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Brittney Griner Speaks in Court During Closing Arguments; Jury Deciding What Alex Jones Will Pay for Sandy Hook Lies; CNN Reports, Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas Former White House Counsel, Deputy Counsel. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

We begin with breaking news. Moments from now, a Russian judge is expected to sentence WNBA Star Brittney Griner. The two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty last month to drug charges. The prosecutor seeking nine and a half years of time in jail.

In the last hour, Griner addressed the court ahead of her sentencing.


BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, the fans and the city of (INAUDIBLE) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought.

I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, my organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing spouse back at home.

I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here.

I made an honest mistake and I hope that, in your brewing (ph), that it doesn't end my life here.

I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.

I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.

I hope they can take into account all the documents, all the character lists that everybody that sent in on my behalf.

Again, I want to apologize to my teammates and the organization for any damage that I may have done to them. I never intended on hurting them. This is my second home and all I want to do is just win championships and make them proud.


SCIUTTO: CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is outside the courthouse near Moscow.

Fred, visibly emotional, Griner, apologizing to the court, taking responsibility for her actions there. You mentioned last hour Moscow courts don't have a record for leniency, though?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, you're absolutely right, they certainly don't. And I don't think it's necessarily something that can be expected of a Moscow court and that dependence could rely on.

If you look at the conviction rates for Russian courts, they're around 99 percent. So, that obviously is a huge number. And if you look at some of the sentences that were recently doled out, like for instance, against former American Diplomat Marc Fogel, he received 14 years in jail from a Russian court. So, you can see the sentences here usually here in Russia are very high.

Nevertheless, Brittney Griner's defense team, they told me that, as far as Russian courts go, they believe they have done as good a job as possible to try and get some sort of leniency. And part of it was actually exactly for the reasons that we just saw on our screens. It was Brittney Griner taking responsibility, it was Brittney Griner apologizing. It was Brittney Griner saying how much she loved being in Russia, how Russia become her second home, specifically Ekaterinburg where she plays, and how she wanted to be there for her team and is getting a lot of support from her teammates as well.

That's something that she just said as she was inside that cage speaking to the judge but it's also something the defense has tried to put forward as this trial went on. They brought on character witnesses. They put Brittney Griner on the stand herself, saying that she took responsibility for her actions but did not mean to smuggle narcotics into the Russian Federation. So, they believe that they have done all they could, but, you know, it's absolutely the case that there are huge rates of conviction.

One of the things I will point out, though, Jim, which I think is very important, is that when we expect this verdict to come, which is in about 45 minutes, maybe a little further away from now, the judge does have a lot of leeway. The judge obviously can go up to ten years in prison. We know the prosecution is asking for nine and a half years but could also go considerably lower than that if, in fact, there is a sort of leniency.

We're going to have to wait and see, but it is certainly going to be very interesting to see whether or not any of those mitigating circumstances will be taken into account by the judge, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks so much.

So, joining me now to break a lot of this down, Lindsay Gibbs, Sports Writer for Power Plays, but also CNN Contributor, former CNN Moscow Buruea Chief Jill Dougherty, knows Russia very well.

Jill, to you first, we'd be remiss not to mention the enormous political influences on this trial. Russia has a history of taking hostages in effect either as bargaining chips for prisoner swaps, also just to exert political pressure here. Is this a Kremlin case, right? Should we look at it that way more than a drug trial in a Moscow court?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I think it's both. You really would have to say that. If Brittney is correct in saying, I made a mistake, then she made a mistake.


And, unfortunately, according to Russian law, that's a problem because their laws are much stricter when it comes to drugs, so that's number one.

Number two, it's the political context of where we are right now. The worst relationship between Russia and the United States practically in memory, you have the war in Ukraine going on and you have this message, you know, which I think has been coming out from Russian officials, which is the United States tries to tell the world what to do. And in this case, the way that's come out is they're saying, you know, those laws in New York, in Washington, wherever, they don't apply in Russia. So, it gives them a chance to say, hey, this is our country, we've got our own laws and that's a message to Biden.

