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The Situation Room

Texas Governor Bans All COVID Vaccine Mandates In State; Brooklyn Nets Bench Kyrie Irving Until He's Vaccinated; Coroner Says Gabby Petito's Cause Of Death Was Strangulation; Raiders Coach Resigns After Homophobic, Racist, Misogynistic Emails; Kim Jong Un Vows To Build "Invincible" Military While Flanked By Weapons, Blames U.S. For Tensions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 12, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever missed an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcasts.

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, new showdowns in the COVID vaccine wars. The Texas governor issuing a sweeping ban on all vaccine mandates. And major corporations are already vowing to ignore it.

And in New York, NBA Star Kyrie Irving has been benched because he won't get a shot.

Also tonight, the House is about to vote on a short-term extension of the debt limit, temporarily averting one crisis as Democrats may be facing another. Speaker Pelosi is now warning that difficult decisions about the stalled Biden agenda must be made, and they must be made very soon.

And breaking news in the Gabby Petito homicide case, the coroner revealing she was strangled to death. There's new reaction from the family of her missing fiance, Brian Laundrie, as the manhunt for him continues.

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 the battle that's now unfolding over the Texas governor's new ban on all COVID vaccine mandates. CNN National Correspondent Nick Watt is covering the vaccine wars.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Governor Greg Abbott just doubled down. Now no one, not even private companies, can mandate COVID-19 vaccines for staff or customers. Vaccines, he says, must always be voluntary for Texans.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D-AUSTIN, TX): These are proven measures that protect people.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: At least don't stand in the way of businesses who are trying to protect their workers.

WATT: And there are plenty of big corporations based in Texas. Among them, American airlines and southwest already said they'll ignore the governor, abide by the president, who says they must mandate vaccines for staff.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Every leader should be focused on supporting efforts to save lives and end the pandemic. Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives?

WATT: Now, New York City also mandates vaccines for pro athletes, so the Brooklyn Nets just announced Kyrie Irving won't be playing. He could have played away games but the GM doesn't want a part timer.

SEAN MARKS, GENERAL MANAGER, BROOKLYN NETS: The hope is that we have Kyrie back. You know, we'll welcome him back in open arms under a different set of circumstances.

WATT: Most Americans support vaccine mandates for larger businesses and health care workers so says a brand-new poll.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We don't like to be telling people what they need to do with regard to vaccines, but we know that mandates work. We've seen that they are working. They're working in schools, universities, and colleges.

WATT: In Wisconsin, a mom whose son caught COVID is suing the school district, which will not mandate masks. She claims they're throwing students into a COVID-19 snake pit.

GINA KILDAHL, MOM SUING SCHOOL DISTRICT: I am just hoping that they will start masking and take some responsibility to keep our kids safe at school.

WATT: And at a school board meeting in Virginia --

NICOLE SPERRY, DAUGHTER DIED OF COVID: I was sitting next to my healthy daughter's death bed. She died five days after showing symptoms.

WATT: Her daughter, Theresa, was ten years old.

SPERRY: COVID is not over. No matter what people who have been standing up here have said.

WATT: The average daily COVID-19 case count hasn't been this low since early August. The delta tide on the ebb, but --

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think we still need to be careful through the winter. This is a winter pathogen. It will continue to circulate.

WATT: In colder weather for at least a few more months.

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, ASSOCIATE MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The numbers are going down, but they're still abysmal. While we're going in the right direction, we're still not where we need to be in order to curb this pandemic.


WATT (on camera): Now, today, the White House press secretary accused Governor Abbott down in Texas of putting politics ahead of public health by banning vaccine mandates. Interesting to note that he is facing a couple of primary challengers from even further to the right, one of them, Allen West, posted on Sunday, as governor of Texas, I will vehemently crush anyone forcing vaccine mandates in the Lone Star State. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you very much, Nick Watt reporting.

Let's talk about this and more, especially about the Brooklyn Nets decision to bench star guard Kyrie Irving for failing to comply with New York's vaccine mandate.

We're joined by doctor and former NFL player, Dr. Myron Rolle, Neurosurgery Resident at Harvard.


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

Like Kyrie Irving, you played your sport, football, at the highest level. Irving has said vaccine status should remain private. What do you say in response?

