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At This Hour

Trevor Reed Released from Russia in Prisoner Swap; Audio Reveals McCarthy Worried about GOP-Based Violence; Three-Quarters of U.S. Children and Teens Have COVID-19 Antibodies. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan.

Breaking news and a major breakthrough: the U.S. and Russia announcing a surprise prisoner exchange, trading former Marine Trevor Reed for a convicted Russian trafficker. Reed has in jail for nearly three years after Russia accused him of assaulting a police officer.

His release would be a big deal at any time but it's extraordinary because it's happening amid Russia's bloody war in Ukraine.

President Biden, in his statement, confirming that Reed was on his way home, said that, "The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly."

We also know that Reed's family, they were becoming increasingly worried about his health, saying that he'd been denied proper medical treatment while in prison. CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us.

What are the details you're picking up?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Senior administration officials say this was months in the making. But over the last few days, that's when these intense talks with Russia really took root, that resulted, of course, in this prisoner exchange with Trevor Reed.

We should note that he was detained in Russia in 2019 and, according to the U.S. ambassador to Russia, he was charged for crimes he didn't commit. Right, so it is significant they don't believe he did anything the Russians were charging him with.

Another thing to note with Trevor Reed is he experienced some pretty significant health problems while he was detained in Russia. He had COVID-19 in 2021. He also has had symptoms of tuberculosis and, according to his family, that has been really on their minds. That's been a major concern for them. Listen to what his family said earlier today on CNN about what it has

been like over the last few days and over the last few hours, as they have received this news.


JOEY REED, TREVOR'S FATHER: They have moved him to another prison. They had moved him to a Moscow prison this week. We didn't know that. He's within the same prison that I think Paul Whelan was held in for a long time, Lefortovo prison.

And then they flew him from there to Turkey and then Trevor quickly told us that the American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane and they walked both prisoners across at the same time, like you see in the movies.

PAULA REED, TREVOR'S MOTHER: Mostly, we're just glad he's on his way home. But they also have a doctor on the plane. So he's getting checked out and that was our main concern.


ATWOOD: Now of course, this comes as the Ukraine war rages on. And U.S. officials, really, over the last few months, and Trevor Reed's family, didn't have a whole lot of optimism when it came to U.S.- Russia relations.

But according to senior administration officials, these discreet conversations to secure Trevor Reed's release were limited. They had nothing else to do with other bilateral or multilateral diplomatic matters. And they will not impact the Biden administration's approach to the war in Ukraine.

Listen to what the State Department's spokesperson said about that earlier this morning on CNN.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I want to be very clear about this. In our engagement with the Russians, in order to seek the release of Trevor Reed, there was one issue and one issue discussed. It was the case of Trevor Reed.


ATWOOD: Now we should note this was, of course, a prisoner swap. So there was a Russian who was here in U.S. prison, who was released out of prison. He was charged with convictions to conspire to import cocaine. So that's significant, that the United States is letting him off.

But President Biden in his statement on Trevor Reed's release earlier today noted that, "The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor Reed home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly."

And he went on to talk about the voices of Trevor Reed's parents and how much they have worried about his health, his missed presence. And he said he was delighted to be able to share the good news with them about Trevor's freedom. We know that Trevor Reed is now on his way back here to the United States.

BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you so much for laying it out for us.

Joining me for more is Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and, of course, he's been involved in many negotiations over detained Americans overseas.

Ambassador, you were involved in this investigation. First and foremost, your reaction.


BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, I'm enormously pleased. But the credit should go to the president, who personally was involved in this, and the Reed family.

Yes, the day before the invasion, I was in Moscow, talking to Russian officials about Trevor Reed and Yaroshenko. But credit should go to the administration and to the families.

My organization, we don't work for the government; we work for the families. And this is good news, because what we're seeing here, despite the enormous tension in the relationship, the administration is correct.

It was a humanitarian release that maybe will pave the way for other releases. We have Paul Whelan, another Marine in Russia; we have Brittany Griner, the basketball player. This was done discreetly. It's good news. It's good news around the world because humanitarian issues need to take precedence.

And I want to personally thank Fred Smith of FedEx, who flew us to Russia to help with this and Ara Ariynoa Arenian (ph), who also helped.

