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The Situation Room

Progressive Democrats Dig In, Threaten To Tank Biden Agenda; Trump Team's Plan For Pence To Overturn Election Revealed; Coroner Confirms Gabby Petito's Remains, Rules Death A Homicide; Awaiting Final FDA Decision On Pfizer Booster Shots; DHS Chief "Horrified" By Video Of Border Agents On Horseback Chasing And Confronting Migrants. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 21, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Progressive Democrats are digging in tonight in an internal party feud that's threatening to tank President Biden's agenda, this just hours after his critical speech to the United Nations in the midst of new global tension and a my grant crisis over at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Also tonight, new evidence that former President Trump and his legal team tried to orchestrate a coup, a memo revealing a six-step plan that was drafted for then Vice President Pence to overturn the election. Pence refused.

And a coroner confirms it was Gabby Petito's remains that were found in Wyoming determining her death was a homicide. Now, the FBI is asking the public for help in the manhunt for Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie.

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.

And we begin with the breaking news on the Democratic divisions that are putting President Biden's agenda in very serious jeopardy right now. Let's go right to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles, progressive Democrats just met with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal was in the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office for more than an hour and a half, as the two sides hash out a path forward on that bipartisan $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill and that much bigger $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package.

Of course, it's progressives like Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other who have been insistent that they are not going to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill if they don't see passage of that much bigger reconciliation package.

And what Jayapal and Pelosi talked about behind closed doors is the path forward and Jayapal emerged from that meeting suggesting that a planned vote for next week on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the house may be forced to be delayed because there just aren't enough progressive votes to put it over the finish line.

But the big problem here, Wolf, is that Democrats in the house have not agreed as to what that $3.5 trillion package should look like, which priorities should be funded and for how much. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she's only committed to a package that will be as much as $3.5 trillion, but she hasn't said how that money will be spent. That will be key in this process moving forward.

And then, of course, there's the Senate and how they play in all of this. There are two key senators, both Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona who have said that they're not going to support a package that could be as expensive as $3.5 bill. So, right now, Democrats find themselves in a staring contest.

And that's just one of the big issues that the members of Congress are dealing with. There's also the government spending plan and the fact that the government could run out of money in just the next couple of weeks and the government's credit card bill is due in the next couple of weeks as well. The house scheduled tonight to pass a bill that would take care of both of those issues to the end of the year.

But, Wolf, just like many things here in Congress, the problem is going to be, when that bill comes back to the Senate. It would require ten Republicans to vote yes. Right now those votes just aren't there, so there are a lot of big problems here on Capitol Hill. And, Wolf, there aren't too many solutions, at least not at this point. Wolf?

BLITZER: And the stakes clearly are enormous right now. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill. Thank you. Let's get some more on the stakes for President Biden right now at this truly critical moment for his entire domestic agenda. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us. Phil, progressives, clearly they are digging in, so what's next for the White House?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think this is reality, right? I think when you talk to White House officials, Wolf, they knew this was coming at some point. There's a recognition that over the course of the last eight or nine months to some degree, progressives particularly in the house have been good soldiers on legislative negotiations, whether it's been on the COVID relief package or the infrastructure bill, $1.2 trillion, a bipartisan proposal that many progressives made clear they weren't happy with and the White House and congressional leaders made clear, well, you'll get the $3.5 trillion economic and climate package. That's where your priorities will go.

That is what's up in the air right now. This was always going to be an extraordinary complex needle to thread, and White House officials I've been talking to, not just over the last several days but last several weeks have acknowledged that fact but they have also made clear that they believe there is a way to find the sweet spot here, the sweet spot between moderates who want to downsize the package, who want to limits some of the programs that are central planks, not just for progressives but President Biden as well and progressives who have made clear that even the $3.5 trillion top line was in their minds a compromise to some degree.


They wanted to go higher.

How that actually happens though remains a very open question and I think while we've seen a lot of sparring back and forth in public, either in comments or on Twitter, what's really happening behind the scenes is the effort to try to hammer out some type of pathway forward with the for recognition of the stakes.

Nobody here has a misconception about this moment in time. And I think, Wolf, when you talk to White House officials, that's something they are trying to make clear on Capitol Hill as well. This is the moment, this is the opportunity that may not be the final package, everything you wanted, but it's certainly something that most Democrats campaigned on in 2020 and it's absolutely something they will need if they want to win in 2022, particularly given how bare their majorities are.

But, Wolf, I think adding to the complexity of all of this right now, you watch the president's schedule today. It's not just the domestic agenda and its high stakes. It's also his high stakes remarks at the U.N. General Assembly, his first remarks at the U.N. General Assembly where he made clear, he is doubling down on diplomacy moving away from war footing and trying to shift the dynamics of how the U.S. Approaches the world.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future.

MATTINGLY (voice over): Making crystal clear the short lived era of America first is over.

BIDEN: I know this. As we look ahead we will lead. We will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time from COVID to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights but we will not go it alone.

MATTINGLY: Even as his administration grapples with a growing crisis at the southern border.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they whether it's horrible. MATTINGLY: With the administration officials expressing horror over recent images that appear to show border patrol agents confronting Haitian migrants.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am going to let the investigation run its course, but the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, White House officials pointing to that investigation waiting to see exactly how it's going to play out. Obviously a very real issue at the border right now that is bringing a lot of White House attention but also on the foreign policy front. The president will have a series of bilateral meetings over the course of this week even after the U.N. General Assembly, we'll meet with quad leaders in person for the first time, heavy foreign policy focused this week but White House officials made clear, the president when he's not focused on foreign policy is going to be intently focused on the domestic agenda. Not only is he expected to be making phone calls when he's not in meetings with foreign leaders, there's also every expectation he will invite Democrats here to the White House at some point this week, likely on Thursday, as you can tell a full plate and enormous stakes right now at the White House now. Wolf?

BLITZER: And we'll have more on the situation unfolding along the U.S.-Mexico border later this hour and that's coming up. Phil, thank you very, very much.

Let's bring in our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward, our Chief National Affairs Analysts Kasie Hunt and CNN Contributor Evan Osnos. He's the Author of the brand-new very important, very timely book entitled, Wildland, The Making of America's Fury.

You know, Kasie, this could be the Democrats' last chance to enact the type of transformative legislation President Biden has promised. No one knows how this will play out over the next few days, but does that motivate the different factions of this party, because it's very much up in the air right now.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is up in the air, and, Wolf, the White House is counting on that very message to get that across the finish line. They are essentially saying that this is too big to fail for the Democratic party, that doing this is so important that if they can't get it done and then they face voters in 2022, it's going to be very, very bad for the party as a whole and so even though they may not be entirely happy with what's on the table they really need to figure out how to get to this place. And that's why I think the meeting -- I've certainly talked to some congressional Democrats who want the White House to weigh in more strongly on this. So perhaps that is what that meeting is going to be about.

I think there's also a lot of delicate balancing going on right now by the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. She's commanded a lot of respect in her ability to count votes and while, yes, Pramila Jayapal did go into the meeting and tell her that the votes aren't there for her to pass the bipartisan plan on Monday which is the first key part of this agenda.

She also said, you know what, we talked about the priorities that the progressives have and so Pelosi can figure out how to make sure those priorities go in the reconciliation bill, maybe she can make some headway, but the reality here is the Democrats don't have very much time to get on the same page and right now it's really hard to see if they can end up there.

BLITZER: Yes. That's an important point. You know, Evan, how much of President Biden's legislative legacy is on the line right now?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, this is as tough of week as the president is likely to have in Congress.


Look, the reality is that they have bet a lot on these two bills, partly because they have the moment. They have got control of Congress and they have got the ability to try to pack as much in as he can.

He talked about in his speech at the U.N. today, this being an infliction point that applies not only to his domestic agenda but also on the world stage. He talked about democracy. He referenced it a dozen times and I was struck by that because what he was really saying was that we are in a foot race with authoritarian regimes.

