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CNN This Morning

Brittney Griner Sent to Russian Penal Colony; GOP Impeaches Philly's D.A.; Gabby Giffords' Story in a New CNN Film. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired November 18, 2022 - 06:30   ET




TREVOR REED, AMERICAN WHO SPENT NEARLY THREE YEARS DETAINED IN RUSSIA: That was not a good place. There's blood all over the walls there where prisoners had killed themselves or killed other prisoners or attempted to do that.

The toilet's just a hole in the floor and there's, you know, crap everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls. There's people in there also that walk around, they look like zombies.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Ah, frightening. That was U.S. Veteran Trevor Reed, who spent nearly three years in a Russia prison, describing what conditions were like there.

For the next nine years of her life, unless things change, WNBA star Brittney Griner will serve her time in a Russian penal colony. She has been sent to a remote, all female lockup located about 300 miles southeast of Moscow.

For the very latest on this, I want to go straight to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, live for us in Moscow.

Hello to you, Fred.

What's the latest on Brittney Griner's location?


What do you know?


Yes, we've been in touch with Brittney Griner's legal team and - and, you know, they acknowledge that this is a really difficult situation for her. This is in an area of Russia called Mordovia, which, as you said, is about 300 miles away from Moscow here. And I was looking at the village that this penal colony, which is called penal colony two, is in, and there really doesn't seem to be very much there except this penal colony.

Now, Brittney Griner's lawyers tell us that, you know, despite the circumstances, she's doing fairly well. She's, obviously, happy about the support that she's getting from the United States. But definitely the situation for her has become a lot more difficult as she is now in that very remote place, Don.

LEMON: You heard Trevor Reed describing conditions in the Russian prison that he was in.


LEMON: Some people look like some zombies and such. What are the conditions like? What - what is she facing there?

PLEITGEN: Yes, you know, I've got a lot of people asking me that. And the one thing we have to say is that there's some who are - that are wore and some that are not as bad, but all of them are bad, all of these penal colonies. It's never a nice or pleasant place to be in.

And if you look at some of the things that people have said about these penal colonies, you know, overcrowding, food shortages, people being put into solitary confinement, in some places even punitive stays in psychiatric units, limited access to health care, abuse by guards and inmates and, in many cases, inadequate sanitation. Also the food there really a very difficult situation as well.

But then you also have to look at the psychological effect on Brittney Griner right now. And you pointed this out, she's looking at nine years in that place. She was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. She's, obviously, already served some time. So, just the prospect of that must be soul crushing. And, you know, her lawyers saying she's doing as well as she could be right now but they also say if there is any sort of possibility, they really are hoping a prisoner exchange could take place, Don.

LEMON: All right, we'll see. Thank you very much. Fred Pleitgen joining us from Moscow this morning.

The liberal district attorney of Philadelphia impeached by Pennsylvania's Republican-led house. What they're accusing him of doing.

Plus this.


GABBY GIFFORDS (D), FORMER ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: The words that are in my brain, I just can't get them out.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Wait until you see this. Ahead, a new CNN film goes inside the healing process for former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. How speech therapy and music are helping her find her voice again. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HARLOW: Welcome back.

Well, a Republican-led state house in Pennsylvania this week voted to impeach the Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner. Republicans there accuse him of dereliction of duty, claiming his progressive policies have worsened the city's gun crisis. Well, Krasner responded saying, quote, history will harshly judge this anti-democratic authoritarian effort to erase Philly's votes, votes by black, brown and broke people in Philadelphia.

Let's bring in our friend and CNN political commentator and host of "SMERCONISH" right here on CNN, Michael Smerconish.

Michael, good morning and thanks very much for - for taking the time.

I -- when I think about what's going on here in Philadelphia, I think about what Robert Jackson, the former U.S. attorney general said back in the '40s about prosecutors. He said, the prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any person in America. And that power is often unchecked. But this is what Larry Krasner ran on. This is what he told voters he would do and they voted him in.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I could never vote for Larry Krasner. If I still lived in the city of Philadelphia, I think he's soft on crime and I think that he bears some responsibility, not all responsibility, but some responsibility for the revolving door of perps who are let out and commit more crimes.

Having said that, I don't see the case for impeachment because, to your point, this is the way he ran for office. He received nearly 70 percent of the vote. He was then re-elected again with close to 70 percent of the vote. There's no corruption evident. And there's this very vague standard in Pennsylvania in the state constitution.

The question being, did he misbehave? What the hell does that mean? So, I read the case that Republican statehouse members have assembled against him. I find merit in it. But I think misbehaving and impeachment is for corruption. So, I have to say, it does seem like the overturning of the will of the people. You want to get rid of Larry Krasner, then vote him out.

LEMON: Well, that's a question I have reading this, right. I mean, look, I think what you're doing is very nuance, what you're saying, and there's little room for nuance, you know, in our - in our politics today, Michael Smerconish. You don't support him, but you don't see, you know, if - that they have a case.

How much of this -- there's a similar narrative, by the way, as you know, playing out in New York City, right, with the -

HARLOW: And San Francisco.

LEMON: Yes, and in San Francisco. Right. Right on.

So how - political? Is this purely political?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think it's totally political. You're making reference to the fact that Chesa Boudin was recalled. Chesa Boudin was too progressive for San Francisco. Holy smokes, think of that. George Gascon in Los Angeles narrowly was able to turn back what could have been an impeachment process there because of the way in which the petitions were filed. It's part of a nationwide trend. You know that George Soros supported a number of progressive district attorneys who have been supported in big cities across the country. And I'm at odds with the approach.

There's this very glowing like eight-hour long PBS special about Larry Krasner. I watched the whole thing. It was intended, I think, to make you sympathetic toward his perspective and his approach. It didn't work with me. But still, I say elections have consequences. And when 70 percent of the city of Philadelphia votes for Larry Krasner and then re-elects him by the same margin, I think it's fundamentally unfair for the state legislature to now come along, from a different party, absent a showing of malfeasance, misfeasance, corruption, and say, we're going to step in and we're going to remove you. I mean if misbehavior is the standard, imagine Republicans taking a look, if they had control of the Senate, at President Biden, right?


On a whim they could decide they're going to get rid of him because they don't like his politics. Hey, he misbehaved. That's not what impeachment it about.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it was a sigh of relief for the White House that Democrats did hold onto the Senate for that very matter. We're seeing this precedent pop up everywhere, including in Philadelphia.

Michael Smerconish, thank you for breaking it all down for us.

LEMON: Thanks, Michael. Have a good weekend.

SMERCONISH: See you guys.

LEMON: We'll be watching.

COLLINS: You can watch Michael's show tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Also this this morning, Michelle Obama is getting candid. She's been promoting her new book. You've seen her making some comments about what life was like in the White House. Now she is opening up about how she believes that Americans were not ready for her natural hair.

LEMON: And this just in, Qatar set to ban alcohol sales at the World Cup in yet another controversy just days before the games begin. We're there live you.

COLLINS: OK, what do you guys want? LEMON: Oh, thank you. A coffee order.


LEMON: I just want like a black coffee.


COLLINS: Eleven years ago, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head while she was meeting with constituents in the parking lot of a grocery store.


Now, the new CNN film "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down" takes you inside her fight to recover from that assassination attempt.

CNN's medical correspondent Dr. Tara Narula sat down with Gabby Giffords to talk about the progress she's made, but also what lies ahead.


FABI HIRSCH, SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST: When did you have your stroke, or brain injury encephalitis?

DR. TARA NARULA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The patients in this aphasia group are practicing their language and communication skills.


HIRSCH: That was so good. That is a mouthful.

NARULA: Aphasia, difficulty understanding, writing, or speaking language can result from multiple types of injuries to the brain. One of the members of this special group is former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

GABBY GIFFORDS (D), FORMER ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: I'm from Tucson, Arizona. Born and raised. Shot in my head, 2011.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about two fingers? All right.

GIFFORDS: I'm getting better. I'm getting better.

NARULA: We met Giffords in Tucson to speak about her efforts to increase awareness about aphasia.

NARULA (on camera): What does aphasia mean to you personally?

GIFFORDS: Aphasia really sucks. The words are there in my brain, I just can't get them out. I love to talk. I'm Gabby. And I'm so quiet now.

NARULA (voice over): Giffords' and speech therapist Fabi Hirsch, have worked together closely for almost a decade.

NARULA (on camera): What 9s therapy like for you?

GIFFORDS: A lot of homework. A lot of homework. A lot of homework.

HIRSCH: Whenever I give you the choice of fewer options, less homework, you always ask for more. And so, that really speaks to her determination and hard work.

NARULA: Where do you think that comes from?

HIRSCH: Inside. I think that's you. I think it's the two of us.

NARULA (voice over): Members of the group each wear a bracelet. Written on the inside, the words "aphasia, loss of words, not intelligence."

HIRSCH: When somebody has a communication difficulty, when they say a word that's incorrect, people often will misconstrue that as the person just not being all there. But it's not. Just because of the injury to the brain.

NARULA: Giffords has made remarkable gains in her ability to speak with therapy twice a week.

HIRSCH: Your favorite thing about coming to aphasia groups?


GIFFORDS: Friends, family. A home.


HIRSCH: Yes! Yes!


GIFFORDS (singing): Almost heaven, West Virginia.

NARULA: She uses singing too. Phrases with rhythm and melody are often retained when somebody has aphasia, even when spoken language is not.

GIFFORDS AND HIRSCH (singing): Blowing like a breeze. Country road.

NARULA: As for her continued recovery --

GIFFORDS (on camera): I'm optimistic. It will be a long, hard haul, but I'm optimistic.

NARULA (on camera): Is your recovery a process of discovering a new Gabby Giffords or a fight to reclaim the old Gabby Giffords?

GIFFORDS: The new one. Better, stronger, tougher.


COLLINS: A remarkable conversation.

I want to bring in Dr. Tara Narula, who spoke with Gabby Giffords.

Really remarkable just what she has been through. I mean that day was such a - it stood out to so many and now to see where she is today.

NARULA: It is. And she's just resilience personified. Such compassion. Her advocacy, both around gun safety and also aphasia has just been incredible.

LEMON: It tells you just how - look, it - because I remember being -- this was January 8, 2011. And I remember I was anchoring that weekend. And it was touch and go. People didn't know if she had survived.


LEMON: And then, you know, we saw her fight - and do you remember that moment when she came back to the floor?

HARLOW: I do. Of course.

LEMON: And - with her -- and her husband. But it just shows you how the body can recover. It's taken a long time -


LEMON: But she is -- you can - you can get through things like this now with - with, you know, the advances in medicine.

NARULA: You can. And you can help other people. I mean look what she's done with her life in these last years. So many other souls that she's helped. I mean this aphasia work is really important. You know, 2 million Americans have aphasia. So many people don't even know what that is. It's very misunderstood. A lot of these individuals feel isolated. They may lose their jobs, lost their relationships. And so to have these group therapy sessions, to increase this awareness that it's loss of words, not intelligence, it's so important. And we've talked about aphasia recently a lot in the setting of Fetterman, Bruce Willis' diagnosis. So, they're really trying to get the word out about what this means.

LEMON: You just answered the questions that Poppy and I - we were talking about, is this -- is this like Fetterman?

HARLOW: That was exactly what we said this morning.


LEMON: We were just talking about -



NARULA: Yes. Yes.

LEMON: Thank you, Doctor.

NARULA: Appreciate it.

COLLINS: Thank you.

LEMON: So make sure you tune in. The all new CNN film "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down," it premiers on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

Meantime, we have to tell you about this. Western New York getting buried by a mega blizzard.


How much snow is expected. That's straight ahead.

HARLOW: Also, major news overseas this morning. North Korea launching one of its most powerful missiles yet.


LEMON: That is Buffalo you're looking at right now. Now you're looking at us. But, good morning, everyone. It is Friday, November 18th. Thank you so much for joining us.

A winter wallop in western New York. Say that, winter wallop.

HARLOW: Three times fast.

LEMON: Yes. Buffalo could get buried in more than 60 inches of snow.

HARLOW: We'll get into that.

Also, a mass exodus underway right now at Twitter. Employees answering Elon Musk's ultimatum to work, quote, hard core or leave. And, they're leaving.


COLLINS: After clinching the majority, just barely, House Republicans are now preparing to investigate the Biden family's business dealings.