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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Soon: WNBA Star Brittney Griner Expected To Arrive In San Antonio; Source: Trump, Four Allies May Face Criminal Referrals From Jan. 6 Cmte; More Arrests Expected In Germany Plot To Overthrow Government; Prince Harry And Meghan Criticize Royal Family, Media In New Docuseries; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed From Russia In Prisoner Swap. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 08, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And thanks so much for joining us. AC 360s starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
Looking at live pictures of Kelly Field Air Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Sometime in the coming hours, a plane carrying WNBA star, Brittney Griner will land there and she will step out onto American soil after a flight from Abu Dhabi. A prisoner swap straight out of the Cold War took place there, nearly 10 months she was in the custody of the Russian criminal justice system.
Her wife, Cherelle at the White House today as word came that Brittney was free and safe, clearly overjoyed, and by her own admission, overwhelmed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: So over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life.
And so today I'm just standing here, overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The administration bringing Griner home in a prisoner swap, which played out on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi for arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who had served -- been serving a 25-year sentence in the US for charges including conspiring to kill Americans.
The trade, Griner for Bout, leaving out another American, Paul Whelan, who has been in prison in Russia for almost four years.
He spoke exclusively today to CNN's Jennifer Hansler.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PAUL WHELAN, US CITIZEN HELD IN RUSSIA: I don't understand why I'm still sitting here. My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home. I just needed an airplane to come and get me.
I was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, back in Washington, mixed reaction with lawmakers in both parties, welcoming Griner's release and Republicans mostly though not exclusively, underscoring the downside.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY MCCARTHY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CONTRIBUTOR: I'm glad an American is coming home. She was arrested for a trumped up charge, but to exchange the Merchant of Death for this? It's made us weaker, it's made Putin stronger and it's made Americans more vulnerable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's a view or at least a concern shared by some Democrats as well. The administration though defending the deal as the best that they could get.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, US SECRETARY OF STATE: This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We will have a bunch more in the entire story tonight.
Bringing to you only as CNN can, CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House with exclusive details from inside the Oval Office on how this all came together. Kylie Atwood is at the State Department with new reporting as well and what happens next for Griner. Jennifer Hansler has more on the CNN exclusive interview she got today with Paul Whelan in prison and from London, Nick Paton Walsh, who sat down with Viktor Bout for the very last interview he ever did with a Western reporter.
I want to start with Phil Mattingly? What did you learn, Phil?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, there were months of fits and starts arduous negotiations where this really crystallized over the course of the last 72 hours.
Just a few days ago, Brittney Griner was moved from a Penal Colony to Moscow, a clear and concrete signal to administration officials that what had long been thought as a possible deal was very much coming together. They summoned Cherelle Griner to the White House telling her that she was going to get an update from National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan about how things were going; however, when Cherelle Griner arrived, she was actually bled back into the Oval Office not knowing exactly what was going on.
There, she was met by President Biden. It was President Biden who had told his team he wanted to deliver the message, the message of the deal had been complete, and Brittney Griner was on her way home.
The two were speaking when President Biden was actually informed by his aides that Brittney Griner was securely in the hands of US officials. Certainly, thereafter, she was on the phone, on speakerphone with President Biden, with Cherelle Griner. President's top advisers nearby.
They spoke for a short while, the three of them, and then Cherelle Griner went into the President's private dining room, just having private conversation with her wife who she hasn't seen in nearly 10 months.
It is something that underscored under the split screen dynamic here. There are very real complexities, very real political and policy issues that the President grappled with in a major way over the course of the last several months, but as he signed off on this last week, he made clear this was about bringing an American home. This is about bringing someone back to her family -- Anderson.
COOPER: And what do we know about the negotiations why Griner was released, not Paul Whelan?
MATTINGLY: The one thing you hear from White House officials, they spent months trying to push and our colleagues, Kylie and Jenny actually broke this story, trying to push the idea of a two-for-one deal. Viktor Bout, yes, definitely being part of the swap, but in the US getting Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
What they discovered over the course of the last several weeks when the Russians came back to them with a firm response was it would only be one-for-one and Paul Whelan was not that one.
It was not an option. They were not given one to select. They were told it was Brittney Griner or nobody. They were told that Whelan's case was simply being viewed through a very different manner.
