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Biden Meeting With Key Democrats As Domestic Agenda In Peril; Vice President Harris Raises Grave Concerns About Migrant Crisis; Awaiting FDA Decision On Pfizer Booster Shots; FBI Asks For Public For Help To Find Petito Fiance, Brian Laundrie; George W. Bush To Hold Fundraiser For Liz Cheney. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 22, 2021 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden is holding urgent talks over at the White House, capping a day of negotiations with divided Democrats. He's desperate to end their infighting, and a make-or-break moment for his domestic agenda.

Also tonight, CNN is on the scene of the migrant crisis at the southern border. Vice President Harris now raising grave concerns about the treatment of Haitians crossing into Texas.

And the FDA could reveal its decision on Pfizer booster shots at any time. We're learning that CDC advisers are putting their own booster to date on hold awaiting the FDA ruling after weeks of controversy and confusion.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with President Biden's meeting with key Democrats tonight as he fights to prevent his domestic agenda from collapsing. We're covering the breaking story from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. Ryan Nobles is standing by up on Capitol Hill.

But, first, let's go to the White House. Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us. Jeff, the president is meeting face-to-face behind closed doors right now. Give us the latest.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is meeting in his third meeting of three today. He's spent 90 minutes meeting with moderates, now he is about 30 minutes into a meeting with progressives. That is Senator Bernie Sanders, a few other senators, and five House members.

Wolf, this is designed to be President Biden's full-court press, listening to the concerns from across the wide spectrum of the Democratic Party. At issue, of course, is $3.5 trillion economic agenda, along with that separate infrastructure plan. This is a make- or-break moment for his entire agenda. He realizes that. And his party is a party divided.

Interestingly, he is meeting with these groups separately. He started the afternoon meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then he had about a 96-minute meeting with the moderates from both the Senate and the House and now again meeting with the progressives.

Now, no resolution is expected this evening, but they are trying to essentially to figure out what the bounds of these conversations are, how much each side is willing to go. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier that, look, there needs to be compromise from all sides and the president realizes this party is divided.

But at issue here, what exactly is going to be trimmed back. Progressives already believe that they have given enough on this. Moderates believe that this simply -- there is not a need for all of this spending. So, Wolf, this is a critical moment for this part. It is not an overstatement to state his entire agenda for at least the first year of the presidency is on the line in the coming days here. So, that's why he is becoming so involved on that, having this day long sort of discussions here at the White House.

BLITZER: Yes. The clock is clearly ticking. Jeff, I want you to standby. We're going to get back to you in just a moment. But I want to go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles right now. Ryan, so what has been the readout at least so far from these meetings with the president and these deeply divided factions of the Democratic Party?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Democrats that have emerged from these meetings are really striking a positive tone, but they're not offering up too much in the way of substance as to what was discussed. They continue to say that there are talks and that there is progress being made, but what exactly that progress is, we're not quite sure of.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has been insistent that this is a process, that the legislative process often isn't easy but it is worth doing, she said that they're headed on the right track, take a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I will not be talking about that right now. We are on schedule. That is all I will say. And we're calm and everybody is good and our work is almost done. So we're in good shape.


NOBLES: So you heard that, we're calm, we're in good shape and we are on schedule, it is the unscheduled part that everyone is paying close attention to because, of course, Wolf, there is a key vote scheduled for Monday, where the House speaker has promised House moderates that they'll vote on that bipartisan infrastructure package that has already passed the Senate.

The problem is that progressives are not going to vote in favor of that measure unless there is a clear path towards that much broader $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package. That is what they're negotiating right now. They say they're making process, but, Wolf, at this point we don't know what that progress is.

BLITZER: Yes. And we have to find out fairly soon. Ryan, I want you to stay with us as well. Jeff Zeleny is back in the conversation along with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, is this an all or nothing moment as far as domestic issues are concern for the Biden presidency?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I agree with what Jeff said earlier. The Democratic Party controls the White House, controls the Senate, controls the House, and they have to figure out a way to get to yes, or the American public will not believe that they are a governing party.


We know that the margins are narrow. We understand all of that. But Joe Biden, when he was running for the presidency, promised a lot of things. And one of the things he promised was that I can get things done for you, because I'm going to prove that democracy can work for the American people.

