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In Defense Of Senators Sinema And Manchin; Cracking The Sinema Code; Democrats Plan To Raise Taxes On Those Earning Over $400k A Year; Why Has Humanity Lost Its Mind?; The Unraveling Of The Murdaugh Dynasty. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 02, 2021 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Senators Manchin and Sinema, the problem or the solution. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. It's been a roller coaster of a week in Washington, as Democrats tried to advance a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed with bipartisan support and --


It's been a rollercoaster of a week in Washington. As Democrats tried to advance a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed with bipartisan support, and a more ambitious $3.5 trillion expansion of the societal safety net that lacks a single Republican supporter.

In the end, Speaker Pelosi having given problem solvers, her word, still couldn't deliver a vote. There are 535 members of Congress, but two held the most sway. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the political game of chicken between House Progressives and Moderates, was actually dependent upon these two senators whose votes are needed for the larger package to get through the Senate via reconciliation, which requires every single Democratic vote plus Vice President Kamala Harris.

Manchin released a statement earlier in the week and he said this, I can't support 3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent 5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question, how much is enough?

What I have made clear to the President and Democratic leaders is that spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can't even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity.

Sinema held her cards closer to the vest, tweeting that in August, she had shared her detailed concerns and priorities including dollar figures, with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Here's an indication of her importance.

This week, Biden and his aides met with Sinema four times in one day. For their attempts to grapple with the actual numbers and cost, both Sinema and Manchin incurred the wrath of the parties more progressive elements. But Manchin and Sinema are deserving of our praise, not our criticism.

Their refusal to simply fall in line and instead exhibit some independence is both a rarity in Washington, and a reflection of their diverse constituencies. Consider that Sinema's Arizona constituents pretty evenly divide between R's and D's and I's. In Manchin's case, he represents a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 39 points. And where R's and D's, R's outnumber the D's and Independents are about one-fifth of the population.

Plus, who wouldn't want what's in the so called Build Back Better Plan? Two free years of community college, child care and universal pre-k, Medicare expansion for dental, hearing and vision, extended child tax credit, paid family and medical leave, clean electricity, the question is whether we can afford it.

There really hasn't been a serious conversation about the nation's debt and deficit since the so called Simpson-Bowles Commission created by President Obama to identify quote, policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. That failed to gain traction back in 2010. But it doesn't mean that the issue has gone away.

Our national debt is currently $28.8 trillion. That's over $86,000 for every single person in America. From our first President George Washington until our 42nd, Bill Clinton, a span of 211 years, the United States accumulated $5 trillion of national debt.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, the national debt grew from 5 to 11 trillion. Then under President Barack Obama, the national debt jumped from 11 trillion to 20 trillion. And in the one term of President Donald Trump, the national debt grew from 20 trillion to nearly 28 trillion.

No wonder then that "The Wall Street Journal" said Democrats may be angry, but as the days go by, they may recognize that Mr. Manchin is doing them a favor. With President Biden abdicating to the left, the West Virginian is providing a reality check on progressive excess. To that point, I would add Bernie didn't win the election. Biden did. And a large part of his appeal was that he was the most moderate voice of the Democratic stage.

The power held by Manchin and Sinema reminds me of something called the fulcrum project. That's an idea from a centrist independent group called Unite America. Board Member Neil Simon, himself, a former Senate candidate has often said that the power in the Senate could be wielded by a handful of independent thinkers.

Imagine for example, if Manchin and Sinema were to join forces with say, Senator Lisa Murkowski and another Republican or two, if such a group were to deny both parties a majority and commit to sticking together, they could dictate what gets to the floor, who is the majority leader and fashion moderate solutions to big problems and that I say, would be a great day for the country.

[09:05:00] You know so much of the conversation this week on the standoff has been about Joe Manchin, which makes me all the more curious about Senator Kyrsten Sinema. What's her deal?

Joining me now to discuss is Hans Nichols, political reporter for Axios, for whom he wrote this recent piece, Cracking the Sinema Code. Hans, here's my question and you touched on this in your piece. Did progressives misjudge her because of her profile? And by that, I mean being the first openly bisexual, the wry wigs, the acrylic glasses, the Sonoma winery internship, this, you know, appearance of wokeness? Is that the issue?