The President made the decision to bring Brittney Griner home, making very clear it was, as one official said, a very painful decision, but a decision that he decided he needed to make.
He has spoken, US officials have spoken to the Whelan family. The President has spoken to the Whelan family as well and made clear they will be doing everything in their power going forward to bring Paul Whelan home. What they don't have right now is a clear pathway to do that -- Anderson. COOPER: Yes, Phil Mattingly, appreciate it.
The question of Paul Whelan, CNN's Kylie Atwood has new reporting on how the State Department hopes to try to redouble their efforts to get him back. Kylie, what have you learned?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that's right.
A senior administration official telling me tonight that the administration has some ideas about new forms of proposals that they could put on the table with Russia to try and secure the release of Paul Whelan.
Of course, we heard earlier today from the Secretary of State, saying that essentially, they had put everything on the table that they could, but this senior administration official making it clear that they are going to try and be as creative as they can.
They are aware that something more and something different needs to be proposed to the Russians, and this comes after Paul Whelan, speaking with Jennifer Hansler exclusively earlier today, said that he is concerned about what it would take to get him out and saying that the Biden administration is going to have to identify something that the Russians really want and give it to them.
And his brother concerned that the Biden administration doesn't really have much in terms of concessions to give to Russia at this point because Viktor Bout who was traded in this one-for-one deal with Brittney Griner was really the person we had been hearing was of top interest to the Kremlin.
And so, they are asking, you know, what else is there?
Administration officials saying they're going to go back to the drawing board. State Department spokesperson saying very clearly tonight, "keep the faith" to Paul Whelan. They are coming back for him.
COOPER: And what are you learning about the Griner deal?
ATWOOD: Well, the Griner deal, it was that one-for-one. And as we heard from Phil just there, it was recent days where this deal was actually signed off. But it was recent weeks where administration officials had to grapple with the reality that of course, they wanted Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner home, but the Russians were only willing to do this one-for-one, Griner for Viktor Bout swap.
And so essentially what they had to do was do this deal now or potentially do no deal at all.
COOPER: It's extraordinary to see this image of the swamp on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi. I mean, it really is like something out of a Cold War movie, a Cold War novel.
ATWOOD: It is and you saw the small smile on Brittney Griner's face. It was footage that was released from Russian state media this afternoon and someone asked her, you know, if she is ready for the flight. And she said, "Yes, yes, I'm ready for the flight."
You could see joy in her eyes. She didn't want to get too excited because, of course, US officials didn't know that this was going to happen until it happened. And that is of course one of the reasons that this was a very tight held operation, only a small number of US officials knew about it.
I'm also told that they were concerned as they looked at the war in Russia that if something happened there that really angered the Russians that they may pull back. Of course, luckily, and happily enough for the Griner family, that didn't happen.
COOPER: Yes, Kylie Atwood, appreciate your reporting. Thank you.
Now to CNN State Department producer, Jennifer Hansler, who Kylie just mentioned, Jennifer actually spoke with Paul Whelan from prison. I mean, it's fascinating you were able to get a phone call to him. What was his reaction to what happened?
JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Well, Anderson, he actually called me because he wanted to express how he was feeling today. He said he was very happy that Brittney Griner was heading home. But he was disappointed and surprised that he was left behind. He said he had gotten indications that there was positive movement on his case. And he said he was particularly disappointed because he sees that there has not been enough movement and enough effort to get him home, especially four years into his detention.
It was four years ago this month that he was arrested in Moscow on those espionage charges. He vehemently denies that he is a spy, and he said he has sat quietly for a long time and he is hoping now to get his message out about how frustrated he is that he is still there.
COOPER: Did he have any a message for President Biden today?
HANSLER: He did. He did, Anderson. He said he would like to speak to Biden directly to convey the dire circumstances that he is in. But he also said he wanted to get this message out right now and it was worth the risk so that people could hear what he is going through and what he wants from the President. I want you to take listen right now.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WHELAN: I would say that if a message could go to President Biden that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly, and I would hope that he and his administration will do everything they could to get me home, regardless of the price they might have to pay at this point.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HANSLER: So he is hoping that the administration pulls out all of the stops now to try to bring him home.
COOPER: Is he -- I mean, I can't imagine what his life is like on a day-to-day basis. Is he hopeful, do you think?