And this, for better or worse, incorporates a lot of Joe Biden's vision for where the country should be. Now he has to get everyone together and say, okay, what are we going to leave out of this vision at this particular point so we can get something through the Congress? He knows he's not going to have Republican help, everybody understands that, but they do have something to prove here. Because if they fail, will Democrats turn out in 2022? Why would they if they're disappointed?

BLITZER: Well, that's an important point, you know, Ryan. Obviously, there's a huge divide right now among the Democrats, but are they really willing to let all of this fall apart, knowing their time and control in the House and Senate could be short-lived?

NOBLES: Yes. I think that's a great point, Wolf. And when you talk to rank and file Democrats about the opportunity they have in front of them, they understand that the window maybe very small. They saw what happened during the Obama administration, where Democrats only have control of both the House and the Senate and the White House for just two years. They understand the reality of the difficult math that they face in 2022, so they want to get something done.

But at the same time that desire to get something done has also led to serious pressure points that has allowed certain members that have certain projects that they want to see pass, it's allowed them to use that as leverage.

And I think that's what we're seeing play out here. This is old- fashioned legislating, behind closed doors, where you're trying to expose a vulnerability from someone that you're negotiating with in order to get something that you want.

The big question is, Wolf, at the end of the day, will they be willing to compromise? Does that mean progressives are willing to scale back that $3.5 trillion plan if it means that they're still going to get perhaps $2 trillion or maybe $3 trillion in total spending when you take into account the bipartisan infrastructure deal? And does it mean moderates are willing to spend a little bit more than they're willing to do now and even raise the deficit if it means getting this package over the finish line. That's the conversations that are happening right now behind closed doors.

BLITZER: And, Jeff, as you know, all of President Biden's political capital has gone into this infrastructure and reconciliation bills, the negotiations that are ongoing. Is that coming at the expense of other critical important issues?

ZELENY: Well, certainly, it's all coming at once, Wolf. And it was this administration's decision by design to put virtually their entire agenda in these two bills. So, they literally have put all their eggs in essential one basket. So we will see what happens because of that.

But this president is significantly -- he enters these negotiations in a weaker position than he was just a few months ago because of this stubborn fight against COVID-19, of course, because of Afghanistan, because of a variety of things. But in his party, he is still the leader of his party.

So what advisers to President Biden tell me, and here at the White House, they believe that President Biden will be able to impress upon, you know, these varying members of his party in this big tent in the Democratic Party to bring them together.

But we should point out, what are we talking about here? We're talking about actual things that, in many respects, are pretty popular where the broad part of the American public, free pre-K, free community colleges, expanding Medicare for dental, for hearing, and then climate change. Virtually, the entire climate agenda is in this and on and on. The question is should everyone get these free programs. That is what just really going on here.

We saw Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema here earlier this afternoon, of course, the Democratic Senators from West Virginia and Arizona. They believe that there should be means testing, that everyone should not get these free programs.

So, that is what's at issue here, how big and how generous is this Democratic Party going to be. So, if President Biden gets this accomplished, this will be historic. If it does not, Wolf, it's hard to imagine him being able to do anything else. And as Gloria said, it's hard to imagine the Democrats being able to show that they can govern, because they clearly can't.

BLITZER: Yes. It would be a huge failure if they fail to reach an agreement. You know, Gloria, separate talks, bipartisan talks, I should point out, on police reform have now ground to a halt. We're also seeing shocking images from the U.S./Mexican border. President Biden faces these major foreign policy blunders in recent weeks. Even if he gets infrastructure across the finish line, he certainly has a lot on his plate right now, doesn't he?

BORGER: He does. And it's all really important. And right now, the things they're going to be voting on, the things they are going to be discussing with the president right now are things that people care about.


They care about what's going to be in Medicare. They care about community colleges. They care about their kids' education, and on and on and on.

And so the Democrats have an opportunity here. Because if the Republicans vote against everything, and they get some stuff through, not all of it, not all of it, say, it's not $3 trillion, say, it's $2 trillion, they can go home and they can say Republicans voted against this, but here is what we have given you.

If they come home empty-handed, it is a real problem, because they haven't delivered on their promises, and they're in this with Joe Biden. I mean, I was talking to a Democratic pollster who said, look, they're all in this together. You cannot separate the president from the Democrats. If the Democrats fail in the Congress, then the president will fail as well, and neither one should want that to happen.

BLITZER: This is truly a very critical moment in the Biden presidency these next few days. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead we're going live to the U.S./Mexico border, you're looking at live pictures now, as the Biden administration is scrambling to contain a growing migrant crisis. We have details tonight about how some migrants are being flown home while others are being released here in the United States.



BLITZER: The Biden administration is scrambling tonight to try to contain the fallout from the border crisis, and Vice President Harris raised what she calls grave concerns over disturbing images of border patrol agents on horses aggressively confronting migrants.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Mexico for us just across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Matt, so what are you seeing there on the ground?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we're on the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexico border, in Ciudad Acuna, which is like you said, just across from Del Rio. And all day long, we've been seeing people essentially cross back and forth across the Rio Grande all day long between the Mexico side and the U.S. side. I can show you, there's a couple people actually crossing right now.

Basically, what we've been seeing is that people have been crossing from the U.S. side, standing that encampment underneath the international bridge. They've been coming across using that guideline here to Mexico basically to get supplies. It's a little bit easier to get food, water, diapers even on the Mexico side, they're collecting those supplies, and some of them are going back across.

The question for many of these people is do they go back to the U.S. or do they stay in Mexico. They face the risk of deportation either way, Wolf. Basically, we know that some Haitian migrants have been let into the United States, others have been deported to Haiti. The exact same thing is going on in Mexico. And so for these migrants, many have of whom are travels for months and months and months all the way from Haiti to South America up to here, that's the big question.

The other thing really interesting, Wolf, right now is that the river level, the water level here has risen significantly over the past couple hours. It hasn't rained, which means that dam further upstream here, there has been water released. We don't know why that water was release, if it was scheduled, if it was a decision made today.

But the results is that, it's much more dangerous to cross, which is why all these people here to my right, these people are waiting to cross. They want to go back to the United States, but they can't right now. Several people have told us it's too dangerous. They don't feel comfortable crossing at this point. So, a very fluid situation for many, a very dangerous situation, Wolf, and it is just ongoing here on the U.S./Mexico border.

BLITZER: Is Mexico, Matt, doing anything to try to stop the flow of these Haitian migrants?

RIVERS: You know, we have seen Mexican authorities going back all way to the Trump administration take consistent steps to try and stop migrants coming up from Central America to reaching the U.S. border. It was just yesterday, actually, that we, my team and I, were down on the U.S./Guatemala border -- excuse me, the Mexico/Guatemala border in Southern Mexico.

We saw lots of Haitians being allowed to come north. But many Guatemalans, Venezuelans, Hondurans, they were not allowed to call, that they were being -- that law enforcement was stopping them from coming. But we heard from multiple immigration activists, from Haitians migrants themselves, who have said they were allowed to come here by the thousands, all arriving essentially within a few days of each other.

We've asked the Mexican government why that is, why it seems that there is lack of law enforcement when it comes specifically to Haitian migrants, specifically the Mexican government in charge, the agency in charge of immigration says, we don't have a comment on that. That's something we're continuing to look into. But it is something that immigration activists in Southern Mexican told me they have never seen, Wolf, before, so many thousands of people from one country being allowed to cross up to the northern border, which is how we got in the situation we're in right now.

BLITZER: Yes. And some of those Haitian migrants, as you point out, are allowed to stay in the United States, being relocated, others are being forced to get on planes and they're flown back to Haiti. All right, Matt, we'll stay on very close touch with you. Matt Rivers on the scene for us, thank you.

Coming up, a new lawsuit involving former President Trump, as his legal troubles grow, why he's now suing his own niece for $100 million, that's next.



BLITZER: Mounting legal troubles for former President Trump, he has now filed a $100 million lawsuit against his niece, Mary Trump, alleging her disclosure of tax information to The New York Times, was an illegal breach of contract.

Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is here in the Situation Room with me. Paula, the former president actually filed this case, but he's facing a lot of legal cases himself.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He currently faces over a dozen civil and criminal cases. They touch on his every aspect of his life, his family, his business, his political career. And while he's never faced criminal charges, the question is what impact will these cases have on his business and political future?


REID (voice over): Tonight, Mary Trump brushing off the lawsuit from her uncle saying, the walls are closing in and he is throwing anything against the wall that he thinks will stick. She previously sued Trump and other family members over her share of the family businesses, and suggested her uncle has an ulterior motive for staying in politics.


