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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Jury: Alex Jones Should Pay $42.5 Million In Punitive Damages To Sandy Hook Parents; Right-Wing MAGAVerse Gathers At Woodstock Of Election Denial; Long-Sought Democratic Legislation Overcomes Democratic Obstacles; Biden "Hopeful" After Russians Say They Are "Ready To Discuss" Griner, Whelan Prisoner Swap; Lining Up To Ger Vaccinated; But Many Leave Empty-Handed; "What Really Happened In Uvalde?". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 05, 2022 - 20:00   ET


GARRETT REISMAN, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: And that's what's gotten quite good at keeping gears these old clunkers running. I think NASA has got a really capable team that will keep these suits going as long as they have to, but the right thing is to get a new suit and the sooner the better.



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: It's really unbelievable.

All right, thank you so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The reckless outrageous lies of Alex Jones and the conspiracy theories he spread about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 now carries a price for him, and a big one. $45.2 million.

I'm Jim Sciutto, in again for Anderson tonight.

That is how much a Texas jury awarded in punitive damages to the parents of a child killed during one of America's deadliest mass shootings, it comes a day after the same jury awarded $4.1 million in compensatory damages.

Shortly after, one of the parents, Scarlett Lewis spoke to reporters. After her son Jesse was murdered, she began a charitable organization that teaches children how to create a more peaceful and loving world and she spoke about the need for those lessons at this moment in time.


SCARLETT LEWIS, SON KILLED IN SHOOTING AT SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Care and concern is so important and we saw what happens when there is a dearth of that, and so I hope that we all just go home tonight and everybody that's reading these articles and hearing this message, and you choose love with your kids, because you can. That means being present in the moment with them.

Looking into their eyes, giving them a hug and just moving from there, just every moment, realize that you have a choice and your choice is love.


SCIUTTO: It is good advice and they are brave words from a mother who lost what was most precious to her. Now, we should point out that the Judge in this trial could reduce today's figure due to a Texas law that will not though mark the end of Alex Jones' legal troubles. Two more lawsuits ahead brought by more parents of those killed at Sandy Hook.

Plus, the fate of records of his private conversations now sought by the January 6 Committee.

Let's begin tonight with Drew Griffin who has been following this trial from the start. So first, let's begin with this award, $45.2 million awarded to Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis today. How did the jury come to this decision?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury was given a bunch of financial information, the net worth that they thought that Alex Jones was worth, and more importantly, as you said, this is the punitive phase. This is the punishment phase. So not what damages emotionally did Alex Jones put upon these two parents, but how should we punish him for what he did to these parents, and to make sure he never does it again, Jim, which he has done over and over again to other people.

So the jury was asked that question, three different questions. They came back with their sums and the sums added up to this pretty big punishing blow, this would be about 75 percent of the generated income from Alex Jones' media empire in a year.

So it is a big hit if it holds. As you said, there are caps in Texas on these punitive penalties.

SCIUTTO: Oh, just that figure, as you say, not even all that he earns in a year shows that there is money in the business of disinformation.

Can you explain what happened earlier this morning when the plaintiffs called an economist, actually to the stand? What was revealed then about his finances?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think the first big thing that was revealed is just like in this trial, Alex Jones and his attorneys were not forthcoming in giving information to the plaintiffs about what they had. So the economist had said, look, I had bare bones, I had to dig around for this information.

But what he said was the Alex Jones Empire is worth between $135 million and $270 million a year. He also said that in the last year, there has been some interesting moves. In 2021 is when Alex Jones collectively lost these three lawsuits, which he now have to pay for.

It was after that, he started moving money around. He took a loan of $62 million or pulled $62 million out, and then $11,000.00 a day was being transferred into other businesses or another business that he controls.

So you know, the economist was basically saying there is a lot of money there. We can't find it all. There's a lot of moving around that took place.

But I think the jury did agree that this Alex Jones Empire is worth a lot of money. It makes a lot of money. And now, if this Jury holds up, this jury verdict holds up, he is going to have to pay a lot of money.

SCIUTTO: As they say, "Follow the money." Do stay with us because I want to bring in CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan as well.


