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New Homeland Security Warning Of Potential Violence Surrounding Pro-Insurrectionist D.C. Rally On Saturday; Select Committee: Seeking Records Related To Gen. Milley's Reported Actions Surrounding Jan. 6, Will "Carefully Evaluate" The Facts; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) Is Interviewed About January 6 Insurrection; Lawyer Accused Of Hiring Hit On Himself Just Released On Bail; Biden Warns U.S. Economy At "Inflection Point" As He Pushes $3.5 Trillion Economic Package. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a new warning about potential violence surrounding a rally in support of January 6 rioters. With just two days ago, fencing is back up at the U.S. Capitol. Former President Trump is declaring that his hearts and minds are with the insurrectionists.

Also, tonight, leaders of the January 6 committee revealed they're seeking records related to General Mark Milley in his reported actions protect the U.S. from Trump before and after the Capitol was attacked.

And just hours before a key meeting of FDA vaccine advisors, many Americans are confused about COVID booster shots. But one top health official says new data has been convinced the extra protection is needed.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we begin with a breaking news. New warning from the Department of Homeland Security about potential violence surrounding the Saturday's Washington, D.C. rally in support of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

Former President Trump lending his support in a statement saying, quote, "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6 protest concerning the rig presidential election." Of course, it wasn't rig. It was fair and square.

CNN's Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is working the story for us.

Shimon, as former President Trump is now weighing in on his rally, this rally, there are new warnings tonight from the Department of Homeland Security, give us the latest.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Those warnings coming from online chatter according to the Department of Homeland Security in a assessment and an intelligence briefing that they just released, they say that there is the potential for violence. And a lot of this is based on what law enforcement has been seeing for weeks and months, the continued chatter on online chat rooms and other places threatening violence here. And that is why the fence is back.

For weeks and months, official said there was the potential that the fence would come back now because of this rally. Officials here on the Capitol have decided to bring back the fence.

Of course, also there's concern from the TSA. They say they too are ramping up security. And now also the National Guard, the Capitol Hill asking for their assistance.

It's not entirely clear how the National Guard is going to be used. But remember during the -- in the days after the insurrection, they were all behind these fences, National Guard was all over here on Capitol Hill. We'll see what they do when they come here.

And also wear outside the Supreme Court where also there's going to be more fencing later either tonight or tomorrow. They're going to place security fencing all around the Supreme Court.

Today here outside the Supreme Court, some of the law enforcement officials, police officers that are going to be helping the Capitol Police from Baltimore and Virginia were all here touring, talking about things that may happen here at the Supreme Court and really just all around here as security here has been tightened. Of course, Washington, D.C. on alert. The Washington, D.C. Police also saying that they're going to be assisting in this, they're going to have all hands-on deck as Saturday approaches, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, CNN Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt, CNN's Senior Commentator and former Ohio Governor John Kasich and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale. Thanks to all of you.

Commissioner Barksdale, let me start with you. This new DHS intelligence briefing warns of violence not only on Saturday, but also tomorrow ahead of the rally. How volatile is this situation do you think?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It could be very vulnerable. And we have a president -- a former president to stirring the pot. So with that going on, we have to realize what happened in January could possibly happen again. So this is all hands on deck. We need to be prepared, and we need to be ready immediately.

ACOSTA: It sounds like they're getting ready, Governor Kasich. How dangerous is it right now for former President Trump to be stirring the pot as Anthony was just saying a few moments ago, putting out the statement in support of the January 6 attackers in this Saturday rally, hearts and minds -- the hearts and minds of the country are not with these people.

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Jim I was just with a Trumper today, you know, and you know, he's shaking his head about Joe Biden. And I said, Listen to me, you know, I endorsed Joe Biden. You want to know why? Look at what the president -- former president is doing now, trying to stir up a crowd, who is basically there in support of the people that ransack the Capitol on January 6.

And you know, there's a lot of people, Jim, who are taking breaks from the news now. They say they just can't take it anymore. Well, you know, you got to get back in the action for people. I don't care whether you're a Trumper or not a Trumper.


The fact of the matter is the only -- as Edmund Burke said, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men or good people to do nothing. And at the end of the day, we've got to come to our senses here, because our founders warned us about factions. Factions could destroy our country that's why they wanted political parties to try to mediate things. So we've got to wake up, Jim. No question.

