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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Alex Jones Ordered To Pay Sandy Hook Parents $4.1 Million In Damages; Rep Liz Cheney On Charging Trump, If Evidence Supports It; Rep. Cheney Whether Justice Dept. Will Prosecute Trump; Russian Court Gives Brittney Griner Near-Max Sentence; Four Current And Former Police Officers Face Federal Charges In Fatal Breonna Taylor Raid. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 04, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jurors who went into her classroom likely saw what a small group of reporters saw today, a blood stained book titled, "Tell Them We Remember," or even the learning objective that is still on the wall that reads, "Be aware of the world and its surroundings" -- Erin.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Leyla, thank you so much.
And thanks so much to all of you for being with us.
AC 360 starts now.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good Thursday evening to you.
$4.1 million and counting: That is how much the lies and conspiracy theories spread by Alex Jones about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that you'll remember killed 20 children and six adults will now cost him, a number that may grow.
I'm Jim Sciutto, in tonight for Anderson.
Texas jury's award for compensatory damages was far less than families had requested. However, there is still the question of punitive damages. Plus, the "InfoWars" host also faces two more trials involving families of those killed at Sandy Hook.
Today, an attorney for the parents in this Texas case told CNN they are "Thrilled by the jury's decision."
Remember, Jones is the man who claimed repeatedly including directly to the parents of the children murdered in Sandy Hook, that it was all a lie and never happened.
Let's go right to CNN's Drew Griffin who has been following this trial from the start, and Drew, first break down this verdict for us. How exactly did the jury get to this figure $4.1 million?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT Well, the jury was asked a series of questions. Keep in mind the jury came in this only for the punishment phase or the money phase. Alex Jones was found liable by default in this case.
One of the default cases was against the father of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, his name is Neil Heslin, and he claimed defamation. That defamation is what the jury rewarded the least for. That was just $110,000.00. But for both parents, for Scarlet Lewis and for Neil Heslin, the jury said, "For the infliction of emotional distress, now and in the future, awarding them each $2 million each."
As you say, that is far, far below the $150 million that they asked for and Jim, I just viewed an obnoxious video by Alex Jones that he put out on his website as he begged for money from his viewers calling this a major victory for truth, alluding to the fact that he thought this whole trial was a Democratic Party-run plot against him and he is going to be unfairly treated in tomorrow's punitive damage phase.
But again, Alex Jones trying to spin this as a major victory for truth.
SCIUTTO: Yes, his message has been consistent throughout.
Listen, I imagine, this has never really been about the money for Heslin and Scarlett Lewis.
GRIFFIN: What this is about, particularly for Neil Heslin, who I've interviewed at length, this is about getting Alex Jones to shut up about his dead son, getting Alex Jones to never again say his son who was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, wasn't shot and killed and wasn't even a real person.
This was about taking that stress, that emotional stress off his back and making sure that Alex Jones and all his followers realize that the Sandy Hook massacre was not a hoax, it was not a false flag, it was in fact a horrific, terrible event.
SCIUTTO: I've watched the parents speak in that Courtroom and it's just beyond imagination what they've been through.
Drew, do stay with us because I do want to also bring in CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, also "The New York Times" Elizabeth Williamson, who was actually in the Courtroom today, and she is the author of "Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth."
Paul, first, legal answers to this. Ten of the 12 Jurors came to this decision. It was not unanimous, interestingly. What do you think of the verdict and the dollar figure given it was so far below what the parents had sought?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I thought the verdict was a little bit on the low side, but I'm not stunned by it in any way, shape, or form.
I think first of all, that what people are maybe forgetting is that there were 20 children and six adults who were murdered on that horrible day in Sandy Hook, and all of them have to be compensated by different verdicts.
If the jury was to award enormous amounts of money, the $150 million for instance, in this particular verdict, well, what would be left for the other victims? He would be out of money and they'd be out of luck.
So I suspect that the jury was thinking about that and trying to come up with a fair number that could be used maybe as a template going down the road to compensate other victims here.