And then we can talk about Biden, but he is under extraordinary pressure from the public and Putin isn't. This is not particularly a big story in Russia. And so there's not a lot of -- there are no family -- well, the wife, I guess, (INAUDIBLE), but other than that, there's no public outcry to say, free him or anything like that, so it's a very different situation geopolitically and politically.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to where you think, Jill, the prisoner swap negotiations stand.

Lindsay Gibbs, though, Griner pleaded guilty on the advice of her lawyers there. We're going to hear the sentencing perhaps before this hour is out. Is it your understanding that Griner is getting advice from the U.S. as well as to how best to handle this?

LINDSAY GIBBS, SPORTS WRITER, POWER PLAYS: Yes. You know, I think her team is very plugged in and certainly trying to do what's best for the case to move things forward and so that they can move to -- most people think that this trial is kind of a mere formality, that whatever the verdict that comes down, that hopefully gets closer to the prisoner swap and that ending the case will hopefully get us closer to that point. And I think that's the biggest hope for bringing her home.

SCIUTTO: Jill, the U.S. made an offer for Griner, also Paul Whelan, an American held here. Viktor Bout, this convicted arms smuggler, convicted, in fact, of endangering the lives of Americans, but then they added in another person who's actually held in Germany here. I wonder, it's the U.S. view that was not a serious good faith offer. How do you see Putin and the Kremlin attempting to play this out?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, that's complicated because, yes, that offer was -- came up in kind of a very different way, kind of offhand way, backchannel way, and so it's unclear exactly what they want. And, remember, that person is in prison in Germany, not in the United States.


DOUGHERTY: So, it just deepens the dilemma.

But I think if you get to Viktor Bout, they wanted him for a long time. He's, as we've been saying, kind of one of them if you believe the allegations, which seem to be credible by the United States, that he was connected with Russian intelligence in some fashion. So, Russia and President Putin personally likes to take care of his own and get them back.

So, there's value in Viktor Bout, but, again, I go back to that dilemma that it's not a big public problem for President Putin the way it is for Joe Biden.

SCIUTTO: Jill -- Lindsay Gibbs, rather, does the Griner family and do her friends and supporters in the U.S. believe the U.S., the Biden administration is offering enough, right, to win her and Paul Whelan's freedom? I mean, is the view kind of give Russia whatever it wants to get her and perhaps Whelan home?

GIBBS: Yes. I mean, I think people understand that this is a very complicated situation, but everyone is just pleading to figure out a way. And this is one of our country's greatest athletes. She also, you know, has just won gold medals for us, national championships, WNBA championships. That stuff matters.

And so I think there is hope that there are talks going. That is certainly, I think, helping people feel better. But nobody is going to be quiet until she's home. She needs to be home.

SCIUTTO: She does. And you can see it in her voice, in her words as we saw her from that courtroom. I think you could sense some fear, right? I think we'd all be in the same space.

Lindsay Gibbs, Jill Dougherty, good to have you. We will keep watching that Moscow courtroom. As I said, that verdict expected this hour. We'll bring it to you live.

Back here in the U.S. this morning, a jury will resume deliberations in the defamation trial of the InfoWars host, Alex Jones. The verdict will determine how much Jones will pay for spreading lies for years that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting didn't happen, lies he's made directly to the parents of those slain children.


During a wild day in court yesterday, Jones did finally admit the truth.


ALEX JONES, HOST, INFOWARS: It's 100 percent real, as I said on the radio yesterday, and as I said here yesterday. It's 100 percent real.


SCIUTTO: Well, in another stunning development in that courtroom, the plaintiffs' attorney revealed that Jones' lawyer had, in an apparent mishap, sent him two years worth of Jones' cell phone records, which included every text message Jones had sent.

CNN National Correspondent Erica Hill, she is following the story.

So, Erica, we're waiting on this verdict now. But in the meantime you have this, I think you could say, bombshell dropped in the middle of that trial, just a remarkable oversight here. What's the impact on this?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Paul Callan, one of our legal analysts this morning, called it a colossal error on the part of Jones' defense team.

So, it happened in court as the plaintiff's attorney, as you mentioned, Jim, brought this up directly with Alex Jones. I just want to play that moment for you.