HANSLER: He hasn't lost hope. I mean, he seemed calm when he spoke to me, but he is definitely concerned about the long-term prospects here. He has been in this prison nearly four years now. He still has 12 years left on this sentence.
He is concerned he won't see his elderly parents again, he won't see his beloved family dog, and he is also concerned about his own health. He said the circumstances in this prison colony are horrible, the sanitation is terrible. It's not clean, it's not healthy. So he is concerned about getting home in a healthy one piece.
Now, I should say that the Biden administration says they are doing everything they can to bring him home, and his family still has hope as well, that they will be reunited soon -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jennifer Hansler, appreciate it. Thank you.
Perspective tonight from retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is currently the White House National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communication.
Admiral Kirby, what more can you tell us about how this exchange came about with the final negotiations leading up to the release relay?
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET), COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, just to remember, this has really been months in the making. We've been working on this for a very long time, for almost the entire time that Brittney was wrongfully detained and certainly Mr. Whelan before her.
But in actuality, the deal itself kind of came to solidity in the last week or so, Anderson. Sometime last week, we knew we had this opportunity, and the President decided that we were going to take it.
So it really, really kind of came to conclusion over the last week and then over the last 48 to 96 hours, largely that was spent on working out the logistics with the Russians.
COOPER: And what about her condition? How is she doing?
KIRBY: She was in good spirits when she spoke to the President and to her wife, Cherelle, this morning in the Oval Office. The reports we got on the ground at the site of the exchange in Abu Dhabi was that she appeared to be in good health, but we don't want to take anything for granted.
So her first stop when she gets back to the United States, in the coming hours will be at a treatment facility where she can get the medical care that she might need after 10 months in detention at a penal colony.
COOPER: As you know, there has been criticism from both Republicans and Democrats about the prisoners exchange. House Minority Leader McCarthy called it a sign of weakness, his words, adding that it could endanger other Americans abroad.
Senator Chris Coons, a Biden ally, caution that these kinds of exchanges can set a bad precedent. I just want to play what Coons said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): It was clear over many months that Putin was only going to release Brittney Griner in exchange for this person, and that is the risk is that the more we engage in such exchanges, the more Americans are at risk of being scooped up and held as leverage to try and secure the release of folks who we would rather not have to release.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What do you say to that criticism?
KIRBY: We're mindful of that risk, of course, that's why we've taken steps in this administration to put sanctions and visa restrictions in place for those state and non-state actors who might engage in hostage taking. It's why the State Department put a new designation on countries, a D designation for detention risk.
We want Americans to go on the State website when they are going to travel overseas and make sure that they are fully informed when they go overseas.
And look, I think any nation that comes away from this thinking, well, this is a blank check to go ahead and take Americans, they ought to think twice about that. We're going to hold them accountable.
But it's also a strong signal about how the President feels the weight of the responsibility he feels about protecting Americans abroad, particularly those that have been wrongfully detained.
COOPER: Was this decision the President had to make between whether it was going to be Brittney Griner, who got out for Viktor Bout or Paul Whelan?
KIRBY: There was only one choice, and the only -- the only person that they were willing to treat for with respect to Mr. Bout was Brittney Griner. They put Paul Whelan in a different category. They treat him separately. They treat him differently because of the sham espionage charges that they have levied against him.
We tried many different permutations to try to get both of them out at the same time, as you might expect, but the Russians really put Mr. Whelan in a different category. And so we just were not able to make that work right now.
The only deal we could get right now was the deal Bout for Brittney Griner and the President felt he had a moral obligation to take that. It was either get one American out, in this case, Brittney, or getting none.
COOPER: You said earlier today the US is not back to square one Whelan's negotiations.
KIRBY: That's right.
COOPER: Where do those stand, if anything?
KIRBY: Well, I think, look over the last -- certainly over the last several weeks and months, we've become much more informed about the Russian position because we work so aggressively to get both of them out. We now have a better sense of where the Russians are coming at this from a negotiation standpoint, with respect to Paul.
So going forward, we're smarter, we're more informed, and we're going to use that context as we try to aggressively negotiate for his release as well.
COOPER: Admiral John Kirby, appreciate it. Thank you.
KIRBY: Yes, sir.
COOPER: So we're going to have much more on this tonight as we wait for Brittney Griner's return.
Next, the man who got sent back to Russia, the so-called Merchant of Death. Who was Viktor Bout in his heyday and who is he now? Does he still pose a threat to Americans?
Later, breaking news on two fronts in the growing world of legal jeopardy for the former President. New action by the Justice Department in a new CNN reporting on who specifically the January 6th Committee is considering criminal referrals for in addition to the former President.
COOPER: As we look at Kelly Fields in San Antonio where Brittney Griner is expected to arrive tonight, more now on the price the Biden administration paid for her freedom, namely the release of arms dealer, Viktor Bout who is back in Moscow as we speak.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has the distinction of being the last Western journalist to speak with him as he joins us now from London. So you interviewed Bout in 2009, what should we know about him?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this is a man known by the book about his exploits as an arms dealer, as the Merchant of Death. His life fictionalized in a Nicolas Cage movie, "The Lord of War," a very prominent individual, sort of in the mythology of Russia's influence in smaller conflicts in the 90s and early 2000s, dealing arms often, yet, a man who denies all of that publicly, despite the fact that Russia has gone through extraordinary lengths diplomatically to get him home, today and over the past weeks.
Here is more of what we know about him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH (voice over): He is the Lord of War, according to this fictional movie starring Nicolas Cage.
YURI ORLOV, FICTIONAL CHARACTER, "THE LORD OF WAR": Say what you like about warlords and dictators, they always pay their bills on time.
WALSH (voice over): Or the Merchant of Death per a book about his alleged life.
But despite much evidence, Viktor Bout has always denied being one of the biggest arms dealers of the 90s, fueling civil wars and bolstering Moscow's interests, yet, he still never really wanted to be a nobody.
Why did the Americans want you so badly?
VIKTOR BOUT, ARMS DEALER: (INAUDIBLE) Go and ask this administration, (INAUDIBLE). Go and ask Mrs. Clinton and they will explain why they need me. I don't know. I have no clue.
WALSH: Mr. Bout, good morning.
He gave me his last interview in a Thai jail 13 years ago, when he denied the worse charges against him.
BOUT: This is a lie and just bullshit and I never supplied arms at all, and especially never have any deals with al-Qaeda.
WALSH (voice over): In a noisy, packed visiting area, as he sat behind the glass, the bit I remember most was his mother interrupting --
(WOMAN and VIKTOR BOUT speaking in foreign language.)
BOUT: Thanks, mum. We're trying to talk. Why do you come here every five minutes?
WALSH (voice over): And that he admitted he had worked for the Russian government.
BOUT: Yes, look, but I don't want to say this or that.
WALSH: Have you ever worked for the Russian government?
BOUT: Sometimes, yes. We did the flights.
WALSH (voice over): In the end, he was not superhuman and arrested in Thailand after a US sting operation. And while his decades of life in the shadows had left him fuller faced, he was always just a pilot courier he insisted even as he was led into this Bangkok courtroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, a Manhattan Federal Court, accused arm dealer, Viktor Bout begins to face American justice.
WALSH (voice over): The US sting was complex over many months and countries catching him offering weapons to US agents pretending to be Colombian terrorists. He was eventually extradited to face a New York trial for conspiring to kill Americans.
It saw him sentenced to 25 years in prison in a medium security facility in Illinois. There, he told me in e-mails, he was in good spirits, brushing up on his many languages, and in 2019, very glad when his wife and daughter visited.
But he was slowly edging towards the end of his sentence, perhaps a reason his role in a swap was more appealing. But the biggest mystery about Bout was why the US wanted him so fiercely.
Yes, he had allegedly dealt arms to a lot of bad people across Africa and the 90s, but that was known and exposed. Observers searched for another weightier reason, and wondered if he had served alongside any criminal insiders in his long past overseas, that remains a huge question mark.
Is he a pilot in the wrong place at the very worst times? Or as so many have said, a profiteer and policy tool for Moscow in the world's nastiest wars?
COOPER: It is, I mean, such an interesting question, because I mean, his release was clearly important to Vladimir Putin.
