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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty To Drug Charges In Russia; Pat Cipollone To Testify In Transcribed Interview; Soon: Biden To Award Presidential Medal Of Freedom To 17 Americans. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired July 07, 2022 - 11:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Developing right now. WNBA star Brittney Griner pleading guilty to drug charges in a Russian courtroom. A Reuters journalist who witnessed the proceedings reports that Griner said "I'd like to plead guilty, Your Honor, but there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law." CNN's Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department for us with more. And, Kylie, Griner here saying that she was in a rush to pack and that she didn't intend to break Russian law.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We're learning today that Brittney Griner has pled guilty to these drug charges. She was arrested, we should remind folks, in February of this year in Russia. According to Russian authorities, she was carrying cannabis oil for vape pens, less than a gram of that cannabis oil according to the Russians. That is why she's facing these drug charges.

She has pled guilty today. But in addition to saying that she had no intention of carrying drugs with her, as you were saying, Boris, according to Russian state media who was there at this trial today, she also said that it was the result of her packing up in a hurry, essentially that she didn't mean to have these substances with her at the time.

Now, it's significant that she's pleading guilty because a senior U.S. official tells me that before any potential prisoner swap, it is expected that she would have to admit guilt and face sentencing. Now, we still don't have any sentences for Brittney Griner. We do know that this charge is punishable with up to 10 years in prison. But we're hearing from her lawyer just now saying that they are hoping for leniency from the Russian judicial system because she pled guilty today. So that is where we are at.

Next week, a week from today, there is a third hearing as part of this ongoing trial and we'll watch for that, but today at this hearing a senior US diplomat was present. She was able to give Brittney Griner a letter from President Biden. We know that Biden wrote her that letter after Brittney Griner wrote President Biden a letter just this week on July 4, really making a persona pleat to him to try and do everything that he can to get her out because she is fearful that she will be stuck in Russia for forever. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Kylie Atwood at the State Department. Thank you so much. We have a special guest this morning. Joining us now is Vanessa Nygaard, the head coach for the Phoenix Mercury, the team that Brittney Griner plays for.


SANCHEZ: Coach, we appreciate you being with us. What is your reaction to Brittney pleading guilty in court today?

VANESSA NYGAARD, HEAD COACH, PHOENIX MERCURY: Yes. You know, I can't really comment on legal matters or strategy. What I do know is that 99 percent of Russian trials end up with a guilty verdict, so we need just our government to continue doing what they're doing and exhaust every measure possible to help bring BG home.

SANCHEZ: Yet, earlier this week, you said "if it was LeBron, he'd be home," essentially calling out what you see as a double standard in the United States. Is the White House doing enough to get Brittney Griner home?

NYGAARD: We've had a great response recently with BG's letter to President Biden and Biden responding with a call to BG's wife, Cherelle. We think progress is being made on that front. You know the coverage of women's sports and the coverage of women athletes is really the concern here. I mean, the question is, would Tom Brady be home?

But Tom Brady wouldn't be there, right, because he doesn't have to go to a foreign country to supplement his income from the WNBA. And so we want to keep focused on bringing BG home. But there is an undercurrent here, the lack of coverage and value of women's sports.

SANCHEZ: I do want to ask you about that. But first, I want to play some sound from this emotional rally last night. Brittney's wife, Cherelle, as you noted, talking about her humanity being stripped from her. Listen to this.


CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: I can't rest as her humanity is being stripped from her. I can't rest as her safety is in question. I honestly can't rest until she's home. I'm frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family, and to her friends. I'm frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice.


SANCHEZ: Cherelle is understandably emotional there. Coach, what are your concerns for Brittney's safety?

NYGAARD: Well, the rally yesterday was really, really wonderful. We had a lot of great speakers and a lot of emotion. And you heard it there. And we heard it in BG's letter. In her letter, she said she was scared. This is, you know, not just a regular American in another country, but this is a person who's represented our country well. She's also a gay woman. She's also a black woman in Russia. And we need to pay attention to that and help to bring her home.

There was a lot of discussion of political pawns but we know that there are a lot of Americans wrongfully imprisoned around the world. We're concerned for big with her own words, she said she's scared. She's somebody who has worn them in white and blue in the Olympics and so we know that she's of value to them, and we just want to get her home.

SANCHEZ: Coach, I want to dig into something that you alluded to earlier because at that rally last night, Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton spoke out and he said this. "In order to earn a salary commensurate with her skill set, she had to go to a dangerous place in a dangerous country during a time of incredible tension between the United States and Russia. We have to talk to her leaders in the NBA because we need to make sure we pay our WNBA players enough of a salary that they don't have to get a side gig in a dangerous place. That's not right or fair." What needs to change, Coach Nygaard?

NYGAARD: Well, I believe it's, you know, corporate sponsorship, it's the broadcasting rights, it's -- we've seen recently, we had the change-makers where there was a big infusion of financial support for the WNBA. We need to have that continue. Our women aren't just going and playing in Russia, they're playing in China, they're playing in Israel, they're playing in Turkey, and we definitely want them to be here and to be celebrated and supported playing the game they love in the country that invented it. And I know that we have the capability of that.

And I think it's putting our resources behind, the sponsorship behind, and putting more money into the athletes. And I think that comes from the great wealth of corporate America, saying women's sports are valuable. We're going to sponsor them. We're going to sponsor their athletes and the things they're into. With social media, there's a lot of opportunity that -- for that for our athletes, and we just need to continue to have that money infused into our league.

SANCHEZ: Coach Vanessa Nygaard, we appreciate your perspective and you taking the time to chat with us. Thank you so much.

