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One-Sixth Committee Preparing New Letter To Meadows And New Subpoenas; Biden Sells Infrastructure Win, Faces More Agenda Hurdles; Judge Expected To Ask Jurors If They Want To Keep Deliberating Tonight; Closing Arguments In Trial Of White Supremacists, Far-Right Groups Behind Deadly 2017 Rally In Charlottesville, Virginia. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the defense rests in the racially-charged murder trial of three men involved in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The man who fired the fatal shot shifting his story under cross-examination, admitting Arbery never threatened him in any way.

Also breaking, jurors in the Kyle Rittenhouse just wrapped up their third day of deliberation. We're getting new insights into the key video the jury watched and a defense request for a mistrial hanging over this case.

And the House of Representatives is pushing toward passage of President Biden's social spending bill with a key vote expected in the next hour or so. How are new CBO cost estimates sitting with lawmakers as they prepare to cast their votes as soon as tonight?

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.

All right, we begin this hour with a killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the closely watched murder trial that is playing out in Georgia, lawyers for all three defendants resting their case just a little while ago.

CNN's Martin Savidge is covering this breaking news for us.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Travis McMichael taking the stand in his own defense for a second day in the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Lead Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski continuing to go after him during cross-examination.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: You also could have stepped around the back of the truck and followed him in the path that way, is that right?

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: Yes. But then he would have had open unrestricted run around the truck and into my open door, into my pickup truck and --

DUNIKOSKI: So you're telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you're now thinking, is somehow going to want to continue engage with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father, a man who just said stop or I'll blow your (BLEEP) head off by trying to get into their truck?

MCMICHAEL: That's what it shows, yes, ma'am.

SAVIDGE: Attempting to punch holes in his testimony.

DUNIKOSKI: Detective Nohilly specifically asked you, do you remember if he grabbed the shotgun at all? And your response was, I want to say he did but, honestly, I cannot remember. I mean, we were -- me and him were face-to-face the entire time. Do you remember saying that?

MCMICHAEL: Yes. And I was trying to think of that exact moment, trying to give him as much detail as possible under the stress and all of this going on. It was obvious that he had the gun, what I was saying, and here, he agreed with me that he had the weapon in the way that I was describing it. But what I said, he did not have the gun at that second. I don't know why.

SAVIDGE: Also pressuring him on his self-defense claim.

DUNIKOSKI: And you were right there and you just pulled that trigger immediately?

MCMICHAEL: No I was struck. And he was -- we were face-to-face and he has struck, and that is when I shot. He started striking. He was on me. He had his shirt or something to that point, and I had the gun, and I was too close to draw on him.

DUNIKOSKI: He's striking you and you have got the gun up in this thing, you can't draw down on him and it is just a struggle and he's on you and you're going back and forth in front of the truck, is that what you're saying?


SAVIDGE: And the prosecutor calling out his and his father's alleged intent to make a citizen's arrest.

DUNIKOSKI: During your statement to the police, did you say that you and your father were trying to arrest Mr. Arbery, did you?

MCMICHAEL: No ma'am.

SAVIDGE: Outside the courtroom, Pastors Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jamal Bryant, Martin Luther King III and Attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt joining the Arbery family for a prayer vigil, an event organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Ben crump speaking to Wolf Blitzer last night about what this has been like for the family.

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR MARCUS ARBERY AND JACOB BLAKE: If this was your child, how would you be able to keep composure after you see these people lynch him and then you see them offer this self-defense?

SAVIDGE: Earlier, Kevin Gough, attorney for William Roddie Bryan Jr., for a third time, filed a motion to keep Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson out of the courtroom. Judge Walmsley once again denying the motion. And later on, Gough objecting to this question from the state.

LARISSA OLLIVIERRE, STATE PROSECUTOR: Do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of death penalty --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection, relevance, your honor.

SAVIDGE: Gough calling for a mistrial. It was denied. But Judge Walmsley admonished the prosecutor and instructed the jury to disregard the question. By the end of the day, the defense resting their case.


With that understanding, we rest.