SCIUTTO: And Paul to your credit, because you did say last night you expected a far larger award in the punitive phase of this. I do want to play with Jones, as attorney said, immediately after the verdict, have a listen.


ANDINO REYNAL, ALEX JONES' ATTORNEY: I think the verdict was too high. As for punitive damages, Texas law caps them at $750,000.0 per plaintiff. So, this verdict today amounts to $1.5 million in punitive.

Alex Jones will be on the air today. He will be on the air tomorrow. He'll be on the air next week. He's going to keep doing his job, holding the power structure accountable.

That's our only statement.

REPORTER: You've spoken to Mr. Jones today, what was his reaction?

REYNAL: His reaction was that, you know, he'd been found guilty before he ever had a chance to defend this case on the merits. That the, you know, the First Amendment is under siege and he looks forward to continuing the fight.


SCIUTTO: From a legal standpoint, Paul, you know, that Texas law it has these caps here. Is that a hard cap? Or is there a way around that?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- you know, it's an indication that the Texas Legislature doesn't trust its own juries to make a decision. That cap was meant to prevent large corporations like GM from being put out of business by a trillion dollar verdict. It wasn't meant to put somebody like Alex Jones out of business, and

here you have the audacity of this attorney representing him to celebrate the fact that he is going to be back on the air again, immediately. Instead of demonstrating some remorse for these remarks that he said saying that the shattered bodies of these elementary school children were really crisis actors pretending to be dead. That's what he did.

He doesn't deserve to be on any outlet, and he deserves to be in jail in addition to that. Perjury occurred in this trial, and I really think that Austin prosecutors should be looking carefully at that.

SCIUTTO: Well, just on that larger question, he is claiming that this is a freedom of expression case. What's the legal history here, right, when someone and let's be frank, this is not holding the power structure accountable here. He was lying about a demonstrable crime here, dead children. It's real. And he was repeatedly lying about it and making money about it.

How do Courts -- how does the law see that kind of expression?

CALLAN: Well, this is complete and utter nonsense that the First Amendment somehow protects him. It doesn't protect him any more than it protects somebody from yelling "Fire" in a theater.

The First Amendment protects you from having the government come after you for exercising your free political speech. It doesn't give you the right to make up lies, to sell nutritional supplements, which is what -- you know, his business model is amazing and this just came out during the trial.

He has got a whole staff of people that he has hired to make up lies and create these stories like the story he made up about Sandy Hook, and then that draws in an audience and then he tries to sell them nutritional supplements that will make them manly men. That's his business model.

And if he thinks the First Amendment of the United States protects that business model, he's got another thing coming. It doesn't. And no Court will say it does.

SCIUTTO: Drew, you've been covering this for some time. Has his audience suffered from the revelation, if you want to call it that, but the confirmation that he's been peddling lies or, I mean, based on his income, it seems like he's still got an audience?

GRIFFIN: Yes, based on what we can tell, it has only bolstered. In fact, he was de-platformed. Remember? He was de-platformed by Google, all the outlets and we thought, well, his business would really take a hit.

It turns out that's not the case. And actually, he may have had a COVID boost, because part of his scare tactics also involved, buy these nutritional supplements, they'll prevent COVID or whatever garble. But if you watch his show, which unfortunately, I have had to do, you

will realize, you know, these people are way down the rabbit hole, Jim, and they believe what Alex Jones tells them. And what Alex Jones has told them about this trial, believe it or not, is George Bezos is running some sort of beta program with the Democratic Party to attack him in this Court, and this is going to spread out through the rest of the country to anybody else who is seeking truth like Alex Jones.

It's a horse cocky, but these people believe it.

SCIUTTO: Listen, they do, and sometimes they follow through on it, that's why a gunman showed up at a pizza place here in DC based on some of these lines.


Paul, is this a symbolic award, I suppose is the question, given Texas law. I mean what avenues do the plaintiffs have to get the money the jury awarded them? Or is it more likely a symbolic victory?

CALLAN: Well, I think that the first part of the verdict, the $4.1 million is a pretty secure amount that they'll be able to collect, and they will be able to collect at least $1.5 million in punitive damages.

