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DHS Warns of Potential Violence at Pro-January 6 Rally Saturday; January 6 Committee Seeks Docs on General Milley's Actions after Book Bombshells; New Indictment in Special Counsel Probe of Trump-Russia Investigations Origins; Biden Warns U.S. Economy at "Inflection Point" as He Pushes $3.5 Trillion Economic Package. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And just hours after surrendering, a South Carolina lawyer is released on bail on a bizarre case. He's accused of hiring a hit man to kill himself as part of botched insurance fraud scheme. It's now raising questions about the deaths of his wife, son and the family housekeeper.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in The Situation Room.

Let's go right to the Capitol and a new warning about potential violence on Saturday. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is following the breaking story. Ryan, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new intelligence bulletin a short while ago.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Jim. Even though Capitol Police feel that they have everything under control ahead of this Justice for J6 rally on Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security warning all local law enforcement involved in protecting the Capitol that even though there is new online chatter for violence that could occur Saturday, they need to be prepared for things to get out of control as soon as tomorrow.


NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, former President Donald Trump is stoking tensions two days before a rally that has forced Capitol Hill into lockdown, Trump offering up support for hundreds of people in prison and accused of storming the Capitol on January 6th.

In a statement, Trump claimed the accused for victims of a two-tiered system of justice and reiterated his false claims about the 2020 election. Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protests concerning the rigged presidential election, Trump wrote. His statement comes as workers quickly started erecting a massive temporary fence around the U.S. Capitol, turning what was once the most accessible and public landmark in Washington into an impenetrable fortress all for a rally this Saturday that organizers concede might not even draw 1,000 people.

MATT BRAYNARD, JUSTICE FOR J6 RALLY ORGANIZER: The official number we put down is 700.

NOBLES: The intense security posture is the byproduct of the very event these protesters are coming to Washington for, the January 6th insurrection, something security officials did not see coming and were unprepared to handle. They've promised Capitol Hill leadership that this time things will be different.

CHIEF TOM MANGER, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: We just brief him about the demonstration that's scheduled for September 18th, just the intelligence information that we're aware of and a little bit about our operational plan about what we plan to do.

NOBLES: The Capitol Police are not taking any chances in part because this group is coming to call for the release of hundreds of people charged with their role on that deadly day. The TSA is ramping up security in airports. The National Guard and local D.C. Police have been asked to be on standby.

There are worries some of the protesters may be armed, that could be inspired by GOP lawmakers like Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz and Andrew Clyde who, despite being among those being under attack on January 6th, now empathize with the rioters.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This overthrows the government fetish that exists, I don't understand it except there is a lot of bored people out there that probably never served a day in their life in the military and get to play dress-up.

NOBLES: Not one sitting Republican member of Congress is scheduled to attend. A few GOP candidates challenging Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will be there. And one congressman, Ralph Norman, will speak at an event hundreds of miles away in his home state of South Carolina.

Still, that is not enough for some in Congress who believe both Republicans and Democrats should be speaking with a common voice and denouncing those who seek to excuse the conduct of those who participated in the January 6th riot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Capitol will be protected. But I find it any elected official who doesn't call out and denounce these protesters tomorrow, I think does a great disservice to our country.


NOBLES (on camera): And even though the former president, Donald Trump, issued that statement in support of those who remain accused of their role on January 6th, he's not expected to be here or play any role of any kind on Saturday, much like every other Republican member of Congress who has said that they are not going to be here as well. Jim, that's a big difference from what we saw here on January 6th. Of course, it was that big stop the steal rally led by the former president that served as the prelude to the January 6th insurrection. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks for that. Let's get more on all of this with our Counterterrorism Phil Mudd and our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe, he's the former FBI deputy director and Author of The Threat, How The FBI Protects America in the age of Terror and Trump.

Andrew, let me start with you. The Department of Homeland Security is warning about potential violence at Saturday's rally and potentially tomorrow ahead of this rally as well. How unpredictable is this threat right now?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, well, I think we know that the threat is very unpredictable, right?


So, but I think what you are seeing from DHS and likely from other partners in the D.C. law enforcement community is they are providing the sorts of warnings, they're taking the chatter that they're hearing, the intelligence they're coming across, they're taking it very seriously. It raises an important question about what sort of intelligence did they see before January 6th and what sort of assessments or assumptions did they make then? But, hopefully, that will be answered for us by the investigative committee at some point in the future.

