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At This Hour

Russian Court Denies Griner's Appeal; New U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Seeks Stability; Pennsylvania Senate Debate Tonight; Florida Gubernatorial Debate Recap. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, basketball star Brittney Griner getting bad news. The White House is now speaking out.

Plus big debates in a number of key races this midterm election. Why all eyes are on Pennsylvania, especially tonight.

And Adidas cuts ties just now with Kanye West over his anti-Semitic rants.

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Brittney Griner was again before a Russian court today and received no mercy. The court upholding Griner's nine year prison sentence, rejecting the NBA star's plea for leniency. She was convicted in August after Russian authorities say that they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow airport.

There was swift reaction from the White House after the appeal that didn't go anywhere, slamming the court proceeding as a quote, "sham," vowing the Biden administration is doing everything it can to bring her home. Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department for us.

What are you hearing about this now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The conviction has opinion upheld, meaning that she is still found guilty of smuggling drugs into Russia. This trial essentially brings the end of the judicial process for Brittney Griner in Russia.

As you were saying, she originally received a nine-year prison sentence. That has been slightly shaved off, perhaps by a few months. But she is still receiving an incredibly long amount of time behind bars in Russia. And she did speak during this trial today but from her Russian jail cell. Listen to what she said.


BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR: I've been here almost eight months. And people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.

I want to also apologize for this mistake. I said in my first (INAUDIBLE) that, yes, I plead guilty. I did not intend to do this but I understand the charges brought against me. And I just hope that is taken also into account, too, as well, that I did plead guilty.


ATWOOD: Now obviously that Russian court didn't take it very seriously, that she did say that she was guilty of essentially accidentally bringing those drugs into Russia because they upheld that long sentence.

The top State Department diplomat in Moscow calling it excessive sentence and also saying it is tragic that Brittney Griner had to spend last week, her birthday, behind bars.

And we also heard from the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. And what he said is that the Biden administration is working through every means available to them to try and secure a way to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American wrongfully detained in Russia, out.

And, of course, now that these proceedings are over, the onus is really on the Biden administration to continue trying to do that. They say Russia thus far has not engaged productively in those efforts.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Appreciate the update.

Joining me for more is Christine Brennan, sports columnist at "USA Today" and Susan Glasser, a staff writer with "The New Yorker."

Christine, Griner also spoke to the court about how traumatic the experience has been for her and her mental health, when she spoke as we heard from Kylie.

As someone who has covered Griner and her career and everything that happened here, what do you make of her plea to the court and where this has ended up again?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Kate, this is was, of course, totally expected and totally outrageous. Consider this: 6'9" Brittney Griner just turned 32 years old, spent it in a tiny cell outside of Moscow.

She's represented the United States not once but twice at the Olympic Games, winning gold medals in 2016 and 2021 at the Olympics. She's an American hero. And where she is now, it is just awful.

It is awful for less than a gram of hashish that she -- hash oil, as she said. I think the only thing buoying her spirits is the support she's given. NBA's Steph Curry talking about her. And this now moves to negotiations next. But what a horrible turn of events for a star from the United States,

a star who has represented our country and, Kate, this is the 250th day.


BRENNAN: She was arrested February 17th and it is 250 days later today and she, of course, is still dealing with this incredible ordeal.

BOLDUAN: Susan, Jake Sullivan put out a statement calling for her immediate release. Sullivan also said this.

"The president has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home."

Do you see that as a signal in the way forward?

Or what extraordinary lengths and tough decisions could be on the table at this point?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I was struck by the very sort of frustrated and, you know, sort of angry, even, tone in that statement.

It reflects the fact that the Biden administration has gone quite far in its effort to start negotiations with the Putin government over Griner and others, including, over the summer, releasing information that they have proposed a significant swap of a major convicted Russian arms dealer.

Again, what is amazing is that you're not hearing anything that suggests serious progress. To me, these statements being released publicly suggest that they aren't able to make real headway with Russia.

No surprise: Brittney Griner is a hostage. She's been a hostage to the Putin government from the very beginning. Unfortunately, she's a valuable hostage. The more publicity and attention she gets, the more that it increases her value to Vladimir Putin.

And 250 days is also the amount of time that the whole country of Ukraine has been held hostage to a brutal war of extinction and attacks on civilians. Think about the millions people impacted by this. Brittney Griner is a very visible public example of the lengths to which the outlaw Putin government will go.

BOLDUAN: Well, said, Susan. And also as we were just talking about, it is not just Griner that the administration is trying to get out of Russia, of course. There is also the former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan.

Former governor Bill Richardson, who we all know has done a ton of work in getting American hostages home, he told Jake Tapper a couple of weeks ago he believes they could be freed by the end of the year.

And he said it is never smart to be making these type of predictions.

What would have to be happening now?

Would anything have to be happening now for that to be possible?

Because I also noted how frustrated the statement from the administration seemed today.

GLASSER: Yes, I did think it was a tone that suggested that it is not imminent certainly. But it is true that Russians are very bureaucratic. And going through the full appeals process, the legal process, so that it is very clear that all of the paperwork is in order.