What the Texas law does is it caps punitive at $750,000.00 per person. Now, could they take that up to the Supreme Court of the United States and test the constitutionality of it? Maybe they could, at some point in time, but I wouldn't be overly optimistic about that number or that law being ruled unconstitutional, because a lot of States have enacted caps on punitive damages. So they are up against that.

But bear in mind, it's not over for this guy. He is facing at least eight other trials in Connecticut, where there will be enormous verdicts against him as well. And hopefully, those verdicts will be enough to wipe him out and take him off the air where he does not deserve to be.

SCIUTTO: Another chapter of this, Drew is, of course, these text messages that were revealed. His own attorney supplied to the plaintiff's attorneys here. We know the January 6 Committee is interested in that because of his alleged role in the January 6 insurrection. What is the latest?

GRIFFIN: This was really surprising. After the jury was let go, the proceedings continued. The Judge was wrapping up a few motions and Mark Bankston, the guy who has those two years of text messages, asked the Judge, what should I do? Can I give these to Congress? And she said, I thought you already had.

And she said, I'm summarizing now. But she basically said, I'm not going to stand between you and Congress in what you guys want to swap material. So basically, I think if Mark Bankston wants to give those communications to the January 6 Committee, whom apparently has asked for them, according to Mark Bankston, they could be in the hands of the committee right now, as far as I know. SCIUTTO: More chapters to come.

Drew Griffin, Paul Callan, thanks so much to both of you.

CALLAN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: For more, be sure to catch Drew's Special Report, "Megaphone for Conspiracy: The Alex Jones Story." That is tonight, 11:00 PM Eastern right here on CNN.

And next, the shout out that Alex Jones got today at the conservative movement's big convention. That and the showcase it became for the newest wave of election deniers, fresh from primary victories in key states.

And later Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar on what is shaping up to be a big legislative win for the President, but also the calls from fellow Democrats to Biden not to run in 2024.



SCIUTTO: Alex Jones had few defenders in Court today, but a very different story at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. There, amid some of the leading names in the Republican MAGAVerse including the former President who will be there tomorrow was Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She had her usual complaints about the media and the January 6 Committee, but also took a moment to highlight the people she claims are persecuting Alex Jones.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Why do they get to lie about President Trump, his administration and Republicans like me, why did they get away with it? But yet at the same time, Sara, you want to know something? Like somebody like Alex Jones, who did say some things, but yet, he is being politically persecuted right now and being forced to pay out millions and millions of dollars.

And no one agrees with what he said, but what we're tired of is the political persecution.


SCIUTTO: Yesterday's keynote speaker you should know was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the one who recently said he wanted to prevent Europe from becoming -- and these are his exact words -- a mixed race continent.

And then as you might imagine, election conspiracy theories were everywhere there. Here is the My Pillow guy talking once again about sinister voting machines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE LINDELL, CEO, MY PILLOW: Over 54 countries have now been taken

by the machines or are getting taken by the machines, and you never get to go back -- Venezuela, Australia -- they're gone. You don't get to vote out the machines once they're there. Once they're there, you don't get your country back.


SCIUTTO: There is no evidence of that.

Also on display in Dallas, a performance art jail cell depicting a January 6th defendant and along with all of that some of the next wave of Trump acolytes fresh from primary victories this week. We have more now from CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Fresh off a Republican primary victory for Arizona's Governor, Kari Lake arrives to a hero's welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.


LAH (voice over): In her home state, she is leading in every single county, centering her campaign on Donald Trump's lie about the 2020 election, a position she pledges she will not pivot away from.

LAKE: We out voted the fraud. We didn't listen to what the fake news had to say. The MAGA movement rose up and voted like their lives depended on it.

LAH (voice over): Trump endorsed election denying candidates won up and down Arizona's ballot Tuesday. US Senate candidate Blake Masters and Secretary of State candidate, Mark Fincham, who says he wants to eliminate all voting machines.

MARK FINCHAM (R), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: Paper ballots, hand counting on one day. We can do that. We used to do it.

LAH (voice over): Election experts say that would mean months' long counts. 2020 deniers despite no evidence of widespread fraud won, and not just in Arizona.


LAH (voice over): But in Michigan this week, Republican gubernatorial nominee, Tudor Dixon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, do you believe Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 election in Michigan?

DIXON: Yes. LAH (voice over): Now, Dixon is dodging that question.