Nevertheless, Saturday is upon us. DHS wants to make sure all the law enforcement folks involved in this operation have the most cutting edge recent intel that they're seeing and I think they're doing the right thing.

ACOSTA: And, Phil, this DHS intelligence briefing warns lone offenders and small groups can, quote, mobilize to violence with little to no warning. I mean, that is a big concern. Even if you have a small crowd, you could have somebody under who could cause great harm. Does that speak to the challenges of stopping this from getting out of control?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. And let me give you -- I think you're right. Let me give you a quick picture of what I would be worried about and why that factors into it in the next couple of days. This might be 95 percent predictable. There is going to be a ton of intelligence looking at this. For example, individuals you know who are suspects, suspected of committing an act of violence watching in social media. In an extreme case, you might have intelligence coverage of them.

If there is a group that's been involved in acts of violence or thinking of acts of violence in the past, you might be surveilling them on the internet, watching their chat rooms or, again, in an extreme case, having intelligence on them, people like informants.

You can look at a pattern of activity, Jim, and say, look, we see when these guys are arriving, where they're arriving. We see the tone of what they're talking about, whether they are talking about violence. But if you have got, let's say, 700 to a thousand people, that which is the range that some -- the estimates, if 5 percent of those people go outside the range you anticipate, if they bring a type of weapon that you didn't anticipate, if they intend to go to the Capitol in a violent way, boy, all of a sudden, all bets are off. There is a lot of unpredictability here, Jim.

ACOSTA: Andrew, amid these heightened tensions, you have former President Trump putting out statement sympathizing with the cause of this rally in support of the January 6th attackers. It is almost like he wants to see a big crowd down at the Capitol on Saturday even though he's not showing up himself. Do you fear that these protesters are seeing this as a call to action?

MCCABE: Well, there is no question that this group responds quickly and decisively to the words in the exhortation of the former president. So anything that he says to support this rally, to throw another log on the fire of discontent and conspiracy theories, is a bad thing for our safety and security around the rally.

I think it's -- you know, it's notable that he likely wants this to be a big, chaotic, disastrous mess, but he doesn't want it so bad to show up and take part in it. He's probably afraid of getting in trouble for having that sort of involvement. So, once again, you know the president is trying to manipulate things from behind the curtain.

ACOSTA: Right. He didn't walk down to the Capitol on January 6th, as he said he was going to in that speech on January 6th.

MCCABE: That's right.

ACOSTA: Phil, the former president says these January 6th rioters are being, quote, persecuted so unfairly, end quote. I mean, come on. They're rioters. They should be in jail, right?

MUDD: Well, if somebody invades my house tonight, an act of trespass, hopefully, a cop is going to show up and say, you're arrested, and hopefully a judge and maybe jury says you violated the law. You go to prison. How hard is that? People show up not at my house, but at the people's house. They break windows, they break in, they trespass to the people's house and we're supposed to say, that's fundamentally different than trespassing in my house? And, by the way, it is not political. It is not the Congress. It is not the White House. It is judges and juries who, if you look at the court documents, are saying, you have got to be kidding me.

Jim, just to close, I don't think this is about just the rally. I think this is about 2024. We had Make America Great Again. We had Keep America Great. This is about Make America Free Again. The president is going to start telling people they stole the election, and they stole your right to speak in the Capitol. I'm here to protect your freedoms. I think this is political and election-oriented, Jim.

ACOSTA: What do you think?

MCCABE: Yes, there is no question. I think Phil hit it spot-on. That's -- this is entirely in support of a political narrative. He's hoping to lure people in to basically do his bidding at these rallies to keep this grievance, this lie alive. And we'll find out tomorrow if that actually how it plays out.

ACOSTA: The big lie just won't die. That is where we are tonight, no question about it. Thanks so much to both of you, Phil and Andrew. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, the January 6th committee turns its attention to America's top general as a new book says he took secret action fearing President Trump was in mental decline. You're in The Situation Room.



ACOSTA: We're following breaking news on a new homeland security warning of potential violence at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday when supporters of the January 6th rioters plan to rally. This comes as former President Trump is once again embracing and encouraging the insurrectionists.

Joining me now is Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. He's a member of Judiciary and Foreign Relation Committees. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

Let me just start with that. Does former President Trump risk inciting more violence on Saturday with this statement in support of the January 6th attackers? What was your reaction to that?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Jim, the best thing that former president Trump could do would be to simply stay out of this. His role in inciting the riot on January 6th that resulted in the deaths of several police officers and disgraced and defaced our nation's Capitol and put so many at risk, I think, is a deep stain on his record of service as president of the United States.


