Return to Transcripts main page

Connect the World

This Hour: Verdict Expected In Brittney Griner Trial; China Conducts Unprecedented Military Drills Near Taiwan; Raising Awareness Amid Scramble For Vaccines & Treatments. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 10:00   ET





BRITTNEY GRINER, U.S. BASKETBALL STAR: I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian law. I had no intent, I did not conspire or

plan to commit the fine.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR: A verdict in the drug smuggling trial of basketball star Brittney Griner is expected this hour. And --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beijing unleashing a show of force on Taiwan over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island.


GIOKOS: China carries out live fire military exercises close to Taiwan as Taipei reroutes planes and ships. Plus, demand for the monkeypox vaccine is

surging around the world as clinics struggle to contain the outbreak.

I'm Eleni Giokos in for Becky Anderson. Hello and welcome. This is Connect the World. Fast-moving developments now, in the Russian trial of U.S.

Basketball Star Brittney Griner. A short time ago, she apologized to her family and her fans during closing arguments in a Moscow courtroom. Take a



GRINER: Yes, I want to apologize to my teammates and organization again, for any damage that I may have done to them, I never intended on hurting

them. This is my second home and all I wanted to do was just winning championships and make them proud.


GIOKOS: Expected this hour, the judge says that the verdict will come through later this hour. The prosecutor is asking for a sentence of nine

and a half years in prison. Overcharges, Griner tried to smuggle less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. We've got team coverage for you this


And in a moment, we'll be crossing live to CNN's Fred Pleitgen who's at the Khimki courthouse on the northwestern edge of Moscow. I'm also joined by

Amanda Davies, as well as U.S. Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood, who's standing by in D.C. for us.

Kylie, I want to start with you. You know, we're expecting this verdict in the next hour. She's really pleaded guilty. And during her last comments,

and apology, a very emotive apology, while in the background, there's discussion about a possible prisoner swap. Take us through all these


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, listen. Today is expected to be a pretty significant day in the general conversation of this

potential prisoner swap. And here's why. U.S. officials have said that they expect that Griner would have to plead guilty, which he did back in July,

and she reiterated those sentiments today in the courtroom, and that there would also have to be sentencing as part of this trial before any prisoner

swap could actually come to fruition.

Now, that doesn't mean the Biden administration hasn't already tried to put a deal on the table they have. Our reporting is that the Biden

administration put forth a deal back in June to the Russians to trade Viktor Bout, who is a convicted arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence

here in the U.S. for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who is another American wrongfully detained.

Now, the Russians have not engaged in a very effective constructive way. Our reporting is that they came back through some quiet channels proposing

that another Russian be included in this deal. The Biden administration has said that wasn't a serious counterproposal. So the question now is that

when this sentencing is in at the end of the day, is there a bit more of a real conversation between the U.S. and Russia with the Russians taking it

more seriously now that the verdict is in.

We don't know if that will be the case. The Russians are incredibly unpredictable. U.S. officials are very clear about that. And this isn't an

easy situation for the Biden administration. They don't get very excited about the prospect of trading actual folks who have committed crimes,

Russians who have committed incredible crimes here in the United States for someone like Brittney Griner, who said that she accidentally carried this

cannabis oil into Russia while she was playing basketball there.

So it's an incredibly delicate and complicated conversation, but we are watching to see how those negotiations unfold after today's verdict.

GIOKOS: Yes. And she's apologized for it, right? Amanda Davies, I want to bring you into this. Shows has said that everyone keeps talking about, you

know, her being used as a political pawn. She wants to keep that conversation out of the courtroom.


But what really struck me is her apology to her family, to her fans, to her friends and to her teammates. Take us through some of the messaging because

you could see she was visibly emotional. It was a tough, you know, last comments coming through from her in a courtroom that could be deciding her

fate in this hour.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN WORLD SPORT: Yes, Eleni. It was a really stark striking image. It wasn't after 168 days in custody, Brittney Griner standing up,

speaking behind the bars, locked in a cage wearing those handcuffs, giving a statement through a translator in broken up sections that lasted a good

seven and a half or eight minutes.