WALSH: Yes, absolutely. And we may never know really the answer to that question. Is it his historical knowledge of the things they did in the 90s and the early 2000s, which the Kremlin is so desperately keen to keep quiet? Or did he have a close relationship as has been suggested, with people who maybe have served in the Intelligence Community in Africa in the 90s or so who then went on to be close to Vladimir Putin? That's one possibility.
But to be honest, his sort of slick denials have always made it exceptionally hard to elucidate quite what the reason behind him being of such enormous value to the Kremlin is -- Anderson.
COOPER: And I mean, it's he's still a threat, potentially? His time in the frontline in Africa and elsewhere was in the 90s as you say in early 2000s.
WALSH: Yes, I mean, as we both know, the world has changed a lot in the last 13 to 14 years and he is not a man who stayed, you know, on the phone, keeping his contacts fluid. In fact, when I tried to e-mail with him a few years ago, that was cut off very quickly by prison monitors. So he has certainly been away from the constantly changing conflicts and frontlines of the past decades or so.
Yes, he still has the language skills. I'm sure he's still as charismatic as he was, when I spoke to him in 2008-2009, but the world has changed enormously. Russia's placement has changed enormously, and so while possibly he might want to get back into where he was before, I think he'd be coming from very much a standing start, rather than just picking up where he left off -- Anderson.
COOPER: Any chance he would get involved with the war on Ukraine?
WALSH: I mean, to be honest, Russia's problems there, I think are quite significantly advanced that the return of one individual with better arms contacts could possibly turn that around. Hard to say.
He certainly carries a lot of, think of mythological almost weight amongst the Russian elite. That may be one reason why Vladimir Putin wanted to bring him back to kind of show that Moscow was able to do things for those Intelligence and military professionals who put themselves on the line for Russia, that may have some possible influence maybe.
And remember, too, you know, this is the US and Russia, Anderson, talking in a reasonably balanced fashion negotiating while US is busy supplying Ukraine with weapons that are killing Russian soldiers, and Russia is busy killing Ukrainian civilians.
So there is a lot of tension in the air here, but this was dealt with quite practically, and that's potentially a good sign for maybe peace negotiations, or just certainly the capacity to calm down misunderstandings in the months and years ahead between Moscow and Washington -- Anderson.
COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, fascinating to see those old interviews. Thank you.
Breaking news in the criminal investigation of the classified documents found at Donald Trump's home, what it could mean for the former President.
Plus, CNN has now learned who the January 6 Committee may be considering criminal referrals for in Trump World, next.
COOPER: It's breaking developments on two major investigations tied to Donald Trump. The Justice Department is now asking a federal judge to hold the ex-president in contempt of court for failing to comply with his subpoena ordering him to turn over classified documents this summer. Meanwhile, we've just learned who the January 6 committee may be considering criminal referrals for as its probe rapidly winds down. In addition to the former president, multiple sources tell CNN the panel's weighing prosecution referrals for former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, conservative Attorney John Eastman, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, along with Trump's former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
We're now with CNN's Sara Murray. Sara, talk more about these possible criminal referrals?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, these are names that are still under discussion. So of course, the committee has not made their final decision. It also doesn't mean this is going to be an exhaustive list. You know, we've previously reported, the committee, of course, is also weighing a referral for Donald Trump. So, we may eventually see other names. What we know is there is still an active discussion going on within the committee, that these men are all names that are under discussion for criminal referrals to the Department of Justice. Again, this is a recommendation. But in talking to these committee members, they do feel like they don't want to let anyone slip through the cracks. And in talking to Benny Thompson today, he essentially said, look, we didn't get into this with the intention of making criminal referrals. But there were some things we uncovered during the course of our investigation that we just didn't feel like we could, you know, go without noting to the Department of Justice.
So, the committee is going to meet privately, virtually on Sunday, they're expected to go over these criminal referrals and hopefully, make a decision about who they actually want to put on that list. But they're not planning on announcing that publicly until December 21st, when they also released their final report, Anderson.
COOPER: And what more do you know about this effort to get the former president held in contempt in connection with the Mar-a-Lago case?
MURRAY: Well, we know the Justice Department has asked a federal judge to hold Donald Trump in contempt. And the reasoning here is that the Justice Department believes that Trump did not comply with the subpoena. They sent over the summer asking him to return any documents with classified markings. Of course, we know after they got that subpoena, there was a search at Mar-a-Lago, you know, the FBI found more than 100 documents with classified markings. We also, you know, told our viewers that since then the Trump lawyers hired a team to search for properties, they found an additional two documents in a storage unit with classified markings on them.