MARY TRUMP, NIECE OF FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It would protect him from the criminal charges and the civil charges being levied against him.

REID: How real is that risk? Well, lawyers for the Trump Organization and longtime top executive Allen Weisselberg were back in court Monday after being charged this summer with running a 15-year scheme to help its executives evade taxes on compensation by hiding luxury perks and bonuses.

JENNIFER WEISSELBERG, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ALLEN WEISSELBERG: The raise is paid in an apartment, in a car, in a tuition. That's the issue. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Were taxes ever paid on the --

WEISSELBERG: Not indicated at all.

REID: They have pleaded not guilty. But, so far, the former president has not been charged. But with the possibility of more indictments coming, Trump faces the risk of someone turning state's witness.

The former president also faces potential civil and criminal liability related to the January 6th Capitol riot.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

REID: Representative Eric Swalwell has sued Trump and associates, alleging they violated federal civil rights law. Ten members of the House of Representatives along with the NAACP have also sued Trump over the attack, as have multiple Capitol Hill Police officers over injuries they sustained. The D.C. attorney general has also said he is looking into the possibility of charging Trump with a misdemeanor for provoking the insurrection. And a House select committee investigating the deadly insurrection could subpoena some of Trump's closest advisers.

This weekend, Trump is expected to headline a rally in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' office has been investigating whether his efforts to overturn Georgia's election results were criminal.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The Trump investigation is ongoing.

REID: An investigation prompted in part by Trump's January call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

D. TRUMP: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.

REID: His legal problems don't stop there. Trump faces two separate cases brought by women who say he defamed them after they accused him of rape or sexual assault, Summer Zervos and E. Jean Carroll.


REID (on camera): If those civil suits move forward, Trump, could have to sit for a deposition. But the most direct threat right now is to the Trump Organization. It's been criminally charge, and if convicted, could have difficulty getting loans from banks and even potentially lose its liquor license which are critical in hospitality industry.

BLITZER: They certainly are. All right Paula Reid, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some analysis right now. Our CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates is joining us and Dave Aronberg, the State Attorney for Palm Beach County, down in Florida.

Laura, what do you make, first of all, of the former president going after his niece for disclosing the tax information? Does this lawsuit have any merit?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it seems to be an additional attempt now to, on the one hand, try to stop anyone from publishing or viewing any of his tax records. Remember he already lost a protracted litigation up to the Supreme Court and allowed Congress and also the Manhattan D.A. to actually see this.

But, remember, it's also about his attack on the media. He's had a long going fight talking about how he believes that they are trying to acting in a vindictive way towards him. They cite this way that there was a person vendetta, of sorts. All of this is really an attempt to try to deflect and say that this was not about a public interest story, which can oftentimes protect journalists from being able to say, we put forth the information, it was of extreme public importance, but talking and said about actual malice and a vendetta.

But, remember, interestingly enough, Mary Trump's book, they tried to stop even being published because of a settlement agreement from 20 years ago. And at that time, she argued, look, that agreement was fraudulent because it's based on part of data you gave to me on these fake sorts of IRS and tax documents.

So it's a very circular one that has a lot of different angles, and it's the president poor attempt, I think, try to, one, remain relevant, but also have a kitchen sink approach to all the things that have given him a lot of irritation over the years.

BLITZER: Yes. And you know, Dave, Mary Trump accused the former president of trying to, quote, change the subject. Does she have a point?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes. Good evening, Wolf and Laura. Yes, you have to wonder about the motives of this lawsuit because it doesn't seem to have a lot of merit. I mean, I read the lawsuit, as Trump's says, read the transcript. And the portion of this NDA, non-disclosure agreement, that's cited in the lawsuit doesn't seem to include Trump's taxes from that Fred Trump estate litigation.

And so you wonder, what is the motivation here? And you have to think it's politics, because Trump wants to fire up his MAGA base, especially after they had to be demoralized after that terrible showing at the rally last weekend in support of the January 6th rioters.


And you just going to believe it, this is to get them back energized.

Now, suing Mary Trump is not in itself going to fire up the MAGA base, but suing the New York Times? Oh, yes. I mean, if he loses, it doesn't matter because he can blame it on liberal activist judges, even though he probably appointed the judges himself. So it's a MAGAtoofer (ph). You blame the liberal activist judges and the press. You win and win.

