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Senate Democrats Say They'll Accept GOP Compromise on Debt Limit; January 6th Panel Can't Find Ex-Trump Aide as Subpoena Deadline Nears; Parents Say Petito's Body Found Not Far From Where Van Last Seen; Police: Texas School Shooting Suspect in Custody; Biden Admin Investing $1B to Boost At-Home Rapid Testing; Ethiopia Atrocities Would Constitute Violation of U.S. Trade Agreement. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 06, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I would like to tell you right now that no someone were harm in the making of the story, but that wouldn't be true.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Senate Democrats appear ready to accept the GOP compromise, aimed at averting a catastrophic default on the federal debt. Are Republicans blinking after the President Biden ramped up the pressure to accuse them of playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy?

Also tonight, four Trump loyalists are just hours away from a deadline to turn-over documents of the January 6th select committee, but the panel can't find former Presidential Aide Dan Scavino to serve him with his subpoena.

And Gabby Petito's parents reveal her body was found just minute away from the spot where her van was last seen, this as Brian Laundrie's family is offering a new timeline for his disappearance, while the manhunt drags on.

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.

We begin with breaking news on a potential break in the partisan standoff over raising the federal debt limit. We're getting new information from both end of Pennsylvania Avenue. We'll go to Jerry Diamond over at the White House in just a moment, but, first, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, only 12 days before the deadline to race the debt limit. There are now, we're told, major developments unfolding on a possible short- term solution. Give us the latest.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, this came as a surprise, when we learned that the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, told his Republican caucus that he would like to give the Democrats an opening to raise the debt ceiling before that impending deadline coming up in the middle of October.

McConnell putting out a statement shortly after that meeting with his Republican colleagues, saying that, basically, Democrats have two options here, either they agree to a bill that is moved quickly to the floor without any Republican objection, that would allow the debt ceiling to be raised basically through the end of November, to give some more breathing room for a more long-term raising of the debt ceiling, or he would allow what he called a clean budget reconciliation package that would allow them to do it without much fighting from Republicans, not a number of amendments that could hold up the process or delay the process ahead of that important deadline.

Now, we're told that Democrats had a separate meeting of their own, where they hashed out these two proposals from Senator McConnell and they do seem open to this idea of the vote that comes to the floor that extends the time for them to negotiate around a much longer solution to the debt limit. Now, there are two problems with this though, the first being that it's going to be tied to a specific number, meaning we're going to raise the debt limit to this number, which could be somewhat of a political problem for Democrats heading into the midterm elections next year, and then it, of course, also doesn't solve the problem long-term.

So, at this point Democrats are still hashing this out. There is not even a 100 percent unanimous consent from the Republican conference at this point, although the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, believes he can bring them all on board when all is setting down.

The negotiations are ongoing right now, Wolf, but this does appear to be an important breakthrough. Keep in mind there was a bill on the floor tonight that was expected to go down to raise the debt limit that Republicans were set to block. That right now is on hold as we wait to see what the next stage is. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We'll stand by, we'll see what they do. Ryan up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, is the White House fully on board with this offer from Mitch McConnell that Senate Democrats are apparently going to go along? Are they convinced that the White House, that the Senate Democrats will go along with this?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Listen, as of about an hour and a half ago, the White House did not seem to be fully on board with this idea. I asked the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, moments after the contours of this deal began to emerge and here was her response, listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We don't need to kick the can. We don't need to go through a cumbersome process that every day brings additional risks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND: And so when you hear her there talking about not wanting to kick the can down the road, that is effectively what a short-term lifting of the debt ceiling would do here. So, listen, the White House I understand, is working on a statement to actually give their official position on this.

I think it's clear that Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, didn't want to give a definitive stance one way or the other, but it was a pretty stark contrast, when you heard her fairly lukewarm response at best there, contrasting that with what was happening at the same time on Capitol Hill, which was Senate Democrats emerging from a caucus meeting, and essentially claiming victory here, saying that they believe that Mitch McConnell had caved and that they would take this short-term win at a minimum.

It is interesting, you know, Mitch McConnell in taking -- in making this move, one thing that he was clearly able to do here was getting at one of the central arguments that President Biden has been making.


