Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Freed Nicaraguan Political Prisoner And Nicaraguan Opposition Leader Felix Maradiaga; Interview With Freed Nicaraguan Political Prisoner And Nicaraguan Opposition Leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro; Interview With Head Of Investigations, Anti-Corruption Foundation And Alexei Navalny Aide Maria Pevchikh; Interview With Select Committee On The Modernization Of Congress Chair Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA); Interview With Select Committee On The Modernization of Congress Vice Chair Rep. William Timmons (R-SC). Aired 1-2p ET

Aired February 15, 2023 - 13:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what's coming up.




CROWD: (Speaking in a foreign language).


AMANPOUR: Nicaraguan political prisoners arrive in the United States after a surprise release by their autocratic President Daniel Ortega. I speak to

Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Felix Maradiaga who spent almost two years behind bars. Then.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER AND ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTIVIST: My message for the situation when I am killed is very simple, not give up.


AMANPOUR: Poison but not dead. An inside look at Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the hunt for his would-be assassins. I talked to his co-

worker and confidant Maria Pevchikh about the Oscar nominated film "Navalny". Plus.


REP. DEREK KILMER (D-WA), SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE MODERNIZATION OF CONGRESS CHAIR: Most Americans have a sense that Congress is a bit of fixer upper.


AMANPOUR: Congressman Derek Kilmer and William Timmons talk to Michel Martin about modernizing an age-old institution.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

It's a dirty trick used by autocrats across the world. Taking their would- be opposition off the streets and throwing them into jail. Thereby stopping any other presidential candidacy from ever taking root. In a moment, we'll

look at the case of Russia's jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who survived a poisoning several years ago.

But first, to Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega's drive to stay in power has grown increasingly repressive over the years. He has put hundreds

of political prisoners behind bars. But, on Thursday, in a surprise and perhaps a cynical move, he simply got rid of them. 222 prisoners were freed

and essentially deported to the United States. Stripped of their citizenship and banned from ever running for public office.

Among them, my two guests tonight, Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Felix Maradiaga. They were inside for nearly two years. Chamorro is an economist

and former government official who hoped to run for president. And Maradiaga is an activist and academic who also had presidential ambitions.

Welcome, gentlemen, both to the program. First of all, we are so pleased that you are not behind bars and that you are released. I know it's a

double-edged sword, and we'll get into that. But let me first ask you, just what does it feel like to be in the light now? Let me ask you first, Felix?


miracle to be back and be able to raise a voice, and more importantly, to see my family. But there's a country behind that continues to struggle for

freedom. So, we will not be completely free until we have Ortega removed.

AMANPOUR: And how does it feel, Juan Sebastian, how does it feel to come out of those caves, really?


emotional mixed feelings of leaving your country but at the same time meeting my wife and my daughter for the first time in 20 months. I wasn't

able to even speak with her over the phone. So, this reunification of the family was particularly touching. I can't believe, because of the process,

we moved from darkness -- we were in a very dark place to the brightness of freedom. But also, to be able to walk on the streets and -- with our family

is just amazing.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you before I get it to the hard politics of it all, about what it was actually like to be inside? One of your other fellow

freed prisoners, Dora Maria Tellez, she has remembered these prison conditions. Let me get my glasses on and I'm going to read it.

She says, sleep disorders of people who couldn't fall asleep, who woke up at 3:00 in the morning, to think, to cry, to pray, to suffer. Some forget

their children's names, going a year and a half without seeing them. Digestive disorders. Eating disorders. Skin problems due to lack of



Depigmentation. Anxiety disorders. Depression. Allergies. Migraines. Sciatica. A huge list of problems. And the consequences are yet to be seen

how each of us will be able to recover and heal.

Felix, can you identify with that and how do you think the healing process will go?

MARADIAGA: Absolutely. That's a very accurate description of the conditions. It's very hard to believe that in 2023, there are places in the

world that have been designed and created not only to put prisoners there but to break your soul. Even though they were not able -- I think that we

have been lucky that we are alive, but the conditions in those prisons were precisely to shut down our voices. They were not able to do so.

AMANPOUR: And clearly, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, they have not broken your soul. But they -- it was very, very intense. And particularly the sudden

freedom without warning. Tell me about the conditions. How did you hear? Did you know what was happening? What did they do? Just, sort of, march you

out at the crack of dawn?

CHAMORRO: We didn't know what was going on. They walked us in the middle of the night, they gave us clothes -- clothing and asked us to change. And

then we are taken into a bus and we drove throughout Managua. I was thinking that we were going to be sent to another jail, but suddenly the

bus turned right on the airport. It was until then that I learned that we were going -- flying pretty soon. But we stayed there at the airport for

some time until we were asked to sign a document saying that we agreed to leave for the United States.

It was until then, and in front of the aircraft, that we knew that we were going to fly to the United States. We got into the plane and when we took

off, this was about 7:15 in the morning on Thursday, we started crying and singing the national anthem in a very emotional moment.

AMANPOUR: Wow. You sang the national anthem, that was one of the first things, apparently, that you did. But what now do you think, because you

are political prisoners, you were not just, you know, people who've been swept up in some criminal dragnet. You want to do something politically for

your country and they are preventing you. They stripped you of your citizenship, deported you, and maybe you won't be able to participate.