ACOSTA: Yes. Silence is acquiescence. No question.

Kasie, the former president says January 6 rioters are being persecuted so unfairly, those people attacked the Capitol, attacks the Capitol Police officers, of course. How revealing is that statement do you think? I mean, it's just baffling to see Trump weigh in like this?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I don't know if it's baffling, it's pretty consistent with his previous behavior. But I do think it is important to underscore that this is someone -- this is a former president who has tried repeatedly to cast himself as being on the side of law enforcement. And he is encouraging people who went out there and who beat officers, who attack them with American flags.

I spoke with one officer who was injured that day, who was, you know, had to sit out off the forest for several weeks while he recovered from his injuries. You know, he tried to get these people to listen to him as he was in that mob on the front of the Capitol. And they told him, we're only going to listen to Donald Trump, he's the person that would have to call us off, we're going to continue to try to attack and fight with you and your colleagues until we get into this building. That's what we're dealing with here.

So, the justice system is going to continue to do its work. And there are hundreds of people who have been charged with crimes in connection with this rally. And I think most Americans who see that video can see very plainly. And because so many people, not only appeared in these videos that you see there, but then gloated about it on social media afterward or posted photos that they were there or talked about it on some dating apps, in some cases, you know, there's pretty clear cut criminal cases to be prosecuted against them.

ACOSTA: Right. I mean, these are not political prisoners. These are suspected criminals. These are law breakers.

And Commissioner Barksdale, I spoke with a Trump spokesperson earlier this afternoon, he said the former president is not going to be there on Saturday. That the statement that he put out is it, there's not going to be a video statement or anything like that.

But I mean, you have to wonder whether or not he is animating these supporters once again to come out and do what they did on January 6. How do you think the law enforcement community is responding to this?

BARKSDALE: I hope that Chief Cotty (ph), chief manager have got their plans together. But the big thing that I worry about is if they collapse, as they did on 1-6, it can happen.

Where's the National Guard? Is the National Guard going to be there? We can't wait three hours again to get those officers back up if the Trumpers decide that they want to press the attack. We can't wait.

We have to meet their actions with a solid reaction. And if they want to go from a protest to a riot, we've got to shut it down.

I wish them all the very best on that day. And I want D.C. to win.

ACOSTA: And Governor Kasich, Republicans have been trying to distance themselves from this rally. But if Trump is giving this his blessing, could we see others in the GOP follow his lead? It doesn't sound like there's a whole groundswell of Republican lawmakers who are planning on showing up on Saturday.

KASICH: I think they just assumed all this go away. But Jim, think about front row seat to the Trump presidency. It's kind of hard to believe what's happening, isn't it?


KASICH: It's hard to believe after January 6, and I used to be a congressman, and watch those people break into that Capitol. And now you've got a rally in support of those people and the president's putting something out that basically supports that.

My message is to those people, look, if you've been disgusted with Trump, keep your patients and talk to those Trump people and get them to open their eyes because this country keeps continues to go downhill. We're continuing to be divided. And when we're that way, it denies a great future for our kids. Wake up everybody, please, for the good of our country.

ACOSTA: Yes, Kasie, we're dealing with the former president who is sort of like an unrepentant arsonist. He can't help himself. He's enamored with the sight of the flames that he sets.

And what's disturbing is our new CNN poll shows 78 percent of Republicans say that Joe Biden did not actually win this election, getting back to what John Kasich was saying a few moments ago. I mean, it's disturbing. It is disturbing that we're still dealing with this.


HUNT: Well, and he's saying it but there's also not very many Republican leaders in the party who are willing to dispute it either and not lets it stand without any leadership going in the other direction. This is a point that Congressman Adam Kinzinger makes over and over again. Obviously, Liz Cheney has been one of the other voices standing up against this, but it's incredibly dangerous.

And, you know, to go back to what we're talking about here in terms of January 6 and what these people are willing to do here as well, I mean, again, these were congressmen and women who were quite literally attacked by these people. And now they remain so afraid of the former president that they're not willing to say anything about it in public, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes. And it also gets back to this issue of back the blue why, you know, they're supposed to back the blue, back law enforcement, it's just doing the opposite of that by, you know, getting behind this sort of thing.