SCIUTTO: That's a smart point there. Two parents of the many victims there.
Elizabeth, you were in the Courtroom all week. I wonder and just even watching from the outside, my stomach was turning during some of these moments here, describe what it was like today when the verdict was read. And any explanation for why Jones was not in the Courtroom for that moment?
ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Jim, Jones has been avoiding the Courtroom for almost the entire trial. It was actually an error in scheduling that put him in front of Scarlet Lewis when she addressed him directly, insisting on speaking with him personally for those 90 minutes earlier this week.
But it was a kind of sedate and quiet day because it was preceded by so much emotionally powerful testimony, particularly by Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis.
So today was quite quiet and almost pensive. And, you know, I think people didn't quite know what to think because you have the $150 million request on the side of the families. And then you had Alex Jones saying he would only pay a single dollar for each of the eight charges in this case.
SCIUTTO: Goodness. Paul, there is another phase to the trial. That begins tomorrow, that's for punitive damages.
So explain what the jury looks at for this next step, and I imagine the point you made earlier regarding these damages might apply again, right, that there were other parents eventually to be compensated.
CALLAN: Yes, that thought process I think would apply, but it's a very different situation than what happened today.
Today, they were going down a list and trying to figure out how to compensate somebody for real damages. I mean, like medical bills and expenses and things like that factor in with compensatory damages.
What happens tomorrow is very different. It is about punishment and it is it is about sending a message, these are called punitive damages, or in some places like Texas, exemplary damages, and it is meant to send a message, not only to him, not only to Alex Jones for the horrific things that he did, but to other people across the country who might be peddling false, defamatory conspiracies that hurt other people.
There is a price to be paid and the jury will tell us what that price is tomorrow, and I'm suspecting it will be a lot larger than this price.
SCIUTTO: That's what I was going to ask there, just briefly there. Do they have a sort of band that they have to operate in for punitive damage damages?
CALLAN: No. They can award whatever number they think is an appropriate number. Now, I will tell you, when Appellate Courts look at these kinds of cases, a lot of times they look at what's the multiple of the compensatory damages.
So for instance, if it was a $10 million compensatory verdict, maybe only $40 million or four times out of five times that would be upheld as a punitive verdict; in Texas, that four times rule has been used in a lot of cases.
SCIUTTO: Interesting -- interesting guidelines.
So Drew yesterday, Jones told the Courtroom that any decision in excess of $2 million would "sink" "InfoWars."
Based on your reporting, and you've been covering this some time and crunching the numbers. Is that true?
GRIFFIN: No. He makes anywhere from $55 million to upwards of $70 million a year. I don't know how he spends and erratically spends that money, but there is a significant income flow going into that operation, which sells basically, these kind of nutritional supplements in the guise of manhood enhancements on his show.
He was though, tonight, I was just watching this disgusting kind of post he put up, begging his audience saying that "We are broke. We are going to broke. If you want to keep us on the air, buy a t-shirt, buy some nutritional pills. Buy something." In other words, using this verdict as kind of a sales pitch to try to keep him on air because he says he is broke.
He is going to have to prove he is broke in Bankruptcy Court in order to get away with that and we'll just have to wait and see -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, it's a reminder that disinformation is Big Business, right? I mean, this stuff sells, sadly.
Elizabeth, you were also in the Courtroom earlier today, that's when the attorneys for the family spoke about their intentions to cooperate with the January 6 Committee and law enforcement regarding that revelation in the Courtroom yesterday that the entire contents of Jones' phone had been shared with prosecutors.
What happened in particular regarding that and how did the Judge handle it?
WILLIAMSON: So today, Mark Bankston, who is the attorney for the families in this case, he asked the Judge for permission to release the contents of Alex Jones' phone to the January 6 Committee and to law enforcement should they request it and she is still considering his ask.
So he expects some more news on that tomorrow, but he has every intention of delivering those contents to the proper authorities, he says.
SCIUTTO: His ex-wife is interested as well.
Drew, Jones facing a similar trial in Connecticut. Mark Bankston, the lawyer for the parents', Heslin and Lewis, has now contacted the plaintiff's attorney there about medical records. How does that play into this?
GRIFFIN: Well, these are part of the records that were "inadvertently" passed on to him. They included medical records of some of the folks in Connecticut, they should have never been passed.
So now in Connecticut, the lawyer who passed them apparently could be in some kind of trouble. We'll have to see how all this shakes out. There's a lot of attorneys here pointing fingers in a lot of different ways and I'm not quite sure what to make of it as being bluster or real damage.
But certainly, a big mistake was made by Alex Jones' attorney by releasing those phone records and not getting them back immediately.
SCIUTTO: Yes, questions of perjury now raised in the courtroom.
Drew Griffin, Paul Callan, and Elizabeth Williamson as well, thanks so much to all of you.
Please be sure to catch Drew's Special Report: "Megaphone for Conspiracy: The Alex Jones Story." That's tomorrow night, 11:00 PM, Eastern Time on CNN.
And next for us tonight, exclusive new reporting on talks now underway between lawyers for former President Trump and the Justice Department about the DOJ's January 6 criminal probe.
And later, another CNN exclusive, House Select Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, her thoughts on potential criminal charges against him her and her father, Dick Cheney, now calling the former President a coward.
SCIUTTO: Exclusive new reporting tonight on the Justice Department's January 6 criminal investigation. It is the latest indication that their probe is now focused on the highest echelon members of the former administration, up to and including the former President himself. In short, CNN has learned that his legal team is now speaking directly with DOJ officials. A bit later in the program, another CNN exclusive, January 6 Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney updates us on the progress she and her colleagues are making, also, on whether she thinks the former President ought to face criminal charges now if the evidence supports it.
First, though, CNN's new reporting. Our Kara Scannell joins us with this on what Trump's lawyers in the Justice Department are speaking about.
So Kara, tell us exactly what we know about these conversations and the topic of those conversations with the DOJ.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim Sources tell our team that the Justice Department attorneys investigating January 6 and Trump's legal team are having talks now that revolve around the issue of executive privilege. That is whether the former President can shield certain communications that he had while President from Federal prosecutors.
Now, this has become a significant issue in this investigation and it is very significant that these conversations are happening already. It shows that the Justice Department is very focused on the West Wing and the activities and conversations that people have had with the former President.
They have already subpoenaed for testimony before the grand jury, two aides of former Vice President Mike Pence and they have subpoenaed for testimony before the grand jury, Trump's former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and his Deputy, Patrick Philbin.
So this is a significant development. What we are learning from our reporting, too, as we've reached out to the Trump spokesperson and they gave us this indication that they are intending to dig in on this issue. Here is what he told us: "How can any future President ever have private conversations with his attorneys, counselors, and other senior advisors if any such adviser is forced, either during or after the presidency in front of an Unselect Committee or other entity and be forced to reveal those privileged confidential discussions?"
Now, we've reported that the Justice Department is preparing to take this battle into Court, and our sources say that they are confident that they will win.
SCIUTTO: I understand you're also learning new details about the President -- the former President himself and his views on all of this. What's he focused on when he's been speaking with his attorneys?
SCANNELL: Well, Jim, sources tell us that Trump has had meetings with his attorneys. They have warned him that they think there could be indictments in this investigation, and they discussed with him what certain defense strategies of his could be.
Now, in some of these briefings, we understand that Trump has been very skeptical, has grilled his attorneys of whether he would actually face criminal charges, and has given the impression that he doesn't think that he would. Now, other sources tell us that he has had conversations with his
inner circle and those people believe that he is more concerned about this than he has led on.
His attorneys have also advised him that he should cut off communications with certain people that are under scrutiny, whether it's from the House Select Committee investigating January 6, or potentially by the Federal prosecutors, one of them, his former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.
Now, sources tell us that Trump has defied that advice, that he is still in contact with Meadows although that relationship is not quite what it used to be -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you there, are you saying his attorneys are telling the former President that they believe some people including him, could be indicted or just some people?
