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Russia: Will Not Tolerate "Pressure" By U.S. Over Jailed Wall Street Journal Reporter; Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) Talks Running For Senate, New Book; Judge: Dominion Can't Invoke January 6 During Trial Against Fox News. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 12, 2023 - 07:30   ET




DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A beautiful shot of Manhattan there. Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING, everyone.

And new this morning, a senior Kremlin official says that Russia will not tolerate pressure by the U.S. over its detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Now, Gershkovich is facing up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges -- accusations the U.S. government and The Wall Street Journal both adamantly deny. He is still being detained -- or denied, I should say, consular access while he awaits his next court date Tuesday in a Russian prison.

President Joe Biden spoke with his family aboard Air Force One -- that was yesterday.

So joining us now, the U.S. special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens. He is working to secure the release of Gershkovich as well as other U.S. citizens deemed by the State Department to be wrongfully detained around the world. He was on the plane with Brittney Griner to escort her back here to the United States after she landed in the UAE.

We're so grateful to have you on this morning. Thank you so much, sir, for appearing.


LEMON: Let me add this is the newest information that we have just this morning. Russia's deputy foreign minister said, quote, "On this issue we are acting in full compliance with our laws, naturally taking into account the provisions of the consular convention and are guided by available precedent in this area. Therefore, we reject any attempts to pressure us."

What is your response to that?

CARSTENS: I would just say that that's perhaps not exactly true. The Russians owe us a consular visit and we have yet to have consular access to Mr. Gershkovich, and the Russians owe that by international law and by the consular convention.

LEMON: What can you say, if anything, about the conversations that you have had with Russia about Evan Gershkovich's detention?

CARSTENS: Well, you know, the Secretary of State has had a chance to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Ambassador Tracy, in Moscow, has had a chance to talk to her counterparts. And we've had a chance for a senior official to talk to the Russian counterparts.

And you can imagine -- we've been pressing them for Evan's release. We've been pressing them for consular access. And anything beyond that I'd rather not talk about. I want to maintain a -- I guess, some of our negotiation space as we might call it.

But what I can tell you is this. In 26 months, this administration has brought back 26 Americans. So working closely with the National Security Council and the White House we're going to find a way to bring Evan and Paul Whelan home.

LEMON: Yes, I want to talk to you about Paul Whelan a little bit later on. But let's stick now to what's happening now with Gershkovich.

This week the State Department officially said that he is being wrongfully detained. How is that designation made, and what difference does it make in terms of working to secure his release?

CARSTENS: Well, how it's made -- it's a deliberative process so we don't really discuss it in public. I can say that we take the facts of the case and apply them to a certain set of criteria that was generated by the Levinson Act, which was passed into public law not too long ago. And eventually, if the factors of the case meet with the criteria and it seems to be wrongful, the secretary makes that designation.

What that does is that now by force of law, obligates the United States of America to seek a wrongfully detained American's release, and that's what we're doing right now. My office is working closely with the National Security Council at the White House to find those paths that will bring Evan home.

LEMON: You -- in your first answer you said that you were -- you were being denied the consular access. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is not being granted consular access as well to Gershkovich.

Is there any progress being made on that front? I know that you said you didn't want to say too much but is there any progress being made on that front?

CARSTENS: I mean, the simple answer is that we're continuing to press. We haven't received it. And this is like ones and zeros in computer language. You either get consular access or you don't.


LEMON: Let's talk about Brittney Griner and then we'll talk about Paul Whelan.

Brittney Griner's release involved a prisoner swap. Is this a prisoner swap? Is that on the table at this point?

CARSTENS: What I can tell you is that the President of the United States and the secretary are committed to bringing Evan home, and Paul Whelan as well, and we're going to find whatever it takes to get that job done. I wouldn't want to get into the specifics and the pathways of negotiation. To my mind that might decrease our chances to garner that release.

