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The Lead with Jake Tapper

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed From Russia In Prisoner Swap; Detained American Paul Whelan Left Out Of Swap With Russia; House Passes Bill Protecting Same-Sex & Interracial Marriages; Police Search For White Car Seen Outside Home Around Time Of Killings; DOJ Seeking To Hold Trump Team In Contempt Over Classified Docs. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The good news. Brittney Griner is headed home. The bad news, so is one of the world's most notorious arms dealers.

THE LEAD starts right now.

After 294 days in Russian custody, basketball star Brittney Griner is on her way back to the United States. This hour, new details about the prisoner swap, the tense negotiations and the Bond villain known answer the merchant of death whom Russia is getting back in exchange.

Plus, CNN spoke with the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan who remains stuck in a Russian prison.


PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: But I don't understand why I'm still hitting here. My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home.


TAPPER: Whelan's sister is here with more reaction to Griner's release.

And a House investigation revealing a culture of fear inside the corporate offices of an NFL team. Sexual harassment, bullying, toxic conduct all alleged and the team owner who reportedly lied to Congress about it all.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with our world lead.

After nearly 10 months in Russian detention, U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner is on her way home. This new video from Russian state media shows Griner released earlier today part of a prisoner swap. You see her walking on a tarmac before boarding a plane and headed to meet U.S. officials.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your mood?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well -- are you ready for flight?

GRINER: Yes. Yes.


TAPPER: Griner's wife Cherelle celebrated Brittney's release at the White House with President Biden, Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.


CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions and the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.


TAPPER: And even while we celebrate Griner's freedom, today's swap has its critics. In exchange for Griner, the U.S. released notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges of conspiring to kill Americans. Many on Capitol Hill say this simply was a bad trade.

And left behind in Russian detention is former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan who was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced after a sham trial. President Biden insisted today his administration will keep working to free Whelan who spoke exclusively to CNN earlier today after learning about Brittney Griner's release.


WHELAN: The president and his team are going to have to look at what they have as valuable as these people want and hopefully give it to them, or I'll be here for a long time, and to be quite honest, in these conditions, who knows how I'll come back or if I'll come back.


TAPPER: In a few moments, I'm going to speak to Paul Whelan's sister Elizabeth but we're going to start today with CNN's Kylie Atwood at the U.S. State Department with more details now on how this prisoner swap was finalized.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly ten months in detention, Brittney Griner has been released from Russia. Russian state media showing her boarding a plane from an undisclosed location. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready for flight?

GRINER: Yes. Yes, I'm ready.

ATWOOD: The Biden administration bringing her home in a prisoner swatch months in the making.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's safe. She's on a plane. She's on her way home. After months being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances.

ATWOOD: The president and Griner's wife Cherelle speaking to Brittney who's on her way back to the United States after being released to U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi.

CHERELLE GRINER: Today is a happy day for me and my family. I'm going to smile right now.

ATWOOD: Griner's team, the Phoenix Mercury, tweeting: No more days. She's coming home.

According to senior administration officials the deal came together in just the last two days when Griner was moved from the penal colony serving a nine-year sentence. The officials describing Griner as extremely upbeat and all smiles.

But Griner's release did not come cheaply. The United States exchanging arms trafficker Viktor Bout, the so-called merchant of death. He was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States for charges including conspiring to kill Americans.

Even amid joy for freeing Griner, sadness today for the family of another American who was left behind, Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian prison for almost four years. Officials from the Department of Justice expressing frustration that an earlier deal allowing Bout's release, which U.S. officials had proposed, included Griner and Whelan.

Lawmakers also expressed apprehension about normalizing prisoner swaps.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I think this is good news. Good news for Brittney, for her family. That's the risk, is that the more we engage in such exchanges, the more Americans are at risk of being scooped up and held as leverage.

ATWOOD: Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, charges he vehemently denied. He spoke exclusively to CNN's reporter Jennifer Hansler from a penal colony, saying he was pleased for Griner but greatly disappointed he wasn't included.

WHELAN: I don't understand why I'm still sitting here. I was led to believe things were moving in the right direction and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.

ATWOOD: And despite the administration's earlier efforts to include Whelan in the deal, they say Russia made it clear it wasn't going to happen.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: They continue to insist on sham charges of espionage and are treating Paul's case differently. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none.