And there were a couple of key messages that kept coming up over the course of the very emotional statement. One was, yes, about the lack of intent.

She admitted that she had made a mistake. She drew on the family the lessons that her father had brought her up to live by. One of those was

taking ownership and responsibility and working hard. She said that is why she had pleaded guilty.

But she was urging for leniency from the prosecutors talking about how Russia has become a second home to her. Since 2014, she has spent the WNBA

offseason playing her basketball in Yekaterinburg and talking about the warm welcome that she's received from the teammates, the people she's met,

and really how she was there to win trophies, which she has absolutely done.

And then there was that apology to those teammates, to the people of Russia --


DAVIES: -- for putting them in any danger. And it was interesting that her statement was following on from the words of her defense team really

calling for the leniency --


DAVIES: -- because stressing the position that she is in, she is a 31-year- old, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, who, yes, has won silverware, has won trophies for the team she's been representing in Russia. But so too --


DAVIES: -- in the United States and around the world. They likened her to Usain Bolt in athletics to Michael Schumacher in Formula One.


DAVIES: And that was really what they're trying to draw on as this verdict comes closer.

GIOKOS: Yes, and I mean, asking for leniency, 99 percent conviction rate in Russia. And, you know, this is why it's becoming really interesting to

figure out what the next process is.

To explain that to us, we have Fred Pleitgen joining us. Fred, we know that the court has taken a break, we're expecting a verdict within this hour.

Tell us about the significance of this verdict. She's really pleaded guilty. So what is the process from here on?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the process is going to be that the court is going to go back into

session, and then we do expect the judge to hand down a verdict. Now, we do have to say that we expect that to happen in this hour, but the actual

reading of the verdict and the run up to that can actually take a bit of time. So it's not necessarily the case that this is something that will

happen fast, but it is certainly going to happen within the course of this hour or maybe a little bit into the next hour.

Now, one of the things that we have to point out, and I think that you just alluded to this lane, and it is something that is very important. The

conviction rates here are extremely high. Leniency is not necessarily something that Russian courts are known for, definitely not something that

Russian courts are known for.

But the judge does have a lot of leeway. We've already mentioned the fact that the prosecution is seeking nine and a half years in prison for

Brittney Griner. On top of that, a fine of 1 million rubles which is, you know, somewhere between $16,000 and $17,000. But, of course, that jail

sentence is the one that really looms large, and it's certainly something that would impact Brittney Griner's life to a great deal.

But the judge does have a lot of leeway. The judge can go, you know, with those 9.5 years, can go very high. But the judge can also go significantly

lower if the judge believes that there are mitigating circumstances in this case. And if you look at what the defense has been trying to do, they've

been trying to build this case for leniency not just on the fact that Brittney Griner is, of course, an important athlete, not just in the fact

that, you know, she's someone of a high character, also that she accidentally brought those vaping cartridges with her, as she said and did

not mean to break the Russian law, but also because of the fact that they say that there were some improprieties that went on when Brittney Griner

was detained at Roscoe Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17th.

They say, for instance, she didn't have enough translation available, didn't have a translator that did enough for her on hand. She was being

questioned. Also, she was told to sign some documents that quite frankly, she didn't understand because they were in Russian. She had to use Google

Translate to at least make sense of some of them.

So it's really a several pronged strategy that we're seeing here. We're seeing a strategy of a high character saying this happened by accident.

This is not something that was done intentionally.


But then also say, look, there were some things that went down as far as the forensics are concerned, as far as some of the things that the

investigators are -- were concerned that simply were not right and that were technically wrong also, according to Russian law as well.

Will the judge go with that? That, of course, is the big question that is out there. But certainly, those are the sort of mitigating circumstances

that I think the defense has been trying to build up, Eleni.

GIOKOS: Absolutely. And just how much of that the court is going to take into consideration. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. We are expecting

this verdict, as we said, within this hour. We'll be coming back to it. We've got Kylie Atwood as well as Amanda Davies standing by for us.

And as we've just heard the prosecuting side, the prosecutor once nine and a half years, and of course, we're waiting to see what comes through and

whether this announcement will, in fact, be made today and sentencing as well.

All right, so let's move on. Now Taiwan is condemning Chinese saber rattling just off its coast as irrational and accusing Beijing of

undermining regional peace. China fired several missiles into the waters of Taiwan today in live fire military exercises. Video posted on Weibo, shows

rockets being launched from Pingtan County. Now one of the closest points on the mainland to Taiwan.

You can see it on your screen that China's largest ever drills in Taiwan Straits coming one day after U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to

Taiwanese officials angering Beijing. She's now moved on to South Korea and Japan. But the impact of her controversial stop in Taipei is still being

felt around Taiwan.

Let's now go live to Beijing where Selina Wang is standing by. It is incredible to see the wrath coming through from the Chinese military and

interesting to see how close they are getting. What does this actually mean, this show of force? Because we had anticipated that they would want

to show strength. We just know to what extent it would manifest.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the message here that Beijing is really trying to send is that our powerful military has the capability

to completely choke off Taiwan from the rest of the world. And to your point, we were expecting this show of muscular force because China needed

to live up to the extreme threats they were making leading up to this point.

But one of the biggest impacts potentially of these drills is going to be psychological. It's intimidation, it is sparking fear about what could

come. Because even though we may not see this current crisis escalate into something more, this Pelosi visit could basically be an excuse for China to

change the status quo. And we're talking about over the long run in the months years to come, increase that coercion of Taiwan even more.


WANG (voice-over): Missiles firing into the sea around Taiwan. Fighter jets is scrambling to take off and plumes of smoke seen by residents in the

Chinese city closest to Taiwan. The video shows live rockets being fired towards the Taiwan Straits.

Moments later, state media confirmed the launch. The woman filming says, wow, we're witnessing history. Beijing unleashing a show of force on Taiwan

over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island. China's military claims it's starting the largest ever drills around the island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): My teammates and I flew our fighter and headed for the air spaces around the Taiwan islands. We are

ready for combat and able to fight at any time.

WANG (voice-over): Define Beijing's threats, Pelosi met with Taiwan's President and key lawmakers and business leaders. Crowds of supporters in

Taipei welcomed her.

NANCY PELOSI, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: Taiwan has been an island of resilience and now more than ever, America solidarity with Taiwan is crucial and that

is the message we are bringing here today.

WANG (voice-over): Chinese foreign ministry says the trip is a, quote, outright farce. Taiwan calls this the median line. More than 20 Chinese war

planes crossed the line the day after Pelosi landed, an unprecedented number.

DREW THOMPSON, SCHOLAR, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE: They're demonstrating that they don't recognize Taiwan's lives because they don't

recognize Taiwan. So this is an act of political warfare, psychological warfare and information warfare. It's also a very important signal to

China's own people to demonstrate its resolve.

WANG (voice-over): These boxes encircling the island are where Beijing says their military drills are happening. It's a blockade, say both Beijing and

Taipei and a major provocation in the eyes of Taiwan and the U.S. But to a lot of Chinese citizens, it's not enough, especially after officials had

hyped-up expectations of an unprecedented military response.

Disappointed, wrote one person on China's Twitter like platform Weibo, another mocks that its leaders should speak less, do more. But far from

speaking less, officials are issuing one fiery statement after another, all condemning Pelosi's trip.


It also banned imports of thousands of food items from Taiwan and suspended exports of natural sand, a key component in semiconductor chips. All of

this rage just over a two-day visit. Pelosi's presence in Taiwan, a slap in the face to Beijing, which insists the self-governed Island is a rebel

Chinese province.

Pelosi is out of Taiwan, but she left a crisis behind her. Beijing's retaliation is just getting started.


WANG: As a result of these drills, we're already seeing Taiwan having to reroute some vessels as well as international flights. It's impacted

hundreds of flights. And this is one of the busiest waterways in the world. So it threatens to upend global trade as well.

But when we look at this strong reaction from China, we have to remember that it's also directed at the audience here at home because Xi Jinping,

China's leader, needs to prove to its people that he is showing the world that there is a price to be paid for Taiwan to host House Speaker Nancy


There's a lot of propaganda, striking imagery, inflammatory language around these military drills. But what's important to watch is how far China

actually goes with these military drills, not how far state media claims they will go, Eleni.

GIOKOS: Yes. And you say in your piece, Beijing's retaliation is just getting started. I think this is one of the questions we've been asking in

the lead up to Nancy Pelosi's trip. Is this going to be a turning point in relations between the U.S. and China and China and Taiwan? It seems that

that has been a turning point. What are you hearing from some of the analysts that you're speaking to? How far will China take this?

WANG: Well, exactly. We are already at a decade's low point in the relationship between the U.S. and China. And this is just adding a further

friction point. And the concern is that with all of the mistrust, that there's really no off ramp from here.

And when it comes to Taiwan and China, all of these military assets on the ground, it just increases the risk of a miscalculation that could spiral

into something greater. Even though Chinese leader Xi Jinping does not want this to turn into a direct conflict, it's not in China's best interest for

that to happen, this increases the risk that it could.

Now, however, when I speak to some analysts, they say look, there's also a concern that this Pelosi visit gives China an opportunity to practice these

simulations like what they're calling a simulated blockade. It gives China an excuse to use this as an opportunity to step up its diplomatic, its

political, its economic coercion of Taiwan.

China is extremely indignant over this. And in order to save face with the people at home as well, they've got to show this strong message, this

strong reaction that is not going to last just a few days or even a few months.


WANG: This could have ramifications in the years to come, Eleni,

GIOKOS: Selina Wang, thank you so much.

Now in the midst of the COVID pandemic, health officials are scrambling yet again to come up with treatment plans for another public health scare,

monkeypox. That's after the break.



GIOKOS: Health officials around the world are scrambling to come up with more vaccines and more treatments to contain a rising number of monkeypox

cases. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health is working on developing a new clinical trial to see how safe one treatment is for

humans. It's called Tpoxx. It's an experimental drug the FDA approved for treating smallpox in 2018.

While the CDC has made it available during the current monkeypox outbreak, U.S. regulators have not approved it since it's only been tested on animals

infected with monkeypox.

Salma Abdelaziz is joining us now from London, another place struggling to treat and protect people from monkeypox. Salma, really good to see you.

Give me a sense of how clinics in London are coping with the surge in demand for vaccines and for treatments.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, Eleni, you have 28,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox across more than 80 countries. And that number is rising by

the day. And what's important to note here and we heard this in one of the clinics in London is that this disease was circulating for weeks before it

was actually identified.

And there's one community in particular that's being impacted by this disease. And that is the gay community. About 98 percent of those who have

contracted monkeypox so far are men who have sex with men, although it is not an STI, I have to emphasize that.

But the gay community, of course, looking historically at the AIDS outbreak that decades ago, hit that community very hard. They've been stepping up,

they've been stepping in to ring the alarm and get people to get vaccinated. Take a look.


SILVER STEELE, ADULT FILM ENTERTAINER: Hey, guys. Day 15 of monkeypox.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): After adult film entertainer Silver Steele tested positive for monkeypox, he started to document his painful struggle from

isolation in Texas.

STEELE: I don't want anybody to have to go through this. So if my story will help people possibly change their behaviors or attempt to go get

vaccinated, then it'll be worth it.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): It's a trend. Social media is key to raising awareness at ground zero of this health crisis., the gay community. 98

percent of cases so far are among men who have sex with men, according to the World Health Organization. But sex is not required to transmit the

virus. It's passed on primarily through close skin on skin physical contact.

(on-camera): Do you feel that there is a stigma?

STEELE: 100 percent. First of all, it's easy to label it as a gay disease. But this virus doesn't go, oh, I'm going to find a gay person. Oh, look,

there was another gay person. It's just going to find a human.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): From a sexual health clinic in East London, Dr. Ian Reeves says he witnessed the early days of the outbreak.

DR. IAN REEVES, SEXUAL HEALTH CONSULTANT: The start of wave, all of us were a little bit in the dark, to be honest with you. You know, kind of it's not

an infection I was familiar with at all.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Now health care workers are playing catch up, trying to vaccinate those most at risk faster than the virus can spread.

(on-camera): Clinics like this one had to react quickly to the outbreak. Training their staff, preparing tests, giving out dozens of vaccinations a

day, it's put a strain on health services. And there's no sign that demand is letting up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So here's a consent form.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Word of mouth and public messaging are driving more and more to come forward for their shots.


JONNY DILLON, MONKEYPOX VACCINE RECIPIENT: People are, I think, taking this seriously and making sure that they're protecting themselves and protecting

each other and the rest of the community.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): But monkeypox cases are still on the rise. And with limited vaccine supply, containment still presents a challenge.

ALIESKY ROMERO, MONKEYPOX VACCINE RECIPIENT: Seeing some friends of mine had it -- they had it quite bad, so I thought better.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): And healthcare workers are scrambling to access a historically marginalized population.

REEVES: One of the concerns I have is that the people that will get into the vaccine clinics are going to be kind of the best connected so that can

leave people who, you know, historically, are less well served by health services behind a little bit.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): And that's why alongside public health messaging, grassroots voices are making an impact. So far, more than 1 million people

around the world have viewed Steele's video.

(on-camera): How does that make you feel to know that your message is being heard?

STEELE: Fulfilled, fulfilled. That what I'm going through, what other people are going through, isn't for nothing. Because I'm telling you, you

don't want this, it's painful.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): A community rallying to prevent a new disease from taking hold.



ABDELAZIZ: Now you see, Eleni, there's two things happening simultaneously here. People coming forward to get tested potentially for having monkeypox.

And we heard in that clinic that in the early days of this outbreak, about half of those people who are being tested, were coming back positive. So

that's a very high number, major concern there.

And then, of course, the other thing that is happening is the vaccinations, is to give people that level of protection they need to stop this virus

from spreading. But there's one major issue that we have to point out here. And you heard that in the piece, the stigma, the stigma, that many in the

gay community say has prevented health officials from taking the steps necessary. And that's most important when you talk about the vaccine

because there's a very limited supply, particularly in the United States, and there's concern that there's not going to be enough of those

vaccinations to go around to give that layer of protection.

So you're hearing activist over and over again, saying, health officials need to provide us with information and they need to take the necessary

steps to protect this community. Eleni?

GIOKOS: Absolutely crucial to do so. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much.

And coming up, it was a moment that shook Lebanon to its core. How the country is still bears the scars of the Beirut port blast two years on.


GIOKOS: Welcome back. I'm Eleni Giokos in Abu Dhabi, and you're watching Connect the World. Time for a quick recap of one of our big stories this

hour. China fired missiles into the waters of Taiwan today, in a live fire military exercise. Taiwan called the Chinese saber-rattling irrational and

accuses Beijing of undermining regional peace. It was part of China's largest ever drills in the Taiwan Strait, and came just one day after U.S.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to Taiwan.

But let's get you up to speed. Another stories that are on our radar right now. Peruvian Prime Minister Anibal Torres Vasquez has resigned. He is the

fourth Prime Minister to step down in the past year under the troubled leadership of President Pedro Castillo. Mr. Castillo faces numerous

criminal investigations and Torres was seen as one of his closest allies left in the government.

Now another journalist has been murdered in Mexico's Guamajuato states and that's according to this tweet from the state governor. Advocacy group

Article 19 says, an armed commander had broken into a bar owned by the journalist family. Ernesto Mendez is the 13th journalist to have been

killed in Mexico since the beginning of the year.