SCANNELL: That they believe that there are potential for criminal charges in this investigation and whether and how close to Trump that becomes is still something that remains to be seen. This is still an early stage of the investigation, but it has accelerated quickly.
SCIUTTO: Kara Scannell, thanks so much for your reporting.
So joining us now to break it down, CNN contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean; also CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI Deputy Director, Andy McCabe.
First to you, Andy. When you hear that, and by the way, when you look at the Trump lawyers or spokesman's rather statement there saying, you know, seems to be claiming as they have for some time, a quite expansive interpretation of executive privilege. How significant do you think these conversations are between the DOJ and his lawyers?
I mean, is it them reiterating their position on executive privilege? Are they kind of exploring to see what liability they may face?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Jim, I think it is very significant. I think it is significant because what they are doing is digging in now, early and aggressively to, in essence, pick this fight over presidential privilege.
So let's remember that the issue of presidential privilege matters greatly to the President, not just later, when they are maybe asking for his interview or something along those lines, he wants to be able to use presidential privilege to stop the testimony of other witnesses who have been subpoenaed in front of a grand jury, or to lay out some guidelines that the prosecutors might agree to adhere to, to avoid certain lines of questioning.
So they are being very forward leaning, very aggressive in trying to raise this issue now and I think it's very -- it's got to be indicative of the fact that the President is very concerned about protecting conversations he knows he had with many of these people.
Let's be clear, he doesn't care about preserving the sanctity of future President's ability to confer with their advisers. Donald Trump cares only about Donald Trump and if his folks are digging in now to try to shield these conversations, it is because they know they will be very damaging to him.
SCIUTTO: John, This promises to be, I imagine, quite a lengthy legal fight over how far the executive privilege stands, but I thought that this was settled in the controversy you were involved in, the Nixon impeachment and the Supreme Court decided then that executive privilege does not extend to potential criminal behavior here. Why are we facing this question again?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What happened recently, I think it gave the Trump people some encouragement that they might have a privilege is in a case called Trump versus Thompson, where Trump tried to sue the National Archives to get them to stop releasing all the papers they indeed have released to the January 6 Committee.
In the course of that decision, which was basically, they refused to take it on appeal at the Supreme Court, although Kavanaugh noted that he thought there was a privilege of a former President and he hinted that he might go that way. And obviously, if he went that way, he would probably try to take the very conservative majority of the Court with him.
So I think that's what they're trying to get to, get something they can get up before the Supreme Court.
The law is really settled in the District of Columbia on these issues, though, and there is -- it'll be a real reach to get that to the Supreme Court.
SCIUTTO: Interesting you note that Kavanaugh's comments that they're even more conservative, as you know, Andy McCabe, Justices by some measures on that Court. Would that extend even to criminal behavior, though? Right? You know, whether it is a former President or a current President, is there an exception for potential criminal behavior? Or might the Court decide, you know what those conversations are off limits?
MCCABE: It is always possible that they could decide that but, you know, the Trump team has a much higher bar to get over now that we're talking about shielding conversations in the context of a criminal investigation, a grand jury investigation. It is very different than in the context of a congressional subpoena.
Congressional subpoenas aren't the same sort of deference. Congressional subpoenas are intrinsically part of a political process, which brings a different angle to this that Justices might consider differently.
We are out of those woods right now. We are in the straight up criminal process run by DOJ in front of a grand jury and that process is given enormous deference by the Courts, and I think that's what led to this settled state of the law in DC that John just referred to.
SCIUTTO: John, so sources are telling CNN that Trump's legal team has warned him as we mentioned a bit earlier, that indictments are possible. I want to play what former Attorney General Eric Holder just told Sirius XM about potential indictments, in his view. Have a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER US ATTORNEY GENERAL: My guess is that by the end of this process, you're going to see indictments involving high-level people in the White House. You're going to see indictments against people outside the White House who are advising them with regard to the attempt to steal the election.