All right, thanks to all of you. We appreciate that very much.

Coming up, we're following new developments in the January 6 committee investigation now, probing actions taken by General Mark Milley. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



ACOSTA: The select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has just asked the Pentagon for documents surrounding security preparations ahead of the riot. Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is tracking the latest developments.

All right, Jim, what are we learning about the committee's request from the Pentagon? This could get interesting.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's a statement from Bennie Thompson, of course, the chairman, but also crucially, the Republican Vice Chairman Liz Cheney joined the committee here saying that these documents and these questions to the Pentagon or they call it a crucial area of focus of their investigation. Why is it relevant?

I mean, the key thing was what was the White House say to the Pentagon, the Pentagon to the White House, and what communications went to National Guard units there who, as you remember, took many hours to respond as U.S. Capitol Police were overwhelmed. This was one of the key areas of focus from the security review that followed January 6, the one led by Russel Honore, how to streamline that in effect, so that if they need that sort of backup, they can get the National Guard there and get them there quickly. This of course, a very relevant question, because in two days, you might have a very similar situation. Our understanding is that those lines of communication are open, but they want to look into what was communicated. Did the White House stand in the way of that kind of communication? That's part of the investigation.

ACOSTA: Yes, because we still don't have those details all these months later. It's incredible. And you have new reporting about the dire situation surrounding these calls of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was having with China. What can you tell us?

SCIUTTO: That's right. I mean, you heard the early portrayal of this is that somehow Milley was communicating secret information to China.

I spoke to a senior defense official who said, no, listen, these conversations with China are regular. They do them quarterly. But particularly at this time into the run up to the election, this call in October, four days before the election, but then in January, two days after the January 6 insurrection, that there was, as it was described to me, plenty of reason to believe that China was misinformed, basically.

They were reading events here and intelligence and conspiracy theories, frankly, believing that the U.S. might attack, that the president, then President Trump might actually order an attack so that these were de-escalation conversations. In effect, a sort of red phone conversation for Milley to go to his Chinese counterpart and say, no, we're not going to war here. Things are under control.

And one thing I would bring up is this. This was part of a pattern in the Trump administration where Trump's own advisors felt the need to backchannel adversaries in the midst of crises. In 2018, I was told that during the worst of the North Korea standoff, U.S. diplomats went to their North Korean counterparts and said, no, we're not going to war. Don't listen to the little rocket man stuff.

In 2019, in the depths of worries about escalation with Iran, U.S. military officials went to their Iranian counterparts and said, no, we're not going to war. That's not sharing secret information. That's the equivalent of a red phone conversation saying, let's deescalate. Let's not have a war that neither of us wants.

ACOSTA: Yes, these concerns weren't just around January 6, they went throughout the Trump presidency --

SCIUTTO: Many years.

ACOSTA: -- you know, from talking to various former officials.

Jim Sciutto, thanks so much. We appreciate that. Great stuff.

And now, I want to bring in our Democratic Congressman from Northern Virginia, Gerry Connolly. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees.

Hey, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. First, what do you hope is --

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): My pleasure.

ACOSTA: Yes. What do you hope the select committee will learn from this Pentagon records request about the failure to secure the Capitol on January 6? I suspect that you are in favor of that information being turned over?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions, Jim, about what happened, what led up to and what happened on January 6. One of the most puzzling is that so many hours went by with unfolding violence, with lots of panic reports going to the Pentagon and to the White House to call them off, to get relief, to get additional troops here for security. And the fact is, it took hours for that to happen.

In fact, you know, Virginia, and Maryland got troops here faster than the federal government was able to get National Guard troops. And I think that needs to -- we need to understand how and why did that happen.

ACOSTA: And the select committee says it will carefully evaluate the facts in light of this new reporting coming from Bob Woodward, Robert Costa about the Joint Chiefs chairman's actions in those final days. You just heard Jim Sciutto talking about some of those few moments ago. Do you think it was appropriate for General Milley to reportedly review some of these nuclear weapons processes with the Chinese and try to, you know, reassure his Chinese counterpart the U.S. would not strike, these back channel discussions that were going on.


CONNOLLY: Based on what we know, yes, I think it was totally appropriate. And I completely agree with Jim Sciutto's characterization. This was a red phone conversation. It wasn't unique, but it was timely.