But President Biden is focused on moving our country forward. The U.S. Capitol Police are making adequate preparations. We in the Congress did appropriate several billion dollars after the January 6th riot to strengthen the perimeter and the security of the Capitol and to provide badly needed and deeply deserved support for the U.S. Capitol Police.

So, I'm cautiously optimistic we'll get through this weekend without more incidents of violence, but they are prepared to protect the Capitol. And, frankly, as President Biden showed in his remarks today, he's focused on moving us forward and on helping the country get out of the pandemic, recover from the recession and be on a stronger footing going forward.

ACOSTA: Yes. I want to ask you about that in just a moment. But first, we're just learning that the House Select Committee is seeking pentagon documents to learn more about the January 6th attack and what the Joint Chiefs chairman did in the last days of the Trump presidency. Do you have any concerns about how General Milley reportedly reviewed protocols and handled the call with his Chinese counterpart? How did the Joint Chiefs chairman do in that situation, as it's been reported, do you think?

COONS: Well, Jim, I haven't obviously had a chance to read the book, Peril, but based on press accounts on excerpts from the book, my impression is that he was preceded by Secretary of Defense Esper in reaching out to his senior Chinese military counterpart, and he did so based on intelligence reports that the Chinese believed we were preparing for a sneak attack. And so what he was doing from press accounts is well within the purview of his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs and in partnership with the then-secretary of defense to reach out and try and defuse those tensions to try and avoid a preventable exchange.

Look, China is an increasingly assertive regional and global military power. And I think if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs acted, as it's been reported, as I have understood it, and that was briefed to and shared with other military leaders in the intelligence community, this is squarely within his lane to avoid needless conflict with other countries based on the intelligence he had available at the time.

ACOSTA: And getting to the Biden agenda, President Biden is touting his economic agenda, saying the country faces an inflection point. But does he have a plan to convince moderate Democrats that you see who don't see the need to spend what Biden wants to spend on this huge, what's been referred to as a human infrastructure plan? What are you saying to convince some of your colleagues to get onboard?

COONS: Well, Jim, President Biden met in person with Senator Sinema and Manchin. He's been actively engaged over the last couple of months in helping members of Congress who are more centrists or who are progressive understand and embrace his agenda to reduce the costs for working families, to reduce the cost of health care, of day care, of higher education, of workforce training and to make the investments we need to make over the coming decade to make sure that we're positioned to grow and grow quickly.

I was thrilled in August when we passed on a bipartisan basis, a landmark infrastructure bill, and now we are working in the Democratic caucus to pass the follow-on investment that's badly needed to make it possible for Americans to get back to work by providing more affordable access to high quality preschool and day care, by reducing the costs of health care and by making sure that every American is paying their fair share of the costs of moving forward.

It is not clear to me exactly how much this package will ultimately cost. But I will remind you it will be spread over ten years and it will build a solid foundation under America's middle class. So, President Biden is very persuasive, and I think he's making the case and making it well.

ACOSTA: All right. I think that's code for the negotiations are underway, as we speak. All right, Senator Chris Coons, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a bizarre twist --

COONS: Thank you, Jim. ACOSTA: all right, thank you. In a bizarre twist in an already strange crime drama, prominent South Carolina Attorney Alex Murdaugh has just been released on bail after admitting to hiring a hit man to kill him as part of a failed suicidal fraud scheme.



ACOSTA: A bizarre and disturbing mystery in South Carolina got a little bit deeper today. Alex Murdaugh, the prominent attorney at the center of a case involving multiple deaths, has just been released on bail after admitting he hired a hit man to kill him as part of a suicidal fraud scheme.

CNN's Martin Savidge is on the scene for us in South Carolina. Martin, some people around the country are talking about this story and it just keeps getting stranger and stranger.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, yes. And I should point out that Alex Murdaugh now has been charged and he turned himself in on the charges of insurance fraud, conspiring to commit insurance fraud and also filing a false police report.

But you couldn't help but be struck when you saw him in the courtroom, a man whose live is surrounded by tragedy and controversy. He truly appeared to be a broken soul.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): His life in a scandalous spiral, prominent South Carolina Attorney Alex Murdaugh appeared in a Hampton County courtroom for a bond hearing after turning himself in on charges of insurance fraud conspiracy gone wrong.