BLITZER: You know, Laura, the former president likes to play up the idea that he's the victim, that these lawsuits against him are simply a witch-hunt. But have you ever seen anyone face such a huge range of legal exposure like this?

COATES: No, particularly at the presidential level, or former president. Remember, a lot of this has been the result of a self- inflicted wound. He was the one to say as it related to tax documents that he would provide them, which, by the way, has been the history of modern American politics, a presidential candidate providing it. He has said its base on an ongoing audit and he's chosen not to provide it, but the courts have already said they should be handed over in various capacity,

And so a lot of this stems on his own in action, that is not been justified in the court of law in the way that persuaded any judge as to why he should not provide the information.

BLITZER: You know, Dave, a lawyer for Allen Weisselberg, a long time Trump organization CFO, says they expect more indictments. How could that potentially change the dynamic here?

ARONBERG: Big time, Wolf. Because I think that the only way that the Manhattan D.A., my counterpart up there in New York, actually prosecutes the former president is if Allen Weisselberg flips on him. And Allen Weisselberg hasn't flipped yet, but I think it's only matter of time, because he's going to -- Cyrus Vance Jr., the D.A., is going to continue to squeeze others. Like right now, apparently, he had Calamari Junior testified before the grand jury. And that gives him immunity. And there may be a next indictment of Calamari Sr. Apparently, Calamari has its tentacles throughout the entire Trump Organization.

Also, Jeff McConney, the controller, he was testifying before the grand jury. So he got immunity. So the more people they can squeeze, on Allen Weisselberg, the more likely he will flip and the more likely then that Vance will be able to prosecute Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, if these lawsuits go forward, his lawsuit against his niece and the New York Times, he would have to do a deposition, he would have to make statement under oath. Let's see if he's going to want to do that in the process of what's call discovery. Guys, thank very much. Laura and Dave, I appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, we're awaiting word from the FDA right now on whether the agency will green light booster shots of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines for older or at-risk Americans.

Stand by. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're awaiting a major decision from the Food and Drug Administration on COVID booster shots. The FDA is weighing a recommendation to green light Pfizer boosters for those who are 65 or older, or at-risk. Tonight, we're getting word that CDC vaccine advisers are planning to wait to hear from the FDA before they debate boosters any further.

Let's bring in Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, thank you so much for joining us.

So, what do you make of this delay from the FDA? In other instances, they ruled on advisory committee's recommendations almost immediately.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. So, good evening, Wolf, thanks for having me back. I'm a little perplexed about what is taking so long. The FDA really should have gone ahead and followed the advisory committee's recommendation. There may be a debate within the FDA. We don't know. I do expect them to come out with an EUA that follows the recommendation the advisory committee but we will have to see what they do.

BLITZER: Yes. We will sure hear fairly soon, we're told. The CDC met today to start debating who should be deemed high risk and made eligible for a booster shot. Who do you hope is included in this limited booster shot rollout once it's approved?

JHA: Yes. So, what we know and the data from Israel, for instance, really suggests that people over 60. The FDA by the way, they had initially thought people over 65, but somewhere older people, somewhere in that range, people who are medically high risk, people with chronic diseases, and then also people who are at high risk because of their profession, physicians, nurses, I think those are the groups that I'm going to be looking for, and I expect all of them will be included in the CDC advisory.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're right. CDC data, by the way, shows that the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations is the slowest it's been in two months here in the United States. How concerning is this as we head into the fall and then winter? And right now we're losing about 2,000 Americans every single day. It's the highest it's been in six months, more than 2,000 Americans dying every day.

JHA: Yes. So, first of all, those death numbers are just heartbreaking and, of course, almost all preventable, because we have a vaccine-preventable disease. I am worried about the slowing of the vaccinations. I think what happened was at a big surge in the south, we saw an uptick as that surges cooled a little bit, vaccination have pulled back.

My hope is that as these mandates go into effect, we're going to see an uptick again. We really need to get more people vaccinated before the fall and winter arrive.

BLITZER: We certainly do. Over the past week, Doctor Jha, the average coronavirus death rate in the ten least vaccinated states was more than four times higher than the average death rate in the ten most vaccinated states. If we needed further proof that vaccines work, this is it, right? JHA: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, remember, you still can see some infection numbers rising in some of those highly vaccinated states.


