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Source Says, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) Wants Carried Interest Provisions Out of Bill; Jurors in Death Penalty Trial Visit Parkland Shooting Massacre Scene; Soon, Russia Judge Expected to Sentence WNBA Star Brittney Griner. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the only Democrat not yet to voice support for the climate, health care and tax bill wants some changes apparently before she will give her vote. By the way, they need the votes. They only have got 50. Sources tell us she wants to get rid of the provision in the agreement that closes what's known as the carried interest tax loophole.

In a tweet, President Biden appeared to send something of a message to Sinema without saying her name. He said, for too long big, super wealthy corporations haven't paid their fair share in taxes. We're going to change that with the Inflation Reduction Act. That's the name that Democrats have given this.

Joining me now to discuss, Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent for USA Today, and Alayna Treene, Congressional Reporter for Axios.

So, Alayna, you've been covering this closely. Do you think Sinema eventually comes onboard?

ALAYNA TREENE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I do. I don't think that she wants to be the one person who's standing in the way of getting this done, especially as she looks forward to the midterms and the elections beyond. But she's going to want some changes. She has a lot of leverage right now, I think, with working in what she wants in the bill. I have some reporting that she's been looking at beefing up the climate portion and increasing funding for that in the package and also wants to play with the 15 percent corporate minimum tax and also maybe get rid of the carried interest loophole.

SCIUTTO: How would you play with 50? Because there was a question on a call with corporate donors to say like, how could this be implemented badly or something. Do we have any idea how that would happen?

TREENE: So -- and I don't know exactly what she's going to be proposing, but my reporting shows that she met with or she had a phone call with a lot of business people and business leaders within Arizona, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce as well on Tuesday, and they talked about concerns that maybe the corporate minimum tax could be carried down to employees.

And I think she's looking at how can we set that up so that maybe there's assurances that you don't. I'm not totally sure what she's going to be proposing, but I know it was described to me that she wants to potentially restructure that provision.

SCIUTTO: Okay, we'll be watching closely.

I want to take advantage, Francesca, not only of your reporting but the fact you're from the state of Kansas. I mean, a lot of things happened in those primaries, including election deniers winning, but this Kansas abortion vote has potential national implications, does it not? Is that how Democrats are viewing this that in a deeply red state that voters came out in support of abortion rights?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: They do, but Republicans are viewing it that way also. So, let's start with the Democrats. There are Democrats who were concerned though about overreach and looking at this and thinking it means now, great, everyone, everywhere should run on abortion as the top issue when so many Americans say in polling that they're concerned about the economy, that they're concerned about inflation and essentially not getting over their skis here and saying, okay, this means we're going to take back the Senate, right? So, there's some concern among Democrats with that.

When you talk to conservatives, they're also worried that people are going to look at the results of the Senate candidates in particular, House candidates, and say, well, then I shouldn't touch the issue of abortion, whatsoever, right, because it's not a winning issue for us. And what they are advising those candidates to do is actually define the debate. They're saying Democrats are going to be campaigning on this anyway. And so if you don't, they're going to define where you stand on it. You need to take a clear stance on abortion and not allow them to do that.

SCIUTTO: I mean, could it be a matter of district-to-district, right? Because I imagine, for instance, in suburban districts, we always talk about suburban women voters who certainly made a difference in past -- for instance, the presidential election, it seems, in 2020. I mean, is that part of the strategy for both Democrats and Republicans, right, as opposed to know their district?

CHAMBERS: And, again, when you talk about statewide, the message can be different than in some of these suburban districts, where, again, in Kansas, in the suburban areas, that is where you saw people saying, vote no very heavily on this, and it was the rural areas in which you had more people saying they wanted to vote yes on that particular thing. So, yes, that's absolutely something the Democrats are looking at and Republicans also very closely as they try to plot a strategy forward on how to handle abortion in the midterm elections.

SCIUTTO: Big picture, if we had been talking a month ago, we were going to say Democrats are going to get toasted in the midterms, and, by the way, Democrats would say that, at least privately. The generic ballot numbers are looking a bit better for them than they were a month ago. You do have some legislative achievements, it seems, to run on, guns, maybe this reconciliation bill, the PACT act, that kind of thing. When you speak to Democrats and Republicans, do you sense a change in how they view the midterms?

TREENE: I think, publicly, Democrats are saying they now have a lot of successes they can run on. I think, privately, they still recognize that the outlook is pretty bleak and they know that.


I mean, Biden is still sagging in the polls.

SCIUTTO: His numbers are not moving.