Wearing a jail outfit, shackled at the wrist and ankles, Murdaugh broke down in tears as he appeared before the magistrate judge. The once powerful and wealthy attorney, his lawyers say, is no longer a man of means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has fallen from grace.

SAVIDGE: A warrant for his arrest detailed the botched murder attempt that was meant to provide his son millions of dollars of life insurance money, attorneys say. According to court documents, Murdaugh arranged with Curtis Smith, a former client, to shoot and kill him. But the plan failed because the shot wasn't fatal.

Smith has been charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. So far, he's not entered a plea and has asked for a court appointed attorney.

And now, another twist, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announcing the opening of another investigation involving the Murdaughs, the 2018 death of the family's long-time housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in what was described as a trip and fall accident on the Murdaugh property.

ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY FOR MURDAUGH HOUSEKEEPER ESTATE: It was Alex Murdaugh who told the story of that she had tripped and fell down the stairs over his dogs. And so they trusted him.

SAVIDGE: At the time, her death was said due to natural causes. The Hampton County coroner, Angela Topper, told investigators in a letter, the decedent's death was not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed. On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled natural, which his inconsistent with injury sustained in a trip and fall accident.

In court filings, the Satterfield family says they reached a partial settlement with Murdaugh for wrongful death, but they say they never received the money they say they were due.

Eric Bland is the Satterfield's family attorney.

BLAND: He hand-walked in to his best friend and college roommate to bring a lawsuit against himself on behalf of the estate. Now, you know, as a lawyer 33 years, I have never heard that, where you encourage somebody and take them to a lawyer who you handpick and then have that lawyer bring claims against you.

SAVIDGE: This new development in Satterfield's death as Alex Murdaugh was already struggling with the unsolved murders of his wife and son in June, allegations that he stole money from his family's law firm and his own admission of a decades' long opoid addiction, all of this playing out in a very public downfall.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): And a bond was set for Alex Murdaugh at $20,000 on his personal recognizance. So, essentially, he doesn't have to put any money up at this point. And he was out of jail within the hour after that hearing.

But still so many threads now that investigators must follow, so many different cases and a number of deaths. But what stands out most of all is, of course, the deaths of his wife and son and the question that haunts so many minds here is any of what we have seen in the past 36, 72 hours connected to those deaths or what do people think? Jim?

ACOSTA: I worry about what those details will be. All right, Martin Savidge, thank you for that report. We appreciate it.

Let's get some analysis from Criminal Defense Attorney and CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, have you ever seen a case like this before? It seems like we are learning something new every day, suspicious details of Murdaugh's background and all those questions that Martin Savidge was just raising. And this is all a huge mystery at this point. JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, there is no question about that, Jim. I think we can start with the bail conditions. I'm very surprised at what they are, $20,000 personal recognizance bond, he doesn't have to put up any money. We're talking about the fact that he indeed is alleged, have conspired to kill himself, really. We're talking about insurance fraud. We're talking about admissions that his attorney made. I have never seen that either. The attorney going on T.V. and really admitting to all of the elements of the offense, the conspiracy with Mr. Smith, how it went down, why it went down, the fraud that was involved.

We know that and there is no connection at this point, Jim. Perhaps we will learn because SLED, South Carolina Law Enforcement is investigating, we know that his wife and son were brutally murdered a few months ago in June. We know the issue as it relates to, of course, the housekeeper, again, not a connection as we look there, right, at these missing links and the deaths all over the place, the housekeeper a couple of years ago, she, in fact, dead from apparently a slip and fall. I don't know how that happened, but that's open for investigation. And then you have him walking into court, $20,000 personal recognizance and walking out to a rehabilitation facility.

And so, look, I practice at a progressive jurisdiction, New York. I can't get $20,000 on a robbery of a bicycle and a cell phone, so that's the first issue, right?


And so it goes to the issue of, look, I'm all for justice, I always want to see it, but I just want justice to be evenly and fairly distributed. Innocent or proven guilty, I get it. But the accusations so significant, and I think the bail should at least reflect the significance of the offense for which a person is accused.

ACOSTA: Right. You have to wonder if this was not a prominent attorney in this situation represented by prominent attorneys whether the bail situation would be the same.

