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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Russian Court Finds WNBA Star Brittney Greiner Guilty Of Drug Smuggling With Criminal Intent; Now: Jury Deliberating In Alex Jones Defamation Trial; Parts Of The U.S. Dealing With Wildfires, Intense Heat & Flooding; Transportation Department Proposes New Rules To Refund Airline Passengers; The Race For Texas Governor Heats Up. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 04, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Obviously, we don't have any many details. We will bring you more as soon as we can update this very serious story.
Obviously, stay with CNN for the very latest.
That does it for me.
And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nine years for less than one gram of cannabis oil.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star Brittney Griner is found guilty by a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. Now that she is convicted could this speed up a possible prisoner swap?
Then, any moment, the jury in Texas could come back with a decision in the Alex Jones case. But the far right conspiracy theorist may already be paying a price for his lies as the January 6th Committee and other law enforcement agencies want access to the text messages his lawyers accidentally sent to the plaintiffs.
Plus, changes to airline cancellation rules may be about to take off. Why passengers could actually get refunds for all of those canceled and delayed flights.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start today with our world lead. A Russian court found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty today of drug smuggling, quote, with criminal intent. The judge ordering Griner to spend nine years in a Russian penal colony that's just under the maximum sentence. Griner was arrested and charged back in February for smuggling less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage in a Moscow airport.
Griner's lawyers argued she had been packing quickly to play for the Russian premier league and she didn't know that the cannabis oil, which had been prescribed by a U.S. doctor, for her was not allowed in Russia. Griner delivering this plea as part of her closing statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA PLAYER DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Griner's attorney said that they will appeal the decision. The WNBA star telling CNN this as she left the courtroom.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Brittney, how do you feel?
GRINER: I love my family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I love my family.
Reactions pouring in about the verdict. President Biden calling it unacceptable. Griner's basketball team, the Phoenix Mercury, saying they are, quote, heartbroken for Griner and that they will, quote, not allow her to be forgotten.
This all comes as the U.S. has been trying to negotiate a prisoner swap deal with Russia, trading a convicted Russian arms dealer currently in the U.S. prison in exchange for Brittney Griner and another American in Russian custody, Paul Whelan.
One U.S. official reacting to the Griner verdict says that now, quote, the ball is in Russia's court.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen begins our coverage from Moscow with details of today's dramatic court ruling.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Brittney Griner holding up a photo of her Russian teammates as she hoped for a lenient verdict from the court. Griner shedding tears as she appealed to the judge.
GRINER: I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, gem ka, the fans and the city of Yekat. My mistake that I made and embarrassment that I brought on to them.
PLEITGEN: The WNBA star pleaded guilty to the charges but said she did not intend to bring vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil to Russia, where she was detained at a Moscow airport in February.
GRINER: I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn't end my life here.
PLEITGEN: But that didn't move the judge, handing down a nine-year jail sentence to be served in a penal colony and a fine over $16,000. Brittney Griner's lawyer clearly angry and disappointed and vowing to fight on.
MARIA BLAGOVOLINA, PARTNER AT RYBALKIN, GORTSUNYAN, DYAKIN & PARTNERS LAW FIRM (through translator): We think the verdict was totally out of order. It does not correspond to what's happening and what happened. It's totally going against the actual part of the Russian penal code.
PLEITGEN: Both the White House and the State Department condemned the verdict and long jail sentence. The U.S. lists Brittney Griner as being wrongfully detained and says it put what it calls a substantial offer on the table to bring both Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan who's currently serving a 16-year jail sentence in Russia home.
The charge d'affaires of the U.S. was inside the courtroom near Moscow and said the United States will continue to fight for Brittney Griner.
ELIZABETH ROOD, U.S. EMBASSAY CHARGE D'AFFAIRES: President Biden's national security team and the entire American government remain committed to bringing Ms. Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones.
PLEITGEN: Brittney Griner's lawyers said she was extremely shaken by the verdict but she, too, will fight on, sending love to her family as she was led out of the courtroom and back to the detention facility she's been locked up in for more than five months.
PLEITGEN (on camera): And, you know, Jake, I have been observing this trail since it started and Brittney Griner's legal team throughout the process has been -- had been telling me they thought that they were on a good track. They presented some evidence of their own. They had Brittney Griner plead guilty to the charges asking for leniency and then had they presented evidence that cast some doubt on some of the original forensics.
