's truly a community wide response and everyone has gone above and beyond to service the community's families during this incredibly difficult moment.


BLITZER: All right, there you're heard the mayor of Miami-Dade County Daniella Levine Cava with the new numbers, very sad numbers, four additional bodies were actually found today that brings the number of confirmed dead to 64, 76 people are still unaccounted for. But this is a recovery operation right now. No longer a rescue operation. Seventy- six people still unaccounted for, 64 confirmed dead. Our deepest condolences to their families.

There's other news we're following tonight as well. And by the way, we'll be speaking next hour with the mayor.

But there's other news that we're following right now, the White House facing ethics concerns over paintings by President Biden's son Hunter, some of them are about to go up for sale at a considerably high prices.

CNN Washington correspondent Sunlen Serfaty has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These paintings by President Biden son Hunter are sparking ethics concerns for the White House. Hunter's artwork is set to be displayed and sold this fall at private and invite only showings in Los Angeles and New York City. Price between $75,000 to half a million dollars per piece. Some ethics experts are crying foul.


WALTER SHAUB JR., SENIOR ETHICS FELLOW, THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: It just is implausible that this art permanent unknown artists would be selling at this price if it didn't have the Biden name attached to it. The cachet that comes with buying this art is getting to say that you own are created by the president son.

SERFATY (voice-over): Sources tell CNN the White House has been involved in forming a deal between a Soho New York gallery owner, George Burgess, and Hunter Biden to attempt to address any ethics concerns. Two sources familiar with the arrangement say, neither Hunter Biden or the administration will have any knowledge of who has bid or purchased the artwork, it will be kept anonymous. And if there is any unusual behavior like the offer price is too high, the gallery is expected to turn down the offer.

SHAUB: Now they've created opportunities for people to try to get preferential treatment without even having to pay the price. This is just really an amateur mistake.

SERFATY (voice-over): At the start of his administration, President Biden vowed to avoid even the perception of conflicts of interest.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Here's how I look at it. I said the foul line is 15 feet away from the basket, never get me closer than 17 feet, because it really is a matter of the public trust.

SERFATY (voice-over): In response to concerns over the sale of Hunter's art, the White House in a statement to CNN says, the President has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history, and his family's commitment to rigorous processes like this is a prime example.

On the gallery website, Hunter's biography does not mention that he is the son of the President, instead detailing his art style and describing him as someone who has devoted his artistic career to the visual arts. In the past, Hunter has been open with his battle with drug addiction and has suggested that art helps, telling the New York Times that painting puts my energy towards something positive. It keeps me away from people in places where I shouldn't be.


SERFATY: And President Biden has faced scrutiny over his son's actions before namely Hunter Biden's business dealings, which was a big issue during the presidential campaign. And Hunter Biden, Wolf still, of course, also faces a federal tax investigation currently. BLITZER: I know Sunlen, you've been doing a lot of reporting about this. What can you tell us about the latest ethics rules over at the Biden White House?

SERFATY: Yes, early on in the administration, very early on, the President signed an executive order that basically really tried to avoid even the appearance the perception of any impropriety. So that was something that they worked on, early on, but of course, all of this calls into question, all of those things that he of course, was very leaning forward, leaning in on brilliant administrators.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you very, very much. Sunlen Serfaty reporting for us.

This Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN premieres the New Original Series "HISTORY OF THE SITCOM" and I like all of you, I love a lot of the classic sitcoms. One of my personal favorite moments was from this 1996 episode of Murphy Brown with Candice Bergen, when I was CNN's White House correspondent. Watch this.


BLITZER (on-camera): Murphy, how do you think it's going so far?

MURPHY: Oh, I will. Nice job on the triplets number.

BLITZER (on-camera): Thanks. But just between you and me, Jim couldn't carry a tune if it had handles on it.

MURPHY: You know what I've been meaning to tell you. You've been doing a terrific job covering the White House. Yes, (INAUDIBLE), CNN is lucky to have you. You know, I've been piecing together a little story myself. I wonder if you could help me on it.

BLITZER (on-camera): Sure. What do you need?

MURPHY: Who push me out? I've got to know, I've got a long list of suspects, but I don't have time to check them out.

BLITZER (on-camera): So, you're barking up the wrong tree. I really can't help you.

MURPHY: OK, OK. Look, you're working for a cable outfit. They're probably not paying you that much. I'll give you 50 bucks. And you, wasn't it Blitzer, I'm going to get you for this.


BLITZER: Be sure to watch "HISTORY OF THE SITCOM" this Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern only here on CNN. We got a future in a sitcom business.

Meanwhile, very serious news coming up, the coronavirus Delta variant is now fueling a very disturbing new rise and COVID-19 cases in the United States. They're up almost 11% in just one week.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Pfizer now says it seeing waning immunity from its COVID-19 vaccine. Are Americans protected and are booster shots likely in the months ahead.

Also, the confirmed death toll from the condo collapse in Florida just went up to 64. When will officials have a full accounting of the victims? I'll ask Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

And President Biden steers clear of declaring mission accomplished in Afghanistan as he reveals at end date for America's longest war, the resurgence of the Taliban leading to a rather testy exchange during his announcement.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we begin with breaking news. Pfizer now revealing that it seemed waning immunity from its COVID vaccine. The company says it's picking up efforts to develop a booster shot to protect against the spread of variants including the aggressive Delta strain.


Our national correspondent Athena Jones is tracking it all for us.