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Potentially, right? I mean, progressives and, you know, the people that I'm talking to on the Hill, they're both close to Sinema and people who are critical ever that want to see her get to a different space, there's always a hope. There's always an aspiration with a politician that they're going to do exactly what you want them to do.

And one of -- part of the disappointment for progressives was Sinema is they say, look, she's in a state that is trending blue, right? It may not be totally blue, it may be more purple, she should be more progressive, she should embrace some of these ideas. And she should campaign as a full throated progressive.

So, you know, as to all the causes of their disappointment, I don't know if I can fully diagnose them, but it's clear their disappointment -- they're disappointed. And that disappointment is verging on anger.

SMERCONISH: There's a stylistic difference between she and Joe Manchin, you know, he comes out to play on all the Sunday programs by way of illustration. I think the next time I hear her voice will be among the first times that I've heard her voice, and yet she is wielding so much power.

NICHOLS: Well, the power is a function of math, and that's a 50-50 Senate, right? And she represents a state that in the past, as I just mentioned, has voted Republican. She obviously wants to preserve her ability to run for reelection in 2024. She also has to be worried about a primary challenge from the left and there's an increasing talk about that as to try to pull her more of the left.

But, you know, you're right. We know where Manchin is hour by hour, right? He pretty much always talks to reporters in these Senate gaggles. I'm sure you've seen pictures of him at this point, even talked to a bunch of protesters that kayaked up to his boat, almost --

SMERCONISH: To his boat.

NICHOLS: So Manchin never has a problem or doesn't see any downside to engaging or negotiating in public. Sinema is taking the opposite track, and that is she's keep her card --


NICHOLS: -- close to her vest. SMERCONISH: Hans, I looked at her numbers in Arizona, we'll put them up on the screen. Her favorability among Democrats 56 percent to 30, among Republicans, a not too shabby 40 percent, and I wonder if Republicans in Arizona are looking at her as somewhat of a chip off the old McCain block. We created this side by side a short piece of video, put it up on the screen.

So here's Kyrsten Sinema, thumbs down. That was on minimum wage. There's John McCain, you know, theatrically thumbs down on repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Do you see some similarities between the two of them?

NICHOLS: Oh, self-conscious. Yes, absolutely. Right? And, you know, the similarities may not be all positive for Sinema because you'll recall that McCain after being his party's presidential nominee in 2008, faced a real primary challenge in 2010. And then McCain had to, you know, move to the right to head off that. He disappointed a lot of his friends in the media and on the -- in progressive politics, especially on his change of tune on immigration.

So you know, I don't -- McCain has covered the campaign in 2008. We saw him sort of modulate some of his 2000 positions. But the analogy to McCain doesn't necessarily mean that she's always going to be in the center and always bucking her party, it does leave the possibility open, that she's going to have to tack back left if she feels and hears footsteps from the left and a potential primary challenge.

And I think that's one thing, not just for Sinema, but for the entire Democratic Caucus. You have these eight, nine centrists that are really holding out. To what extent do you have just as Democrats do you have people that are really in the progressive part of the party trying to challenge centrist and either get them not elected and get them out of office, or at least pull them more to the left, and that's going to be a play that we're going to see sort of play out for the next 13, 14 months?

SMERCONISH: Look, you heard my opening pitch.


SMERCONISH: I applaud independent thinkers. So this is like right in my wheelhouse. And there's something else about her that I remember. I remember when President Trump was speaking. I think it was a State of the Union, either that or a joint session of Congress. And he recognized -- let me show it. This is Trump recognizing Tim Scott, and I'll discuss the reaction, play it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jobs and investments are pouring into 9,000 previously neglected neighborhoods. Thanks to opportunity zones, a plan spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott as part of our great Republican tax cuts.



SMERCONISH: And Hans, I don't know if you have a return monitor, but all Republicans are on their feet and one Democrat in the camera lens, and it's Sinema. And she's, you know, applauding the idea of enterprise zones, which I have to believe Democrats, many of them would also approve of, but, you know, they all sit on their hands, because you got to be lockstep not her, you get the final word. Where is this headed this impasse in the Senate and the House?

NICHOLS: Oh, if I had a crystal ball, I will be on my private jet to Nantucket right now, the weather's beautiful. Look, the only prediction I'll make confidently is, this is going to take a lot longer. And we saw that by President Biden's visit to the House Caucus yesterday. This is going to play out a lot longer. Here's one deadline, though, that I think is real, and it's a political one, and that is November 2nd, and that's when there's a gubernatorial election in Virginia.

