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The Situation Room

Ex-DOJ Official Who Pushed Big Lie Expected Before 1/6 Committee Next Week; Biden Plows Ahead On Agenda Talks After Candid Town Hall; Alex Baldwin Fires Prop Gun On Set, Killing Cinematographer; Family Lawyer: Brian Laundrie Was "Grieving" When He Disappeared Days Before Gabby Petito Was Found Dead; Unconventional Senator's Extraordinary Power Over Biden Agenda. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And until Sunday morning, I bid you ado. I coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Be nice to him now. He's a good guy.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. We just learned about critical testimony in the January 6th investigation. A former U.S. Justice Department official who pushed baseless claims of election fraud is now expected to appear before the select committee next Friday. We're going to tell you why putting Jeffrey Clark under oath could be a huge step forward for the panel.

Also this hour, President Biden is plowing ahead with talks on his stalled agenda after revealing new details about his concessions and Democrats' divisions. We're breaking down his performance at CNN's town hall and the prospects for a final deal as Democrats appear poised to miss yet another self-imposed deadline later tonight.

And the actor, Alec Baldwin, says he's fully cooperating with police after he fatally fired a prop gun on a movie set. The film cinematographer is dead, the director is injured. And tonight, Baldwin says his heart is broken.

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

And we begin with the breaking news on the House investigation into the January 6 Capitol insurrection. A key witness is now expected to testify under oath before the select committee as early as next week.

CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us. Evan, he take it, this would be the first Trump administration official to appear before the committee, a Trump administration official who was actually subpoenaed.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We've had testimony from Jeffrey Rosen, who was then the acting attorney general in the Trump administration. He appeared for about eight hours of testimony. But he appeared voluntarily, so did Rich Donoghue, who was the deputy attorney general at the time. And this is a big deal for this reason. Jeffrey Clark was having conversations with the former president and with others to try to orchestrate this coup, frankly, at the Justice Department. At one point, they were planning to replace Rosen with Clark in order to carry out some of what Trump wanted to do. He wanted the Justice Department to intervene on the side of the president, the former president, to say that there was some level of fraud, and that would give an opening on January 6 to try to reject the electors from key states that made the difference in the election.

We expect that among the things that this committee is going to ask Jeffrey Clark when he appears next week is who else was in on this, who prepared some of these documents? It's not clear whether Clark himself wrote some of the documents that he tried to have his bosses send to the state of the Georgia, for instance. We also don't know who he was working with, whether inside the Justice Department, inside the government, perhaps inside the Trump administration, or outside. Those are key questions that this committee wants the answers to.

BLITZER: Very key questions indeed. Remember, under oath, that's very, very significant.

What are you learning about another Trump administration official who is now voluntarily answering questions, appearing, meeting with members of select committee and telling what she knows?

Alyssa Farah, who was the director of strategic communications in the Trump administration, in the Trump White House, she resigned just before -- right after the election, just before the end of 2020, and we're told that she has now provided information to the Republicans on the committee, there's two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and she has provided information. We don't know exactly what she's said.

But Wolf, she broke with the former president after she -- after the January 6 insurrection. She says obviously that, you know, her views differ with the former president about his loss in the 2020 election. So, we don't know what she said, but she would have been present during some of these conversations prior to January 6.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens on that front as well. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. Joining us now our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams, and CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Jeffrey, just how big of a deal is this? What kind of information would Jeffrey Clark, this former senior Justice Department official, actually know?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he is a central figure in determining, frankly, the central question, which is who authorized this attempt to overturn the election.

[18:05:05] Part of that is the effort that went on in Congress, and Clark would certainly know about that. The other part is who orchestrated the riot. And those are both parts of this investigation. But Clark certainly is a key figure in untangling how this effort to use clearly unconstitutional means to persuade Congress to overturn the election, who was behind it, who authorized it, and who was Clark working with.

BLITZER: Yes, it could be very, very significant.