SAVIDGE (on camera): And after that, Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery's mother, came out and went on camera and thanked the prosecution for their hard work. As for the jury, the judge told them not to return to court until 9:00 Monday morning when they should expect for closing arguments. Here is the thing, Wolf, three defendants plus the prosecution, six hours at least for those closing arguments. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Martin Savidge in Brunswick, Georgia, for us, Martin, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the trial. Joining us now, Chris Stewart, the former co-counsel for Ahmaud Arbery's mother, also with us, CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers, he's the author of the book, My Vanishing Country.

Chris, you represented Ahmaud Arbery's mom as she fought for charges to be brought. I wonder what you made of the prosecution's methodical questioning of the defendant today.

L. CHRIS STEWART, FORMER CO-COUNSEL FOR AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: Wolf, that was a definition of surgical. I mean, that was a lesson for every trial lawyer out there. She made us all proud as trial attorneys. She cut him to pieces. She made him keep repeating the same lie, which no one could keep straight. It was surgical.

BLITZER: Bakari, did the prosecution do what they needed to do poke holes in McMichael's claims about what led him to shoot and kill Ahmaud Arbery?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No doubt, Wolf. And I think one of the things that we saw, I think Chris said it best, was surgical, but it gave people a lot of hope. And you have to remember that it was one and not two prosecutors who saw this video and still refused to press charges. That is why many of us have this hesitancy in our heart about how this case going to end up.

But this prosecutor and the way that she handled their defense, the way that she handled them on the stand, the way that she walked the jury through the lies and the deceit and the misconceptions, the way that she poked holes in the defense, it is the way that it should have been done. And it gives people hope that maybe justice will be served because our heartaches for that community and our heartaches for that family.

BLITZER: Yes, she was tough indeed, very, very effective.

Chris, we also heard the judge though admonish a prosecutor who asked a witness, and I'm quoting now, do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of the death penalty. Was that question inflammatory and irrelevant, as the judge insisted?

STEWART: Well, then it wasn't needed. But it wasn't to the level of causing mistrial or anything of that nature. But it is a difficult thing what happened today. The defense brought all of these random neighborhood people who they're trying to really just get the jury to like and affiliate with the McMichaels, which is nonsense, who didn't have much information. But you can't really cross them because what are you are going to ask him, about the neighborhood app or Facebook post group. And so it is a difficult position, so the question wasn't needed. But it is a very interesting tactic the defense tried, but that is still not going to work.

BLITZER: It is interesting, Bakari, and I'm anxious to get your thoughts on this, it is a special moment that we're witnessing right now, two high-profile, very high-profile trials playing out at the same time in Wisconsin and Georgia. What do those trials say to you about justice in our country?

SELLERS: Well, I mean, I think that we see two systems of justice in this country. And you can't help but to think of other individuals who did not get the grace or the benefit of their humanity. You can't help but think of someone like Tamir Rice or Kalief Browder. You can't help but to place those individuals in similar circumstances as a Rittenhouse and see they did not get the grace that their youth should grant them.

In the case of Arbery, it is -- I mean, I don't know how Chris feels, I'm interested to hear what he says, but we're so apprehensive because it is very rare we get justice in cases like this, where it appears that someone was hunted down, it appears that there was a premeditation because it was on camera.

And so when you look at these two cases, and I'm actually happy that the world gets a chance to see our justice system at work, Chris and I are in courtrooms every single day, but to see the prevision and what goes on in these trials, to see the uphill battle that many people of color face, it is 11 white jurors down trying this case with Ahmaud Arbery. And so it is a very difficult proposition for black folk to get justice. And I think people watching these cases can see how justice is doled out differently in this country.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Chris' thoughts. I'm anxious to get his thoughts as well. What do you think, Chris?

STEWART: You know, it's a tale of two situations. I think what we're seeing right now with both of these trials playing out is that African-Americans don't get the benefit of the doubt.


We don't get the benefit of the doubt if we're jogging that we're not up to breaking into someone's house or we're not a threat. We don't get the benefit of the doubt if we're carrying a firearm. I'm a big Second Amendment supporter, but I'm not going to carry openly in places because I know I won't get the benefit of the doubt that I'm a law-abiding citizen, because most African-Americans are always looked at as a threat.

Ahmaud Arbery was not looked at as a regular jogger, just minding his own business. But in the Rittenhouse case, he walked right by law enforcement with an AR-15. We just don't get the benefit of the doubt, which we know is an ill of this world that has to get fixed.

