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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Testifies In Russian Drug Smuggling Trial; Biden Administration Offers Russian Arms Dealer In Potential Exchange Deal For Griner, Whelan; Biden Voters Voice "Disappointment" Ahead Of Midterms. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 27, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: WNBA Star Brittney Griner testified in her own defense today in a Russian courtroom. Griner described how she was treated after her arrest for allegedly smuggling cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner says she was not read her rights or given a lawyer. She says she was also forced to sign documents she did not understand and her phone was confiscated.

Griner said the cannabis oil was for medical use only and it was accidentally in her bag because she was rushing to pack. She says she knows the law in Russia and called it an honest mistake.

Joining us is Dawn Staley, Brittney Griner's former Olympic coach. Staley is also the head coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Coach Staley, thank you for your time.

Let me start with something we've learned, that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken is going to make remarks soon. What do you want to hear from him?

DAWN STALEY, FORMER OLYMPIC COACH FOR BRITTNEY GRINER & HEAD COACH, SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS: I want to hear that we're one step closer to bringing Brittney home. And although we know it's a difficult process that's forever changing, but if anybody can get her home, it's him.

So look forward to his comments and hopefully hearing that she's one day closer to coming home.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's go now to the secretary of state and hear what he has to say.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's six months, the calls continue to climb, thousands of civilians are killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainians forced to flee their homes, historic cities literally pounded into rubble. Food shortages, skyrocketing food prices around the world. All of this because President Putin was determined to conquer another

country. He's failed in that goal. Ukraine has not and will not be conquer conquered. It will remain sovereign and independent.

As this war stretches on, the courage and the strength of Ukraine's military and its people become even more evident, and even more extraordinary.

They will do whatever it takes to protect their homes, their families, their fellow citizens, their country.

The United States and our allies and partners will continue to stand with them and help provide precisely what they need to defend their freedom.

In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began. I plan to raise an issue that's a top priority for us. The release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who have been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home.

We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.

And I'll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution.

I'll also raise the matter of the tentative deal on grain exports that Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations reached last week.

We hope this deal will swiftly lead to Ukrainian grain being shipped again through the Black Sea and that Russia will follow through on its pledge to allow those ships to pass.

This has been the focus of the world's attention for months, including a few weeks ago at the meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers in Bali where one foreign minister after another urged Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russia to stop blocking the grain.

So this agreement represents a positive step forward.

That said, there's a difference between a deal on paper and a deal in practice. Hundreds of millions of people around the world are waiting for these ships to set forth from Ukraine's ports and for millions of tons of grain and other crops to reach world markets.

If the Kremlin signs this deal to look reasonable to the world without any intention of following through, we'll know that soon enough.

My call with Foreign Minister Lavrov will not be a negotiation about Ukraine. Any negotiation regarding Ukraine is for its government and people to determine. As we said from the beginning, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

[14:34:58] Beyond these developments, now that we've reached the half year mark, let's take a step back and consider the state of the war and what we expect to come next.

In the Donbass region, where Russia concentrated its forces after failing to take Kyiv this spring, the fighting remains intense. The modest progress that Russian troops have made there has come at huge costs in both lives and material.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is using all its defensive capabilities to hit back hard, bolstered by the more than $8 billion in security systems from the United States since the beginning of this administration.

As we look ahead, what the world has heard recently from Russia's leaders is raising new alarms. Last week, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the Kremlin's goals in Ukraine had expanded. Now they seek to claim more Ukrainian territory beyond the Donbass.

This is the latest in a series of evolving justifications and ever shifting goals. In the beginning, the Russians said that the purpose of the war was to de-Nazify Ukraine, a false charge aimed at delegitimizing Ukraine's democracy.

They said the real threat was somehow posed by NATO, a defensive alliance that made efforts to engage Russia for year but that was rejected and helps safeguard peace, and prosperity for decades.

Then they said the war was to protect ethnic Russians living in Donbass from genocide before relentlessly targeting the largest Russian speaking city in Ukraine, Kharkiv.

The only one responsible for killing ethnic Russians in Ukraine is President Putin.

What this is about and has always been about is President Putin's conviction that Ukraine is not an independent state and belongs to Russia.

He said it flat-out to President Bush in 2008, and I quote, "Ukraine isn't a real country," end quote.

He said it in 2020, and I quote, "Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same people," end quote.

Last month, he said that when Peter the Great waged war on Sweden, he was simply taking back what belonged to Russia. And now Russia is again looking to take back what's theirs.