But this is credit to the Biden administration, the president himself. What he said, Kate, is difficult decisions. We don't like to do prisoner swaps. It's not U.S. policy. But in this case, because Trevor was a bit sick, his parents were worried he had tuberculosis, the deal is good for us, a convicted drug dealer for an American Marine.

So this is very good news. I'm very happy.

BOLDUAN: And as you mentioned, that you were there just before the war broke out in Ukraine. Trevor's parents actually thanked you in their statement for exactly what you've done.

They said, "We are also grateful Governor Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman for traveling to Moscow in the hours before the Ukraine war broke out in an effort to win Trevor's release."

What did it take?

What do you think, was it his health that became the tipping point?

RICHARDSON: I think the key was the president, the family. The Reeds went to see the president about two weeks ago. And I think the president recognized the humanitarian need to release Trevor.

You know, we can't leave our Americans behind. There are hostages in Iran, in Venezuela, all around the world. And if we stand for them and explore options on the humanitarian side, despite a terrible relationship, it's worth it.

And this is why I think the president deserves this credit. Yes, we had a role; we've been working on this for two years, meeting with the Russian embassy in Washington, talking to the Russians. We had some meetings. I was there one day in Moscow, the day before the invasion.

And thanks to Fred Smith, the great Marine from FedEx, who flew us there, the outlines of the deal started coming then. But the administration got it done and the president got it done.

And it was this prisoner swap. You know, you don't get these Americans released for free. It's all over the place. There's always a price. But for this, it was worth it. An American Marine is home with his family.

BOLDUAN: Yes, on his way home right now. The fact that he was released, though, in the midst of this war, Ambassador, the State Department spokesperson made clear that the engagement that happened here to secure his release does not extend to fostering a dialogue with Ukraine in regard to the war.

Does this mean, though, something in the larger context, do you think, of the unprovoked Russian attack in Ukraine?

RICHARDSON: Well, look. It's separated. It's not the same issue. I agree with the administration spokesman. I mean, there's a lot of tension with Russia. We have our policy.

But the fact that the two countries were able to talk about a prisoner issue that is in the interest of both countries -- and, here, the American ambassador, the consular service, the embassy in Moscow, the State Department, the White House all participated in this.

So it's good news but I don't think U.S. policy's going to change. But the fact that, despite this huge tension and conflict that we're able to negotiate this, is good news for Paul Whelan, another Marine; Brittany Griner, the basketball player.

So we should pursue that. And my foundation is continuing to work. Here's where the private humanitarian effort -- this is my foundation -- can work also, besides the government, to make this happen.


RICHARDSON: But the president should take credit for this, President Biden. He did good and he should continue doing this. BOLDUAN: You call it good news and it is also very good to have you

here to talk about it. Thanks for your efforts and thank you for coming on, Ambassador.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Now let's get to the very latest on the war in Ukraine, Russia claiming that it has been hit, explosions in three separate regions of the country. One of those explosions at an ammunition depot near Belgorod.

If true, these strikes, these attacks would mark a significant escalation but, of course, important to note once again that the Kremlin often lies about attacks to try to justify further aggression in Ukraine. CNN's Scott McLean live in Lviv for us.

What can you tell us?

What are you learning about these explosions in Russia?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Yes, the footprint of this war appears to be widening somewhat. The first explosions were about 10 miles inside the Russian border. That was that weapons depot that you mentioned.

Russian officials confirmed that there was a fire there at that depot, saying there was no casualties. The village the depot was in is very small, doesn't even have a traffic light. So that's pretty easy to believe. It's very sparsely populated.

Not long after that, there was another set of explosions; this time, about 75 miles inside the Russian border. The Russians say whatever was incoming their way was struck down by the air defense system.

But then two hours later, 200 miles inside the Russian border, more explosions were heard there. We don't know exactly what was hit. But this city, Voronezh, is a transport hub, it is a military hub. So it very much potentially may have been some kind of a target.

Now the Ukrainians are not saying explicitly, yes, this was us. But they might as well have.

An adviser to President Zelenskyy wrote about these explosions, saying, "How can this be explained?

"Very simply. If you, the Russians, decide to attack another country en masse, kill everyone there en masse, crush peaceful people en masse with tanks and use warehouses in your regions to provide the killings, then, sooner or later, the debts will have to be paid back," adding also, "karma is a pretty cruel thing." Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, thank you very much for that.

Also developing this morning, Russia is dramatically escalating its response to sanctions imposed by the West. The Russian gas giant Gazprom has cut off supplies of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. CNN's Clare Sebastian joining us live from London.

As you've been tracking this, Clare, this is a significant move.

How are Poland and Bulgaria responding right now?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Both are saying they can manage the situation. They have been getting ready for this and can find alternative suppliers. The rhetoric stepping up though. Poland described this as a direct attack on their country.

We're hearing as well from the E.U. Commission president, who said that this was a provocation. She calls it blackmail and she said Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas as well from other European countries, from their neighbors.

That, she said, should be read by Russia as a sign of European unity and European solidarity.

She said in her statement, "The Kremlin once again failed in its attempt to sow division between Europeans."

She said, "The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe will come to an end."

That rhetoric, a sign that things just got really real for Europe. This is something that Russia has been threatening for a while, it's clear they are now doubling down on their demand for European countries to pay for gas in rubles.

That is something many of them said they will not do. The E.U. said that could violate sanctions. So the question now is who could be next. This is a warning to Europe. We're getting close to when they have to start preparing for winter. So they need to start getting ready for potential disruptions.

BOLDUAN: It's a great point. Who could be next and who will be next, I think, is exactly where the focus is now. Good to see you, Clare. Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, new audio offering a new window into what House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy really feared when it came to his own Republican colleagues after January 6th. And McCarthy's latest explanation is next.





BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, more evidence that Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was pretty clear-eyed about threats coming from within his own party after the Capitol insurrection. In new audio obtained by "The New York Times," McCarthy warned in a

call with other top Republicans that he feared several far-right members could incite more violence. CNN's Ryan Nobles is live on Capitol Hill following these details.

And Ryan, McCarthy's pushing back against this?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly is, Kate. He's trying to put it into context, trying to explain away the hefty criticism that he was leveling against members of his own party behind closed doors and trying to deconflict that from his public statements, certainly in the days after January 6th.

But in that extensive period of time after the insurrection. But it is pretty hard for him to parse his words all that much, given that they were recorded and he was very specific in his criticism at that time. Take a listen to just a sample of what McCarthy said.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, he's putting the people in jeopardy. And he doesn't need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol. You know. And these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.


NOBLES: And so then the question now becomes, Kate, how does this impact McCarthy's standing within the Republican conference?

It's always been a little tenuous, because he has received a great deal of criticism from the far-right wing of the party, which is closely aligned with the former president, Donald Trump.


NOBLES: The Republicans had a caucus meeting this morning where this was discussed a little bit. There was a little bit of tension, we're told, between Steve Scalise, the deputy whip, who's also heard on some of these tapes, and Matt Gaetz, who is, of course, the firebrand Republican member from Florida, who's closely aligned with president Trump.

Gaetz publicly attacked McCarthy on Twitter last night and was very vocal about his concerns about McCarthy's leadership. But, in general, Kate, it appears Republicans are still closing ranks around their leader.

They're offering up excuses for why he was saying what he was saying at that time. And they're trying to present a united front. Of course, Republicans hoping to take back the House in November and McCarthy would hope to be Speaker if that were to take place. All of this threatens that eventuality.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Ryan, thank you. Really appreciate it. Turning to the pandemic, China imposing lockdown on a city of 1

million people after one person tested positive for COVID. It's happening about 30 miles from Beijing and residents there are not allowed out of their homes except to go for testing.

Local officials say the scheduled lockdown will last for three days but that can very quickly be extended. At least 27 cities in China are now under full or partial lockdown, including Shanghai, the country's financial hub.

In the meantime, here in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci making a big statement that the United States is no longer in the COVID pandemic phase. Listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF COVID-19 MEDICAL ADVISER: We are certainly, right now, in this country, out of the pandemic phase; namely, we don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.


BOLDUAN: "A low level right now."

Dr. Fauci though also cautioning that the situation in the United States does not extend necessarily to the rest of the world. He said that there is no doubt that the pandemic, the pandemic phase, is still ongoing globally.

Joining me right now is CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Good to see you again.

What do you think of how Dr. Fauci is describing the current phase of COVID in the U.S.?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's a little hard to understand. You know, right now, cases in the United States are rising. And one of the features of reaching an endemic stage is you have a stable level of disease in a population. And it's clearly not stable.