But what is not happening is high levels of hospitalizations and deaths because the vaccines are terrific at preventing severe illness. So that's why we've got to get people vaccinated really to prevent those horrible outcomes.

BLITZER: And so a huge numbers, a huge percentage, almost all of the 2,000 Americans who are dying a day are unvaccinated and that's a serious, serious problem. Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, divers are now involved in the search for the fiance of Gabby Petito, after a coroner ruled the manner of her death a homicide.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, dive teams are on the scene of a Florida nature preserve as the search intensified for the fiance of Gabby Petito, whose death has been ruled as a homicide after a discovery of her remains in Wyoming.

CNN's Amara Walker has the latest.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the homicide investigation and urgent search for Gabby Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, expanding.

Investigators calling in team of specialized divers, part of the Sarasota Underwater Recovery Force, trained to recover evidence in low visibility bodies of water.

Police are now focusing their search on the western part of this massive nature reserve in Florida.

JOE FUSSELL, NORTH PORT POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are trying to cover every acre of this preserve.

WALKER: Combing through rugged terrain by foot, high water vehicles, and with drones to find any sign of Laundrie.

CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: They have to get their hands on him. He is key. He's no doubt probably the very last person to have seen her alive.

WALKER: Authorities intensifying the search for Laundrie after a Wyoming coroner identify human remains found Sunday as those of Petito, and describing the manner of death as homicide in his initial determination. The FBI asking the public for help, looking for any new tips about

Laundrie's last movements, key to shedding light on the couple's last days together.

GABBY PETITO: We've just been fighting this morning, some personal issues.

WALKER: Starting with an August 12th police stop in Moab, Utah, prompted by this 911 call.

911 CALLER: We're driving by and I would like to report a domestic dispute. We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl.

POLICE: You said you were hitting him in the arm?

WALKER: On this body cam video, Petito told police she slapped Laundrie. He told police he pushed Petito to try to keep her from hitting him again. Officers told the couple to spend the night apart and no charges were filed.

A woman named Jessica Schultz (ph) told the "San Francisco Chronicle" she saw Laundrie in his van on August 26th in an area called Spread Creek near where Petito's remains were later discovered.

JESSICA SCHULTZ: As a van lifer, I was checking out their van and I was checking out to see if it was a couple or a solo dude. It was a solo dude as far as I could see.

WALKER: Schultz declined to comment to CNN and the FBI would not comment on her report to CNN due to privacy.

Schultz said she saw the van again on August 27th. The same day a pair of travel bloggers say they spotted the empty van.

JENN BETHUNE, TRAVEL BLOGGER: But the van was completely dark. There was nobody there.

WALKER: Two days later on august 29th.


WALKER: This woman posting on TikTok that she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie hitchhiking in an area near where Petito's remains were later discovered.

BAKER: He then told us he had been camping for multiple days without his fiance. He did say he had a fiance. And that she was working on their social media page back at their van.

WALKER: Once Laundrie realized the couple was not going towards his destination, she says he became agitated and asked them to let him out of the vehicle.

BAKER: He kind of like hurried out of the car. He said all he had was a tarp to sleep on, which you think if you're going camping on days on and you would have food and attend. He had none of that.


WALKER (on camera): And, Wolf, tonight, the FBI continues to ask the public for help, especially when it comes to any information regarding the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie. They are also asking anyone who might have had any contact with Brian Laundrie or Gabby Petito between august 27th and 30th in Wyoming at Grand Teton National Park to also contact the FBI.

Now, here at the Carleton Reserve, it looks like the search is wrapping up, at least for the day. We saw some equipment leaving this reserve in the last hour. We are still waiting to hear whether or not they will be resuming the search at this location, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Amara Walker on the scene for us, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe. He's the author of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump".

Andrew, thanks for joining us.

What kind of information must investigators had that is leading them to spend a considerable time and resources in this reserve, including now bringing in divers?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Of course, wolf, we know that Mr. Laundrie's family said that he indicated that is where he was going. He has not been seen or reported any place else, which in itself is a little remarkable. He's a highly visible individual. He's been over social media for a while.