And if that election goes south for the Democrats, if Terry McAuliffe, who was once governor, former DNC chair, if he loses that, you're hearing more and more Democrats concerned about his numbers. If he loses that, that could change the entire political calculus.

And that could be something that could maybe potentially depress the possibility of an overall deal. But the only prediction I'll make here is that I think we can not look at our phones all weekend, there probably isn't going to be a deal. And the time horizon on this is much longer as Manchin has clearly indicated. So thanks for having me on.

SMERCONISH: Look, I just don't -- my two cents I don't want them to blow the $1.2 trillion. The roads that I drove into the studio on this morning, believe me they're crying out for pothole filling. Hans, thank you very much. I appreciate your being here.


SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me at Smerconish or go to my Facebook page throughout the course of the program and I will read some responses. From the world of Twitter, what do we have? Channeling John McCain? I take that as a good thing. Yes, Del, me too. You know, a little Maverick instinct in the United States Senate is a commodity we could all do well with.

Up ahead, in one South Carolina family, the dead bodies are piling up like an episode of "The Sopranos." And millions of dollars have gone missing, the inside scoop of the mysterious Murdaugh murders. And how much does it take to be considered wealthy in America?

President Biden and the Democrats have drawn the Mendoza line at $400,000 a year. Does that make you rich? That is this week's survey question. Go to and vote. Does earning 400 grand a year in America mean that you are wealthy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN/ACTOR: There are no wealthy, black or brown people in America. We got some rich funds. We got no wealth. People go, what's the difference? Here's the difference. Shaq is rich. The white man and scientists, check, is wealthy.




SMERCONISH: Does earning $400,000 a year in America make you rich. That figure is the threshold in recent proposals by President Biden and the Democrats to raise taxes on the quote unquote, wealthy and corporate America to fund the administration's big spending like on the current infrastructure bill. Here's how the President framed it during his address to Congress in April.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000. But it's time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans that just began to pay their fair share, just a fair share.


SMERCONISH: Currently, the highest income tax bracket at 37 percent starts at $523,600 for an individual, $628,300 for a couple. Out of the House Democrats plan single taxpayers earning $400,000 or more and married couples earning $450,000 or more, would see their top marginal income tax rate increased from 37 percent to 39.6 percent.

Their top rate on capital gains would rise from 20 percent to 25 percent. Is it fair to have the same numerical threshold across the country with the cost of living varies widely between Middle America and the coasts and between country and city?

Joining me now is Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, co-author of the book "Money Mammoth: Harness The Power of Financial Psychology to Evolve Your Money Mindset, Avoid Extinction, and Crush Your Financial Goals." Do you think there's a place you can draw the line that seems fair and appropriate? Or is this always going to be subjective, and the stuff of debate?

BRAD KLONTZ, FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST/CO-AUTHOR, "MONEY MAMMOTH": It -- Mike, it's always going to be subjective. It's always going to be the source of debate. Rich is a relative term. I mean, it's absolutely relative. You might feel at $400,000 in income, very wealthy in mid America. If you're living in New York City, if you're living in San Francisco, you might be feeling middle class. And in terms of income, you might be feeling like you're struggling financially, so it's absolutely an arbitrary line.

SMERCONISH: I suspect that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos regard themselves as rich or wealthy. But I can tell you as one who did a call segment on this subject on radio this week and invited people earning at or near 400, $500,000 to call, they didn't consider themselves wealthy for the reasons you identified, right? It's always the other guy that they think is wealthy, not themself.

KLONTZ: It's absolutely right. And as a financial psychologist, I'm really interested in studying, our beliefs around money. And what I've noticed is that many of us create an avatar of a rich person, and we attach a bunch of negative associations with it, not realizing that the majority of wealthy individuals in the United States are self- made.

The majority of them are employees who are aggressive savers and investors. But it actually makes us feel better to create a negative vision of somebody who's wealthy or rich. I always say that rich is a word we use for people who have more money than we do, but we feel like they don't deserve it.


There's always a little bit of stank on it. And I don't meet people who actually feel like they're rich. Many of them have been climbing the socioeconomic ladder. And when they see this new tax rate, it dawns on them, like, is this fair?