Today, Brittney Griner's defense lawyers said they believe that none of the things they presented were taken into account by the judge. They are extremely disappointed by this verdict. They now have ten days to file an appeal. That's what they are going to do.
And one more point and to point out, Jake, is she has been sentenced to nine years in penal colony, which is, you know, pretty hard camp, usually very far away from here in Moscow. Until that appeal is finished, she is going to remain in the detention facility she has been in so far. So, it will be only after the appeals process she would be moved to a much harsher place to a penal colony, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.
I want to bring in CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond and CNN sports anchor Carolyn Manno.
Jeremy, what's the White House saying about this verdict?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the White House including the president are calling this sentence, this nine- year sentence for Brittney Griner, quote, unacceptable. They're calling it reprehensible and they're urging Russia to engage seriously in the proposals that they have put forward for a potential prisoner swap.
I want you to listen to the White House press secretary Karine Jean- Pierre.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today's sentencing is a remainder of what the world already knew. Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. She never should have had to enduring endure a trial in the first place. We have repeatedly called for Russia to release her immediately. As you know, we have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whalen home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And now, the president has said that he will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to ensure that Brittney and Paul Whelan are able to come home.
And John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said today that the president is, quote, personally involved in this case. And I asked him what that means. He said the president meeting with a host of national security officials, including here at the White House, who are working to try to secure Britney's release.
TAPPER: Carolyn, you are in Connecticut where Britney's basketball team is going to play tonight. How is the team handling the verdict?
CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, you noted, Jake, at the top of the show, the statement that the Phoenix mercury released. Part of that was they never expected that the legal process was going to deliver Brittney Griner's freedom but called this a very sobering moment. And it is. We are expecting to hear from the team's head coach somewhere around 5:00.
You recall that she has said this the past that she personally feels like if this would have been another big name athlete or celebrity that Brittney Griner would be home already. I'm told that this game tonight in Connecticut, the Phoenix Mercury here to play the Connecticut Sun, that this is going to proceed as scheduled. We're going to probably see a little bit of protests, t-shirts as we have seen that unwavering support from the WNBA community for months at this point.
But I'm also told that her teammates, the players on Phoenix Mercury, are not going to address this verdict tonight. I am not sure if that means that they are still processing the weight of this verdict. I think we will have more answers in the next couple of hours.
TAPPER: All right. Thank you to both of you, Jeremy Diamond and Carolyn Manno.
Let's talk about this with our panel here. With me to discuss, international lawyer William Pomeranz, Beth Sanner, who's a former deputy director of national intelligence, and David Whelan who's also joining us. David is the brother of Paul Whelan, who've mentioned several times today already, currently serving a 16-year sentence in Russian custody.
Beth, let me start with you. You heard Fred note there that the Russian court didn't seem to take into account anything that Griner's attorneys were able to -- any sort of defense or explanation. It reminded me of when we covered the Trevor Reed story. As soon as the cops figured out that he was an American, the political infrastructure of Russia got involved.
This isn't up the judges, right? This is probably -- these are strings being pulled by Putin?
BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Absolutely, and the strings are being pulled by Putin for a couple of reasons. This is an effort to make Putin look strong. He can go head to head, toe-to-toe with Washington.
And also, if it's the broader agenda of making Biden look weak, right? So, there is a lot to be said for what Putin wants to get out of this.
TAPPER: And, William, Griner's attorney said today the average time in jail for this type of crime is five years. Let's remind people, we are talking about less than a gram, less than a gram of cannabis oil.
What do you make of him, I mean, of Griner being sentenced to nine years?
WILLIAM POMERANZ, INTERNATIONAL LAWYER: Well, I was not surprised because, unfortunately, Russia has very tough narcotics laws and the criminal justice system is tilted toward the prosecution and to the prosecution. And therefore, I was not surprised that Griner got a very tough sentence. It's very difficult to present evidence and to acquit, and that was the result in today's trial.
TAPPER: So, David, your brother, Paul, as we've noted, was also found guilty in a Russian trial. Paul says he's wrongfully accused. The U.S. State Department agrees. He's serving the 16 year sentence in a Russian labor camp.
You know how hard this was for your brother, when this verdict came down. We've interviewed the Reed family, we know how tough it was for them to, when Trevor was sentenced.
Give us some insight into how Brittney and her family must be feeling today.
