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At This Hour

Brittney Griner Leaves TX Military Facility One Week After Return To U.S.; Russia Launches Dozens Of Missiles Across Ukraine; U.S. Prepares For Migrant Surge As Title 42 Ends Next Week. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We're going to begin with new developments on Brittney Griner. The WNBA star has just been released from a military facility in Texas. This is one week after returning to United States in that high profile prisoner swap with Russia. Griner leaving the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, surrounded by her wife, Cherelle, and other family members, the 32-year-old had been staying in a residential environment as it's been described.

On the base, you can see pictures right here, kind of her journey home from Russia, she has been staying there and being monitored and being given treatment and being given all the help that she has been needing since returning home. She arrived in Texas last Friday, after she was freed from this Russian prison in exchange for convicted arms dealer Victor Bout.

Abby Phillip, let's bring her in. We're going to bring in Abby Phillip in just a second. But let me start with -- let me bring in Patrick McEnroe. He's with me now. We're just kind of learning more, we're going to learn much more about how she is doing, Patrick. But just having this news of just -- this is another step and her long journey home, as she's now not only back in the United States, but now being released from this, leaving this facility.

PATRICK MCENROE, ESPN TENNIS COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, Kate, this is great news. And I think the fact that she was able to spend a week there at their facility is just perfect for her. And now I think she can start to look ahead to the WNBA season. The good news, Kate is that it doesn't start until May that goes through the summer, the season for the WNBA. So that gives her I think plenty of time to reacclimate with her wife, with her family, and start to, you know, ease her way back into the athletic realm.

I mean, obviously being in prison for as long as she was, she certainly lost a lot of her endurance and a lot of her, you know, not her skills, but certainly some of her ability to stay in shape. So this is great news, I think this is just gives her a perfect setup to come back and to ease her way back in, you know, emotionally, mentally, but also physically as she looks ahead to the next season. BOLDUAN: And this is -- and it's an unusual circumstance, right? Someone who's in their -- like the prime of their career and peak physical condition going in, and then, you know, living through and surviving through what she has and the conditions that she has survived in. What is the -- what do you envision being kind of the long road, the process back to getting her back on the court if she wants to be there?

MCENROE: Yes, I think Kate. Actually, I think the most difficult part for her will not be the physical part. She's obviously a tremendous athlete. She's one of arguably the best players in the world in women's basketball. I think it's going to be the emotional side, and also dealing with the extra attention now. I mean, the media spotlight is going to be on her. That's understandable.

From what I've seen of the way she's handled things and just you see the pictures. Obviously, we'll all wait to hear her first interview whenever that happens. She seems like I mean, just an unbelievable person that she can handle this and her talking to the people on the plane home, when she was released from Russia, you see those pictures right there, smiling, amazing to think what she's been through that she able to have that type of attitude.

But I think Kate, that's going to be the thing for Brittney, that will be the most challenging is the attention. And also the responsibility, I think that she's now going to sort of be forced to take on to a certain degree, and how much will she be willing to take that on and to be a real spokesperson for human rights, you know, all over the world? So that's a lot on her plate.

BOLDUAN: Then and that's a really good and interesting point, Patrick, kind of on what the next and now means for her because she really did get thrust into this geopolitical standoff, if you will. What does it do to athletes when they become a symbol of something more than they had even asked for, you know, becoming a symbol of -- because she came -- she became a political pawn for Russia, of course, but then now becoming a symbol in something that she never even asked for.

MCENROE: Yes, it's sort of uncharted territory, isn't it? I mean, I've got a lot of experience in my sport in tennis, and seeing young players all of a sudden become superstars. You know, Emma Raducanu, who won the U.S. Open from Great Britain, she was a qualifier, and all of a sudden your world totally changes because you become this superstar as an athlete. But now you add this to the equation, Kate, and it's really sort of unprecedented when you think about it, of what she's going to have to deal with. And again, from everything I know -- I've learned about her and see the way that her family has responded.