Do I -- have I really not been paying my fair share of taxes because as I've grown my income throughout my life, I got to tell you, Mike, I keep paying more taxes, like I'm sort of wondering where is this point at which I no longer have to pay any taxes. And I realized that it's just an avatar we create so that we can feel better about our own tribe and where we're at?

SMERCONISH: Well, the avatar that you describe, I think, is significant, because if you have a perception of the wealthy being greedy, and if you can demonize them in your mind, then nobody's going to step in the way of politicians who say, well, let's just tax the rich.

KLONTZ: Absolutely, and it is relative. And I'll give you an example. So if you make $50,000 a year, you are one of the richest top 1 percent of human beings on planet earth, and who have ever walked the face of earth. And that's a relative term, because my guess is you're not feeling very rich. And if the rest of the world decided that you're too rich, and we're going to start taxing you more, you might feel like somewhat put upon, you might feel like that's not entirely fair.

And as a financial psychologist, what really concerns me is the success of individuals. And what we have found in our studies is if you do believe things like rich people are greedy, or money corrupts, or the only way to become wealthy is to take advantage of others, quite honestly, it has a negative impact on your own financial success. And it's associated with self-destructive financial behavior. So as a psychologist, that's what concerns me.

SMERCONISH: Final subject, how does this all factor into a debate about the estate or so called death tax? KLONTZ: Yes, again, I think this goes along the same lines where we have made a negative association with people who have been able to gather money and save it and create generational wealth. And the interesting thing is, I have yet to meet somebody who's a working class American, which is where I come from, who doesn't want to create generational wealth.

And so quite often, for people who are climbing the socioeconomic ladder, which many people are trying to do, when you get to that level, it starts to feel unfair, it starts to feel like, didn't I already pay taxes on that money? And it makes sense when you when you consider from that perspective.

SMERCONISH: But again, to your earlier point, that the meme that gets created of, of who are those impacted by the estate tax, seems to focus on the super-rich and not the small businessman or businesswoman who spent a lot of years creating some form of wealth that they're hoping to pass on to their offspring, you get the final word.

KLONTZ: Yes, so from my perspective, it's absolutely an arbitrary number. None of us like to think of ourselves as rich because quite often we have a negative association with it. And politicians just take advantage of this because they know that if we can divide ourselves among tribes and get up to upset and angry at each other, it gets votes.

SMERCONISH: Brad Klontz, thank you so much very insightful.

KLONTZ: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. Some of the social media does come in during the course of the program. These people who say no, ask for a picture of their house. Guarantee they are 5,000 plus square foot mansions. If you can't live comfortably on 400k a year, you can't manage money.

I thought that his most interesting point was to say if you're at 50 grand, you're in the 1 percent of anybody who's ever lived on the planet Earth. I want to remind you to go to my website, it's This is the survey question this week. I cannot wait to see the answer. Does earning 400 grand a year in America mean you are wealthy?


Up ahead, why in the information age has much of America lost its sense of rationality. Harvard psychologist bestselling author Steven Pinker is here to explain the loss of critical thinking.


SMERCONISH: Why does humanity appear to be losing its mind? Sure we can celebrate that a vaccine is being administered to hopefully end a deadly plague. That vaccine began distribution less than a year after the virus first emerged. And yet, as my next guest points out in that same year, the pandemic

set off a carnival of cockamamie conspiracy theories, including that the virus was a hoax spread by the Democratic Party to sabotage Donald Trump's chances of reelection or a subterfuge by Bill Gates to implant trackable microchips in people's bodies and a symptom of the rollout of fifth generation mobile data networks.

Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, author of the new book "Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters." Professor Pinker welcome back to the program. Why are so many among us willing to believe that Hillary Clinton was running a sex ring under a Washington D.C. pizza parlor?

STEVEN PINKER, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY/AUTHOR, "RATIONALITY": Probably the most powerful cognitive bias of all the ones that have been shown by psychologists, it's called the, my side bias. Namely, people want to believe things that make their own tribe, their own coalition, their own sect, look wise and noble and the opposing sex look evil and corrupt and stupid.

And we twist our rational faculties, our reasoning about probability, our reasoning about logic to make things consistent with beliefs that reinforce the goodness of our tribe. There are more reasons than that, but I would identify that as the first.


SMERCONISH: So, I'm yearning for the days of my childhood when my hometown was terrorized by a man who had a hook for an arm, and he was preying upon couples on lover lanes. It seems like it has gotten a lot worse since then, right?