And so, what the government is arguing is, look, they didn't comply with a subpoena, you should hold them in contempt. All of this is going on behind closed doors. These are secret court proceedings. We did learn though there's going to be a hearing on this matter on Friday where the judge could decide if she wants to hold either Donald Trump or his post presidency office in contempt, in which case, they could face fines. But this sort of tells you how contentious things have been behind the scenes between the Trump team and the Justice Department.
COOPER: Fascinating. Sara, appreciate it.
More now CNN contributor former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean, along with CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.
John, what's your reaction to that, first of all this news that perhaps as many as four others beyond the former president are being looked at as possibly referred to by the select committee of the DOJ? JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think it'll influence the department. But it'll certainly influenced the public which in turn might influence the department. And this, this really focuses on these people. There'll be more information that normally from a criminal investigation will be revealed about why the committee feels these people have earned a referral. So, I think it's an important move. And I would not be surprised if there's some more that get named.
COOPER: Jennifer, how do you think the Attorney General the department justice weighed these referrals?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not really, at all. Anderson. I mean, if the referrals were for batters like obstruction of Congress or perjury before Congress, then DOJ looks at it a little differently, because Congress is effectively a victim there and you would treat that the way you would the views of any other victim. But if it's just we've done an investigation, here's what we think DOJ will say, thank you very much they'll be very interested in the evidence that's been collected by the committee but as far as their recommendation DOJ is going to have to make their own 100% their own determination on the facts.
COOPER: John, I mean what do you look at the potential targets of these criminal referrals former President Trump, Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, Rudy Giuliani, is there any of them that you believe has a higher legal exposure when it comes to criminal investigation?
DEAN: Well, I think and we don't know all the evidence that the committee knows at this point. But I've always thought that Mark Meadows was so close to the president, so involved, so right there, and we've seen very little out of him. He has not testified. I've often suspected he might be cooperating, we just don't know. I know he's got a very good lawyer, a very savvy lawyer, who if anybody of that group might crack a deal, I think Meadows is the one who might.
COOPER: Jennifer, I guess the same question to you.
RODGERS: Yes, I agree with John. I mean, there are different ways in which these men might be in trouble in terms of criminal exposure. I think, for example, that on the slates of fake electors, Rudy Giuliani has a lot of exposure there, Jeff Clark for the shenanigans at the Justice Department. So, it's just you know, it's almost like this is a who's who of the different strains of the conspiracy, they're almost picking kind of one or two from each of the separate plots. So, I think they're all in jeopardy. It just depends on what they've been able to uncover. That's one of the things I'm really anxious to see when the report comes out is how they assimilate all of this information, including the evidence that we haven't seen.
COOPER: I mean, Jennifer, it is incredible to think that this guy, Jeffrey Clark, who was angling to take over the Justice Department would actually be charged by the Justice Department. RODGERS: It is this extraordinary, I mean, but it's almost equally extraordinary to think about how he got there in the first place, someone with these kinds of extreme views, who was willing to go to these lengths, I mean, creating this document that had all sorts of falsehoods in it, and then wanting to send it out as a Department of Justice, communication. It's just -- it's an extraordinary that he was there. It's unbelievable what he did. We'll see if there's evidence to charge him. But you know, DOJ won't hesitate, you have to have a reputation for integrity. And if one of their own, one of DOJs own committed a crime, there'll be just as eager to go after that person as anyone else.
COOPER: And, John, I mean, should the former president really be concerned about the Department of Justice chances of convincing a judge to get him held in contempt on the documents case? I mean just being held in contempt really matter from a legal standpoint?
DEAN: We don't know at this point of the recording what kind of contempt they're contemplating asking whether it's civil or criminal. If it's civil, they'll just be trying to get the judge to impose fines on him. If it's criminal, that could mean imprisonment. But I don't know how you imprison a former president with a secret service detail, who is with him all the time. There are a lot of complex problems. But this is a very savvy judge. It's interesting Anderson that she is the chief judge. It was the chief judge during Watergate John Sirica who didn't take any baloney and cut through the dust and the smoke and wasn't intimidated, intimidated by the fact he was dealing with a president the other end. So, these chief judges, they've seen it all.