President Putin's been foiled in his efforts to erase Ukraine's sovereignty and independence. But now Moscow is laying the groundwork to annex more Ukrainian territory.

From downgraded U.S. Intelligence as well as information available in the public domain, we can see that they're following the same playbook that they used back in 2014. They're installing illegitimate proxy officials. They're working to

establish branches of Russian banks in areas they control. Set the ruble as the local currency, take over broadcasting towers, force residents to apply for Russian citizenship, sabotage Internet access for local residents as well.

All of this to consolidate their power over these regions.

Our intelligence also shows that Russia is using filtration centers in eastern Ukraine and western Russia to detain, to interrogate, and in some cases, abuse thousands of Ukrainians.

Some are allowed to remain in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Some are forcefully deported to Russia. Some are sent to prisons. Some simply vanish.

Here's what we expect to see next. Russia-installed leaders will hold sham referendums to manufacture the fiction that the people in those places want to join Russia. Then they'll use those false votes to claim that the annexation of these regions is legitimate.

We must and we will act quickly to make clear to Russia that these tactics will not work. Annexation by force, the territory of a sovereign and independent country is a gross violation of the United Nations charter.

Members of the international community that have committed to uphold the charter and international law have a responsibility to denounce these plans by the Russian government and to make clear they will never recognize these illegal acts.

Otherwise, no one can claim to be surprised when Russia follows through on its plans or if other countries follow suit in the future.

A few days ago, Foreign Minister Lavrov said, and I quote, "We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime," end quote.

By what right can Russia claim this? Ukraine is not their country. The people of Ukraine democratically elect their own leaders. The government of Russia has no say in that whatsoever. The right belongs to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian people alone.

Despite these deeply troubling developments, we should not lose sight of the broader picture. NATO is stronger, more united and poised to grow. Nearly one-third of NATO members have already ratified Sweden and Finland's accession protocols.


We appreciate the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's swift action to advance those protocols. We hope the full Senate will act quickly to do the same.

Many countries beyond Europe have condemned Russia's aggression and are holding Moscow to account. The Ukrainian people are more determined than ever to defend their homeland, preserve their culture.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We've been listening here to Secretary of State Tony Blinken talking about the global consequences of Putin's war in Ukraine, as well as the Americans who are trapped and being held in Russia.

Let's bring in CNN's senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, to help us analyze all of this.

He talked about everything from the grain shortage, just the huge implications globally of all of this, as well as how they have been trying to get the Americans back. Fred, what did you hear?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think really interesting that Secretary of State Blinken there said that the U.S. put an offer on the table a while ago to try and get both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan released out of Russian custody.

Of course interesting because both of those individuals, of course, are considered as being wrongfully detained by the Russian Federation.

You have, of course, Paul Whelan, who I myself actually saw on trial while he was being put on trial in Russia around the year 2018 when he was detained in Moscow allegedly on espionage charges.

And of course, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. And we also know that his health has been ailing as well.

And then Brittney Griner, of course, on an important day like this one as Brittney Griner was on trial today, spoke for the first time herself. We were able to hear the audio of her speaking in the court.

Very uncertain times for her. And the U.S. obviously also saying she is unlawfully detained as well.

Now we're seeing that the State Department and Secretary of the State Blinken himself obviously saying that the U.S. put an offer on the table a while ago and is now willing to speak to the Russian foreign minister, to Sergey Lavrov.

I asked Secretary of State Blinken a couple of weeks ago when he was here in Berlin whether he was going to speak to -- whether he was going to speak to the Russian foreign minister anytime soon.

And at that point, he said, well, we'll wait and see. But now it certainly seems as though that is happening.

Now, you're absolutely right, Alisyn, that he did speak a lot about the grain shortages, about waiting to see whether or not that grain corridor that has been agreed to is actually going to work.

But by and large, the real big news out of this conference that we're seeing right now I think is the fact that the U.S. has for a while already had this offer on the table to get both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan out.

Obviously, a big sense of urgency here on the part of the administration -- Alisyn?

BLACKWELL: Fred, what do we know about the details of this offer and if the Russians are receptive?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, one of the things that I think that we could probably ascertain is if this offer has been on the table for a while and now the U.S. is making it public.

It's not clear whether or not the Russians really have been accepted so far or whether or not they might be in some sort of rough moving forward.

The information that we have is possibly Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer, who's in custody in the U.S. serving a 24-year sentence for allegedly trying to kill Americans or conspiring to kill Americans, might be someone that the U.S. is willing to exchange.

Now, that would be a big deal. That is someone that the Russians have wanted back for a very long time. They are calling him -- the Russians are saying that he's unlawfully detained in the U.S.