Felix, how will this work? How will your political activism continue?

MARADIAGA: First, it's important to emphasize that none of our political activism was limited to presidential candidacy. Juan and I had participated

in a primary election to pick a unified candidate, together with the political expressions of the opposition. But our commitment is for broad

political participation in Nicaragua.

One example of that is that there is religious persecution and Nicaragua. I'd like to emphasize that Monsenor Rolando Alvarez, bishop of my own

diocese is still in prison in Nicaragua. So, our struggle must continue until we'll see them all free.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I was going to bring that up because he refused, point blank, to leave. I mean, he refused the conditions that they put

before him and he says that he's staying. What do you think, Juan Sebastian? I mean, is he going to be a martyr? People are afraid for his


CHAMORRO: Absolutely, and this is a very important point that we have to concentrate on the remaining 35 prisoners are still in Nicaragua. And

especially the bishop who, you know, made this extremely brave decision of staying in the country. We saw this paper and we have to admit that we

decided to sign it on as soon as possible because we wanted to go out of this hell. But the bishop was very strong and he refused to leave the


So, now, looking forward, our work is to re-establish civil liberties, that's a long-term project. But as we speak, two things are very important.

To reunite the families that were separated during this trip because the majority of those prisoners left their family, their children behind. And

secondly, and very important as well, is the liberation of Bishop Alvarez.


CHAMORRO: I don't think, Christiane, Alvarez is going to stay in jail too much because of the political pressure --


CHAMORRO: -- that this situation has created to Ortega.

AMANPOUR: Well, I mean -- look, you're right. But right after you refused and you all walked, he's been sentenced to 26 years in prison for

conspiracy, or at least that is his sentence, because he has been a prominent critic of Ortega. And as you say, the International Community,

the pope, the United States have condemned this.


Can I -- why do you think Ortega freed you? I mean, I was going to put from his perspective, he says, "We are not asking for sanctions to be lifted",

these are the American sanctions. "And we are not asking for anything in return. We do not want any trace of the mercenaries --", i.e. you, "-- in

our country." On the one hand, he is saying he just wants to get rid of you all because you are traitors to the country. So, I want to know what you

make of that, and do you think there has been a quid pro quo with the United States over sanctions, or at least is he trying?

MARADIAGA: Well, first of all, I don't think -- I believe there is not a quid pro quo, I mean, not in the sense of releasing the sanctions or

anything like that, but I'd let officials respond to that later. On your question, I think that dictators released political prisoners only when

they run out of chances.

He tried to put us in prison, he killed many of the opposition members in places where very -- it's very hard for media to report. And now, he's took

our nationality away. So, dictators release political prisoners only when international pressure is massive.

AMANPOUR: You know, you say it's hard for the media to report. I spoke, actually several years ago, a couple of years ago, to a very prominent

Nicaraguan journalist who, I believe is your cousin, Juan Sebastian, his name is Carlos Fernando Chamorro, just as Ortega was locking everybody up

and seeking a fourth consecutive term. This is what he said about the U.S. and other sanctions.


CARLOS FERNANDO CHAMORRO, NICARAGUAN JOURNALIST: They should put all the political and economic prisoner on the issue of restoring democratic

freedoms in Nicaragua. That's where the worth -- that's where the solution of the problem is. It's not a question of sanction. I think Ortega can stay

in power for a longer period no matter the sanctions. But he cannot stay in power if Nicaraguan people recover their freedom.


AMANPOUR: Do you agree, Juan Sebastian?

CHAMORRO: Absolutely. I absolutely agree with Carlos Fernando. In jail, we were worried that the focus of the whole thing was going to be concentrated

on the liberation of ourselves as political prisoners. But we were saying, we are not the main issue here. The main issue here is democracy, liberty -



CHAMORRO: -- that has to be restored in Nicaragua. Because, at the end of the day, you know, for Nicaragua to succeed as a nation, we have to restore

democracy and freedom.

AMANPOUR: So, this is what -- to that point, this is what the U.N. -- sorry, the U.S. State Department spokesman says. Let's just play what Ned

Price said.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Of course, this is not a panacea to the many concerns we have with the Nicaraguans government. One

of those concerns, the concern that we are talking about today remains even after the arrival of these 222 individuals. And that is the imprisonment of

individuals for exercising nothing more than rights that should be universal.


AMANPOUR: I can see you both nodding in agreement. And as you know, many in your own country and in your own hemisphere have, you know, criticized

your northern neighbors and the rest of the world for not paying enough attention to Central America for sure. Do you think that you have the

attention of the United States now?

MARADIAGA: I think we have. And the United States has been -- and we must say that, an ally of pro-human rights organizations and pro-democracy

movements, at least in the case of Nicaragua, which is the one that I can report. This was American diplomacy at its best.

AMANPOUR: OK. And it matters a lot to U.S., not just for those reasons that you've said but also because of migration. There has been a huge

number, let me get the stats. The chaos is obviously forcing lots and lots of Nicaraguans to flee. U.S. data shows a 60-fold increase in Nicaraguans

entering the U.S. in 2022 compared to two years ago.

So, I want to hear from both of you what the conditions are that are forcing people to seek a better life elsewhere?