When I asked the president yesterday about using the budget reconciliation process to lift the debt ceiling, the president told me that one of the reasons he was opposed to that was because it is a cumbersome process, there could be a lot of amendment votesthat's happening and it was a risky process, in essence. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, effectively telling Democrats and President Biden, look, I'm giving you two month now to actually get this done.

Nonetheless I think one thing is pretty clear, the White House's position, not wanting to do this through budget reconciliation has not changed. They will continue, I believe, to pressure Republican to at least allow them to do a simple vote on this without filibustering. Wolf?

BLITZER: What happened to the speculation earlier in the week that there could be a phone call, or some sort of a conversation between the president and Mitch McConnell to try to resolve this? They're old friends. They have known even each a long time.

DIAMOND: Yes. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, really walked that one back today as well, saying that the president was actually meaning to say that there could potentially be a call, that at some point the president and the Senate minority leader might speak, but that that call certainly has not happened as of yet and there are no fixed plans for that call to happen as of now.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thank you very much, Jeremy Diamond reporting from the White House.

Let's discuss this all of these and more with the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Pramila Jayapal. Representative, thank you so much for joining us.

It looks like Senate Democrats are going to accept this offer from the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to extend the debt ceiling at least until the end of November, early December. Do you support this approach?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Wolf, it's nice to see you and good to be back with you.

I think that, obviously, this has been challenging because it is the Republicans and the Trump administration over the last four years that ran up $8 trillion in debt. And now, this debt ceiling is not to pay for future debt. This is to say the United States is good for the bills we already ran up over the last four years, the vast majority of which included tax cuts to the wealthiest. And so that is why the White House has been so strong and Senate Democrats have been so strong. We'll see where they end up.

I'm confident that we are going to get this debt limit raised, but I do think it's pretty outrageous that Republicans, until this date, have not wanted to do that. It's been bipartisan all along, and it's their debt obviously that brought us into this situation, and, you know, I think we'll just have to see. But I'm confident it will get raised.

BLITZER: Well, would you support this Republican offer from Mitch McConnell?

JAYAPAL: Well, I haven't seen the exact offer. So, I think that they are still negotiating it, and I believe that in the end, they will get us the best deal possible.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the $3.5 trillion proposed reconciliation package, a subject very close to your heart. Senator Manchin is walking back his higher range. He reiterated today that his price tag, he's not going to go above $1.5 trillion, that's about a trillion short of what you have asked of President Biden. Is that right?

JAYAPAL: Well, I haven't heard that. I think that a lot of stuff that gets reported may or may not be what the actual discussion is. What I can tell you, Wolf, is that we are committed to delivering on transformational investments that people feel immediately and that we promised in the election. And that's why the progressive caucus priorities have been so clear in that frame.

So we want the care economy, that's child care, universal child care, paid leave for people to be able to get 12 weeks of family and medical leave, making sure that we're addressing home and community-based service. We know we need to take care of the housing crisis by building more affordable housing across the country. We know we need to take care of health care by expanding Medicare benefits. And we know, Wolf, that we have to take care of the climate crisis so that the president can go to COP26 in a couple of weeks and be able to say the United States is leading. And, of course, we have got to take care of immigrants.

So we're focused on how do we get all of those things in, if it means, for some of them, shortening the time, that is our preference in order to get to a lower number, but I don't think we have that numbers set yet and, of course, we believe we would like it to be as high as possible, but we got to get all 50 on board and we get that.

BLITZER: Because it's -- right now, it's a ten-year funding for all the things you really want, the progressives really want, but what I hear you saying is that you might be willing to go make it only for three, or five, or six years instead of ten, to make sure that everything you want is included. The House majority whip, James Clyburn, has suggested may be reducing the time from ten years, down to three or five or six years, are you with him?

JAYAPAL: That's exactly where our caucus, after a long discussion, came out on Friday, that we really believe that the best way to do this, if we have to lower the number -- let's be clear, we don't want to lower the number.


But if we have to lower the number to get everybody on board, then let's just cut the number of years that something is funded, but make sure that we are funding things that get immediate benefit to people so that they can see the value of it, and then, of course, we can continue to fund it down the road as those programs expire.