And I think ultimately, you're probably going to see the President, former President of the United States indicted as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Quite a position to stake out. John, do you agree?
DEAN: I think it's a very solid position and highly potential. I think he is right on. He has a very high level view of it. But I think just as an observer of this process myself, you know we've never seen conduct like this in the White House. This is way beyond Watergate.
And the Watergate special prosecutors were prepared to prosecute Richard Nixon on much lesser charges. So, I'm not surprised that Mr. Holder has taken that position.
SCIUTTO: John Dean, Andy McCabe, thanks for joining us tonight.
Coming up next for us, tonight, a conversation with the Vice Chair of the January 6 Select Committee, Republican, Liz Cheney, her thoughts on whether the former President should face criminal prosecution if the evidence supports it, and her concerns about the missing text messages from the Secret Service, DHS, and The Pentagon, and a videotape boost that she is now getting from her dad.
SCIUTTO: Days after supporters of the former President exacted their latest electoral revenge on one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, all eyes now turn to their biggest target, Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
The Vice Chair of the January 6 committee faces Wyoming primary voters in 12 days, and even she knows, she is facing an uphill fight.
Today, her campaign released a new ad featuring her father Dick Cheney, the former Vice President, who represented Wyoming in Congress for 10 years.
In it, he lashes out at the former President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY (R) FMR VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward. A real man wouldn't lie to his supporters. He lost his election and he lost big. I know it, he knows it and deep down, I think most Republicans know him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Congresswoman Liz Cheney sat down with our chief national affairs analyst Kasie Hunt in Wyoming to discussed Cheney's role on the January 6 committee investigating Trump including his attempt to overturn the election, and also whether the Justice Department should now prosecute him criminally for his actions.
KASIE HUNT, CNN NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (on-camera): Do you think that the Biden Justice Department is going to stop him from becoming president again?
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that the Justice Department is going to follow the facts and the evidence, I think that they clearly seen significant activity in terms of, you know, the individuals that they now have testifying in front of grand jury in D.C. And I think they're taking their obligation seriously. I think we've certainly seen in our hearings, when you have the former Attorney General, former White House Counsel, former acting Attorney General, former Deputy Attorney General, when you have individuals who served Donald Trump, who were nominated by him and who served at the highest levels, you know, who have testified in front of the committee, and made clear, for example, as did Pat Cipollone, that President Trump didn't want people to leave the Capitol. Now, Mr. Cipollone made that point trying to protect executive privilege, but I don't think anybody had any doubt what he was saying.
And so, I think the Justice Department is, from what I can tell from the outside committed to following the facts and following the evidence, and they're taking it seriously.
HUNT (on-camera): Some have expressed concern that prosecuting former President Trump would turn him into a martyr and potentially add to his political strength with a base that's follows him pretty rapidly. Do you share that concern? Do you have any concern that a prosecution would strengthen Donald Trump's political hands?
CHENEY: I don't think that it's appropriate to think about it that way. Because the question for us is, are we a nation of laws? Are we a country where no one is above the law? And what do the facts and the evidence show? And certainly I've been very clear, I think he's guilty of the most serious dereliction of duty of any president in our nation's history. You've had a federal judge in California, say that it's more likely than not that he and John Eastman committed two crimes.
So, you know, I think that we're going to continue to follow the facts. I think the Department of Justice will do that. But they have to make decisions about prosecution, understanding what it means if the facts and the evidence are there, and they decide not to prosecute. How do we then call ourselves a nation of laws? I think that's a very serious, serious balancing.
HUNT (on-camera): It sounds like you think that the evidence is there, and that if they don't follow that evidence, that's a dereliction of duty on their part?
CHENEY: Well, the committee it has been, I think, very thorough in laying out much of what we know, there's much more that we have not yet shared in hearings, and that we anticipate we will share in the fall, but and we will also make decisions about criminal referrals. And ultimately, the decision about prosecution is up to the Justice Department. But I would anticipate that the committee will have an opinion on that.
HUNT (on-camera): CNN is reporting that the Pentagon texts from January 6 are missing. This is of course, after the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service seem to have lost text. Do you think there was malicious intent behind the Pentagon's deletion of texts related to that day?
CHENEY: I don't know that that that's the case. I haven't seen evidence of malicious intent. I do think, though, that it's concerning that you have text messages, apparently. And this is based on the news reporting, but text messages apparently of some of the senior officials, people like Kash Patel, apparently not available. Now, certainly as a committee, we'll get to the bottom of that.
We've been working with Secret Service in a situation is has been reported where text messages are not available or were erased off of phones. But we've received hundreds of thousands of documents from the Secret Service and significant information from them that the committee is going through and will use in our investigation and as we conduct interviews of additional Secret Service agents.
HUNT (on-camera): How much would you say you have learned that was unexpected? I mean you obviously have a lot more information than the general public does in your head about what happened that day. But when you started these hearings, earlier this year, did you have any idea how much you would know by this point?
CHENEY: It's been more information and a more sophisticated and broader reaching effort than I understood coming into it. I think all of us on the committee have had that same reaction, which is that there's so much, there was so much more that was happening in, you know, multiple different areas, whether it was the pressure on state officials, or the pressure on the Justice Department, or, you know, the attempt to correctly pressure the vice president himself.
So I think that we've just there's the volume of information has been more than I expected, and certainly, obviously came into this very concerned and the information itself has not lessened my concern at all.
HUNT (on-camera): Are you in contact with the former vice president, Mike Pence, as you're learning this new information?
CHENEY: No, we've had discussions with his counsel, obviously about, you know, his interactions with the committee, but not with him personally.
HUNT (on-camera): What's your assessment of how he's handling potentially running for president? Because he's out there kind of opposing the former president, but unlike you, he's not out there criticizing former President Trump.
CHENEY: You know, what I would say is that Vice President Pence was a hero on January 6. And that it's very clear that there was tremendous pressure from a number of different places on him. And he, he did his duty, and he didn't succumb to that pressure. And if he had succumb to that pressure, things would have been very different.
And so, I think that that we owe him gratitude for how he conducted himself and for his refusal to do what Donald Trump wanted him to do, which would have been illegal and unconstitutional.
HUNT (on-camera): Do you think he'd be an ally in the fight to keep Trump out of the Oval Office?
CHENEY: Let me just leave it where I did. I think that his actions on January 6, are ones for which the nation should be grateful.
HUNT (on-camera): There's been a lot of speculation about how the committee is or isn't making an impact with the American people, especially when it comes to this question of whether Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee and eventually, potentially president in the United States again. Do you think the committee's work is moving the needle politically?
CHENEY: I don't. Again, I don't think about it that way. I think about it more. And because I think it's important that the committee's work, not be viewed through a political lens. And that's not how I think about that. I think about it in terms of whether or not we're reaching people who understand how serious the threat was, and continues to be. And I think in that regard, you know, we have done a job that I'm proud of.
HUNT (on-camera): Do you think there are enough people out there in the country who share these concerns that you have, and that many people who are also at the Capitol on that day have? Are there enough Americans out there to move the needle?
CHENEY: I think that there, the vast majority of Americans understand how important it is that we have peaceful transitions of power. And that, at the sort of at the heart of who we are as Americans, and the heart of our republic, is a peaceful transition of power. And no matter what your party affiliation is, you have to have a president who will guarantee that and Donald Trump did not.
And so, I do think that as more and more facts become known people, people are paying attention and understanding how serious the threat is.
SCIUTTO: Kasie Hunt joins me now. Kasie, 12 days, Cheney faces a tough primary challenge. I wonder how she feels about her chances. What did she say?
HUNT: Well, Jim, we talked about that at some length. And she did tell me that she intends to win her primary. You're seeing her campaign there. But I think that they're aware that they are facing an extraordinarily uphill battle. And when I talk to sources, both close to the Cheney camp, but also elsewhere in Wyoming, it seems pretty clear she's on the way to losing that campaign. And, you know, part of it is she's been she's been hamstrung and campaigning for security reasons, in some cases, because she's faced so many death threats around January 6, but the reality is, she's in a much different place than the base of the party. And that base, that rabid base that supports the former president is very active in Wyoming.
And so, it's really unlikely I think at this point that she's going to be able to overcome that.
SCIUTTO: So what would a loss if it were to happen mean for her work on the January 6 committee, I mean of course it would put a time limit on right, because she'd be out of office by January next year. But would it give her more time to focus on it that she discussed that?
HUNT: Well, Jim, I think the working assumption is that the whole committee has the same deadline, because in the event that Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives, which has seemed likely, then the committee ultimately is likely to be dissolved by an incoming speaker, Kevin McCarthy or another Republican leader. But I think for Cheney, you know, the challenge is going to be maintaining the megaphone that she wants to have. I mean, her, she has said repeatedly, and she said in another portion of our interview that, you know, her mission is to keep Donald Trump from getting back into the Oval Office, obviously losing a political race, you know, she loses a platform that is going to be a blow to that mission. But I don't think it's going to mean that she is going to take a step back from that.
And, you know, I do think there are a lot of options on the table. She clearly hasn't made up her mind about what her political future is. But I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a presidential run from Liz Cheney at some point in the future, especially if Donald Trump is back in the fray.
SCIUTTO: Kasie Hunt, thanks so much. HUNT: Thanks, Jim. Good to see you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, now that a Russian judge has sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison, keep in mind for less than a gram of cannabis oil. The question is, what will it take to get her home? I speak to the CIA's former top Russia hand about a potential prisoner swap and how it might come about.
SCIUTTO: The outcome was expected, the sentence extreme. A Moscow area court today found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling. The judge sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony, all for what Griner told the court was an honest mistake. She was arrested at the airport in Moscow with less than a gram, less than a gram of cannabis oil. The sentencing comes after CNN reporting of a proposed prisoner swap for Griner and another American held by Russia, Paul Whelan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, NSC DIRECTOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We urge the Russians, again, to seriously consider that proposal to act on it. And let's get these two Americans home where they belong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Separately, today, federal officials are about to get their hands on Alexander Vinnik, a Russian national facing money laundering charges here, he's being extradited from Greece after a long battle with Russia over him.
Perspective now from someone who knows how these things tend to work in Russia, Steve Hall, former chief of Russia operations at the CIA. Steve, good to have you.
We've seen these trials before in Russia, they have judges, they have terms, they have various guidelines for sentencing, et cetera. But we also know that Kremlin influences these things very directly at times. When Americans watch this trial, how should they view this outcome?
STEVE HALL, FMR CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: You know, it's not even really influenced, Jim. I mean, this is entirely controlled. It's a stage managed, you know, production, really, even the defense attorneys, which, you know, people have been saying, oh, you know, they were upset that they didn't get what they wanted. Everybody has a role that the Kremlin gives them, and they know precisely how far they can go, and precisely how far they can't go in. In the case of the defense attorneys, it's just trying to convince people like you and me in the West that, hey, they have a legitimate justice system in Russia, which they do not.
SCIUTTO: And then you see, I mean, listen, Russia has a history of creating hostages, foreigners held there, and also crushing dissidents, certainly if you look at the case of Navalny and others. Is this and should we see this through the prism of the broader U.S.- Russia relationship at this point, including the war in Ukraine? Is Russia using this as leverage to punish the U.S. over that conflict?
HALL: Absolutely, that's really what this is all about. This is the farthest thing from you know, whether Ms. Griner, you know, had any cannabis on her or, you know, all that's all irrelevant to Putin, who, by the way, has a chip on his shoulder really, since the end of the Soviet Union. And so of course, now he's upset because of Ukraine, and because of how it's not going particularly well for them, largely because of Western, you know, Western Arms. But you have to remember that it wasn't that long ago, that Russian athletes were banned from the Olympics, because of drug abuse. And that was state sponsored.
So all of these things come together for Putin who has a very strong sense of vengeance and is basically saying to himself, I am going to extract the highest price that I possibly can for Griner and Whelan, and others.
SCIUTTO: Now, even in the midst of this trough, if you want to call it that crisis in U.S.-Russia relations, we did have a prisoner swap earlier this year. How likely is it that an exchange can come together now? As you know, the Americans already offered Viktor Bout, a convicted armed smuggler the Russians tried to and that, by the way for Griner and Paul Whelan, the Russia said, hey, how about this convicted murderer held by Germany as well? Is it just about finding the right exorbitant price at this point?
HALL: I think now is the time, Jim, when real negotiations are going to start, I think it's going to be very much behind the scene. Of course, part of that calculation is always how much of it do let become public, whether it's on the American side, or whether it's on the Russian side. But overall, I'm cautiously optimistic that a deal will be reached simply because this is how Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin play the game. They want to extract the highest price to get what they want, whether it's another person, whether it's a guy like Viktor Bout, or others who are loyal to the Kremlin, or whether it's just also a bit of emotional satisfaction, frankly, a bit of vengeance for all the as they see them, you know, dishonorable things have been done to Russia.
SCIUTTO: Yes, not so much a legal process or case of extortion. Steve Hall, always good to have you on.
HALL: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, federal charges filed against for current and former Louisville Kentucky police officers involved in that fatal raid at Breonna Taylor's apartment. The allegations from the DOJ, coming up.
SCIUTTO: The FBI is arrested four former and current Louisville Kentucky police officers. They are now facing civil rights charges, as well as other counts. This in connection with the 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman was killed in a botched police raid at her apartment. This case you may remember sparked nationwide protests.
Joining us now with details, CNN's Josh Campbell. Josh, first tell us what these charges entail exactly.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is significant. These are the first federal charges in the killing of Breonna Taylor back in March of 2020. And what the Justice Department alleges that two of these officers falsified the affidavit that was used to get the search warrant that officers wanted to go to her home as part of a drug trafficking investigation. A third officer is charged with conspiracy in that incident.
You know, I've spent a career in law enforcement swearing on numerous warrants. I think most people would be surprised to learn the power that officers have. They go before a judge. The judge doesn't check every single fact, but relies on their integrity as they swear an oath. Here at the Justice Department says that they violated that oath and actually falsified the records that were used. The Attorney General and other department officials spoke about that earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The affidavit falsely claimed that officers had verified that the target of the alleged drug trafficking operation had received packages at Ms. Taylor's address. In fact, defendants Jaynes and Goodlett knew that was not true.
KRISTEN CLARKE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor's death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMPBELL: Now a fourth officer is also charged with allegedly using excessive use of force on the date of that raid. Authority say that he fired into a window at Taylor's home that was covered by blinds and curtains, 10 rounds, of course, that violates all the tenets of law enforcement. You have to know what is that you're shooting at what is around your target, you're responsible for every round. Here, authorities allege that this officer used excessive use of force and just firing into that room without knowing what was behind it, Jim.
SCIUTTO: What's interesting about this as well, is that some of the officers not just accused of lying to obtain the warrant but conspiracy after the fact to cover it up. Tell us the details.
CAMPBELL: Yes, this is so striking. Again, authorities aren't just saying they lie to get the warrant. They're also saying that after this botched 2020 raid, two of the officers actually met in a garage discussing how they're going to get their stories together, to try to evade investigators allegedly. And again, it's just so stunning that these officers that are trusted with enforcing the law, or it's alleged that they not only did this actually cover up after the fact, but then lie to investigators as well. Of course, we've reached out to their attorneys for comment but significant charges here by the Justice Department.
SCIUTTO: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) before and after the fact. Josh Campbell, thanks so much.
And we'll be right back.
SCIUTTO: The news isn't going anywhere. So let's head over to my good friend Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT." Laura, over to you.