MARK BANKSTON, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: Did you know that 12 days ago, 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone with every text message you've sent for the past two years and when informed, did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protect it in any way. As of two days ago, it fell free and clear into my possession and that is how I know you lied to me.


HILL: That is how I know you lied to me.

Now, keep in mind during discovery, Alex Jones had said he never texted about Sandy Hook. And then there we are in court yesterday with the plaintiffs' attorney saying, oh, yes, you did, because I just looked at two years of your cell phone records that your attorneys inadvertently sent me.

Now, the plaintiffs' attorney said I let your attorneys know and nothing happened, hence the colossal our friend, Paul Callan, mentioned, that does raise some separate questions, right, about not only the representation but what else could come out of it. But it was certainly a stunning moment in court yesterday, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. We already know the January 6 committee and Jones' ex-wife interested in those text messages, what perhaps cases of perjury it might reveal.

You've noted that he's facing, he, Jones is, over images aired on InfoWars showing flames over the judge presiding over this case. I mean, that's remarkable.

HILL: The judge presiding over this case and the judge in Connecticut presiding over a separate case. That too came up yesterday in court. I'm going to show that moment. Take a look.


BANKSTON: You say, Mr. Jones, that you're taking these court proceedings seriously. You're approaching them in good faith. But the truth of the matter is you've been broadcasting repeatedly a picture of our judge on fire, haven't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection, compound, your honor.


BANKSTON: The person on the left of this image is our judge, correct?


BANKSTON: The person on the right is another judge you don't like, right?




HILL: Showing those pictures, he was trying to, on the show, they were trying to make this connection because the judge in this case in Texas had done in her former work worked for child protective services trying to say, claiming that there had been evidence, that they were exposed for working with pedophiles. I mean, that moment really standing out. You're just seeing him fact-checked multiple times yesterday in court in real-time.

And keep in mind, as the attorney said there, he has been broadcasting throughout these proceedings, and this is not the first time that that has come up in terms of what's been said, not the first time it's coming up in court.

Jim, if I could, I just want to play one other moment for you, specifically about the jury, because he's been talking about the jury on the show as well. Take a listen on how that went down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you aware that this jury consists of 16 intelligent, fair-minded citizens who are not being improperly influenced in any way? JONES: Yes. I don't think that you are operatives. I don't think that you are part of a false flag. I don't think that you are bad people. I think you're good people. And I just am very, very critical about the whole process that I've been through so far where I've given I believed everything over and then I'm always told we didn't, even though we're seeing it. And so that's why I'm really concerned because a lot of has been misrepresented.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Jones, I think you've wandered off the question.


HILL: Also that's the first time the judge admonishing (ph) there for wandering off the question and for not answering the question.

So, Jim, this is specifically about he was asked about comments that were made on his show about the jurors, calling them blue collar, saying that they were in this bubble, they don't really know what's going on, that they're basically on another planet and that was a juror question saying, well, what exactly do you mean by that, what are you saying about us, this pool of jurors, and, initially tried to deflect it. You know, this isn't -- he said, oh, well, can you show me, can you show me those comments I made and the plaintiff's attorney queued it up.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, I've got to tell you, to see him there admit after nearly a decade that Sandy Hook did happen after all those years of lies, and can you imagine the parents' reaction to that? Goodness.

Erica Hill, good to have you covering it.

If you want to learn more about how Jones got to this place with his platform, don't miss the excellent CNN special report, Alex Jones, Megaphone for Conspiracy. That airs tomorrow night at 11:00 Eastern Time.

Well, the Justice Department is setting its sights on former White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro, and he is not the only former Trump official facing the heat.

Plus, President Biden has sent an apparent message to his party's lone remaining holdout on the tax climate and health bill. What Senator Kyrsten Sinema is reportedly objecting to in what's known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

And later, emotional moments inside a Broward County, Florida, courtroom, parents of some of the Parkland shooting victims share their grief with the jurors deciding the fate of the gunman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish every single day that this was a nightmare, that I could just wake up from. I want my family back. I want my sweet Alex back.