ATWOOD: As the administration says, they're still working on his release, Whelan begging President Biden to free him regardless of the cost.

WHELAN: My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now, of course, Griner on her way back to the United States. According to U.S. officials, she's headed to San Antonio. We don't know, Jake, exactly when she's going to land there, but there is a Department of Defense facility there that provides support for those who are out of isolation.

We've seen other American detainees who have returned to the United States head to that same facility. We don't know how long she'll stay there, though. That will be up to Griner and her wife in terms what she needs in terms of medical and any mental support -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kiley, just underlying this, the Biden administration is saying that the only deal on the table was Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner. Paul Whelan was not on the table. Is that -- is that right?

ATWOOD: They are saying that's the only deal Russia would accept at this time. So, of course, what they're hoping is that Russia will accept another proposed deal for Whelan down the road. They just can't be assured when that will happen and wanted to take the opportunity to seize this deal while they could.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much and thanks for clarifying.

Some Republican lawmakers are criticizing the decision to trade Viktor Bout back to the Russians given the serious crimes leading to his nickname, the merchant of death. And take a listen to what former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara who prosecuted Bout told me about him earlier this year.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I can say from my perspective as a person who oversaw the prosecution of Viktor Bout, he's a dangerous person. He's one of the most prolific arms dealers in the world. He was convicted in a U.S. federal court in New York, of conspiracy to kill Americans. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Matthew Chance now.

Matthew, why was securing Viktor Bout's release so important to the Kremlin?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a good question, and it sort of raises the question as to why over so many years since his detention back in 2006, the Kremlin has been bending over backwards and trying to negotiate on every level to get Viktor Bout back home. There's been all sorts of speculation that Viktor Bout, who, of course, ran a massive arms smuggling enterprise has closely been connected with inner circle of Vladimir Putin. He very much denies that. That he's got the dirt on Russian operations or Russian attempts to arm rebel groups around the world in 1990s and 2000s when he's arming smuggling enterprise was at its height.

And so, look, it's a big win for Putin to get Viktor Bout back because if they were concerned about any of that information leaking, then making sure it's not going to leak because they've got him back in Russia where he's arrived over the course of the past couple hours.

There's a broader issue as well, which is, you know, Viktor Bout is a pretty big cause celebre in Russia I'd say. Lots of people know his name. He's a figure on television. There's been campaigning for his release for some time and this is the Kremlin able to say we don't leave citizens overseas. We get them back. And so, it's a big political boon for Putin.

TAPPER: Will the U.S. try to track Viktor Bout's movements and activities now that he's free and back in Russia?

CHANCE: Good question. I think it depends on what Viktor Bout does. Look, his lawyer in Russia said, look, there's been a pardon signed by President Biden at the American interest in Viktor Bout is now over, but Viktor Bout goes back to his old arms smuggling ways, I expect he'll be back on U.S. radar.

His lawyer told me earlier he's probably going to live a more quiet life now but we shall see.

TAPPER: We shall see, indeed. Matthew Chance, thanks so much.

Joining us to discuss, Maria Blagovolina. She represented Brittney Griner in Russian court.

Maria, congratulations on getting your client out, playing the role that you did.


TAPPER: When did you find out that Brittney was going to be released?


And what was Brittney's reaction when she found out?

BLAGOVOLINA: Well, we found out about the release, in fact, today, but there were signs. There were positive signs, I would say, which appeared last week, and I got a call from Brittney in the end of last week and she told me that she's hopeful. So we had an understanding that things would be happening very, very soon. So she was just, as I said, very hopeful and expecting this to happen.

TAPPER: For months, the discussion has been about swapping Viktor Bout, who is a real criminal and a dangerous person for both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. Was that ever really on the table as far as the Russians were concerned?

BLAGOVOLINA: Well, Jake, I'm not Paul Whelan's lawyer. I'm Brittney Griner's lawyer, and the lawyers, the legal team, was not involved into the negotiations. This was just between the two governments. But what I know four sure that Brittney is absolutely happy to be coming back home and the families have been very relieved.

TAPPER: What can you tell us about Brittney's condition, how's she been doing in recent days and weeks both in terms of her physical and psychological and emotional health?