Over the last two weeks, cases have risen in the United States over 60 percent. As for hospitalizations, currently, there are 15,000 people hospitalized in the United States with COVID-19. And that number has risen almost 2,000 people over the last couple of weeks.

So hospitalizations are now rising. They're up 6 percent. And because hospitalizations are rising, we will soon see deaths rising. We are still, even though we're much lower than we had been just a few months ago, still about 400 people are dying per day in the United States.

And some time between now and Memorial Day, we will see our 1 millionth person dying. So I think we are still very much, with all due respect to Dr. Fauci, I think we are still very much in a pandemic in this country.

BOLDUAN: That is interesting, especially in light of some new data coming out from the CDC. The CDC putting out that, from their studying of all of the numbers coming in, 75 percent of U.S. children, people under the age of 18, 75 percent had antibodies to COVID by February of 2022. That is a lot.

I mean, what does that mean to you?

REINER: Well, it means we both failed to protect our kids and it's a reminder that the biggest tranche of vulnerable unvaccinated people in this country are children under the age of 5, for whom the vaccine is still not available.

This virus has infected an enormous number of children. Thousands of kids have been hospitalized in this country and while, thankfully, the vast majority, almost all of these children will survive, we still don't know what the long-term effects are in terms of long COVID.

This is a new disease and it still should be our goal to prevent children from becoming infected.

BOLDUAN: And that's an interesting sliver of this. On one side of it, you see that this may be some good news because, if there's such a vast majority of kids under the age of 18 are unvaccinated but, still, you have 75 percent of them with antibodies.

But what you say is important, which is, we don't know the long tail of this for what this means for all children.


BOLDUAN: I also mentioned, Dr. Reiner, the city in China where a million people are now under lockdown after just one positive case in the city. And that follows the brutal lockdowns that we've been watching play out in Shanghai and beyond in China.

This comes back to China being so committed to its zero COVID strategy.

What does this say to you about that zero COVID strategy and where this goes from here?

REINER: Well, it can't work in China. The problem in China is that they have vaccinated an enormous number of people. Almost 87 percent of their population has received at least one shot, an amazing feat in a country of over 1 billion people.

The problem is this Sinovac, an adenovirus-based vaccine, is not really very effective against Omicron. And if you look at the efficacy data for preventing death, a recent study out of Hong Kong showed it was about 72 shots or about 77 percent effective in preventing death.

The problem is the most vulnerable people in China, the elderly, the people over the age of 80, less than 50 percent of the elderly in China have received two doses of Sinovac. So they vaccinated the population with a vaccine that's not very effective against the predominant virus circulating.

There's been some suggestion that China should start a massive campaign to use an mRNA vaccine, a much more effective vaccine against Omicron but they are resistant to doing that.

So they're trying to basically lock everyone down in the hopes of preventing the spread of this virus. What they should be doing is revaccinating the country with a more effective vaccine.

BOLDUAN: I mean, the steps they're taking are pretty remarkable to see playing out now this far in to the pandemic. Leaning on your resume, we are also learning more about Vice President Kamala Harris, tested positive for COVID yesterday.

She's fully vaccinated and double boosted and we've been told today she's taking Pfizer's anti-viral COVID pill.

What do you think of the treatment?

And what all is going on around the V.P. right now with this?

REINER: Yes, that really makes no sense to me. So we were told yesterday that the vice president was asymptomatic, that she tested positive on a routine test. The president and vice president are apparently tested twice a week.

And that she tested positive in one of these routine tests but had no symptoms.

So Paxlovid is not really a drug to be given to someone without symptoms and in fact the emergency use authorization for the drug from the FDA really limited this medication to people who were at high risk of developing a severe -- moderate to high risk of developing severe complications from an infection.

So certainly, the vice president is otherwise a healthy person; hard to understand why she would be at high risk and, also, hard to understand why one would administer Paxlovid to an asymptomatic person.

I understand the unusual requirements for the vice president but it doesn't appear that either we know the whole story or that the drug is being used as authorized by the FDA.

BOLDUAN: That is interesting. Dr. Reiner, thanks for coming in.

REINER: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, jury selection starting all over again in the sentencing trial -- in the sentencing phase of the confessed killer in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, delaying justice for so many families of the victims. I'm going to speak to a father of one of the students killed in that attack -- next.