Gloria, Clark is set to be, as I pointed out, the first Trump administration official to comply with a subpoena, with a subpoena for an interview with the select committee. Could this change, potentially, the trajectory of this investigation?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think each person they've subpoenaed so far has an attorney who is going to tell them what they should or should not do. I think, like Jeffrey thinks, that he is a very important witness, no matter how they get his information, quite honestly.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which issued a 400-page report, said that he tried to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power, that he was the man whispering in Donald Trump's ear, yes, we can figure out a way to get this election overturned. He is the person communicating with folks in Georgia, saying that they need to, you know, recount votes. You know, he was a person inside the Justice Department telling other attorneys, okay, you know, we need to announce publicly that we are investigating fraud because we believe there is a real possibility that there was widespread fraud

And as you know, Barr said there wasn't, and that the people sitting in this meeting in early January with him and the president, that really important meeting, those folks, like Rosen and Donoghue, that Evan Perez just mentioned, said we're not going to do this. And if you guys decide to go ahead with your plan, we're leaving. So, he is central.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly is. Elliot, what questions do you want to hear Clark answer?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, I think whenever someone comes into testify, Wolf, you really need to look at what incentives he has to testify in the first place. And, look, as Jeffrey, I believe, had mentioned, the Justice Department has already talked to -- pardon me, Congress has already talked to his two supervisors. I would be curious to hear what information did they provide that sort of puts Jeffrey Clark over a barrel here. He's filling in information that's probably already been put out there, number one.

Number two, what sanctions might come to him? Like the Senate Judiciary Committee report that looked into his conduct, where might he have misrepresented facts and documents that he signed, which are very serious for any attorney who is admitted to the bar? So, frankly, I'm curious, number one, to fill in what we already know, but, number two, what does this mean for Jeffrey Clark, a very senior Justice Department official who, frankly, should have known better. BORGER: And what was he telling didn't Donald Trump?


BORGER: What was he whispering in his ear? Was he the guy giving him all these crazy ideas, that you can overturn it? And what was he telling Mike Pence? We know that there were conversations there.

TOOBIN: And better yet, what were Trump and Pence telling him.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point.

TOOBIN: I'd like to know that even more.

BLITZER: Yes, me too.

Gloria, the chair of the January 6 select committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson, tells CNN the committee will likely have its next public hearing before Thanksgiving. How important is it for these hearings to happen in public, for the American people to see what's going on?

BORGER: I think it's really important because nothing could be more important than the question of whether a president was trying to overturn an election, period. And I think you need to have these hearings in public.

My sources tell me that they may resemble the impeachment hearings that we saw, that they'll be very organized, and that obviously we're going to know a lot about what these people are going to testify before they testify. But the purpose of the hearings will be to inform the American public, for example, what was going on in the Justice Department, and what was the extent of Donald Trump's involvement in all of this, and one more key fact, which CNN has been reporting today in a great story, which is, who was paying for all of this, who was behind this.

TOOBIN: And that is so important.

BLITZER: As they say, follow the money. Yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, it's so important. And that's something unlike getting some of the testimony of people who are not cooperating, they can actually find out who paid for this. That's where the subpoena power is really useful.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, before we let you go, I want to turn quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is allowing Texas' six-week abortion ban to stay in place for now. The court will hear oral arguments on the law on November 1st. Explain the significance of this.


TOOBIN: Well, this is really such a remarkable set of events. First of all, this is now the second time the Supreme Court has let stand a law that clearly and intentionally violates the existing law of abortion rights. This is a law that is completely inconsistent with Roe V. Wade and Casey and all the abortion rights cases. And for a second time, the Supreme Court has allowed it to stand, over a furious dissent issued today by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

What's even more interesting, though, is that the court set this case down for argument on November 1st, which by Supreme Court standards is lightning fast. It tells you that this court is deeply divided over this. It only takes four justices to grant certiorari and four justices have already said they think this court has handled the Texas law wrong.

So, it seems quite clear that the three liberals plus Chief Justice Roberts have said, we've got to deal with this, but the five conservatives have said, we are going to let this abortion restriction stand. And we're going to know sooner rather than later whether abortion is going to remain legal in a big part of the country, because the stakes in this case are just as high as they can be.

BLITZER: November 1st, coming up very soon. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, candid details from President Biden in our exclusive CNN town hall about efforts to pass the sweeping but stalled Biden agenda. Will it be enough? We're going to talk about it when we come back.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is back in the business of negotiating with fellow Democrats over his agenda after opening up on live television about his struggle to reach a deal.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's got new developments.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I do think I'll get a deal.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden's public optimism --

BIDEN: Look, it's all about compromise.

MATTINGLY: -- shifting back to the complex reality of closed door negotiations. Biden meeting for breakfast with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, joining by Zoom.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There are many decisions that have to be made. But I would say that more than 90 percent of everything is agreed to and written.

MATTINGLY: The three most powerful Democrats in the country mapping out the path forward.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a goal, as Speaker Pelosi conveyed. We have milestones. And we're working on finalizing an agreement.

MATTINGLY: And pressing for votes by next week on Biden's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the very much in flux roughly $2 trillion economic and climate package. But clear roadblocks ahead, with unresolved disputes over climate, prescription drugs, Medicare expansion, taxes, and paid leave, with Biden and top White House officials intensively engaged with two centrist senators who hold the keys to a deal, Joe Manchin of West Virginia --

BIDEN: Is not a bad guy. I mean, he's a friend.

MATTINGLY: And Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

BIDEN: First of all, she's smart as the devil, number one.

MATTINGLY: Those two senators also deeply opposed to another issue Biden opened the door on at the CNN town hall.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue; is that correct?

BIDEN: And maybe more.

MATTINGLY: But for the moment, Biden not willing to go down that path.

BIDEN: If in fact I get myself into at this moment the debate on the filibuster, I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done on the economic side of the equation.

MATTINGLY: And the White House for now choosing only to tease what may come.

PSAKI: We'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks.

MATTINGLY: White House officials also moving to walk back this commitment in the effort to ease the ongoing supply chain crunch.

COOPER: Would you consider the National Guard to help with the supply chain issue?

BIDEN: Yes, absolutely, positively, I would do that.

MATTINGLY: But that's not something that is in fact on the table at all.

PSAKI: Requesting the use at the National Guard at the state level, which is often how it's done, is under the purview of governors. And we're not actively asking them to do that, and we're not actively pursuing the use of the National Guard on a federal level.

MATTINGLY: And after these remarks about the southern border --

BIDEN: I've been there before and I haven't -- I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the whole point of it is I haven't had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down.

MATTINGLY: The White House providing clarity on a timeline and view of a future visit.

PSAKI: He did drive through the border when he was on the campaign trail in 2008 and he is certainly familiar with the fact -- and it stuck with him, with the fact that in El Paso, the border goes right through the center of town.

There is a focus right now on a photo op. The president does not believe a photo op is the same as solutions.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, Democratic leaders started this week saying they thought they could have a framework agreement on the president's domestic agenda by the end of this. That very clearly is not happening. But intensive negotiations, those are including on how to pay for this proposal. They need to fill a nearly $800 billion gap due to Senator Sinema's objections. One option they're considering, we're told, a tax on billionaire assets, it's something that Democrats have long wanted to do, now may be part of the equation, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, interesting. Phil Mattingly reporting from the White House, thanks very much.

I want to bring in CNN Political Commentator Van Jones and CNN Contributor Evan Osnos. He's the author of the new book Wildland, The Making of America's Fury.

Evan, this is clearly a pivotal moment in President Biden's presidency.


What does he need to accomplish right now in terms of his economic agenda?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he came to an office with a promise that he could kick things into gear. And this has all been leading up really to this moment. It's been nine months that he's been working behind the scenes. And just in the last 24 hours, you heard him being very blunt in that town hall last night, saying when there's only 50 Democrats in the Senate, every one of them is a president, meaning every one of them, in effect, has veto power. That's what he's working with behind the scenes.

He identified, as he put it, four or five remaining issues. That's pretty good, Wolf. It means they're getting close to the end, but it also means four or five points of failure. And success for him will mean getting a major bill passed. It's not going to be in the $3 trillion range, we know that now. Go but getting something passed that does give people, as he said since he took office, a fighting chance, trying to get the middle class back into the game.

BLITZER: How do you think, Van, the president is navigating through this huge challenge he currently faces?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, he's doing it as well as he could do. I mean, one of the things, I think, that has happened as you go from talking about $3 trillion to $1 trillion, when you take out a billion and a hundred billion there, you're really shrinking the amount opportunities to do stuff. I mean, it turns that $2 trillion is a lot smaller than $3 trillion. And so you have kind of musical chairs now happening with ideas.

And these ideas are important to the base of this party. You have women who went and voted in very large numbers, who now hear they may not get that family care, they may not get the same length of time when it comes to being able to have relief to deal with their kids. There may not be money for home health care workers and other things that were so important to women.

So, I think when you have key constituencies, like the female voters who may be just left out, this becomes a political problem. And so I think Biden has done a very good job of trying to keep the conversation going long enough. Maybe you help some people for a shorter period of time. Maybe you have less universality, so you help fewer people for a longer period of time. He is going to have to figure this thing out, and I think he's doing a good job so far.

BLITZER: Evan, our new CNN poll of polls, the average of the major polls, finds Biden's approval rating remains right now at just 44 percent, 50 percent saying they disapprove of the way he's handling the presidency. The ratings are holding relatively steady, but he needs better numbers than this to really get things done.

OSNOS: Yes. This is the point in a presidency. It's not a huge surprise we've gotten there now, when people have -- the glow is over, the moment of arrival is finished, and people are expecting results. And he knows that. He's been through a lot of presidencies. He's also at a different moment than it was when he came into politics.

It's worth remembering, Wolf, when he got into the Senate, Democrats had a 14-seat majority. I mean, they could really decide what they wanted to do and get it done. Today, he has to fight it out individually with senators who have their own sources of income, their own sources of campaign funding. It's a very complicated game. And they don't have the luxury of waiting much longer. There's talk about a week. They need to get this done.

BLITZER: Van, let me give you the final word. Go ahead.

JONES: Yes, look, I agree. And I think next week we'll see. By this time next week, the Biden presidency will either pull this thing off, in which case you don't just get one bill, you get two, don't forget, you get the bipartisan bill that everybody knows he can pass, plus you gets this other one that the progressives and the moderates have to come together in the Democratic Party. So, it's either no bill or two bills. I think this time next week we'll have two. BLITZER: We shall see. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, how and why did the actor, Alec Baldwin, fire a prop gun with fatal consequences? We're following the investigation into the incident on a movie set that's left the film cinematographer dead.



BLITZER: Tonight, a search warrant has been issued for property on the New Mexico set of an Alec Baldwin movie after a fatal incident. The actor fired a prop gun and wound up killing the film's cinematographer and wounding the director.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has our report.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, Actor Alec Baldwin says he's fully cooperating in the investigation into the fatal shooting on the set of the movie Rust.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bonanza Creek Ranch we've had two people accidentally shot.

KAFANOV: Officials say they're still in the initial stages of their investigation into what led to the fatal incident when Baldwin discharged a prop weapon on set. Director Joel Souza rushed by ambulance to local hospital with injuries. The film's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, was pronounced dead after being transported by helicopter to the hospital. Police continue to interview witnesses and are looking into what type of projectile was fired from a prop gun, commonly used on movie sets that aren't without their own risks.

JOSEPH FISHER, PROP MASTER ON MOVIE SETS: Prop weapons do have a dangerous factor to them even though they're safer than using a live firearm on set.

KAFANOV: 42-year-old Hutchins, who posted on Instagram from the New Mexico location only days ago, lived in Los Angeles with her husband and son, and was credited in the production of dozens of film, T.V. and video titles.

Today, Baldwin tweeting from the county sheriff's his wife, there are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins. I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family.


These tragic accidents on movie sets have happened before. After Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, was killed in 1993 on the set of the movie, The Crow, when a fragrant of a dummy bullet became lodged in a prop gun, which fatally wounded lee in the abdomen. Shannon Lee posting on her brother's verified Twitter account, our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and to all involved in the incident on Rust. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set, period.


KAFANOV (on camera): And, Wolf, we are in front of the sheriff's office here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Officials here tell us that a search warrant has been served on the property where the film was taking place, where the shooting took place. Investigators are obviously trying to understand what type of projectile was discharged. They've been interviewing eyewitnesses trying to piece together exactly what happened. But authorities tell us while this investigation will continue through the weekend, they will not be hosting any press conferences, releasing any statements before Monday due to the high-profile nature, sensitive nature of this incident. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Lucy, thank you very much, Lucy Kafanov reporting for us.

Let's get some more. Joining us now, CNN's Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey, the former Philadelphia police commissioner and former police chief here in Washington, D.C.

Chief Ramsey, how could this have happened, one person dead, another injured, in what's being described as a tragic accident?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all, my condolences to the Hutchins family. I mean, this is absolutely tragic. And how it could have taken place is going to be the subject of the investigation. This is a death investigation. A homicide actually did take place. And just because I use the term homicide, doesn't make it criminal, as just Ms. Hutchins died at the hands of another, Mr. Baldwin. So, they have to find out why and how it happened.

Was there a live round in the prop gun? If so, how did the live round get there? If there was a projectile from the blank, why was it able to discharge? And why was the gun being pointed in their direction? I mean, this is the cinematographer and the director. So there are a lot of questions that have to be answered and it will be part of the investigation as it moves forward.

BLITZER: Authorities have now issued a search warrant, Chief Ramsey, for the property where the movie was being filmed. What does that mean to you? What do you think they're looking for?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, they're looking for evidence. But, you know, I mean, there's obviously some level of negligence behind this. Now, my understanding, having watched this throughout the day, from professionals that do this for a living, that there is an armorer that should be on the set, whose job it is to make sure that these weapons are, quote/unquote, safe, although no firearm is really safe, but at least they've gone through the appropriate safety steps to make sure that there will be no accidental discharge that could injury someone else. Someone missed a step somewhere, because there's no way this should have happened.

Now, with two of them being shot, I don't know where they were standing in proximity of one another. That in itself is unusual. I can understand one person, if that's the direction in which the gun was pointed, but two people? My understanding is only one shot was fired. I don't know. All of this is preliminary information. But there are a lot of questions. But there is negligence. The question is, is it criminal negligence, or is it just, you know, accidental, even though it was negligent in terms of what took place.

BLITZER: Yes, so, so sad indeed. Our hearts go out to the family of Ms. Hutchins. May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing. Chief Ramsey, thank you very much.


BLITZER: Just ahead, promising news for young children in the fight against COVID-19. New data from Pfizer shows its vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in children ages 5 to 11.



BLITZER: New data out tonight on a pending vote are putting children ages 5 to 11 closer and closer to being eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Let's discuss all the late breaking developments. CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen is joining us. She's the author, by the way, of the new book Lifelines, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health. Dr. Wen, thanks so much for joining us.

Pfizer says its vaccine is nearly 91 percent effective against symptomatic coronavirus in kids ages 5 to 11. How significant are these findings?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's very encouraging, especially ahead of the FDA's advisers' meetings next week, and that's because previously all we had are the laboratory data showing that the vaccines, yes, they are safe, but also that they have a good antibody response. Now, we have some real life data showing they're almost 91 percent protective, which is really good.

That said, the study that's there is still of just over 2,000 children. And so the advisers might say we might need more data. But that needs to be balanced against the real public health threat of COVID-19 to children. One in four new COVID infections now are still in kids and there is real urgency to get these vaccines approved for the younger age group.

BLITZER: It certainly is. CDC director, as you know, Rochelle Walensky, says when it comes to mixing and matching booster doses, it's a personal preference, she says. How should Americans make these very important decisions about how best to protect themselves with these booster shots?

WEN: Well, I'm very glad that the CDC came out with this permissive recommendation, basically empowering people to make the best decisions for their own health in consultation with their providers. And so here is the way that I recommend for people to think about it. It depends on whether you got Pfizer, Moderna, initially, or Johnson & Johnson. If you got Pfizer or Moderna initially, unless you have a real reason to switch to a different vaccine, I'd recommend that you stick with what you got initially.


Pfizer/Moderna itself are fairly interchangeable, there's no particular reason to switch between the two. And unless you have a very specific reason to switch to Johnson & Johnson, for example, you have a severe allergy to Pfizer or Moderna, I would not recommend you switch at this time.

Very different recommendation I would give for people who got the one- dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which I'm one of them, especially for women 18 to 49, I would strongly encourage those individuals to switch to a second dose that's not a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to either get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. I myself got a Pfizer second dose for my booster. Moderna would be just as good. I got Pfizer because it was more convenient. I think these are fairly equivalent.

And so I think people should be making the best decisions with their doctors. If you're not sure, talk to your provider. And also one thing to keep in mind is the recommendation for Johnson & Johnson and different also for Pfizer and Moderna in that it's not just high risk people who should be getting a second dose of the J&J booster, it's anyone who has gotten the J&J one-dose vaccine, if you're two months out from getting that vaccine, you should get a second dose of something, either J&J or Pfizer or Moderna.

BLITZER: Good advice as usual from Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, new questions after a lawyer for the parents of Brian Laundrie speaks out. What did they know about the death of Gabby Petito and when did they know it?



BLITZER: A new twist tonight in the deaths of Brian Laundrie and his fiancee Gabby Petito after surprising remarks from a Laundrie family attorney.

CNN's Randi Kaye is working the story for us.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after the FBI confirmed the discovery of Brian Laundrie's remains through dental records, there's only more questions and still not enough answers.

STEVEN BERTOLINO, LAUNDRIE FAMILY ATTORNEY: Yesterday was, you know, very hard on them.

KAYE: The Laundrie family attorney sharing how his clients Chris and Roberta Laundrie are dealing with the discovery of their son's remains.

BERTOLINO: His parents are a mess, they're extremely upset, they're extremely distraught is the word I've been using but I don't think that accurately describes it.

KAYE: But tonight, questions remain, like what if anything did Brian Laundrie tell his parents before he left their house last month.

BERTOLINO: Chris and Roberta knew their son Brian was grieving. They knew he was so upset. And, you know, they just couldn't control that he was leaving and he left, he walked out the door, and Chris said to me, I wish I could have stopped him but I couldn't.

KAYE: But what was he grieving about? A notebook found near Laundrie's remains could shed light on that, a source telling CNN the notebook is possibly salvageable.

JOSH TAYLOR, NORTH PORT POLICE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: You want to make sure you handle it as carefully as possible. You only get one shot at these types of items.

KAYE: According to the Laundrie parents, their son left their home on September 13. The lawyer says he notified the FBI the same day that their son had left, something law enforcement disputes.

TAYLOR: Making a statement that we haven't seen him is not reporting someone missing. If we had had that information, there's a million things we would have done differently.

KAYE: So, did Laundrie tell his family anything about Petito before he left?

BERTOLINO: That's not something I can comment on right now, and, I would like to just leave it at that.

KAYE: And tonight, we still don't know how Laundrie died. The family's lawyer says he and Brian's parents discussed the possibility that it could have been a suicide.

BERTOLINO: You know, we've had that conversation between the three of us, Chris, Roberta, and myself, several times. We just do not know. Of course, knowing his mental state when he walked out the door, it was always a concern. But, you know, let's wait for the medical examiner.


KAYE (on camera): And, Wolf, in that "Good Morning America" interview, the lawyer for the Laundrie family was asked if the Laundrie parents had anything to say to the Petito family. No message of any kind was offered. And later on in that interview he said, we have absolutely nothing to say with respect to the Gabby Petito incident. This is a homicide that we're talking about here. He also described

Laundrie's parents as distraught and he said perhaps in the future there could be conversations or discussions to be had, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Randi Kaye, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, don't miss Randi's CNN special report, "Gabby Petito and the Hunt for Justice," later tonight 11:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us now, Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County down in Florida.

Dave, thanks very much for joining us.

Brian Laundrie's remains were found but there's still a lot we don't know. What are the most pressing questions you still have about this case?


I would like to know whether the parents were involved as an accessory after the fact, did they help him escape, did they help destroy evidence? I understand they themselves are grieving for the loss of their son but I thought the lawyer's comment was very interesting, his comment that the parents knew that Brian was grieving when he left on that day to go to the preserve.

Remember, Gabby's body wasn't found until like six days later. So what did they know? It's not enough for them to know that something bad happened and remain silent. That's not a crime. What would be a crime is if they knew that Brian committed a crime and then they helped him get away, they helped destroy evidence, they prevented his arrest in any way.

And don't count on the parents to provide evidence against each other. They have a marital privilege, a privilege that prevents any of their communications from coming out in court.

So maybe the evidence in the notebook that has been discovered can help investigators in a big way.


BLITZER: It's a good point. Indeed. The Laundrie family attorney, as you know, says, and this is a direct quote, they have absolutely nothing to say with respect to the Gabby Petito incident. Does that language, combined with their silence, raise any red flags in your mind?

ARONBERG: Yeah. Wolf, now, you see why the Laundrie parents have become such villains in the court of public opinion. I mean, from the beginning, they were silent. They knew that their son returned home from his cross-country trip

without his fiancee, without the girl who lived in their home for more than a year. And yet, they said nothing. They didn't report it to anyone.

And when Gabby's parents called and texted, desperately, to find out what's going on, the Laundrie parents ghosted them. They didn't say anything. And that's why the Petito family didn't even know that gabby was missing, and that's why Gabby wasn't even reported missing until the 11th.

So you have all these things that show that the parents knew a lot more, but the question is whether it's criminal? That's what prosecutors are going to have to deal with. Not conjecture. They need to deal with facts and evidence.

BLITZER: How important is it for authorities to figure out exactly how Brian Laundrie died?

ARONBERG: Well, the prosecution against Brian Laundrie is over. The case about his using Gabby's ATM card is over, any charges that were going to be filed against him for the death of gabby. That's done.

But investigators are still going to look for things, like how did he die? And that could be important to know whether it was a suicide whether it was some -- maybe, he just got eaten by an alligator. I mean, there are lot of things you would want to know it because everyone has unanswered questions.

This is more than just prosecutors. This is about the whole country, whole world wanting to know.

BLITZER: Dave Aronberg, thank you so much for joining us.

ARONBERG: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we are take that closer look at the unique personality and power of Senator Kyrsten Sinema as her influence over the Biden agenda has frustrated the president and angered many liberal Democrats.



BLITZER: Senator Kyrsten Sinema is under a red-hot spotlight as one of two moderate Democrats wielding extraordinary power over President Biden's agenda.

Our Brian Todd is taking a closer look for us.

Brian, the senator appears to revel in being unconventional.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is indeed her calling card, Wolf.

Senator Sinema does have a great deal of leverage tonight over President Biden's domestic agenda. But in using that leverage, she is walking a tightrope with her own party.


TODD (voice-over): At the epicenter of a critical moment in President Biden's term, wielding enormous power over whether the president's massive domestic spending package is passed is a 45-year-old first- term senator who's even worn a purple wig and a shirt saying dangerous creature on the Senate floor. And who sported a ring saying "F off". That's just what many Democrats believe Senator Kyrsten Sinema is saying to her own party.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Literally, one senator, one senator, Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic Party.

TODD: Another Democrat, New York Congressman Ritchie Torres told CNN, quote, we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema. Many believe Sinema, along with West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin have held the Biden spending bill hostage until recently, no one knew what Sinema was holding out for. She kept that closely held as she made several trips to the White House in recent weeks.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, she's smart as the devil, number one.

TODD: Then last night, at CNN's town hall, the president revealed what Sinema was after.

BIDEN: She says she will not raise the single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people. Period.

TODD: Which is a hallmark of the Democratic agenda. Sinema's also bucked her party by voting against raising the minimum wage, a maverick streak that Sinema seemed proud to inherit from her fellow Arizonan, the late Republican Senator John McCain.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): My personal hero, John McCain.

TODD: One reason sin that has been so tough to figure out is that she rarely gives interviews. Still, she was parodied on a recent episode of "Saturday Night Live".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look, as a wine-drinking bisexual tri-athlete, I know what the average American wants.

TODD: Sinema is a tri-athlete and a marathoner, and is the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

SINEMA: Could we get a spouse? Just kidding. Just kidding.

TODD: She grew up in a poor family which once lived in an abandoned gas station.

SINEMA: We were homeless for two years. I lived in a gas station with no running water, no electricity.

TODD: At the start of her political career, there was no mistaking Sinema's left wing credentials. She was a Green Party activist, campaigned for LGBTQ rights, and led antiwar protests. But she's clearly shifted to the center. As evidenced by her defiance over Biden's spending bill. And her current standing among fellow Democrats.

ASTEAD HERNDON, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think she has been massively frustrating figure for progressives in Washington. They have taken their complaints from private to public at this point saying she is not negotiated in good faith.


TODD (on camera): The brush back against Senator Sinema amongst Democrats is strong enough a full three years before she is up for re- election, Democratic strategists in Arizona are already talking about lining up potential challengers for her Democratic primary. Already, no fewer than four challengers have been mentioned as possible, you know, as running against her maybe in that primary, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Brian Todd, excellent report. Thank you very, very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.