It almost seems like she's a perfect person to take this on, right, because she's so -- she's such an incredible sounding person and it is a big opportunity for her but it's also going to be a big responsibility for her. And I think she has the opportunity now to change the world in ways that she probably never thought possible. And, you know, the WNBA players throughout this whole situation have been incredible the way they've spoken out. And this is now just another opportunity not only for women's sports for but for women's rights all over the world.


BOLDUAN: Patrick, stick with me, I want to bring in Abby Phillip, she's got some more reporting on Griner's release. Abby, what are you learning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate, I just want to just convey this morning that I'm hearing that Brittney Griner just a few moments ago took off from San Antonio, she's headed back home. They don't want to disclose exactly where she is going for security reasons, but is heading home after spending about a week at the Brooke Army Medical Facility where she was receiving care, as I know you got all we're discussing.

This is an ongoing process for her. When I spoke to her agent this morning, she told me that it's really a continuing process even though she might not physically still be in that facility. And I just want to share one other thing as she got on the plane this morning, she was surprised by one of her teammates with the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi, who was there on the plane as well as the Mercury's General Manager, and the President of the Phoenix Mercury as well.

So they met her on the plane, she didn't know that they were coming. It was a big surprise, but a homecoming for her because of the role that her teammates, and that whole franchise has played in bringing attention to her detention and really advocating for it, pushing it even beyond the WNBA and well into men's sports, getting the NBA on board to make this a top priority during their season as well. But it's just a clear sign that BG is being welcomed back in to the mercury family as she heads home with her wife, Cherelle.

BOLDUAN: I'm looking down, Abby, only because I'm looking at she posted kind of a lengthy statement on Instagram just moments ago as part of this. Just reading the first graph for all of you, she writes, it feels so good to be home, the last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith. And it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help, really the first words we're hearing from Brittney Griner in this long, long journey.

And you had a really important interview early on with her wife, Cherelle, about what this journey has been like for them. And now we're hearing from Brittney Griner for the first time.

PHILLIP: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this is the -- she is a pretty private person. And what her wife told me was that she's not really all that involved in politics, per se. But in her world, she is a towering figure in the WNBA in the world of basketball. And so now I think she finds herself with a huge platform, understanding on a deeper level, the impact that she can make, given the experience that she had, and her wife too.

I mean, Cherelle Griner really took this issue on a personally. She was doing media interviews. When she sat down with me, the objective in that moment was to get the attention of President Biden. She wanted a meeting with the President, and or -- and a conversation with the President. And about a week later, after she sat down with me, that happened. And she pushed for that even to the point of risking, you know, an important relationship that would be critical for the release of her wife, with the belief that the public pressure was essential here.

And so as we see BG really now stepping into her freedom. I don't think that we can expect to see her really publicly out there for a little while. I'm being told that she's going to, after this moment, she's going to be going home. She's going to be decompressing. She's going to be getting her life back. She's going to be recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally. But after she has taken her time to do that, she wants to take this moment that this thing that has happened to her and use it for good so we can expect that after some time after they've had a chance to recover.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And to that exact point, Abby, right out of the gate in this lengthy statement that she -- I'm going to read two more parts for everyone because it's really interesting exactly to your point. Griner also writes, President Biden, you brought me home, I know you are committed to bring Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.


She also says, she wants to make one thing very clear that she intends to play basketball for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season. And so she's making very clear kind of what her intention is going forward. And to your point, Abby, at the White House on the day that it was announced that she was released, Cherelle, committed to taking on this fight that she and BG would be doing this together to fight for Paul Whelan to get home and for other Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad to be a voice for them as well. And you can see that even in this statement.

PHILLIP: Yes, absolutely. I think that that is one of the most clear intentions that we are getting from her. And they have an important role to play. I think one of the things that I hear a lot from people who are involved in this is that the attention that they have brought to the issue of wrongfully detained Americans is something really extraordinary. And President Biden, like so many presidents are under pressure to bring many Americans detained abroad at home.