BLITZER: Yes. If you cut it down from ten to five years, you're going to get down to $2 trillion, maybe even below that, because that's really significant. Representative Pramila Jayapal, good luck. Thanks so much for joining us.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, former President Trump speaking out on the eve of the deadline for some of his former aides to comply with the subpoena and submit documents to the select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.



BLITZER: This just in to CNN, former President Trump slamming the work of the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on this, the eve of the panel's deadline for four former Trump aides to comply with subpoenas and submit documents.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. So, Brian, what is Trump saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the former president a short time ago issued a statement calling it that House panel the unselect committee of partisan Democrats. Trump's statement says the, quote, real insurrection happened on Election Day, and he said January 6th was a day of protesting what Trump called the, quote, fake election results.

Meanwhile tonight, we do have new information on how Trump's former aides are seemingly evading that House panel.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Mark Meadows a friend of mine right from the beginning.

TODD (voice over): Tonight, members of Donald Trump's inner circle seemingly unresponsive to the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, as the clock ticks toward tomorrow's deadline for receiving documents. More than a week since subpoenaing former Trump Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino to cooperate, the committee has been unable to physically serve the subpoena to him, according to multiple sources.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Who knows what he's really up to, but I can definitely tell you that this is not a subpoena he wants to see right now.

TODD: Scavino has not responded to CNN's request for comment. One source familiar with the situation joked that the House committee should tweet the subpoenas to Scavino, because he's been actively trolling the committee on Twitter in recent days.

Three other former Trump aides subpoenaed by the house panel, former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Adviser Steve Bannon, and former National Security Aide Kash Patel, have apparently received the subpoenas served to them, but none of them have responded.

BADE: This is information that they know will land the ex-president in hot water, if not, themselves, and so you can expect these guys you know privately are trying to figure out what is a way they can get out of this.

TODD: What if none of these former Trump confidants cooperate with the House committee if they don't submit documents or don't show up to testify, as they've been scheduled to do?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: At some point there will come a moment in time when the committee decides that it has waited enough time, it has been flexible enough, what the committee would do next is then it would make a criminal referral to the Justice Department. And it would be up to the Justice Department to determine whether there is a case to enforce for contempt or potentially even obstruction of justice.

TODD: Top Democrats on the house committee have indicated that's just what the panel may do.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): If they decide not to, then obviously criminal contempt or other measures will be open to us. Our problem is we can't wait forever for people to talk.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I would hope that we can move expeditiously to enforce the subpoenas, if that's necessary.

TODD: Sources tell CNN others have cooperated with the House panel, including at least two people involved in organizing Trump's Stop the Steal rally on January 6th. The committee's mission, find out what Trump and his inner circle might have known about the attack beforehand and how they responded to it.

BADE: What did he know about, you know, these group of protesters that were coming in and what eventually storm the Capitol, they want to look at what happened on the 6th, what did he do in the White House, what did he not do.


TODD (on camera): Now, one key question is whether this House committee is going to go after a fellow House member, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy spoke to Trump on the phone as the rioters stormed the Capitol that day. He asked Trump to publicly call for an end to the violence. But a spokesman for McCarthy has publicly criticized this House investigation and analysts say House Democrats may be reluctant to subpoena McCarthy out of concern over political backlash if Republicans take back the House in the midterms. Wolf?

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

Now, let's get some more on all of these. Our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us. He's the Author of the book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Investigation of Donald Trump.

You know, Jeffrey, so far, none of these Trump allies apparently have complied just ahead of tomorrow's deadline. They can't even find Dan Scavino to serve him the subpoena. This doesn't look too promising for the select committee's investigation, does it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No, it doesn't. One of the lessons that the Trump administration taught us all is that they can defy congressional oversight, even when they're wrong on the law, because they know that time is on their side. You know, what's going to happen with these subpoenas is one way or another, it's going to wind up in court.

And even if the Trump allies there have lousy arguments, as I think they do, the courts move slowly. And congressional committees, as the chairman said, they don't have all day.


I mean, the congressional elections are almost, you know, just a little more than a year away.

The delay of going to court will serve to interfere with the committee's investigations and stop this testimony, even if they're wrong on the law.

BLITZER: So, walk us through how it will work, Jeffrey, if the committee decides to charge them with criminal contempt.

TOOBIN: Well the -- first of all, that is a process that the committee has to go through and that takes a certain amount of time. At that point it gets referred to the Justice Department. And then the Justice Department has to decide whether to go forward with an actual proceeding against these four witnesses.

In the meantime, these four witnesses and any other witnesses who don't want to respond can file motions to quash subpoenas. And think about this, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Don McGahn, the White House counsel for President Trump, and the litigation over that subpoena took two years before there was actually a settlement. It wasn't even resolved after two years. Obviously, two years is out of the question. And that's the kind of pace at which these -- the legal system operates. And I think the Trump people realize that time is on their side.

BLITZER: What do you make, Jeffrey, of this latest Trump statement calling the 2020 presidential election the real insurrection? Does this taunt from the ex-president show exactly why the committee needs to investigate the January 6th attack?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, it's also part of a big process that's being going on led by the former president, which is the normalization of what went on January 6th. Yesterday, we talked about former Vice President Pence saying, well, you know, this wasn't such a big deal. The entire Republican Party is falling into line with this really obscene idea that this was some sort of legitimate political protest on January 6th instead of the criminal insurrection that it really was.

But what the former president said is precisely that, that this was merely a protest about the election that was not as bad as the election itself, which is really an obscene rewriting of history.

BLITZER: If you just look at the video what was going on in January 6th. Our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

Coming up, Gabby Petito's parents are now revealing new details about where her body was found as they speak out about her homicide and the manhunt for her fiancee, Brian Laundrie.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Gabby Petito homicide investigation, her family now revealing new details about where her body was found. This, as new questions emerge about exactly when Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie vanished.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has our report.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, Gabby Petito's family is speaking out on Dr. Phil, giving details of how their daughter's body was found near the last place her van was spotted in Wyoming.

JIM SCHMIDT, GABBY PETITO'S STEPFATHER: Her body was found -- I guess it would be in front of a tent, or if that's what was there, or just in front of the fire ring. There was definitely a fire ring there and she would have been (INAUDIBLE).

NICOLE SCHMIDT, GABBY PETITO'S MOTHER: And it wasn't far from the van. It was a five-minute walk, something like that.

J. SCHMIDT: It's definitely not an area that's heavily trafficked.

SANTIAGO: And her father sharing that he would like Brian Laundrie found alive.

JOE PETITO, GABBY PETITO'S FATHER: I want to see him to be in a jail cell for the rest of his life where -- he is an outdoorsman, being in that concrete cell that he can't go see those trees and hug those and smell the fresh air like that?

SANTIAGO: Brian has been indicted for using a debit card that didn't belong to him after Gabby's death, but he has not been charged in Gabby's death.

This Mustang is sparking new questions tonight about Brian Laundrie's disappearance, seen here towed away by the FBI weeks ago. This newly obtained police report shows the Mustang was found abandoned near the Carlton Reserve on September 14th, that's the same day police say the Laundrie family initially claimed they last saw him after he told them he was heading to the reserve.

The family now laying out a new timeline of when Brian went missing, the attorney for Laundrie's parents now saying the Laundries were basing the date Brian left on their recollection of certain events. Upon further communication with the FBI and confirmation of the Mustang being at the Laundrie residence on Wednesday, September 15th, we now believe the day Brian left to hike in the preserve was Monday, September 13th. The attorney adding that Brian's father went looking for him the night of the 13th when he didn't return home.

Brian's parents continued their search on the 14th and found the citation on the abandoned car. Then they brought the Mustang back to their home on the 15th, according to the attorney.

Brian's sister, Cassie, spoke to us on the phone, saying she's spoken to the FBI several times following Gabby's disappearance, but she hasn't talk to her parents in about two weeks, because her attorney told them not to answer any questions from anyone regarding Brian and Gabby.

The Laundrie family attorney confirming to CNN saying, quote, I told my clients, which includes her parents, not to talk to anyone, and, yes, that includes Cassie.

CASSIE LAUNDRIE, BRIAN LAUNDRIE SISTER: We are just as upset, frustrated --

SANTIAGO: Cassie Laundrie not his client. She also told us she's in the dark and she tells ABC News --


LAUNDRIE: No, I do not know where Brian is. I would turn him.

SANTIAGO: And she has no idea what her parents know.

LAUNDRIE: I don't know if my parents are involved. I think if they are, then they should come clean.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And the search continued today in that 25,000- acre reserve, where we have seen teams searching for any clue of Brian Laundrie for more than two weeks now. But today, Wolf, we learned that additional resources and teams were requested.

BLITZER: Leyla Santiago on the scene for us, Leyla, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now, Dave Aronberg, State Attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida. Dave, thanks for joining us.

So, as you hear, not only Brian Laundrie's parents are changing their story about when their son left, we're now learning they had gone out looking for him, knew his car was abandoned outside that nature reserve. Is anything of this adding up to you at all?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good evening, Wolf. It just makes the Laundrie parents look even worse. I mean, they're already been demonized in public opinion because they lawyered up, they remained silent, they haven't helped anyone in the search. And now, it looks like their son went missing a day before they reported it.

Now, originally they said it was Tuesday that he left the home. And they didn't report him missing until Friday. Now, it's that he left the home to go into that swampland on Monday. So, that means they waited until the end of the week to report him missing to police, long after they retrieved his Mustang from that swamp.

BLITZER: Laundrie's -- Brian Laundrie's sister, as you heard, tell CNN, her parents' attorneys advising them not to talk to her about the case. Is that the same legal advice you would give your client if your client had absolutely nothing to hide?

ARONBERG: Well, in the court of public opinion, they continue to incriminate themselves, but in a court of law, it's different. The lawyer is very different. The lawyer is very careful because the Laundrie lawyer knows that the parents could be charged with being an accessory after the fact. That's a serious crime. And so they don't want them to say anything. Now, if they communicate between themselves, husband and wife, now that would be privileged communications, and so the court wouldn't be able to hear that. But if they communicate with their daughter, Cassie, Cassie doesn't have that privilege, neither do the parents, because there is no parent-child privilege here, and so Cassie could say whatever the father and mother tell her. And so that's why the lawyer doesn't want them to talk to Cassie because not only does not -- well, it doesn't look good in the court of public opinion, but he's trying to protect his clients, the parents. Cassie is not his client.

BLITZER: As we learn more from Gabby Petito's family about the site where her body was found, is there any more physical evidence that investigators can gather to help them piece together what happened to her?

ARONBERG: The biggest thing is to find out the cause of death. That's important for prosecutors. We know the manner of death. It was homicide. We now want to know was it blunt force trauma? Was it strangulation? We want to also to find out DNA? How about the GPS monitoring? Let's look at where the phones pinged. These are all crucial beads of information the prosecutors, Wolf, want to know before they file a charges.

There's a lot of pressure on police to find him and make an arrest right away, but prosecutors are going to say, hold on, let's slow it down because we need to make sure we have enough evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.

BLITZER: Dave Aronberg, thanks as usual for joining us.

ARONBERG: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg responds to truly damning whistleblower allegations about his company. We have details of what he's saying about charges that Facebook is profiting by harming people.



BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has just learned the Facebook whistleblower who unleashed damning allegations against a social media giant during congressional testimony yesterday will also testify before the January 6th select committee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

Let's go to our Chief Media Correspondent, the anchor of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, this is a major development.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Our colleague Pamela Brown and her colleagues are breaking this news right now, saying the select committee wants to speak with Frances Haugen about exactly what she knows about the inner working in Facebook in the run- up to the riot.

Remember, she said on 60 Minutes that she felt like Facebook betrayed democracy by taking down some of the protections they put in place after the election, because they figured, okay, we got to the election, the county is safe, now we can bring Facebook back to normal. Normal meant to as pretty easy for some of the rioters to organized ahead of time and share their plans ahead of January 6th.

So, the select committee would like to speak to Haugen and it may happen as soon as tomorrow. They want to know what she knows about how Facebook was used to ultimately facilitate violence at the Capitol. Of course, we spoke with chief executive about this the other day. He said it ludicrous to blame us for the riot. He says it was so much more complicated than that. But we know social media was a factor and an organizing nexus ahead of the riot that day.

BLITZER: And, Brian, we finally heard directly from the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. He denied the whistleblower's allegations. What more did he have to say.

STELTER: Thant's right. Without responding to her by name, he says it's absolutely a false to say that Facebook puts profit over human lives. Here's part of Zuckerberg's statement saying, at the heart of the accusations from the whistleblower is this idea that we prioritized profit over safety and well being.

He says that's just not true. He says it would be a logical because Facebook business model involves getting advertisers to put ads next to content and advertisers don't want to be around, hate speech and misinformation.

The problem though, Wolf, as often advertisers don't know what they are setting up (ph) next to. That's been a problem for years. And Haugen has a lot more to say, not just to the select committee investigating January 6th.


She's also speaking with the European commissioners, talking with lawmakers in Europe. She's planning a trip there in the coming weeks. You see her here today on a video call with a lawmaker in Brussels, talking about ways to reform Facebook.

Whether we're going to see change, Wolf, whether we're going to see reform is not just a question in Washington. It's a question in London, and Brussels and other European capitals as well. This story is far from over.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. All right, Brian Stelter reporting for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, a new projection for COVID cases and hospitalizations here in the United States in the coming weeks, we'll discuss that and more with a former head of the CDC.


[18:45:02] BLITZER: In Texas tonight, an 18-year-old suspect is in custody after a shooting at a high school left four people injured. It forced hundreds of terrified students into lockdown. Police believe a gun was pulled in a fight between the student and another person.

The 18-year-old Timothy George Simpkins was arrested after a manhunt. He's being charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The .45-caliber handgun was recovered. Three of the injured were taken to the hospital, including a male student who underwent surgery and remains in intensive care.

There's more news we're following. The latest COVID-19 surge has pushed the death toll to more than 700,000, but tonight there's hope it may have peaked.

Let's discuss this and more with the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.

And for the second consecutive week, the CDC has forecasted COVID hospitalizations and death to say decline. Do you agree we're finally beginning to see the worst of the surge potentially behind us?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: Wolf, this wave is receding, but unless we get the nearly 70 million unvaccinated Americans vaccinated, we are at risk for future waves.

BLITZER: The White House just announced a $1 billion investment in rapid at-home COVID tests. Is that a big enough purchase to make a difference? These tests are really critically important.

FRIEDEN: At-home tests are another tool in our arsenal. What we're talking about here is layers of protection. Our strongest is vaccination. Masking is important. Ventilation is important. Isolation of people who are sick and care for those, support for those who are exposed, and testing can be a big part that as long as we understand that testing is not a replacement for other layers, and it's not perfect. So, you need those multiple layers of protection to make sure we don't see uncontrolled spread again.

But testing is a great tool to use to keep us even safer and better protected.

BLITZER: Why do you think it took so long to make this investment, when it would have been most helpful before the delta variant, for example, spiraled out of control?

FRIEDEN: The challenge has been to ramp up testing and make sure that the tests out there are accurate enough. And still, we have a gap between the PCR tests and antigen tests, but tests that are back quickly can be helpful. You just have to remember that it's not a get out-of-jail free pass. It doesn't mean you definitely don't have COVID, but it is another layer of security.

I was asked today if a family wants to get together for Thanksgiving, would you test? If their 90-year-old grandmother is there and a cancer survivor, you want to be careful, and testing can give you another level of confidence.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's really I think very important.

The FDA's top vaccine scientist, Dr. Frieden, says a booster dose sometimes causes swollen lymph nodes which could turn up as a false positive on a mammogram. Is it still important for women to receive booster dose, even if means rescheduling their mammogram?

FRIEDEN: If you're eligible for a booster, the recommendation is you get it, though you can still be considered fully vaccinated without it. The best we're seeing suggests that the Pfizer vaccine is waning in its immunity, or perhaps less effective against the delta variant. So, if you're over 65, or have an immuno-suppressing condition or another health condition that makes you more vulnerable, good idea to get a booster.

BLITZER: All right. Always important to hear from you, Dr. Frieden. Thank you very, very much.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Dr. Tom Frieden, helping us appreciate what's going on.

And we're going to have more news right after this.



BLITZER: Now, a CNN exclusive. Ethiopia has for decades been the beneficiary of a U.S. government trade agreement granting hundreds of millions of dollars of favorable access to U.S. markets, allowing Ethiopian Airlines, in recent years, to build a global fleet and become one of the world's leading airlines from both the U.S. and Ethiopia. This relationship clearly matters.