He's obviously in a penitentiary in Illinois right now. The Russians have wanted him out for a very long time. This would certainly be a pretty big thing for the U.S. to offer that up to try and get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan out.

Again, absolutely unclear in what timeframe something like that could happen, how far along they currently are in this. Obviously, a lot of these talks will be going on behind the scenes.

But if there's going to be direct talks between Secretary of State Blinken and the Russian foreign minister, obviously -- and we're seeing this right now -- this is something that's of the utmost urgency to the State Department -- guys?

BLACKWELL: Fred, thank you for that. Stand by.

I want to go back now to Coach Dawn Staley, Brittney Griner's former Olympic coach.

The offer, which has been on the table for weeks now we understand from the secretary of state, to exchange Viktor Bout, convicted Russian arms trafficker serving 25 years in a U.S. prison, as a deal to secure Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Your reaction?

STALEY: That's the first I've heard of that.

Here's what we need to do. We got -- we got two Americans that are over there wrongfully detained. We need to do everything in our power to get them home. And if that's the case, that's the case.

I think we, as our American country, we can handle whatever -- whatever is the aftermath of getting them home. But the most important thing is to get them home with their families. [14:45:12]

BLACKWELL: You and so many others have expressed a degree of dissatisfaction with the efforts from the administration.

Now that you know that this deal has been on the table for weeks, CNN exclusive reporting here, does that change your opinion of the work that this administration is still putting in to bring Brittney Griner home?

STALEY: Once President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, I was pretty pleased after that moment.

But before then, we know that nothing -- nothing is going to take place until the president of the United States gets involved. Once he got involved, I knew Brittney was a priority, and moving forward.

I don't think people were just sitting on their hands doing nothing. I know we're not privy to everything that goes on behind the scenes.

But to hear Secretary Blinken actually say her name today, I can sleep a little bit easier knowing that everything in their power is being done to bring Brittney and Paul home.

So I'm pretty satisfied, but I will be fully satisfied when both of them are home.

BLACKWELL: Coach, I got one more for you here. I just watched a conversation you had with Jon Stewart, and you offered an unorthodox option here for some influence.

I see you smiling. You know where I'm going here.

There was laughing around it. But there might be some who say maybe that's a plausible idea to rely on former President Trump to reach out to Vladimir Putin because of their relationship.

Yes, Trevor Reed was taken into custody and detained during the Trump administration, but the Trump administration had successes bringing detained Americans from other countries back home.

Was that a serious suggestion? Is it something that the administration or the former president should consider?

STALEY: I think we should do everything within our power to bring wrongfully detained Americans in Russian prisons home, and everybody that's an American that has power should be utilizing that to bring our American citizens home.

BLACKWELL: All right, Coach Dawn Staley, thank you for the interview and sticking with us through the remarks from the secretary of state.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk now more about that potential deal to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home.

CNN national security correspondent, Kylie Atwood, was just in that briefing with Secretary Blinken.

What more did he say, Kylie?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, the secretary said that the Biden administration has put an offer on the table, a substantial deal, that the United States has proposed to Russia, but he didn't get into the specifics of what that proposal entails.

And of course, it is our reporting that it includes a trade for Viktor Bout. As you guys have been covering, he is a convicted arms dealer. He was convicted here in the United States about a decade ago, serving a 25-year prison sentence in U.S. federal prison.

The secretary of state didn't want to get into the details of what the United States has put on the table to preserve some room for negotiating potentially.

But what he did say is that there have been repeated back and forth with the U.S. and Russia over this. And his goal, one of them in having a conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the coming days is to, in his words, advance those conversations.

So it's clear that he feels that he needs to now get involved on this topic.

And I think it's important to note that Viktor Bout is someone that the Russian state media has floated as someone that the Kremlin would like to trade for Brittney Griner and for Paul Whelan, who's still wrongfully detained after three years in Russia.

So the fact that the Biden administration is going forth and putting his name on the table is significant.

And our reporting is that this comes at the objections of the Department of Justice. They did not want to put Viktor Bout on the table. But because President Biden ultimately decided that he was supportive of doing that, that's why they went ahead here.

So what we're going to watch for is to see how this goes, how the secretary's conversation with the Russian foreign minister -- the first time the two have had a conversation since the Russian invasion into Ukraine -- how that goes and if they're able to push this forward and advance it so that they can secure their release -- guys?

OK, Kylie Atwood, thank you very much for this developing story.


OK. Meanwhile, how are Biden voters feeling today about the president? We're going to ask them, next.