It's up to democracies to demonstrate that they can get things done, but that is really being put to the test, and we're going to see that in Washington, so it's not just the rest of Washington that's watching to see how strong this president is going into the mid terms of the next two years of his administration, it's also the rest of the world trying to assess whether the United States is a reliable leader and partner so the stakes really couldn't be larger.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. You know, Clarissa, the president, he was clearly on the world stage as well earlier today at the United Nations promising this new era of American diplomacy, but do his words ring hollow right now, at least with some key U.S. allies?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's definitely fair to say that this narrative that the president is trying to project, that America is back, that liberal democracies will prevail, that we're entering an era of global unity, that's a lot more challenging for President Biden to present right now than it was at the G7, for example.

And a big part of that is because while he's standing there and trumpeting the same power of democracies, it's set against the backdrop of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan which, of course, precipitated the Taliban sweeping to power and now you're talking about a lot of the Democratic gains that were made in Afghanistan over the last two decades being erased.

And beyond that you're also talking about quite a few U.S. allies who felt sort of blind-sided by the way in which this withdrawal was carried out, and, of course, you're now seeing even more recently this very public spat with France. The timing with that is unfortunate. The French were calling their ambassador.

And so really I think President Biden facing certainly heightened levels of skepticism and a lot of anxiety from U.S. allies around the world as he was delivering the speech. That wasn't quite the same level of excitedness that we saw at the G7 where it was such a declarative America is back. It's definitive and it means something and now it's more a question to the international community but what does that look like? What does that global leadership really look like?

BLITZER: Good point. You know, Evan, give me a quick final thought right now because we know that President Biden has had, what, 40, 50 years of experience in foreign policy but some key U.S. allies, especially France right now, they are so irritated.

OSNOS: Well, one of the things you heard running through that was him trying to say rallying allies to the idea that we have to look ahead to the next 20 years, is he said it is time to turn page. That's not going to be easy as Clarissa mentioned, but the data point that lingers in his mind is that at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan the U.S. economy was eight times larger than as the Chinese economy. Today, they are about equal. So there are reasons for him to be looking ahead for the century to come.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very, very much. Just ahead, we'll going to have more on the truly remarkable rift right now between the U.S. and its first ale. We're talking about France, now accusing the Biden administration of a breach of trust. Paris recalling its ambassador from the United States back to Paris in a truly extraordinary move. That Ambassador will join us live from Paris when we come back.



Tonight, President Biden's emphasis on global diplomacy during his speech over at the United Nations today is meeting with some skepticism. Officials in France, for example, are still smarting over a new submarine deal involving the U.S., the U.K. and Australia that they see as a stab in the back.

Let's discuss with the French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne who was recalled back to Paris because of the rift. He's joining us live from Paris right now.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. As you heard earlier today, President Biden is promising an era of what he calls relentless diplomacy, but how do you react to that in light of what you and your government allies are calling a breach of trust from the United States over this submarine controversy?

PHILIPPE ETIENNE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you for having me tonight, and thank you for introducing this subject. I remember during the Trump years the ones who have held the house, who have kept the multi-natural international order they were the Europeans.

We have kept the Paris climate agreement. We have initiated the international cooperation against the virus. So we hope and we think, we must, we can have a very, very important partnership between the U.S. now and the European Unions and the Europeans to have an efficient multi-lateral relation and this is the reason why we were indeed somewhat disappointed when we had seen recently more unilateral behaviors by this administration.

BLITZER: Because it -- it's seen as a -- maybe very dramatically as a low point in U.S.-French relations. When was the last time France ordered its ambassador to the United States to be recalled to Paris to protest what the U.S. was doing?


ETIENNE: Well, that's a good question. I don't think -- I didn't find any precedent exactly of this kind. On the other, it is not the first time we go through difficult years, different relations, difficult times in our relations. But it's true. It's truly a very strong measure because as you said we felt there was this breach of trust as we discovered that the new project was developed for Australian submarines while we had a contract going on with Australia which had been signed in 2016, and this contract was considered until the very last day as currently implemented by the Australian clients, by the Australian authorities.