DAVID WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S BROTHER: Well, I would hate to speak for them, but I can imagine that if you're brought up in a country like the United States, where there is the rule of law, and there is, I think, a certain societal shame maybe about being found guilty, that probably Americans who go through that process in Russia experience that same thing, where in fact, it's all theater. It has nothing to do with anything, really, and it's a process of the Russian government goes through.
TAPPER: Beth, let's talk about the swab. The U.S. is offering Viktor Bout, who is like a Bond super villain, a drug dealer, and arms trader, in exchange for Brittney and Paul Whelan. It seems like a no- brainer that, you know, these are two individuals who are not assets to the United States. I mean, in terms of, like, a government asset. Obviously, they are assets in a more existential way.
And Viktor Bout, you know, we'll be able to continue his reign of crime serving Putin.
Why aren't the Russians embracing this deal?
SANNER: Probably because they know how much we want it. They can see how much the president is under pressure to get a deal, and so, they are going to hang tough. That does not mean they are not going to give it in the end.
But so far, what they are saying is, you know, they didn't want a 2 to 1 deal. They want two to two deal. So they are putting, you know, add another person to it. You've got Viktor Bout, the merchant of death, you know? Then you've got Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
SANNER: You know? I mean, it's ridiculous. But they are going to play a hard bargain because as a democracy, you know, it's a lot harder on us.
TAPPER: Yeah, David, do you think, do you have hope that now that Brittney Griner is been sentenced, this could expedite the process of this prisoner swap to get your brother, Paul, home?
WHELAN: I do. I think the Russian government has very particular ways of how they approach things and they were not going to ever move before they heard that conviction in Ms. Griner's case. They now have an offer, they have an offer for a concession that they've been wanting to extort from the U.S. from a while. So, I think that there is some hope now. TAPPER: And, William, for many in the U.S., the optics of the trial
might've seemed frightening. Brittney Griner standing trial, she's behind bars, even when she's in court. We saw this with Trevor Reed, too. Even when she was speaking, she was locked up, as if she posed some sort of threat. She's there for less than a gram of cannabis oil.
Do you think these optics play into verdicts in a Russian courtroom, or what is the purpose of it?
POMERANZ: No, I don't think it plays into the optics of the verdict. The judge is under very intense pressure to convict. And we've already talked in other places about the 99 percent conviction rate.
The judge does not gain any benefit in terms of her career, if he acquits. Indeed, that is a black mark in her career. So, she has no real incentive to acquit. And the cage, there is not a jury in the courtroom. So, it's only the judge who is in the courtroom, and she, obviously, has dealt with many cases. And defendants, typically, are in a cage during the trial.
TAPPER: And, David, lastly, I just want to give you an opportunity. I mean, CNN has run internationally. Who knows who here is what. If there's a message you want to give Paul, what would you say there?
WHELAN: I would say, stay strong. Keep going day today and hopefully there won't be many more days for you to have the count before you're back with us.
TAPPER: Amen to that. Thanks everyone for being here. I appreciate it.
Coming up, can I get a message? The January 6 committee and other law enforcement agencies now asking for access to years of Alex Jones's phone data after his lawyer accidentally handed it over in a court case.
Then, when flights are delayed or changed, travelers are the ones who usually pay the price. But that might be changing.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Topping our national lead. A jury is deciding how much money if any right wing conspiracy theories Alex Jones will have to pay for his vile lies about the Sandy Hook school massacre. We're learning how this case could have ripple effects we'll be on that Texas courtroom following the revelation that Jones 's attorney mistakenly turned over two years old of Jones's cell phone records and text messages to the Sandy Hook families attorneys.
Those lawyers told the judge earlier today, they see numerous requests from federal agencies, law enforcement officials for those records in couldn't from the January 6th congressional committee, given that Jones is pushing the big lie here in Washington, D.C., on January 6th.
CNN's Drew Griffin is following this all for us.
Drew, can those records be turned over to these other entities?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SNEIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: In court today the judge there in Texas basically said, I don't see how they cannot be turned over. However, she paused a whole proceeding it is giving Jones's attorney at least a couple hours to come up with some legal theory as to why they shouldn't be.
But, obviously, a January 6 committee would love to have these text messages of Alex Jones who went before the committee answer pled the Fifth. We're also learned through court today that Alex Jones ,at least some of his message involved intimate messages with Roger Stone. Roger Stone also called before the January 6 committee and also supposedly pleaded the Fifth.