And given the manic behavior that Donald Trump was engaged in after his election defeat, everybody had cause to be worried. And not acknowledging that is a significant omission from the record during those final days of the Trump administration, and I think the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had reason to worry about the mental stability of the president, such that he needed to reassure friend and foe alike is a very profound statement coming out of that book and the behavior the general himself.

ACOSTA: Right. And as you just said, General Milley reportedly believed Trump was in serious mental decline by January when he incited the crowd to attack the Capitol. Now Trump is expressing, and I'm sure you've seen this statement this afternoon, heard a report that he is expressing sympathy --


ACOSTA: -- for those rioters ahead of this rally in support of these so called political prisoners, which of course they're not political prisoners. Do you think he's inciting violence again?

CONNOLLY: I think he is. And I think he did on January 6. So this is a pattern and all of the Republican denials to the contrary notwithstanding, this man is clearly reverting to physical violence as a tool for political advancement. That is a terrifying development in American politics, and not to be condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Actually, lionizing people who attempt violently attempted to interfere with the election, validation of a presidential election by insurrection and siege and threatening bodily harm of those who are constitutionally charged with that duty is really, I think, a treasonous act. And it's certainly not something that ought to be praised by anybody, let alone the former president of the United States. But we can't be surprised, given the fact that he was the one who incited violence to begin with.

ACOSTA: And January 6 was traumatic for so many members of Congress, staffers, police officers. What are people saying behind the scenes right now in advance of this event on Saturday? I know, Democrats or Republicans, you know, they speak privately about some of these concerns. What are you picking up on ahead of Saturday?

CONNOLLY: Well, I think for a lot of people emotionally, trauma is, you know, a very powerful experience. We know that from combat, for example. But you can experience trauma in many, many different ways. And a lot of members and staff members experienced trauma on January 6.

And so, this, you know, revisiting of that potentially, just makes them revisit the trauma all over again. But I do want to say, we have a new police chief on Capitol Hill, Tom Manger. I know him very well because he was my police chief in Fairfax County when I was chairman of the county. And I have every confidence that that kind of violence will not be tolerated or revisited on Saturday.

ACOSTA: OK. We'll be watching for that.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, thank you very much. Appreciate those insights.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, good luck to you.

CONNOLLY: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And coming up next, a prominent lawyer at the center of a bizarre case involving multiple deaths and a hitman appears in court after turning himself in. The latest on the sprawling mystery, next.



ACOSTA: Bail has just been set at $20,000 for a well-known and influential South Carolina lawyer at the center of a sprawling mystery involving multiple deaths, alleged fraud, addiction and even a hitman. Alex Murdaugh turned himself in today to face fraud charges. And tonight, his own lawyers saying his client, quote, "has fallen from grace."

CNN National Correspondent Dianne Gallagher has the latest.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, prominent South Carolina attorney, Alex Murdaugh, escorted in an SUV into the Hampton County jail, turning himself in for his role in allegedly conspiring with a former client to shoot and kill him. Murdaugh appearing before a judge.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: He has fallen from grace. It has been a tremendous, I mean, before any of that following happened, his wife and son were brutally murdered. And that has had an extraordinary effect on --

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Becoming emotional, as his lawyer argued his bond charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His total bond is going to be $20,000.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): His attorney say that the shooting was a scheme to leave behind a $10 million life insurance policy for his only surviving son. But Murdaugh did survive though they say that he suffered a fractured skull and brain bleed.

The man accused of shooting Murdaugh in the head, Curtis Edward Smith, appeared in court today.



GALLAGHER (voice-over): Smith posting his $55,000 bond for several charges including assisted suicide and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud leaving jail hours later.

The alleged self-arranged attempt on Murdaugh's life seemingly a desperate move amidst person turmoil including financial troubles. One day before the September 4th shooting, Murdaugh resigned from his law firm after being accused of misappropriating funds, which his lawyer says was used to fuel a drug addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And are they breathing?


GALLAGHER (voice-over): An addiction they claim was worsened by the June 7th murders of Murdaugh's wife and son at the family's estate. Their murders are still unsolved. State investigators have opened a new criminal investigation into the 2018 death of the Murdaugh family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. In part, it's due to, "Information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh". Satterfield died from injuries sustained in what was described as a trip and fall accident at the Murdaugh home, but an autopsy was never done.