BLITZER: And I know you and your colleagues in the French government are very, very angry that the U.S. did not inform you of this in advance and you were stunned and surprised by the decision to go ahead and eliminate the French contract and go ahead with a new deal involving the U.S.

The French foreign minister compared President Biden's approach to former President Trump's saying, and I quoting him now, this spirit is still the same. Do you agree with him? Does the Biden administration have the same spirit as the Trump administration did?

ETIENNE: Well, we were not informed by the U.S., you said rightly. We were not either informed by the Australians, and there was a general issue between very close allies. I think that France -- I see France as a very reliable trusted ally, very active in the Indo-Pacific. We have territories in the Pacific Ocean like in the Indian Ocean so obviously this behavior has indeed the fact of not giving us any information about this new negotiation has been a shock, and of them all we have said repeatedly to our Americans friends that this contract was not only a contract but it was the cornerstone of a strategic partnership with Australia and of our Indo-Pacific strategy and we -- I still think today, that you have an ally like France, active also in the indo-pacific region that is in the interest of the United States so you see beyond the contract, beyond this issue of none being informed, there is also a big strategy question which is the Indo-Pacific strategy and our cooperation in this very important region.

BLITZER: So let me repeat the question. Does the Biden administration now have the same spirit as the Trump administration had as your foreign minister has suggested?

ETIENNE: I mean, from some point of view, we feel there is like a unilateral pattern. The fact of non-consulting -- not informing allies in this case, in this case, of course, so we hope really now we must rebuild the trust, and I know that President Biden has, expressed a wish to have a conversation with the French president, France President Macron. Now, we look at the future, we must rebuild this trust. We must show it's other that we are real allies because allies means something completely different. It means quite another behavior.

BLITZER: When is that conversation, that phone conversation between President Macron and President Biden going to take place?

ETIENNE: I hope sooner, but, anyway, in the next days.

BLITZER: The next what?

ETIENNE: Days, but sooner.

BLITZER: What's the problem right now? Why is it so difficult to pick up a phone and have a conversation between the United States and its longest ally, we're talking about France?

ETIENNE: It is not difficult. We must ensure the success of this first contact after we had this event, and so we prepare it. We have to prepare it.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a very --

ETIENNE: That's (ph) done being patient.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a very sensitive moment. Mr. Ambassador, I hope I'll see you back here in Washington soon. The U.S.-French relationship is so, so important. Thank you very much for joining us. Good luck. Appreciate it very, very much, the ambassador from France. Philippe Etienne, joining us.

ETIENNE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Lots at stake.

Meanwhile, there's new proof to that former President Trump aggressively, aggressively worked to orchestrate a coup in the wake of his election loss last year to Joe Biden.


CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, we're learning new details of some extraordinary developments just now coming to light.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, from getting his own lawyers to perpetrate an outright lie about voting machines and trying to get Mike Pence to do an end run around the constitution the new details we're getting of Trump's effort to stay in power ahead of January 6th are simply jarring. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): New information tonight on the outrageous measures Donald Trump went to, to overturn the election results, a memo from Trump's campaign two weeks after the election indicated the campaign knew that claims from Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell were false, claims that a voting machine company dominion had worked with a software company, financier George Soros and Venezuela to steal the election.

SIDNEY POWELL, TRUMP ELECTION LAWYER: The machines were easily accessible to hackers.

TODD: The memos said the Trump campaign knew they were false campaigns was obtained by the New York Times from court papers this. This comes as we get new details on the extraordinary pressure that Trump and his legal team put on then Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the election results on January 6th.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election.

TODD: Trump and a controversial lawyer named John Eastman tried to convince Pence that he could overturn the results on January 6th when Congress officially counted the electoral votes by throwing out electors from seven states. That's according to the new book, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This memo shows with stark and I think chilling clarity that President Trump himself was plotting a coup, working with his minions in the White House.

TODD: A six-point memo by Eastman laid out a plan for Pence to overturn the election for Trump which included throwing out results in seven states because those states according to Eastman had competing electors but in fact no state had put forward any alternate slates of electors.

They were only Trump allies claiming without any authority to be electors. Under Eastman's scheme Pence would have declared Trump the winner with more Electoral College votes, after Pence tossed out those seven states. Eastman even spoke about that at a Trump rally before the insurrection on January 6th.

JOHN EASTMAN, LAWYER FOR TRUMP IN LAWSUIT TO BLOCK ELECTION RESULTS: Anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office. It's that simple.

TODD: In the memo, Eastman even suggested that Pence take this action as a surprise. Quote, the main thing is that Pence should do this without asking for permission, either from a vote of the joint session or the court. The fact is that the constitution assigns this power to the vice president as the ultimate arbiter.

PROF. STEPHEN VLADECK, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: I think every single part of the legal analysis in this memo is wrong. The vice president's role is supposed to be almost entirely ceremonial.

TODD: In the end, Pence, refused to go along with Eastman's plan, determining that the constitution didn't give him the power to overturn the election. Trump abruptly turned on Pence, attacking him on twitter as the attack on the Capitol unfolded and rioters called for Pence's hanging.

CROWS: Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence.

TODD: What if Pence had gone along with it?

GERGEN: If Pence had gone through with this and worked with the president to overthrow the government we would have been very close to having a civil war among ourselves.


TODD (on camera): Contacted by CNN John Eastman said the memo proposing that Mike Pence set aside election results was only a preliminary draft laying out options for the vice president, that he told Pence he should only delay certifying votes in seven states, not try to throw the election to Trump. John Eastman retired from his job as a Professor at Chapman University in California a week after January 6th amid protests from that school's faculty over his reported collaboration with Donald Trump. Wolf. Stunning details here.

BLITZER: Totally stunning indeed. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this, CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman is joining us, she's the Washington Correspondent for the New York Times. Maggie, there's new reporting from the New York Times, shows that when it came to the allegations about dominion voting systems, for example, just like so many other things, the truth simply did not matter to the Trump campaign, did it?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, Wolf, there were a couple of different layers of what was happening within the Trump campaign at the time and as you say my colleague's reporting show, there were people who recognized that this was not all real.

The problem with what was happening was that Rudy Giuliani had been tasked by then President Trump, then-President Trump, to be in charge of his legal efforts and Giuliani was telling the former president what he wanted to hear, Sidney Powell, who for a while was part of that legal effort was telling the former president what he wanted to hear.

But it is a window into how many people around the former president knew what was taking place, was not accurate, was not based in fact and were, you know, sort of had to stand there because the former president was not listening to those who were saying this was a problem, but, yes, it's all documented.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly is. Let me get back to that six-step scheme to overturn the U.S. presidential election. [18:30:01]

You just heard Brain's reporting. When you hear the details, it certainly becomes clear that the then-Vice President Mike Pence really was the linchpin here, wasn't he?

HABERMAN: There's no question. And look, Wolf, to hear that John Eastman apparently claimed that this was a preliminary step and he wasn't suggesting that Mike Pence could just summarily overthrow the election, based on what Trump was hearing from Eastman and a couple of others, but Eastman, Trump was telling people in the White House and outside the White House in the lead-up to January 6th that this was exactly the power that Pence had. Trump was telling Pence this was the power the Pence had and Pence saying that he didn't. Remember that Donald Trump made Mike Pence meet with John Eastman for several hours in the lead up to January 6th, that at the day before, or two days before. So it's fine now after the fact to say this wasn't real serious but in fact, this was really serious.

BLITZER: And you going to get Pence a lot of credit for refusing to do what the president of the United States wanted him to do at that time.

We also learned that, Maggie, that Trump reached out to the Georgia secretary of state just a few days ago, ten months after the election. Is this an effort to overturn the election? Is it still very much under way in Donald Trump's mind right now?

HABERMAN: Look, in Donald Trump's mind is where it is. And in a conversation on certain corners of the internet and people who are close to the former president and trying to stir him up because there's now this sort of business model and claiming that there was widespread fraud. There is clearly a coroner of the former president that believes it. I don't know if that's the entire of his mind, but there's a part of him that believes that there is some chance here. He committed to paper asking the secretary of state of Georgia to decertify the election.

This is something that folks around him were insisting he wasn't really serious about. There's a letter there with his signature, you know, some of Trump's folks were arguing to me privately oh, no, no, no. This is just about getting base voters excited and trying to get rid of the secretary of state who Trump has been railing against for months.

That's a little too clever. I think this was just Donald Trump doing something that he wanted to do, and it perpetuates a dangerous statement because this election is not getting decertified. There's no mechanism for it getting decertified but there are people around him and his followers, some of them anyway, who are going to believe what he says.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Maggie about, Trump's future political plans? Do you think he's running for president in 2024?

At the moment he is doing everything that one would be doing if they were running. It doesn't mean he ultimately will, but it certainly looks like it right now. I will say that the amount of time that he's spending talking about the past election is going to be pretty challenging going forward.

I think, you know, he is a decent path to the nomination if that's what he choose. He still quite popular with Republicans and within state parties and their apparatuses, but this is not something that most voters want to talk about. Voters generally want to talk about the future.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Maggie Haberman, as usual thank you very much.

Coming up, there's more breaking news we're following. Officials now confirm that human remains found in Wyoming this weekend belong to Gabby Petito and say her death is a homicide. We're going have the latest on the urgent search for Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie.



BLITZER: Breaking news in the case of Gabby Petito. A coroner has just confirmed that remains found in Wyoming are in fact that in fact of the young woman and has ruled her death as a homicide. CNN's Leyla Santiago is working the story for us. She's in Venice, Florida. Leyla, the search for Petito's missing fiance, Brian Laundrie, is now focused where you are down there in Florida.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Search teams have been in this area for several days now on and off, but where they are right now is a different section of this wildlife reserve. Wolf, I can tell you having been here several days we certainly saw many more resources coming in today for this search. You can tell teams are hoping that that will lead them to answers.


SANTIAGO (voice over): Tonight, an autopsy has confirmed the human remains found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sunday, have been identified as Gabby Petito's. The FBI confirming the news in a tweet, the corners initial determination for the manner of death, homicide.

The news coming as the search is intensifying for Gabby Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, whose parent told police he disappeared a week ago today. The search now back in a nearby nature reserve this time at a different section where police say Laundrie's parents claimed he was headed before he went missing.

Police had said, they've exhausted searches all avenues of the grounds of the park over the weekend. By yesterday afternoon however, teams were called back in to assist with the search.

COMMANDER JOE FUSSELL, NORTH POINT POLICE DEPARTMENT: We have multiple law enforcement partners assisting us in the search. We have multiple drone operators that have been sent out in numerous teams. So we'll mix the resources and deploy them out so if they encounter flooded areas or terrain that they can't access with these wheel vehicles, will deploy our drones directly out into the wooded areas.

SANTIAGO: Authorities saying the search area is not easy to navigate.

FUSSELL: The terrain is very difficult. Essentially 75 percent of it it's under water, and other areas that are dry we're trying to clear.

SANTIAGO: New audio also released from a 911 call that came in on August 12th in Moab, Utah, where someone said, he witnessed Laundrie and Petito in an altercation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grand County sheriff's office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm calling, I'm right on the corner of main street by Moonflower, and we're driving by and I would like to report a domestic dispute, Florida with the white van, Florida license plate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were they doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was slapping her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off.

SANTIAGO: Dashcam video also released by Moab police from that same day show Petito very emotional, but that conversation with police seemed to point to Petito as the aggressor in the argument.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was yelling at him, because when he turned the lights on, I like kind of punched his arm like (INAUDIBLE).