BLAGOVOLINA: Last few weeks since the transfer to Mordovia were very challenging for Brittney. It was very stressful. Also, she got flu and she recovered last week. So, it was the most difficult time for her after the transfer to Mordovia.

TAPPER: You got -- yeah. You got to visit Brittney in that penal colony where she was held. We've heard about severe, harsh conditions in some of those places. How bad was it?

BLAGOVOLINA: Well, this is not a holiday resort. This is jail, and the conditions there are really harsh, and that's true. But what I can say for sure, that Brittney has not complained and she was treated very well, and I think that the reason for this is mostly because of her very likable character. People like her. So everybody who is around her just is trying to help her and support her.

TAPPER: What did it mean for Brittney to hear about all of the support she was receiving back home during her detention?

BLAGOVOLINA: It really meant a lot. I think this is what helped her to survive and to remain strong during all of this difficult nine months. She very much appreciated this.

TAPPER: Do you think that more prisoner swaps could be on the table between the United States and Russia?

BLAGOVOLINA: Well, until there are prisoners in both country, I think this is possible, yes.

TAPPER: Maria Blagovolina, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

Then, of course, there was Paul Whelan. One of the two Americans left out of the prisoner swap despite months of discussions. We're going to talk to his sister next.

Also ahead, the two major pieces of legislation passed today and now headed to President Biden's desk for his signature.

And the specific request for police in Idaho almost four weeks after the murders of four college students. Could this indicate which way their investigation may be handled?



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead.

First Lady Jill Biden seen sharing a hug with Cherelle Griner there. Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner. This is after they both learned that Brittney had been released from Russian detention earlier today.

And while we're all happy for Griner's family, of course, the family of Paul Whelan and another American unjustly detained is worried that there's nothing the U.S. can give the Kremlin to bring him home.

Joining us now to discuss, Paul Whelan's sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, I know you're happy for the Griner's but it's a difficult day for your family. How are you doing? How is your family doing?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S SISTER: Well, I think we're doing as well as can be expected. I mean, whatever we're going through is nothing compared to what Paul is going through. In our case, 17 in Mordovia, Russia.

But you're right, we're celebrating Brittany's return. It's always a wonderful thing for an American who has been wrongfully detained to come back to the United States. That's a big win.

TAPPER: I understand you spoke to President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken this afternoon. Can you tell us about those calls?

WHELAN: Yes. They were both reassuring me that the fight continues, and that is what I had believed all the way along, but it's always good to get those calls and be able to discuss how we can move ahead and get Paul home.

TAPPER: How is Paul doing? When was the last time you spoke with him?

WHELAN: Well, I haven't spoken to him in-person in quite a while, but he speaks with my parents and he was able to call them this morning. He is doing extremely well under the circumstances in terms of his resilience and courage. But he is also devastated that once again somebody is going home and it's not him. He's been there almost four years.

But he is a -- he is a bright fellow. He understands the situation. It's Russia, who's created this. It's Russia who is dividing up the prisoners and trying to cause as much dissension back in the U.S. as they can and they're doing a fine job of it. We need to bring it to an end.

TAPPER: The White House says negotiating for your brother's release is different than negotiating for the release of Brittney Griner or Trevor Reed, for that matter, who was released earlier this year.

Take a listen to what the National Security Council's John Kirby said on CNN earlier today.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATING FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: It has to do with the nature of the sham charges against him which were based on espionage. That's -- that's the hook that the Russians seem to have in him, and we're just not able to, to deal with him the same way we were able to deal with Mr. Reed or in this case, Ms. Griner.


TAPPER: What's your response when you hear that?

WHELAN: Well, he's got it right. The Russian concocted a fairy tale about Paul. Shut him up with the stupid USB drive back on December 28th in 2018 and said it had state secrets. Held a sham trial where no evidence was produced, and then sentenced him to 16 years for this, quote/unquote, crime of espionage.


And it's all theater, and it's all to be able to have some sort of leverage over the U.S., and to be able to have a prisoner that they consider high value. But it's ridiculous, because Paul is not a spy. And at the same time, it puts the U.S. in a difficult position, because Russia refuses to act as if there's anything else that can be done for Paul. Like there was for Trevor and Brittney. So, we, of course, are hoping that we'll figure out a way to get around this.