Joey, let's go back to that graphic we were just showing a few moments ago showing the five deaths connected to the Murdaugh family. Should we expect to see new in-depth investigations? I mean, that's what we should see, right, on the part of law enforcement into these previous deaths. I mean, this is bizarre.

JACKSON: Yes, Jim. It is a great question. I think that's exactly what we will see. And you have to ask, right, why. Why? Because we know we have an individual who has demonstrated to have misled and misrepresented as it relates to this case, right?

Let's bring everyone back. September 4th, what does he do? He makes a phone call indicating that, of course, he's shot, having nothing to do with it. Oh, my goodness, how could I get shot? He was supposedly shot in the head by someone he didn't know. We got to find out that he does know the person. He, in fact, made plans with the person as a result of this death benefit that he wanted to give of his eldest son of $10 million. And so why do I bring all this up? Not only does it go to the nature of the incident offense, it goes to, if you were lying then, are you indeed lying now? Do you know anything about your wife being shot brutally and killed, your son being killed indeed, right, the housekeeper.

So, it opens everything up. I think SLED will conduct a major investigation. And I think as bizarre as the story is now, Jim, and, again, we don't know the details, I think it might get even bizarre as we move forward.

ACOSTA: I think that is certainly the case. You can bet on that. All right, Joey Jackson, thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

JACKSON: Always, thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you. And just ahead, we'll set the stage for a showdown over COVID booster shots and whether they're needed. FDA advisers now just hours away from the potentially heated meeting.



ACOSTA: Anticipation is building for a key meeting of FDA vaccine advisers tomorrow. They will dive into the debate for the need of COVID booster shots. Three new studies support the argument that extra protection is needed, but there is still a lot of confusion.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's come out with a new book, World War C, Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One. It sounds like a timely book, Sanjay.

Can you walk us through what we should expect from tomorrow's highly anticipated FDA meeting on these boosters? I suppose it goes without saying this is not going to get resolved tomorrow.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I don't think so, Jim. And we have heard a lot about these FDA meetings over the past year. And, typically, we have a pretty good idea of how they're going to go ahead of time. I got to say, I'm not so sure on this one. I mean, there are strong feelings on both sides either to boost or not to boost.

But let me sort of lay out the four big questions I think they are going to be dealing with. And keep in mind, Jim, this is an advisory committee meeting, so they want to look at basically is immunity waning? Is it really waning? Are people who are vaccinated longer ago, do they have less immunity than those who were vaccinated more recently.

These breakthrough infections, I mean, people may test positive, but how symptomatic are they? How severe are they really and that does that breakdown by age group, I would say, as well? How long does the booster effect last? Is it just something that gives you a lot of extra protection for a short time? And then, finally, how much do boosters really reduce transmission? Jim, I think this is a big one. This idea following the breakthrough cases and saying we're seeing more breakthrough cases, therefore, we're trying to boost, I think this is what the FDA is really going to look at.

And let me show you Israel for a second, Jim. Because, as you know, obviously a much smaller country, but 63 percent of the country vaccinated and they have been boosting since August, early August. Case numbers are higher than they have ever been.

So I think you would be hard pressed just based on that data to say a very vaccinated country even boosting that it is necessarily reducing breakthrough infections. So, hospitalizations are going way down, deaths going way down. Those are the important things and that's going to focus the discussion tomorrow.

ACOSTA: And, my goodness, if we didn't have the vaccines, what would those numbers be like? Just incredible.

And do you worry about that all of this back and forth about the need for boosters is causing confusion, raising concerns about the efficacy of vaccines?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, that's the issue. I mean, Jim, you know, you're a White House guy. This announcement about the boosters came from the White House. They said boosters are coming and they even put a date on it, which is Monday, September 20th. And then almost afterwards they said, by the way, we got to let the FDA and CDC weigh in on this. At the same time, two career scientists at the FDA announced that they were going to be leaving as we found out over this issue. So, there is a lot of back and forth at the highest scientific levels.

And, look, there may be an answer and it may be an answer ultimately people agree on, but I think they should have probably coordinated that messaging within these agencies before laying that on the American people.

I think a lot of people just said this is preordained. We all need to be boosted. And I'm not so sure that that's going to be the message we ultimately hear from the FDA. They may say if you are over a certain age, you need to be boosted but maybe not necessarily for the general population.

ACOSTA: And yet you have all these people rushing out and trying to get them in the meantime.