DIXON: In Michigan, there were some things that happened in Michigan that didn't happen in other States, which are very concerning.

LAH (voice over): These wins are just the latest in the steady advance by those sowing distrust in US elections being put on the November ballot.

In Nevada, Jim Marchant is the Republican nominee for Secretary of State running to oversee his State's elections. He told us this earlier this year.

JIM MARCHANT (R), NEVADA SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I believe it was stolen. Yes, I mean, I believe that there are enough irregularities that we need to do an audit.

LAH (voice over): And then there's Michigan's Kristina Karamo, another Secretary of State candidate who doesn't believe the 2020 results. Election liars on State ballots show Trump's grip on the GOP, celebrated by far right propagandists, Mike Lindell at CPAC.

LINDELL: Everybody's going to go vote these great candidates like Kari Lake and override the machines.

LAH (voice over): On the CPAC agenda --

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): They stole the 2020 election.

LAH (voice over): It is re-litigating 2020. And also looking ahead to November and beyond.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): They want to rig elections, institutionalize voter fraud. We are not going to allow it.

LAH (on camera): I see your hat there.


LAH: How important is it for you to talk about 2020 as we look at 2022?

MYERS: He won, he won in 2020, hands down across the nation.

LAH: What does this say about where the Republican Party is in this country?

KIMBERLY HILL, TEXAS VOTER: MAGA. They're with MAGA, they're with Trump. They're Trump followers.


LAH (on camera): And that woman, including the gentleman before her say that they are eagerly awaiting tomorrow's closing speaker, that speaker will be Donald Trump. We fully expect that he will be talking about his chosen slate of

primary winners. He had a very good week when it came to picking the winners in Michigan, Arizona, and across the country. Not on the official schedule, tomorrow, Jim is Kari Lake, but she did tweet that she will be the speaker right before Trump -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kyung Lah, thanks so much for covering.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" Washington correspondent, Maggie Haberman and Alyssa Farah Griffin, a CNN political commentator, Director of Strategic Communications during the Trump White House.

Good to have you both on tonight. Thanks so much for joining.

Maggie, just heard from Kyung Lah. In terms of his endorsements, it has been a good week for the former President in several of these primaries, in a number of states. What is your sense of what he believes he gains from these endorsements and speeches? And do you believe and you've been covering them longer than anyone, this is building up to another presidential run?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The honest answer, Jim, is what he gains from it is attention and people talking about him as we are and as other people are, and that's how he looks at this.

Now, he tends to treat these endorsements, and all of politics in general, as if it's a scoreboard as opposed to sort of an ongoing amassing of supporters and you know, he dives into some of these primaries. You know, at the last minute at like, in the case of tutor Dixon, in some cases, it's without giving it much more forethought.

You know, he also had a weird thing in Missouri, where he endorsed, you know, two of the three I think it was Eric's in the Senate race.

So he did have a good week in terms of the fact that the candidates he backed won, whether it is all building to another presidential campaign, I think that you know, the main impetus for him running again, Jim, is not because he particularly wants the job again, although he will talk about that. But the second that he says that he is not running, you know, the crown in the Republican Party goes to somebody else. And I think it's as simple as that.

SCIUTTO: Do the ongoing prosecutions, both January 6 Committee, but more notably, the DOJ possible criminal prosecution, is that a factor? I mean, you've heard theorizing that he wants to run because he thinks that would head off potential criminal charges indictments?

HABERMAN: Yes, I believe it is based on my reporting. Yes. I mean, you know, this is something that he has alluded to, in some conversations. You know, he tries to project confidence about -- at least about the DOJ investigation.

You know, he has openly talked more worriedly about the Georgia investigation in Fulton County, into his actions in that state. However, Donald Trump fears investigations, generally speaking, and the fact that the DOJ is now calling in witnesses from the White House, only ups the level of concern.

SCIUTTO: Alyssa, it was noticeable when you saw those speeches among well-known election deniers, that was Senator Rick Scott at the end talking about stolen elections and Democrats wanting to institutionalize voter fraud. I mean, he is the Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee. He is trying to get senators elected around the country here.


