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Trevor Reed Files Petition With U.N. to Hold Russia Accountable; Russia in Control of Severodonetsk As War Rages On; Heard Says, I Stand By Accusations Against Johnny Depp. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 14, 2022 - 10:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: In part because the cells continuously mutate, making them harder for the immune system to detect.


But that's exactly why BioNTech's co-founders, Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci have been working with mRNA for decades to see if they could outsmart cancer.

How do you know it is specific, really, to that cancer and not to healthy human cells in that particular patient's bod?

DR. OZLEM TURECI, CO-FOUNDER, BIONTECH: That was actually the last two decades which we invested to identify how we get the best targets, the best mutations, the best molecules to recognize cancer cells and distinguish them from normal cells.

GUPTA: Remember how mRNA works in COVID-19 vaccines. It essentially gives our immune system detailed instructions to make a specific part of the virus so our immune system can then learn to recognize it and create antibodies against it. Those instructions can then be tailored and tweaked quickly if the virus evolves. The idea is this could work in a similar way but for cancer.

DR. VINOD BALACHANDRAN, ONCOLOGIST, MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING: The optimal technology to be able to custom-make a vaccine rapidly in real-time, which is really important for our cancer patient who wants care, the best technology out there, we thought, was mRNA.

GUPTA: Let me explain how this worked for Barbara. Doctors first removed her tumor and a sample of it was flown almost 4,000 miles BioNTech's headquarters in Germany.

DR. UGUR SAHIN, CO-FOUNDER, BIONTECH: What we do is we sequence the tumor, the DNA from the tumor, and identify the mutations by comparing DNA from the tumor with the DNA from the blot (ph), because the blot (ph) is non-mutated and then you can see at that position, there is a mutation.

GUPTA: The next step involves using a computer algorithm to figure out which of those mutations should become targets for the vaccine. The ones that Barbara's immune system will recognize and then deploy T-cells to fight against. It took just about six weeks for Barbara's custom cancer treatment to be created. And once it made it back over the Atlantic, the first vaccine dose was infused into her blood. That was December 15th, 2020, around the same time the mRNA vaccines for COVID became available.

Along with her standard chemo and immunotherapy, Barbara received nine mRNA vaccinations, and she says everything is so far, so good.

BRIGHAM: I had one last immuno last September, of which I also had a CAT scan at that time and it was negative for pancreatic cancer, and everybody is celebrating. But whatever time I had, it's given me more time to enjoy my grandchildren and my children and my life.


GUPTA (on camera): Well, Poppy, Alex, I mean, this is pretty cool science. I mean, it's amazing to think about the idea of individualized immunotherapy, identifying the specific mutations in a specific individual's cancer and then creating an mRNA vaccine to basically use your immune system to fight this. That's what we're talking about here.

And some of this work has been done a long time. In fact, the team you just saw there, they were working on cancer using mRNA before they pivoted to the vaccine for COVID when the pandemic took off.

It's early days still, phase one trials. It is going to take some time to really make sure these results hold up, that they work better than existing therapies. But keep in mind, for some of these cancers, like you saw with Barbara, there aren't many good options out there now, so this could present something new and novel for her. Poppy, Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty cool science indeed, just incredible. Our thanks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta for that report.

Now, the family of Paul Whelan wants to know why he remains in a Russian prison while another prisoner swap sent another American, Trevor Reed, home.

Up next, Paul's sister will join me to talk about what steps they believe the Biden administration should be taking to get him home.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Trevor Reed, the Marine veteran who spent nearly three years detained in Russia after being released in April in a prison swap is now filing a petition with the United Nations to hold the Russian government accountable for his wrongful detention.

MARQUARDT: That's right. Now, this detention asks the U.N. to issue a formal opinion on Reed's imprisonment as a human rights violation. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TREVOR REED, IMPRISONED IN RUSSIA FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS: Well, that petition includes legal documents, eyewitness accounts, and that what's going to be used to prove denial of rights under international law.

You know, they fabricated this crime in order to hold me there for political purposes and this is the first step in seeking justice and ending, you know, Russian hostage diplomacy.


MARQUARDT: And Trevor Reed is calling on legislators and the White House to work faster towards freeing WNBA Basketball Star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February. But she isn't the only American who is still being held there. Paul Whelan, a former Marine, just like Trevor Reed, is another American detainee. He was arrested in Moscow three and a half years ago and convicted on espionage charges, which he, his family and his supporters vehemently deny.


Joining me now is Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth Whelan. Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining me today.

ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about my brother.

MARQUARDT: So, today is the three-year anniversary since you visited the White House during the Trump administration to talk about bringing your brother home. Around now is also the one-year anniversary since President Putin held a summit with President Biden, and President Biden said that he wasn't going to walk away from getting Trevor Reed and your brother, Paul Whelan, home. Trevor Reed, of course, is now home.

What is the Biden administration telling you now about your brother's status and when you might see him again?

WHELAN: Well, they are not all that forthcoming with details. And we understand that there is work being done to bring Paul home and that there has been over the entire course of his wrongful detention. But details are sadly lacking at this point. We don't understand why, now that it's been a month and a half since Trevor came home, why Paul isn't home, as well.

MARQUARDT: But you have leveled some pretty serious criticism at the Department of Justice. Your other brother, David, recently put out a statement last week that slammed the Department of Justice, essentially for preventing the U.S. for exchanging prisoners to bring Paul and Brittney and others home.

I want to read part of what David wrote. As we understand it, the Department of Justice will not support the release of any foreign nationals in their custody to free wrongfully detained Americans. It is not just that the Department of Justice has slammed the door on Paul, eliminating that option from the possible approaches the U.S. government might take, the door was never open. Why do you believe, Elizabeth, that the DOJ is doing this?

WHELAN: Well, of course, trades are a bit of a sticky question in some cases. Not all of these cases are exactly the same. But I think what we are really concerned about is there seems to be a lack of a coordinated effort to bring Paul home and also other wrongful detainees. Also, trades are not the only tools that the U.S. government could use. And I'm really concerned that everybody has backed themselves into corners about a trade or not a trade. Meanwhile, Paul is rotting in a Russian gulag waiting for someone to sort this out.

MARQUARDT: We have heard from Trevor Reed today, and he has said in the past that he feels bad that he was let out while your brother stayed behind. He said today, this is Trevor Reed, we need to get Paul out of there as well as Brittney. If it takes exchanging someone, we need to do that.

The Russians have talked a lot about Viktor Bout, who was a convicted weapons dealer. Is it your understanding that the Russians want Bout for your brother, Paul?

WHELAN: I've never heard from the U.S. government exactly what is on the table when it comes to negotiating for Paul. There has been a lot in the media about Viktor Bout. And I guess what we're really looking for is we're looking for the White House to change the rules of the game, to, you know, create a faster response, a more coordinated effort to get Paul out.

And most importantly, you know, think about punishing these bad actors. You know, what's happened to Paul is unconscionable, and we really appreciate what Trevor Reed is trying to do to help him. What we want to make sure is that the U.S. government is not restricting their creativity in any way in dealing with this problem.

MARQUARDT: Is that what a creative solution, as you say, would look like, aside from just, say, a one-to-one or two-for-two exchange?

WHELAN: Well, creativity could be an awful lot of things. I mean, there's a lot of irritants as long as my arm between Russia and the U.S. There are something like, oh, 800 Russians in jail. So, we've got options. We have a lot of options to choose from.

And I think what's really important is this idea that we need the executive agencies to get ahead of the game, not just be reacting to Russian demands. So, our family has a lot of mixed emotions. We want Paul back any way we possibly can, but we also want to make sure that whatever happens doesn't make it even more difficult to get other detainees home.

MARQUARDT: And before we go, I just want to ask how you and your other brother, David, are doing, and how are your parents doing. WHELAN: This is extremely difficult for everybody involved. This is 3.5 2 years. You know, just imagine a situation where your loved one has been declared, you know, wrongfully detained. They should be let go. And everybody is arguing about what key to use. And 3.5 years later, your loved one is still sitting in a Russian prison. It's heartbreaking.

MARQUARDT: It is indeed heartbreaking, 3.5 years. Elizabeth Whelan, thank you so much for your time. Of course, our thoughts are with you and with your family.

WHELAN: Thanks so much, Alex.

HARLOW: What a meaningful interview, Alex. I'm so glad you did that, and a direct plea there to the White House and the Biden administration.


Up next, Russia is taking hold of parts of Eastern Ukraine as its troops gain ground in a fierce battle for a key city. We'll take live inside Ukraine right after this.


HARLOW: After nearly four months of war, the Russian military appears to be gaining an upper hand in the Donbas region. Ukraine says Russian forces have seized control of the center of Severodonetsk, and civilians are having a very difficult time, Alex, leaving the city now.