But for almost a year now, conflict has raged in Ethiopia's Tigray region. Numerous CNN investigations have uncovered evidence of Ethiopian government atrocities. CNN has now found evidence that Ethiopian Airlines cargo carriers have been shuttling weapons between Ethiopia and Eritrea in what experts believe would constitute a violation of international law, and that trade agreement with the United States.

Here's CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir.


ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES AD: With direct flights from over 95 international destinations, fly Ethiopian Airlines, the new spirit of Africa. A Star Alliance member.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is Africa's premiere carrier of passenger and freight traffic. But among the regular cargo, evidence of sinister shipments.

CNN can reveal, based on documentary evidence and witnesses' accounts, Ethiopian airlines has been transporting weapons between Ethiopia and Eritrea since the beginning of the war in Ethiopia that has seen thousands killed. According to aviation experts, this would constitute a violation of aviation law.


Among the evidence are these stills that were taken onboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET-3313 and verified by CNN. It's the middle of the night. This cargo plane is being loaded by hand, a slow and unorthodox method.

But look closer. Inside these boxes are mortars. They are being loaded onto this civilian aircraft and transported from Eritrea to Ethiopia. Here is the cargo manifest corroborating the day and time, November 8th, 2020. The date is significant. It's just four days into the conflict and months before Eritrea officially admits to being involved.

Ethiopia has been at war with the Tigray regional government, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, for almost a year. Eritrea to the north has become the Ethiopian government's ally against the region of Tigray, an unusual alliance as the countries were previously at war with each other. Now, they have a common enemy, Tigray. And they are sharing weaponry.

CNN. CNN. With CNN. Journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's impossible.

ELBAGIR: CNN has been reporting on atrocities in Ethiopia since the beginning of the year.

If you want to have detained a CNN team, then that's what's happened now because we're not going to the camp willingly.

We traveled to Tigray last April, and saw for ourselves Eritrean troops manning checkpoints with immunity, while the Ethiopian government denied their presence on the ground.

That relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea began months earlier in November, 2020, which coincided with an increase in the movement of weapons shuttled back and forth from the Ethiopian capital to Eritrea.

During the same month, there was also a series of massacres in the region of Tigray. And Ethiopian Airlines employee turned whistle- blower spoke to CNN about how he had to deal with an unusual request.

WHISTLEBLOWER: The plane was carrying perishable goods. I had to deal with my bosses to unload some of the goods and load the weapons.

ELBAGIR: In various statements, Ethiopian Airlines has always adamantly denied ferrying arms on passenger or cargo planes. But in addition to speaking with whistle-blowers, verifying cargo manifests, and authenticating stills, CNN has obtained airway bill receipts that show at least six occasions in November where Ethiopian airlines billed the Ethiopian Ministry of Defense to ship military items, including guns and ammunition to Eritrea.

MICHAEL A. RAYNOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: In the end, the success of Ethiopian airlines is an important and impressive symbol of the limitless potential of the U.S.-Ethiopian partnership.

ELBAGIR: Ethiopian Airlines built its cargo dominance through a relationship with the U.S. government and American aviation giant, Boeing. These new CNN findings, together, with previous investigations into atrocities committed by Ethiopian forces will constitute violations of international law, according to aviation experts, and run contrary to the terms of that relationship with the U.S. government.

Whether this forces the U.S. to act substantively against the Ethiopian government remains to be seen.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


BLITZER: Responding to CNN's latest investigation, Ethiopian Airlines said it complies with all aviation regulations, and I am quoting now, to the best of its knowledge and its records, it has not transported any war armament in any of its routes by any of its aircraft. That's a quote.

A U.S. trade spokesperson told CNN they would conduct a review of eligibility for the U.S.-African Growth and Opportunity Act next year in 2022 based -- and I am quoting once again -- upon compliance with standards that include adherence to internationally recognized workers' rights, rule of law, and human rights.

After the review, the U.S. Trade Representative Office could possibly recommend that the president add or remove certain countries from the African growth and opportunity act beneficiary country status. Aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, said they had no comment for this story, and the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments did not respond to requests for comment.

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 always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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