So this is checking a box, if you will, this extraordinarily long sentence and obviously nine years for this kind of offense, even in Russia, is an extraordinary sentence. It may be the prerequisite to any eventual deal that is reached. So certainly it is not necessarily a bad thing to exhaust and to go through the full legal process in Russia, such as it is.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Susan, it is good to see you.

Christine, thank you as always. I appreciate it.

And so Britain has a new leader. Rishi Sunak is now the U.K. prime minister and vowing economic stability, at the heart of his agenda. He met with King Charles this morning and now he needs to immediately assemble his cabinet and get to work. CNN's Scott McLean is tracking this for us from London.

So the new prime minister's first public speech happened this morning.

What did he have to say?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Well, President Biden has already managed to badly mispronounce Rishi Sunak's name but it is a name he will need to be familiar with over the next two years.

He is the youngest prime minister in British history, in the last 200 years at least, and also the very first British prime minister who is not white. And yet neither of those milestones were mentioned in Rishi Sunak's very first speech as Britain prime minister.

And perhaps that's because there is so much on his plate and so much for him to do. This country needs to get inflation under control. This country has a massive hole in its budget right now.

We've learned this morning that Rishi Sunak intends to keep on the chancellor, the finance minister who had been on track to take back many of the disastrous tax cuts that Liz Truss had previously announced.

He also has a huge task in uniting his fractured party between the Boris Johnson camps and Liz Truss loyalists and of course, his own moderate wing of the party. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RISHI SUNAK, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I fully appreciate how hard things are.


SUNAK: And I understand, too, that I have work to do to restore trust after all that has happened. All I can say is that I'm not daunted.


MCLEAN: Not daunted but he will have some big decisions to make on defense spending, on health care spending and also what to do about taxes.

Of course, Liz Truss, her first order of business was lowering them for the corporations and also some of the wealthiest people in this country. Those have been reversed.

But the question is will Rishi Sunak go even further and perhaps even raise taxes? Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it.

So candidates in two of the most heated midterm races are facing off in debates tonight, debates that could be their last chance to have a very big impact with voters. That is next.





BOLDUAN: With two weeks until the midterm elections, candidates in two of the most high-profile races are preparing to take the stage tonight, what could be the most consequential debates of the cycle.

In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz meet for their only debate. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul will be against her Republican challenger Lee Zeldin. Jessica Dean is live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the site of that big debate tonight.

Jessica, what do you think is at stake there?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a lot, Kate. This is one of the most consequential, if not the most consequential races, in the country because it is very likely that, whoever wins here, that will determine who controls the U.S. Senate.

This is an open seat here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Republicans hoping to hold onto it. Democrats certainly hoping to flip it. And what we have here is quite a dynamic race on our hands in the

sense there are a lot of issues at play. We have new polling at CNN, showing where we think the current state of play is, showing Fetterman with a slight lead at 51 percent to Oz's 45 percent.

And then you take a look at the issues that people care most about and if you look at top there, it is very easy to see, by the numbers, it is the economy in a very big way, followed by abortion. But you see the big gap in numbers there.

And so tonight we expect them to talk about these issues. But just kind of laying out the landscape for you, you have the Democratic nominee, John Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered just days before the May primary. He still has some auditory processing issues.

So that means that he's been using closed captioning to communicate with people in the sense that he'll read what people are saying and then he can respond to it. His doctors saying that he is able to -- he has no restrictions.

But we are going to see that at play tonight. Oz has been on TV for years and years. So it is interesting to see how this plays out. It is just the two of them. There is no audience. The moderators for the first and only debate for the campaign.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Let's talk about the big showdown in New York between Democrat governor Kathy Hochul and her Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin. Athena Jones is tracking this for us.

What is at heart of this debate tonight?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can bet crime and public safety are going to be the main issue. I expect Congress man Zeldin to hit the governor hard on this early and often.

This is something that he's been running on, above all else, for several months now. Lee Zeldin himself was attacked at a campaign event in July and earlier this month there was a drive-by shooting outside of his house.

His family wasn't impacted but he and his family was shaken up. Listen to what he said at a subway, he's gone to subways and several bodegas where incidents have taken place. Listen to what he said last week.


LEE ZELDIN (R-NY), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We need to ensure that some of the pro criminal laws are getting passed are all going to be rolled back. There is a crime emergency in New York state.

I have called on the governor to declare a crime emergency in New York. I have pledged that, on day one, I will declare a crime emergency. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And this focus on crime, you will remember we've been talking about concerns about crime and public safety for a long time now here in New York. It dominated the New York City mayor's race.

So this is still something people are talking about and voters rank crime as the most urgent issue. Several -- 28 percent of voters rank it as the most urgent issue. So we know that Zeldin is speaking to them.

Now on Governor Hochul, she's likely to argue she's been working on a crime fighting problem with the mayor of New York and state resources from the very beginning. She's tried to say this is a continuation of a strategy.

Even the strategy announced over the weekend to increase the number of police officers on subways or police officer hours on subways. She said it is a continuation of a strategy.

So she's going to be prepared to push back. But we'll have to wait and see what happens in this, their only scheduled debate before Election Day.

BOLDUAN: It is so interesting. Good to see you. Thank you so much.