CAMEROTA: How many of you would say you're disappointed by his presidency? (END VIDEO CLIP)


CAMEROTA: A new CNN poll finds 75 percent of Democratic voters want the party to nominate someone other than President Joe Biden in the 2024 election.

But why exactly are Democrats feeling dissatisfied? What do they want President Biden to do?

We assembled a group of Biden voters from across the country to try to figure that out.

Here is part one of our "PULSE OF THE PEOPLE."



CAMEROTA: OK. Show of hands, how many of you are very happy with how his presidency is going?

OK. That's a zero.

A show of hands, how many of you would say you're disappointed by his presidency?

OK, Denange Sanchez?

DENANGE SANCHEZ, BIDEN VOTER FROM FLORIDA: I'm disappointed with Joe Biden because I haven't really seen much change. Like there's mass shootings, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, COVID-19 surges.

I expected to see the change that the Democratic Party promised in the 2020 general election. He promised to end the chaos and division and unite the country, and it seems like he almost abandoned that promise.

VANESSA SPENCER, BIDEN VOTER FROM CALIFORNIA: We are no longer in a world of how politics used to run in D.C. When Joe was sitting in the Senate. We're not even in the days of when Joe was a vice president in the Obama administration.

And I think we need to be doing everything we can and being far more aggressive. And that's the kind of Joe Biden I'd like to see.

CAMEROTA: Helena, why are you disappointed in Joe Biden?

HELENA KUMMINGS, BIDEN VOTER FROM GEORGIA: Coming from Trump's presidency, who was so loud, and so almost obnoxious and in your face about how he felt from certain positions, we don't see that from Biden.

He's not -- I mean, right before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, he was the most hopeful of the United as he ever has been. And as a voter, I was like, how? ANGIE JONES, BIDEN VOTER FROM GEORGIA: I'm feeling disappointed

because we have seen very little of the agenda that Joe Biden ran on actually come to fruition.

I was a big fan of the plan for Medicare for All who want it. I feel like that's something that could be instigated with a stroke of a pen.

MATT LEE, BIDEN VOTER FROM TEXAS: I sure didn't expect for Joe Biden to come in and be a miracle worker. We had one of the loudest most egregious presidents of modern time.

And all anyone really wanted was progress. And we saw almost immediately, with I would consider lackluster long-term -- long-term initiatives with COVID, a botched Afghanistan withdrawal.


JEREMY FRYBERGER, BIDEN VOTER FROM IDAHO: Well, I guess more realistic about it, and I recognize the limitations of working with a Congress and a Senate that's filibustered.

And, you know, this is incredibly narrow narrowly divided legislature, and I feel like he's doing as much as he can.

KUMMINGS: I mean, he could be opening abortion clinics on federal land, and he's not doing that.

SPENCER: Yes, he can ensure that all military bases are able to provide abortions for anybody who is seeking one. You know, that is something he could do.

LEE: It's been 18 months, he shot for the moon immediately and got nothing done.

CAMEROTA: You say he got nothing done. Let me put up the accomplishments that the White House would say: The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, the bipartisan infrastructure package, unemployment was 6.2 percent when he took office. It's now at 3.6 percent.

He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, more judges confirmed to the lower federal courts. He confirmed the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. He signed the bipartisan gun safety bill into law.

LEE: All of those things are great wins but the gas is as high as it's ever been. Inflation is at a 40-year high, and COVID is still going.

SANCHEZ: I think, you know, like the other people have said on the panel, it's more of just using his voice more, being more aggressive and being more assertive.

LEE: He's trying to pander to the far-left progressives. He's trying to pander to the whole Republican Party. And he's trying to appease a mass of voters.

At the end of the day, most people aren't the far right, and most people aren't the far left. SPENCER: I think the problem that Joe Biden is having is not that he's

trying to pander too far to the progressives or too far to more liberals. It's that he's playing it too safe in the middle.

CAMEROTA: I just want to stop you for a second, Vanessa, because isn't that the opposite? Bill Clinton I think once said Democrats like to fall in love and Republicans fall in line.

Republicans might have had issues with Donald Trump but they were going to stick with their president, and they were going to vote for their president.

How many of you think that Democrats, yourselves included, might be too fickle and finding too much fault?

Just to be clear, none of you think that Democrats are too fickle and are just finding fault.

JONES: So like Matt, I, too, am a former Republican. So I think I have some perspective on this, the falling in love versus falling in line.


Yes, there's some eating of our own so to speak, if you're not sufficiently progressive enough or you're not sufficiently moderate enough or whatever. I never saw that on the Republican side. Never.