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Biden Administration Offers to Exchange Russian Arms Dealer for Griner, Whelan; Former Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Interviewed by January 6 Committee; People Missing, Waiting for Rescue After Catastrophic Flooding in Kentucky. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 28, 2022 - 10:30   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Biden administration officials are frustrated with Moscow's lack of a substantive response to the proposed prisoner swap that would free two Americans detained in Russia in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The swap would secure the release of WNBA Star Brittney Griner and U.S. Marine Veteran Paul Whelan.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Viktor Bout is a Russian arms dealer who was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans in 2012. The U.S. government generally resist prisoner swaps out of fear the practice would incentivize countries to detain Americans for bargaining power.

The leader of the NBA Players Association told us last hour that she's grateful President Biden is willing to take this step.


TERRI JACKSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WNBA PLAYERS ASSOCIATION: I am very hopeful that this go-time moment, the mobilization of so many different organizations, the AFL-CIO, Athletes for Impact, Athlete Ally, so many organizations coming together, mobilizing around B.G., saying her name and talking about this case. I'm hopeful that what that did show President Biden and his administration was that he had the support, he has our support to do whatever is necessary to bring them home.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now, Christine Brennan, Sports Columnist for USA Today and CNN Sports Analyst. Christine, always good to have you on.

If this goes through, a relief for Brittney Griner's family, for fellow players and so on, but we do know the nature of this exchange. Viktor Bout is not a good guy, right? I mean, an arms dealer, one of the world's most notorious. And there is the broader question of what this means for other American athletes abroad. Do they become targets because then they become the next bargaining chip for Russia or another country? Does that sensitivity play into this from the folks you speak with in the basketball world?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Jim, from the sports world, there seems to be much more of a sense of relief, hopefulness and relief that Brittney Griner may get back home. So, I don't think they're worried about the strategic chess match that could then unfold. You're right absolutely right, of course, there are athletes from the U.S. all over the world, not just in the Olympic Games but competing, as we know, Brittney Griner, so many female athletes especially having to go overseas to supplement their income.

But there's no doubt that the P.R. campaign, which was massive by the WNBA, and wearing Brittney Griner's jersey and the number 42 everywhere plastered on the courts at the all-star game, all the players came out in the second half and wore her jersey, number 42, and her family's appeals to the president have worked. It has been a massive campaign and it has worked.

Now, the ramifications moving forward geopolitically, one can only imagine, but from a sports standpoint there is hopefulness that it is really working.

GOLODRYGA: And, of course, we all want to see these two American detainees brought home, Brittney Griner obviously front and center here. But can you talk about the larger implications? And the short answer is that these players need to be paid more and thus they won't be incentivized to go to countries that really don't have an independent judicial system, right? But you have players that are in Turkey, that are China, that are in Russia. Do these leagues bear more responsibility in warning them not to go or to be more cautious? I mean, you look at the calendar, Brittney Griner was detained February 17th. The war started just a few days later.

BRENNAN: Bianna, that's absolutely right and that's a huge piece of this. Why was she going there? Well, she's going there to supplement her income. For those who haven't paid attention or don't know, the top WNBA salary is basically $230,000 with bonuses you can get another hundred thousand or so, so, $230,000. The top NBA salary is over 40 million, so hundreds of thousands to millions.

But it's an issue of capitalism, really.


If this bothers people, then the WNBA, you got to buy tickets. That's a way to show your support for these athletes. And I think over time women's sports is gaining as Title 9 continues to work its magic, but right now, the WNBA, of course, pales in comparison as a cash cow, a moneymaker to the NBA.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Another place where international affairs are diving into the sports world, of course, is LIV Golf, Saudi Arabia basically spending billions, right, to draw some of the world golfers there. Now, when they've been asked about where this money is coming from, the kind of regime it's coming from, they haven't always had great answers, as you know. You were at the (INAUDIBLE) yesterday when some of these players had to answer questions about how they feel about taking this money. How were those answers? What did they say?

BRENNAN: Well, Jim, I asked. I asked Paul Casey, who is a five-time Ryder Cup player from Europe, probably the best known of the three that were up there. Yes, these three players as now having the platform because they're important to MBS, they're important to the Saudis. Will they now speak out for women's rights, for gay rights? Obviously, we know those issues are huge in Saudi Arabia, the lack of rights for women, for LGBTQ people, et cetera.