DR. MYRON ROLLE, FOMER NFL PLAYER: Well, thank you for having me, Wolf. I think that vaccine mandates in professional sports is something that's good. I really do. I think that there's been enough evidence, enough stats, enough peer reviewed articles from comparable sort of demographics to professional athletes like in the NBA that show the side effects of getting the vaccine are minimal and pale in comparison to do with serious health consequences that one would face with high impact collisions like the sport where played on Sundays or the wear and tear of 82 basketball games like professional athletes like Kyrie Irving have to face.

I know he wants to ask questions and he has concerns and we should take those things seriously, but I firmly believe that athletes like Kyrie Irving who are intelligent enough to make good decisions on a day to day basis, should be given the repository of information to experts to really to sort of speak at his level so he makes the best decision for himself and his team because he is a part of the team, and the Brooklyn Nets want to fashion themselves to be a championship organization, holding this posture of being vaccinated and making sure that every person in the organization is vaccinated, Kyrie Irving should follow suit. BLITZER: Yes, he should. That's Nets General Manager Sean Marks, said and I'm quoting him now, let me read it, Kyrie has made a personal choice. But as that it is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice.

Dr. Rolle, a decision to get vaccinated is as much about protecting yourself as it is about protecting those around you, right?

ROLLE: Absolutely. And I think the operative word there is team. Team sport. Kyrie is part of a team. We're all were part of teams. And when you're a part of a team, you submit yourself to the rules, regulations, policies, to the collective goal and mission of the team. And if you step outside of that based on individual choice, you have the freedom to do so, but you're also saying you're different from the team, you're separate and apart from the team.

So the organizations are going to choose the organization 10 times out of 10. Again, I hope Kyrie comes to grips with the understanding that this vaccine protects not only himself but his family now and into the future.

And one think I will say, the WNBA, the athletes in that organization have done such a great job. 99 percent of their players have been vaccinated. If Kyrie needs a colleague to speak to about this kind of situation or any NBA player who is hesitant needs to speak to someone, those women, I think, are outstanding resources to speak to because they have done it well and they always do it well. They're remarkable role models.

BLITZER: They certainly are. You know, after month of speculation as you know Dr. Rolle, NBA superstar Lebron James finally got vaccinated and spoke publicly about his decision. How important is it to have influential people speak out during a public health crisis? And let's not forget about 1,500 Americans are still dying every day from COVID. About 10,000 Americans a week are still dying from COVID.

ROLLE: No question. And as a public health advocate and someone who has worked in a hospital where COVID is still a thing, and operate on patients who have had COVID, I understand how important it is that we still curb this pandemic and think of it as a serious issue, a serious crisis.

Having people like Lebron James, other people with cultural and social capital, speak into the lives, minds, and hearts of these young people, especially, their followers, the people they have influence over, it's incredibly important. It's important to arm and equip these individuals with the right information as well to say factual things and not spew misinformation that can lead to controversy and doubts, more questions, more hesitancy, and slow us down from getting back to a sense of normalcy.

BLITZER: Dr. Myron Rolle, we always appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much and thanks for all the important work you're doing right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

ROLLE: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate you having me.

BLITZER: Thank you. Let's bring in CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Lena Wen, Author of a new book, Lifelines, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health. There you see the cover. Also with us, CNN's Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, he is Author of the book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Investigation of Donald Trump.

Jeffrey, let's begin with Texas Governor Greg Abbott's decision to ban all COVID-19 vaccine mandates in his state. The White House says federal mandates override the state level ban. How will the White House win this fight?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're going to wind up winning it in court, but I do think they'll win it. At least as far as federal contractors are concerned. That's the order that's already in effect. And most big companies have some contractual relation with the federal government, whether it's an airline like American or an oil company like Exxon.

Under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, I don't think there's any doubt that those federal contractors will have to honor the mandates directed by the government.


Now, the federal government has also said that they are going to issue rules through OSHA for all businesses with more than 100 employees.

I think it's going to be important to see how that is worded and whether there are any exceptions. I think that is likely to be upheld as well, but it's hard to evaluate since that regulation has not yet been put forth by the Biden administration.

BLITZER: You know Dr. Wen, I want you to take and our viewers to take a look at this list of vaccines that are already required. These are mandated for students in Texas, K-12. With that in mind, does his ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates make any sense to you at all?