But I can tell you that the president has shown time and time again that he is committed and he's willing to make the hard decisions to find ways to bring Americans home.

LEMON: OK. So you mentioned Paul Whelan. Let's talk about that because he is a former Marine who the U.S. also says is being wrongfully detained in Russia.

This is what his brother had to say just yesterday. Watch this.


DAVID WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S BROTHER: ...American citizens and they both deserve the full weight of the U.S. government behind them regardless of what their profession is and regardless of how they ended up in this situation. They've been labeled wrongfully detained, they've been charged with the same crimes, and I think they deserve the same treatment.


LEMON: I've got to ask, are these two cases being negotiated together or are the conversations about these two Americans being held separately?

CARSTENS: You know, I can't get into the specifics of the negotiation, Don. I'm sorry about that.

But what I can tell you is that I talked to Paul just this last Monday on the 10th of April. We talked for about 15 minutes. We actually talked about Evan's case as well.

I can tell you that Paul -- his spirits are still good. He's still remaining strong. He's still resilient. A small known fact -- I mean, he sings the National Anthem every day from his prison cell. And he's ready to come home and we're going to find a way to bring him home.

LEMON: Last question for you here -- part of what David Whelan said -- Paul's brother. He says that this shouldn't matter what the brother -- his brother or Evan Gershkovich ended up -- that they detained -- or what their professions are. That this should be treated equally -- both cases.

Are both cases being treated equally? CARSTENS: Yes, we don't prioritize cases in my office. We have between 30 and 40 cases right now and we're trying to bring all of them home. We don't prioritize.

And as you can say, from the 26 people that we've brought home in the last year they've come from different levels of fame, different levels of financial health. It doesn't matter to us. All that matters is that they're holding a blue passport and they're wrongfully detained. And if that's the case we're going to find a way to bring them home.

LEMON: Roger Carstens at the White House for us this morning. Thank you, sir.

CARSTENS: Thank you, sir.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Such an important voice to hear from on this topic.

Also this morning, we're tracking this. You know, it's fair to wonder what COVID testing have always been free if not for this moment that happened in 2020.


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA), AUTHOR, "I SWEAR: POLITICS IS MESSIER THAN MY MINIVAN": Dr. Redfield, will you commit to the CDC right now using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing free to every American regardless of insurance?

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, THEN-DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Well, I can say that we're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need.

PORTER: Nope, not good enough. Reclaiming my time.

REDFIELD: I think you're an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes.

PORTER: Excellent.


COLLINS: That was not the first time Congresswoman Katie Porter held powerful figures to account on Capitol Hill. Oftentimes, she does it with a whiteboard in hand. The congresswoman is here live to talk about her new book next.




PORTER: So to recap here, the drug didn't get any better, the cancer patients didn't get any better. You just got better at making money. You just refined your skills at price gouging. Shell is trying to fool people into thinking it's addressing the

climate crisis, but what it's actually doing is to continue to put money into fossil fuels.

Mr. Dimon, you know how to spend $31 million a year in salary and you can't figure out how to make up a $567-a-month shortfall. This is a budget problem you cannot solve.


COLLINS: That is California Congresswoman Katie Porter, who has made her share of viral moments since she arrived on Capitol Hill four years ago. She's known for asking tough questions and is often seen grilling top executives of banks, big pharma -- even top administration officials.

She is now eyeing a new job -- this one in the U.S. Senate. Porter is running to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein who is not seeking reelection in 2024.

Congresswoman Katie Porter joins us now. She has a new book out called "I Swear: Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan." The book is really interesting because it's so blunt, and I want to talk about that in a moment, but there are so many headlines that are -- we really should talk about as well these days, including that ruling from a Texas judge that we're still waiting to see what the appeal -- whether or not it's going to happen and what it's going to look like.

You're concerned about that and you believe ultimately it will be reversed. Why do you think that?

PORTER: I think that ultimately it will -- it will be appealed, certainly. I think that if it isn't reversed at the Supreme Court level we in Congress will have to take some action -- and we've already done that, introducing a bill. This was one of the quickest I think bills that we've ever put into place and had the most Democratic co-signers.

I think Republicans are really misunderstanding this issue. It's not -- it's about freedom. It's about the ability to make your own choice. And so I think that is a core value of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It's a core value of Americans to be able to make their own decision about when and if to start a family.

And so if this gets appealed -- if it doesn't get overturned by a court, then I think it's going to be on Congress to act, and I think we're going to have to do that.

COLLINS: Are you of the same mindset that some of your colleagues that if it -- if it stands the FDA should ignore that ruling?

PORTER: Well, I think this is always a challenging thing to think about how do we build confidence in our government institutions, right? And so we -- our Supreme Court and our court system, generally, is facing a crisis of public confidence. The things we heard about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, of course -- a lot of outrage about that I think understandably.


And so I think the better solution here is for Congress to step up. I think people often forget that when the judiciary and the administrative branch are failing the American people it's the legislative branch that is supposed to step up. We are the closest branch to the people. And so I think the most -- the best solution here would be able to get this passed through Congress quickly.

COLLINS: When it comes to Justice Clarence Thomas and, of course, what he's responding to -- the lavish trips that he accepted from a Republican megadonor -- do you think Congress, though, will actually get anything passed on that front -- on the ethics front for Supreme Court justices?

PORTER: We definitely need to get a judicial code of ethics passed for the Supreme Court. I think Congress has more work to do about its own ethics. For example, passing a congressional ban on stock trading -- and we didn't get that over the finish line even with Democrats in charge.

And so I think one of the things that I try to talk about in the book is about the importance of us being willing to hold ourselves accountable, to look honestly at what people think about Congress, and then try to make it better or try to earn people's trust. Don't throw up our hands and say that it's the other party's fault but instead, dig into what we as Democrats need to do to earn the trust of the American people.

COLLINS: You're on the House Oversight Committee and there has been some tension between the chairman of that committee, James Comer, and the ranking Democrat on that committee, Jamie Raskin, over Comer quietly issuing subpoenas.

And do you feel when it comes to the Republican-led investigation into documents, bank records when it pertains to Hunter Biden -- do you feel like you as a member of that committee have a good understanding of what the committee is investigating?

PORTER: Well, I think that the hearing we've already seen on Hunter Biden's laptop -- I called it a free-for-all hellscape, and it really was. We -- the hearing itself lasted six hours, which is about a third of the time that the actual supposed story was suppressed.

COLLINS: The New York Post story.

PORTER: And so it -- the New York Post story. So the story was allegedly suppressed in about 18 hours and our hearing investigating it lasted six hours. So I think this is not the right direction to be going.

I do think it's important to have the ability to do subpoenas. I think there's a long tradition of those being bipartisan and I would encourage Chairman Comer to continue to do that. He has done some very good bipartisan hearings early in his time on -- in Congress, including the border and on pandemic fraud. We're expecting to do an upcoming hearing on big pharma.

And so I think he's shown an ability to do bipartisan work. He's also, unfortunately, sometimes I think gone the other direction and acted unilaterally. So I think there is a positive path there and we just need to push Mr. Comer to lean into that style of working.

COLLINS: That's a really interesting comment.

We have you here today. You've written this book. Obviously, you're in Congress -- you're in the House now. You are running for a Senate seat to represent California.

One thing that California has been in the headlines for recently is what's happening in San Francisco. Just yesterday it was announced that Whole Foods is closing its flagship store there. They're concerned about worker safety because of the property crimes and what you've seen in that city as a whole.

How do you -- how do Democrats deal with that? If you're elected to the Senate how will you personally deal with that?

PORTER: Well, I think this needs to be a value that Democrats lean into, which is that everyone should be safe in their community. That includes business owners being able to open safely, worker safety, being able to go back and forth.

And so I think we need to prioritize public safety. That means we need to think about what are the solutions that actually work, not just messaging bills, not things that are sound bites, which I think is where some of the Republican legislation is going -- but what actually would create a more safe environment. And it's clear that we have work to do in many of California's cities.

I live in Orange County. I live in Irvine. It's the safest large city of its size like umpteenth years in a row.

And so it's specific to our cities. It's specific to different strategies that they're using, and different challenges that they're facing.

And I think one of the things the federal government can do is provide a lot more resources for housing to address people experiencing homelessness. And I think provide some grants and incentives for cities to be more innovative, allowing policing and safety.

COLLINS: Yes. It's certainly a concern that a lot of people have.

Let's talk about the book because I was reading this and I, as someone who lived in Washington for 8 1/2 years, was kind of struck by how blunt it was -- how honest it was. It's not always something you see from members of Congress.

But you kind of talk about your experience coming to Capitol Hill trying to kind of reform an institution that everyone hates -- not just people on the left and not just people on the right. It's kind of Congress does not have a good approval rating. How do you do that?

PORTER: Well, I think part of it is be transparent with the American people. I think there's often a sort of mushiness (PH) in the political biographies -- a lot of them that have been written. You see people kind of trying to put a gloss on the job. And I think instead, we should be honest with the American people.

This is why the job is hard. This is why we sometimes fall down on it. To love Congress, to love democracy means being willing to push it to do better, and we can't do that if we're not being honest about where it's falling short.

So if we want to have a more representative government then we need to design an institution that's modern. That will let us attract young people, women, parents. I'm the only single parent of young kids when I was elected in 2018. Yet, we have 10 million single parents in the United States.

So I think we have to -- if we love the institution we have to be honest about it and not try to pretend that these problems aren't there. Look squarely at them, tackle them, and take them on.


COLLINS: And what does that look like? Because one of the things that I was struck by is you talk about being a single parent in Congress and how difficult it is and because of that the job is easier for people who are wealthy, people who are married. You say that someone kind of implied in there that a solution to your problem when you were struggling with scheduling was to get married.

PORTER: Yes. No, exactly. Like, it would be easier. People have said to me you can't do this job without a husband. And I'm like what? I'm here -- I'm doing this job. Like, I'm really trying to do a really good job for California.

And so I think we need to push back on those things. I think we need to modernize the institution. If it's not working for the American people, if they don't feel like they know what we're -- what we do and what we're accomplishing, then we need to think about how to change that.

And so part of the reason I've made use of those hearings and used the whiteboard in the hearings is to try to show the American people this is what I'm asking and this is the answer that I'm either getting or not getting sometimes in the case of a CEO or an administration official.

COLLINS: So if you go to the Senate, the whiteboard is coming with you?

PORTER: The whiteboard is definitely coming with me.

One of the great things about the Senate is you serve on twice as many committees and you can take on more issues. And we have a lot of special interests and a lot of folks in power who I think we need answers from. And so the Senate is a bigger opportunity to do that and more opportunities to work on the challenges facing this country.

COLLINS: Yes. And we should note you are running against Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee for that nomination.

Thank you so much for joining us this morning. The book is very interesting. It's called "I Swear: My Life Is Messier -- the minivan --

PORTER: Politics, yes.

COLLINS: "My Life -- My Minivan Is Messier Than Politics." Very good to have you on, and thank you for that.

PORTER: Thank you.

COLLINS: I really appreciate that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan, Congresswoman, they say if you want something done ask a busy mom, right? I think you know a little -- she knows a little something about that. I'm looking forward to reading it. Congrats on the book.

Don's waving, too.


HARLOW: All right. Well, we're going to take you to what we've been following all morning in Richmond, Indiana. Right now, toxic smoke is spewing into the air there. Our Omar Jimenez is on his way to the recycling plant that's currently on fire. He took this video on his drive in. He'll join us live with what's actually happening on the ground.



LEMON: So there are new developments this morning in the Dominion Voting System's $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. A judge ruling yesterday Dominion cannot bring up the January 6 insurrection during the upcoming trial, saying that it would be too prejudicial with the jury and that this case isn't about whether Fox News influenced the insurrection. So the trial is set to kick off this week with jury selection starting tomorrow.

So joining us now, CNN media analyst and Axios media reporter, Sara Fischer. Good morning.


HARLOW: Good morning.

LEMON: What's the judge trying to accomplish with this ruling? FISCHER: Well, they said this trial is going to last about five weeks. They want to keep it to five weeks, Don. So what he's trying to do is narrow the focus to what he says is going to actually address Dominion's case.

Dominion needs to prove that Fox acted with actual malice, meaning that they intentionally put people on air that spewed election lies. And essentially, what's he saying is that if Dominion is to bring up January 6 and Fox's role in it, he's sort of getting away from the core argument that it needs to make legally.

HARLOW: Yes, but what I thought was so interesting that he added to that, right, is the fact that this judge said that maybe for another court at another time.

FISCHER: Yes. So he's not saying that what you're arguing here doesn't have merit. He's just saying that it's not what we need to focus on for the legality of this case.

But it's good to remember that it's not just Dominion that has parameters. The judge also ruled that Fox News can't bring up certain things at the court either. For example, if someone was brought on air spewing election lies, Fox may have wanted to bring somebody up from another hour who said well, we defended the integrity of election in a different program.

The judge said you can't do that. You can't bring up your defense of it in a news hours or something like that to defend why your primetime hosts or another program was putting these people on air and spewing these lies.

COLLINS: It's interesting to see those parameters. Also what stood out to me was what he said about Roger -- Rupert Murdoch.


COLLINS: That kind of -- the fact of what they've said about his role and how they want to hear from him. And that's kind of been something that's played out all along here.

FISCHER: Yes. So Dominion's lawyers were arguing look, it matters what role Rupert Murdoch plays in Fox News; not just Fox Corp., which is the parent company to Fox News. And what the judge was basically saying was yes, if he is an officer to Fox News that could potentially give you license to explore more.

And so one of the things that's being delegated now or debated right now is whether or not Rupert Murdoch is going to come -- be subpoenaed by Dominion -- in front of this jury to testify. If he does, it would potentially be explosive.

HARLOW: The malice bar is high to prove malice. I mean, you have to show -- what they've already sort of overcome part of the hurdle of doing this but now they have to show intent of malice.

FISCHER: It's very high. And I will say there's a part of me as a journalist that's a little bit worried about this case because if Fox is to lose, essentially, the precedent that is being set is that people who are powerful that want to sue news organizations, you can. The bar gets lowered a little bit for -- to an extent if Fox loses this case.

And so the thing that I'm watching is even let's say if Dominion wins --


FISCHER: -- they win for $1.6 billion. If they don't, to me it suggests that the bar is now as low as it could be if they lost it all.

LEMON: Well, the judge did say in that it should ease everyone's concerns a little bit is that there is not truth. Fox can't go into this saying there is -- there was truth to what happened to Dominion that we've already -- he's already taken off the table. None of it was true.

FISCHER: Let's go back to that five weeks that I was talking about.


FISCHER: Before a trial like that you're going to have a lot of things that get litigated. One of the decisions that he made -- to your point, Don -- last month was that this argument that Fox was making, which was that there's news value in bringing these claims up on his air cannot be litigated. It is not applicable. It is false.

And by the way, Poppy, to your point that he had alluded that maybe another court for another time, the court of public opinion will be revisiting --

HARLOW: There you go.

FISCHER: -- that decision at another time.

LEMON: Sara Fischer --

HARLOW: Thank you.

LEMON: -- thank you so much.

FISCHER: Thank you.