Has Trumpism -- does it own the party? I mean, you certainly you see folks who are pushing back at it, Liz Cheney's of the world and so on. But does it own the party right now?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It does, it does. And listen, the former President's grip is very strong on the party. But I actually think much of what he created is even more powerful than him. Denying the results of the 2020 election is essentially a litmus test now to be an elected Republican in office.

Rick Scott, I thought very highly of him when he was Governor. This is not a man who thinks that the election was not won by Joe Biden. But you are expected to say that.

I'm seeing more and more very kind of sound-minded serious people who have served in office as Republicans before start to embrace the Big Lie. And I will say this, Maggie makes a good point, I am of the mind that the President is going to announce that he is going to run again and it is simply because it could just as easily be a Ron DeSantis or someone else that could hype up the space and energize them around these issues.

SCIUTTO: State by state, are these MAGA candidates, the election deniers, strong or weak candidates in the General Election, in your view, Alyssa?

A.F. GRIFFIN: Largely, well, statewide they're largely weak. I worry as a Republican for some of these candidates. You know, JD Vance is actually not doing nearly as well as he should, you know, in constantly red Ohio against Tim Ryan, a popular moderate Democrat.

I think that there are some instances statewide, Georgia, Herschel Walker is not doing as well as he should be. But to be honest, the reality is, 60 percent of Republican voters think that either the election was stolen or there was some sort of significant fraud.

So this is an issue that's about educating the voters like we can't just blame the candidates so much as party leaders at every level have embraced this lie with a few exceptions, and it's bled down into the voters.

You know, Peter Meijer, for example, my friend and an incredible veteran, a good Member of Congress lost, and now well, while the DCCC did put money against him in support of boosting his candidate, Republicans were still came out for that person. So, that's the problem. We've got to educate the voters.

SCIUTTO: I will ask Senator Klobuchar about that very phenomenon.

Maggie, we've heard a lot from Congresswoman Liz Cheney on CNN in the past 24 hours talking about how important -- how it is more important for her to stop Donald Trump in her view from become becoming President again, than to save her own congressional career as she is about to face a primary.

Does she have a viable shot at the Republican nomination in 2024 if she were to decide to run?

HABERMAN: It's very hard, Jim, to see what the lane in this Republican Party is for Liz Cheney. I think there are places where she might do better than others. What I do think she would do is provoke Donald Trump, if she ran.

I think that she would be in the same way she has done something that others have not done. She has focused attention on allegations of Donald Trump and misdeeds in a way that very few people have. Some of that is the fact that he's not on Twitter. Some of the fact is just the structure of this House Select Committee. You know, some of it is the fact that he's not in office anymore.

But all of that combined means that she has sort of laid out this factual case in a way that others haven't and I imagine she would continue doing that, except she would get a lot of national media attention while running against him, and I think that that would be something he would have to grapple with on a day-to-day basis as long as she was in a race.

So while I don't think that there's a way for her to win, I think that in her mind, there's probably a way that she could help him lose.

SCIUTTO: Maggie Haberman, Alyssa Farah Griffin, so good to have you on. I hope you have a good weekend.

A.F. GRIFFIN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, what looks like a big legislative victory for President Biden and the Democrats ahead, but also doubts within his own party about whether he should run again.

I ask Senator Amy Klobuchar about those topics, and that's coming up.



SCIUTTO: It is a far cry from the original Build Back Better legislation President Biden tried to pass. But tonight with the sign off from Senators Joe Manchin and now Kyrsten Sinema, a smaller, more streamlined package now looks within reach. Democrats are claiming victory, Republicans are united in their opposition. The truth is though the bill includes provisions that had been popular with some in the GOP in the past and frankly, unpopular with some Democrats. When you look closely, what you see, in fact, are a series of trade offs.

So here are the facts about what's in the legislation as it stands. For starters, it would be the biggest climate investment in U.S. history, with $369 billion set aside to combat global warming. That includes consumer tax credits on electric vehicles, solar panels, and energy efficient water heaters. But there are also billions in tax credits to fossil fuel companies, to encourage them to invest in clean energy manufacturing. And this is key, the bill actually supports expanding investment in domestic oil and gas exploration on federal lands and in federal waters. In fact, for the next decade, any new wind or solar energy project on federal land could only be approved if a new lease is approved for oil and gas drilling as well.