WEN: From a public health standpoint, of course, this makes no sense because we know that individuals who are unvaccinated are at least five times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 compared to people who are vaccinated.

And so if you're going into a workplace and you're going to be surrounded by people, you need to be able to feel safe. And the best way to do that is if everybody around you is also vaccinated or at least is tested on a regular basis.

And so it just really, I think it's very frustrating because there are so many businesses that are trying to do the right thing, and actually at this point, we know that vaccine mandates are really effective because yes, there are some people who are digging in and who just will not get vaccinated, but there's a large group of people who are in the unvaccinated but willing category.

They may have some concerns. They may not be sure that COVID is that serious, but if they're required to do it for work, they are pushed over the edge to get vaccinated. Mandates are working and they really save lives.

BLITZER: They certainly do. And, Jeffrey, as you know, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, they're both based in Texas, say, they will continue implementing the federally directed vaccine mandate, despite the ban by the governor. Are they gearing up for a showdown with the state?

TOOBIN: There may be a showdown, but they're going to win. I mean, look, these airlines want to make sure that their employees and their customers don't die. That is a particularly valuable -- that is a good value for a company to have. And they are also completely protected as federal contractors under the supremacy clause of the Constitution by the executive order.

I don't think they have anything to worry about legally. I think other businesses that are more than 100 employees and not federal contractors, that's where it's going to be important to see what the regulation says.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Dr. Leana Wen, guys thank you very much.

Just ahead, the Democrats are about to clear an important hurdle as the House of Representatives votes to extend the debt limit until December. But they're still haggling over the president's stalled economic agenda as new deadlines near.



BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, the House of Representatives is about to vote on a short term extension of the debt limit. The chamber is expected to approve a compromise already passed by the Senate averting the possibility of a totally catastrophic default at least until December.

Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Phil, a temporary step forward tonight with the debt ceiling vote that's expected but there an array of really significant challenges facing this Biden administration and its agenda. Tell us what you're learning.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. No question about it. The House set to vote within the hour to give themselves a brief reprieve, at least from Democrats' perspective, as they attempt do what they haven't been able to do now for several months, reconcile very real differences over the president's nearly $4 trillion dual-pronged domestic agenda.

And this is the moment they need to make the critical decisions. That's been the word from White House officials from the last several days. But also Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It's also a moment where Democrats are accepting the reality, that what President Biden put on the table for his climate and economic package, more than $3.5 trillion, is no longer an option.

It simply does not have the votes to move forward, and that means those decisions will be harsh for progressives who have pushed for that very top line. Something Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out today.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm very disappointed that we're not going with the original $3.5 trillion. The fact is that if there is fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, those choices right now are so defined in terms of what side different members are coming down on. There's one camp that feels like perhaps you keep the entire scale of the president's proposal, whether it's the extension of the child tax credit, paid family and medical leave, significant climate provisions as well, universal pre-K, free community college, and just do it for a shorter period of time.

There's another, and the speaker seems to be in this camp in a letter to colleagues she sent last night, saying doing fewer programs well would have the biggest impact, but the speaker seemed to walk that back a little bit in public remarks today, underscoring the fact that there's a very real divide right now between progressives and moderates as to whether to cut, how much to cut, and whether to scale back programs at all.

Here's the reality in the baseline the White House is working from right now. They want an outcome. And whatever that takes, they are willing to do. What they need for that outcome is to know what two moderate Senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, will vote for. At this point, they still don't have that information. Wolf.

BLITZER: Still a mystery indeed. All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Political Analyst Kirsten Powers and CNN Contributor Evan Osnos, he's the Author of the brand-new book, very important book entitled Wildland, The Making of America's Fury.


Evan, President Biden has staked his entire presidency on passing transformative legislation. Where does it leave him if this reconciliation bill, this huge $3.5 trillion piece of legislation gets whittled down.

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is the key moment. It's sort of proof of concept. He ran for office on precisely that bet, that he could get Washington moving again. And the divide that Phil describes is really interesting because there're actually two legitimate strategies.

One would be to say let's give everything in the bill a haircut but still pass a bunch of different kinds of important programs or the other view, which is frankly a little bit closer to how President Biden has operated throughout his career, which is give people something they can hold on to, something clear, something a little bit more explainable.

Take, for example, universal pre-K. White House estimates that if they were able to get that passed, that would save the average American family about $13,000. That's the kind of big change in your financial life, your personal life, changes the kind of house you can buy, the kind of jobs you can take, that that's something that doesn't just make political sense in a sense, but also becomes part of restoring confidence that actually the Biden administration can get things passed.

BLITZER: That's a good point. You know, Kirsten, this is likely the Democrats' only chance to pass this reconciliation bill with at least some of their priorities in it. But are moderates and progressives still talking past each other right now?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. I think they're negotiating. And I think they have staked out these positions. They know they're going to have to negotiate from. I don't think anybody thought that this was ever going to be $3.5 trillion. I don't think Nancy Pelosi thought that. I don't think the progressives thought that. I don't think that the centrists thought that.

And I'm sure that Pelosi is, as she said, disappointed and would have liked it to be $3.5 trillion, but the people who are doing the negotiating are realistic about what's going to happen, and it's going to have to be pared down. It's just a math problem. It's clear that they have to do something in order to get the votes, and so I think that they will end up trying to figure out what it is they can do, whether it is trimming some of the programs.

I think strategically for the Democrats, it makes the most sense to keep the programs and have them run for a shorter period of time because often what happens is people get the programs and they like them, and then it's very difficult to let them lapse. And so I think that these are all programs that would be popular with the average American. And if they can get them in there, then they'll probably be able to get them funded when they need funding again.

BLITZER: Instead of funding for ten years, fund for five years. You cut it basically in half. Evan, President Biden, as you know, you're a biographer of his, spent decades in Congress. Does it surprise you he's had so much trouble getting his own Democratic Party squarely behind his agenda?

OSNOS: Well, it's just a frankly very different not only different Congress but just such a different country today. To put in numerical terms, when Joe Biden came into the Senate in 1973, Democrats had a 14-seat advantage, meaning that you could have these kinds of fights within the party and still come up with agreement. So he doesn't get to choose the country he presides over. He has to figure out the political reality as it is today. And that's where he is.

BLITZER: Evan Osnos, Kirsten Powers, guys thank you very much.

There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Autopsy results of the remains of Gabby Petito just released along with new details of how long her body was in the Wyoming wilder.



BLITZER: New developments tonight in the homicide case of Gabby Petito, the coroner in Teton County, Wyoming, where her body was found determining that the young woman was strangled to death. The search for her fiance, Brian Laundrie, continues. CNN's Leyla Santiago is working the story for us. Leyla, so update our viewers on the latest.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have now learned exactly how Gabby Petito died. And we have a much better understanding of when she died. I want you to listen to the coroner in his own words.


DR. BRENT BLUE, CORONER, TETON COUNTY, WYOMING: In the matter of death of Gabrielle Venora Petito, we find the cause and manner to be cause, death by strangulation, and manner is homicide. As far as the time of death, we are estimating three to four weeks from the time that the body was found.


SANTIAGO: And so three to four weeks, remember, she was found in the Bridger Teton national forest, that's three to four weeks just out in the wilderness, really speaking to the challenges that the coroner had in trying to pinpoint exactly what happened here.

He was pretty open, Wolf, about his limitations, things that he couldn't talk about because of the current ongoing investigation. He was asked if the body had been moved, if it was found buried. And those are things he wasn't willing to go into, citing the investigation.

He was also asked if when she was strangled, any sort of item was used for that, and in that press conference, he was not willing to talk about that. But CNN has obtained a document, a public record with the coroner's signature that does give a little more in terms of details on that. It says manual strangulation, throttling.

So that's more information that we have just learned since that press conference.


But again, he was very limited. He did say that DNA samples were taken, sent to the FBI for investigation. He also mentioned that Gabby Petito was not pregnant. We checked in with the attorney for the Laundrie family. And he said that, you know, that this was a tragedy that Gabby Petito died so young. He mentioned that Brian Laundrie has only been charged with the unauthorized use of her debit card, and pointed out that he still is missing and when he is found, they will address the pending fraud charge against him. On the other side, as for the Petito family, they are saying that they are not going to comment until Gabby's body is back home with them.

BLITZER: Leyla, I know you have more information. I want you to stand by. I want to also bring in CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan. He's a former Deputy Chief of Homicide for the Brooklyn District Attorney.

Paul, you served as this deputy Chief of Homicide in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. What's your reaction to this news that Gabby Petito died of manual strangulation?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's really tragic news, Wolf. Manual strangulation is one of the worst ways you can die. It's an extremely painful death. Sadly, it turns up as a manner of death frequently in domestic violence cases. And I found one thing to be very interesting, that reference that Leyla just made to what was in the court docket, that this was a throttling strangulation.

Generally, that is used to describe choking somebody to death but often using some kind of instrument to apply pressure to the throat. That's what throttling is defined as. So it's a particularly horrific type of homicide.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Leyla, did they find any other injuries on Gabby Petito?

SANTIAGO: Wolf, the coroner was asked about that. Citing Wyoming law that autopsies are not public record, he wouldn't go into any more details. But they did mention the resources that were brought in to the investigation in this autopsy, saying that they brought in several specialists from a forensic pathologists to even an anthropologists that a whole cat scan had been done on the body.

So remember, it was about three weeks ago that the coroner put out that preliminary finding that this -- that he thought that the manner was pretty instantly homicide. That was something that was very quick to be put out there. But the difference is now is that this new announcement gives us the exact cause, as we were just talking about.

BLITZER: You know, Paul, the Laundrie family attorney reiterated today that Brian in their words is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito's demise. That's a quote from the attorney. Could that change now, given what we know about how she died?

CALLAN: Yes, it certainly could. And if witnesses turn up, and I think some winces have in fact turned up who place him in proximity to where her remains were found, a possible case against him will strengthen. But you should bear in mind, Wolf, that this term person of interest is sort of a modern invention, maybe over the last 10 or 15 years.

He would have been called a suspect clearly in prior years, but law enforcement authorities are very careful about using the term suspect. They like to keep it more general with person of interest until they actually have probable cause to arrest on a specific charge.

Now, there is a warrant out for his arrest because, of course, he has been charged with a federal crime involving the use of her debit card. So he's not just a person of interest anymore. He is a suspect. But I think he'll soon be a suspect in her murder, a more clearly designated suspect in her murder.

BLITZER: We shall see. Paul Callan, Leyla Santiago, guys thank you very much.

Just ahead, the clock is counting down for former President Trump's inner circle to comply with subpoenas in the Capitol riot probe.

Up next, how the select committee investigating the riot is now preparing to respond with criminal action to force those who fail to cooperate.



BLITZER: Happening now. The House of Representatives is voting on a short-term extension of the nation's debt limit. Temporarily staving off economic disaster after an ugly fight in Congress. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is working the story for us. Ryan, any doubt these votes that are about to take place are going to pass?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. The Republicans have put a few procedural motions in front of this vote to try to slow it down, but the inevitable will happen. The House will ultimately vote to pass a rule that will deem the debt ceiling lifted after the Senate did that last week. So that crisis will be averted and the president has said he will sign it into law. That's the only business really taking place this week for the House of Representatives, and the focus is quickly going to shift to the January 6th select committee.

Of course, this is a crucial week for that committee, as a round of in-person depositions are scheduled to take place with that first group of subpoena targets. We're talking about Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, Kash Patel, and of course, Steve Bannon. And each of these individuals is engaging or not engaging with the committee on a different level. In fact, Bannon has said specifically of that he's not going to comply.

That he's going to work with the former President Donald Trump, to exert executive privilege. And that's going to put the committee in a difficult position. They're going to have to find a way to compel this compliance, and they plan to take the step of even filing a criminal contempt if necessary. I caught up with Adam Schiff, he's a member of the select committee. And he made it clear that they will take that step if they have to.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We're not messing around. If people don't show up, if people don't provide the documents they're compelled to, we intend to take up criminal contempt and refer to the Justice Department, and we expect that it will be prosecuted, that unlike the last administration, no one is above the law, and so we intend to move quickly.



NOBLES: And speed is an important part of this calculation by the select committee because they could take the route of filing a civil lawsuit to force these former Trump associates to comply with the committee, but that could take a very long time, and the committee may not have a long time. They may need to get their work done before the midterm elections next year, and Schiff told me timing is of the essence.


SCHIFF: I mean, the president, the former president, the former president of the United States, is still out pushing the big lie, the same big lie that led people to attack this building and beat police officers and put our lives at risk. So yes, we feel a sense of urgency.


NOBLES: And, of course, it's not just the former president who continues to peddle the big lie about the November 2020 election. It's also Republican members of this body, Wolf, some that were involved in that Stop the Steal rally and have continued to defend some of the defendants in these January 6th cases, even some that have pled guilty.

The question for the committee as they move forward, will some of those members of Congress be compelled to testify or submit documents or records? That's an open question. The committee hasn't taken that step yet, but it's always an option. Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Coming up, the head coach of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders resigns as years of homophobic, racist, misogynistic emails come to light.


[18:46:04] BLITZER: The head coach of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden, has resigned amid outrage over a series of homophobic, racist, misogynistic emails he sent over a period of years.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us right now.

Omar, so what was in these emails?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, where do you want to start, Wolf? These are emails that span 2011 to 2018 that "The New York Times" reviewed. During his time as an ESPN analyst, he used, let's just start with Roger Goodell, he used homophobic and sexist language to describe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling him the F-word and the P-word. He denounced tolerance for protesting during the national anthem including trying to get a player fired over it.

He called the openly gay football player that was drafted in 2014, Michael Sam, a queer. He and others shared topless photos of women including at least one Washington football team cheerleader. He also denounced women as referees in the league.

Now, a league official confirmed to CNN the accuracy of "The Times" reporting, but last week, the "Wall Street Journal" reported racist emails that Gruden sent about the head of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith. And here what's Gruden had to say about that over the weekend.


JON GRUDEN, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS COACH: All I can say is I'm not a racist. I don't -- I can't tell you how sick I am. I apologize again to D Smith, but I feel good about who I am and what I have done my entire life. And I apologize for the insensitive remarks. I had no -- you know, I had no racial intentions with those remarks at all.


JIMENEZ: That's what he said on camera, starting with I'm not a racist. But off camera, according to "The Journal", he wrote, dumb Maurice Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires, to which Smith responded to recently saying this confirms the fight against racism, racist tropes and intolerance has a long way to go.

Now, Gruden resigned over night, writing as part of his resignation, he wrote: I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider nation. I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone.

Now, we reached out to Gruden, the NFL, and the Raiders. The Raiders told us they're not going to have a statement to the media today.

But one of the players on the Raiders, Carl Nassib, is the first active NFL player to come out as gay so it will be interesting to see if he has anything to say.

BLITZER: It certainly will. All right. Omar, thank you very much. Omar Jimenez reporting.

Let's dig deeper right now. The journalist Jemele Hill of "The Atlantic" is joining us.

Jemele, thank you so much for joining us.

How hard is it to see that Gruden was using these slurs and denigrating so many people, essentially almost anyone in the NFL world who wasn't a straight white man?

JEMELE HILL, JOURNALIST, THE ATLANTIC: You know, I don't know if it was necessarily hard. And granted, I don't know Jon Gruden. He was there when I was at ESPN. I think he and I may have crossed paths a couple times. I never had an in depth conversation with him.

But the fact that that kind of mentality exists in the NFL should be of no surprise to anyone. And you know, realize that what Jon Gruden exposed is that there is a level of comfort in the NFL because understand the other half of this is at the time, Gruden is sending these emails to a team executive with the Washington football team. And so, there's obviously a place for this kind of mentality that exists in the NFL. And Gruden's emails expose that, but so it's exposed all the time looking at the league.

This is a league that right now only has three black NFL head coaches. They have one black team president. And it's the first one in their 101-year existence in the NFL.


There's never been a black majority owner. You know, as you mentioned, Carl Nassib is the first out, active NFL player, and given the things he said about Michael Sam, that this is -- I don't want to say maybe a common attitude in the NFL but it certainly is an accepted attitude.

BLITZER: You say it's a self-assumption and I am quoting you now that there are a lot of John Grudens in the NFL. A safe assumption, you say. You say it's a safe assumption that there are a lot of Jon Grudens in the NFL. How pervasive do you think that this is throughout the league?

HILL: Well, it's pervasive enough that Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a job and everybody knows why. I mean, he essentially lost his career because he stood out, and protested against racial injustice. And that was so harmful to NFL owners. It was so -- um, you know, it was so disruptive to them that they ruined a man's career. But there is a place for Jon Gruden and not for Colin Kaepernick, and to me, that says everything about where the NFL is.

BLITZER: What's it going to take for the NFL to fix this?

HILL: I don't know if a league that has, frankly, embraced and supported the kind of attitude that Jon Gruden displayed is really capable of correcting itself. I mean, I know they put forth efforts to do it but they're performative and they're largely polite. You know, you stenciling in racism in the end zone isn't going to do it.

You having black performance at the Super Bowl halftime show isn't going to do it. You have to fix the institutional racism in your league and it can only come if the NFL is willing to do something drastic. But as long as owners maintain the level of power that they do and they look the way that they look -- all white men, for the most part -- I think it's going to be a very hard road for them to change some of the structural issues and structural inequality in the NFL.

BLITZER: Jemele Hill, thanks so much for joining us.

HILL: Thank you.

BLITZER: We have more news just ahead, including the United States now facing hostile threats from North Korea. Why a new arsenal of weapons is on display, and it's raising lots of concern.



BLITZER: New saber-rattling tonight but North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He is now vowing to build what he calls an invincible military.

CNN's Brian Todd has details for us.

Brian, Kim spoke with a disturbing backdrop of weapons of war.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, North Korea analysts are telling us they have never seen anything like this, before, from the regime. Kim Jong Un is displaying a new arsenal of weapons, some of which are harder to defend against from North Korea's adversaries.


TODD (voice-over): A display of North Korea's latest and most ambitious weapons. A backdrop for Kim Jong Un to mark the 76th anniversary of the workers' party, and to rail on the United States. The dictator declaring he needs these weapons to defend his country against the, quote, hostile U.S. which he says it causing instability on the Korean peninsula.

But it's the weapons and the way they were presented which have analysts concerned tonight.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": We haven't seen anything like this, before. And indeed, when he put all his missiles together, it looked like the Smithsonian.

MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: He came up with this showroom. Almost like a car salesman showing what's on the lot. What's on the lot is a lot. A lot of lethal power.

TODD: Including what North Korea claims is a hypersonic missile with a detachable glider warhead, first tested last month. A weapon that experts say is very difficult to shoot down. A new cruise missile which flies low to the ground, first tested last month.

Also, on display? What analysts believe is Wasong-16, one of the world's largest intercontinental ballistic missiles, possibly capable of carrying multiple warheads. Shown at recent parades but not believed to have been tested, yet.

Kim also recently tested missiles launched from trains, which can pop out of a tunnel hideaway at a moment's notice.

CHANG: Kim Jong Un is telling the world, and specifically the United States, that it has a fearsome arsenal of missiles. This is just another example of intimidation which they have taken to a whole new level. They are getting better and better at this.

TODD: Another important message analysts believe Kim is sending with recent tests and this show of force.

GREEN: No retreat from nuclear weapons so the -- the message is we're dangerous but we are not giving up our nuclear weapons and deal with it.

TODD: Showcased at this latest event were more than missiles. Soldiers performed high-flying martial arts kicks, smashing blocks. A soldier crashed through a block with his head. And a bare-chested soldier fought off all comers all to the delight of Kim and his sister, Kim Yo-jong.

At several recent events, Kim has appeared remarkably slimmer than months ago and this time, he was filmed wearing polished sandals with his suit.

GREEN: He's lost weight. We don't know why. He's -- appears to have gout and he has a limp. He's not a healthy person. And, if you're Kim Jong Un's doctor, um, before you tell him to hit the gym or stop eating his favorite desserts, you'll probably think this is a guy who had his own uncle assassinated and executed dozens of his own generals and political followers. So, I suspect that he's not getting a very strict regimen from his doctors.


TODD: North Korea experts pay close attention to Kim's physical appearance for good reason. As one expert put it, as scary as those new missiles on display are, that's nothing compared to how frightening it would be if Kim died suddenly and chaos ensued inside that nuclear-armed country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, amazing stuff going on, Brian. Thank you very much for that report. Brian Todd reporting for us.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.