TAPPER: Is there another prisoner that the Russians want to get out as much as they have wanted Viktor Bout, this arms dealer, to get out?

WHELAN: Well, the family doesn't know all the details about all the negotiations. As much as sometimes I would like to.

So we don't really know exactly what all of the discussions have entailed, but I feel very certain that if there was something that we could have done to get Paul back, that would have been done, because, you know, there are a lot of people moaning and groaning about Viktor Bout going back to Russia, but I've got to say, it's an amazing thing to be able to get Brittney back. It's a win for us, and we tend to always look at, you know, what's Russia getting out of this? We have to also look at what we're getting out of this.

We're getting a wrongfully detained American back home. It's something to celebrate, and then we have to keep pushing on to figure out what is going to unlock the situation to get my brother home as well.

TAPPER: So, I've seen a lot of chatter on social media among prominent conservatives along the lines of Biden was willing to free Viktor Bout for a celebrity who hates America, that's their words, not mine, as opposed to standing up and fighting to get the release of a marine. And as the sister of that marine, I'm wondering what your reaction is when you hear about such criticism?

WHELAN: Well, I think those are -- those arguments are purposefully missing the nuance of what happens in negotiations over wrongful detainees. That's, that's a -- an unfortunate way to characterize the situation.

There should be no American standing against getting home a wrongfully detained American who is being held overseas because hostile foreign countries are trying to start problems over here. They're trying to create dissension and difficulties.

It may be one of the reasons why Brittney was held wrongfully in the first place. So I would urge everyone to, you know, to keep their partisan sniping out of it. If they've got some better ideas on how this administration should be approaching getting people home, then I'm sure that the folks over at the NSC would be happy to hear what those ideas are.

We need some unity here and everybody joining together to help get my brother back.

TAPPER: Your other brother David said on CNN this morning that he thinks the U.S. has no concessions left to give to Russians in exchange for Paul.

Have you talked to him about that? Do you agree?

WHELAN: Well, I understand what he's saying, and that is that, you know, of all the items that have been offers and we don't know the extent of them, it seems that Russia doesn't want those. So, I don't -- I don't know what the answer is.

And I certainly plan on working with the administration to try to figure that out. My job as a family member is to keep pushing this whole thing along, but I think it's time to start playing hardball on this. You know, we tend to approach things from a diplomatic posture, in negotiations. I think in this particular case, we're dealing with a number of people who are willing to break all the rules. You know, to make their points.

We don't want to do that. We don't want to become like that, but we do need to be able to fight against it.

TAPPER: One of the most moving things about this sad club that you're in, this regrettable club that you're in is how much you all stand up for each other. I remember when we did our special, when we interview Trevor Reed, he insisted that the Whelans and Paul's story be part of the hour that we spent talking about his story and Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle mentioned your family when she spoke from the White House earlier. Let's play a part of that.


CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: B.G.'s not here to say this but I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that B.G. and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate B.G. being home.


TAPPER: What's your response to that?

WHELAN: Well, I tear up, to begin with. It's true. There's a fellow feeling amongst the families of -- whose loved ones are, you know, there are 19 different countries holding Americans now. The numbers keep growing in part because we're not doing a very good job of punishing these countries for these malevolent acts.


But to have that kind of support is so important. There are other families such as the ones in Iran who have gone through this more times than we have. This is the second time for Paul. But this is -- this is unfortunately something that happens. These countries decide that they're only going to let certain prisoners go and they're going to hold on to others.

This is not something we always have the power to wave a magic wand and solve. But I'm certainly hoping that we can make some larger efforts towards my brother's release.

TAPPER: And we're going to keep shining a light on his story, Elizabeth. Thank you so much for joining us.

WHELAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We're also following two major pieces of legislation that President Biden is expected to sign. One on same-sex marriage. The other increasing defense spending. The potential impact of both, next.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, two major pieces of bipartisan legislation clearing the House of Representatives today. Lawmakers passing a critically important national defense funding bill and another mandating that states recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. In one of her very last acts as speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi triumphantly announced that bill's passage, banging her gavel repeatedly amid raucous applause from the chamber.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, the marriage bill is headed to President Biden's desk right now. What does it actually do?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That law set the definition for marriage, between a man and woman. It allowed one state to deny another state's same sex marriage if they recognized it in that state.