COOPER: Jennifer, what would -- what's the determining factor whether something is a civil or criminal contempt?
RODGERS: Well, I don't think they would even consider seriously criminal contempt here. I mean, one of the things, this motion actually tells me that they're again, taking a very cautious approach to this, they could likely get search warrants and have already gone into all these locations themselves. And instead, they're trying to get Trump and his team to certify that they're doing it appropriately. I think, again, they're being very cautious. They're treating him with, frankly, a lot more deference than anyone else would receive. I think that's smart to do. But this kind of underscores that.
So, I don't think they're looking to put the former president in jail. I think they're looking to try to get him and his lawyers to do the right thing to search in the right way and to certify it in front of the court.
COOPER: And Jennifer, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, the former president doesn't plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, this court order that ended the special master review of documents. Does that -- I assume that helps the Justice Department just in terms of the timeline allows things to move forward?
RODGERS: A little bit. I mean, I think one of the reasons he decided not to appeal is that it's not an appeal as of right. So, it's not like there would be a scheduling order briefing argument and then a period of time for the court to decide. Probably they would dismiss it immediately since he doesn't have a right to the appeal and it's such a slam dunk. So probably the assessment was he's going to lose anyway. There's no point in doing it. So, DOJ maybe got some a few days earlier, but it's not a lot of time.
COOPER: All right, Jennifer Rodgers, John Dean, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, an in-depth look at this German extremist group that authority said partially inspired by QAnon was trying to overthrow the government of Germany there. Twenty-five people arrested Wednesday more arrests are expected. We'll have a live report from Berlin, next.
COOPER: The day after Germany arrested 25 suspects in an alleged QAnon inspired plot to overthrow the government. Authorities now say that number could rise to 54 with more possible arrest and even that number could further rise. The arrest according to one top German official or unprecedented in the country's history, modern history.
CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen has more than just who this group is.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It could have been a January 6 style insurrection in Germany. Violent protesters trying to storm German parliament in August 2020 when the leading groups the Reichsburger or Citizens of the Reich now accused of plotting a coup in Germany.
This is obviously one of the largest terrorist organizations that has existed in the right-wing sector in recent years, Bavaria's interior minister said. It certainly seems to be the worst we have seen so far in the spectrum of the Reichsburger and QAnon scenes.
German authorities say they believe there will be more arrests after massive raids on Wednesday. The number of suspects has already risen to more than 50 possible co-conspirators of the group allegedly led by this man, 71-year-old Prince Heinrich XIII of the House of Reuss. CNN efforts to reach him for comment have so far been unsuccessful. Residents of Heinrich's hometown say that suspicious activity was already well underway. His followers had even demanded citizens ditch their German passports. We were told that we were not German because our passports were not German. We were then given the opportunity to apply for our German origin documents with the Reuss administration, the deputy mayor said.
Authority say that Reichsburger want to set up a monarchy in Germany and have scores of right-wing extremists in their ranks. Among those arrested several former soldiers and a former member of German parliament from a far-right political party. German extremism, experts warn like in the U.S., the number of extremists looking to undermine democracy is growing. It's a development, which shows that right wing extremism is moving from the margins to the center. And that protagonist from the scene can imagine overthrowing the state order. It's a very dangerous development.
German criminal authorities say they are continuing to identify people possibly involved in the planned coup. And while that plan may have been thwarted this time, groups like Reichsburger pose an increasing threat to Germany's democratic order.
COOPER: And CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Berlin. Do the German authorities believe the plot could have actually succeeded?
PLEITGEN: Well, they believe that these conspirators were trying to essentially occupy government buildings, the parliament being first and foremost, and that way take power using a military arm that they found it. Now, the authorities believe that the likelihood of that succeeding may not have been very high. However, they also say that of the more than 100 places that they searched, when they did their big raids in 50 of those places, they actually found weapons. So clearly these people were arming themselves and clearly these people were serious about it.
And there's two things about that. Anderson, on the one hand, obviously, this group itself is quite large, quite dynamic, but also the ties that they have to groups like QAnon to conspiracy theorists, and also to right wing extremists, makes all this very dangerous, the Germans believe.