On taxes the bill abandons tax increase as opposed by Republicans including raising the corporate tax rate, the personal tax rate or the capital gains tax rate. On prescription drugs, the bill would empower Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain costly medications, which has garnered bipartisan support. The bill would also extend the Obamacare subsidies, which are set to expire at the end of the year. As for that carried interest loophole that Senator Sinema nixed, even President Trump had expressed support for it multiple times in the past for eliminating that loophole. A word comes to mind here, a rare one in Washington D.C. these days, and that word is compromise.

Shortly before airtime, I spoke about the bill with Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.



SCIUTTO (on-camera): Senator Klobuchar, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thanks, Jim. It's great to be on again.

SCIUTTO (on-camera): You had a busy weekend ahead of you, but also progress on a major health care, energy and tax bill. You know, Joe Manchin has made the point that in different times a bill like this, that, for instance, has trade offs between green tax incentives, but also more drilling permits for fossil fuel companies that in a different time this will get bipartisan support. What does it say to you that it's not even a question at this point?

KLOBUCHAR: I can't really explain it because this is the Inflation Reduction Act. And our Republican colleagues have been very focused on things in the past, like deficit reduction, and this actually reduces the deficit by $305 billion. And it also, which I think is key puts in a corporate minimum tax of 15%, which really creates an even playing field for small businesses and retailers and others that have been paying taxes as well as regular people. And that is how we get that money for that deficit reduction, which every economist who's including ones who've been critical in the past have looked at this and say, there's a reason it's called the Inflation Reduction Act.

And you add to that, bringing down the pharmaceutical cost, something I've been leading on for years cares so much about with negotiation under Medicare. And as you point out, the climate investments, 40% reduction by 2030 of greenhouse gases. This is a win-win. And we're excited no matter how late we're up all night, we're ready to get this done. And yes, it will be with Democratic votes.

SCIUTTO (on-camera): Now, a couple of weeks ago, folks might have thought this was dead in the water. But it is smaller, of course, then initial aspirations for this. And your colleagues, Senator Bernie Sanders, he says that it doesn't go far enough specifically, with the people who need the most relief, right now, folks suffering from higher prices, you know, given inflation. And what's your answer to Sanders, but also the folks at home who might say, what's in this for me?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I have a lot of respect for Bernie, and it's important for people to know he will be supporting this bill, we are united on this bill. And like me, he'd like to see more, I would like to actually see he and I have joined together on prescription drugs, we've jointly worked on this. And that means more drugs being negotiated in the future. Bernie, and I would like to put all the drugs in there just like we have with the VA that our veterans deserve a good deal. So I use that as an example, because I think its glass half full, not half empty.

SCIUTTO (on-camera): Now objectively, it's been a good week, arguably a good month for the President beyond the progress on this budget bill. Al-Zawahiri killed in Afghanistan, and the passing of the PACT Act it progress on other big legislative wins. But as you know, there is noise public noise among some Democrats about whether President Biden should run in 2024. In fact, two of your House Democratic colleagues from the state of Minnesota, Dean Phillips, and Angie Craig recently said they don't think he should run again. And I wonder, what's your response to that?

KLOBUCHAR: My response is simple. He has said he is running again, and I support him. I think that when we get home for August, and we know these elections are coming up the midterms, the focus actually will be on everything we got done, as you pointed out. Many of these things are focused on the cost that people are facing right now. And that's going to be an important, important message for us to bring home that we're tackling these problems for the people on at home.

SCIUTTO (on-camera): As you know, Michigan GOP Congressman Peter Meijer, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president last year, he lost his primary this week, and Democratic campaign leadership invested hundreds of $1,000 in propping up his right wing opponents. You've seen this strategy in other races around the country. And whether that was the decisive factor, we don't know. But a lot of those candidates ended up winning their primaries. Is it acceptable for Democrats to be boosting election deniers among Republican candidates in primaries?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I wouldn't be doing it in my race. I've never done things like that. But I think you've seen this kind of behavior on both sides of the aisle. We've seen Republicans messing around as well. What I'd like to see through all of this, I don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican. And I think that's why you're seeing Democrats doing it too, because Republicans have been doing it. I like to see better campaign finance laws that basically an end citizens united and all this dark money and outside money and make people responsible for the ads are running themselves.