And immediately, Paul Casey started talking about playing golf with a 17-year-old Saudi girl at a pro-Am earlier this year, and that was it, that things are getting better because she says things are getting better. So, what a story. And then another guy chimes in, yes, I played golf with her too. That is the essence of sports washing. It's a relatively new term, people don't understand it, boy, that's it.

And then I asked, well, what about gay rights, because I had asked a two-part question. And Paul Casey, who is 45, who has traveled the world and is a relatively smart person who I've always enjoyed talking, he said, well, yes, I don't know anything about that. And then another guy said, yes, I don't know anything about that either. So, I mean, what a mess. It's really an embarrassment for sports that these guys are making this decision and then basically sports washing, being pawns for the Saudi regime.

GOLODRYGA: Not shining the best light on the sport, that is for sure. Christine Brennan, thank you, as always. It's good to see you.

BRENNAN: Thank you, you as well.

GOLODRYGA: Well, CNN has learned that former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is testifying today before the January 6th committee and the panel is hoping hope to get another former Trump cabinet member on the record as well. We'll tell you who, coming up.



GOLODRYGA: This morning, the January 6 committee deepening its probe, collecting information and testimony from high-level Trump officials. We've just learned that the committee interviewed President Trump's former treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

In addition, sources tell CNN the committee is negotiating terms for a potential interview with former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss, Errol Louis, Political Anchor for Spectrum News, and Elliot Williams, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Good to have you both on.

Elliot, I mean, the list of senior Trump administration officials very close to the president and with firsthand knowledge of his actions and efforts on that day prior and afterwards, I mean, this is becoming quite a long list. Tell us what the significance that is for the investigation.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Jim, it's not just senior government officials, it's senior cabinet level government officials. That's relevant because the 25th Amendment of the Constitution allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to remove the president from office if the president, the language, is unable to perform his duties, his office.

Now, the question is, did the 25th Amendment come up? What were the bases that these cabinet officials have for maybe talking about removing the president? Did they think he was breaking the law? Did they think he was mentally unfit and so on?

Now, I don't people should get too excited here because you don't know what they're providing to the committee and are they actually still Trump insiders who are defending or protecting the president, but it is significant.

GOLODRYGA: And there are reports going back to last year about cabinet officials really huddling and discussing whether they should invoke the 25th Amendment in the hours after the unrest began and the insurrection there at the Capitol.

But, Errol, you can't help but think so much of this goes back to the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson. She really seemed to open the floodgates to all of these higher level male officials. She had much more to lose than they did to come forward but they clearly, it seems, now starting to follow suit and are willing to participate more with the committee in light of her testimony.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right, Bianna. It's been said many times and Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the committee, said it quite explicitly that this young woman, who had a lot to lose, is, in some ways, showing more integrity and indeed courage than some of the senior male cabinet secretaries and other members of the administration, basically an attempt to shame them into cooperating. Of course, when you get a subpoena, shame is really not the issue. You really have a legal obligation to respond.

But Elliot was exactly right. I mean, there were questions on the table. We know the two cabinet secretaries resigned, for example, Secretary Chao, Secretary DeBos. Secretary DeVos, in fact, sent a letter to the president, then-President Trump, saying this is an inflection point, that what happened here on January 6 is -- that's it for me. And we know that there were credible reports.


I guess the committee wants to get to the bottom of it, that other cabinet secretaries like Mnuchin were considering invoking the 25th Amendment.

So, with so much turmoil for people to now come forward and state under oath what was really going on, a very important part of this investigation.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You would then say if you were considering 25th Amendment, why? What was it? Did you consider the behavior criminal?

I do want to bring in our reporter, Katelyn Polantz, who has this new reporting this morning about these key cabinet officials testifying. Katelyn, tell us what you know.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jim and Bianna, there is a long list of names in the cabinet that the House is looking into now trying to get information out of as their investigation continues on.

So, the new information today is that they have interviewed the former secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin. They are also negotiating for potential interviews with the director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, at the end of the Trump administration.

We also learned just yesterday that Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, that he was in talks to do a potential closed-door interview with the committee. And then there are others that they're trying to talk to as well, Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli at DHS, Mick Mulvaney, the former acting White House Chief of Staff, he had spoken.