In the meantime, Sanjay, we'll take some of these next questions for next time, Sanjay. But in the meantime, I want to at least talk about what you have coming up. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to be joining us over the weekend. He's got a special coming up. He is going to be talking about the scientists and the origin of COVID-19. That new CNN special report begins Sunday night at 8:00, definitely wanted to get that promo in there, Sanjay. We're looking forward to that.

GUPTA: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you so much.


We appreciate it.

GUPTA: You got. Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, as the January 6th committee turns its attention to Mark Milley, we will big deeper into the background of the Joint Chiefs chairman and how it prepared him for the controversy he's facing now.


ACOSTA: Tonight, America's top general is under new scrutiny over his reported response to fears that President Trump might go rogue after January 6. Our Brian Todd is taking a closer look at General Mark Milley. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we have spoken to military veterans who have known General Milley, and one of whom says that even with all his training and his military background, his education, it could not have prepared him for his dealings with then-President Trump.

We have new information tonight on how Milley navigated that period and on his background.



TODD (voice-over): This is the second instance this summer where Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley's attempts to curb Donald Trump have been reported in a bombshell book. Earlier, "Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker wrote after last year's election, Milley was fearful Trump and allies might try to stage a coup to stay in power and that Milley and other members of the Joint Chiefs discussed a plan to resign one by one rather than carry out orders from Trump.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Crushing, crushing amounts of pressure. It became very clear to a lot of people that the president might not step aside.

TODD: Following his own instincts was something Mark Milley appeared ready to do from an early age. According to a 2019 "New York Times" profile of him, Milley's father who fought with the Marines at Iwo Jima in World War II did not want his son to go into the military and even got one of Mark's brothers to sabotage his visit to West Point. Mark Milley instead went to Princeton, leathered in hockey for two years in the late 1970s. He went to study at Columbia and MIT as well.

MARKS: Intellectually, you know, he's an intellectually very, very bright dude.

TODD: The Massachusetts native is known as a friendly talker who loves to chat about military history. Over four decades in the Army, he served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, came under fire several times, commanded high-profile units with the 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: All of those are really tough jobs where you not only have to be tactically and operationally proficient, but you also have to be a pretty damn good leader and be able to have that emotional intelligence to feel the room.

TODD: Instincts that would be tested in the summer of last year when Milley dressed in fatigues walked with Trump to his infamous photo-op at a church after racial justice protesters have been violently cleared out of Lafayette Square. Milley took heavy criticism and later apologized.


TODD: When questioned this summer about why some cadets attended a seminar on white rage, Milley made a connection to the January 6th insurrection.

MILLEY: I want to understand white rage and I'm white and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? What is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?

TODD: Milley was heavily criticized for his role in the Biden administration's withdrawal in the U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But it is his maneuvers with Trump which observers say nothing could have prepared him for.

HERTLING: Whereas he had the education and some of the training. It is always tough to step into a situation where you are dealing with a toxic leader. He was placed in an extremely stressful and difficult situation without a whole lot of people he could talk to on getting advice on how to take action.


TODD (on camera): General Milley and the Defense Department did not comment specifically for our story, but top defense officials have come out in recent days saying that Milley's actions reported in the new Bob Woodward book on his outreach to a Chinese general, his order to have any military action in the final days of the Trump administration cleared through him were completely appropriate. Donald Trump has responded to both books about Milley's actions by calling Milley a, quote, dumbass, weak and ineffective, a better politician than a general -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much for that report.

Coming up, we learned about an indictment into the probe of the Trump Russia investigation. We'll have all the latest details right after the break.



ACOSTA: Breaking news. The special counsel probing the origins of the Trump Russia investigation has just landed another indictment as he prepares to finish his assignment.

Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez has details for us.

Evan, this is interesting. What can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the name of this lawyer is Michael Sussman. He worked as a lawyer for the Clinton campaign in 2016, as well as the Democrats. But according to the indictment that John Durham just filed today, he lied to the FBI when he held a meeting with the general counsel at the time, Jim Baker, which he turned over a thumb drive which contained information about some mysterious allegations, there were communications between a server belonging to the Trump Organization and a bank in Russia called Alfa Bank. The FBI investigated it. They couldn't figure out what it was, ended up deciding that it wasn't any kind of nefarious matter.

But all of this has now turned into a charge against Sussman essentially for lying when he met with the FBI and presented this information. He at the time was working for the Clinton campaign, and he apparently didn't say -- has said that he wasn't representing any particular client when he had this meeting in 2016.