So my focus right now fixing the Electoral Count Act that we're very close to doing, getting the Freedom To Vote Act pass that I've led, making sure we've got those campaign finance (INAUDIBLE). I think that would go a long way toward getting at some of what you're seeing of spending in other races.


SCIUTTO (on-camera): Senator Amy Klobuchar, we appreciate you joining the program tonight.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. It's great to be on.


SCIUTTO: Still coming up, the first piece of encouraging news for the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The brother of Paul Whelan, he's going to join us, next.


SCIUTTO: Encouraging signs tonight perhaps for the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The Russian Foreign Minister said he is quote, ready to discuss their imprisonment. President Biden has said, he is hopeful.

I'm joined now by the brother of Paul Whelan, David Whelan. David, good to have you on tonight.


SCIUTTO: I know this has been a long road for you and your family, 1,316 days I believe that your brother has been held in Russia. Do you -- as you hear those words from Russian officials, do you have a sense of hope that perhaps a deal could be coming?

WHELAN: I do. I think that there's still many hurdles to cross and some time to pass. But the offer that the U.S. government has made to the Russian government appears to be in their self-interest to take it and I hope that they will.

SCIUTTO: Now, the discussion has been Brittney Griner and your brother being released at the same time. Does it concern you at all that they might be split up in some way that your brother would not be part of such a swap?


WHELAN: Absolutely. All of the detention cases are separate cases, they're separate individuals and the American government has to work on each one separately. So although they've made an offer that would bring both of them home, the Russians are sticklers about parity. If the U.S. government kicks out 25 Russians, the Russian government will kick out 25 Americans. And so, the fact that the offer that appears to have been made to the Russian government includes one Russian for two Americans, I could absolutely see the Russians coming back and asking for either an additional Russian to be freed or to limit it to one -- American on each one American for one Russian.

SCIUTTO: I know it only adds to your family stress. And I feel for you. You have said your parents are able, thankfully to speak with Paul regularly. When was the last time you were -- what's the most recent, you've heard from him.

WHELAN: They spoke to him this week, I think it was on Wednesday. And he sounds like he's doing the best he can day to day, he is aware of the offer that the U.S. government has made and is hopeful, I think like we are. But in order to survive 16 years in a labor colony, he focuses on today. And he focuses maybe on tomorrow, but not too much further.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's amazing when you hear these terms penal colony, labor colony that they exist to the 21st century, but that's how Russia operates. As I mentioned before, 1,316 days you keep track of this on social media. And a lot of it is the uncertainty, right? Because he doesn't know, you don't know how long it will be. What advice do you have, for Brittney Griner's family in dealing with that unknown?

WHELAN: I think every family has to find their own way, their own path. It's a very personal sort of experience. And it's not a positive one. But I would say to focus on the long term and use your resources as wisely as you can. You have limited resources. Someone once said to me, I would do anything for my brother, and you really want to do anything for your brother, but you have to have a job and you have kids to take care of and parents to take care of, and you will end up making choices that you will regret having to make, but you will need to in order to be able to survive and advocate for your loved one for 16 years.

SCIUTTO: Yes, survival. It's the operative word. At this point I wonder, is there anything else you would like to say to Secretary Blinken, other U.S. officials involved to express just how much you want your brother at home?

WHELAN: First, I'd say thank you. I think that the U.S. government really has done everything it can so far to bring Paul home. It has made an offer, it has made a difficult offer. President Biden has supported it. It's got the support of the inner agency. And now it really is up to the Russian government. And I think that's where wrongful detentions always become tricky because you have to wait for the hostage taker to agree as well.

SCIUTTO: Well, David Whelan, our heart goes out to you and your family and to Paul. We wish you the best and we wish you -- we wish the good news is coming soon.

WHELAN: I have said too. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well coming up next, long lines for the monkeypox vaccine as the Biden administration now calls the outbreak a public health emergency and take some heat for its handling of the situation.



SCIUTTO: There are now monkeypox cases confirmed across the country in all the two states Wyoming and Montana. The total more than 7,000. The Biden administration has declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

In the meantime, lines for the shots are long in some places and there's concern over the lack of overall urgency.