So, having these text messages between these two men both already having strong interest by the January 6 committee. Like the judge says, it seems inevitable that this information can get there.
TAPPER: And the jury's obviously right now deliberating on how much money if any they think Alex Jones should pay these families. Jones's attorney asked for a mistrial earlier today, on what basis?
GRIFFIN: Well, it's all based on this inadvertent mistake by Jones's own attorneys who dumped information inadvertently in the hands of the plaintiffs. There's been so many pleas for mistrials that the judge actually asked, is this a serious one? And the attorney said, yes, it is serious and she did dismiss it then.
But it was based on the fact that Alex -- excuse me the parent attorneys in this case should not have kept this information. They should've deleted the information, returned the information because it was inadvertent said.
TAPPER: All right. Drew Griffin, thanks so much for the update.
Drew Griffin will take you deep inside Alex Jones's dark world in the CNN special report, "Megaphone for Conspiracy". Don't miss it. That's tomorrow night at 11:00 Eastern, only on CNN.
The Chinese military launching missiles where they have never before. More fallout from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our world, a major escalation of the Chinese government's military intimidation campaign against Taiwan, Beijing firing of multiple missiles today towards the water near the self-governed island, making good on a threat that Taipei will pay a price for how Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial visit.
Chinese state media saying, this military show of forces in the first time missiles launched from the mainland, have flown over Taiwan. China claiming that the fire exercises are stimulating an air and sea blockade around the island.
With me now to discuss, retired four star U.S. Army general and former CIA director, David Petraeus, also the chairman of KKR Global Institute, which owns some defense contracting firms, though General Petraeus does not work directly with those firms.
General, Taiwan's military says at least 11 Chinese missiles struck the sea surrounding Taiwan, 22 Chinese warplanes entered the air defense zone earlier today. These are unprecedented steps from the Chinese government.
How do you interpret them?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, they are very muscular statements and very muscular actions, Jake, although the eastern command of China said earlier today that it actually completed all of the live-fire exercises and that the maritime and airspace restrictions have been lifted. So, it could be that we are starting to see this begin to wind down, though there are still temporary halts on certain exports from Taiwan to China. I'm sure that the rhetoric will continue for days and that some of the repercussions could continue for weeks or even months.
TAPPER: Speaker Pelosi's visit comes at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing had been strained. Today, we learned that the U.S. is postponing a planned intercontinental ballistic missile test due to concerns over the heightened tensions and how China might react. If the Chinese government only respects strength, would that not be seen as weak by the U.S. to cancel this test?
PETRAEUS: Well, Jake, I think the test of policy when it comes to China has to do with the big idea that you should be firm, very firm, but not needlessly provocative. And the debate, as always is, there's more one way or the other. Clearly, in this case there is a conclusion that that would be needlessly provocative. Again, that can be debated.
As could the trip in the first place. In fact, it was debated. Unfortunately, openly, as you recall, in Washington, as opposed to behind closed doors. And that created some of the awkwardness here. Once the trip was announced, the speaker had to go forward with it. And, of course, the party in opposition enjoyed to poke the White House in the eye and say they were with the speaker for once.
TAPPER: Let's turn to Putin's war against Ukraine. The White House believes that Russia is preparing to falsify evidence to blame Ukraine for the deadly Donetsk prison blast that resulted in at least 50 deaths and dozens of injury to Ukrainian prisoners, that the Biden administration made these warnings before about Russians preparing false disinformation dumps. What's your reaction?
PETRAEUS: Well, all of the evidence, and there is quite a bit of it, today's day and age you can get commercial satellites, you can get a lot of different information through open sources, and so far, it seems pretty conclusive that this was a false flag attack. This was Russia carrying out a horrific action against individuals, prisoners of war who are viewed as real heroes in Ukraine.
And the Russians trying to blame this on the mobile launch rocket system that the U.S. has provided to Ukraine, but none of the kinds of blast or other indicators of a rocket exploding are at all present.
So, again, I think this was a valid warning. Russia is carrying out -- has done something that is absolutely horrific and is going to try to blame ton the Ukrainians, and we shouldn't have any other.