SANTIAGO: The FBI has now executed a search warrant at Laundrie's home where he and Petito lived with his parents, authorities questioning them for several hours packing the van with bags taken from their home and towing away a mustang, hoping the evidence leads investigators to answers the questions, where is Brian Laundrie?


SANTIAGO (on camera): And earlier, Wolf, the police here said that the search continued. They still didn't have all the answers that they want but, quote, we must press on. We should also mention that we had expected the attorney of Laundrie's family to give out some sort of statement, go before the cameras today and that was cancelled overnight. And the -- according to the attorney it was at the request of the FBI.

BLITZER: All right, Leyla, thank you very much. Leyla Santiago reporting for us.

Let's get more on the breaking news. Joining us now, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Anthony Barksdale, Anthony, thanks so much for joining us. How does this investigation change now that officials have publicly confirm the manner of death was homicide?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, this opens up all resources. This is where law enforcement officials pour it on to find the suspect because in my opinion he's the suspect, and they are going to give it their all, and I'm looking forward to seeing them succeed.

BLITZER: We still do not know the specific cause of Petito's death. Homicide, they say, but specifically the injury that killed her, how important is that information?

BARKSDALE: Well, it's -- you know, homicide breaks down into murder and manslaughter. I believe this is going to be a murder. Even if it's manslaughter, this -- I don't even know what to -- this suspect needs to explain himself, so he obviously doesn't want to come forward and cooperate. Maybe, you know, by law he doesn't have to incriminate himself, but law enforcement now has a ruling that it is a homicide. They are going to continue to do their job so sooner or later he's going to have to face justice for what he has done.

BLITZER: The FBI, Anthony, is now asking for the public's help finding Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, as that manhunt clearly intensifies. What does that indicate to you?

BARKSDALE: If the FBI is saying to the public come on and help us, I mean, that's a huge force multiplier. I mean, we already know that we've got the TikTok is all into this. We've got Twitter into this. We've got YouTube into this. This is a significant case. This is a game-changer in how we go about, when I say we, law enforcement, how we go about finding suspects in crimes.

BLITZER: Does it make sense, Anthony, that they haven't been able to track down Brian Laundrie yet when it's been a week?

BARKSDALE: Well, it's a game of hide and go seek right now. If he is somewhere that is a large geographic area, it can be tougher for law enforcement to find him, but once again, I believe law enforcement has enough technology that if he is still alive they can find him. If he's still alive, his heart is still beating, he still gives off a temperature and there's equipment that can pinpoint him if that's the case.

If he's still on his cell phone, they can still pinpoint that. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I'm going to stick with law enforcement finding this individual.

BLITZER: CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Anthony Barksdale. Anthony, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're awaiting a final FDA ruling on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. Plus, welcome news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We'll talk about all of that. That's coming up next with the former Director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden.



BLITZER: There may be some clarity soon on the confusion over COVID- 19 vaccine booster shots after a series of mixed messages from the Biden administration and U.S. and global health officials.

Let's discuss that and more with the former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Dr. Frieden, thanks so much for joining us.

We should soon, very soon, find out the final FDA ruling on booster shots. Do you expect they will do anything other than adopt the recommendations for a limited rollout?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I don't think that he will they will change that. The vote in the advisory committee was unanimous against recommending boosters for everyone. And the data suggests that if boosters are necessary, they're going to be necessary, at this point, for people over the age of 65 and those at particularly high risk.

But really, we have to go back to the bottom line here, Wolf, which is that the reason we're still having well over a thousand deaths a day and tens of thousands of people in our hospitals is because people haven't been vaccinated. Not because the vaccine needs a boost.

BLITZER: Were close to 2,000 deaths here in the United States right now. It's so, so disturbing. And a new study finds, Dr. Frieden, that two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine increase the protection to 94 percent.


Were you surprised by that big jump at all?

FRIEDEN: There is a lot of information in the press release from Johnson & Johnson. We haven't seen all of the details, yet. But what we've seen is encouraging.

The J&J vaccine is a very good vaccine. It's very safe. A second dose increased that protection, but interestingly, there was no waning of protection despite delta and despite six months going on. So the vaccine was still protecting well, but protected even better after a booster at two months and best after a booster at six months.

So, there may be a recommendation to provide boosts for the J&J- vaccinated folks, particularly those in those high-risk groups, over 65, and at very high risk of developing severe disease.

BLITZER: What's -- what's really very disturbing right now is nearly 226,000 children here in the U.S. came down with COVID-19 just last week. If five to 11-year-olds are able to start getting vaccinated by the end of October, do you expect these numbers will turn around? And how quickly can we hope to see improvement?

FRIEDEN: I think it's going to be problematic for the next few months, even if vaccine gets approved. It has to be rolled out. It's two doses, takes about six weeks for full protection to kick in. And we know from studies that a single dose even of the strong mRNA vaccines is not particularly protective against delta.

That's why to keep schools open, to keep kids learning in person, we need layered protections. That means vaccinate everyone who can be vaccinated. Mask up indoors. Test regularly. And increase ventilation.

BLITZER: Important steps, indeed. Some experts now say it's safe to get the -- the coronavirus vaccine and the flu vaccine, at the same time.

Do you agree with that? Just how important is it right now to get a flu shot, especially, let's say, this time of the year?

FRIEDEN: It's getting to be time to get a flu shot. We don't know if this flu year will be a bad one. The only thing you can predict about influenza is that it's unpredictable and that the best thing you can do to protect yourself is get a flu shot.

They're not perfect. They're not nearly effective against flu as the COVID vaccine is against COVID, but they are still the best protection we have against flu. I've gotten my flu shot and I encourage everyone to get their flu shot.

BLITZER: I get mine in the next few days. I get one every year.

Dr. Frieden, thank you so, so much.

Coming up: we are going to have the latest on the migrant crisis down in Texas. And the very aggressive tactics used by Border Patrol agents that horrify -- horrified -- the homeland security secretary.



BLITZER: More video and pictures are putting a very disturbing twist on the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border in Del Rio, Texas. They appear to show American Border Patrol agents on horseback aggressively confronting migrants, mostly from Haiti.

CNN's Rosa Flores is on the scene for us.

So, Rosa, so how is the Biden administration reacting to these shocking images?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Vice President Kamala Harris commenting today saying that these images are horrible. That she is deeply troubled by these videos that show border patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics. She says that she is in contact with Secretary Mayorkas and that she supports a full and thorough investigation. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announcing today, too, that he is

just horrified by these images, saying that horses should not, cannot be weaponized to attack migrant children, saying that this needs to be investigated. That DHS has launched an investigation. And also, sent personnel from the office of professional responsibility here to Del Rio to make sure that these individuals are on-site, again saying that the mistreatment of migrants will not be tolerated in the United States, period. And also, vowing to follow the facts, Wolf, and saying that the facts will determine the accountability here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's -- what's the situation, Rosa, on the ground right now? What's the plan to get this under control?

FLORES: You know, we have seen the numbers diminish in the past few days. Mayorkas announcing today that they have transferred out about 4,000 migrants. So that jives with the numbers we have seen. The last that I ever heard from the mayor here, there is about 8,500 migrants still under the bridge.

Mayorkas saying today that at least four flights will be heading out to Haiti and other countries and they, of course, continue to work tirelessly to transfer as many migrants from under this bridge to be processed at U.S. immigration facilities.

And, Wolf, we are seeing these numbers come down. We're going to continue monitoring and see what the situation is here on the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are showing live pictures right now from Del Rio, Texas.

Rosa, very quickly. The expectation, though, is potentially thousands more could be on the way?

FLORES: You know, and that's where officials say the situation could be very complicated, Wolf, because they don't know exactly where those migrants could be entering or trying to enter the United States. Will they be coming here to Del Rio? Will they go going to other areas like the Rio Grande Valley where there is more processing activity? They don't know. That complicates the situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Rosa Flores on the scene for us, we will stay in touch. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thank versus much for watching. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.