So look, John Durham has been at this now, doing this investigation and we've been anticipating that his investigation would wrap up. And frankly, we've been waiting to see somewhat other big shoe is to -- were going to drop. And right now, what we're facing right here is a case against Sussman, which is for making a false statement to the FBI, not really the big boom that we were expecting Durham to produce at the end of this investigation, Jim.

ACOSTA: And not the big fish that Donald Trump was hoping for I suspect either, Evan. This investigation has been going on for two years now and hasn't yielded much in terms of charges?


What's going on?

PEREZ: Right, right. So this investigation, the investigation has been going on for longer than the Mueller investigation, over two years. And as you pointed out, Mueller produced indictments against 34 people and three companies, again, in just about two years, in the case of Durham, he's been going longer than that. This is the second case he brought. The other was against a former FBI lawyer who worked -- who falsified some information in the Carter Page FISA application. Again, that was false statements charge.

One of the criticisms that Republicans and the GOP and the president's supporters made of Mueller, they said a lot of these cases that they brought were process crimes. That's kind of what we're talking about. We're talking about what seems to be process crimes about whether Sussman lied to the FBI when he had this conversation. Again, at the time, Jim, it was well known that Sussman represented the Clinton campaign. This was not a surprise to the FBI. They spent some time investigating it. But they already had an investigation of the Trump Russia matter at the time.

ACOSTA: This is not what all the Trumpists were hoping for at the end of all this.

Alll right. Evan Perez, thanks so much for that.

President Biden says the U.S. economy is what he calls an inflection point as he pushes Congress to pass his spending plan which he says could, quote, change the trajectory of our nation.

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly back with us with more.

Phil, the president's remarks today on the economy come with sharp divisions within his own party now threatening his agenda. We talked to Senator Chris Coons earlier this evening, and he was suggesting -- he's somebody close to the president, he was suggesting that the negotiations are happening, they are underway, and they are intense.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's no question, the intensity is very real, from White House officials involved in those negotiations and for those on Capitol Hill. And the president seemed to allude to some of those divisions earlier today in those remarks when he said the proposal has a long road ahead. And that is certainly true, as Democrats try to hammer out agreements on everything, from tax policy, how the proposals would be for, prescription drug costs, the scale of the various programs that are inside that proposal.

When we talk to White House officials, they'll say that's part of what the president was trying to do when he spoke today, trying to get above those negotiations. There's every recognition how important every policy decision is, but there's the overarching point here, which is that this is a moment where Democrats have the chance to do something very big and very significant, and the president was making clear don't squander that moment. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said many times before, I believe we're at an inflection point in this country. Let's not squander this moment, trying to preserve an economy that hasn't worked too well for Americans for a long time. Let's not look backward trying to rebuild what we had. Let's look forward together as one America. Not to build back, but to build back better.


MATTINGLY: And, Jim, we talked to White House officials involved in these negotiations. Again, they underscore that they understand the needle that they're going to have to thread here and how complicated between the moderate side of the Democratic Party and the progressives, who all have very strong feelings about where things should land and those feelings aren't very aligned at this moment in time. But they also say, when you talk to White House officials, that this is kind of everything. This is the agenda. This is what Joe Biden was elected on, this is what he stakes his first year of the presidency on, and if Democrats want something, they have to figure out how to agree at some point, particularly given how many items in this sweeping proposal are Democratic priorities they've had for years. Now is the opportunity, according to White House officials, to actually get some of those into law. Don't squander that opportunity, Jim.

ACOSTA: I mean, could the president come down -- he's been making these signals that yes, he could come down to a different price tag, but along the lines of what Joe Manchin is calling for?

MATTINGLY: Look, it's an open question. Obviously, the president met with Senator Manchin and Senate Sinema, another moderate Democrat, yesterday. The president wants an outcome. If that means a smaller price tag, if progressives will agree, they could end up there. But everything is very, very fluid at this moment, Jim.

ACOSTA: No question about it. It's very fluid. But at the same time, Phil, if he doesn't get this passed, this is not good for the midterm election cycle for his party.

MATTINGLY: And I think that's a very real issue that White House officials are bringing to Democrats. That was kind of the point of him earlier. He was talking about policy, but overall, they need something to get done, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. CNN's Phil Mattingly, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching. I'll see you here this weekend on "CNN NEWSROOM."

In the meantime, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Have a good night.