TAPPER: Western officials tell CNN that they estimate about 75,000 casualties for Russia since the start of their invasion, including up to 20,000 Russian deaths. What does that tell you but this conflict?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think one of the big questions right now is which side can generate capable forces the fastest. In this case, my money is on Ukraine. They are very assiduously trained, additional soldiers putting together, capable units are being armed by the arson noels with an S, and end of democracy, not just the U.S., but all our allies and partners alike. And meanwhile, Russia is trying to raise additional forces by telling the republics in the Russian Federation to provide a battalion. I mean, that is not the way to effectively efficiently develop capable forces. That's what we did in the revolutionary war, to arms, to arms, everyone comes up with a town militia.
So, it gives you an indicator I think about the state of desperation of the Russians. And also, there's been a very significant indicator that the fair power of Russia, at the very least the ammunition, has declined precipitously because the rate of fire of the Russians in the offensive actions that they have resumed have been dramatically reduced. Part of that is because the Ukrainians are very effectively use the multiple-launch rocket systems that were provided, HIMARS, to precisely take out ammunition storage sites, fuel depots, headquarters, and other important assembly areas.
TAPPER: Amnesty International says Ukraine's military is violating international law by putting their bases and operating near schools, near hospitals, which, obviously, puts civilians in harm's way. Ukraine has strongly criticized the Amnesty report. They say it's not true. Obviously, Russia has committed multiple atrocities in this war.
What do you make of this allegation that the Ukrainian military is operating too close to schools and hospitals?
PETRAEUS: Well, look, anything that is put out should be taken seriously. We did in Iraq and Afghanistan when I was privileged to be the commander there. My assessment certainly is that it's the Russians that are far and away out on a different scale on this. In fact, you may have seen that they are actually using a nuclear power plant as a storage location for arms and ammunition and they are shooting from it very near to it so that the Ukrainians will not respond to that.
So, again, I think something to look at. They should take it seriously. They want to be on the side of the rules-based order and the Geneva Convention and law of land warfare. Clearly, the Russians are not going to observe that. In fact, all the evidence is that they are absolutely violating all of it and have been since the beginning, if you think back to the atrocities that were committed in the villages and towns north of Kyiv.
TAPPER: All right. General David Petraeus, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it, sir.
PETRAEUS: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: It is so hot in parts of the United States, there are growing concerns that u.p.s. drivers risk cooking to death in their trucks. That's next.
TAPPER: In our Earth Matters series, the climate crisis in full display across the United States again today. Nearly 80 million Americans are under heat advisory, wildfires are burning out of control in the West, including the McKinney fire near the California/Oregon border. And for the third time in 10 days, flash floods pummeled the St. Louis Missouri area.
CNN's Tom Foreman is outside Washington, D.C., where it is currently 97 degrees -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ninety-seven degrees, and with the humidity forecasters say it feels like about 109. The humidity is always present here.
Still, that's not as bad as some other places where people have really been pounded by it. And, Jake, they have had to be out in it. There is a lot of suffering involved.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The heat wave that left fatalities and wildfires out west has now crossed the whole country to scorch the East, making millions of Americans swelter along the way and causing dangerously hot conditions in some places.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's shot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, I'm dying. It's not -- I am not used to it at all. It's terrible. FOREMAN: In New York City, a heat index pushing 100 is threatening
weather records going back to World War II. In Philadelphia 104 was the anticipated heat index. In Washington, D.C., an index of 105 appeared within reach. And in Kentucky where folks are trying to recover from flooding that left dozens dead --
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR, KENTUCKY: Biggest concern today and tomorrow is the weather. It is very, very hot.
FOREMAN: The temperature has been so brutal, the Teamster Union cited a delivery man collapsing if Arizona last month to say u.p.s. must provide cooling measures or they are sending drivers out to die in the heat. The UPS says the health and safety of our employees is our highest employee. UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather.
But on the back side of the current heat wave, another problem, more massive storms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My home had about two to three foot of water in it.
FOREMAN: St. Louis was hammered by 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts and up to 3 inches of rain an hour, closing roads, flooding homes.
MYA GRAY, FLOOD VICTIM: I woke up, the water was this high. I almost drowned. We had to get out in boats and everything.
FOREMAN: In Michigan, tens of thousands lost power as trees were blown down. And those blazes out west --
LEWIS DOUNDA, WASCO COUNTY, OREGON: It's crazy, fire everywhere, smoke.
FOREMAN: They are still burning. But now some firefighters fear mudslides triggered by the summer's ever wilder weather.