BLITZER: Chris Stewart, thanks for joining us. Bakari Sellers, thanks to you as well. We're going to continue to follow all of these trials obviously.

And just ahead, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is now floating a rather wild idea he says would make people go crazy. He says if Republicans were to win back the majority control of the House of Representatives next year, their new speaker should be the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Stay with us. We'll explain. You're in the situation room.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news right now up on Capitol Hill. A critical CBO Congressional Budget Office cost analysis for the Biden social spending bill has just been released, as Democrats push toward a House vote maybe as soon as tonight.

Let's go tour Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, tell us about the latest CBO estimate and what happens now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This cost estimate has been critical because there are a handful of moderate Democrats who have made clear they are not willing to move forward on really the centerpiece of President Biden's $3 trillion domestic agenda until they have the CBO score and until they are reassured that the bill is fully paid for.

Now, that CBO cost estimate, which was just released by the Congressional Budget Office, finds that over a ten-year period, this proposal that House Democrats are trying to pass as soon as tonight would add $367 billion to the deficit. However, and this is a very key caveat, that score does not include the revenue that would be raised by the president's tax enforcement proposal.

And the basic idea of that proposal is that the White House and the Treasury Department have analyzed is that it would raise $400 billion, in other words, more than the $367 billion that the CBO adds to the deficit.

And why does this matter and what's the difference in the back and forth of the numbers? White House officials and treasury officials, Wolf, have been working for weeks to make clear that they believe that the CBO estimates as it relates to IRS tax enforcement simply don't line up with what the reality would be. They essentially have an audience of six or seven moderate Democrats. If those Democrats are convinced that the treasury analysis on that front is good enough, $400 billion, then this bill is fully paid for and things will absolutely be moving forward tonight.

That's the open question right now. But I will tell, myself and my colleagues, Lauren Fox and Manu Raju, have been talking to the moderates over the last several days, and they felt comfortable with those treasury estimates when it came to that.

So, here is what going to happen going forward. Right now, the House is in the middle of debate about the process being laid out. They will vote on a rule to govern the debate on the final bill. That will include any changes to the overall proposal and then that will set up the final debate for a final vote to pass this roughly 1.7, $1.8 trillion proposal.

And, Wolf, when you look at what is inside, you are talking about really $300 billion for climate, the largest in history. We're going to look at paid leave proposals, child tax credit proposals, $300 billion for childcare, universal pre-K. These are the issues that Democrats have campaigned on, that they have pushed for for years, if not, decades, that is now on the verge of passing in the House likely in the next couple of hours if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House officials are able to lock in those final votes. That is what we're waiting for now. But all sides both here at the White House and on Capitol Hill, from Democrats, that they want to vote tonight and they think they can, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. She's probably not going to let it come up for a vote unless she's 100 percent sure it will pass. They lose three or four Democrats, they're in deep, deep trouble. And, of course, once it passes the House, it goes to the Senate, where it is still very problematic. Phil, thank you very much, Phil Mattingly over at the White House.

Let's turn right now to the Republicans and the truly eye-popping idea about who should be the next House speaker if the GOP were to win back the majority in next year's midterm elections. Listen to what the former White House Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is now proposing.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I would love to see the gavel go from Nancy Pelosi to Donald Trump as -- you talk about melting down. People would go crazy. As you know, you don't have to be an elected member of Congress to be the speaker. Wouldn't you see -- she would go from tearing up a speech to having to give the gavel to Donald Trump, oh, she would go crazy.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with CNN Political Commentator, the former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent. Also with us, CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel.

So, Charlie, as a former House Republican yourself, what is your reaction to this suggestion from Mark Meadows that former President Trump should actually serve as the next House speaker if the Republicans regain the majority next year?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it is a terrible idea, obviously. But I think this really is about, there seems to be a growing discontent among some members and people on the outside with Kevin McCarthy, and Marjorie Taylor Greene just called him weak, Peter Navarro is taking shots at him, Mark Meadows is suggesting Donald Trump become the speaker.

You may remember, it was Mark Meadows and many in the freedom caucus who, in 2015, prevented Kevin McCarthy from ascending to the speaker's role.