SCIUTTO: CNN has learned the Justice Department has issued a subpoena for the former deputy Trump White House counsel, Patrick Philbin, this as part of its ongoing investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol, criminal investigation. It comes just a day that we learned that Philbin's boss, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, was also subpoenaed.

In another move focusing on members of Trump's inner circle, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against former White House Trade Adviser, Pete Navarro, asking the judge to force Navarro to turn over emails from a private account that he used while working at the White House.

Joining me now to discuss, Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu.

So, it's interesting here because, apparently, Navarro was willing to do it if he had a grant of immunity in exchange for turning those over. I mean, it's not clear what specifically he wanted immunity from. I mean, would he then have to cite a particular crime or just say, I want a blanket immunity in case you find anything?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he's probably talking about something called active production immunity. So he could face some exposure, the Presidential Records Act and related types of crimes, such as destroying evidence, federal evidence. So, he's probably worried about that and producing it can show that, yes, I'm admitting that I have this and I didn't comply with it, so he's probably talking about that.

SCIUTTO: I see. I got it. Okay.

Big picture here, you've got Philbin subpoenaed, Cipollone. My understanding is from talking to people smarter than me that their executive privilege claims cannot be as broad to a grand jury as they were to the January 6th committee but there will still be a battle here, a legal battle.

I thought in my layman's thin knowledge and understanding of the issues here that this question was decided with Nixon at the Supreme Court, that you can't have executive privilege claims in criminal cases even when it involves a president, particularly a former president. So, what's still the question here?

WU: I think it mostly is decided in Nixon. But as in any precedent that is controlling, there's still a matter of how the lower courts will follow it and how lawyers are going to try to spin the precedent.

So, Nixon simply says that a generalized assertion of executive privilege is going to fail when it's confronted by a particularized need in the criminal investigation. It seems like exactly what we have here. Similarly in the Bruce Lindsey case during the Clinton era, the D.C. Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion to that. So, DOJ should win on this, but, of course, there's going to be a running out the clock type of strategy, district court, court of appeals, then the Supreme Court.

And I think the one I think kind of random factor here is this Supreme Court is not the same court obviously as during Nixon's time. It may not be such a slam dunk. There could be a couple of justices who are interested in protecting presidential power, et cetera. And also this court has not been shy about refusing to follow precedent. So, there's some random factors.

SCIUTTO: That was going to be my next question but you answered it already.

So, just on this Alex Jones case, which you've been following here, first of all, turning over the phone, I mean, that has to be legal malpractice, but why didn't Jones' lawyer then claim some sort of privilege with regards to the contents of that phone?

WU: Yes, that is really hard to understand, because just from a point of view of covering himself, or themselves, they would want to claim that to try and bring it back. And, actually, courts have been pretty generous in terms of a mistake in waiver of privilege. So, by not doing that, it really exposes him to a lot more problems and themselves as well.

Now, they may feel that in the context of that case maybe it wasn't that dangerous or bad for Jones. But, obviously now, everybody, including Jan. 6, is going to be interested in that material.

SCIUTTO: Sure, we've heard that, January 6th committee and his ex- wife. We should note that.

Final question, just big picture. You and I might have been talking a month ago, and there was a lot of criticism of the Justice Department for seeming not to have its act together or not pursuing January 6 questions too aggressively. But now with these subpoenas, I mean, clearly there's more going on there than we knew. Do you have a sense of the pace of this? And, again, we don't know looking from the outside in, but do you have a sense of how quickly we hear something as to what decisions they're making?


WU: I don't think we'll hear anything very quickly at all. I mean, I think what we're seeing here is a little bit like the Webb Space telescope. The stuff we're seeing was happening a long time ago. And these are the normal signals you get that there's an investigation going on but it doesn't seem like they've started very much earlier, and as I've been saying, they were late to the dance but at least they have located the dance hall now.

SCIUTTO: I like the Webb telescope comparison too. Shan Wu, thanks very much.

Well, Democrats and those in favor of abortion rights got a major win in a red state when Kansas overwhelmingly protected abortion rights there. Does that indicate positive news for Democrats in the midterms?