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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Appears At Sentencing Hearing In Moscow; Wounded Ukrainian Soldier Desperate To Get Back To Front Lines; LIV Golf CEO: Tiger Woods Turned Down $700-$800 Million Offer. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 05:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The fire has forced thousands in Siskiyou County to evacuate. One man was able to return home and found his home gone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house was here and there was a big pantry, and a kitchen, and a dining room, and front room. And we had three bedrooms and a bathroom. My wife and I have been married, in August, 51 years --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- so our whole life was right here.


HILL: Whole life right there.

Meantime, another fire driven by high winds burning out of control in western Montana. The Elmo 2 fire has grown to nearly 13,000 acres, zero percent containment.

This morning, there are at least 55 large fires burning in 13 states, consuming more than 1 1/2 million acres. In Alaska alone, there are at least 27 active fires. The Paradise Complex fire, the state's largest, has now burned over 279,000 acres.

Basketball star Brittney Griner, right now, fighting for her freedom in a Russian courtroom. Plus, the stunning offer from the Saudis that Tiger Woods refused.



HILL: Right now, basketball star Brittney Griner is back in a Russian courtroom. She's charged with drug smuggling for carrying cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner's legal team says it plans to call several witnesses in the bid here for leniency in her sentencing. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joining us now live from Moscow. So, Fred, the U.S. has offered a prisoner swap in exchange for Griner and for U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Where does that stand?


Well, it kind of looms over this trial. It's not clear whether or not it has the influence here in the courtroom, certainly from what we're hearing from Brittney Griner's lawyers. It hasn't so far and they weren't aware of any of the negotiations taking place.

Now, of course, the latest that we know from those negotiations is that there was that phone call between Secretary of State Blinken and the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov last Friday where Lavrov simply said look, all this needs to get moved behind closed doors again. This shouldn't be discussed in public.

But, of course, from what we know, the U.S. has offered Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently in jail in the U.S., in return for Brittney Griner and then Paul Whelan, the former Marine who is currently serving a 16-year sentence for alleged espionage which, of course, he denies.

But at the same time, if you look at the trial here, it's really moving into a key phase right now where we're looking at the last couple of trial dates. And what we're hearing from Brittney Griner's lawyer is that she is a bit nervous about how all of this is going to end but she's, of course, laser-focused on her defense. She took the stand last Wednesday.

And today, what her lawyers tried to do is they sort of tried to shed some doubt on some of the forensics that took place on those vaping cartridges, which allegedly contained cannabis oil, and saying some of that expertise might have not been conducted in a very scientific way.

So they're moving ahead as though these negotiations aren't taking place. They're focusing very much on the trial that's at hand here.

However, what the lawyers did tell me is they, of course, are not averse at all if there was some sort of prisoner exchange. Their main goal is getting Brittney Griner out of jail and getting her home as fast as possible, Erica.

HILL: Fred Pleitgen with the latest for us from Moscow this morning. Thank you.

Russian strikes devastating cities in Ukraine from Kharkiv to Mykolaiv. Ukrainian forces fighting back. And now, those who are among the most badly injured are doing what they can to rejoin that battle on the front lines.

CNN's Jason Carroll joining us now live this morning from Kyiv. So, Jason, I know you've spoken with some of these Ukrainian soldiers who want to get back out there, and there are a lot of them. JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there certainly are. And, you know, Erica, when they see what's happening to Ukraine -- when they see how cities are being destroyed, how families are being torn apart, these are some of the things that are motivating some of these soldiers to get back out there.

We spoke to one soldier, in particular, who has been sidelined by his injuries and he says he is eager to go back to the front lines.


CARROLL (voice-over): Yuriy Hudymenko is just out of the hospital after doctors spent more than a month tending to his injuries.

CARROLL (on camera): This is the shrapnel from your leg.


CARROLL (voice-over): An unwelcomed souvenir of war, another piece embedded in his chest. His leg shattered so badly these rods now hold it together.

This video showing the moments after Hudymenko was injured and rescued in June by fellow soldiers who were fighting alongside him on Ukrainian's eastern front -- an area where Ukrainians have managed, in places, to hold back the Russian advance.

Hudymenko was laying a mine when he was hit by Russian mortar fire. Doctors initially thought his leg needed to be amputated but they saved it, and his life.

HUDYMENKO: I feel the pain but I feel also I'm angry and my angry is more bigger than the pain.