CHAMORRO: Well, the economic conditions are not in the best shape. And obviously, these movement towards more repression from Ortega has -- make

more people to leave the country as the stats are saying. But this is also promoted by Ortega himself because many of these people are protesters and

participated in the world. So, he's gaining two things by expelling Nicaraguans to other countries.


One is getting rid of opposition members, and the other is that these people started their new lives in the United States or elsewhere and they

send remittances which help the economy. So, this is a deliberate action by Ortega in order to lower political pressure internally and getting some

international resources --

AMANPOUR: I mean, do you have --

CHAMORRO: -- for the economy.

AMANPOUR: -- any hope, Felix, that he may somehow open up the political system in any way, shape or form?

MARADIAGA: Ortega is not softening. He is very -- if anything, he is radicalizing. However, we knew this was going to be a long road. I mean,

Juan and I -- I mean, and many of the other members of the opposition know this. And we took this decision. We had a conversation with our families

and we knew that it was going to be a long road.

But I must add something very important. I think there is an ecosystem of dictatorships. So, this is the same things we're seeing with some minor

differences in Russia, in Cuba, in Venezuela. And I think that the International Community must tackle the Nicaraguan issue as part of a

comprehensive challenge to the world.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it's really interesting that you put it that way because we are actually next turning to Russia on this precise issue. And of

course, President Biden has made the hallmark of his presidency supporting democracies around the world.

So, I guess just finally to you, Juan, you know, you aunt, Violeta, was famously president Nicaragua. You come from a very prominent political

family who are, you know, completely committed to democracy. Do you -- you know, you are released now. You've been out for just under a week. I know

you want to continue your activism and create some kind of space. What do you specifically want to try to do to open up the space in your country?

CHAMORRO: Well, as you mentioned, I'm coming from a family that has been in politics for so long. So, the commitment is stronger now. Four members

of my family were in jail at this particular moment. So, I think, you know, the commitment, the injustice that we all suffer make us have our

commitments stronger for the liberation of Nicaragua.

This is not the first time that Nicaragua is facing a dictatorship. This is not the first time that we see assassinations, exile, and political

prisoners. So -- and you mentioned -- I'm glad that you mentioned 1990 with Violeta actually won this democratic election. And this is the hope that I

-- that keeps me moving in my job to try to make this day happen again, and I'm sure it's going to be pretty soon.

AMANPOUR: Well, just on a very personal note, I just want to know whether you -- or either of you were physically abused in prison and whether you

are healthy yourselves.

MARADIAGA: I feel physically and spiritually strong. In my case, I was beaten on the day of my arrest. They placed me on a cage for a few days

until they felt that I was recovered to be placed with the rest of the prisoners. But in general, I feel ready to continue with this mission of


CHAMORRO: I'm OK. I wasn't beaten at -- in the jail. But I want to stress one important thing, the separation, the lack of communication with my

family for three months, they didn't know what happened to me and I don't know what happened to my wife. The last time I saw her was when I was

getting arrested.

And the excruciating moments of the arrest is a torture for the families themselves. Not knowing for so many months, almost three months, what

happened to me. That's a kind of soft torture, as they call it. So, psychological torture. But in physical terms, I'm in pretty good condition.

Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And you share that with thousands and thousands of prisoners of conscience around the world. Well, we're glad that you're freed and thank

you so much, indeed. Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, thank you very much for joining us on this program.

Now, two men there risking it all in that fight for democracy, as you heard. And now, across the world again, as we talked about another imprison

democracy activist, the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Vladimir Putin has spent years trying to erase Navalny, never even ushering his

name. Allegedly sending assassins to poison him, and finally putting him behind bars two years ago.

The highly acclaimed film, "Navalny", looks back at that incident and the subsequent investigation into who tried to kill him. The documentary is up

for awards at this weekend's BAFTAS here in the U.K. And at the Oscars next month. Here is a clip from the trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alexei Navalny has taken on the most dangerous job in the world, challenging the leader of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.

ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER AND ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTIVIST: If I want to be a leader of this country, if I want to fight Putin, I have to

organize people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What do you think about the wars in Ukraine and Syria?

NAVALNY (through translator): I will end war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Kremlin hates Navalny so much they refused to say his name.

NAVALNY: I was banned from everything and blacklisted. But as I became more and more famous, I was totally sure that it would be problematic for

them to kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And boy, where you wrong.

NAVALNY: Yes, I was very wrong.


AMANPOUR: Few people know Alexei Navalny like my next guest, Maria Pevchikh. She has worked with him for a decade and was with him in Siberia

when he was poisoned. Maria, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: First and foremost, I want to ask about the health, the condition, what do you know about Navalny's status himself?

PEVCHIKH: Navalny is being simply held in -- as a solitary confinement. It's been four, almost five months since he has been kept in a tiny little

cell, two by three meters large. One tiny little window. No furniture and a bed that is being chained up to the wall every morning at 5:00 a.m. And

then there is nothing else really to do for the entire day. But sitting on this small stool and reading one book that he is allowed per term. So --


PEVCHIKH: Terms are tend to be around two weeks, so he -- you'd better --


PEVCHIKH: -- he's better pick long ones, you know --


PEVCHIKH: -- to be able to read.