Hampton County's Coroner sent a letter requesting state investigators to re-examine Satterfield's death, noting, "On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled natural, which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident".

ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY FOR GLORIA SATTERFIELD ESTATE: Certainly there were questions by my clients because after she unfortunately fell, she was airlifted to a hospital and she had a traumatic brain injury. She never was able to communicate with them for the next three weeks until she died.


GALLAGHER: And Alex Murdaugh just quickly now leaving a few moments ago. The Hampton County Detention Center rushing into a vehicle presumably on his way back to an out-of-state drug rehabilitation facility. He's required to stay in that facility, Jim. If he leaves, there'll be a bench warrant out for his arrest.

ACOSTA: What a wild case. All right, CNN's Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much.


ACOSTA: Let's get more on this bizarre case with CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan. Paul, you're a former homicide prosecutor, have you ever seen a case like this before? This one is wild.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I've seen similar cases in terms of people staging a hit man action to collect an insurance policy. That does happen sometimes. But this fact pattern, the number of bodies involved here, the number of problems that Murdaugh is facing, no, Jim, I've never seen anything like it. It's astounding.

ACOSTA: It feels like a John Grisham novel, I have to say, and there are now five deaths connected to the Murdaugh family. I want to put this graphic up on the screen, where we now see a more in-depth investigation into these other cases, do you think. I think that typically is what happens. They have to go back and --


ACOSTA: -- see if there are any connections.

CALLAN: Absolutely. And the staged hit man action gives the police a viable criminal charge, that's a felony, insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and he can be held in jail on those charges. Well, the investigation continues with respect to the death of his son, the death of his wife, the suspicious death of his housekeeper. There are reports of an unidentified teen who may have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances. And there's also a boating accident that involves one of his sons in which a young woman was killed. So, all of these things are now open to reinvestigation by South Carolina police.

ACOSTA: And Murdaugh is a well-connected attorney down there. How does that shape how a police approach these investigations? Sometimes it can color the investigation.

CALLAN: Sometimes it can, Jim. And I would say, you know, the Murdaugh family is a well-known family in the county. As a matter of fact, there are either three or four generations of prosecutors who have come out of that family through the years in the solicitor's office. So, they're well-known, they would know and be in contact with all the police.

But I think that there is so much trouble. There are so many dark clouds attached to Alex Murdaugh that whatever family connections he have -- he had, they're gone now. I mean, one of the charges that his attorney admitted to this morning on the Today Show was that his client was under investigation for embezzling funds from his own law firm and use those funds to purchase painkillers, which means that he'd eventually be disbarred as an attorney.

There were also allegations that with respect to the housekeeper who died in a slip and fall accident, no autopsy was done in the case, and Murdaugh referred the case allegedly to a friendly lawyer, who would be the lawyer in charge of the case against Murdaugh. Now, if that is true, that would be unethical conduct by the attorney. So he's just in deep trouble on so many different counts.

ACOSTA: Very deep indeed. All right, Paul Callan, our CNN Legal Analyst, thank you very much for that.

And just ahead --

CALLAN: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: -- looming showdown over COVID vaccine booster shots as FDA advisers prepare to meet tomorrow.



ACOSTA: President Biden says the U.S. economy is at what he calls an inflection point as he pushes Congress to pass his massive spending plan, which he says could, quote, change the trajectory of our nation. CNN Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us with more. Phil, the President's remarks today come on the news as the economy is having some sharp divisions within the Democratic Party on what to do about this agenda.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's something the President alluded to today congratulating House committees for advancing that agenda, but acknowledging, quote, there's a long road ahead. And that's in large part because of intra- party divisions and over a myriad of issues, whether it's tax policy, prescription drugs, the scale and scope of the overall legislation. All of these issues are being fought out right now on Capitol Hill.

And that was in part officials say why the President gave these remarks today, aggressive remarks, touting that proposal and trying to drive home a central point. But doing something is better than doing nothing. And at this moment, in particular, it is time to do something. 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, just 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, I think that's a key point here that I'm hearing from White House officials. Behind the scenes, they are absolutely feverish negotiations going on between Democrats in the House and the Senate, White House Legislative Affairs team trying to hammer out the details of those exceedingly important policies.