But as you can see, and as I know, you know, Kate, the way that they have taken this issue on in the last several months, bringing home not just Brittney Griner and Trevor Reed, but almost a dozen other people abroad is a part of a shift within this administration to make this a huge priority. And just one more word about her playing for the Phoenix Sun, that's a -- of the Phoenix Mercury that is a big commitment, a big headline coming out of this. As you can imagine, having been detained in Russia for 10 months, there would be some real questions about whether or not she would want to take her life in a different direction to be more private. But clearly, basketball is something that she loves. She picked up a ball this weekend, for the first time since her detention in a clear sign to people around her that she wanted to be back in that game. And I think that that's a really important headline.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And Abby, thanks so much for jumping on with this important deadline. Patrick, thank you as well for jumping on so quickly to talk about this really important, this important moment in a very long journey for Brittney Griner and for the United States as we're watching her long, her long road home. And she will be playing again and fighting for other Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad, too big moments that we're just learning just now. Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it.

Let's turn now to Ukraine, another big headline we're watching this morning. Russia launching a deadly barrage of missile strikes across Ukraine, explosions knocking out power and heating systems in several cities. Ukraine says that it's shot down dozens of missiles. At least two people were killed at a residential building in central Ukraine. Kharkiv's mayor describing the damage in his city as colossal. Will Ripley is in Kyiv with the very latest for us.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the Kyiv City military administration says that this Ukrainian capital has survived one of the largest Russian missile attacks since the start of the full scale invasion almost 10 months ago. I'm standing in front of the destroyed military vehicles from the earlier attacks. We can't actually take you to the scene of these latest strikes because Ukraine has very strict rules for filming these locations which are believed to be civilian infrastructure targets, power stations, designed to basically plunge much of Ukraine into darkness.

And many people across Kyiv have actually lost power as a result of these attacks. We lost power at the hotel after hearing the air raid sirens and explosions earlier today. And the same situation is true for people in Kharkiv where much of the city has been without power, that city up in the north along with Sumi. And down in the south Odessa, also getting hit by these Russian missiles.

But to think about dozens of missiles actually coming right towards Kyiv, even people who have lived here, and I've been covering this war say they don't remember an attack this big in quite some time. And it is certainly raising concern for the well-being of children here and across Ukraine who might have to survive now for hours, days, potentially even longer without electricity as a result of these attacks.

UNICEF coming out in recent days, Kate, saying that the physical and mental well-being of nearly every single Ukrainian child is at desperate risk as a result of this constant Russian bombardment. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Will Ripley, thank you so much for that.


Officials in Texas growing more worried about the thousands of migrants crossing the border and about how much worse it could be getting next week when Title 42 goes away. We're going to take you there next.


BOLDUAN: Thousands of migrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas each day, putting renewed strain on many cities, especially the city of El Paso, Texas. And this is only going to be getting worse. It is feared as a Trump-Arab pandemic policy is slated to end next week, which had made it easier to turn migrants away. CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Houston, Texas for us, Rosa, what is being done to prepare for this next week?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, this is a real test for the Biden administration. Because if you just look at those dramatic images coming out of Ciudad Juarez where thousands are waiting to cross into the United States and turn themselves into border patrol or the individuals who are actually in line in freezing temperatures waiting to turn themselves into Border Patrol agents to get processed. That is just a sliver of the pie.

There are other areas along the border where thousands of migrants are waiting for the lifting of Title 42. And DHS knows that the estimate that they have right now is that when Title 42 lifts, if it lifts next week, they could be expecting between 9 to 14,000 migrants attempting to cross into the United States every single day. Earlier this year in the summer when Title 42 was scheduled to lift then, their estimates was 18,000 per day. So it just depends on all of these are estimates.


But back to your question about what DHS is actually doing, they released a plan this week as to what they have been doing to prepare for the lifting of Title 42. DHS says they have been shoring up resources along the border, they've hired about 1,000 border patrol coordinating, processing coordinators and also 2,500 contractors. Now that's important because those are civilian positions, that then can process migrants that those images that you're seeing, those thousands of people that are in line, those civilian positions can actually process those migrants so that border patrol agents, which are the federal law enforcement officers on the border can actually do their jobs of national security and keeping America safe.