You can't do that anymore under this legislation. Each state would have to recognize another state's legally valid marriage. It does not set a national standard as some activists had wanted, but it does add that deals within on a state level.

Now, it would also include some religious exemptions, for some churches who might not want to perform a same-sex marriage, they don't have to worry about their tax-exempt status revoked. That was necessary to get 12 Republicans to support it in the Senate. It ultimately passed there, today passing with bipartisan support in the House.

I asked Mark Pocan, who's gay, who is married, about criticism from some on the left that this did not go far enough and provided too many exceptions, and he pushed back.


REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): This bill goes far enough that if an activist Supreme Court decides to go after the law they can't anymore. We solidified federal law to make sure my marriage and other people's marriage can continue to be recognized. So, to me, that's a pretty significant accomplishment. We don't need fear of a direct attack from an activist court, and that's why it's a very important bill and I'm glad we got it done.


RAJU: And the vote today 268 yes votes, 169 no votes. It was all Republicans votes. Thirty-nine Republicans did vote for it. And that is a sea change, though, Jake, since the Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996, when 67 members voted against that law. Today, 258 members voted to repeal it.

TAPPER: But, you know that 39 House Republicans voted for this bill. But that's less than the 47 House Republicans who voted for the same bill this summer, despite including language here allowing religious liberty exemptions. What happened? What happened to those eight votes?

RAJU: Yeah, some of those Republican members said, they were actually critical of those religious liberty exemptions. They did not go far enough and argue that perhaps some of these churches could be -- could be hit with lawsuits if they decided not to perform a same-sex marriage. That argument, of course, have been rejected by some of these advocates of this legislation.

But that is the argument why the fewer Republicans this time supporting this bill, despite the fact that the earlier version of the bill did not provide any of those religious exemptions.

Nevertheless, Jake, this is passed bipartisan support, it will be signed into law by Joe Biden in the days ahead.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Now to the other major bill that just cleared the House of Representatives, the nearly $860 billion National Defense Authorization Act. That comes with significant changes to the military's policies and funding, and notably, a repeal of the military's COVID vaccine mandates.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida. He's on the House Armed Services Committee. He's also the first Green Beret to ever serve in Congress.

Congressman, let's start with one of the biggest sticking points, which was just recently resolved. The COVID vaccine mandate has now been repealed for service members. Now, as I don't need to tell you, when you joined the Army, there were all sorts of vaccine mandates for other diseases. Those requirements still stand, why should COVID be any different?

REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): Well, Jake, I think this was a big win for Kevin McCarthy, who raise this as a key issue with the president and I certainly want to applaud him for that.

Look, it was time for the vaccine mandate to go, Jake. The driving force for it was to stop the spread. Of course, you can't have members getting into a submarine or military members getting into a tank and affecting the other crew members, but it's not very clear that despite what we thought early on, or told early on, that vaccine doesn't stop the spread, it's going to spread whether you are vaccinated or not. That then makes it a personal health decision.

The other thing that we were hearing from the Pentagon was that, well, you know, we can't have military members getting sick. It's a readiness issue. Jake, this is the healthiest population in America. If you actually look at the science, you actually look at the statistics, yeah, some people may get infected, but they weren't getting seriously sick, in 19, 20, 21, years old. In fact, the military's lost fewer members than they do in training or in car accidents.

So, at the end of the day, when you weigh the risks, and we can talk about how it got politicized, but at the end of the day, if they were about to kick out over 20,000 national guardsmen and women, they had already discharged over 8,500 active duty members, that is a massive blow to our readiness that we can't afford in the middle of a recruiting crisis, in the middle of massive military buildup from China. We just literally could not replace those folks, so I think this was a common sense approach. It was time to go.

TAPPER: Several of your Republican colleagues have slammed Democrats for what they perceive to be overspending on aid to Ukraine. This legislation would give nearly three billion dollars to restocking munitions, which partially went to Ukraine. Plus an additional $800 million for Ukraine security assistance, which is half a billion dollars more than President Biden asked for. What's your assessment? Do you think this is the right amount?

WALTZ: Look, I think we need to see two things going forward, Jake. Number one, we need to see better oversight. We also included an inspector general for Ukraine aid to have a clear understanding and transparency. Where is it going? How is it being used? Is it being used as effectively as it should be?

But I think the bigger issue here, Jake, is that Europe has got to step up here. Germany, in particular, has delivered a fraction of what they promised. Heck, "The Wall Street Journal" just came out of analysis from an economic standpoint, Germany's trade with Russia is down a whopping 3 percent.

They are by far the most effective, their security is absolutely -- if Putin slices through Ukraine easily, he will move on. He has stated he will re-try to reconstitute the old Soviet Union. That then means invoking the NATO treaty and U.S. troops involved.

I want to prevent that. But Europe has got to -- I mean, they've got to start bearing the burden here and sharing the burden, and doing their fair share, and they are just -- certainly European countries are not.

TAPPER: Well --

WALTZ: And the American taxpayers, I think, rightly want to know where it is going and our allies are they doing everything they should be doing?

TAPPER: Yeah, part of the NATO agreement is not all the countries spent 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own military. Germany is not doing that still, despite Prime Minister Olaf Scholz's promise to invest. Actually, he said he would invest more than 2 percent --

WALTZ: That's right. They just reversed it, yeah.

TAPPER: -- after Putin invaded Ukraine.

You said the U.S. needs to call Germany out. What does that calling out look like beyond just you and me or, you know, President Biden, I suppose, saying so publicly? What else should the U.S. be doing?

WALTZ: Well, look, I mean, you have defense ministerial, you have foreign minister ministerial, you have NATO summits. We have our bilateral relationship with Germany.

You know, we certainly called them out on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Congress put sanctions in place that unfortunately this administration lifted, which I think was a partial greenlight for Putin to think he could get away with it. I think there just needs to be a lot more pressure and a lot more noise, rather than a blip in the headline that Germany has completely done a 180 on their promises, as Ukraine is being devastated.

Rather than just saying, American taxpayer, you have got to do more, how about we say, Europe, you need to step up? This is directly affecting your national security. And I just don't see that from the administration.

TAPPER: You've been vocal on today's big news of the prisoner swap that secured Brittney Griner's release. Republican Minority Leader McCarthy called it a, quote, sign of weakness from the Biden administration.

You tweeted, quote, the Biden administration is giving priority to a celebrity over a veteran. Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan's sister, said to me just a few minutes ago that nobody should be sniping like that that people should just be rejoicing that an American is freed. And the White House has made it clear that the offer from Russia was Boot for Griner or no deal.

WALTZ: Yeah.

TAPPER: The guy who negotiates these deals is Roger Carstens. I'm sure you know him, retired army colonel, a holdover from the Trump administration. We all wish that Paul Whelan was coming home, but why was your reaction the way it was?

WALTZ: But, Jake, look, this is a tactical victory. I'm glad she's coming home. This is a strategic loss. And National Security Council and the commander-in-chief need to be looking at our policy.

The reason the Iranian regime, the Taliban, Putin himself continue to take Americans hostage is we continue to make concessions. And our approach to getting to Whelan now can't be -- well, we just didn't find a good enough concession that Putin would deal with.

When do we start dictating the terms to these regimes? When do we start setting the terms instead of just trying to find more and more to get? Because that only leads to more and more hostage taking.


So, I understand the family's focus on the moment. But we need to be looking at a broader strategy and until we start raising the costs, until Putin, the Iranian regime, the Syrian regime, which is, you know, Austin Tice is still missing. The Taliban, who just got their biggest drug dealer out in exchange for one of their hostage say, this is going to cost us too much in terms of sanctions, diplomatic isolation --


WALTZ: -- or even a military action. We better back off here.

They are just going to keep doing it, Jake. And more and more Americans are going to find themselves in this situation. That's what I find so frustrating about this deal.

TAPPER: Florida Republican Congressman Mike Waltz, thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time today. Coming up next, a specific requests from police in Idaho that may

suggest a focus of their investigation into the murders of four college students.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Idaho police are currently searching for a white car said to have been seen outside the home where four college students were murdered more than three weeks ago.


CNN's Veronica Miracle reports on why investigators want to talk to the driver and any passengers who were in that white car.


VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police in Moscow, Idaho, are now looking for a white 2011 to 2013 Hyundai Elantra like this one seen around the time of the murders near the off campus home several of the victims shared. Investigators say, information about the sedan and at least one person seen inside the car came from some of the more than 6,000 tips they received from the public.

The police say, they say whoever was in the car could've, quote, critical information to share. And they are urgently asking the public for any other details, as they continue their investigation.

AARON SNELL, IDAHO STATE POLICE SPOKESMAN: We still have thousands of leads and tips that we're working through. We're continuously making progress. We're interviewing people daily. So we're moving forward.

MIRACLE: It's been almost a month since four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death on November 13th. And police have still not found a murder weapon or named a suspect in the case. Investigators are still looking at the victims' activities in the hours before the murders and have addressed speculation that victim, Kaylee Goncalves, may have had a stalker.

SNELL: From the tips and leads that we have received, we were able to find a singular incident that we thoroughly investigated and determined to the best of our ability that it was not related.

MIRACLE: Investigators continue to look into the possibility of a stalker. And now, as students at the University of Idaho head into their last week of the fall semester, roughly a third are choosing to stay home for the rest of the year.


MIRACLE (on camera): And police are also asking for information about what happened at the Sigma Chi party that Ethan and Xana attended in the hours before their deaths -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Veronica Miracle, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, what's revealed in the new Netflix documentary about Harry and Meghan and the part Buckingham Palace might fear the most.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news. The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to hold Donald Trump in contempt of court over the Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins us live.

Katelyn, what are prosecutors arguing here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, prosecutors are saying they are not satisfied with even recent searches Donald Trump's team has done of four different locations where he could have been keeping documents still, after the presidency. We just learned the other day about these searches. One in New Jersey, one in New York, two in Florida, where two documents that were marked as classified were found, and handed back over to investigators.

The reason those searches were taking place now was because there has been this subpoena that has been out there telling Donald Trump's team, you need to give everything back from the federal government that might be yours, that might be a national security secret. That subpoena has been in existence for months and the Justice Department keeps trying to enforce it.

So, the latest chapter of this now is that those searches were done by Donald Trump's team. The Justice Department is saying in court it's not enough. We don't believe possibly that you have turned over everything. We need more and they are asking a federal judge, Chief Judge Beryl Howell, of the D.C. district court, to hold Donald Trump in contempt, to hold his office after the presidency in contempt of court.

Now, there has not been a decision yet by the judge at this time, Jake. But one of the possible consequences here is daily fines if Trump continues not to be in compliance with the subpoena like this.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Polantz, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Next, brand new details about Britney Griner's release as the WNBA star gets ready to land in Texas at any moment.

But, first, we are going to take a look at a special all-star tribute to American heroes. Check this out.


ANNOUNCER: Sunday, it's the time of year to be inspired and honor some of humanity's best.

CARRIE BROECKER, PEACE OF MIND DOG RESCUE: We have found homes for almost 3000 dogs.

TYRIQUE GLASGOW, YOUNG CHANCES FOUNDATION: Our community center used to be the community drug house.

BOBBY WILSON, METRO ATLANTA URBAN FARM: I want my grandchildren to have it better than what I had today.

RICHARD CASPER, CREATIVETS: I always wanted to serve other people. --

TERESA GRAY, MOBILE MEDICS INTERNATIONAL: Human suffering has no borders, people are people and love is love.

ANNOUNCER: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as they present the 2022 hero of the year.




ANNOUNCER: "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute", Sunday at 8:00.




TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, a damning new report about the Washington Commanders NFL team, and a culture of fear that the team's owner allegedly used to cover-up years of sexual misconduct.

Plus, 65 years later, police in Philadelphia have finally named for the so-called boy in a box. His lifeless body was found wrapped inside a blanket in a cardboard box in 1957. Philly police say they also have a theory about who killed him.

And leading this hour, Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star, Brittney Griner, is on her way back to the United States. After being released from a Russian penal colony in a high-profile prisoner swap. Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia back in February for carrying a small amount of medically prescribed cannabis oil, she was then convicted and sentenced to nine years in Russian prison.

After months of negotiations, the White House agreed to release notorious convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner's freedom. Griner's wife, Cherelle, spoke at the White House this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: Over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life. And so, today, I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude.