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Sinema Leaving The Democratic Party And Registering As Independent; WNBA Player Angel McCoughtry On Brittney Griner's Release From Russian Penal Colony; Journalist Grant Wahl Has Died While Covering The World Cup In Qatar. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 09, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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COOPER: Hope you join us, for that.
The news continues. Want to hand it over to Laura Coates and "CNN TONIGHT."
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Hey, Anderson. I'm looking forward to "HEROES," on Sunday. Always loved watching it, I can't wait. I'm going to cry, most of it. But I'll still watch it, and be happy that you're there. Thank you. Have a good weekend.
COOPER: You too.
COATES: Good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
And sources telling CNN, a federal judge is denying the DOJ request, to hold former President Trump, in contempt, for failing to turn over classified documents. We've got more on what all this means, in just a moment.
And tonight, our polarized politics are on full display. There's Kevin McCarthy, who is threatening a floor fight, in his battle to be Speaker, as his own party's conservative hardliners are vowing to block him.
And there's Kyrsten Sinema, quitting the Democratic Party, to now become an Independent.
So, what does all of this say about leadership, more broadly, and the new Washington that's coming in January? And how do we all move forward?
Plus, Brittney Griner is back, on American soil, tonight. We're learning more about what she went through, in her nearly 300-day ordeal, in Russia. Tonight, I'll talk to one of Brittney Griner's friends, who also played in Russia, and she says she'll never go back.
Here with me now, to talk about all of it, is CNN Political Commentator, Karen Finney; also, former Congressman, Joe Walsh; and CNN Political Analyst, Alex Burns.
I'm glad you're all here. I'm taking off my bracelet. Not because I'm getting ready to do anything crazy. But it keeps hitting the table, Alex. So, don't get afraid!
We're going to go right now into what's going on, about Donald Trump. Because, I have to ask you, this federal judge declining, now, to hold him in contempt, for what's been quite obvious to everyone, in the sense of, "Look, there were documents that belong to the United States. You didn't hand them over. They were at Mar-a-Lago. There was a protracted fight about that in the courts. It's resolved in some limited respect, but not fully."
What does this mean to you?
ALEX BURNS, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, POLITICO, CO-AUTHOR, "THIS WILL NOT PASS": Look, I think "Protracted" is the operative word there, right, that this is a checkpoint. As you know, better than anybody else on the panel, this is a legal checkpoint, that is going to be one of many, many, many to come.
And I don't think it's even clear, as we're having this conversation, right now that this particular issue is fully resolved, as much as the judge has indicated that the Justice Department, the Trump folks, ought to get together, and see if they can work this out on their own. I don't think are the judges foreclosed, taking that kind of action, at some future point.
I will say, as a political reporter, the part of this that just really speaks to me. Every time, we do hit, one of these checkpoints, I think it's just another reminder that this is going to be Donald Trump's lived experience, for the foreseeable future, while he is ostensibly trying to become President of the United States, again. And those are two hats that are pretty difficult to wear, at the same time.
COATES: And, for the voters, by the way, are going to have to have this baggage, carrying, and you wonder, if there are those, who are RNC-hopefuls as well, are looking at that baggage, and going, "Yes, weigh it down even more."
But there's also what's happening within Congress, more broadly. And it's funny how the week began, right? We're talking about the balance of power, in the Senate. And after Tuesday, Democrats thought we've got 51 to 49.
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
COATES: And in the plot twist, of course, was what happened with Kyrsten Sinema. And I want to bring this to your attention, because they're these two big political stories, obviously happening.
But listen to this, the registration stats, in Arizona, everyone, from the last election. You've got nearly 35 percent, GOP, nearly 31 percent, Democrat, and then nearly 34 percent, Other, Libertarian, nearly 1 percent.
So, the question really is, thinking at those numbers, it's not as if it is a decisively red or blue state, which we know.
COATES: What does this say? A smart move for Senator Sinema?
JOE WALSH, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, HOST, WHITE FLAG PODCAST: I think the only move, if she wants to continue to run in that State.
WALSH: I'll give her credit because those numbers in Arizona reflect the nation as well. I mean, more people in America identify as Independent than Republican or Democrat. I think that's a healthy thing. I think both parties need some competition.
But this was a -- this was a personal move, I mean, for her own personal interests. She had no other move.
FINNEY: Yes, I think that's exactly right. I mean, look, she was putting out feelers, earlier this year, to try to gauge support, among Democrats, and previous supporters. And, I think, it was very clear, very quickly, it's gone.