They wouldn't support him. And that is how Paul Ryan came to be speaker. He was the one candidate who could gather 218 Republican votes. So, it just sounds to me like there is a lot of problems in terms of Kevin McCarthy ascending if he has these folks on the outside nipping at him right now. But putting Donald Trump in would just be insane, from my perspective.

BLITZER: Yes. Jamie, and are these comments from Mark Meadows essentially a message from former President Trump himself?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Mark Meadows is Donald Trump's messenger. And it may be an insane idea but I would say it is not an impossible idea. Let's remember a couple of things. Donald Trump loves to be in the spotlight. He loves chaos. He loves disruption. This is Donald Trump's Republican Party. This GOP conference, if he really did something like this, these are people who go on bended knee to get his endorsement, I think they would vote for him.

And I think the other thing to remember is, it is not just as Charlie said that there are people outside who with hot happy with Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump has made it clear that he still hasn't forgiven McCarthy for -- even though it was just a couple of days, for going against him after January 6th. I would say there is one group of people who would be happy about Mark Meadow saying that today and that is every Democratic consultant who makes ads, you can be sure that every Democrat who is running for Congress is interested in the idea of running against Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Interesting. Charlie, the former president, Trump, he's just actually endorsed Representative Paul Gosar, the day after Gosar was formally censured by the House for posting an anime video depicting him killing a fellow lawmaker. And Trump is clearly happy with what he's seeing right now, isn't he?

DENT: Apparently, he is. But what is really crazy about what's happening, as Republicans had such a good night a couple of weeks ago in Virginia and New Jersey and many other places around the country, they're really trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump. And now, because of Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump now embracing these wildly outrageous and, incendiary actions of these two, the Republicans are making it about themselves again, in fact, and the most wild extreme elements.

If they want to win the midterms, you want to make this about the Democrats and their agenda. But if these incendiary folks all of a sudden are on the stage making these outrageous comments and these awful videos, well, then how does that help the Republican Party? I mean, none of this makes any sense to me. I mean, just think what happened, Wolf. I mean, on Tuesday, they spent the better part of the morning in the House Republican conference excoriating John Katko for voting for an infrastructure bill. He's a good honorable man in a swing district, by the way, while at the same time remaining silent about Paul Gosar's horrible video that resulted in a censure. So, I mean, this doesn't make any sense from a political perspective.

BLITZER: Yes, you make a good point. So, Jamie, what does this all this say about what is going on in today's Republican Party?

GANGEL: Well, as Charlie said, you really wonder what they're doing, but just look at the numbers on that censure vote. Only two Republicans voted against Gosar. And their names won't surprise you, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Everybody else in the Republican conference, people who privately will tell you that they think that Gosar is appalling, but publicly, on that vote, they stood with Gosar, some of them even came and stood in the well of the House. I would just say, once again, this is Donald Trump's party and that vote said it all.

BLITZER: Yes. We're showing some video of when he was censured yesterday and he was in the well of the House of Representatives. Charlie Dent, Jamie Gangel, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, the jury wraps up a third day of deliberations in the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. We're going to ask our legal team what the expected deliberations, the extended deliberations also could suggest in this case.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. The jury in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has just finished its third day of deliberations.

CNN's Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is in Kenosha, Wisconsin for us, watching all of this. Sara, before being dismissed for the day, one juror actually asked the judge a question. Tell us about that.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. She asked or the juror asked for the jury instructions and asked if she could bring them home. And so the judge decided yes, that those could be brought home as long as there weren't any notes that the jurors took inside of the jury room. It was a sign that the judge themselves said they're pretty confusing. There are 36 pages for them to look through. And so those are allowed to go home. They will be back here at 9:00 local time tomorrow to continue deliberations in their fourth day.

We also learned there was quite a thing the judge came in and talked about the fact that someone had been accused of following the jury. The police arrested or at least detained someone that someone turned out to be a freelancer for NBC News.


He had run a red light and the police had detained him. He was right behind the jury van. And so the judge admonished MSNBC and basically said that they were no longer allowed to be in the court. MSNBC and NBC News statement came to us. Basically, they are saying, look, this was a freelancer for the organization but that he was involved with this a traffic citation that took place near the jury van. The freelancer they said never contacted or intended to contact the jury during deliberations and never photographed any of the jurors who were involved in those deliberations. But the judge is very serious about this, very concerned.