It's possible the FBI has additional information, if Mr. Laundrie had electronic devices or cell phone with him, they would look to see if the phone was pinging off of cell towers in the area. It's possible if he has electronic devices that there are apps on those devices that collect your locational data, and you can receive with a court order, you can get that locational data from some of those service providers.

So there's a lot of potential information that they might be working with right now to try to track him down.


BLITZER: What leads the FBI, Andrew, to ask for the public's help in finding someone as they've done to Laundrie? Is the request based on the severity of the case? Or does it indicate that investigators are lacking solid leads?

MCCABE: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, from my own experience at the FBI, using that technique in many, many cases, particularly fugitive cases when you are trying to find someone, going to the public for help is usually a sign that you have a very challenging manhunt on your hands. The individual you are seeking is not tied down to one very specific particular -- particular area, but could have moved over a large portion of terrain and the time you've been looking for him.

And there is nothing more effective than having millions of eyes out there on the street thinking about your need for information about that person's location, and people who are willing to call, pick up the phone and call law enforcement or the FBI and give them a hand in finding a potentially very dangerous person.

BLITZER: Laundrie was able to get a several day head start after initially refusing to cooperate with officials. How has this made the manhunt more difficult?

MCCABE: Well, the more time that expire is between the moment that person goes on the run and the moment you marshal your forces and began chasing them, seeking them, looking for where they might be, you know, that's -- you're just putting yourself further and further and further behind and really stacking the deck against you, at least preliminarily. It doesn't mean you can't find that person, but it certainly makes it tougher from the outside.

BLITZER: It certainly does. The former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe. Thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead, George W. Bush turns his escalating criticism of Donald Trump into action. We will have the latest on the showdown between the former GOP presidents.



BLITZER: Tonight, George w. Bush is taking his increasingly public opposition to Donald Trump to a new level. The 43rd president is now planning to hold a fund-raiser for a top Trump target representative, Liz Cheney.

Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Ryan, the only two living Republicans to have served in the Oval Office are now on a collision course.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really seem to be, Wolf, and by laying down this marker against Donald Trump, George W. Bush and his family could be signaling that they are willing to engage Trump in a battle for the future of the Republican Party.


TODD (voice-over): A political shot across Donald Trump's bow tonight from the Republican dynasty. A source telling CNN former U.S. President George W. Bush will hold a fundraising event in Texas for Liz Cheney, the Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, who has openly sparred with Trump, rejecting his baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen, voting to impeach him after the January 6th insurrection, actions which led to Cheney losing her House leadership role. HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think this is a

pretty big deal. This is the most prominent example that we have seen recently of establishment Republicans saying, you know what, this may be the party of Trump now, but it's not going to be the party of Trump forever.

TODD: News of the Bush fund-raiser for Liz Cheney comes just days after George W. Bush, speaking on the anniversary of September 11th, issued a string rebuke of the politics of division fostered by Trump without mentioning Trump by name.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Malign forces seen at work and our common life, that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.

TODD: Bush also alluded to the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6th, most of whom were Trump supporters.

BUSH: There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But then there is disdainful pluralism, and their disregard for human life, and their determination to defile national symbols. They are children of the same foul spirit.

TODD: For years, George W. Bush had largely held his tongue regarding Donald Trump, but behind the scenes according to a bush biographer.

BILL MINUTAGLIO, AUTHOR, "FIRST SON: GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE BUSH FAMILY DYNASTY": In private, he disliked Trump. He does not like his style and he does not like the fact that he has eroded a lot of the things that George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, his father of course before him, had helped build up.

TODD: Analysts say there's also deep resentment in the Bush family of Trump's relentless personal attacks on Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican primary race.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This guy Bush, he's like low energy, right?

JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: This is a tough business.

TRUMP: You're a tough guy, Jeb.

J. BUSH: And we need to have a leader.

TRUMP: Real tough.

TODD: Tonight, it could well be shaping up as a battle between Trump and the bush family for the soul of the Republican Party.

MINUTAGLIO: I think George W. Bush has decided that he needs to say the Republican Party and he needs to save it from Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD (on camera): And Donald Trump for his part issued a blistering statement following George W. Bush's speech on September 11th. Trump saying the World Trade Center came down during Bush's watch and that George W. Bush should not be lecturing anyone on the threat posed by domestic extremism, Wolf. The battle could be simmering for years.

BLTIZER: I think you're right. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNN.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.