But there's also an element here at the White House too, there are democratic counterparts on Capitol Hill, don't miss the forest for the trees. This is a real opportunity to do a lot of different things, whether it's on social safety net expansion, whether it's on climate policy, potentially on immigration as well, that Democrats have dreamed about or wanted to do for years. Now the opportunity is here. And the underlying message seems to be, to some degree, don't let the perfects be the enemy of the good, Jim.

ACOSTA: Happens so often in this town, though, isn't it? Isn't that right? All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Now the latest on the coronavirus crisis and a key meeting tomorrow about vaccine booster shots, the subject of much debate and confusion. Let's talk about it with Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, Dr. Hotez, always great to see you. The FDA released some background information ahead of tomorrow's highly anticipated meeting on boosters. How do you think this is going to play out?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Well, there was also, Jim, some important data presented from Israel that was published last night in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it's showing that for those over the age of 65, that third booster does make a difference in terms of correcting the waning immunity. So those who got the third immunization were 20 times less likely to get serious illness and also had a big impact on infection. The problem with it is that they only look 20 -- up to 25 days after the immunization, after the third immunization. So we don't have a much data in terms of long-term protection after the third immunization. And we didn't see a lot of safety data either. So all of these will come to light tomorrow.

I think there's a high likelihood that the recommendation will be to give third immunizations for those over the age of 60 or 65. What I don't know is whether they'll make a universal recommendation. And of course, we've not seen really any data on the Moderna or the J&J vaccine. So we'll learn a lot tomorrow.

ACOSTA: And we're learning state and local health departments are moving ahead with plans for a potential booster rollout next week, if approved. Will those eligible for booster shots be able to quickly get them? Will they be able to easily get them? That's that's a big question.

HOTEZ: I think so. You know, the -- early on, we relied heavily on the pharmacy chains and the hospital systems to provide the immunization and there was such demand that there was a need to open up some large vaccination hubs. And a lot of those have now been decommissioned. So I think we'll probably have to go back to the pharmacy chains and and the hospital systems and hopefully that will be adequate, but that remains to be seen.

ACOSTA: And some sciences are questioning the benefits of boosters, but is there any harm to a young, healthy, fully vaccinated person getting a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine? And no, I'm not asking for myself.

HOTEZ: Well, you know, I think the big question is, you know, we did see some slight uptick in the amount of myocarditis in younger individuals. It was still a very rare event, 12 cases per million, so one in 80,000. I think we want to make certain that with the third immunization, there's not an increase in the rate of myocarditis.

I don't think so, but we haven't seen that data yet. So that's for me the only real safety question. And then the -- but whether or not they make the recommendation universally, is going to be very important to see.

ACOSTA: Very important to see, no question about it. All right, Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

HOTEZ: I appreciate it, Jim.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

Coming up, CNN obtains new evidence that North Korea is once again expanding its nuclear program. We'll bring you all the latest details including new satellite images right after the break.


[17:48:49] ACOSTA: Tonight, new satellite images obtained by CNN reveal a significant expansion of a key North Korean nuclear facility. Our Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is looking into it. Alex, what do these images reveal about North Korea's missile program? This is fascinating.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, what these satellite images show experts believe is that there's an intention by North Korea to increase their production of weapons-grade nuclear material, that's according to the Middlebury Institute. What you're looking at there is the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility complex. And if you look at these images over time, one expert told our colleague Zach Cohen that what it shows is that expansion there adding a space of around 1,000 square meters that can hold around 1,000 additional centrifuges.

And what that means for this facility is an increase in production of around 25 percent of this weapons-grade material. This is in line, with the experts say, is in line with what U.S. officials also believe that North Korea is up to or is planning. And this comes on the heels of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that they have detected more activity by a nuclear reactor at this site for the first time, Jim, since 2018.


ACOSTA: And this comes at the same time North Korea is actively testing new missiles including launches from a train?

MARQUARDT: Yes, so there's been a flurry of new missile tests which when combined with these new satellite images really paints a disturbing picture. What you're seeing there are ballistic missiles that were launched from a train on Wednesday. They were fired east about 500 miles crashing down in the sea. The North Korean said that they were fired from a railway-borne missile regiment. That comes just days, Jim, after we heard about another missile launch from the North Koreans on Sunday. Those were two long-range cruise missiles that had never before been tested.