AMANPOUR: And I -- dramatically, one of the last shots, if not the last shot of the film, is Navalny doing this from prison. And I couldn't even

recognize him. I mean, he looks, like -- you know, a scarecrow. Not yet a skeleton --


AMANPOUR: -- but very thin.


AMANPOUR: Physically, his health, apart from the conditions of being isolated, is he on a hunger strike? Is he robust?

PEVCHIKH: He's not on the hunger strike. This is just the way that he looks due to the fact that they are torturing him, physically and

psychologically. He is being constantly refused any medical care. He is being underfed. Because when you're in solitary confinement, different

rules apply. You aren't allowed to have the same meals as regular -- as your inmates would. You get to -- you're not allowed to buy products from a

prison store.

So, he is losing weight because he is constantly underfed. He was unwell for a couple of weeks over Christmas. And he was denied any medical care.

So, this is why the images that we see of Navalny now are rather disturbing.

AMANPOUR: Very disturbing. This is what he tweeted on February 9th, two weeks ago. No visits are allowed here. This means more than a year without

a visit. Even maniacs and serial killers serving life sentences have the right to receive a visit, but I don't.

His daughter has reported weight loss, as you've said. And intentional infections, what does that mean?

PEVCHIKH: It's a sick little trick that the Russian prison administration came up with. It's sort of -- it's their take on biological bacterial

weapons. Essentially, they use a person, a random person, as a carrier of different diseases. They would put this person to a medical unit, to a

hospital inside the prison, keep them there for a couple of days.

So, he is likely to develop a flu of some sort, or COVID, or any other sort of, you know, contagious thing. Then they would bring him back to Navalny's

cell, to this tiny little cell where two of them are trapped for the entire day and wait for a couple of more days hoping that Navalny would develop

similar, sort of, sickness. If it doesn't work, they send the poor guy into the hospital again and he spends there more days trying to get -- so

essentially, they're using --

AMANPOUR: Trying to get sick --

PEVCHIKH: Yes, yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: -- in order to pass the sickness on.

PEVCHIKH: They're using a live person. They're using other inmate in order to infect Navalny with the disease. And it worked, eventually, it actually

worked. I mentioned that he was unwell during Christmas.


PEVCHIKH: So, this is the result of that. And well, that person is being constantly transferred to medical unit, Navalny doesn't have the same

treatment. Navalny wasn't given any medicine or any appropriate, you know, medication, medical attention.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, if he's an isolation, and we see him tweeting, can you tell us how you get information about his condition inside jail


PEVCHIKH: Navalny currently is being investigated and there is -- for another case. There is a big trial coming --


PEVCHIKH: -- in a couple of weeks and this is the grand case against all of us, the extremism and terrorism case.


So, due -- at this stage of this legal process, he is allowed to read the materials. He's allowed to discuss his defense strategy with his lawyers.

So, his lawyers get to see him regularly.

AMANPOUR: Goes to visit --


AMANPOUR: -- sees him --


AMANPOUR: -- and gets his messages out to you all.

PEVCHIKH: And this is how we confirm he is alive. This is how we find out what sort of health condition he is in. And, you know, his general status

in terms of we know whether he has been transferred or whether he is still there.


PEVCHIKH: That sort of information.

AMANPOUR: Well, he had the ability to send out a Valentine's tweet to his wife, Yulia.


AMANPOUR: With a picture, and I think that must have, you know, probably been of some comfort at least to his family to see that he is, as you say,

still alive. This film is remarkable. And your presence in it is very, very constant, alongside the investigative journalist Christo Grozev of



AMANPOUR: And what -- just for our viewers, what -- it seems to be focused intensely on trying to find out and expose exactly who and how poisoned

Navalny back in Siberia, I think it was 2018?


AMANPOUR: 2020. There's one clip in the film where we see you all talking to an FSB agent, an intelligence agent. And it is absolutely incredible.

It's a prank call by Navalny, but he's getting this guy, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, to talk. And he pretty much spills the beans.

Your face in that scene is incredible. You cannot believe this happened. You, by the way, filming it all on the phone --


AMANPOUR: -- for the documentary. What made this person open up and say these things?

PEVCHIKH: In this film as well, Navalny explains this phenomenon in a couple minutes earlier. There is a monologue by Navalny, he explains the

Moscow4 concept. The fact that once the -- when Russian government officials, military government official e-mail was hacked and his password

was Moscow. Then it was hacked again, it was Moscow1, it was hacked again, and it was Moscow2. I mean, you can guess how it ends with Moscow4.

So, that anecdote shows the general incompetence of Russian secret services. The incompetence that saved Navalny's life and the incompetence

that then gave us this amazing story and this 50, this is how long the call was, 50 minutes of unique access to the inside of Putin's secret killer

unit. The guy told us so much more than we could ever know ourselves, so much more than we could figure out by analyzing data. He gave us details.

He gave us colors. He gave, you know, us so many secrets --

AMANPOUR: He talked about the underpants.


AMANPOUR: The cog piece.


AMANPOUR: Where -- and the fact that Navalny would have died had the pilot not made an emergency landing when Navalny, you know, obviously got very

loudly ill on the plane and caused --

PEVCHIKH: Yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: -- caused an emergency landing.

PEVCHIKH: And he was noticeably upset that the operation didn't go according to the plan, as we speak to him and the cynicism of this as well

is something very impressive.