Here's CNN's David Culver.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We started early just before 6:00 a.m. Our destination familiar to our Uber driver. We were her third passenger that morning also headed to San Francisco Zuckerberg General Hospital. As we arrived, so to the sun, revealing a line with dozens mostly men camped out waiting, some nearly all night.

(on-camera): Security guard telling me that this line started building around 2:00 in the morning.

(voice-over): All of them wanting to be vaccinated against the monkeypox virus. Cody Aarons tells me he's been trying for weeks from New York to now here in the Bay Area.

CODY AARONS, WAITING FOR MONKEYPOX VACCINE: It definitely shows that people are concerned about it.

CULVER (voice-over): And willing to stand in hours long lines that spill onto the sidewalk.

Inside exhausted hospital staff face another day's surge in vaccine demand, COVID-19 still raging, and now monkeypox,

MERJO ROCA, NURSE MANAGER, ZUCKERBERG SAN FRANCISCO GENERAL HOSPITAL: I think one of our biggest challenges is really just the inconsistency of the supply.

CULVER (voice-over): Here in California, nearly all of those who have reported probable or confirmed cases more than 98% are men, with 97% of patients identifying as LGBTQ. While deaths are rare, the symptoms are visible and painful.

KEVIN KWONG, RECOVERED FROM MONKEYPOX: Oh, I had between six and 800 lesions. It was like someone taking like a hole puncher all over my body, right under my skin. So, there are points where I couldn't walk. I couldn't touch things really difficult. CULVER (voice-over): Kevin Kwong says his symptoms lasted some two weeks. He chronicled his recovery on social media.

KWONG: I think I really just didn't want to be alone. I wanted to connect with people and see if other people were also experiencing what I was.

CULVER (voice-over): A familiar sentiment for longtime LGBTQ advocates living and working in San Francisco's famed Castro District.

(on-camera): You get a sense that there is this growing uneasiness around monkeypox. For a lot of people it's eerily reminiscent of what they experienced here in the early '80s with the AIDS crisis. There's fear, there's anger, there's anxiety, there's stigma.

(voice-over): It's personal for Tyler TerMeer. He runs the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and lives with HIV.

TYLER TERMEER, CEO, SAN FRANCISCO AIDS FOUNDATION: We have a responsibility to not further stigmatize or politicize this issue. We're a community that has long faced many issues dating all the way back to the earliest days of the HIV epidemic.

CULVER (voice-over): Facing mounting criticisms for his handling of the outbreak, on Thursday the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency.


RAFAEL MANDELMAN, SUPERVISOR, SAN FRANCISCO BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: That feeling that this is not getting the attention that it would if it were impacting straight people, you know is real.

CULVER (voice-over): Back on San Francisco's front lines, Cody Aarons makes his third attempt to get vaccinated against the virus. Off camera, a hospital staffer updates the crowd.

(on-camera): Here I'm announcing something, I don't know if you can make out what he's saying.

(voice-over): Just 45 minutes into the hospitals distribution.

AARONS: No guarantee for vaccines.

CULVER (voice-over): They had already reached their daily limit.


CULVER: And Jim, this declaration of a public health emergency local officials expect it should help a little bit in speeding up the vaccine rollout. Another big issue though, is production backlog. They have a significant amount of the vaccine available. The issue is it's in bulk, large bags. They're now trying to find manufacturers that can bottle cap and label those so as to get them to the front lines as quickly as possible. But that's going to take time. Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. David Culver, good to have you on the story.

And we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Tune in to CNN Sunday night at 8:00 for the "AC360 SPECIAL REPORT WHAT HAPPENED IN UVALDE?" It is a closer look at the misinformation spread after 19 children and two teachers were killed, and what took place during the 77 minutes before law enforcement finally confronted the gunman.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): More and more officers arrive but no one makes a move to neutralize the shooter. Though clearly some officers know time is of the essence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to get in there. We got to get into there. He's (INAUIDBLE). We got to get in there.

COOPER (voice-over): And its clear police know where the gunman is.




SCIUTTO: You can watch the "AC360 SPECIAL REPORT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN UVALDE?" Sunday 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

The news continues of course. So let's turn it over to the great Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT."