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Closing Arguments Expected in Griner Trial Later Today; White House: Russia May Falsify Evidence of Prison Attack; Jury Deliberations Begin in Trial of Alex Jones; Former Trump White House Lawyers Subpoenaed. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 04:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conviction rate in Russia is very high, about 99 percent. In terms of sentencing, it's very hard to predict. Judges in Russia have tremendous discretion. It is not like in the U.S. where you have sentencing guide lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your attorney is messed up sending an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone with every text message you've sent for the past two years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 20 hours later, she's back on the plane, she's out and Chinese ships are surrounding Taiwan in six different locations opening fire. So, what is the cost/benefit analysis of this trip here?


ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster.

FOSTER: It's Thursday, August 4, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 4:00 a.m. in Washington and 11:00 a.m. in Moscow where closing arguments are expected in just a few hours in the trial of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner. It is the second hearing so far this week for Griner who was arrested at a Moscow airport back this February. She's being held on drug charges after vape cartridges with cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges against her in hopes of securing a lighter sentence.

The U.S. has attempted to broker a prisoner swap with Moscow, but so far, there's been no agreement. CNN senior International correspondent Fred Pleitgen is following developments for us from Moscow. And this could be the final day, we could get the result.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We could indeed, Max. And certainly, something that is not set in stone and isn't necessarily on the official agenda. But something that Brittney Griner's legal defense team told me could happen. They said that they expect today to have the closing arguments and then there could be a verdict but it doesn't necessarily have to be the case. But in any case, certainly a big day for Brittney Griner as this trial is sort of moving towards coming to a close.

We heard the final witness two days ago. It was an expert witness trying to cast doubt on some of the original forensics that were done. And in general, if you look at the strategy of the legal defense team, they say that they believe they've done pretty well so far despite, you know -- in light of the fact that of course this is a Russian court, it does have a lot of discretion as to sentencing and verdicts as well. They've obviously tried to have Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, show remorse, also show respect for Russia's legal system.

At the same time also had some character witnesses on as well to show that Brittney Griner is a model athlete and is someone who has done a lot for the sport of basketball, not just internationally but specifically here in Russia as well. They hope that all of that will lead to a lenient verdict.

But we heard in the open of the show just now that the conviction rates here are very high and that it really is up to the court what kind of sentence Brittney Griner will get. At the same time, Max, we always have to point this out, looming over all of this is the fact that the U.S. has said that it has put forward that very big offer to the Russians. Substantial offer as the U.S. said, for a possible prisoner exchange. Again, unclear where all of that stands. But certainly, it is something that looms over this trial even though of course it is not something that is mentioned in the proceedings themselves -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Fred, thank you.

Sweden and Finland are now one step closer to joining NATO after clearing an important hurdle on Wednesday. The U.S. Senate voted 95-1 to ratify NATO membership for the two countries, a rare display of overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. The official ratification document now goes to President Biden for his signature. One U.S. Senator said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine underscored the urgency of Wednesday's vote.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Russia's unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has changed how we think about the world's security. So that's why I strongly support the decision of these two great democracies Sweden and Finland to join the most important and defensive alliance in the world, NATO.


FOSTER: Both countries must still get unanimous approval from all 30 NATO members. According to the alliance, 23 of those countries have now given the green light so far.

The White House reportedly believes that Russia will try to frame Ukrainian forces for prison attack, at least 50 prisoners of war were killed in a blast at a prison in the occupied east last week.


But a U.S. official says Russia may suggest that Ukraine hit the prison with rockets.

Meanwhile Ukraine says although Russia is pounding the east with airstrikes, ground attacks have been repelled and down south Russia claims its air defenses have repelled an Ukrainian attempt to strike a key bridge near the city of Kherson. Ukraine has been hitting the bridge for weeks now trying to cut off Russian supply route in the region. CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by for us live in Ukraine. What do you make of the latest movements -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, specifically when it comes to the contention over the prison investigation, the Olenivka where 50 POWs -- Ukrainian POWs were killed in an explosion. But Russia is blaming it on Ukrainian forces firing the U.S. given HIMARS rocket system. And in the days following that, pro-Russian journalists released or showed on social media and on television there and they showed pictures of what they allege were parts of HIMARS missiles.

So, this does fit in with what we are hearing from the White House. The White House saying that they think that Russia is going to try to spin this as a Ukrainian attack, while the Ukrainian officials say that they firmly believe that this was something that was a false flag operation, if you will, that this was done by pro-Russian forces. Indeed, they blame the pro Kremlin military contractor Wagner for it. They were responsible for the prison and Ukrainian authorities say flammable substances were used there.

It's going to be very difficult to get to the bottom of this. The International Committee for the Red Cross say they have only made one visit to the detention facility in May to drop off water containers. They had not per the Geneva Convention been given access to the prisoners one-on-one. They had demanded access, now they haven't got it yet.

The U.N. secretary-general is calling for a mission to investigate what happened there, but he has said that that will need the signoff of Russia, that Russia will need to sign off on the terms of any investigation. So, I think the hopes of getting clarity from the killing of those prisoners of war, many of whom are from the Azov battalion, who'd been the last holdouts of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol several months ago, taken prisoner and held there, prisoners of war.

I think the hopes of trying to get to the bottom of what happened and get clarity is going to be very difficult and it's going to be a long running narrative, if you will. Certainly, for a good while longer that Ukraine firmly believes that Russia did this and is blaming it on -- trying to blame it on Ukraine.

Now, release of those pictures of HIMARS weapons parts may actually work against the Russians because forensically there will be serial numbers that have been put in the public domain that may give -- provide Ukrainians with accountability on their weapon systems.

But this is a war, Max. And we're going to see an awful lot more of Russia and potentially Ukraine of obfuscating on less obvious facts, if you will. There's going to be a lot more things that happen like this that are going to be difficult to get to the bottom of. Horrific, horrendous, and the international community is in essence if it happens on Russian-controlled territory, they're going to be pretty powerless to get to the bottom of.

FOSTER: Nic in Ukraine, thank you.

Ukrainian officials are dismissing meanwhile suggestions by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder that Moscow wants a negotiated solution to the war in Ukraine. He made the remark on Wednesday after meeting last week in Moscow with the Russian leader. Schroder cited the recent grain deal as a possible starting point towards the ceasefire. But Schroder has had close ties to Vladimir Putin for many years now and his comments didn't sit well in Kyiv. Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is simply disgusting when former leaders of major states with European values work for Russia, which is at war against these values.


FOSTER: Let's bring in Clare Sebastian who's here in London. Obviously, it's a very sensitive matter and it won't go down well in Kyiv, but we don't know enough about the negotiations really, do we?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, we don't know that any are taking place at all apart from the specific issues like grain. And I think this is a very sensitive issue for Ukraine because of course they were critical of Germany in the beginning of this war for taking too soft a line. Worried about counter conflicts of interest in terms of the reliance on energy supplies, the historical ties.


So yes, Gerhard Schroder, the former Chancellor, he's not in government right now, he doesn't speak for the government but this revives those concerns. And some of the things that he, you know, has come back with, the messages that he's come back with from Moscow aside from the fact that he said Moscow wants a negotiated solution to this, which the Ukrainian foreign minister described as nothing more than cynical then using tensions saying Russia is ready.

But he is taking a different tack from the current Chancellor Scholz on the issue of turbine and gas supplies to Europe. He said that there's no technical -- they said it was a technical and bureaucratic problem the reason why the turbine hasn't yet been delivered back to Gazprom -- critical to the Gazprom lines that were hearing from the Germans. He said there are no legal or technical sanctions reasons why the turbine hasn't yet been delivered. So, it's sort of problematic. He said that he has refused to criticize Putin. He said that this is a mistake, this war by the Russian government. And he is refusing to apologize for this meeting saying that he hopes to continue to be of help. I think it's not the case yet that he has been of help.

FOSTER: OK, Clare, thank you.

After years of claiming the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was fake, Alex Jones is facing the stark truth of his lies could cost him big. Latest on the high profile case just ahead.

Plus, the Justice Department reaches deep into the Trump White House, what it expects to find in its probe of former president's schemes to overturn the 2020 election.


FOSTER: Jury deliberations are set to resume in the coming hours in the defamation case against right wing radio host Alex Jones. Jones admitted in court the Sandy Hook mass shooting was not a hoax as he had insisted for years but collecting millions in damages from Jones could prove extremely difficult as Drew Griffin reports.


ALEX JONES, HOST, THE ALEX JONES SHOW: The whole thing is a giant hoax. The whole thing was fake.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Now in direct testimony an about-face, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who, for years, repeatedly suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax, now admitting the truth.

JONES: I think Sandy Hook happened. I think it's a terrible event. I think we need to protect our children from mentally ill psychopaths. I think there was a cover-up because they had warnings, the FBI knew about it. They knew he was planning to attack the school. That's been in even "The New York Times."

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It is too late though, for apologies or explanations as to why Jones perpetuated the lies. After four years of failing to comply with legal demands, Jones and his company were found liable. This case is about damages to the parents who for years begged Jones to stop and he refused.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF JESSE LEWIS: I can't even describe the last nine and a half years the living hell that I and others have had to endure.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The parents of then-6-year-old Jesse Lewis told the jury that Jones, through his conspiratorial media organization, Infowars, tarnished their son's legacy and tormented them for years. In a remarkable moment in court, Jesse Lewis's mom, Scarlett, spoke to Jones directly.

SCARLETT LEWIS, MOTHER OF JESSE LEWIS: Jesse was real. I am a real mom. GRIFFIN (voice-over): From the stand Jones told the parents that he didn't intentionally try to hurt them. He testified that, quote, the internet had a lot of questions and so did he. But the tapes of Infowars shows played in court reveal years of statements like this.

JONES: The official story of Sandy Hook has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): even while this case has been going on, Jones has been on his show trashing the jury as blue collar no-nothings and absurdly trying to link the judge to pedophilia, setting up this awkward moment.

MARK BANKSTON, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: You're telling the world not to believe what happens in this courtroom because the judge worked with child protective services who you say is involved with pedophilia and child trafficking, correct?

JONES: I said I don't not stand behind it. I need to see, not just five-second clips.

The judge is the fire burning lady liberty, it's not the judge -- the judge is consuming freedom.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In another awkward moment, Jones, who had told attorneys he had no texts involving the Sandy Hook case, was confronted with this.

BANKSTON: 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. That is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn't have text messages about Sandy Hook.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That trove of text messages could prove harmful for Jones in an upcoming trial in Connecticut involving Sandy Hook parents. But also, in the congressional investigation of the January 6th committee, looking into Jones' role in the insurrection. Jones pled the Fifth to the committee.

For now, the jury is focused on money and damages. As CNN has reported, Jones' Infowars conspiracy-based empire makes its money by selling supplements fueled by fear. Former workers have told CNN it's a QVC for the right-wing. Court documents show a massive inflow of money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, adding up to more than $165 million in revenue over a three-year period.

In court today, Jones has claimed his company is bankrupt, admitted some days he can pull in more than $800,000 in a single day.

BANKSTON: Some days, you're making $800,000, $745,000 a day, right?

JONES: This was CPAC. I remember these numbers.

GRIFFIN: The case is now in the hands of the jury which is being asked to decide if Alex Jones should pay up to $150 million which is what the parents of Jesse Lewis are asking for. Complicating matters, Jones' company filed for bankruptcy last week which makes recovering any potential damages difficult.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.



FOSTER: Sources tell CNN the Secret Service may disable text messaging on employees' phones. Some agents' texts related to the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot were deleted despite being requested by lawmakers. Meanwhile the federal investigation into the riot is digging further into the Trump White House. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more on that story.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Justice Department escalating its investigation into January 6th with CNN learning of two new key subpoenas to the former White House counsel and his deputy. Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin are the highest ranking White House officials to be subpoenaed so far.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This is probably bad for former President Trump.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): prosecutors are already deep into their investigation of plans from Trump allies to overturn the 2020 election. Two top aides to Vice President Pence appeared before a grand jury last month. Subpoenas have already been served to several people who schemed to create fake slates of electors, saying Trump won the 2020 election in several swing states. And earlier this summer, FBI agents seized Lawyer John Eastman's phone and raided Jeffrey Clark's home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I call my lawyer?

KINZINGER: It shows that this is more than what did John Eastman do, the attorney that basically came up with that crazy scheme to overturn the election, and it probably has a very deep interest on what the president did.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Cipollone's subpoena is significant because he was close to the president and in the West Wing on January 6th.

PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think I was pretty clear there needed to be an immediate and forceful response, statement, public statement that people need to leave the Capitol.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Cipollone sat for several hours of a closed- door deposition with the January 6th Select Committee. Careful not to divulge any conversations directly with Trump, former prosecutor Elie Honig says those executive privilege concerns could prove to be a hurdle for Justice Department prosecutors.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Donald Trump might try to step in and claim executive privilege in front of a grand jury. You can claim executive privilege. But there's a difference between claiming executive privilege and actually winning on executive privilege. This is actually exactly what happened in the Richard Nixon tapes case back in 1974.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Nixon's tapes were ultimately ordered released by the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin, he is now calling on the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate these missing texts from senior officials at the Defense Department. The Pentagon has responded saying they are aware of the requests but they are still waiting to get an official ask from Senator Durbin.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


FOSTER: Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema has emerged as a key holdout on her party's economic package. She's the only Democrat not to pledge her support after Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin reached a deal last week on the massive climate energy and healthcare bill. Sinema has been raising questions about some of the bill's proposed tax increases such as a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations. She has also expressed concerns about raising taxes on so-called carried interest which would impact private equity and hedge fund managers. Sinema has apparently relayed to top Democrats that she wants that provision out of the bill.

A new economic survey is suggesting the U.S. is not in a recession which was welcome news on Wall Street. All three major U.S. indices closed in the black on Wednesday after a survey by the Institute of Supply Management. It said that the service sector grew last month reinforcing the view that the recession is not under way. The Dow gained more than 400 points or almost 1.3 percent and the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were up by even bigger margins.

Let's now check on the markets currently stand. If we look at the futures, they are all down. I think those concerns about interest rates still weighing around the world as we take you through the other markets as well, Asian markets are up broadly off the back of those Wall Street gains. And here is how Europe is looking. Only London shares looking down by 0.2 percent.

Gasoline prices in the U.S. are headed to the opposite direction than the markets which is good news for consumers. Wednesday was 50th consecutive day of declining gas prices. According to AAA the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline now stands at $4.16. Prices are $0.65 lower than a month ago and $0.86 below a record set in mid- June. U.S. crude oil prices have also tumbled below $91 a barrel, the lowest levels since before the Russian invasion on Ukraine.

Now ideally just how small or large should your airline seat be? The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is taking public comments about the size of commercial airplane seats but there is a catch here. The survey is limited to safety considerations only.


The FAA stresses things like how the dimensions of seats might relate to comfort or convenience are not part of this request. Comments are open to the public until November 1.

Up next, tensions rise in the Taiwan Strait as China reacts to the U.S. House Speaker's high stakes trip to Taiwan. The latest in a live report just ahead.

And later, voters in one U.S. state have their say on abortion rights. We'll explain why the record turnout in Kansas shocked almost everyone.


FOSTER: There are growing tensions over a sharp rise -- great concerns really over the sharp rising tensions between China and Taiwan after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island. China launched military exercises today in response including live fire drills in the Taiwan Strait which Taiwan is criticizing as an irrational act take that could damage regional stability. And Taiwan's defense ministry now says China has fired multiple missiles towards waters near parts of the island. Beijing's action follows repeated threats over Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.

But the warnings did not stop the House Speaker who praised the island's commitment to democracy and said her visit should be seen as a strong statement that, quote, America stands with Taiwan. Pelosi is now in South Korea where she met with her South Korean counterpart. Japan will be the next stop on her visit to Asia.

CNN correspondents are tracking all the developments for you. Steven Jiang is in Beijing, Blake Essig is in Tokyo. Let's first go to Steven though. Lots of action there around Taiwan and concern about, you know, the scale of this exercise and how close it is coming to the island.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Max. The Chinese People's Liberation Army has also just confirmed how they ...