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January 6 Committee Turning Over 20 Transcripts To Justice Department; Russian Officials Requested Adding Convicted Murderer To Brittney Griner And Paul Whelan Prisoner Swap; Controversial Saudi- Backed LIV Golf Tournament Kicks Off At Trump's New Jersey Golf Club. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. Want to hand it over to Laura Coates, who's filling in for DON LEMON TONIGHT.


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Thanks, Don - thank you. Almost called you Don, Anderson. You guys look so much alike, I always get you confused.

COOPER: Often mistaken!

COATES: I mean that's what I didn't want to say. But you really do. Thank you, Anderson Cooper.

This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. I'm Laura Coates, in for Don.

We're seeing a recurring theme, in the search, to get answers, about January 6th, deleted documents.

In an actual CNN exclusive, tonight, the hunt for missing Secret Service texts goes back more than a year, it seems. And it turns out investigators knew the texts were deleted, in May. But I don't mean May of this year. I mean May of last year. That's actually seven months earlier than what the Secret Service told Congress.

Now, this is on top of a reporting, from "The Washington Post" that texts from Donald Trump's acting Homeland Security Chief, Chad Wolf, and his top deputy, Ken Cuccinelli are apparently also MIA.

DHS offering, a similar excuse, to what we heard from Secret Service that texts were lost, in some sort of a reset, of government phones, at the end of the Trump administration.

Now, Wolf is just the latest, with Trump cabinet level officials, we're learning, has actually talked to the House Select Committee. But CNN has also learned, that interview was several months ago. That's before investigators knew about the missing records.

So now, we've got missing Homeland Security records, along with deleted Secret Service text messages, just added to the list, along with missing White House call logs, and the Presidential Daily Diary, all silent on a day, we know, many people were trying to reach, none other than Donald Trump.

We know key insiders were using Signal, which is an encrypted messaging app, in the days, before the attack. The White House photographer was specifically kept away, from Trump, as the mob reached the Capitol. And boxes, of classified documents, were sent to Mar-a-Lago, instead of the National Archives where, of course, they belong.

Now, keep in mind, even as the DOJ is gearing up, for possible court fights, to keep Trump insiders, from using, or asserting executive privilege, as some kind of a shield, for their testimony? The only time the former President has actually invoked privilege, in a courtroom, it was over trying to keep White House documents, away from Congress.

So, even if the former President and his allies look to use claims of privilege, maybe to buy time? Yes, the committee faces a November deadline, with the midterms. We know. The DOJ doesn't have that same deadline. Plus, Trump lost his one legal challenge, on privilege, fairly quickly.

And there's one other thing that seems to be missing. It's Kevin McCarthy's memory, of conversation, with one specific White House aide. You recognize her. It's Cassidy Hutchinson.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She testified, under oath, saying that you called her, after Donald Trump said that - or just told his supporters that they were going to go to the Capitol, and you were concerned about those remarks and said, "Don't come up here. Figure it out. Don't come up here." She said that under oath.

Did you tell her that? And why were you concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump, coming to the Capitol, on January 6th?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I don't recall talking to her that day. I recall talking to Dan Scavino. I recall talking to Jared. I recall talking to Trump. That's what I talked to on television like that, too. If I talked to her, I don't remember it. If it was coming up here, I don't think I wanted a lot of people coming up to the Capitol. But I don't remember the conversations.

RAJU: Why were you concerned specifically about Trump coming to the Capitol?

MCCARTHY: I don't remember that. And--

RAJU: You don't remember being concerned about his comments?

MCCARTHY: No. No, but because I didn't watch it. This is what is so confusing. I didn't watch the speech. I was working. So, I didn't see what was said. I didn't see what went on, till after the fact, so. RAJU: Did you want him to come to the Capitol?

MCCARTHY: No. I've never - I've never communicated with him about coming to Capitol. I had no idea he would come to the Capitol. I had no idea that he was even going to come to the Capitol. That's what she said (ph).

RAJU: Because she said under oath that you told her, throughout the course of the week, or she told, reassured you, through the course of the week that he was not going to come to the Capitol. So, you apparently did not have that conversation?

MCCARTHY: I don't - I don't remember having any conversations with her, about coming to the Capitol - the President coming to the Capitol.


COATES: And bravo, to Manu Raju, for continuing, with his questionings, to try to get to the bottom of the issue.


McCarthy's memory may have some gaps, shall we say? But federal investigators are filling in those pieces, especially now that the House Select Committee is sharing more of its secrets, shall we say?

Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill, joining us now.

Ryan, I'm glad to see you, on this Friday.

It wasn't that long ago that the DOJ was saying the House Select Committee was hindering their work. Where do we stand tonight?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems the relationship is a heck of a lot better, Laura. There's no doubt about that.

We know in particular that if we drill down to the specifics that the committee has handed over 20 specific transcripts, of some of the interviews that they've already done.

And the Committee Chairman, Bennie Thompson, said today that this is just the beginning of their cooperation. Take a listen.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, it's DOJ's request. They have indicated they want to have access to a certain number of transcripts. And we've negotiated back-and-forth, and the Committee sees a way to make that available for them. At this point, there'll be about 20 that they have come (ph) with a request that wants to come in. We'll make them available.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: So, we don't know what specific transcripts that the Department of Justice has requested that the committee is allowed to go forward. But in the past, Bennie Thompson has told us that they were specifically interested, in the fake elector plot. So that could be among the group of transcripts that they've handed over. So Laura, there's no doubt that the cooperation is a lot better.

The committee's still made it clear though, that this is their material, this is the work that they've already done. They're not just going to hand it over willy-nilly whenever the Department of Justice wants it. But, at this point, they're at least talking, they're cooperating, and that should make life a lot easier, for those federal prosecutors.

COATES: It still sort of eludes reason that they wouldn't want to be more willing to hand over things that might be able to be compared and contrasted. I mean, you know, there's an active investigation, going on, in DOJ. But that's just coming from a DOJ alum, who would want to have the information!

What are members of the committee saying, tonight, Ryan, about the deleted Secret Service text messages?

NOBLES: Listen, Laura. They're suspicious about all of this, right? And they're not mincing words about that.

They believe that there's something more here going on than just the bureaucratic effort of upgrading phones, from one to another, and data just gets lost in that process. They are very concerned that there could be something more involved in all of this.

This is what, Jamie Raskin told me, earlier today.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): People think that they may be slick, in trying to delete a text. But, of course, there's two sides to a text.

NOBLES: Right.

RASKIN: There are technological means of retrieval. And we can also determine, from the context, what - what was happening. And nobody should really be in the business of covering up any of this.


NOBLES: So that's Raskin saying it outright, he doesn't want anyone to think that they're being slick here. He is accusing people of a potential cover-up. This is beyond just a problem that happened, within the government system, of upgrading these phones. They believe there's a real problem here.

And the other thing I was particularly struck by today, when I talked to him, Laura, is that they have not given up the idea that they may be able to retrieve these texts, in some form or fashion, either from the people on the other side of these text messages, through some sort of technological effort. They still want this content.

It's really a two-fold question that they're asking here. First, why were the texts deleted? Was there something conspiratorial about the fact that they were deleted? And second, is there any way that they can get them?

COATES: And also, I wonder if they can just interview the people, who may have actually used their thumbs, to create those texts.

NOBLES: Right.

COATES: Assuming they'd be actually honest about it.

Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

Joining me now, to dive into these issues, and more, is former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, as well as Ramesh Ponnuru, who with the National Review, and Michelle Cottle, from "The New York Times."

Glad to see all of you here, tonight.

Listen, Elliot, let me begin with you here. Because we've laid out a pattern, here, I feel like it's a bit of deja vu, all over again, for people.


COATES: There's a lot of missing records that are happening, and missing around the time, oh, a minor date, January 6th. What do you make of it?

WILLIAMS: Laura, I think, it's actually two big things happening, at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, right, the Department of Homeland Security, where I worked, as a senior appointee, for several years.

Number one, law enforcement is notoriously protective, of its information, and data, and so on, right? And number two, our government can just be pretty incompetent, sometimes. And those two things together, kind of created this mess.

Look, it's a failure of government, if you're putting it in the hands, of individual law enforcement officers, to just backup their own data. And that's what happened here. And the failure is where, if you read the quotes, from these folks, in the newspapers, they just say, "Well, you know, we ask people to back up their data, and they just didn't. And so, as a result, it invited this mess here."


Number one, Congress needs to look at it, not just the January 6th committee, but the Committee on Homeland Security, to really get to the bottom, of what happened. And number two, if there's - if people are hiding or tampering with evidence? That's a crime, and it's got to be investigated. COATES: I mean, I'll admit, Ramesh, there has been times, I've been told, to update things, and I may not have updated them, in a timely fashion. I'm surprised I still even have a phone, some days!

However, the idea of hearing it, time and time again, about phones being mistakenly reset, starts to feel like "My dog ate my homework!"

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes. And you put up a pretty thorough list of all of the missing records, and memory lapses. But even, that wasn't complete.

COATES: Right.

PONNURU: So, there have been reports, for example, that Mark Meadows, burned documents, in his office, after a meeting with Congressman Scott Perry, during the weeks, after the election.

There - Kevin McCarthy didn't remember. If you - you may - you think back to January and February of 2021, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, when she was justifying her vote, to impeach President Trump, as a Republican, she referenced conversations, she had had, with McCarthy that McCarthy again, didn't remember. So yes, there - it is a convenient epidemic of missing memories, missing records.

COATES: It's true, I mean, convenient amnesia. Although, I did hear McCarthy make a statement, "If she said it, or if it happened, I don't recall," which really has a lot of the legal qualities of, to the best of my recollection, sort of that statement, you make, as a preface, before you say something, to guard against, having to be held accountable, for maybe it being wrong.

Michelle, I wonder what it says to you that the text messages that we know about or that may have gone missing, somehow, that Secret Service knew they were gone, seven months earlier than what they actually told Congress? What strikes you about that?

MICHELLE COTTLE, NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD: And what strikes me about that is they're covering their butts. I mean, they were kind of hoping that none of this would have to come out at all.

I mean, one of the great rules of thumb here is if you can avoid, having to deal with this, you don't actually want to have to come clean, about having done something, whether you meant to do it, or whether it was just stupid.

And the situation they've come in, the situation that they have created here is that anybody who believes Donald Trump, and his side, in this, can just say, "Oh, government's incompetent," and then anybody who is completely convinced that there were shenanigans. I mean, it's hard not to look at this as a massive pattern.

But again, with the Trump folks, the whole point is to create questions, and chaos, and confusion. So, if you can have missing records, and missing diaries, and missing photos, and Kevin McCarthy, needs his memory meds, or whatever, then you're going to create enough confusion that your team can say, "Oh, but you know, it was just all one big misunderstanding, and government can't do anything, right, anyway."

PONNURU: Look, it's--

COATES: Or they could also add to that as well, I don't want to cut you off, the idea of saying, "Look, this is what many people are calling, if this were a real hearing, if this were a real trial?" Although we know, it's neither a trial, because it's not the actual executive branch of government, and DOJ enforcing laws. It's not prosecutorial, its legislative in nature.

But there's that same talking point that comes up again, about the idea of, "Hey, this is a prime opportunity to have a rebuttal, if you allowed them to defend themselves, and say what happened here."

But Elliot, I wonder, from your take, I mean, the fact that there is this cooperation, now, emphasis on the word, "Now," between DOJ and the committee, I mean, just as it was asking for these transcripts, back in April? What occurs to you--


COATES: --as to why there would be such a delay? Is it because they don't want to be seen as sort of arm-in-arm, in cahoots, to give further credence to a talking point of, of politics here?


COATES: Or something else?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So a couple of things, going back - no, it's a couple of things going on, Laura.

It's, Congress is intensely protective of its brand, as a public body that puts on proceedings. And as you've seen, the stagecraft, of this last couple months, has been very tightly controlled, and so on. And I think they did not want to release any of their transcripts, or data, to the Justice Department, for fear of losing some of that, right?


WILLIAMS: Now, the problem is that Congress doesn't prosecute people. The Justice Department does. And all of those transcripts, and information materials, it's evidence.

And so, as the Justice Department needs, to get its hands on that, not just to build their own cases, but because they actually have to disclose a lot of that information, to defendants, by law. If it's not - if it exists, and the Justice Department knows it exists, they have to turn it over to defendants. So, there's both practical and legal reasons to turn this over.

Look, I worked in this, for a long time. These two branches of government have been fighting, over evidence, since 1789. Nothing is new about this. And it's going to keep happening. It's just - this is just as American as apple pie.


COATES: You know what's going to keep happening? This conversation. And Ramesh, I'm going to start with you, when we come back. Everyone, stick around.

More and more former Trump officials, speaking to the January 6th committee, and the Justice Department is heating up its own investigation. The question is our investigators getting more insight, into the perhaps biggest fish of them all, or what?


COATES: So, the list of Trump cabinet officials, who we know have testified, or who we know are in line to testify, before the House Select Committee, is growing, by the day. Chad Wolf, Trump's acting DHS Secretary, is just the latest person, we're learning about.

The committee, so far, has been negotiating around any potential executive privilege questions that might be raised. The DOJ looks ready to take that fight head-on.

Ramesh, Michelle, and Elliot, are all still with us.


Ramesh, I want to begin with you. What do you make of all these cabinet level officials, now lining up to talk to the committee? It seems like a far cry from how things first started out. What do you think is, to justify, or to explain? Is it sudden interest? Is it the Bannon verdict? Something else? What is it?

PONNURU: Well, I think that this kind of thing can be a cascade, that once some people are testified, once sort of a critical mass has been reached, then it becomes both more acceptable, to talk, and more potentially harmful, to be one of the few people, who are not there, talking.

But Trump had a long list of people that he hired, who ended up saying, some pretty negative things, about him, and his abilities. And so, Trump has now pretty well-practiced, at saying that the people he hired, were really bad, and were agents of the Deep State, and so forth. And I suspect that if any of this testimony is really negative, and comes out, that we're going to hear that line repeated again, and again.

COATES: I bet we probably will, especially.

And, on this point, Michelle, I wonder, from your perspective, there was a time when the idea of even being seen, as cooperating, in any way, with this committee?

It was called the kangaroo court. It's called the part two of the witch-hunt, and the list goes on and on. It's not bipartisan. They claim that you have two RINOs, Kinzinger, and of course, Cheney.

You can always dispute those actual statements, of course. But why do you think there has been this interest, in participating, in some way? I mean, some attributed to Cassidy Hutchinson, and the bravery of coming forward.

But I wonder if there's a political angle here, as in, maybe I might be thinking about running, or maybe I might think about another candidate, other than Trump, and maybe it helps me in some way. Is that part of this as well?

COTTLE: Well, look, with - aside from Cassidy Hutchinson, you've seen a parade, of Republicans, come forward, even those who, talk about how they're still proud of what was accomplished, during the Trump administration.

This was not - this was not a group that brought forward Democrats, or Trump enemies, to testify. So, you've seen this gradual accumulation, of conservative Republicans, talking about this. And so, it has become more acceptable. And it starts to raise the question of whether Trump is too damaged to be a good candidate in 2024.

And people in the Republican Party are starting to think that maybe they need to keep their options open. I mean, there's been rumblings about, DeSantis' people down in Florida. He's seen as the next obvious choice for 2024, that Ron DeSantis' people think maybe this is a good thing for them.

So, you are seeing a lot of people, I think, reconsider, not necessarily whether Trump has completely lost his grip on the party, but maybe he could be a problem, and they need to be thinking, in general, about what-ifs and Plan Bs.

COATES: Well, speaking of Plan Bs, and what-ifs, I mean, Elliot, we haven't known that there has been a specific assertion, of privilege, by Trump, with respect to people, now that are going before the committee. And he only claimed it once in court, right? It took only three months, I might add, for the Supreme Court to deny him.

I'm wondering, if he tries to do that, again, if he tries to sort of muzzle any of the close aides, and assert privilege, which by the way, Biden has said, as the current President of the United States, he's not asserting it? Is this a plan to run out the clock, to the November midterms? And if that's the plan, I mean, how much time, would it realistically buy, the people, who asserted, at this point?

WILLIAMS: That's an excellent question. They may very well be trying to run out the clock.

The simple fact is, though - and it's important that you said three months, Laura, only three months, because that is very quick, in sort of Supreme Court, and law terms, because it's a relatively straightforward question, the executive privilege question, as it made it to the Supreme Court.

Look, when this has come up, in the past, in history, and it hasn't been many times, the biggest one being 1974, with Richard Nixon, during Watergate, the Supreme Court ruled against the President, saying that executive privilege is a real thing. It's important, for the President, to be able to speak to his senior aides, in private. But that can't trump a criminal investigation, pun intended, but it can't trump a criminal investigation. And that's the more important thing, here. So, it's a relatively straightforward question.

But look, the clock is not the midterms. The clock is five years, from now, because that's the statute of limitations, on most of the crimes, we're talking about here, I believe.

The Justice Department has a bunch of time, to investigate things. And, I think, we're thinking in terms of the political calendar or 2022. But they do have a bunch of time. And, I think, a lot of folks need to take a deep breath, and recognize that indictment doesn't have to come tomorrow, if one's going to come, of anybody.


COATES: Well, I have to remind people, of course of that Kavanaugh concurring opinion, on the issue of privilege, because he seemed to allude to the fact that there might be instances, as you've articulated, that there may be instances, where a former President might be able to hold on to the privilege, for whatever reason, as you're talking about. But again, that fine-craw (ph) the idea of the interest of the American public, in trying to find out the truth--


COATES: --particularly if somebody has been involved in behavior is important.

But I'm not so sure Michelle that there is the oodles and oodles of time.

And I will note, you did not say oodles and oodles. That was me. That would be very odd, if you said oodles and oodles. If wouldn't work for you, Elliot, the same way, it just works for me, for some reason!

But there's not oodles and oodles of time, just now, for the DOJ to do it, because yes, the midterms are not the deadline. But really --they really have until 2024, right?


COATES: When whoever is the next president, if it's a Democrat, if it's a Republican, and puts some people in power. So what do you make of it, Michelle? I mean, is the timeline really as long, or is there a political one that's a Sword of Damocles?

COTTLE: I do think that it gets more and more complicated. I mean, everybody's already trying to game out, is Trump going to declare his candidacy for 2024, and how does that affect any kind of plans to start an investigation?

It's already one of those things that he has clearly decided that the way to beat any kind of criminal charges would be to declare a political witch-hunt. And the closer you get to an election, where that would be a possible issue, the more complicated this gets.

There's lots of pressure, on the DOJ, and Merrick Garland, to get this moving. It's more than just kind of legal limits, and statutes of limitations. There is a lot of politics at play, here.

WILLIAMS: Yes, and to be clear?


WILLIAMS: And I don't want to seem naive about the political realities. But, I think, somehow, the narrative got out there, that Merrick Garland had to get out, ahead of the January 6th committee, or had to issue indictments, prior to even the 2022 midterms. And that's just not accurate.


WILLIAMS: Now, of course, they're not going to take - it can't take five years, to do this. I get that, yes.

COATES: No, I agree. And the idea of thinking about it, Ramesh, I mean, the timeline, in part, there's always a concern about putting one's thumb on the scale, if you're DOJ, for an upcoming election.


COATES: Of course, Trump is not actually on the ballot, technically, in any of the races that are coming up, this fall. And yet, he does cast a pretty big shadow, over these elections.

And I'm wondering, politically speaking, and the patience of the electorate? Forget the patience, or the timeline, of the DOJ. Politically speaking, what are you most interested, in terms of how this is all playing out, from the January 6th committee?

How it's received by the electorate? Are there concerns, in terms of this, inuring to the benefit of somebody, other than Trump, as a Republican? Or are the Democrats in smooth-sailing territory?

PONNURU: Well, I don't think that anything about the Democrats' political situation, right now, is smooth-sailing!

But what I would be looking for, in terms of a political impact, of both the committee, and the Department of Justice actions, is for there to be a slow erosion, in Trump support, not even so much people turning on him, but people just deciding, Republican voters, just deciding, they don't want to keep looking backward, at 2020.

And President Trump constantly wants to re-litigate the 2020 election. And he's continuing to spread this ridiculous story, about his having won the election. He apparently called the Wisconsin Speaker of the Assembly, to try to get him to decertify the election, which is not a thing, by the way.

And, I think that Republican voters might just decide between Trump, himself, and the people investigating his action? They're just kind of sick of it. And the only way to get past all of this is to get past Trump himself.

COATES: And, frankly, there is plenty of fodder that are talking points Republicans could be using, to capitalize, on the lower approval ratings. Of course, the Polercoasters of sorts aren't always the most telling things, about it.

But thank you to all of you. Ramesh, Michelle, Elliot, always great to talk to each of one of you.

PONNURU: Thanks.

COTTLE: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: Look, Russia is now raising the stakes, on a potential prisoner swap. Now we're learning that Moscow has other demands, like the release of a convicted murderer, in exchange for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

I'll tell you about it, next.



COATES: Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, speaking with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for the first time, since the invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken says he's pressuring Lavrov, to accept a U.S.-proposed prisoner swap, detained Americans, Paul Whelan, and Brittney Griner, in exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer.

But in a twist, Russia is now putting up a counter offer, one that frankly could be very hard, for the U.S., to swallow.

Now, I want to bring in CNN's Natasha Bertrand, and Fred Pleitgen.

Glad to have you both, to help explain, what's happening here.

Let me begin with you here, Natasha. You have CNN exclusive reporting that Russia is now offering, this counter proposal, to the U.S. prisoner swap. Tell us what you're learning.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Laura. So essentially, what we've been told is that after the U.S. put forward this proposal, to trade Viktor Bout, for Paul Whelan, and Brittney Griner? The Russians responded, through kind of a back channel, asking for this former FSB Colonel, Vadim Krasikov.

And he was convicted, in Germany, about seven months ago, of assassinating a former Chechen soldier, in broad daylight, in Berlin, in 2019, in a big kind of scandal that really ruptured relations, even further, between Germany and Russia.

Well, now the Russians are asking for him back. They want him back in their custody. They feel as though the entire trial, of course, was a scam. And they are using this opportunity that the Americans presented them, to kind of up the price, here. Not only do they want Viktor Bout, but they also want this convicted murderer.


Now, the problem, of course that U.S. officials see, is that he is in German custody, and the U.S. would have to essentially try to influence the Germans, try to get them, to release him, if they wanted him, to be part of a viable prisoner swap.

But ultimately, when the Americans actually did go to the Germans, we are told, a couple weeks ago, to kind of feel this out, and see if they would be willing to release him? The Germans were kind of lukewarm, on the idea, at best.

I mean, there is really no indication that they are willing to put this guy out early, to take this guy out of prison, early, and make him part of this prisoner exchange. So, that was kind of dead on arrival.

And the U.S. officials that we've been speaking to say that that's probably the point here, probably the Russians kind of floated this idea, knowing that it was not going to be well-received, by the Americans, or by the Germans.

And they're trying to buy time, and stall, until Brittney Griner's trial is over. In that way, they can say, if she is convicted, that they now have a convicted American, on their soil, who committed a crime. And they can therefore say, "Well, now our price has gone up even further."

So, it's a kind of a - it's a very complicated situation. But ultimately, what the officials we spoke to said, is that this is not a serious counter offer, by the Russians, and that they should take the deal that the Americans have offered to them.

COATES: Wow! I mean, the idea of just the pawns that are now, in the midst of this, is really disturbing, to think about all this.

Fred, I mean, Brittney Griner, she's still stuck in Russian custody, as these negotiations are playing out.


COATES: I know she's pleaded guilty. But the trial in Russia is still going on, for whatever reason. What is the latest we know about her case?

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. And it's moving into a really crucial phase. And Brittney Griner, certainly, is very much aware of that.

I was able to speak to her legal defense team, today. And they said that she is somewhat nervous, as the trial moves into this very decisive phase, and you could have a verdict, very soon, but that she's also laser-focused, on her defense.

Here's what they told me.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): WNBA star, Brittney Griner, focused on the final and decisive phase, of her trial, for drug charges, in Russia.

Speaking to CNN, right after visiting her, Griner's lawyer says, the athlete is keeping the faith.

MARIA BLAGOVOLINA, BRITTNEY GRINER'S RUSSIAN COUNSEL: As it starts, she is, of course, stressed and quite nervous. And she knows that the end of the trial is approaching. But she really appreciates all the support she's getting.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Griner's legal team is building their strategy, on efforts, to get leniency, from the court, by showing remorse, for trying to enter the country, with vaping cartridges, containing cannabis oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do understand what my charges are against me. And with them being accidentally in my bags, I take responsibility. But I did not intend to smuggle or plan to smuggle anything into Russia.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The legal team believes, so far, their approach, has worked, as well as possible, in a Russian court.

BLAGOVOLINA: The court is receptive. The court listens. The court accepts - almost accepted, already, almost all our evidence. So, I think that, like procedurally, it's going how it went.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But conviction rates, in Russia, are well over 90 percent. And Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years, in prison, if found guilty.

The U.S. has been frustrated, by a lack of progress, trying to organize a prisoner swap, with Moscow, to get both Brittney Griner, and former Marine, Paul Whelan, who is currently serving a 16-year sentence, for alleged espionage, which he denies, released.

Tonight, Secretary of State, Blinken, saying he raised the issue, with the Russian Foreign Minister, in their first phone call, since Russia invaded Ukraine.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth, on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the Russians have made clear, they don't want to speak publicly, about prisoner swaps.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): This topic was discussed, over a year ago, during the Geneva meeting, between Presidents Putin and Biden. There, they agreed to authorize competent people, to deal with these issues. The Foreign Ministry is not one of them. PLEITGEN (voice-over): Brittney Griner's legal team says they have not been made aware of any negotiations, and are only focused, on the tough legal battle, ahead.

BLAGOVOLINA: She asked to say that she loved everybody. She misses her family, of course, her wife. And again, she appreciates a lot, the huge support she's getting, from you (ph), and other WNBA, from the sports community, in the USA, and Russia, worldwide. So she's just very, very grateful, and it's really means a lot to her.


PLEITGEN: Really means a lot to her, Laura. Brittney Griner really wanted that to be known, and wanted that to be out there. Her lawyer told us that she knew that they were meeting, with CNN, today, and really wanted everybody to know that she appreciates the support that she's getting, in America and, of course, around the world, as well.


Her legal team also saying, of course, they're putting everything they can, into her defense. But they also say they do hope that there is a prisoner swap, and that Brittney Griner can come home, as soon as possible, Laura.

COATES: Fred, Natasha, thank you both for your reporting. Excellent! Such a sad situation on all sides!

From Brittney Griner, to the controversial LIV Golf tournament teeing up off at Trump's Bedminster club.

So, what does Bob Costas think about all of it? Well, we're going to ask him, because he's joining me, next.


COATES: For more now, on the Brittney Griner situation, and another big controversy, the LIV Golf tournament, at the former President's Bedminster course, I want to bring in CNN Contributor, Bob Costas, really needs no introduction at all.

But Bob, I'm glad you're here, tonight.

We're talking about what's the latest, on Brittney Griner. I wonder what your reaction is, on the prospect of her being included, in a prisoner swap, as her trial is ending near.


BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we're not talking here about the Russian people. But we are talking about Vladimir Putin's government. And if we need any more evidence, as to just how ruthless they are, and how they don't adhere, to international norms.

This is really relatively trivial, in light of what's going on, in Ukraine. But it is significant, certainly it's significant, to Paul Whelan, and to Brittney Griner, and their families that they are held unjustly, according to the State Department.

And now, they want not only Viktor Bout, back, an international arms dealer, serving a 25-year sentence, but a convicted murderer, who's not even held, in America. He's held in Germany. Now, as your previous guest said, that may be a ploy, and they're not serious about it. Maybe they just want to make a statement of some kind, and they'll accept Bout.

But you're in effect, asking for two people, who shouldn't be held at all. In return, you want two international criminals. That's the way they play the game.

COATES: And speaking of how others have played the game, Bob, and the idea of the sort of reputation, proceeding itself, there's also the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour that's kicking off at former President Trump's Bedminster golf course, today.

Tell me about the optics around all this. I mean, we first had the fist-bump seen, around the world. You had Trump saying that nobody's gotten to the bottom of 9/11. You've got this happening, now, on the backdrop of already-existing controversies, around those, who've chosen to join LIV. What are the optics here?

COSTAS: Well, the optics are not good, for those who care about it. I've talked about many of the other aspects, and the overlap.

There are people, who say, "What about China?" all this whataboutism, "What about the fact that various companies that are sponsors, of the PGA Tour, do business with Saudi Arabia?" Who says that those who object to this approve of any of that?

I've been critical of China, hosting the Olympics, going back to 1996, when they were just talking about them hosting the Olympics. And I'd been critical of NBA players, and the NBA itself, for its deep involvement, in China. And I was critical of an Olympics, in Putin's Russia. So, I think I've been generally consistent about this.

And the issue here is not an alternative to the PGA Tour. Greg Norman and many current golfers have issues, with the PGA Tour. And if this alternative, was funded by any other entity, any acceptable entity, other than the human rights-abusing Saudi regime, with a long list of such abuses? That's the problem.

And when people say, "Well, others have done business with them," that may be true. But all of these golfers, in effect, are ambassadors for the Saudi Royal Family. That's why they're there. They're in effect ambassadors.

No one knows, who's the head of this company, or that company. The public doesn't know. They know who these golfers are. And it's an attempt to sportswash, and put a happier face, on an objectionable regime.

Now, the other side of it is with this happening, in Bedminster, and with the 9/11 families, so close by, and the wounds so fresh? That would be, bad enough, in and of itself. But hosted by a former President of the United States, one would hope? I mean, can you imagine, can you imagine any president, in our lifetime, Republican or Democrat, doing such a thing?


COSTAS: You would expect from a past president, and perhaps an aspirant, to be the president again, you'd expect a little bit more dignity, a little bit more empathy, and grace, and common decency. But if you're looking for that, perhaps you should look elsewhere.

COATES: Well-said. But speaking of elsewhere, I would note that the intersection of the NBA, and LIV and golf tournaments, the former NBA player, and sports commentator, Charles Barkley, who works for CNN's parent company, he considered joining the LIV tournament, in a broadcasting role. He decided no longer to do that.


COATES: Perhaps undoubtedly about the correlation we're speaking of.

But I do want to turn our attention to another issue that's near and dear to your heart. I know that you're a baseball fan. And you have been consistent as well about the ideas surrounding the COVID vaccine policies, and the way it's playing in terms of the seasons.

We know that the Detroit Tigers player, Andrew Chafin, is missing games, against the Toronto Blue Jays, since he does not meet--


COATES: --Canada's COVID vaccine requirement. It's not just him, though, that has done something like this. There's been other sports, other conversations.


COATES: How could this impact the baseball season and, more broadly, going forward?

COSTAS: Well, recently, 10 Kansas City Royals, 10, could not cross the Canadian border. They had to bring up minor leaguers. The Royals, however, are not a contender. They just traded Andrew Benintendi, who's a very good player, and a nice guy. They just traded him to the Yankees.


The Yankees, most certainly, are a contender. Even though they have a big lead, in the American League East, they're trying to finish ahead, of the Astros, for the best record, in the League, overall, which would have an effect on playoff seeding.

And Benintendi, at this point, is not vaccinated. So, if they were to play Toronto, tomorrow, in Toronto, he could not cross the border.

The St. Louis Cardinals' two best players, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt, both unvaccinated, missed the two games, just this past week, in Toronto. The Cardinals are in a race with the Brewers, in the National League Central, and in a race, for a wildcard spot.

So, leave aside any medical opinion, leave aside the politics of it, this is a team sport. We're not talking about Novak Djokovic on his own, deciding not to get vaccinated, in an individual sport.

This is a team sport. And no matter whether you agree or disagree with the mandates, or any country's rules and regulations, you are hurting your own team, when you don't get vaccinated, under these circumstances.

If I have another minute here? Last year, Aaron Rodgers, unvaccinated, had to miss a game, for the Green Bay Packers. I like Aaron Rodgers very much. He's a great, great player, and an interesting guy. But you just can't rationalize it. In fact, he came within one day of missing two games.

And had he turned up positive, even if he was asymptomatic, until the NFL changed the rules, as the playoffs of the Super Bowl approached? If he had been tested positive, again, even if he was entirely asymptomatic? He could have missed a playoff game or a Super Bowl. How can you do that to your team? I just don't understand that.

J. T. Realmuto, who's a catcher, for the Phillies? And these guys are making millions of dollars. So, missing two games, three games cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they don't get paid, for those games. He said it's worth it, not to tell - not to allow Canada, to tell me what to do.

Forget about geopolitics. What do you tell your teammates? You leave them in the lurch.


COSTAS: I don't get it.

COATES: I hear you. I wonder what those conversations are like, behind closed doors. Thank you for having with me, today, in front of the cameras, as well.

We'll be right back, everyone.

COSTAS: Very, very last--



COATES: The catastrophic flooding, in Eastern Kentucky, has killed at least 16 people, including and, this is so heartbreaking to say, including four siblings, ages 2-years-old to 8-years-old, in Knott County. Their aunt says the rushing water was so strong it pulled the children, right out of the arms, of their parents.

Kentucky's governor says the damage and destruction is so severe, the death toll is likely to rise, even further.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Hazard, Kentucky tonight.

Evan, it's unbelievable to hear these stories, the heartbreaking tragedy, the images alone are terrifying, the stories, all the more horrifying. You've actually seen this damage, firsthand. How bad is this, in person, to see?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, the people who live here, who are used to seeing things, here, in this part of Kentucky, say that this flooding is something like they've never seen before. And a flash flood is so terrifying that water comes so fast, and it just sweeps everything away with it. And then it's just gone.

I'm standing in the staging area, which is the flea market site, here, in Hazard, where people have been gathering, to give out supplies, to each other, and go out and rescue each other, from other parts of the state.

And the most ominous thing, I've seen, is the sound - or heard, really, is the sound of that emergency broadcasting that comes on, warning there might be still yet more rain to come, after everything that this place has already suffered through, there still might be more to come.

It's a really just an incredibly horrifying thing, to see, in person. And it's just a scary, scary thing, to think about. And it may not be over. Laura?

COATES: And just watching, I mean, as we're watching the water, there's a current, in this water. It's not like, it's still, I mean, looks like it's actually pulling things along, as well. It's just horrifying.

Evan, thank you for being there, and keeping us apprised, of what's happening. Our hearts are going out, to all the families, who are suffering, right now. Thank you so much.

Missing texts, missing call logs, missing presidential diary entries, a whole lot of things missing, and it's a safe bet the January 6th committee doesn't see this as a coincidence.