AMANPOUR: You can imagine many people want to know, where is this guy?


AMANPOUR: He hasn't been heard of, right? Since?

PEVCHIKH: I would put it this way. So, for the first year, for the first maybe six months after the film was released, I was pretty sure he's dead.

Because we managed to locate every other team member, there are about eight or nine. So, we knew how they were moved, and they were moved. So, they --

they're not doing the same job anymore. They don't kill people with Novichok anymore. I would imagine other people do that, but these guys are

doing paperwork more or less right now.

And Kudryavtsev, the guy we spoke to, we couldn't find him, the chemist. So, we assume that he must have been dead or maybe fired. And his wife, who

we spoke to, said that she hasn't seen him from the day of the call, that he went to a business trip and never came back.

But then, I think, quite recently, maybe a couple months ago, I had some news about Kudryavtsev. A database of people who took COVID tests was

leaked, this is a very common situation in Russia, loads of data leaks. You can find all sorts of information out there.

And so, I looked it up. I looked, I typed Kudryavtsev's surname just to see how it is. How he's doing. And it turns out he took a COVID test in

November 2021, which means that almost a year after the call, after our investigation, he definitely was alive. He was in Moscow. He took a COVID

test under his very own name with passport details, his phone number, et cetera. So, now, the working theory is that he is alive.


AMANPOUR: After the call --


AMANPOUR: -- we were talking about what happens to him. And obviously, he's confessing to something heinous. So, no sympathy, obviously. Navalny

has survived what this guy tried to kill him. But Christo says, and I think you all agree, let's -- after Navalny hangs up with Konstantin, let's offer

him to defect. Let's arrange for him the whole thing because I think it's humanitarian thing to do. Did you try to do that?

PEVCHIKH: We never tried that, no.

AMANPOUR: Because?

PEVCHIKH: I don't know. Just never really had the chance. We were distracted a little bit after this event. Because I remind you, Navalny was

arrested within weeks after that. And sadly, we've never had a chance to interact with this gentleman again.

AMANPOUR: Let me now play a clip from the film which is when Leonid Volkov who is his chief of staff -- Navalny's chief of staff, comes to the

hospital as he is waking up from this poisoning. Here is the clip.


LEONID VOLKOV, RUSSIAN POLITICIAN AND ALEXEI NAVALNY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: When you come to a room of a comatose patient, you just tell him the news.

Tell him his story. Alexei, don't worry, you were poisoned. There was a murder attempt. Putin tried to kill you with Novichok. And he opened his,

like, blue eyes wide and looked at me and said, very clear, what the -- ? That is so stupid.

NAVALNY: Come on, poisoned? I don't believe it.

VOLKOV: Like, he's back. This is Alexei.

NAVALNY: Putin is supposed to be not so stupid to use this Novichok.

VOLKOV: His wording. His expression. His intonation.

NAVALNY: If you want to kill someone, just shoot them. Jesus Christ.

VOLKOV: Like, real Alexei.

NAVALNY: It's impossible to believe it. It's kind of stupid. The whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon, what the -- This is why this is

not smart because even reasonable people, they refuse to believe, like, what? Come on, poisoned? Seriously?


AMANPOUR: Now, all along, obviously, the Kremlin and the FSB, Russia's security services, denied that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning.

What surprises me, and I wonder if it surprised you listening to that clip, is that there was -- Navalny himself was so sure that this couldn't happen.

And yet, it's happened, you know, to other people. You know, here in London, other parts of the U.K., political opponents.

Why did he think or did he think, somehow, that his fame and his prominence or whatever, his ability to troll the Kremlin and be pretty feisty

politically, did he think it would protect him?

PEVCHIKH: It's a logical conclusion, I would say. He is the most prominent and the most well-known opposition figure in Russia. Whatever happened with

poisonings, et cetera, that -- until recently was seemed to be a foreign story. You know, we would hear stories about two disguised officers

traveling to Salisbury, doing Novichok poisoning, et cetera.

We didn't really know, no one knew, and thanks to Bellingcat and Christo Grozev, this gigantic operation was uncovered. And later we found out that

Navalny was one of many victims of Novichok. One of the few survivors, many people were actually killed. Regional activists, journalists, some sort of

political activists, they were successfully murdered by the very same people who followed us in Siberia and who tried to poison Navalny back in

august 2020.

So, that wasn't known. That is a completely new information. And thanks to Bellingcat, that is now a public knowledge. I guess it was just difficult

to imagine and it's quite a big concept to grasp that your own government, an agency, FSB, a security service that exists, you know, and is being paid

by taxpayers' money, actually can run such a huge, secret program aimed just at getting rid of people Putin doesn't like.

AMANPOUR: And yet, we know that many of the people he doesn't like have ended up dead. Obviously, Nemtsov --


AMANPOUR: -- and our colleague, the great journalist, Anna.


AMANPOUR: The film is extraordinary and that is happening in -- it's taken place in Berlin, I think most of the shooting. And it's like -- almost like

a voice from the grave. The director is asking Navalny to keep talking as if he may not survive his political activism and his return to Russia. So,

this is one of the questions. What will you say -- what do you say to people if you don't survive? Let's just play this clip.



NAVALNY (through translator): If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power to not give up, to

remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes. We don't realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the

triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing. So don't be inactive.


AMANPOUR: Do you think he should have gone back? And what happens if he doesn't survive?

PEVCHIKH: I think that he has done right. And he's done the right choice by going back. I think he wouldn't -- it wouldn't be him if he had stayed.

He is a Russian politician at -- in the very fullest understanding of that concept. He needed to go, and we -- there was never really a choice. We

always knew he would go.

AMANPOUR: He said that.

PEVCHIKH: And as for the second part of your question, I prefer, we all prefer, not to think about it and not to obsess about it too much. Our job

is -- I mean, he has given us a very clear instruction.


PEVCHIKH: Not to be inactive. To work, to fight, and to continue doing what he has been doing for so many years. So, this is what I like to

concentrate on. And those dark thoughts, I try to not think about it.

AMANPOUR: A prisoner of conscience. Maria Pevchikh, thank you so much, indeed for joining us.

And "Navalny" the film returns to select U.S. theaters of February 24th. It is also streaming now on HBO Max. And as I said, said Oscar and Bafta


Next to the tough work of maintaining democracy once it has been won. Every few decades, the U.S. Congress realizes things aren't working the way they

should and tries to do something about it. The latest effort was the Bipartisan Select Committee on the modernization of Congress also known as

the Fixed Congress Committee. And our next guests are two congressmen who led the group, Republican William Timmons and Democrat Derek Kilmer. They

tell Michel Martin how they tried to fix it.


MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Representative Kilmer, Representative Timmons, thank you both so much for joining us today.



MARTIN: So, we invited you because you are part of the -- it sounds wonky, but the Select Committee on Modernization. But it turns out that you all

are part of what seems to be, unfortunately, a rarity in Congress these days. You're a body that has not only worked well together, you've actually

produced recommendations that many of which have actually been implemented.

So, I just wanted to start by asking you, I'll start with you, Representative Kilmer, why did you want to serve on this committee? What

problems did you think needed to be fixed?

KILMER: Well, I think most Americans have a sense that Congress is a bit of a fixer upper. I'm conscious that as a member of Congress, I'm part of

an organization that, according to recent polling, is less popular than headlights, colonoscopies and the rock band Nickelback. And you got a

pretty good sense of that --

MARTIN: I like Nickelback, but I take your point.

KILMER: You know, the -- you've seen government shutdowns, you've seen dysfunction for quite a long time. About every 20 or 30 years or so,

Congress realizes things aren't working the way they ought to and they create a committee to do something about it.

And as you mentioned, this iteration of it was called the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress which makes it sounds like we were the

I.T. help desk. But we were nicknamed the Fixed Congress Committee. And we are looking at everything from how Congress can be a place that does a

better job of recruiting and retaining and having more diverse staff, to looking at issues related to technology.

Congress has been described as an 18th century institution using 20th century technology to solve 21st century problems. We were asked to look at

everything from rules and procedures, to scheduling a calendar within Congress.

And as you mentioned, you know, ours was a committee that actually did something. We have made 202 recommendations to make Congress work better.

About 45 have been fully implemented, another -- more than 70 are on the path to implementation. And we're going to keep pushing because the

American people deserved better.

MARTIN: Mr. Timmons, you are the newer of the two congresses. But you ran in part on the sense that Congress was broken and that something needed to

be fixed. So, from the outsiders' perspective, what did you think needed to be fixed? Which is one of the reasons you agreed to serve in this

committee. And I'm also curious about once you actually got to Congress, was your outsiders' perception borne out by the reality once you actually

got there?

TIMMONS: No, absolutely. My campaign slogan five years ago was Washington is broken.


And to be given the opportunity to literally fix Congress for the last four years has just been an incredible honor and, really, the most rewarding

work I've ever done in my entire professional career. Derek Kilmer has shown the American people that Republicans and Democrats can work well

together. While there were six Republicans and six Democrats, we had to get eight votes, and we built relationships, we worked together, we found

common ground, and we got things done.

Congress was worse than I thought it was, actually. I hate to say that. But I'm --


TIMMONS: -- I came from the state senate, which I thought was dysfunctional. And then, really, the United States House really was

shocking. But a lot of the challenges, I think, come from the fact that really for 30 plus years we've been centralizing power into the hands of

just a few on both sides of the aisle.

And so, a lot of the recommendations we made was to re-empower members and committees and to give them an opportunity to legislate and dig into the

policy. A lot of those recommendations were implemented this past -- in 118th Congress and we're seeing the fruit of our labor. So, it's been

rewarding and I do think that the impact that our work will have is going to take years, if not decades, to fully be realized, but we see things

getting better every day.

MARTIN: I am interested to hear you say, Mr. Timmons, it was worse than you thought. Can you just give me just one example of something that -- and

I'm going to ask you for an example that I think both of you would agree with, as opposed to something that is a particular concern to one side.

TIMMONS: The biggest problem is this. There's 435 people and we bounce all over the place. We're only in session -- let's go back to 2000 -- before

the pandemic, we were in session 65 full days and 66 travel days. That's just not enough time to do our work. We've got -- average number serves on

5.4 committees and sub-committees, but we also have to have conference and caucus meetings. We have constituent meetings. We have -- just our time is


So, we're -- we don't have the opportunity to actually engage in policy making and to build relationships, and that's how you get things done. And

we hopefully have made some meaningful strides to give members more opportunities and make it easier for them to build relationships.

KILMER: You know, one of the things when we listen to members like --

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

KILMER: -- what's really striking was how partisanship was baked into the cake from the very beginning. Members who would talk about showing up for

freshman orientation and being told, OK, Democrats, you get on this bus. Republicans you get on that bus. So, one of our recommendations was, stop

doing that. You know, actually try to build some bipartisanship into orientation.

That doesn't seem like rocket science but there are, I think, strategic interventions that could be done to at least try to foster a dynamic of

more civility and collaboration within the institution. Our committee also tried to model some of that behavior. If you watch one of our hearings on

C-SPAN, you probably have too much time on your hands. But if you do watch one of our hearings, you'll notice, we don't sit with Democrats on side of

the dais and Republicans on the other. We stagger our seeding.

So, that when you hear a witness say something interesting, you know, my genetic pre-disposition is to lean over to the person next to me and say,

that was kind of interesting. What do you think about that? And in our committee, you're leaning over next to someone from a different party. We

don't even sit on the dais. We sit around a roundtable. Why? Well, I don't know about you, I've never had a good conversation speaking to the back of

somebody's head.

And so, we've tried to foster within our committee more of a dynamic of actually having the interchange of ideas. Of actually trying to learn

something in committees, rather than it being performance art where members, to William's point, hop into a committee for five minutes, a

speech of five -- for five minutes so they can throw something up on social media and then ditch and head to their other committee because they're in

three or four committees at the same time.

MARTIN: Some of the innovations that Mr. Kilmer just shared about, you know, sitting at round tables, not. like, looking at a dais where you're

basically literally looking down on people. Having more retreats, for example, if you started the work at the session with a bipartisan retreat

where everybody could kind of lay down their guard and kind of get real with each other. Mr. Timmons, why do you think it's so rare in Congress?

TIMMONS: I think technology has made engaging in real human interaction harder. We travel back and forth through our district. We're only there a

limited amount of time. The outrage of the day is what people want to hear about. And so, it's challenging to actually engage in either relationship

building or policymaking. And it has to be something that's intentional.

And again -- I mean, historically, we've seen power centralized to the leaders and that has created some challenges. And so, we have decentralized

a lot of -- we're empowering committees, we're empowering members to actually do the work. And, you know, it's challenging to make -- build

relationship with 435 members of Congress but it's not as challenging to look at your committee. We only have 12. So, that was a huge benefit.


I'm on financial services which has 50 something -- almost 60 people. And oversight probably has 45. So, I mean, it's easier to try to target those

people and just spend time together. Get to know them on a personal level. Build a relationship.

You have to have trust in order to do anything. And if you don't trust the people that you are trying to engage in policymaking with, you're never

going to get anywhere. In our committee, not only did we build trust, we build friendships. And, you know, that made so effective at our job and

that's what we hope Congress can learn from.

MARTIN: Is the argument here that the reason that Congress has such a toxic atmosphere, at least from what we see on the outside, the reason that

people -- sort of, the bomb throwers, the flamethrowers are rewarded for -- with attention, if not productivity, is that it serves somebody's

interests. If that's the case, what do you do about that?

KILMER: Well, that's a lot of the focus that our committee had on trying to foster more civility and collaboration. We had the author Amanda Ripley

testify in front of our committee, and she introduced the concept of conflict entrepreneurs, people who profit off of creating conflict.

Congress is filled with those folks who, you know, whether it be as a means of raising money or as a means of being invited on cable news or as a means

of getting social media followership. There is a common denominator which is if you say a bunch of crazy stuff, you can do all three of those things.

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

KILMER: Our committee, kind of, worked under a presumption that if you want things to work differently in Congress, you need to do things

differently in Congress. Which is why, you know, the work we did around, you know, seating arrangement, that was not cosmetic. That was with an eye

towards rather than having partisan bickering back and forth that we actually focused on trying to solve problems.

But never been part of a successful project that on the front end, it didn't say, OK. So, what do we want to get done? And so, one of the things

that we did in our committee was having bipartisan planning retreat where Democrats and Republicans sat at the table and said, so, what are our

goals? And you know, we may not agree on everything but let's at least try to lay out some of the problem statements and some of the solutions that we

want to pursue.

For -- to my knowledge, that's the only place in Congress where that happens in a bipartisan way. And so, we are trying to both model good

behavior and change up some of the incentives within the institutions so that there can be more focus on progress and less some partisan bickering.

MARTIN: You both talk about the incentives for some of your colleagues to, you know, it doesn't matter if they ever passed a bill with their name on

it. They're getting what they want which is to be on TV, I guess, or on social media. They have a lot of followers or they don't particularly care

about legislating. And I just -- I'm curious, do the incentives overall to get to Congress and how you stay in Congress, can those be -- are they kind

of contributing to this hyperpartisanship and can they be overcome? Do you think with rules in the body, do you think that?

TIMMONS: So, we have a number of hearings on this issue. And the -- you can look gerrymandering, you can look at the way primaries are structured,

you can look at number of things. And the question is, how can Congress try to heal itself and still address the other issues.

So, that's part of it. But I really think that technology is the bigger challenge. We are currently grappling with the degree of interconnectedness

that our cell phone brings to this. You know, we have people on social media that are just saying things that they would never say. I mean, my

grandfather called it the desk drawer rule. He would write a letter if he was mad and he put it in the desk for, and he said he threw away 99 out of

100 of the letters he put in his desk drawer. He couldn't -- he had to wait to the next day to send them.

They ought to make that button on Twitter, the next day tweet. They're not going to do that. But I -- we just don't know how to manage -- we don't

know how to manage information. We don't -- we've lost -- I mean, journalism had suffered from it because of the lack of readership and the

transition to digital, which are all of these different challenges. But I do think technology is a part of it and we're trying to work through it.

MARTIN: I guess what I'm hearing you say, Mr. Timmons, is that despite the magnitude of these challenges, you feel hopeful. Now, I could site polling

that just shows you the sense of despair that some people have about the direction of our society. So, I guess the question would be, what's giving

you hope that this can be -- these kinds of massive shifts can be overcome.

TIMMONS: I mean, my disillusion with Congress was overcome by our commitment. We had 12 people that work together to build relationships that

engaged -- I always talk about evidence-based policymaking in a collaborative manner from a position of mutual respect. That's what we're

supposed to be doing. And we showed the American people that Republicans and Democrats in Congress can do that.


And I made a number of friends along the way. And I'm looking forward to using the lessons that I learned from my good friend and former chairman

Derek Kilmer. And I'm going to continue to work hard to get results for the people I represent and for the American people.

MARTIN: Is it possible that the work of your committee -- the work of your committee was in part made possible because you were dealing with processes

and not beliefs? Because some of the issues that divide us as a country really aren't based on and evidence, they're based on beliefs. The work of

your committee was not to decide what books my kid could read, what medical interventions I might be able to do for my body or a child's -- you see my


So, some of the things that really tear us apart as a country right now are based on beliefs, not processes. And I just wonder if you can apply the

work of adjusting processes to work that speaks to deeply held beliefs.

KILMER: So, let me answer that in a few ways. One, you know, there were issues that our committee took up that were pretty polarizing. You know,

one of the recommendations we made was to restore the ability of Congress to make investments in projects in a member's district rather than

deferring to executive branch.

People have very strong opinions about that and yet we were able, over the course of a whole lot of time and discussion, to find some common ground on

that issue. What we proposed was a new system that we called community project funding that had transparency built into it. That had

accountability built into it. That measures to ensure that funds were spent efficiently and above board. We even have bridges to know where and that

type of thing.

And, you know, to the credit of appropriators, both in the Democratic and Republican Party, that's been implemented and I think in a very responsible

way. But that wasn't easy to get there. There are strong opinions on that and there were strong opinions on our committee.

Second, to your point, I think there are going to be committees where it's just going to be tough. You know, where ideology will make it very

difficult to do evidence-based policymaking. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons that Congress is sometimes struggled is in too many places,

there has just been a dearth of evidence and attempt at problem solving.

MARTIN: I'm curious about whether the leadership of either party has made any effort to call attention to this work. And if they haven't, what does

that say?

KILMER: I think the good news is that you've seen the leadership on both sides of the aisle, one, support the extension of the committee. Initially

this committee was only supposed to last for a year. It was then extended for another year, and then extended for two more years after that. That's

not just because William and I were slow, it's because there was support for the work that we were doing. That there was -- we were being encouraged

to continue to make progress and to make recommendations to make the institution function better.

You saw with the new Congress a bipartisan agreement and under the new Republican leadership, the creation of a new subcommittee focused on

implementation of these recommendations. So, you've really seen support from both sides of the aisle. In fact, when our committee was slated to

phase out, you saw the freshmen members, the new members of Congress, Democrat and Republicans, send a letter to House leadership saying, hey,

this is important work. Can we keep this going?

And so, thankfully, I think this has been something that's been supported by leadership in both parties. It's been supported by rank-and-file members

from both parties. And I think that's a testament to the fact that we were doing important work and that people want to see institutions function


MARTIN: So, before I let you go, the committee is no longer your -- it's a select committee. It was sunsetted.


MARTIN: And now, you are done. So, how do you keep the momentum going? And how do you keep the friendships going?

TIMMONS: Well, just in regards to how we're going to maintain the relationships. Nikema Williams and I are doing a district exchange. We're

working together on at least a dozen pieces of legislation. Emanuel Cleaver and I are serving on the finance services committee. We worked together on

a number of issues. It's always good to see him. We speak often. Sit together when we're out on the floor.

You know, the relationships that we built will transcend our work on modernization. And I have a feeling that Derek is not going to see the end

of me for a very long time. So, he's stuck with me.

MARTIN: Congressman William Timmons, is a Republican from South Carolina. Congressman Derek Kilmer is a Democrat from Washington. They were the chair

and the vice chair of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Congressman Timmons, Congressman Kilmer, thanks so much for

joining us today.

KILMER: Thank you.

TIMMONS: Thanks for having us.


AMANPOUR: And that is it for now. Tomorrow, we will be at the Munich Security Conference, actually later this week on Friday. Remember, you can

always catch us online and, of course, on our podcast. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.