And what does it mean when you put all of these names together? Well, it really is all about the 25th Amendment, as you were just talking about. The 25th Amendment, whether that conversation was taking place on whether the cabinet should step in and try to remove Donald Trump from power or somehow take the reins of the administration of the democracy away from him, that is a big question for the House select committee.

We already know that they did speak to Gene Scalia. He was another cabinet member at the Department of Labor. And in that final House hearing, what we learned out of Scalia that was so important was that he was asking Trump to call a cabinet meeting and trying to get the president to say that the election was not stolen and that it was the end. Back to you.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And it was interesting because, from the testimony that we heard from the likes of Cassidy Hutchinson, where she said that it was the threat of the 25th Amendment being invoked that really triggered the president to go out and finally persuaded him to make some of those videos calling on the rioters to go home.

Katelyn Polants, thank you so much for that reporting.

So, Elliot Williams, out of all of the list of people who we heard from, high-level cabinet officials and intelligence initials, who are you most interested in hearing from once they do sit down with the committee members?

WILLIAMS: I think anybody who was in the room with President Trump on January 4th, 5th or 6th. And I think, frankly, to some extent, we don't know exactly what meetings he might have had partly because some of the call logs and meeting logs don't exist from the White House that day, but anyone who can speak to individual direct conversations they had with the president.

Again, someone like Ken Cuccinelli has been an ally of the president from the beginning. And I guess I would have questions as to what he's actually able to or going to provide but, still, that firsthand knowledge is going to be very important for building either a criminal case but not even that but this dereliction of duty point that the committee is moving toward, this question of did the president simply just violate his oath of office and ought he serve as president again.

SCIUTTO: And I wonder if Steve Bannon's for defying Congress and that subpoena might have helped grease the works a little bit. Errol Louis, Elliot Williams, thanks so much to both of you.

Well, the governor of Kentucky, and this is just such a sad story, has called overnight flooding, some for worst in the state's history, the pictures just devastating. We're going to have an update coming up.



GOLODRYGA: Well, right now, people are missing and others are waiting on the roofs of flooded homes to be rescued after parts of Kentucky were inundated with rain, as much eight inches overnight, Governor Andy Beshear calling it one of the most devastating flooding events in the state's history.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): What we're going to see coming out of this is massive property damage. We expect a loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes and this is going to be yet another event that it's going to take not months but likely years for many families to rebuild and recover from.


SCIUTTO: A bit of a reminder there, it does take years to recover from events like this.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is live in the CNN Weather Center. Chad, I feel like every other day we talk to you about an extreme weather event. Is the threat over for Kentucky? And where is the system headed next?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is for now, Jim and Bianna. There will be some rain showers with the same system move into the Carolinas and also into Virginia. And this is still the same stationary boundary that made the flooding in St. Louis 48 hours before this.

So, you still have flashflood warnings. Rivers are still going up. The rain has stopped for the most part, but because of the way these valleys are shaped and the way the rivers come together, we are still seeing many of these rivers still rise.

This is just the last 12 hours, between with six to eight inches, in some spots even more, with radar estimates right across the flooded are. And when it comes to the last five days, it rained on Tuesday, so we even have a little bump in the river here and then all of a sudden last night, and that gauge right there is broken. It can't go any higher.


We realized that it's probably higher than that right now but we can't even know.

So, here is what we're seeing. We're seeing pictures here across the country, and I believe we're probably going to see pictures that come in tomorrow that are going to be a lot worse. We have not had access to the worst hit areas.

Still hot across the Deep South, more showers and storms are going to fire up today, and this is the same kind of area. Notice how it's just kind of right along the same latitude. And that's where the boundary is. That's where the stationary front is. So, we're probably back into Missouri tomorrow, Northern Arkansas, and, yes, still back out to the west.

And look at Texas that could really use some rain getting absolutely nothing. And, really, I've looked at the maps, nothing for the next seven days.

SCIUTTO: Wow, remarkable.

GOLODRYGA: It was devastating to hear Governor Beshear say that they should prepare for loss of life, that there will be loss of life following that flooding. Chad Myers, thank you.

And thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Bianna Golodryga.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. It's been a busy day.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan, whose birthday is today, I believe --

GOLODRYGA: Happy birthday, Kate.

SCIUTTO: Happy Birthday, Kate, starts right after a quick break.