FOREMAN: Whether you are trained to work out in it or not, this is the real deal, and even though some places may get some relief, like maybe some rain in the next couple hours, a little bit better here, the simple truth is more than two-thirds of the country the next week are expected to hit 90 degrees or above, Jake. And that's hot.
TAPPER: Tom Foreman, try to stay cool, my friend. Thank you so much.
In our money lead, Secretary of the Department of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is looking to help airline passengers who have been screwed by the myriad airline mishaps, hoping to help them get their money back. The department is proposing new protection fro consumers, seeking ticket refunds. It's an effort to crack down on airlines that have been struggling with cancellations and delays more this year than in that long time. Let's bring in CNN's Pete Muntean to discuss.
Pete, what are these proposed rules and how are they different from the rules already in place?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, complaints have shot up 200 percent to the federal government since the start of the pandemic. The number one reason is refunds. So many people trying to get their money back. If they canceled a flight or had a flight canceled on them.
Now, the federal government is cracking down on airlines, proposing these new rules that would change what triggers a refund. The issue up until now is that things have been relatively vague when it comes to what the trigger could be for a refund. Until now, the Department of Transportation have said that if a flight is significantly changed that could lead to a refund for a passenger from an airline.
Now, the Department of Transportation is offering specifics. It says if a departure time of your flight changes by three hours for a domestic flight plus or minute, six hours for an international flight, that could lead to a refund. If the departure or arrival airport changes, if the number of corrections increases and if the airline changes the type of aircraft being used to operate a flight, which causes a significant downgrade in your in-flight experience.
Remember, airlines have been struggling this summer with cancellations, 39,000 flights canceled since Memorial Day according to FlightAware by airlines in the U.S., Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned airlines to get their act together.
I want you to listen now to what he told NEW DAY this morning about how this is a part of how airlines will be held to account.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It's one of the number of steps we have had underway that would expand passenger rights to things like refunds when your flight gets delayed or when you have been extreme delay or some other change to the itinerary that really changes the whole experience, moving you to a different kind of plane or which airports you are going to. Making sure passengers are protected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MUNTEAN: You can submit public comments about the proposed rules on the department of Transportation's website. It's only been live less than 24 hours. More than 100 comments have already been submitted. Seems like everybody has a story about this. Big public hearing coming up on August 22.
TAPPER: We should note, these are proposed changes. They have not happened.
MUNTEAN: Right. TAPPER: And there are lots of hurdles and Washington, D.C., has a lot
of lobbyists who work for companies like the airlines.
MUNTEAN: The airlines, of course, will chafe against this. They have been vehemently defensive about whether or not they give people refunds. The airlines said that they are on the up and up and they are following the rules to the letter of the law, although even still, the government says they need to get their act together and start giving people their money back.
By the way, these are only refunds in terms of vouchers or credits and they can be used indefinitely. No expiration date on these. But it's not like cash going from the airline back into your pocket.
TAPPER: The airlines love those sneaky expiration dates.
And tell me about American Airlines cutting back flights in September and October. Is that related to this?
MUNTEAN: Well, remember, airlines have been struggling can cancellations for months, staffing issues, summer weather is here now. American Airlines says it simply needs to right size its schedule and build more reliability in.
So, it's scaling back the number of flights in September and October. A place that is hit big time, Philadelphia International Airport, hundreds of flight will be slashed from the schedule there. This is not over. We have seen airlines do this throughout the summer to try to make is so people aren't surprised by the cancellations.
We will see as this unfolds. It may not be the only airline to do this.
TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thank you to much. Appreciate it.
A Lone Star State showdown that some say, some could possibly indicate a blue wave coming to Texas. We'll take a look next.
TAPPER: In our politics lead, Texas has not had a Democratic governor since January 1995. Since then, Democrats have sank tens of millions of dollars into trying to get the governor's mansion back, which brings us to the race between Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott and former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.
Democrats say in the aftermath of the Uvalde elementary massacre and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Democrats have new home for November.
CNN's Ed Lavandera takes a closer look now at the governor's race in Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crowds are back following Beto O'Rourke's campaign, this time for governor of Texas.
BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: In our Texas, it's going to be you and me.
LAVANDERA: Several public polls show O'Rourke trailing Republican Greg Abbott by single digits. That has Texas Democrats once again wondering if this is the year they crack almost three decades of Republican control in the state, even as Abbott remains the favorite in the race.