COOPER: And there's a pretty big, extremist conspiracy theorist movement in Germany, isn't there?
PLEITGEN: Yes. It's a lot bigger than many people think. We've been looking into this basically, since 2020, since we had that really large demo here in Berlin, we're very nearly the parliament was stormed, it was almost like January 6, except German cops actually stopped them from getting in. And there's social scientists who believe that there's over 200,000 followers of QAnon here in this country. And once again, those groups are all linked conspiracy theorists. And a lot of them have that right-wing background, right wingers in their ranks as well.
And the German government, you know, over the past couple of days, this has taken place, they have said they believe that of course, democracy in this country like in the U.S. can be frail. And that's why right now they're saying they are going to take this hard line against groups like this to make sure that democracy gets kept safe here in Germany. Anderson.
COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it.
There's been a lot of hype online and perhaps nervous anticipation in Buckingham Palace, but the new docuseries Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, the wait is over in part after the series was released today. We'll take a look at some of the royal revelations next.
COOPER: Britain Prince Harry and his wife Meghan spoke to Oprah Winfrey last year. They stunned the world with some of their candid comments in the royal family, opening up about an institution shrouded certainly in a lot of secrecy for centuries. Now they're talking again this time and a new Netflix Docuseries out today.
CNN's Max Foster tonight has details.
MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first three episodes have dropped and the verdict is in. Harry and Meghan's Netflix Docuseries hasn't had any major bombshells yet. But there was a targeted attack on the media.
PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: No one knows the full truth. You know the full truth. Institutionalized the full truth and the median or the full truth because they've been (INAUDIBLE).
FOSTER (voice-over): Suggesting the royal press pack is simply an extension of the palaces PR team. And the family is afraid of challenging the media. The series shines a light on their childhoods. Harry talks about his mother, her battle with the press and the difficulty he had growing up as a royal child in the spotlight.
KATE WILLIAMS, CNN ROYAL HISTORIAN: For them, this is very much all tied together. Harry feels he's being chased by the press, ever since he was a child is continued into his marriage. And it was unsustainable, and that's why he had to leave the royal family.
FOSTER (voice-over): Then there was Meghan's perspective, learning to live in the royal fold. The first senior royal she met was the Queen.
MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I remember in the car and driving up and he's you know how to curtsy right? And I just thought it was a joke.
FOSTER (voice-over): Then there was this anecdote when she first met Kate and William.
MEGHAN: I remember I was in ripped jeans and I was barefoot. It's like I was a hugger. Always been a hugger. I didn't realize it that is really jarring for a lot of Brits. I guess I'd started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside.
FOSTER (voice-over): The episodes are peppered with intimate moments in what was billed as an inside look into their relationship from the start. And it includes moments like this.
MEGHAN: Oh my God, Jess, it's happening, it's happening, it's happening. FOSTER (voice-over): Videos and pictures never made public before. At the moment Harry proposed.
PRINCE HARRY: You know, there's leaking, but there's also planting of stories.
FOSTER (voice-over): But with a trailer teasing dramatic moments that weren't included in the first three episodes, any bombshells, the palace fears, maybe still yet to come.
COOPER: Max, has the palace responded to this documentary?
FOSTER: I think there's quite a lot in this series to unsettle the palace. There's not quite enough to prompt a formal response. I think the bigger test of that, Anderson, will be next week when we get to the more sensitive part of the story, which is when they were forced or they felt forced out of the family and had to leave to go to North America. So not enough in there yet, although some of it feels quite personal according to people I've spoken to in the palace.
COOPER: Yes. Max Foster, appreciate it. Thanks.
We return to our top story ahead, the release of American Brittney Griner from Russia. Her plane expected to land soon in San Antonio, Texas. Will talk to the father of Trevor Reed and other American wrongfully detained and thankfully also freed in a prisoner swap earlier this year. How Reed is doing? What the Griner family might expect upon their upcoming reunion, next.
COOPER: We're showing you live picture, Kelly Field in San Antonio Texas were Brittney Griner is expected to arrive tonight, as we wait for word on that after nearly 10 months in Russian custody.
CNN's Alex Marquardt has more on how all of this prisoner swap came about.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The dramatic moment of the high stake prisoner swap, Brittney Griner in the red coat walking towards the American plane.