By the way, this isn't the first time that someone has at least tried to get close to the jury. We know that at the very beginning of this trial, the judge said that someone was trying to take photos of the jury. He did not say it was a member of the media but that person was told to erase it and the deputies definitely had that person erase any photos or videos that they had taken potentially of this jury. So, a great concern to the judge and, of course, everyone involved in this case. It is a big no-no to try and contact or take pictures of the jury. But NBC saying their freelancer was not trying to do either. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Sara, thank you very much, Sara Sidner in Kenosha for us, I appreciate it.

Let's get some more on all of this, CNN Legal Analyst, the former prosecutor, Elliot Williams, is with us and CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us. He is the author of the book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, the Investigation of Donald Trump.

Jeffrey, the jury just finished, as we noted, the third day of deliberations without a verdict. One of Rittenhouse's lawyers told reporters he's feeling, and I'm quoting him now, worse than I was yesterday. Should the defense be getting increasingly more nervous?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know. I really don't think you can draw any serious conclusions from the length of the deliberations. This is not a particularly long deliberation at this point. This is a complicated trial. The jury instructions are a mess, as the judge himself acknowledged. He should have -- he should have done a better job. Jury instructions in the best of circumstances I find are very difficult for ordinary civilians to understand, these are an especially confusing set of instructions. So, I think three days of deliberations is not a particularly long time.

I think if they go beyond tomorrow, that will suggest significant disagreement because jurors often wrap up things on Fridays. They don't want to have to worry about it over the weekend. So, I think tomorrow is a big day where we might learn something about how this jury is going.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Elliot, as we noted, the judge just agreed to let the jury actually take home the instructions he provided them. And I've gone through 36 pages of these instructions, very confusing indeed. You sort of need a law degree to understand what is going on. What do you make of that decision?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Look, it is not even just that they are 36 pages long, Wolf. Remember, the judge read these to the jury. That took probably several hours to get through. And the jury is just expected to recall what they heard. They're incredibly -- setting aside the question of whether they were poorly written or there were errors in there, it is just confusing to explain concepts of intent and reasonableness and reasonable doubt and so on and expect lay people to then go be alone in a room for several days and then try to apply it to the facts of a case. So, it is entirely not unreasonable to send the jurors home with them.

Now, what the judge had to do was instruct them. You can't discuss with your family what you're deciding here, no notes that you took from the jury room. But, no, this was entirely reasonable given the complexity of pretty much any legal case but particularly this one where you've got five different charges and really difficult abstract concepts that most folks just don't understand.

BLITZER: You make a really good point. Jurors, Jeffrey, have asked to review all sorts of evidence as they deliberate. First of all, how essential is the video evidence in this case?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it is good that the jury asked to see the video evidence. It's the central evidence in the case. Jurors tend to trust video more than they trust witnesses themselves because there are no issues of bias or failures of recollection. Of course, video doesn't answer all of the questions but I think this is something judges should encourage, which is going over the evidence in a careful way. Jurors just get to see stuff once usually in a trial. So, the fact that they're going back suggests they're doing a thorough job. I don't know if it means good or bad for either side but I think it is good for the jury system to see a jury doing a serious job.

BLITZER: I totally agree. Elliot, the judge, Bruce Schroeder, he banned MSNBC today from the courtroom after that freelance producer was stopped by police for following the jury bus after a day's deliberation.


Was that an appropriate response?

WILLIAMS: It was and here is why. There is very serious questions here about -- even setting aside the First Amendment and reporters need to inform the public about what's going on, there are serious questions about juror safety and this is a trial in which jurors were not sequestered, sort of kept secret in a hotel room.

Now, look, did he have to ban all NBC reporters from being in there? Not necessarily. The judge could have just banned this one individual. But the end of the day, judges have very broad discretion to control what happens in the courtroom and this is about keeping jurors safe.

BLITZER: Elliot Williams and Jeffrey Toobin --

TOOBIN: Wolf, I've covered a lot of trials.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

TOOBIN: One rule you know is you don't mess with the jury. You don't follow them. You don't talk to them. This is a pretty bad violation if this is what this freelancer was doing.

BLITZER: Yes, a good point. All right, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, I'll speak with the former director of the CDC about a concerning rise in hospitalization rates among vaccinated Americans.



BLITZER: We expect the FDA to make a major decision potentially expanding COVID vaccine booster doses to all Americans 18 and older very, very soon. Dr. Anthony Fauci says new data showing an increase in hospitalization among fully vaccinated people who haven't received a booster, he says, that is a cause for concern.

Let's discuss with the former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us. How worried are you about new data showing an uptick in hospitalization among the fully vaccinated, especially those who have not received a booster?

FRIEDEN: Well, Wolf, let's be clear. What is driving the uptick in the U.S. is not breakthrough infections after vaccination. It is infections among people would haven't been vaccinated. So, the main driver of the illness and still a thousand deaths a day in the U.S. is the failure to reach every corner of the country and get that last 30 percent of the country vaccinated.

It is also true that it does appear that vaccine induced immunity wanes in time. And so when you are eligible, get one. But the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

BLITZER: Should the FDA, Dr. Frieden, go ahead and authorize boosters for all American adults 18 and older? We expect a decision, by the way, very soon.

FRIEDEN: I think we're going to have to see what all of the data shows. The general feeling is that we'd rather be safe than sorry. And if it looks like vaccine is waning, then to recommend a booster, that doesn't mean that we're going to need boosting every six months. We need to figure out how long immunity lasts and some things just take time to figure out. You can't really find that out until time passes.

We do hope that when we optimize the dose schedule, we can get a longer lasting immunity. We may do that with multiple vaccines. We may do that with a tweaked vaccine. But in any case, what we do know is that vaccines are saving tens or hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. and around the world. The more people get vaccinated, the safer we'll all be.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Well, it was only two months or so ago that the FDA and the CDC decided to limit booster eligibility simply to older and high-risk Americans. Are you worried that decision could cause unnecessary confusion now that it looks like boosters will soon be available to almost all adults?

The key element to responding effectively to an emergency situation is learning more every day, every week and adjusting our practice based on what we learn. So, let's see what we're finding out about breakthrough infections in young healthy people and see what FDA recommends. At the same time, we have to do more to scale up access to vaccination around the world today. It is just morally unacceptable that Americans are getting thirds before many people around the world are eligible for firsts.

BLITZER: Yes, let's see what happens. We expect a decision very, very soon. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, closing arguments in the civil trial targeting organizers of a deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, involving white supremacist and neo-Nazis.



BLITZER: A dark and deadly moment during the Trump presidency is being relived right now in Charlottesville, Virginia, in a courtroom. White supremacists and others who organized Unite the Right rally are on trial.

Our Brian Todd is joining us from Charlottesville right now.

Brian, first of all, tell us more about this trial and the closing arguments that were delivered today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Just a short time ago, one of the most notorious defendants, white supremacist Christopher Cantwell finished delivering his closing arguments. He's representing himself. He argued that he never planned to commit violence that weekend and did not want violence. But the plaintiffs' attorneys have just finished presenting a trove of evidence claiming otherwise.


TODD (voice-over): The case against organizers of the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally not only alleges the rally was racist, and brazenly anti-Semitic with the Nazi chants.

The plaintiffs say the organizers intentionally planned to cause racial violence and are liable for their injuries. Their evidence, victim testimony, videos of white nationalists charging, some with shields and flagpoles and private communications, allegedly showing organizers discussing the potential for violence. Quote: cracking skulls and even whether it is legal to drive into protesters. For example, quote, fight the S out in the streets, is how one organizer allegedly urged followers to come.

PROF. MICAH SCHWARTZMAN, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW: The defendants in this case used all kinds of electronic communication Discord, Chat, Twitter, texting and they talked a lot and they talked a lot about the kind of violence that they expected to foresee and that is damaging for them I think.

TODD: But the organizers say they didn't plan the violence. It wasn't their fault and what they said before the rally was hyperbole and is protected free speech.

SCHWARTZMAN: Their best argument is that they didn't agree to commit violence. That is the central part of the conspiracy claim.

TODD: Some are serving as their own lawyers, seizing the soap box, questioning the victims.

OREN SEGAL, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It's not surprising to see that, A, they would try to use the proceedings in order to further share their hateful ideology, make it difficult for those who are bringing the case against them.