WALSH: Right. FINNEY: And she does not have the institutional support, in the State, of the Democratic Party, with 99.9 percent likely that she was going to be primaried.
So, the only path was to figure out "OK, can I carve together a different electorate?" An electorate that is some portion of Democrats, some portion of Republicans, and perhaps people, who are either unidentified or who self-identify as Independents. So, I agree, it was really the only option.
And I think it remains to be seen whether or not, given that she's up in two years, it's going to be an effective strategy, to try to run, because, as we've seen, on the Democratic side, and the Republican side, there are, the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party, very strong interests.
FINNEY: The other thing to remember, when Sinema ran the last time, she had the support of EMILY's List, and NARAL, and a lot of organizations, organizational support that helped, lifted her up, that she's just not going to have this time. So, where does that come from, in a run, in two years?
COATES: It's funny. I was, in my radio show, today, I was talking about, and there were so many callers, who had a level of skepticism and cynicism. And when I say, a level, I mean, a very high level, about the idea of thinking, this is all a political ploy.
They fall in almost three categories. "It's a political ploy. It's the idea of, 'Look, Oh, you won't get all the calls any longer, you and Manchin now that there's a more of a majority. And so, you're wanting to be relevant.'"
Others thought to themselves, Alex, "Well, no, this is actually maybe a really bad thing, for Democrats, because now you invite a Democrat, to then run against her, maybe later on, then maybe you have a Republican, it might be Kari Lake."
But the third one was "No, no, everyone's got it wrong. This is what Americans feel like. This is where we're going, more politically, in terms of not wanting to buy into a pure two-party system."
Is that what the reporting sort of indicates in the climate of American electorate, right now, thinking "Let's all be more independent about not the sworn allegiances?"
BURNS: Well, I just want to start by saying, I think, these guys are totally right. And if Kyrsten Sinema's change, in party affiliation, coincides with a groundswell of popular support, among the American people, of some other, I think it's purely coincidental that her personal interests--
WALSH: Yes. BURNS: --have intersected with sort of larger social currents here.
BURNS: If that makes me a cynic, then put it on the chyron, right? But--
COATES: In fact, let's put it on the chyron, under his name now!
BURNS: Look, I think it is true. I think it's clearly true that the American people are dissatisfied with a two-party system that if we had a more fluid political structure, the way they have, in a whole lot of other countries, and in developed democracies, around the world, where you have six, seven, eight, parties, I think, Americans would avail themselves of all of them. But we don't.
And those registration numbers are, of course, a little bit misleading, right? The third of Arizona that identifies as Independent, those people don't have very much in common, with each other, right? Many of those people are actually pretty conservative, or actually pretty liberal, but they're kind of cranky, and they don't like belonging to a party, or they're very extreme-right, or very extreme-left.
And so, it's not a cohesive group that she can just sort of a walk out there, and plant her flag, and say, "I'm your gal for 2024!"
WALSH: Laura, to your point, this issue has been overlooked, because my former political party is so off the rails, and so anti-democracy. But a lot of Americans kind of disenchanted with both, and looking for something different. It's been overlooked. And I think it's something to watch.
COATES: You almost wonder if the terms, Independent, and Moderates, are becoming, in people's minds, more synonymous. It seems that the overall undercurrent is the same, the idea of maybe thinking about things in a balanced way, and it's always in there.
I want to bring in Kevin McCarthy, into the conversation. He was on Fox News, today. And although he is obviously vying to be the next Speaker of the House, it is not a foregone conclusion, as we well know.
He spoke about the idea of being Leader, for four years, for the two election cycles, they've gained seats, really making his case. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I've been Leader, for four years. And for those two election cycles, we've only gained seats.
Our goal, this year, was to stop the Biden agenda, win the majority, and fire Nancy Pelosi. We achieved all those. When you look at the Republicans, in the Senate, the governors, and others, they all lost during these cycles. We are the only branch that can stop what has been going on for so long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: And, of course, he wants to make the case that he is the only Speaker that could accomplish this as well. I see you winking!
COATES: And you are really on the bandwagon, right now, of Kevin McCarthy.
FINNEY: Good question, by the way! Yes.
COATES: Can he get those votes?
FINNEY: Yes, apparently not. I mean, it looks like -- excuse me -- that he knows the support is just not really there. And therefore he is, going to Fox, to try to plead his case, right, which is where you go, if you're a Republican, trying to make the case, to get the votes.
Look, I think it's also an indication though of how fractured the Republican Party is. We saw some of these fractures throughout the election cycle. They were able to kind of cobble it together, particularly in the House races for, to kind of cover it up. But now, it's a bit of a free-for-all.
Tell me if I'm wrong.
WALSH: No. Karen is spot-on. I think McCarthy will ultimately get it. But Laura, every inch of his body has been sold. And Marjorie Taylor Greene, and a number of other crazy folks, in that caucus, are going to own him, for two years. That's what we're looking at.
COATES: I wonder what that means, for Democrats, in the big picture, knowing that.
You want to say something?
BURNS: Well I was just going to say, when you listen to the case, he's making for himself? There's nothing in there about being an effective legislator, or sort of ideological leader for the party.
WALSH: That's true, yes.
BURNS: I think this has been part of the, his core problem all along is that he's essentially a fundraiser, and political recruiter, and political tactician, electoral tactician. He is not a guy, known for his legislative achievement, or his depth on policy, or his deep relationships, and deeply trustworthy character, or anything like that, right?
So, when you saw Nancy Pelosi struggling to get to 218, after the 2018 elections, the 218 votes you needed to become Speaker? Everybody in that Democratic caucus either loved her, or respected her, or feared her, some combination of those. Even the people who really, really didn't want her to be Speaker, again, they respected her, or they were terrified of her.
And I don't think that's a statement you can make, about Republicans and Kevin McCarthy.
WALSH: None of that exists.
FINNEY: That's right.
WALSH: In the Republican caucus, yes.
COATES: I got to tell you, the things you described, I think, they call in Washington, D.C., "Details." "Details." It's fine. It's not a really big deal.
I want to bring in Mike Broomhead, now, Host of "The Mike Broomhead Show," on KTAR.
Mike, good to see you. How are you this Friday evening? You are in Phoenix. We're hoping that your weather is better than here in D.C.
Although there's, a lot of questions, happening, right now, and I just want to get your immediate reaction, on the fact that Senator Sinema is now a, well, she's an Independent. How is that playing back home?
MIKE BROOMHEAD, HOST, "THE MIKE BROOMHEAD SHOW" ON KTAR: Well, one of the things that's kind of being left out of the conversation, if you remember, going back to what the late Senator, John McCain, here in Arizona? He was censured by his party as well, and he continued to win elections by big numbers.
So, there's a lot to do with party leadership, and how they believe, and party voters. There's a disconnect with Republican voters and party leadership, sometimes. I think it might be the same with the Democratic Party, and what they did with Senator Sinema.
And I think what she is reading is the room. She is seeing that in Maricopa County, where I live, our largest county, Senator Sinema knows that the number one voting demographic, now, is Independent voters. And I think she's looking at that, and saying "That's the direction, Arizona and maybe the rest of the country is heading," is that they're identifying as Independent, and she wants to identify with the majority of voters.
COATES: Well, reading the Independent tea leaves, as they say, and thinking about it, I wonder, and also, she has been brushing aside criticism that she may face, for her decision. I wonder if it's happening, first of all, back home. But also, she says she's not worried about it. But, if she runs for reelection, the question really is, should she be? BROOMHEAD: Well, yes, I think so. She's got Congressman Ruben Gallego, who as, everybody thinks, is going to be the big challenger, from the Democratic side. But it could be Greg Stanton, also former Phoenix Mayor, that's a Democrat, and then which Republican would go in there, and hope that those two divide, Senator Sinema, and whoever her challenger would be.
So sure, there's a lot of risk here. But at the same time, I think she's taking a calculated risk, in saying that "I believe I can win over the majority of Arizona voters without catering to a political party."
COATES: When you think about a calculated risk, do you think it reads as politically cunning, in a way that is disingenuous to the people of Arizona? I mean, obviously, there's strategy, in all aspects of Washington D.C., and the allegiances, and the coalition-building that, all happens. And I'm not going to pretend that she's the only person to think strategically.
But how is it reading, to your listeners, and to people in Arizona? Not everyone. But how is it reading to them?
BROOMHEAD: Well, I think it remains to be seen. Here, myself, as a registered Republican, I looked at how she stood up, and said, "We're not going to end the filibuster." And for someone like me, I thought, "Wow!"
She ran on a campaign that said, "I'm independent, just like Arizona," and many of us, myself included, thought that was more of a campaign slogan than it was reality. But she's shown herself to stand up at times, and say that "I will stand up at times against my party," to the point where she was censured, by the Democratic Party.
So, I think, the results, down the road, remain to be seen. But this step, I think, by a lot of people, maybe not as looked at as strategic, but more like she's trying to align herself, with the majority of voters.
COATES: Some people would say that if you get critics, on both side, you're called effective. It's called doing your job.
COATES: I wonder if that's the play she's trying to take. But, and again, I would note that Kari Lake did call this "Great news." So, we'll see where that stands there.
But I'm curious about your reaction to McCarthy's bid for Speaker. Tell me about your listeners. They're very active, when they call into your show, Mike. Do they want him to get the job or someone else?
BROOMHEAD: Well, it's different in Arizona. Because remember, one of the main people that are speaking up, against McCarthy, is Andy Biggs, who is a very popular congressman, here, in Arizona.
COATES: Yes. BROOMHEAD: So, the Arizona listeners, and the Arizona voters, on the Republican side of the aisle, are looking at a congressman that they know very well, in Andy Biggs, and are looking at that challenge a bit differently.
COATES: We'll see what happens. Are they rooting for Andy Biggs? Or just, they like the get another moment of contention, because everyone's -- no one in the world has election exhaustion, yet. So, I'm sure they're all on board.
BROOMHEAD: Yes. We jumped right out of 2022 into 2024, right away. And I think it's that way, I think, people in Arizona that know Andy Biggs know what they're getting with him. They may not know McCarthy as well.
So it's, I think, maybe this pool in Arizona may not be the gauge, because, we always go with the people that we know more so, and maybe we're hoping for a hometown guy, like Andy Biggs.
COATES: Well, we'll see. Mike, nice talking to you.
BROOMHEAD: Thank you.
COATES: We've also got news, tonight, on Brittney Griner. She's spending her first night now on American soil, in nearly 300 days. Think about that! We're learning also more about what exactly she went through, in a Russian penal colony.
Next, I'll talk to one of Brittney's friends, who also played in Russia, and says she won't be going back.
COATES: Brittney Griner making it back, safely, onto U.S. soil, early this morning, the WNBA star, landing in Houston, Texas, after being detained, in Russia, for nearly 300 days.
U.S. officials met with her, upon her return, describing her as being in good spirits, and incredibly gracious. After landing, she went in for a routine examination, at Brooke Army Medical Center.
And as she begins to settle in back here, at home, we're learning more about just what her detention was like, in Russia, including Griner's decision, we're learning, to cut her hair, because she got a chill, when she washed it, during the Russian winter, as we're being told.
Joining me now, WNBA player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and friend of Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry.
Angel, I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for joining us.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY, WNBA PLAYER AND TWO-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST, FRIEND OF BRITTNEY GRINER: Yes.
COATES: I want to know what your reaction has really been, to your friend, your teammate, returning home.
MCCOUGHTRY: Yes. This has been a celebration. I mean, she's been over there for so long. The one thing I know about Brittney, yes, she's 6- 8. But she has a bubbly personality. She's not a criminal. She gives back to social injustice, so many platforms. She's an amazing person.
And, I know. I played in Russia for four years. And that was one of the hardest places I had to play. It's gloomy over there. The sun is not out much. It's cold. People are introverted. It's hard to make friends, in Russia. It's just the way it is. So, can you imagine her conditions, in a jail cell?
COATES: No, I can't imagine. I would -- I'm eagerly trying to hear more about it, but yet want to give her the space, because there's obviously the attention, and the interest, by so many people, to understand, and to deplete. And I don't want that to happen to her.
COATES: And I'm wondering you two are very close. And you've mentioned your own self, trying to give her the space. How do you plan to get in touch with her? Or what do you plan, to tell her, when you do finally see her again?
MCCOUGHTRY: Yes, right now, like you said, she needs her space. She needs her time, to collect her thoughts, to enjoy the relief, of being, back home, to be with her family.
And when I do see her, I will just give her a big hug, and say, "We're all supporting you. Come back and play some basketball. Let everybody see you dunk the basketball again." And when she's ready, already, I'm going to tell her she got a vacation on me.
COATES: Aww! Well, do you think that she actually will play, in the upcoming season? I'm wondering, a lot of people are wondering about it. I can't imagine that she's made any decision, nor should she have to, at any point in time. But everyone's eager to see her play, her athleticism, unbelievable.
COATES: What do you think she might do?
MCCOUGHTRY: We missed her last year. Just wasn't the same in the WNBA, without her. We don't start till May. So, that gives her a couple of months, to gather, and get back in shape, and get back in the groove, smell the American arrogant. I think she'll play, if I had to give my opinion on it, you know? I think she wants to get back out there and just feel loved again by the fans.
COATES: Well, she certainly has been loved. And there's a great deal of celebration, happening, all across, really, this world, for her release. MCCOUGHTRY: Yes.
COATES: But I want to hone in on what you said, because you and Brittney did play, for different teams, but at the same time, in Russia. And you have talked about it as the hardest place to be that you thought the people were not friendly. You mentioned the introversion, you just mentioned.
But I wonder, in your experience, as a player, there, as a Black woman, did you have concerns about how she'd be treated in this context?
MCCOUGHTRY: Well, let me rephrase. I do have friends (inaudible) teammates were my friends. Russian people are not mean people. It was just hard to make friends, outside of the game, because people are introverted cold (ph). But they weren't bad people. I never felt unsafe in Russia. It was a safe place.
Do I think that this had a lot of political things going on with it? Absolutely. The girls were leaving Russia early, because we got the calls, "Hey, something is brewing. Get back home." So, that's why everybody was headed out, because she wasn't the only one playing over there. So, definitely, she's 6-8. You know how that goes.
So definitely, I even asked my friends, who are Russian that live over there. "Hey, what do you guys think?" And they said, "Hey, this is political." They think it's political. So, if the people that live there think that? That goes to show you what it is.
COATES: Well, I am 5-3. So, I do not know what it's like to be 6-foot- 8! But I will tell you, I can imagine -- I can imagine those moments.
But let me ask you, do you think that what you saw, in terms of what you know, about the experience, do you intend ever to play there again? Or do you know of players, who are having reservations, now, about playing basketball, in Russia?
MCCOUGHTRY: You know what? I would say, for myself, I wouldn't go back and play there again, just from everything that has happened. Now, are there going to be players (ph) still playing on? See, yes, they're going to Istanbul, Turkey. They're going to Spain, Italy. No problem, right?
Now, if a Russian team offers someone $2 million, is that female basketball player going to turn it down? I don't know. It would be hard to see her turn something like that down.
Because, Russia was a place that paid us, a lot of money, for our talent, more than being here, in our own country. So, you got to keep that into consideration. I will say I'm wealthy. It's sad to say, I'm wealthy, not because of the WNBA, but my years, overseas. I will make my WNBA salary, in one month, overseas, my whole salary.
COATES: Wow! MCCOUGHTRY: So, I think if a girl is offered a lot of money, she's going to think about it, for a few minutes. So, we'll see. I'm interested to see, if girls will go back, over there, and play. But, for myself, I'm going to be done with that.
COATES: Well we're hearing from the WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, that the League is working on paying players more, so they don't have to make those choices, you're speaking about, and making money, here, gaining the wealth, and the appreciation that you experience overseas, and not have to go abroad.
COATES: You think that's possible? And would that help?
MCCOUGHTRY: I think it's possible.
People say, "Oh, you guys don't get the fan base, like your male counterparts," or "You don't get the viewership." Well, we're not aggressively promoted, as our male counterparts.
These women are mothers, CEOs, businesswomen. There was one WNBA player, she played with cancer. Those stories aren't told. If you promote the women, just like the men, people will watch.
When I meet people, they want to come watch me play, because they know where they're coming to watch. So once we get the brand partnerships, behind us, and promoting us, and people know who we are, they'll come to watch. It will grow.
COATES: I certainly hope so. And it's always important, to see yourself, in the role models that you are looking at, that you are choosing, for your children, to watch that you yourself would hope to emulate, and certainly respect and all that you have done.
And, of course, I have my hat off, to the WNBA, more broadly, for always being insistent, on having a very holistic approach, using their platform, and keeping social justice issues, top of mind. So, thank you.
MCCOUGHTRY: Thank you so much. That's what we're here to do. And thank you so much for having me.
COATES: Well, thank you.
And we will have more from inside the swap, for Brittney Griner.
And a congressional report, about the Washington Commanders, coming out, and showing a culture of fear and toxicity, apparently. We'll tell you more about that report. So, stay with us.
COATES: Tonight, we're learning new details, about Brittney Griner's release, from Russian custody, and what she endured, during her time, at a Russian penal colony.
Back with me now, Political Commentators from CNN, Karen Finney. CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan also joins me. And CNN Political Analyst, Alex Burns, is also back with us.
Karen, I wonder what your reaction has been. Because, this news, it's been a bit of a whirlwind, collectively, for the world to see. Many people were wondering whether she would ever be able to come home--
COATES: --looking at what happened to Paul Whelan, of course--
COATES: --and so many other Americans, who have been wrongfully detained, and are working on their cases. What's your sense?
FINNEY: Well, I've had the honor, since this past summer, to work with Brittney's team, led by Lindsay Colas, who is her agent, trying to build a coalition, to make it clear, she is ours. She is an American. She represents the best of us, and to help in the efforts, to coordinate, with the Administration.
And you're right. There were times, we were worried. We didn't know what was going to happen. Certainly after, when she was moved to the penal colony, there were a couple of weeks, we didn't know where she was. We got word that she was going to be moved, and that we wouldn't know for a couple of weeks. And that was a really frightening time.
So, I feel emotional. It's such a blessing! We live in such a cynical town. And miracles can happen! And something wonderful has happened.
And one of the things I wanted to share, Brittney is someone who, she's such a kind, bubbly person, as her teammate was describing her. She's also someone who's very committed to public service.
She is someone -- she was bullied, as a child. She does anti-bullying, and works with young people. She is known to drive around with shoes, in the back of her car, to give them to unhoused people that she might see, or maybe give them help, give them some food. That's the kind of person she is.
And one of the things we've been talking about for several months that has been really at the center, is she's very committed, to doing what she can, to help get Paul home. The hope had been that they would both be able to come home, at the same time. But also, to continue to raise awareness that we have Americans, who are being held, wrongfully, around the world. And we have to remember, they're ours. They're American citizens. Obviously, each has different situations.
So, that's something I know she cares deeply about. That's part of why Cherelle mentioned Paul, in her remarks, at the White House. And that's something I think, she'll be working on, when she gets through this first part of her journey. COATES: I'm so glad you mentioned that. Because, I think, so oftentimes, we were following the headlines, and following the stories, people can often be reduced, inadvertently, to the subject of the story, as opposed to the person, and the individual, and who they are, to the people that love them, and know them best.
And the cynicism can run rampant. But this is a moment collectively that there was a diplomatic celebration, at hand, and worthy, and still focusing on others, like Paul Whelan.
Christine, we're learning that there has been -- there may have been some inhumane food and water conditions, at a penal colony, in Russia, which is probably not surprising, to people, the very nature of what we're learning about, the distinctions about what we expect here, in the States, which we sometimes live in a glass house, when it comes to our own legal system. But certainly, as it compares what we know about penal colony, is very different.
Just thinking about the intersection of this Olympian?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Yes.
COATES: The mental fortitude it would take, to reach this, levels of success, she has, athletically, the drive, the focus? I wonder if you've reflected on what that must have been like for those two circumstances to meet
BRENNAN: 6-foot-9, two-time Olympic gold medalist, representing the country, wearing the red, white and blue, and in a cage, as we saw her, during that trial? I couldn't get that out of my head.
BRENNAN: I've interviewed her. I've covered her, at the Olympic Games. I covered her, when she was at Baylor, one of the great players, in college basketball history, NCAA champ, WNBA champ, eight-time WNBA all-star, only 32-years-old has done all that.
BRENNAN: But mostly, representing -- as we refer to, again, representing our nation, so beautifully, twice, at the Olympic Games. You know what also struck me? The WNBA players, with Cherelle Griner?
BRENNAN: They never missed a beat. I think this may well be the finest hour, for any U.S. pro sports league ever, in terms of basically turning themselves, into a PR machine, to elevate her name, and to have Americans care about her.
She should have been a household name, 10 years ago. But she wasn't, because of the way we look at women's sports, compared to men's sports. Of course, now she is. And she is, in large part, because of all those WNBA players, who wore her number, all the court, had the Number 42. And as fall -- as we turned from what, summer to fall, America knew her name, and people knew who she was.
And the conversation, of course, we had earlier was if it were Tom Brady, or if it were LeBron James, they'd already be out. Maybe they would never have even been in Russia, because of the financial disparity, between men's and women's sports.
But the key fact for the WNBA was that they then said, "OK, you're going to get to know this woman. She's our friend, our colleague, our teammate. We're going to spend the next few months, telling you about her."
BRENNAN: And look what happened.
COATES: And it's so interesting. I see your button, "We are BG"--
COATES: --I even remember, there was an event, at the White House, you may recall, Alex, when Megan Rapinoe, soccer extraordinaire--
COATES: --had embroidered into an all-white suit, I believe, the -- in talking about Brittney Griner, her name, her number, as well. This has been on the top of mind, for so many women athletes, who've been united.
But then, there are those, who have looked at the fact that sometimes, the attention of a President is persuaded, by the level of celebrity. You see this in politics all the time. And people have been a little bit cynical about the idea of the why.
And yet, there has been commitments by the Biden administration, of course, to keep fighting, for Paul Whelan. Trevor Reed, of course, was released, prior to either of them even, and so they contemplated.
I wonder, though, what leverage the U.S. now has? Russia was aware, about how people were viewing, the detention of Brittney Griner. We are learning that there may have been an attempt, or an interest, in exchanging a spy that was held by Germany. How does this all play out here?
BURNS: Well, I couldn't begin to tell you how it's all going to play out. What I will say about how it has played out is, I think, it's pretty clear that an aggressive sophisticated publicity effort, on Brittney Griner's behalf and, on before that on Trevor Reed's behalf, a less elaborate effort, but his family speaking out the way they did, clearly made an enormous difference.
And I think it's a challenge for this administration, and for every administration, going forward, to figure out how you make sure that you are taking care of Americans, who are held overseas, even if they don't have access, to the kind of microphones and cameras that some folks do.
I think, is part of why what Karen was saying, is so, so important going forward that the people, who have been involved, in this, clearly have a personal vested, I think, it's fair to say, emotional commitment, in sticking up for other folks.
I also think it's incumbent on this administration, again, every administration, going forward, to explain how they're going to manage situations, like this, without encouraging more of this kind of hostage-taking, in the future, right?
That when you look at an individual case, it's really, really hard, not to feel like you just got to get them home, right? You can't tolerate an American, to say nothing of a great American athlete, being held in a cage, like that. It's just unimaginable. At the same time, once you've negotiated, you give people a pretty good incentive, to sort of keep seizing bargaining chips, right?
And I think the question that you asked your guest, a little while ago about, will she go back to Russia? I can't imagine the calculus behind going back to Russia, when they've shown what they're capable of, and eager to do.
FINNEY: And that was one of the things we wanted -- we talked about, early on, the sanctity of sport. I mean, think about this. We have athletes playing at the World Cup. We have Russian athletes, who come here. That, there needs to be whether it's tourism, or athletes, or entertainers, who travel abroad, there has to be a shared agreement that people will be safe. It was one of the things we wanted to highlight.
And I do just want to say, one of the, Brittney, I know, is glad to have been able to bring America's attention back, to the case of Paul Whelan. That is so critically important, because we hadn't been talking about him. We hadn't really known much about him.
And, I think, she, and that is one of the hopefully positive things that could come out of such a horrible situation. And, frankly, bringing attention, to the pay disparities that, WNBA players have. I mean, you heard her teammates, say, and she could make--
BRENNAN: In a month.
FINNEY: --in a month what you make -- those are disparities we have to take on. It's great that the WNBA is going to. And we've got to make sure that our athletes are safe. But we've also got to make sure that our people are safe. And it's a real tough balance, for the government.
COATES: Yes. And it's, of course, one of the focus we were talking about the World Cup, right, the idea of the men's team, advancing, to the different levels, they were, at the U.S. side, being a Title IX team, and guaranteeing payment, to the women's soccer team, who we know had been -- had had far more successes, on the world stage than even the men had.
We'll be right back.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
COATES: Oh my god! We have shocking breaking news, tonight, from the World Cup.
U.S. Soccer says, Journalist, Grant Wahl, has died, while covering the World Cup, in Doha.
Grant Wahl's wife, Celine Gounder, posted the U.S. Soccer statement, on Twitter, and wrote, "I am so thankful for the support of my husband Grant Wahl's soccer family & of so many friends who've reached out tonight. I'm in complete shock."
Christine Brennan is with me now.
This is unbelievable. We were just speaking about the World Cup and, in light of the Title IX players. And now, we're getting this horrible news, about his death. What do we -- what does the statement say?
BRENNAN: Well, Grant, first of all, Laura is a colleague -- was a colleague and friend of mine. I've covered many, many soccer tournaments, especially women's soccer tournaments, with him.
There is no more respected, beloved soccer journalist, in the country, and potentially, in the world, than Grant Wahl. And this is absolutely heartbreaking news. It is stunning, shocking. It's just awful news. One of the most talented, lovely human beings you could ever want to meet.
What U.S. Soccer has said, looking at my phone here that, they are "Heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl."
It goes on for quite a few sentences. But "Fans of soccer and journalism of the highest quality knew we could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game," and all the teams, and what have you. His "Passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape played a major role in helping to drive interest in and respect for our beautiful game."
And maybe most important here, Laura, "As important," as U.S. Soccer is saying in its statement about Grant Wahl, "Grant's belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all." There's several more sentences. But that is such an important point. Because, it was Grant, who was wearing that rainbow T-shirt, just a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, as the World Cup began, and was detained for, I believe, it was about a half hour, when the authorities, at the stadium, the Qatari authorities, were telling him, he couldn't go in with that T-shirt.
And what did Grant Wahl do? He didn't take that T-shirt off. He kept it on. And he sat there, until one of the supervisors, for the Qatari officials, in that stadium, at the World Cup, allowed him to go ahead, and do his job, with that T-shirt on. That was Grant Wahl.
COATES: Unbelievable, to know the importance of that message, the importance of what he represented, on the world stage, at a time, when the world was watching, and to think about the loss of such a respected man.
And many people know his wife, Celine Gounder. She was, remember, a member of the COVID-19 Advisory Board Transition Team for President Biden. She's an American infectious disease specialist.
COATES: And it's just unbelievable to think of this tragedy.
I have John Berman, on the line, as well.
John, you have -- you're an avid fan of the sport and a such a -- you had such respect for Grant Wahl. What's your reaction, tonight, to this horrible news?
JOHN BERMAN ON THE PHONE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm gutted. I'm shocked. I first met Grant, in 2010, in South Africa, covering that World Cup.
Grant was just given an award by FIFA, the World Soccer governing body, because he's covering -- he was covering his eighth World Cup. This was the eighth World Cup, in a row, he's covered.
He is, as Christine Brennan, is the preeminent Figure Skating journalist, on Planet Earth, Grant Wahl is the preeminent Soccer journalist, in America. But more than that, he was just a lovely, lovely sweet guy. He adored soccer. He wanted to share his love with soccer, with everybody.
But he never lost sight of what else was important, and what was most important, wherever he went. He went to Qatar, months ago, to write an article, about the migrant workers, there, a very controversial article, a very controversial subject. As Christine said, he wore the rainbow shirt, to the first World Cup game.
He was, as I said, he's like the top soccer journalist in America, but he always entertained my texts. And I'm just a schmuck soccer fan, and I would weigh in after games, with my stupid observations. But Grant would always write back with the sweetest kindest most thoughtful notes. It's just such an epic loss. And I do want to say, I mean, I listen to his podcast, twice, every
week. He and I've been talking to -- I texted him a few days ago. He's been sick. He had been sick, in Qatar. He had something that he was diagnosed as bronchitis, or bronchitis-like. He had tested several times, for COVID, and according to him, on his podcast, had tested negative.
But he had been sick. He hadn't been feeling well. But nothing that would indicate what ultimately happened. And man, it's just so tragic. It's just so tragic, to hear something like this.
He had plans to be there for the entire World Cup. 37 days, he was spending in Qatar. He was living in a condo, with three other guys, journalists, there, covering it. That's what you do. You go to the World Cup, for the duration. You cover for the duration. You go to as many games as you can. And that's what he was doing.
He had talked about how before the quarterfinals which were today, he had taken a few days, just to rest up, because he was so worn-out.
COATES: Poor John!
BERMAN: But to hear something like this is just so sad.
COATES: John, I can hear it, in your voice, and just thinking about the anguish that his family must be enduring, tonight.
We have more. We're learning more information. We will bring it to you, as soon as we have it, learning now about the death of Journalist, Grant Wahl, so respected, in his field, so unparalleled, in his ability, to convey this love of game, for the entire world. He has died, while covering the World Cup, in Qatar.
We'll be back.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
COATES: Our shocking breaking news, tonight, from the World Cup.
U.S. Soccer says Journalist, Grant Wahl, has died, while covering the World Cup, in Doha. The statement saying, "Grant's belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all. Grant made soccer his life's work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us."
We've got much more on this. Stay right here. We are in Doha, right after this.