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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden: "Ruling Out" Sending Ukraine Fighter Jets "For Now"; Chinese Jet Confronts U.S. Navy Plane With CNN Crew Aboard; Alex Murdaugh Completes Testimony In His Murder Trial; Griner Prepares For Official WNBA Return After Russian Release; Chicago Mayor Fighting For Re-Election Amid Crime Surge. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 24, 2023 - 19:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, President Biden tells Ukraine no F-16s for now as Putin's deadly invasion hits the one-year mark. Tonight, new concerns Russia may be on the verge of getting some new and lethal assistance.

Plus, Alex Murdaugh back on the stand and grilled by prosecutors, making the case nothing he says can be believed.

And WNBA star Brittney Griner back on the court with -- after spending ten months in a Russian prison. How is she doing? The president of the Phoenix Mercury is my guest.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, no F-16s. President Biden saying the United States is ruling out Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's request for fighter jets for now.


INTERVIEWER: President Zelenskyy continues to say what he really needs are F-16s. Will you send F-16s?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, we're sending him what our seasoned military thinks he needs now. He needs tanks, he needs artillery, he needs air defense, including another HIMARS. But there are things he needs now --

INTERVIEWER: You don't think he needs F-16s now?

BIDEN: No, he doesn't need F-16s now.


BOLDUAN: Zelenskyy, of course, disagrees, after 365 days of war, a grim milestone in Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and after a year of death and destruction, Russian forces occupy some 17 percent of Ukrainian territory. That is considerably less than what Russia controlled in the weeks that followed, that first followed Putin's initial invasion.

And today, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy vowed to keep fighting until Russia retreats.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If we will complete our tasks, victory will be inevitable. I am certain there will be victory.


BOLDUAN: But, as we have seen over the past year, Ukraine's victory is coming at a heavy cost. Just today, the head of Russia's private army, the Wagner Group, is claiming that his forces have seized another town, this town is just north of Bakhmut. Home to some of the deadliest fighting.

New video today shows Putin's forces under attack. You can see them taken out almost one by one. The losses have been devastating for Putin. More than 100,000 fighters are said to have been killed.

Ukraine's resistance comes as the U.S. is now targeting the face of Russian state TV, sanctioning the woman who you have seen on this show many times spreading Putin's propaganda since the start of the war.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): A real war has already begun, World War III. Our army is really powerful, there's no disarray in the highest echelons of power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Why bomb Ukraine when there is England?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We should've done it there today. All the best people were at her funeral today.


BURNETT: And tonight, there are growing fears the war in Ukraine could take another dramatic turn as it enters year two. Sources tell CNN, U.S. intelligence now suggests the lethal aide China's considering sending to Russia includes drones and ammunition.

Clarissa Ward is OUTFRONT in Kyiv for us this evening.

Clarissa, where is the focus on the ground tonight and what happens next?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the focus right now really, Kate, is on the east, and particularly looking at Bakhmut where Russians have been making incremental gains pretty much every single day. There has been a lot of speculation that Ukraine was getting ready to cede that city any moment that they basically just wanted to get through the anniversary. But officially, the message today was an upbeat one. We heard

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who gave a very long press conference to journalists today, who also went and handed out medals to soldiers, saying that he believes that 2023 can be the year for victory. I think a lot of people across the country would love to believe that, too. But I think there is also a lot of clear-eyed realism about the number of challenges ahead. And that's why you've been hearing Ukrainian officials relentlessly asking again and again for this heavier weaponry that they believe they need to win this war once and for all, Kate.

BOLDUAN: As President Zelenskyy did predict today that Ukraine can win the war this year, you've spent so much time covering the conflict over the last year.


What do Ukrainians say they really need in order to pull that off?

WARD: Well, obviously, the bar keeps moving, and this is part of the sort of tension or discussion between NATO and the U.S. and Ukraine because they keep getting -- asking for more and asking for more. One of the major things that they needed in the short term at the moment was ammunition because they've been burning through it at a rate that the U.S. and NATO can't keep up reapply to.

But, more importantly, arguably, if they'd want to meet this marker that they've now essentially set themselves with Zelenskyy saying 2023 is the year for victory, they say that they need to be able to go on the offensive. Part of that will be some of these tanks that the U.S. and Poland and the UK and Germany and other countries have agreed to give. But part of that, they say, needs to be things like long-range artillery that can hit the Russians at a greater distance, and also the fighter jets. I mean, you just played the clip from Biden's interview with ABC News where he appears to rule that out.

When I spoke to a senior Ukrainian official just the other day, he was saying that they had impressed upon Biden and his team when he was visiting here just how important this was for them and that, quote, it was now in America's hands and that America understands. So it'll be quite interesting to see what response we hear from Ukrainian officials to that, essentially, revelation that the U.S., for now, is ruling out sending fighter jets.

I should add, though, the UK has said that they would send them. They say also with a qualifier that it will take years to train pilots on them. But this is something we'll be watching very closely in the days and weeks ahead, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And I guess now probably Ukrainians are wondering and wanting to parse through what "for now" means and what President Biden told ABC News this evening.

It's good to see you, Clarissa, as always. Thank you.

Let's go to Fred Pleitgen now who's in Moscow. Fred, China just put forward this 12-point plan that they say will bring this conflict to an end. Is there anything to this peace proposal? What is Russia saying about this tonight?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the Russians obviously love this peace proposal. The U.S. has already criticized it, says there's very little new in it and called it a pro- Russian peace plan. And Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, he also came out today and said, look, he's happy that the Chinese are putting something like this forward, but he also says, quite frankly, the Chinese need to talk to the Ukrainians as well and not just talk to the Russians.

Nevertheless, the Russians, for their part, are saying they quite like what's in this peace plan. There are two things that the Russian foreign ministry has sort of picked out. On the one hand, it criticizes some of the sanctions that have been placed on Russia. And then also talks about alliances in Europe not being too strong. Obviously, a criticism of NATO.

Now, of course, the Russians have said that, yes, of course under certain circumstances they would be willing to find a political solution to this conflict. And then they sort of put forward in a statement to the foreign ministry under what circumstances that would be. So I want to read that to you really quick.

They say, quote, this implies the cessation of supplies of western weapons and mercenaries to Ukraine, the end of hostilities, the return of Ukraine to a neutral nonaligned status, the recognition of new territorial realities that have developed as a result of the realization of the right of the people to self-determination, demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as the elimination of all threats emanating from its territory. Aside from the fact that this denazification, it's not really clear what is meant there.

Essentially what the Russians are saying is that if there is going to be negotiations, if there's going to be a political solution, they want Ukraine to give up to surrender, to give up large parts of its territory, and to give up its entire army as well.

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you very much from Moscow for us this evening.

OUTFRONT with me now is James Clapper, former director of national intelligence under President Obama, also retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force. And Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group.

Gentlemen, it's good to see you this evening.

Director, Biden saying tonight that Ukraine doesn't need F-16s right now. But zelenskyy, even today, was calling again on the West to provide them. Who's right?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think actually President Zelenskyy is, to be honest. I think the administration's losing an opportunity here to exert leverage by simply announcing that we're going to enter Ukrainian pilots into training and their maintainers to support the maintenance requirements of F-16 and then reserve judgment on when and where to deploy them later. The problem is, is these weapon systems require more lead time to train the Ukrainians, set up the supply and logistics.


So I think it would be show support for the Ukrainians and convey a message to the Russians if we simply announced that we were going to start a training program for the Ukrainians on the F-16, because, ultimately, maybe they don't need it today, but they're going to at some point because air defense is a requirement for the Ukrainians, and the F-16 is a capable air-to-ground attacker.

So I would respectfully suggest the administration consider announcing that and then reserve judgment on the actual deployment for later.

BURNETT: It's an interesting point that even though as we've seen with all of the other announcements and then how the actual delivery comes months, months later for some of these more complex systems, the announcement itself can work as a deterrent and send a strong message. Ian, just broadly as we are sitting here 365 days into this, where do you see this war standing one year in?

IAN BREMMER, EURASIA GROUP PRESIDENT & FOUNDER: Well, for the last year, the level of support that the United States and the allies have provided to the Ukrainians has been extraordinary, it's been staggering really well beyond what anyone would've expected, including the Ukrainians in the early days, as well as the coordination in punishing the Russians. The big question is can that persist.

Certainly, you are starting to see a reduction of support among some Republicans and certainly among public opinion of those that tend to vote Republican as well as among independents. And the Europeans are watching that carefully, they're deeply concerned about it. When I was in Munich at the security conference last week speaking to a lot of Ukrainian officials, they don't like this formulation of the Americans saying, as long as it takes, because they feel like time is not working in their favor, that they need as much as possible as soon as possible because if they're still fighting two, three, four years' time on their ground, their economy is going to be completely destroyed.

The final point is that China, of course, is now playing a greater role, and the fact that they put forward this 12-point diplomacy plan is not going to be accepted by the Ukrainians or the Americans. But it is going to be accepted by all of the developing countries in the world. In fact, if you didn't know that China had written this plan, could've easily come from India or from Brazil or South Africa. That's a problem for the United States. It's a problem going forward in terms of how this conflict plays out.

BOLDUAN: That's interesting.

And, Director, speaking of China, from an intelligence perspective, what do you think of this new reporting that U.S. intel suggests that China is considering sending drones and ammunition to Russia? Having American intelligence even put this out there does what?

CLAPPER: Well, I think it helps to -- it's a good use of intelligence to exert some pressure on the Chinese, hopefully leaning on them not to do this, not to provide weapons to the Ukrainians. Now, whether they will or not, that remains to be seen.

But I think this continues the pattern of operationalizing the use of intelligence either to pursue a military objective or in this case a diplomatic one, but diming up the Chinese in advance and hopefully putting some pressure on them not to provide weaponry of any sort to the Ukrainians.

BOLDUAN: Ian, when it comes -- if China isn't deterred, if they do decide to go ahead and provide the drones and the ammunition, what do you think the United States and its allies should do if China crosses a line here? Do you think the West should be drawing a red line on it?

BREMMER: I think one of the interesting things over the course of this war is that the Chinese, for all of their support of Russia diplomatically, they really have been on the sidelines. In fact, actual Chinese policy towards Russia has been virtually identical to that of India, which is, of course, much more aligned with the United States. If they were to provide direct military support for Russia, that is a red line. And that's why it's so important that not just the Americans but also the UK prime minister, the NATO secretary general, they all coordinated in making these very strong statements over the last few days that there will be hell to pay if the Chinese actually decide they're going to put their thumb on the scale in that way in favor of the Russians.

I think you would see direct sanctions, secondary sanctions from the United States against Chinese firms. And while the Europeans would have to debate this very strongly, because, you know, their economies are already getting hit a lot harder because of this Russia war, I suspect that most of them, especially the Germans and the French would be aligned with the United States.

This is the exact opposite of what the Chinese wants to see happen going forward. So I agree with Jim, it's a good use for operational intelligence. And I personally would be quite surprised if the Chinese went ahead and actually did provide these weapons in the near future.

BOLDUAN: Stand by on that one.

Ian, thank you very much.

Director, thank you, as always.

OUTFRONT for us next, remarkable video of a Chinese fighter jet flying just a few hundred feet from U.S. -- from a U.S. military plane. And CNN was on board during the encounter.

Plus, we have tense moments inside a South Carolina courtroom as disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh is hammered about his actions around the time his wife and son were killed.

And Chicago's mayor, who easily won election four years ago, is now fighting for her political life. What happened?


BOLDUAN: Tonight, a Chinese fighter jet flying just a few hundred feet from an American reconnaissance plane. CNN was on board the flight over the South China Sea when the Chinese jet, armed with missiles, made the aggressive move.

Chinese planes have also been seen further intimidating Taiwan. Taiwan's defense ministry says 12 Chinese war planes recently crossed into Taiwan's air defense zone with 37 more planes spotted around the island.

Frequent moves like this only are increasing the concern that China is now preparing for invade Taiwan. A group of members of Congress just returned from Taiwan.

One of them joining us right now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of the armed services committee, and also a member of the new Select Committee on China.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

After your visit to the island, are you more or less concerned China's preparing to invade Taiwan?


REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I'm less concerned if we do the right things.

First, we need to honor Taiwan's defense requests. They have $18 billion of requests for harpoons, stingers, for HIMARS. We've got to get them those weapons.

But at the same time, all of the parties in Taiwan believe that they can preserve the status quo and have engagement. And they want to actually have dialogue with China while beefing up their defense. I think the combination of that can avoid war.

BOLDUAN: U.S. officials say that more U.S. troops are going to be headed to Taiwan in the coming months to train Taiwanese forces. The Pentagon has said that -- the Pentagon has said that there right now are about 20 to 40 troops there now. Have you been briefed on how many are going?

KHANNA: Kate, I don't know the specific numbers, but when we met with the defense minister in Taiwan, he did say that they are working with our military for training, that they really appreciate that training, that it has helped give them insights on what needs to be done. We need to continue that training and we need to provide them with the defense weapons that they have requested.

BOLDUAN: But are you worried at all that sending more U.S. troops could inflame tensions between the United States and China even further? The message that it would send, especially in this moment? KHANNA: Kate, not if we affirm our one-China policy that President

Carter helped formalize. And that is to say that we affirm the status quo, we understand that the talks over Taiwan will be peaceful between China and Taiwan. But the United States will not tolerate a violation of the peace agreement and any military action.

If we have deterrence combined with dialogue, I don't think it has to inflame the tensions.

BOLDUAN: American officials are worried that China is going to start sending lethal support to Russia's war effort in Ukraine. And CNN has this new reporting that lethal support could mean drones, and it could mean ammunition, which would be a very big escalation in China's support to Russia with regard to this conflict here.

What should the U.S. do if China crosses that line?

KHANNA: Well, one, the United States should make it very clear that there will be consequences. Those consequences could mean economic sanctions. Those consequences could mean sanctions on the individuals and companies supplying those arms. That would be a really serious violation of international law and helping Putin with an illegal war. And I'm glad that the Biden administration has made it clear that that would be crossing a line.

BOLDUAN: The British foreign secretary was on with us last night, and he questioned why China would want to link itself to Russia like this. Let me play for you what he said.


JAMES CLEVERLY, FOREIGN SECRETARY OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: I can completely understand why Russia would try and seek an enhanced relationship with China. But the points I made to the Chinese authority, to Wang Yi is I cannot see how it can possibly be in China's interest to import the level of criticism and international condemnation that would inevitably come with any supplying of military equipment to Russia. I can see what Russia needs from China. I cannot understand what China might realistically want or need from Russia.


BOLDUAN: Congressman, what do you think of that?

KHANNA: Well, I hope he's right. But, look, China has tried to expand its influence in that entire region. They have an influence on Pakistan. They have an influence on Sri Lanka. They've obviously taken over Tibet. They're trying to influence Nepal.

And so my guess is they want influence in Russia, and they want to have a control over the Asian region. And that is why we need to be concerned, and we cannot underestimate Xi Jinping's interests.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you for coming on.

KHANNA: Thank you. BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, Alex Murdaugh trying to explain to a

jury why he lied to investigators about where he was the night that his wife and his son were killed.


ALEX MURDAUGH, MURDER DEFENDANT: Other than lying to them about going to the kennel, I was Cooperative in every aspect of this investigation.


BOLDUAN: Plus, new video of WNBA star Brittney Griner back on the court with the Phoenix Mercury. How's she doing after ten months in that Russian prison? The president of the Mercury is OUTFRONT.


BOLDUAN: Tonight, an intense second day cross-examination in the Alex Murdaugh trial. The former South Carolina attorney is accused of murdering his wife and son, and the prosecution today hammered him on the lies that he told investigators and also drilled down on the time line of events the night his family died.

Dianne Gallagher's OUTFRONT.


CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR: So you, like you've done so many times over the course of your life, had to back up and make a new story to kind of fit with the facts --

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Murdaugh under cross-examination for a second day, several times getting heated.

MURDAUGH: You're dang right I'm consistent about that because a very short time before that, David Owens is asking me questions and telling me I'm a suspect in the murder of my wife and my child and asking me about my clothes, you're dang right it was important.

WATERS: Because the only thing you're concerned is yourself. You're not concerned about giving accurate information to law enforcement.

GALLAGHER: As he tries to convince the jury he did not kill his wife Maggie and son Paul.

MURDAUGH: You mean, like, did I shoot my wife and my son?



GALLAGHER: The prosecutor pushed Murdaugh hard over his admission about lying about being at the dog kennels where the bodies were found the night of the murders. WATERS: (INAUDIBLE) lies --

MURDAUGH: Anything about me not going to the kennel was a lie.

WATERS: You're able to just do tat, that's so convincingly and so naturally, don't you?

GALLAGHER: And hammering Murdaugh on what the prosecution is calling his new story.

WATERS: You also looked at this jury and tried to tell them that you have been cooperative in this investigation?

MURDAUGH: Other than lying to them about going to the kennel, I was cooperative in every aspect of this investigation.

WATERS: Very cooperative except for maybe the most important fact of all, that you were at the murder scene with the victims just minutes before they died.

MURDAUGH: Also revealed, astonishing details we've never heard about just how serious Murdaugh says his opioid addiction was.

WATERS: So you're taking 60 a day or something like that?

MURDAUGH: There were days where I took more than that.

GALLAGHER: But the majority of the cross-examination Friday focused on what happened June 7, 2021.

WATERS: So what you're telling this jury is that it's a random vigilante -- the 12-year-old 5'2" people that just happen to know that Paul and Maggie were both at Moselle on June 7th. They knew that they would be at the kennels alone on June 7th. They knew that you would be not there but only between the times of 8:49 and 09:02, that they show up without a weapon, assuming that they're going to find weapons and ammunition there, that they commit this crime during that short time window, and then they travel the same exact route that you do around the same time to Alameda. That's what you're trying to tell this jury?

MURDAUGH: You got a lot of factors in there, Mr. Waters, all of which I do not agree with, but some of which I do.


GALLAGHER (on camera): After more than a dozen hours on the stand, Alex Murdaugh's testimony is finished. But this trial, well, it is not just yet. The defense has yet to rest. And, in fact, Kate, we're told that they plan to call additional witnesses on Monday. Of course then the prosecution gets an opportunity for rebuttal.

We do expect closing arguments to begin some time next week. But, Kate, if I've learned anything over the past month, it's not to make too many predictions about this trial.

BOLDUAN: Great point, Dianne. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. OUTFRONT with me now, criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson and former prosecutor Paul Martin.

Okay, gentlemen, let's get into it. Today was wild to watch what was going on in the stand.

Paul, the prosecution -- and Dianne laid it out really well in this -- but drilling into the time line and going after Murdaugh again and again almost minute by minute, almost ten seconds by ten seconds on those last minutes that he was with his family, his wife and his son the night they died, trying to highlight how his story was changing, the details were changing. He knew the details. He didn't know the details.

Do you think the prosecutor was effective today?

PAUL MARTIN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I think the prosecutor was definitely effective. Listen, he pinned him to the wall minute by minute, second by second, and made the story sound totally implausible of this random person who just shows up at a finite time to take out his family. The prosecution was very good at keeping Mr. -- this gentleman to -- his story to being a lie.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. I mean, and they were working hard today is what I saw, just as a layman.

Joey, yesterday, you said the defense called Murdaugh to the stand out of necessity. And you went through that really well because there were so many outstanding questions that he needed to answer to. Did he do that?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, I think he was given an opportunity to do that. And what I did not like -- and everyone does things differently, Paul does things differently than I do, every attorney's different -- but he was allowed to speak a lot, and I'm concerned about that.

BOLDUAN: There was a lot of answer and then explain.

JACKSON: A whole lot of that. Why am I concerned? Because in his speaking, are you now humanizing him in front of the jury? Is he giving an explanation, a justification for everything?

Are there those jurors potentially who think he's just a sociopathic liar? Of course. Are there other jurors who think, hey, you know what, maybe he just had a pill problem and difficult, you know, circumstances? That, again, could be a possibility. And that's my concern. Having said that, I do think the prosecution was effective at establishing he's a liar and a thief. The issue is whether he's a murderer. That's what it's all about. The issue of motive is important, too.

No, you don't have to prove motive, but jurors want to know why we have done this. And he's there saying I loved my wife, I loved my child. And then he's given an opportunity to pivot to this issue of, I have these pill problems. There could be other unsavory people who he was dealing with, who could have committed this.

His son Paul remembered that, got involved in that boating accident. There were people saying nasty things about him. So he's given them reason.

Last, last thing. The necessity I spoke to was the time line. Remember, a lot of times in these cases, you admit what you have to admit, you deny what you have to deny.

And the reality is, is that he was cold-busted. How? Because he said, I wasn't there, I'm home sleeping, I don't know what happened. But then you have this video surface --


JACKSON: -- in which his voice is on the video. So he had to be called to explain, hey, I lied, I'm a liar, I took care of my clients, but I really didn't because I stole from them. But I would never murder my wife and son.

MARTIN: At a time when they had have been most honest, he was a liar.

BOLDUAN: In that time, let me play this moment. All of us are kind of nodding our head in Dianne's piece. I want to play this one more time. Listen t


WATERS: So what you're telling this jury is that it's a random vigilante --

MURDAUGH: That's your --

WATERS: The 12-year-old 5'2" people that just happen to know that Paul and Maggie were both at Moselle on June 7th, that knew that they would be at the kennels alone on June the 7th and knew that you would not be there, but only between the times of 8:49 and 9:02, that they show up without a weapon, assuming that they're going to find weapons and ammunition there, that they commit this crime during that short time window, and then they travel the same exact route that you do around the same time to Alameda.


That's what you're trying to tell this jury?

MURDAUGH: You got a lot of factors in there, Mr. Waters, all of which I do not agree with, but some of which I do.


BOLDUAN: I was sitting there thinking, is there a question in there, Mr. Prosecutor? What is -- what is he doing right there?

MARTIN: Well, he's summing up in front of the jury. He's asking this question, but really he's letting the jury know this is how ridiculous his story is and this is what you're going to hear during my summation.

BOLDUAN: And you shouldn't believe anything those guys saying. That's the case.

JACKSON: Listen, what they did, the prosecution, they laid the foundation through the financial crimes of showing he's a liar. And the other thing they did was pretty effective, they said, look, you spoke to all these clients, you lied to them and you looked them in the eye. What was Alex Murdaugh doing looking that jury in the eye, giving them a story? You're going to hear on summation same way he looked at you, same way he looked at his clients, he's lying.

BOLDUAN: So after these two wild days on the stand, it's not over yet, but we're going to be next week heading into closings, so we think. Would you rather be the defense or prosecution heading into closings?

JACKSON: Uh, neither.

BOLDUAN: And, good, you're not.

JACKSON: Right, exactly. But I think the reality is both have something to argue. I think the defense will argue in terms of he had no motivation to do this.

BOLDUAN: There's still no murder weapon!

JACKSON: That, of course, right, circumstantial evidence, all these things, my client is a liar, yes, a thief, yes, a murderer, absolutely not. Prosecution, though, to Paul's point earlier, honing him in on that time line, there's a lot to explain, and is it plausible that as he summed up there, you saw them summing up there, right? You saw them summing up there, is it plausible that in that limited window, this is what occurred. That's what they have to overcome.

MARTIN: Who else could've done it?

BOLDUAN: There you go. Summing up the summation in one sentence. Thank you, guys. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for us next, Brittney Griner now in a Phoenix Mercury jersey after spending ten months in a Russian prison. What should fans expect when the WNBA season starts and this star takes the court again? The Mercury's president is next.

Plus, a story that you'll see first on OUTFRONT. Chicago's mayor who crushed her competition the first time around in election is now at risk of an early re-election knockout.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, WNBA star Brittney Griner all smiles in this new behind-the-scenes video released by the Phoenix Mercury. The WNBA team announced this week that Griner has been resigned.

Griner was seen back on the court yesterday after the nearly ten months that she was wrongfully detained in a Russian prison.

OUTFRONT now is Vince Kozar. He's the president of the Phoenix Mercury. He was also a close friend of Brittney Griner's.

It's good to see you, Vince. Thanks for being here.

VINCE KOZAR, PHOENIX MERCURY PRESIDENT: Thanks so much for having me.

BOLDUAN: We see her smiling in these videos, smiling with her teammates in these videos that have been released. She's been back now for a little more than two months. How is she doing?

KOZAR: You know, I wouldn't presume to speak for her. It's actually been really wonderful to spend time with her, but she's doing really well from all of our interactions, from getting to be with her teammates and see some of our coaches and our staff. She is getting to do things that were taken away from her. She's getting back to her life, and it's great to see.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, so many things taken away from her that are now she's getting to do once again. When she went into prison, she was one of the greatest female basketball players in the world. What level of play should people be expecting from her once she's back on the court after this horrendous ordeal?

KOZAR: You know, she -- to your point, the last time we saw her play, she was an MVP caliber player. She had led us to the finals. And she's one of the best players in the world. That's part of the reason she was playing over in Russia.

So, her goal is not just to get back on the court. Her goal is to be that player, to get back to that level. So, we know it'll take time, but we also know the workouts that you mentioned that folks got to see a little bit of this week. The purpose of those for her is to get back to that level. So we're here supporting her and doing whatever we can to help her get back there.

BOLDUAN : I was really interested, and it was really cool to see that in announcing Griner's return, the mercury marked the moment by calling attention to another American held still in Russia. We're showing folks right now the pictures of staff writing letters to Paul Whelan, an American who's been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than five years now. And the league has also just been a leader on many other issues, like criminal justice reform.

Why is the WNBA so often at the forefront?

KOZAR: You know, it's something that the league and teams and players are really proud of. And I think the biggest reason for it is just we're talking about a really intersectional group of players. We're talking about women, the majority of whom are Black. We're talking about a league with out and proud lesbian athletes. And so, to speak up and support of these causes, to bring attention to

progressive moments isn't just something that they do on a whim, it's something that they do for survival. It's important to them, it's important to us, and it's important that we're using those platforms to speak up and give voice to the people who don't have the same ones.

So I think you make that what these players and this league have done historically. But I think the experience we all went through last year in missing Brittney has given us the awareness that there are a lot of families who are dealing with similar things away from loved ones who were detained overseas. And, to your point, this week, we sort of marked her resigning by writing letters to Paul Whelan, because as you know, when Cherelle Griner was at the White House when B.G.'s return was announced, she mentioned Paul and the work that they're going to do.

B.G. has done the same thing in letters since her return. So, this is her legacy work, and we're going to be right there with her doing it this season and beyond.

BOLDUAN: You know, one issue that Griner's detention also has shine a light on and drawn attention to once again is pay among players. I mean, she was traveling to Russia in order to supplement letter league's salary, as other players do.

In light of what happened to her, Vince, do you still want players in your program in your organization playing overseas in the offseason? Are you doing anything, or what are you doing to make it so they don't have to?

KOZAR: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head with that last part. I wouldn't presume to tell them what they can or can't do. They have their own agency to make those decisions themselves. Our responsibility is to help give them as much information as possible to make decisions on where they're going and when.

But, to your latter point, our goal overall is that no athletes should have to go do that. And to do that we need to grow our league. It is at a tremendous inflexion point right now. The business has never been better than it is currently. And the momentum that you've seen has been really incredible through a lot of metrics, but including TV viewership and things like that.

The point is, the goal is for no players to have to go overseas. But in the interim, certainly I wouldn't presume to tell them whether or not they should.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it's good to have you on speaking on all of these issues, Vince, thanks for coming in.

KOZAR: Thanks so much for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

OUTFRONT for us next, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot taking hits on multiple fronts as she fights for re-election in a race she could lose. It's a story you'll see first on OUTFRONT.

Plus, we take you to a city in Ukraine that has just been battered by Russia. But now after a year of fighting, there are signs the city is coming back.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is in danger of losing re-election in just days as she's facing attacks over her handling of crime in the city.

Omar Jimenez is OUTFRONT.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Throughout Lori Lightfoot's term as mayor of Chicago, the issue of public safety has persisted.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: If people don't feel safe, literally nothing else matters.

JIMENEZ: Now, it may decide if she's reelected, like many cities violent crime spiked in 2020 and 2021, but the Windy City saw levels not seen in about a quarter century, while shootings and murders have decreased from those heights, issues of crime and public safety have remained front and center.

ANNOUNCER: The Democrat who will put crime and safety first, Paul Vallas.

JIMENEZ: Paul Vallas is focusing a big part of his campaign on public safety.

PAUL VALLAS (D), CHICAGO MAYORAL CANDIDATE: For second and third party, the dramatic increase in violent crime coincided the shutting down of schools for 50 months. You have to open the campuses to students, on weekends, over the summer. You've got to bring community- based organizations. The schools have got to be part of the public safety strategy.

JIMENEZ: Vallas is among a crowded field of nine candidates.

LIGHTFOOT: I know you want to mansplain up here.

JIMENEZ: If no candidate wins a majority next week, the top two finishers advance to an April runoff, and Lightfoot is at risk of missing out. In addition to she and Vallas, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, and Congressman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are also seen as top contenders.

BRANDON JOHNSON, COOK COUNTY COMMISSIONER: What I want to do is actually invest in people.

JIMENEZ: In the past, Johnson has floated the idea of diverting some forms from the police budget to other forms of response.

LIGHTFOOT: We absolutely need to hire more officers. This is one of the toughest times in the country to recruit, and mayors all over the country are experiencing that difficulty.

JOHNSON: The reason why we don't have enough police officers is because we're asking them to be social workers, therapists, marriage counselors.

JIMENEZ: For Congressman Garcia --

What have you heard the most from voters about what this city needs?

It's about a combination.

REP. JESUS "CHUY" GARCIA (D-IL): Hiring more civilians to free up more police officers with their guns and badges. The other important element is investing in communities and investing in violence prevention programs.

JIMENEZ: Vallas is the only one endorsed by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, which Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis Monday.

VALLAS: DeSantis is a diversion. You know, I'm going to continue to focus on the issues.

JIMENEZ: But Lightfoot claims these associations show Vallas isn't the Democrat he says he is.

VALLAS: This is about us taking back our city.

LIGHTFOOT: And take our city back meaning what? To what time? Take our city back from whom?

VALLAS: I've talked about the need to take our -- you know, to take our city back from the criminals who are preying on our, you know, our residents, who are preying on our businesses.

JIMENEZ: Lightfoot herself has been put on the defensive over comments she made in a majority black part of the city saying they shouldn't are vote if they don't vote for her.

LIGHTFOOT: If I said anything other than everybody everywhere needs to vote, then I misspoke in a heat of a campaign rally.

JIMENEZ: Rallies that have become ever more important leading up to election place where second place in America's city could mean a second chance for Lightfoot to win over Chicago voters, if she gets the opportunity.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, the election is Tuesday. "The Chicago Tribune" editorial board has endorsed Paul Vallas but they also wrote of Lightfoot that she steered the city through COVID-19 better than most mayors. They also wrote that she should be the one that face Vallas in any runoff.

But as we both know, editorial boards don't decide who gets in or out, the voters do, and there are plenty of them who feel their candidate should be the one of the final two.

BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT for us next, surrounded by death and destruction, what it's been like to live through Putin's war that has now lasted one year.



BOLDUAN: And finally tonight, one year of devastation and terror in Ukraine. Clarissa ward has been on the ground throughout the war, and she's back on the anniversary to see how people are coping.

Here's a look at her special report coming this weekend.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Indiscriminate and nearly constant shelling by the Russians has left a trail of death and destruction throughout this region. The once bustling residential suburb of Saltivka (ph) now a grim memorial to the carnage.

The last time we were here in Saltivka, it was just getting smashed by Russian artillery every day, 300,000 people roughly used to live in this area, but since the beginning of the war, it really became the front line, and even now coming back here, you're just starting to see little hints of life reemerging.

One resident told me this was her first time back to Saltivka since the bombings. Months later, she is still haunted by the violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Honestly, it makes me want to cry. Anyone who hasn't lived through it won't understand the fear. The dread. And the images can't reflect this. It's very scary. Terrible. I'm speechless, honestly.


BOLDUAN: Don't miss "The Will to Win" on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thank you all so much for being here.

"AC360" starts now.