According to that DHS plan released this week, they also say the DHS has put up about 10 soft sided facilities, that increases their holding capacity by about a third since last year, and that also they have doubled their transportation resources along the border with hundreds of flights and buses. Why is that important? And here's why. It's a fancy world -- word that officials use and it's called decompression. And all that means is you see those images in El Paso where there's thousands of people that are crossing the border at one point in time, El Paso suggesting that they're encountering about 2,500. Kate, what this means is that DHS is going to transport those migrants to other areas along the border. They are not as busy to make sure that those migrants are processed quickly. Kate? BOLDUAN: Rosa, thank you so much for being there. Really appreciate it. Joining me now for more on this is El Paso City Council Representative Isabel Salcido. Thank you so much for joining me. I mean, you have very clearly an immediate problem an issue, and also a long term problem an issue. And first, in the immediate what you're looking at, what is going to happen in El Paso when Title 42 expires next week? Is the city prepared?

ISABEL SALCIDO, EL PASO, TEXAS CITY COUNCIL: No, I just want to say thank you so much for having me on, Kate. And thank you so much for shedding a light on this very important humanitarian crisis that we have here. You know, one thing that's very clear to me is that as we navigate through this humanitarian crisis is that both parties need to work together, and we need to get comprehensive immigration reform.

We currently what we have right now is broken, what we're doing dealing with municipally, we're just putting band aid on what you see is a bigger problem.

BOLDUAN: So what is going to happen, you call it a band aid and what you're looking at what's going to happen next week?

SALCIDO: You know, next week, the city of El Paso, our staff is prepared to be able to deploy it and do our welcome center. But what we are seeing right now, we're seeing 1,600 migrants coming in each day. That's about 150,000 a month. But from what we saw, we're now going to start to see on sponsored. And with that, it was about $250,000 a day that it will cause that's about $89 million a year. And so we're going to be -- our community should not be tasked to be able to upfront -- to put the upfront costs of the federal government for this crisis.

BOLDUAN: I had Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar on yesterday. And she said that what she fears that it could end up being a catastrophe is I believe that word she used with me if people don't step up, and something doesn't change very quickly. Do you -- is that a fear of yours? Like what does catastrophe look like when you're looking at a humanitarian crisis here in your town?

SALCIDO: You know, I think you said it best. It is going to be a catastrophe. I think what my fear is, it's cold outside, that we'd see some of these migrants, you know, die. It is very cold outside. It's not. It's not something we want to be seeing this community. We want to treat them with humane and be with respect and dignity.

So yes, this is going to be a catastrophe. So clearly, if we need people to step up, we need to work together. I think just even within our local politics here. We want to get all resources that we are available to us. And that's not happening. The only way we can get a disaster act called would be for our two leaders, which is the mayor of El Paso, and the county judge, and that's not being done so that we can get resources from the state to help us out with this this humanitarian crisis.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about the also the broader problem you've been speaking to. You said that, you know, both parties need to step up and work together kind of everyone along from federal government, state government, local government needs to work together. That is obviously something that has eluded the United States and the government for three decades is comprehensive immigration reform. But short of that Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing part of the Southwest border, he told CNN yesterday that he thinks that the President, President Biden that he needs to visit the border, he needs to see this firsthand. I want to play for you what he said.



REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): If there's a crisis show up, just show up, I think part of the battle has to be just shows up and says I will be working on this or on this, just showing up at the border, would send a strong signal to the communities that he's there. He cares about the border communities just show up.


BOLDUAN: Does that matter to you?

SALCIDO: Absolutely. I mean, not only locally, I mean, we're talking about the precedent. He needs to show up and to come to see in our community, how this is affecting us and better more, how are we going to move forward? We need to have all these conversations today. He needs to step up, are also -- our city mayor needs to step up and call it a state of a disaster. So we can get resources deployed to El Paso. We all need to work together. This is going to be a collaborative effort in order for us to navigate through this human crisis.

BOLDUAN: And in the interim, as you said band aids, this is all that is being applied to fix what is a growing humanitarian crisis at the border. Thanks for coming on. Appreciate your time.

So we'll turn to this, respiratory illnesses are surging across the United States, new flu numbers just in have public health officials concerned ahead of the holidays. We're going to discuss that next.