CARROLL (voice-over): Patriotism, sense of duty, anger -- there are a range of reasons for what continues to motivate Ukrainians to join the military. But anger is one reason this new soldier who will soon be deployed to the eastern front gave up his job as a personal trainer to join the fight. The soldiers ask that we not show their faces to protect their security.

CARROLL (on camera): Do you have any worries about going there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, but my faith is much more than any worries.

CARROLL (voice-over): He says he did not tell his family he joined the military.

CARROLL (on camera): Do you think that's going to work?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will be worrying less for some time. CARROLL (voice-over): Family not an issue for this young soldier who

says his father is already fighting for Ukraine. And he says his decision to join was not about emotion.

But Yuriy Hudymenko says it is hard for him not to give in to his emotions. He says as soon as he's well enough he would like to go back to the front line despite his wife's objections.

She says no woman in the world wants her man to go fight but respects his desire, one Hudymenko says is also personal.

HUDYMENKO: Now I have a personal situation too because I need to revenge for this. I want to gut all the enemies of my country and kill them. Kill them all.


CARROLL: You know, in the beginning of this war, Erica, as you know, you would hear so many stories about Ukrainians who were leaving their jobs to join the front lines. Six months later now into the war, still hearing those same types of stories from the soldiers that we spoke to.

As for Yuriy, you heard he talked about the anger -- so much of the anger that he still has. One of the other emotions that he expressed was revenge. He wants revenge for those, he says, who did what they did to him -- Erica.

HILL: Jason, appreciate it. Thank you.

Just ahead, abortion rights put to the test at the ballot box today in Kansas. Plus, the baby formula shortage that just won't end.



HILL: Abortion rights on the ballot today in Kansas where voters will decide on an amendment to the state constitution that would remove protections for abortion access. Kansas is the first state in the nation to vote on the issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Joining us now is Abigail Abrams. She covers healthcare policy and politics for Time Magazine. Great to have you here and especially to have you here in person.

When we look at this, there's so much focus on Kansas because this is the first state to hold a vote post-Roe. But there's also -- and people are looking at not just what that outcome will be in terms of what it means for Kansas, but also will there be a blueprint potentially here for other states.


So, as you said, not only is this the first time voters are deciding on abortion post-Roe, but this strategy of taking the decision to the voters and looking at state constitutions is really where activists on both sides are looking. Now that we don't have Roe v. Wade guaranteeing abortion as a national right, they're going state-by- state and looking at what they can do in state constitutions.

So here, the question is whether to say that the Kansas state constitution will not contain a right to abortion. And in other states, like in California, Vermont, and Michigan, activists are trying to enshrine an abortion right into those state constitutions this year.

HILL: And it's those state constitutions, too, that are really popping up in a lot of these legal challenges that we're seeing. I mean, Florida's a good example, along with other states, saying look, here's what we have in terms of rights in our state constitution.

It's interesting -- you and I were talking a little bit in the break -- the way some of the messaging has started to shift from both the anti-abortion movement and also the abortion rights movement in the wake of Roe. Is one voice becoming louder than the other at this point?

ABRAMS: At this point, it is hard to tell, especially in a state like Kansas. It's a pretty conservative state but there are a lot more nuanced views on abortion -- a lot of moderates there.

And so, the abortion rights activists have really been motivated by the overturn of Roe. We've seen a lot of people turn out in terms of the canvasing in Michigan where they have an abortion ballot initiative. They saw a record number of signatures to get that on the ballot there.

But the anti-abortion activists are also out in force. We were in Kansas recently and my colleague went door-to-door door-knocking with activists on both sides. And there are lots of young people on the anti-abortion side who are motivated now. So this idea of taking it to the voters has really gotten people energized on both sides.

HILL: And so interesting what that -- what that voter turnout is, right, because this isn't the only thing on the ballot. We're talking about primaries today in Kansas as well. We know Republicans tend to turn out in larger numbers than Democrats for primaries.

What's interesting is in some of this reporting from your most recent piece speaking with people in Kansas, you and your colleague spoke with a number of people who had come to Kansas specifically because they live in neighboring states where abortion may not be an option for them.

I was really struck by -- there was a 28-year-old woman who wasn't named, but she was there because her doctor had said that she couldn't continue her cancer treatments for her stomach and thyroid cancer if she were pregnant. That doesn't qualify as a medical emergency exemption in Oklahoma where she lives.

ABRAMS: Right. So in a lot of these states, like Oklahoma, that have fully outlawed abortion, the exceptions are very limited. And so, when you're talking about medical emergency they often don't define exactly what that means. And doctors, especially, are really reticent to push that.

But really, in a lot of cases, it is either defined or being interpreted as an immediate emergency -- an immediate threat to the pregnant person's life or something that will cause significant bodily harm. But cancer, while it will eventually kill you, the doctor felt they were not able to use that as an exception in her state and so she drove all the way to Kansas.


HILL: How much in your reporting are you starting to see the conversation shift? Because it was -- you know, if you're part of the anti-abortion movement, for so long the goal was simply to get rid of abortion. But as there's all this talk about at what stage in the pregnancy, what does it mean to take into consideration the life and the health and the well-being of the mother, there are all these nuances that are coming up.

Is that becoming more of the conversation that there -- that there's a more, I would say, fulsome look at what it means to ban abortion and whether it should be an outright ban?

ABRAMS: So, it is becoming part of the conversation on the abortion rights side. We've seen all of these reports of people trying to seek care for pregnancy complications, for ectopic pregnancies, and getting stymied or having that care delayed in states that have fully banned abortion.

But from the lawmakers and the activists who wanted to put these laws in place, they are saying that the exceptions aren't clear and that those laws shouldn't affect that medical care. So we're not really seeing them grapple with the effects on the ground as of yet, I think. And it has raised the discussion at the national level about what fully banning abortion means at this point.

Abigail Abrams, great to have you here on set with us this morning, and great reporting from you and your colleagues as well. Thank you.

Well, in Missouri, Michigan, and Arizona, it's also primary day with abortion, election denial, Trumpism all in play. Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi defying China, heading to Taiwan.



HILL: Seven hundred million dollars to join a rival golf series? It turns out that is an offer Tiger Woods can refuse.

Carolyn Manno joining us with this morning's Bleacher Report. These details trickling out.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, it's interesting. Tiger Woods certainly doesn't need the money -- the large payday, which is what LIV Golf is about. And he, like many other people, was really profoundly impacted by 9/11. His father was in the military. That might have played into this decision.

But he's always said that he has no intentions of jumping from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf. That loyalty has not wavered. And now we have an idea of just how big the payday is that he is rejecting.

On Fox News last night, Greg Norman confirmed that talks with Tiger began before he was named the CEO and commissioner of the controversial Saudi-backed series.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": But you keep reading that you offered Tiger Woods $700-$800 billion -- some unknown number to join LIV. Is that true?

GREG NORMAN, CEO AND COMMISSIONER, LIV GOLF: That number was out there before I became CEO. So that number has been out there -- yes.


NORMAN: And look, Tiger is a needle-mover, right?


NORMAN: So, of course, you're going to look at the best of the best, you know. So they had originally approached Tiger before I became CEO. So, yes, that number is somewhere in that neighborhood.


MANNO: Around $800 million.

LIV Golf just completed its third tournament this past weekend at Trump Bedminster. The next tournament is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in Boston.

Meantime, elsewhere in sports, Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson practiced with his teammates yesterday just hours after learning of his 6-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Watson was accused of sexual assault and harassment by dozens of women. He repeatedly denied those claims.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski telling reporters multiple times that he expects Watson to make good decisions on and off the field.


KEVIN STEFANSKI, CLEVELAND BROWNS HEAD COACH: I'm going to remain what we've said all along about Deshaun the person. You know, I would mention -- and Deshaun has said it -- that he is working to be the best version of himself. He's told me privately he wants to be the best version of himself. I've seen a person that both publicly and privately has said that he wants to be the best version of himself. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MANNO: Browns' owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam released a statement after yesterday's ruling, saying, "We empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process. We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field, and we will continue to support him."

And lastly for you this morning, this is a little bit awkward here. The Red Sox in Houston last night to start a 3-game set with the Astros. And Boston's Christian Vazquez seemed to learn that he had been traded to the opposing club, of all places, while on the field for batting practice.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about being traded to the Astros, Christian?

VAZQUEZ: It's a business. It's a business.


MANNO: It's a business.

The longtime catcher has been one of the few consistent bats for Boston this season. He was in their starting lineup, removed right before first pitch, Erica, of the opening series. And the Astros probably picking up some key information from those hitter meetings that he was in. But you have to feel for him a little bit.

HILL: Yes.

MANNO: The Red Sox kind of grabbed him quickly and ushered him away. But to learn you've been traded so publicly like that, it's tough.

HILL: That is tough.


HILL: That is very tough.

Carolyn Manno, appreciate it. Thank you, my friend.

And thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. I'm Erica Hill. "NEW DAY" starts right now.