So we have had this flurry of missile tests. On top of that, after those missile tests from the train on Wednesday, the South Koreans themselves tested another ballistic missile from a submarine. So you're really seeing this ratcheting up of tensions in an already extremely volatile region, Jim. Of course, there is next to no communication we understand between the U.S. and North Korea right now. The State Department recently called for dialogue. But as far as we know, the North Koreans have not reached back out to the U.S. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks very much for that report.

Now to another story we're following here in The Situation Room, SpaceX sending a crew of four amateur astronauts into orbit on a historic mission. Our Space and Defense Correspondent Kristin Fisher is joining us from the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center. Kristin, none of the people on this flight are professionally trained astronauts. Is that a good idea? What exactly are they doing up there? And how long will this extraordinary mission last?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're about a full day into this three-day trip to space. And right now the crew is just over the coast of Australia. They're conducting scientific experiments, medical experiments, but they're also just sitting back and enjoying the view and they're getting a much more expansive view of planet Earth than Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson did because Bezos and Branson just went up on a quick suborbital flight.

The Inspiration4 mission is going to circle the Earth about 50 times.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Three, two, one.

FISHER (voice-over): The crew of SpaceX's Inspiration4 lifting off from historic Launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, the same launch pad that was used by NASA astronauts for decades during the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. But not one of the four people inside this crew Dragon capsule is a professional astronaut.

JARED ISAACMAN, INSPIRATION4 LEADER: Few have come before and many are about to follow. The door is opening now and it's pretty incredible.

FISHER (voice-over): Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old billionaire entrepreneur and pilot who funded the whole flight believes that this first all-civilian mission to orbit will change perceptions about who gets to go to space. 29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux is a paediatric cancer survivor with a prosthetic leg, which would have immediately disqualified her from becoming a NASA astronaut. Sian Proctor applied to be a NASA astronaut in 2009, and was a finalist but didn't make the cut. And Chris Sembroski is an engineer who always dreamed about going to space, but didn't think he had the right stuff to actually be an astronaut.

CHRISTOPHER SEMBROSKI, INSPIRATION4 CREWMEMBER: It's an incredible thing to see someone like me be thrust out here in the middle and now I'm the one down center line, really trying to inspire people to understand that we are on that path of opening space to everyone.

FISHER (on-camera): There they are our first all-civilian crew.

(voice-over): A few hours before launch, the crew walked out of a SpaceX hangar to crowds of cheering SpaceX employees. They took Tesla's to the launch pad, which SpaceX now leases from NASA and NASA's director of Commercial Spaceflight says the government space agency had nothing to do with this mission safety.

PHIL MCALISTER, NASA DIRECTOR, COMMERCIAL SPACEFLIGHT: We don't have a very big role here. This is SpaceX's show and we're really happy for them.

FISHER (voice-over): It's a milestone years in the making, has the government's decade's long monopoly on human spaceflight end.

MCALISTER: This is now the first time in human history that you can buy a ticket from a private company and fly to space. So this, I think, will mark an inflection point in human spaceflight, and we're going to see a real renaissance of people flying to space.


FISHER: And as more and more people fly to space, it's really fueling this semantic debate over who should get to call themselves an astronaut in this new era of space tourism. The Inspiration4 crew certainly thinks that they deserve this distinction, but because this spacecraft is almost totally autonomous and because on their official FAA paperwork, they were listed as spaceflight participants and not crew. This crew may not get their official government issued commercial astronaut wings. Jim?

ACOSTA: Just send me to space. Call me whatever you want. I don't care. That's all right.

All right, Kristin Fisher, thanks for that report. Appreciate it.

Breaking news next, a new warning about potential violence at this Saturday's rally here in Washington in support of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6th.



ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. New warning of potential violence in support of the January 6th rioter. Security is tightened ahead of Saturday's rally at the U.S. Capitol. Tonight, former President Trump is doubling down on his defence of the insurrectionists, claiming some are being persecuted.

Also this hour, the January 6th Committee says it's investigating General Mark Milley's reported actions to safeguard the U.S. from an erratic Trump. The panel requesting documents to evaluate the facts.

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