And now let's go to Florida, because Republican governor Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist, they took the stage last night, making clear how little they think of each other on pretty much every topic and straight out of the gate. Steve Contorno is live in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What is the big takeaway from that debate?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These two candidates really don't like each other and it showed last night. They covered a whole bunch of issues but what really stood out is just what they think about each other.

Charlie Crist talked a lot about how DeSantis is a bully, someone using culture wars to push his own political ambitions ahead of the state of Florida.


CONTORNO: Meanwhile Charlie Crist called -- or Ron DeSantis called Charlie Crist a chameleon, someone who has flipped parties and been in lockstep with Biden on the economy.

And Charlie Crist trying to get Ron DeSantis to commit to staying in office for four years if he's re-elected instead of running for president. DeSantis wouldn't bite. Take a look.


CHARLIE CRIST (R-FL), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I have a question to you. You're running for governor.

Why don't you look in the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them if you're re-elected you will serve a full four year term for governor, yes or no?

Yes or no, Ron?

Will you serve a full four year term?

It is not a tough question. It is a fair question.

He won't tell you.


CONTORNO: So that was the kind of viral moment that Charlie Crist was looking to create last night to galvanize support for the final weeks of the race and he's going to need it because, if you if look at polling, it is limited but the most recent poll shows Ron DeSantis up by eight points. That was taken in September.

That was even before the hurricane and before DeSantis unleashed an onslaught of spending in this race. So we don't know how it is changed since then. But here is another problem that Charlie Crist has: 2 million people have already voted in this state. About 1.2 million people voted by mail.

And another 600,000 people have voted early yesterday on the first day of early voting. So a quarter of the state has already voted.

How is he going to change people's hearts and minds?

We'll see for the next two weeks.

BOLDUAN: Add Florida to the list of states where it is Election Day from here until Election Day. It is good to see you, Steve. Thank you.

Joining me for more is Gloria Borger.

Let's start with the big debate tonight, one of the most consequential debates, the Pennsylvania Senate debate between Fetterman and Oz.

What do you think each candidate needs to do with the limited amount of time they have left?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Fetterman needs to show that he's up to the job health wise. There will be big monitors and you may be able to see his auditory processing as there is transcriptions on these monitors.

He has to prove, let's get it out of the way. And he uses it to humanize himself because he says everybody has gone through health issues in their family or with themselves and I'm working through this because I had a stroke in May.

And, you know, I think for Oz, he has to appear more relatable to the voters. He has to show that he's not going to be mean to Fetterman, which they've accused him of being about the stroke over the last months.

And then I think, it is going to take a turn right to the issues. I mean, these people could not be more different. You've seen that Oz has tried to back away from the MAGA label. Fetterman has to prove he's not too liberal for the state of Pennsylvania.

So I think, once they get over all of the other issues about Fetterman's health, et cetera, they'll move right to where is state of Pennsylvania today and what is the state needing.

BOLDUAN: Critical questions that voters need to advance in this debate. It is a great moment to have a debate between these two candidates. And the debate tonight in New York, the governor's race there is closer than a lot of people may have predicted at beginning.

And one of the big issues, of course, that Athena was laying out is a big issue across the country, concerns over crime.

What do you see here, Gloria?

BORGER: This has really popped up. Remember, the Democrats were talking about after the Dobbs decision and the Supreme Court it was about abortion and they wanted to highlight abortion.

I think Hochul has been doing that. But you've had these crime issues pop up everywhere, particularly in New York state, and suddenly people are concerned as Athena was pointing out about their public safety.

In New York the registration is Democratic 2-1. So they're not too -- they weren't too concerned. But suddenly now Hochul understands that Zeldin is making some headway on the crime issue. They're talking about more police in the subways.

And suddenly that is become a very high-ranking issue. And I think that the Democrats were sort of taken aback by this. And she's playing defense more than anybody thought she would.

BOLDUAN: What did you think about that moment in Florida on the debate stage between Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist, on if DeSantis is going to run or not? Would he stay for his full four years as governor? What do you think voters get out of something like that?

BORGER: Well, it is sort of interesting to me because the candidates were not supposed to ask each other questions.


BORGER: So the question that I have is whether DeSantis was sort of standing there because he didn't want to answer a question by Crist, because that was the rules of the debate, which I believe that the moderator pointed out afterwards.

But he did look a bit flummoxed to the public. And it is because he doesn't want to answer that question. Now the question that I have is, if you're a DeSantis supporter, you're going to say, yes, he's not going to stay in the state because I want him to be president.

So if you're already supporting DeSantis, it wouldn't, I don't think it would hurt him and he's way ahead. But Crist is down in the polls and it was clear from watching this debate that he had -- he felt he had absolutely nothing to lose.

He was on the attack the entire time and these two candidates really could not be further apart on every single issue. The choice is clear.

BOLDUAN: And when you're down in the polls, who cares about debate rules?

That is what I clearly saw on that debate stage last night. It is great to see you. Gloria, thank you.

BORGER: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Adidas splitting from Kanye West over his offensive anti- Semitic rants, a move the Anti-Defamation League spearheaded. The ADL top executive joins me next.