MARQUARDT: Yes, that's right. Because Ukrainian officials are saying that all three bridges into the city are now impassable.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live in Kyiv. Salma, Ukrainian officials are saying that they're worried that this town, this city, Severodonetsk, could be the next Mariupol, which, of course, has been absolutely destroyed.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: I would say it is already the next Mariupol. You are looking at a much more superior Russian military power, ten times more firepower than that of Ukraine's. And they're using these brute force tactics, Alex and Poppy, constant artillery shelling, low-grade weapons, indiscriminate, little regard, of course, for the thousands of civilians that remain trapped inside.

Those three bridges leading out, as you mentioned, now destroyed. The main access road, the main highway going in and out of Severodonetsk, that's constantly being shelled. Ukrainian officials say they're trying by the minute to evacuate people, but as you can imagine, that's extremely difficult. And civilians are the ones paying the cost.

President Zelenskyy highlighted one of the latest victims of this conflict in the Donbas was a six-year-old boy, a six-year-old boy killed in shelling. And very worryingly, we're seeing again some of the same tactics against civilians that were used in Mariupol. Russia claiming that it will evacuate the residents of Severodonetsk.

Now, what that actually means is putting them through filtration camps and forcing them into Russian-occupied territories or Russia itself, as we saw, again, with Mariupol.

So, high concern there for the residents on the ground, for the families still trapped, still pinned down in the fighting. About 20 percent of the city right now is controlled by Ukrainian forces, but they're struggling to hold the line. They are outgunned.

And President Putin has made clear his imperial vision here, right? He's disregarded Ukrainian sovereignty. He says he believes these are Russian lands. He says he will take them with brute force. That's why you hear President Zelenskyy making that call, again, is might going to make right or will the western world step in?

MARQUARDT: All right. Salma Abdelaziz, who has been doing such terrific reporting, live in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Thank you very much, Selma.

HARLOW: Yes, she certainly has.

All right, coming up, switching gears, Amber Heard says she does not blame the jury for siding with her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. You will hear what else she is saying in her first interview since losing the defamation trial.



HARLOW: What has now been two weeks since a jury found both Amber Heard and Johnny Depp liable for defamation, although both were found liable, it was a clear win for Depp, who was awarded much more in damages. Heard says she believes her ex-husband's fame likely impacted the jury's decision. Listen.


AMBER HEARD, ACTRESS: I don't blame them. I actually understand. He is a beloved character and people feel they know him. He's a fantastic actor.


HARLOW: Our Jean Casarez has been following the trial throughout and joins me now. What more did we from her? This, again, was her first interview.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it was quite extensive and it is actually just part of it. First of all, she said it was the most horrible, humiliating experience she had ever had, and she testified to that. And, actually, Depp testified the same thing when he took the stand.

She also said that the courtroom was filled with fans of Johnny Depp. And that is true, there were a lot of fans there, but the judge maintained a very stringent and strong courtroom that no one was to utter any sound at all.

She focused on that she had a First Amendment right to print what she did in The Washington Post, and it's called the truth. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you stand by your testimony and your accusations against Johnny Depp about abuse?

HEARD: Of course. To my dying day, I will stand by every word of my testimony.

We were awful to each other.

You know, I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes, but I've always told the truth.


CASAREZ: And she also said that she never instigated violence, she responded to violence.

But as we heard in the trial, was entered into evidence, there were audiotapes where she admitted to hitting him, punching him. And she said that it was just a little slap and you're such a baby.

So, you know, this interview was interesting and she's really focusing a lot on the social media impact. Because it was huge, right, as this trial was going on. During jury selection, during the trial, when the court's testimony was finished for the day, the judge would always tell them, do not watch television, do not read anything.

HARLOW: Right. I was just going to say, the jury instructions would clearly demand that of them.

CASAREZ: The whole way, the whole way.

So, this is what appeals are made of and their investigator will need to try to talk to jurors and see if there is anything --

HARLOW: And she is appealing.

CASAREZ: That's what she says.

HARLOW: So, how would that process work? How far out would we be from that if they pursue it?

CASAREZ: You get notice of appeal and then it takes a long time, because you have to find your appellate issues. You know, she said and her attorney said that there was a lot of evidence that did not come into the trial that should have but it was filed in 2019. There were so many pretrial hearings where they litigated what would come in, what would not. And so this was a senior judge. It was not a new judge on the bench.

HARLOW: Yes. Jean, thank you very much for the update and that reporting.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today. We will see you back here tomorrow morning. Alex, it's been great to have you.

MARQUARDT: It's been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for having me. I'm Alex Marquardt.

Our colleague, Erica Hill, continues our coverage right now.