PINKER: You know, hard to say. That's one of the great urban legends. And the fact that before there was social media, before there was the internet, there were these urban legends, things told to you by a -- that happened to a friend of a friend which never happened to anyone. There were supermarket tabloid headlines of Elvis sightings. There were conspiracy theories. So, it's always been with us.

And I think what's surprising is that they're still with us. That you would expect in an age in which science and technology are just reaching dizzying heights, that people would no longer believe in this flapdoodle, but they still do.

SMERCONISH: Right. Well, in that case, it really did happen to my brother's cousin's sister's nephew's uncle. But let me ask you this. Is the internet to blame? Because it used to be word of mouth and it would take a while to circulate, but now, it's the touch of the send key.

PINKER: Yes, so, I think social media certainly haven't helped, precisely because all of the rules and standards and norms that keep us rational, because none of us individually is rational. I mean, we're a little bit rational when it comes to our daily lives.

Keeping food in the fridge, getting the kids off to school. But when it comes to beliefs about, you know, the origin of the universe or what's going on in the White House, or what's the cause of disease, we're often very happy with myth and legend and rumor.

We kind of unlearn these intuitions when we are in a community that can inform each other, correct each other, when you have fact- checking, when you have editing, when you have peer review. But the thing is, in Twitter, you don't have any of those things.

And so you can just fire off an opinion with, as you say, the press of a send button and there's no time to reflect. You don't -- the reputation that you earn is not for accuracy but for entertainment value and for notoriety. So, in some ways, social media certainly haven't been helping.

SMERCONISH: From your -- from your book --

PINKER: On the other hand, it's not --


SMERCONISH: Here are some of the social -- yes, finish. I'm sorry.

PINKER: So, it's not just all digital media. You can't just blame the internet because Wikipedia is pretty good. You know, it has errors but so do all encyclopedias.

There, the difference is, you've got, first of all, certain principles and norms, everyone is committed to objectivity and truth. That's what you have to agree to when you join. And people can correct each other's errors and the errors don't stand there forever.

SMERCONISH: From your book, let's put this list on the screen. Social media tall tales. Pope Francis shocks the world, endorses Donald Trump for president. Yoko Ono, I had an affair with Hillary Clinton in the '70s. Democrats vote to enhance med care for illegals now, vote down vets waiting 10 years for same service. Trump to ban all TV shows that promote gay activity. Woman sues Samsung for $1.8 million after cell phone gets stuck in her vagina. Lottery winner arrested for dumping $200,000 of manure on ex-boss's lawn.

Look, your new book grew out of a course you taught at Harvard and there are strategies in the book in terms of how you can discern, deal, be a rational, critical thinker. All the while that I was reading, I was wondering, can this skill set be acquired, or are some of us just always going to be suckers?

PINKER: I think some of us will always be suckers. I think they can be enhanced. I think in school, critical thinking, rationality, should be taught. Rationality should be the fourth "R." We should move aside trigonometry in high school, replace it with probability theory, which actually you use in your everyday life.

There should be kind of just norms and etiquette about rationality. You should kind of lose social points if you argue from just some anecdote or some rumor if you attack the person rather than the position. And we have to belong to communities where we can criticize each other, voice opinions, where accuracy counts in terms of a person's reputation.

That's why we have democracy in the first place. And the founders were very clear on this. They said, you can't count on a rational leader to do what's best for the country because no one's that rational. You need a debate forum where anyone's ideas could be criticized by anyone else. Ambition must counter ambition.

You have the same thing in science with peer review. You need rules of the game that allow the whole community to be more rational than any of the individuals. We have to agree to sign into those communities so that we can be criticized when we're wrong, we listen to criticism. It should be also a value that you don't cling to your beliefs no matter what.


You evaluate them on the basis of evidence. And if the evidence shows that one of your beliefs is wrong then you lower your degree of credence in that belief. That should just be what reasonable people do in conversation, what happens on the op-ed pages.

SMERCONISH: Just a quick final observation, if I may. There are lessons in this book for the media. And when I was reading it, I was thinking about the summer of the shark when all of a sudden it seemed like everybody who stepped into the ocean was getting bit by a shark and then when the data was evaluated a year later, they were like, hey, actually, shark attacks were down last year. But, you know, we glom on to these stories and we don't let go of them.

I really enjoyed the book. It's called "Rationality." Thanks for coming back to the program.

PINKER: Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have?

In this age of alternative facts truth can no longer be assumed. If we ever needed critical thinking skills, it's now.

Yes, Michael, no doubt about it. There couldn't be a more timely book, I think, for all of us to delve into and to understand why does it seem like what used to be, you know, oh, they've seen sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster. Now has taken on a very serious -- you know, the election was stolen. Well, I'm not even going to repeat them. All the crazy things that people seem to circulate these days.

My answer, by the way is, expand the horizon of where you get your news and information. Don't be dependent on any one media source, including the ones where I work.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question at Go do it now. Really interesting. Cannot wait to see the result. Does earning $400,000 a year in America mean you are wealthy?

Still to come, murder, money, the Murdaugh estate. We'll unpack the disturbing twists and unfolding drama surrounding one influential family in a tiny South Carolina community that's making headlines across the nation.



SMERCONISH: Before the case of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, there was the case of Alex Murdaugh. Murdaugh, the patriarch of a prominent South Carolina family with shadowy secrets. They controlled the local prosecutor's office for nearly a century. Over the past several years, the twists and turns of his story have so far resulted in five bodies and seven investigations.

Joining me now to discuss is Valerie Bauerlein, national reporter with the "Wall Street Journal," and author of this piece, "The Unraveling of the Murdaugh Dynasty: Unsolved Murders, Insurance Fraud and Missing Millions." OK.

Valerie, the case is so complicated that I have created my own flowchart just to be able to follow along. Here's the way that I think I would begin. Alex was married to Maggie. Alex and Maggie had two sons, Buster and Paul. Maggie and Paul have been murdered, and that case is unsolved. How's that for a starting point?


SMERCONISH: Well, what do we know about that murder?

BAUERLEIN: Oh, well, you know, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed on June 7th in Hampton, South Carolina, this tiny little town in the southeastern part of the state. It was pretty brutal. They were found by the Alex, the dad, around 11:00 and their murders are unsolved. We know very little about the circumstance around them.

SMERCONISH: And so, scrutiny of those murders has caused scrutiny of a whole host of other things. As you say, five bodies and seven investigations. For example, the family housekeeper, Mrs. Satterfield, presumably who died in a slip and fall back in 2018. What's that case about?

BAUERLEIN: Well, Gloria Satterfield was the family's nanny and housekeeper for more than 20 years and she fell down the stairs in February 2018 in what was described is she tripped over the dog and fell. She was in a coma for three weeks and then she died. And Alex Murdaugh is -- the boys, her adult sons, say that he came to them and said, gosh, I'm going to sue myself so you guys can get some insurance money to take care of yourselves.

And it was -- he filed a wrongful death claim essentially against himself and settled it but the boys say now they haven't received any of that money and it totals to more than $4 million. So, in addition to her death, there's -- significant questions about what happened to that settlement money.

SMERCONISH: OK. So, mom and son, the housekeeper, that's three bodies. Mallory Beach. Who was Mallory Beach and what happened to her?

BAUERLEIN: Mallory Beach was a 19-year-old beautiful, sweet girl, by all accounts, and she was a close friend of Paul's girlfriend at the time, Paul Murdaugh's girlfriend. And Paul and his girlfriend and two other couples, including Mallory, were out on a boat ride in February of 2019.

It was late at night. Everybody had been drinking, and Paul was -- Murdaugh was very drunk. And the -- you know, the police records tell us that suddenly, at 2:00 in the morning, the boat sped up to 29 miles an hour, which is super-fast, and hit a bridge at top speed in the dark and Mallory was thrown from the boat and she wasn't found for more than a week. Five miles -- she had drifted five miles away when boaters found her body.

So, it's a really sad and desperate case but the family of Mallory filed a lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh and that's the reason we know -- some of the documentation that has come out of in that lawsuit has led us to know as much as we do about the family's situation and some of their problems.


SMERCONISH: Everything you've discussed so far has now placed increased scrutiny on the passing of Stephen Smith in 2015. Who was he?

BAUERLEIN: Stephen Smith was a -- was a friend -- from high school of the older son, Buster Murdaugh, who is a couple years older than Paul. And Stephen was found dead in the middle of the road at 3:00 in the morning and his skull was bashed, I'm sad to say.

And at first it was just reported as a hit-and-run, but it's been a suspicious -- very suspicious case because, you know, the investigator at the time said, yes, it's described as a hit-and-run but there's no evidence of skid marks. There's no evidence that he was hit by a car of any type.

So, we don't know what. But after Paul and Maggie were killed, the officers investigating that case found evidence that led them to reopen that inquiry into Stephen Smith's death so that's -- that's another investigation that's just been reopened and we just don't know that much detail about.

SMERCONISH: I feel like if John Grisham wrote this the publisher would say, hey, the writing is great, as always, John, but come on. It's a bit too fantastical.

There's one other aspect, and that is what happened last month when Alex was subject to a gunshot. You know the story I'm referring to. Then it turns out he apparently hired the guy because he wanted his surviving son to inherit $10 million.

BAUERLEIN: Yes, that happened on Labor Day weekend and the circumstances are just very peculiar, right? I mean, we know that Alex -- his lawyer has said that he was -- he was essentially fired from the law firm that his family founded a hundred years ago the night before because of missing money, possibly including that Satterfield settlement.

So, he was fired the night before. He's under this incredible pressure. His wife and son have been killed and he's on the side of the road in a very rural area and says that he -- someone came by and tried to kill him. And now says, oh, I did that to try to shoot myself to claim insurance money again, in this case, for Buster, the surviving son.

So, it's just very, very strange. And I think to your point, Michael, about the John Grisham aspect of this, I think, one of the things that makes it so interesting is just -- you just don't know what's going to happen next. We have no idea where we're headed here, and I think that makes it fascinating.

SMERCONISH: And also, it makes you wonder whether the families of the victims can be treated fairly in the system given the influence that the Murdaughs have had for a century. Take the final word on that.

BAUERLEIN: Well, I'm so glad you brought that up because I think this is what makes the story so compelling, like the generational nature of the power accumulated by this family. If they were the district attorney for a five-county area in the South Carolina low country for a hundred years or 87 years -- they had this very powerful law firm for a really long time.

You know, at the funeral, law enforcement cars were in the procession of -- they just went on forever when Alex Murdaugh's father died back in June. So all that is to say, there's just tons of questions about how the initial investigations took place on the local level when these various incidents occurred and now they've all been rolled up to the state level to have a more hands-off approach by state investigators. So, it is a -- it's a fascinating story of generational power.

SMERCONISH: Valerie, nicely done. The Cliffs Note version of a very complicated set of circumstances. We appreciate it.

BAUERLEIN: Please have me back any time.

SMERCONISH: I will. Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. Have you voted yet on the survey question over at Does earning $400,000 a year in America mean you are wealthy?



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Does earning $400,000 a year in America mean you are wealthy?

Survey says, interesting, 67 -- two-thirds of more than 17,000, but a third say not, which is similar to the result that I had on the radio. The people who are making that money say, no, I'm not rich. I'm not wealthy. It's always the other guy.

Catherine, what came in in terms of social media this week? What do we got?

You're still thinking like a Reagan Republican -- wait a minute, that's kind of a compliment -- those days are gone. Raise the damn taxes on the corporations and the rich pay for it.

Yes. Reagan Republican was not the type of Republican that we have today, and there was a day gone by when everybody was worried about debt and deficit. And those days are over.

Here's another one. What else came in?

Heard you on CNN making a strong case for Manchin and Sinema. Obviously, you want Trump and Republicans to win. You are a Republican -- we knew it about you.

No. I'm simply saying that there are a lot of centrist and independent thinkers in this country who are not represented in this debate, except for Manchin and Sinema. And yes, I'm here to praise them. I want a more independent thinking.

Stop falling into lock step just because you're a Republican and a Republican introduced it. Be willing to break out of the mold a little bit.

Let me remind everybody, on Ronald Reagan's watch, 60 percent of the Senate was compromised of moderates, not conservatives and not progressives. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, very important announcement.


Allow me to introduce you to Finn (ph) Grayson (ph) Wire. And I have a special request. From now on I'd appreciate it if all of your hate mail to me would begin, dear grandpa. See you next week.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, the U.S. reaching another grim milestone 18 months into the pandemic, but a potential breakthrough is on the horizon, optimism over what could be a huge tool in the fight against COVID-19.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: I think getting an oral pill that can inhibit viral replication, that can inhibit this virus, is going to be a real game- changer.