It's also not surprising to see how they would turn on each other and start arguing. TODD: Defendant Richard Spencer blamed other organizers and invoked

Jesus and he argued he never wanted violence. But he grew visibly frustrated when the judge told him he couldn't quote Donald Trump since that wasn't part of the evidence in the trial.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

TODD: Some of the nine plaintiffs testified about the injuries they suffered, not just from the street brawls but when James Field plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one, Heather Heyer.

Natalie Romero testified she suffered a skull fracture. Thomas Baker said he thought he would die and still has hip pain. And Marcus Martin said his leg was broken as he has told CNN.

MARCUS MARTIN, INJURED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE: There's a lot of pain. There's a lot to cope with.

TODD: If the plaintiffs win, it could be financially costly for some of America's notorious white supremacists.

SEGAL: If this can help cripple that even a little bit, this is a victory against those who want to continue the polarization in this country, to normalize their hateful views, and the violence that is often not far behind.


TODD (on camera): One of the plaintiff's attorneys, Roberta Kaplan, has asked the jurors to award the plaintiffs who are hit by James Field's car, $7 million to $10 million each in compensatory damages and to award others who were injured that weekend $3 million to $5 million each.

Now, as for punitive damages, Roberta Kaplan did not put a number on that, but she asked the jurors what would it take to make sure these defendants never to do this again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in Charlottesville, thank you very much.

And we'll have more news right after this.



BLITZER: In just a few weeks, NASA's James Webb space telescope will be rocketed into space, eventually traveling 1 million miles from earth. The new CNN Film "The Hunt for Planet B" will provide an inside look at this truly ground-breaking mission.

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we started, the city was considered pretty fringey. We didn't know if there were any planets beyond our solar system. We spent a lot of time building up credibility, making a distinction between ourselves and the folks who report seeing little green men in spaceships and being abducted.

I mean, people would be writing books about the pioneers and it would be what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this sort of questions? It was really hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think there is life out there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, Nathaniel, whatever I think about life beyond earth doesn't matter a bit. For millennia, we asked the priests, the philosophers, whoever we thought was wise what we should believe. We can now change that verb into the verb to explore.

Anything else is religion, and we're not doing religion here, we're doing science.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT.

Sara, thanks for joining us.

I know your area of expertise is planets outside of our solar system. How will this telescope impact your work?

SARA SEAGER, ASTROPHYSICIST, MIT: Well, for the first time ever, we can study small planet atmospheres, planets that may be able to host life, and that's a huge step forward.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? How likely is it that this telescope will potentially find life in some other form potentially on another planet?

SEAGER: Well, first we're not looking for the little green humanoids. We're looking for signs of life by way of gases. Gases in an atmosphere that don't belong that might be made by bacteria-type life or something like that. It's going to be a really tough job for Webb, but the point is it's the first time we have the capability to do this job.

BLITZER: What can exploring other planets teach us about our own planet?

SEAGER: Well, for now the other planets we can explore, they're incredibly different from earth. So for the time being, it just kind of reinforces how special our earth is and we need to take care of it.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers why you are so driven to conduct this search. What will it mean for you personally, and for humanity at large if we do find life someplace else in space?

SEAGER: Well, it means so many things to different people. Personally I'm just driven to explore. You know, for hundreds of years, for millennia, we've looked at the night sky and always wondered what is out there, who is out there? And for the first chance we might be able to at least take the first steps to finding an answer to that.

BLITZER: Sara, give us some context about this extraordinary telescope that's about to be launched into space. How does it compare to previous iterations?

SEAGER: Well, we used to call the Webb telescope the next Hubble. So think about Hubble and the exceptional images and the big discoveries. Well, the James Webb space telescope is bigger than Hubble. It's six and a half meters in diameter, compared to Hubble's 2.4 meters, and the Webb operates in the infrared. Instead of at wavelengths where our eyes can see, it's like heat energy. The Webb is going to travel a million miles away from earth to a special earth/sun balance point where it's cold and dark and great for astronomy.

BLITZER: Sara Seager, thanks for all your important work. Thanks for joining us.

And to our viewers, be sure to tune in. The all-new CNN film "The Hunt for Planet B" premieres Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.