NYGAARD: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Coming up, Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone is going to testify tomorrow before the January 6 committee. What is he going to tell insurrection investigators and how will it unfold in Tuesday's committee hearing? We'll be right back.



SANCHEZ: So tomorrow, the January 6 committee is going to speak to President Trump's former White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone. Remember, he witnessed and fought Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. CNN's Sara Murray is live in Washington with more of this upcoming testimony. Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Boris. Well, obviously, this is going to be a big get for the January 6 committee, they called publicly for him to testify.


MURRAY: They're not getting exactly what they want, which is him testifying in a public hearing, but he will sit for a videotaped and transcribed interview. And this is a big deal because Pat Cipollone was there for so much. You know, when Donald Trump was in the White House and he was trying to talk about efforts to cease voting machines, to press states to overturn their election result -- election results when he was, you know, talking about essentially trying to put forward a coup at the Justice Department to put someone in place as an acting Attorney General who would go along with this scheme, Pat Cipollone was there. He saw that.

Now there are going to be, of course, limits to what he can testify to. There are still privilege issues. But this is someone who was around for a lot. And there's all of that, plus what Pat Cipollone saw on January the sixth. You know, we heard from previous witnesses, Jared Kushner, for instance, that Pat Cipollone and others were considering resigning in the run-up. We also heard from Cassidy Hutchinson, at one point Pat Cipollone said that if the president went to the Capitol, they could be charged with every crime imaginable, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Jared Kushner describing those threats of resignation is whining from the White House Counsel's Office.


SANCHEZ: Sara Murray, thank you so much for your reporting.

MURRAY: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, she rolled up her sleeves to get the first COVID vaccine in the United States and now she's about to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Nurse Sandra Lindsay joins us live from the White House in just a few minutes.



SANCHEZ: In just a few hours, President Biden is set to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor to 17 Americans, including Sandra Lindsay, remember, she's the New York nurse who was the first person in the United States to get a COVID vaccine outside of a clinical trial. Sandra joins us live this morning from the White House. Sandra, in just a few hours, you're going to be in the East Room of the White House. The president is going to bestow you with this incredible honor. How does that feel?

SANDRA LINDSAY, NURSE WHO WAS FIRST AMERICAN TO GET COVID-19 VACCINE: Good morning, Boris. Thanks for having me. It feels -- it's such an honor. I'm excited. I'm honored to share this Presidential Medal of Freedom with my family and friends, but also my Northwell Health family, nurses, and healthcare workers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm so excited.

SANCHEZ: That's very gracious of you. I know that when the White House first reached out to you, you miss their phone call. What did you think when you first got the news?

LINDSAY: At first, I thought it was a prank call, like, why would the President of the United States be calling me, Sandra Lindsay? But then I checked my e-mail and saw that. You know, the White House had followed up with an e-mail and so I knew it was real. But you know, thank God, I didn't miss my place in the line.

SANCHEZ: Yes. You were thinking who is this person that's messing with me right now? We all remember the moment you got your first shot. We watched it live on TV. It's a moment for the history books. Looking back on it now, what was that like for you?

LINDSAY: You know, I said back then that I felt like healing was coming. I was very hopeful in that moment and I'm still very hopeful. I know that we still have some ways to go with the pandemic but we've made significant strides. And I'm just grateful that I have this platform, that I can also shed light on other needs of healthcare workers. When the nation needed healing, the health care workers stepped up, we were committed. And now we need healing in terms of mental health resources, and also addressing other factors that relate to mental health, such as student loan debt, health equity, and women's rights.

SANCHEZ: Such an incredible sacrifice from the nation's health care workers in such a difficult time. Notably, you told the New York Times when you first got the vaccine, that your goal wasn't to be the first but rather to inspire people who look like me who are skeptical in general talking about vaccines. And notably, you said, there's still a long way to go in eradicating COVID-19 or at least getting better at dealing with it. And if you look at the rates of vaccination by race or ethnicity, black people still are relatively low compared to others, looking at Asian Americans, white Americans, what's your message to folks that might still be hesitant to get the vaccine?

LINDSAY: I encourage folks to -- my message is to continue to do your research. Reach out to people you trust. I'm still here. It's been almost three years and I continue to advocate. So if you're not protected yet, please go out and get yourself protected. COVID-19 is not entirely gone yet so you are still at risk. And if you have gotten your two shots, go ahead and get your boosters.

SANCHEZ: And, Sandra, you are going to be alongside some incredible company today. Simone Biles is getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Denzel Washington is going to be there, Gabby Giffords, a congresswoman from Arizona, who are you most excited to meet?

LINDSAY: I would like to meet all the honorees. All of them have done incredible work to contribute to the progress of our nation. But I'm a huge Denzel Washington fan and I hope to meet him and you know, perhaps get a selfie, you never know.

SANCHEZ: You are joining some very historic company too, names like Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, even Mr. Rogers got a Presidential Medal of Freedom, it is an elite company, has it hit you yet that you are going to be in history books?


LINDSAY: I still can't wrap my head around it. It's really surreal. I have to keep pinching myself to see if this is real. But listen, if you're going to be in any company, this is great company. This is the one you want to be in, as a distinguished group of honorees. So I'll be good.

SANCHEZ: Sandra Lindsay, we are so happy for you. Congratulations and thank you so much for your work too in spreading the word about vaccines and helping take care of people at a very difficult time.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Again, congratulations Sandra Lindsay from the White House. Don't go anywhere. CNN is coming back after a quick break with INSIDE POLITICS, John King in the chair today. Again after a quick break. Thanks for joining us.