TREENE: They're not moving. And we'll see if this potential reconciliation package could improve them at all.

But it really still is about the economy and about inflation. And I think already if you look at history, Democrats are historically supposed to lose and Republicans have a leg up here. But I also just think the way that Americans are feeling right now, it might not do it.

And maybe abortion, yes. I think in some districts it might be obviously helpful for Democrats, but I think, by and large, people privately recognize that it won't be enough.

SCIUTTO: Well, we've got a few months to figure it out. We'll be watching closely. Alayna Treene, Francesca Chambers, thanks so much to both of you. Treene, I said Train, Treene.

Happening now, jurors getting an up-close look at the school where 17 people lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. You'll want to hear the testimony from parents. It is -- and friends. It's heartbreaking.



SCIUTTO: Happening now, jurors in the death penalty trial of the Parkland shooter are now visiting the scene of that shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There you can see them. The building, number 1200, has remained sealed since 2018 in order to preserve it for Gunman Nikolas Cruz's trial.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is live with the latest. Carlos, these victim statements, family statements, friends, are just heartbreaking to read and to hear. I can only imagine what they're feeling right now. Tell us what you've been hearing from them.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, good morning. For three days now, the jury has been hearing from the emotional testimony of all of the victims' families. They have all been talking about their grief. They have described, quote, the crushing absence that they have felt in their lives as well as the, quote, constant emptiness brought on by the loss of their loved ones.

The testimony, as you can imagine, has been pretty emotional throughout the entire week. At one point, one of Nikolas Cruz's only attorneys was seen rather wiping away a tear as the families spoke in court. None of the family members have mentioned Cruz by name and none of them were able to say whether or not they want to see Cruz die because of his actions. Many of them have been in court every single day since the sentencing trial got under way a little over two weeks ago.

Here now are two of those parents.


TONY MONTALTO, FATHER OF PARKLAND VICTIM GINA MONTALTO: I realized I'm wearing the same clothes that I took Gina to our last father- daughter dance together in.

Life without Gina is nearly unbearable. The pain I feel every day since she was murdered is unimaginable.

JENNIFER MONTALTO, MOTHER OF PARKLAND VICTIM GINA MONTALTO: I couldn't imagine my life without her and now at a time in our lives, we should be focused on our children, I find myself questioning how I'll be able to make it to the next day.


SUAREZ: So, we're expecting to hear from some additional family members later today after the jury comes back from visiting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus. They're getting a look at the building where this shooting took place. They're going floor by floor and classroom by classroom to see exactly what happened on that day. There are no cameras allowed. The jury has been told that they cannot ask any questions, they cannot talk to one another, they are not able to take any notes.

The building has remained pretty much the same as it was the day of that shooting. The school district in Broward County has wanted to demolish that building. However, prosecutors had asked that it be kept intact until the trial. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Lord, to visit that scene. Carlos Suarez, thanks so much for bringing us some of those stories.

We are closely monitoring the latest out of a courtroom just outside Moscow in Russia where a judge is expected, perhaps in minutes, to decide the fate of WNBA Star Brittney Griner. We'll bring it to you live.



SCIUTTO: We want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world to our breaking news coverage of the Brittney Griner trial. Any moment now in a Russian court, you see it there, a judge is expected to decide her fate, set her sentence. The two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty last month to drug charges. And this morning she told the court she never intended to violate the law.

The Russian prosecutor asking the court to sentence Griner to nine and a half years in jail. I should note, and you see the people in the courtroom there standing up, the judge has entered the courtroom, as did Brittney Griner just a few moments ago.

Our CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is outside that court. Walk us through what we're going to see in these next few minutes.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim. As you've just noted, the judge has just entered the courtroom. Brittney Griner has been inside that courtroom for a little while already. What's going to happen now is the judge is going to do and obviously sit down, reopen that session, and at some point, we are going to hear the verdict.

Now, one of the things that we have to point out is that it can take a bit of time for a judge to get to the actual verdict, to get to the actual sentencing. So, we are going to be waiting for that and obviously monitoring things and see when exactly we see the verdict that will come down.

It was quite interesting, because right before the session came back into process, I saw the legal team for Brittney Griner, they walked past me here and I spoke to them for a couple of seconds, and I asked them, first of all, what they expect. They said, look, we're going to have to wait and see what the judge says. But they also said if there is going to be a guilty verdict and if there is going to be a substantial jail sentence with that guilty verdict that they are going to appeal that sentence. So, that could go into an appeal process.

At the same time, that same legal team, a couple of days ago, told me that they believed that there needs to be a verdict and there needs to be a sentence if there is going to be, for instance, an exchange that would take place between the U.S. and Russia.


So, they do believe this trial needs to come to a conclusion, which obviously we are in the process of witnessing right now.

The big thing that we're going to be looking for is whether or not there's going to be any leniency on the part of the judge. We've mentioned already it's not necessarily something that Russian courts are known for, more than 99 percent conviction rate. And if you look at what the prosecutor was saying, essentially saying that they believed this was all done intentionally and asking for 9.5 years in jail, nine years and six months.

Certainly, that would be a huge impact obviously on Brittney Griner's life, really, and something that her legal defense team is trying to prevent, Jim. SCIUTTO: We should note, and this is a live picture from inside that courtroom just outside the Russian capital of Moscow, Brittney Griner there behind bars as she sits and waits the judge's verdict in this case.

We also have Jill Dougherty with us. And, Jill, as you know, the U.S. offered to swap the convicted arms smuggler, Russian, Viktor Bout, for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American held there, to which Russia responded a demand for adding a convicted murderer held in Germany now.

In your view from reading this, are those swap discussions still open or do you read the Kremlin here as using this as some leverage over the U.S., particularly in the midst of the war in Ukraine?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a little bit hard, I think, Jim, to know because a lot of this now, I think, is really the people who are directly involved in talking about this with the other side. And so, you know, up to this point, they have been going on. And you'd have to think that they would continue or it could be that they're actually -- either everything fell apart or they could be, you know -- have worked out a deal.

These things are kind of murky because the Russians have been really, really insistent that everything be quiet, behind the scenes, the way these are usually handled. And especially recently, they have been saying this is not productive, it should not be talked about in public diplomacy. So, on the American side, of course, we've had so much public pressure because this is a very big deal, you know, publicly in the United States. So, it's a little bit hard to figure that out. And I think sometimes there is value in not making things public. So, until we really hear what goes on in this courtroom, I think it's going to be very difficult.

I do believe, and I think Fred is right, they're absolutely going to have to have a sentence. It could actually be a very hard sentence. That could send a message. But then there could be a deal to release people. That doesn't, you know, eliminate that possibility.

SCIUTTO: Watching Griner there in the courtroom, you can only imagine the weight of the world on her shoulders here. She waits to hear her fate. We did hear from her earlier apologizing to her fans, her teammates, for this and stating that she had no intent to commit this crime.

Kylie Atwood, this latest Russian offer for a prisoner swap for Griner and Whelan, that the U.S. officials told me, I know they've told you as well, the U.S. did not consider that a serious good faith offer. Where do those negotiations stand?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it's a good question. The Biden administration did say last week that what they got back from Russia through these non-official backchannels through this Russian spy agency, they didn't see it as a useful, legitimate counteroffer. So, the question is where do these conversations go after today, because U.S. officials have long said that they think that there would need to be both Brittney Griner confessing that she did something wrong, and she's done that. She has pled guilty. We heard that again from her today talking about how she made a mistake, and that there would need to be sentencing in this trial, and that's what we're expecting today.

I do think it's noteworthy, however, that these conversations were at least ongoing as of late last week, and that's because the secretary of state made a phone call to the Russian foreign minister urging the Russians to accept the offer that the United States had initially put on that table. The offer for Viktor Bout, who is that convicted arms smuggler serving a 25-year sentence here.

Now, as Jill was saying, the Russians essentially responded by urging the Biden administration to return to quiet diplomacy. And those quiet diplomatic conversations, likely conversations that happened between intelligence officials, are incredibly hard to track. But today will be a significant marker on those conversations just because the expectation was there would need to be a verdict and a sentence before any potential prisoner swap could actually come to fruition.


SCIUTTO: And we should remember that the crime that she is accused of here is carrying capsules, vaping capsules containing CBD oil, and yet the possible sentence for this recommended as recommended by prosecutors, nine and a half years.

We should also note as this is happening, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, happen to be at the same dinner in Cambodia at the ASEAN summit there.

Again, you're looking at live pictures inside a courtroom just outside of the Russian capital of Moscow, as Brittney Griner, American, WNBA star, awaits to hear a verdict from a judge there and sentence. We will bring you that as it comes. We'll bring it to you live.

Fred Pleitgen, Jill Dougherty, Kylie Atwood, thanks to you. And thanks to all of you for joining me today.

Our breaking news coverage continues with At This Hour right after a short break.