In the days after the Uvalde school massacre, O'Rourke confronted Abbott at a press briefing.
O'ROURKE: Somebody needs to stand up for the children of the state.
LAVANDERA: We caught up with O'Rourke at a campaign stop in Galveston, where he told us he is proud of that moment.
O'ROURKE: He said not a word about how we were going to prevent the next mass shooting. I knew I had to stand up on behalf of our fellow Texans.
LAVANDERA: The race is drawing renewed attention in the aftermath of the ultimately shooting and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Have those two issues changed the dynamic of this governor's race?
O'ROURKE: Absolutely. More Texans think we are on the wrong track than have had said that to a pollster or a survey scientist. This state wants change.
LAVANDERA: Governor Greg Abbott's campaign remains confident about his reelection prospect. The governor refused CNN's request for an interview but Abbott does routinely go on Fox News to talk about immigration and border security.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: This just shows the hypocrisy of these liberal leaders in the Northeast who think, well, that border cross is created by Joe Biden. That's fine as long as it's Texas that has to deal with it.
EVA GUZMAN, FORMER TEXAS SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Welcome to Texas.
LAVANDERA: Republican Eva Guzman is a former Texas Supreme Court justice and former candidate in the primary for attorney general. She says O'Rourke is too liberal for Texas.
GUZMAN: What you are going to see in the governor's race is Texans focusing on Biden's failures and how they impact their lives. And the reason the Democrats haven't flipped Texas is because their policies don't align with Texas values.
LAVANDERA: But there are some signs recent events are cracking the support of conservatives and Governor Abbott.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Children were murdered.
LAVANDERA: This week, the city council in Hondo, Texas, a county where Greg Abbott got 75 percent of the vote in 2018, voted to cancel a contract with an NRA fundraising group, a move that shocked many.
And then there are some voters like Donny Ray Valdez, his girlfriend's daughter was killed in the Robb Elementary School attack. He voted for Abbott and Trump, but not this year.
DONNY RAY VALDEZ, BOYFRIEND OF UVALDE VICTIM'S MOTHER: Beto O'Rourke has been adamant on helping us. A as a Trump supporter, a Republican, I feel ashamed at all the help we have been getting from the Republican side.
LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Jake, you know, four years ago, Beto O'Rourke ran against Ted Cruz for Senate, came up a couple of points short. The O'Rourke campaign believes that will help them turn out voters this time around. But we have spoken with the Abbott campaign officials who believe still the math here in Texas is on their side, that no matter how many Democrats turn out, that there are still far more Republicans in the state than Democrats -- Jake.
TAPPER: Ed, Governor Abbott spoke at the CPAC convention today. Did he mention the race?
LAVANDERA: You know, barely mentioned Beto O'Rourke during his talk here interview in front of a small CPAC audience. One thing to keep in mind, Governor Abbott has been focusing on border security issues, the economic issues with the country and tying that back to Biden and O'Rourke. That has been kind of the themes he has carried on.
It's also important to remember, Jake, that Governor Greg Abbott has taken a lot of heat from the far-right wing of his party in Texas. He is not universally loved by Republicans in the state.
TAPPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.
More than two years after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police, the officers involved in that botched raid have been arrested and charged. Details ahead.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.
This hour, more than two years since Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a botched raid. And now, four current or former officers are facing federal charges.
Plus, congresswoman and vice-chair of the January 6 committee, Republican Liz Cheney, saying more than she has before about whether the Justice Department in her view should pursue criminal charges against Donald Trump. The exclusive sit-down you will only see on CNN.
And leading this hour, no justice in the Russian justice system. WNBA star Brittney Griner is found guilty and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for carrying less than one gram of cannabis oil. Griner's legal team says they will appeal and the sentence could reignite talks with Russia about a possible prisoner swap to free Griner.
We start our coverage with Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us tracking the reaction in Washington and across the world to the Griner verdict today.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brittney Griner's face solemn as the judge made her harsh sentence in a Russian courtroom.
JUDGE (through translator): Nine years of imprisonment.
ATWOOD: Almost six months after the American basketball star was detained in a Russian airport for carrying cannabis oil, the judge ruled she was guilty of smuggling drugs, saying she did so deliberately, even though Griner said she had no intention of breaking Russian law or packing the oil.