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U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed Headed Home After Biden Admin Strikes Deal For Prisoner Swap With Moscow; State Dept: Prisoner Swap Won't Impact Ukraine War; CNN: McCarthy Gets Standing Ovation From House GOP After Defending Leaked Comments About Jan 6; Tapes: McCarthy Feared GOP Lawmakers Put People "In Jeopardy"; Rep Gaetz: McCarthy & Scalise Displayed "Behavior Of Weak Men, Not Leaders"; Tapes: McCarthy Asked If Far-Right Republicans Could Have Twitter Accounts Taken Away; Putin: Any Countries Interfering In Ukraine Would Be Met With A "Lightning-Fast" Response; Russia Cuts Off Gas To Poland & Bulgaria. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. The big breaking news today, a diplomatic deal gives an American family peace at last. Trevor Reed is on his way home, part of a dramatic and a surprise trade with the Kremlin. The Biden White House announcing this deal this morning.

Russian state TV showing, you see it here, what it says is Reed being escorted to a plane at an airport just outside of Moscow. A wartime prisoner swap sends a Russian narco-trafficker back to Moscow in exchange for Reed a former U.S. marine. He had been held in Russia for 985 days that after being arrested, and then sentenced to prison for nine years there. His family on CNN earlier today, calling his release an answer to their prayers. Listen here to Reed's Father, Joey.


VOICE OF JOEY REED, TREVOR REED'S FATHER: (Inaudible) quickly told us that they - the American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane and they walked both prisoners across at the same time, like you see in the movies.


KING: This exchange is extraordinary because of course, the timing, the swap happening just one day after the United States announced to the world. Its goal in the Ukraine war is to significantly weaken Russian military. And as Ukraine acknowledges, it is losing ground to Russian forces in that country.

Let's get straight to the White House now to CNN's MJ Lee. MJ, what more do we know about this extraordinary swap?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this certainly marked the end of an excruciating ordeal, a three-year ordeal for Trevor Reed and his family. This is the former U.S. marine who had been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for an alleged altercation with Russian police.

His family had been desperately lobbying anyone that would listen, including the U.S. government and President Biden himself, and they had grown increasingly alarmed in recent months. They said that they were very concerned about serious health concerns, including potentially having had tuberculosis that he may be recovering from having had COVID a while back.

Now, while it is a joyful moment, obviously for Trevor Reed's family, it did come with a cost that was part of a prisoner swap with Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko. This is a man who had been convicted of cocaine trafficking charges.

And President Biden saying in a statement just moments ago, making it clear that while he is very glad that Trevor Reed is now able to return home to his family. But this was a complicated and not easy decision. He said the negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.

Now, obviously, looming over all of this is the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Russia and this war, and U.S. officials are now making clear. And this comes as of course, we have heard U.S. officials saying recently that they would like to see the Russian military weakened. Now U.S. officials are saying that what happened with Trevor Reed and his release, that is not going to change the U.S.'s posture when it comes to the war in Ukraine. John?

KING: MJ Lee, live at the White House for us. MJ, thanks so much. Let's get some important perspective now from the former CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall, and CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance.

Matthew to you first. Years of experience, covering Putin and the Kremlin. For this to happen, if this happened six months ago, we would say it's a big deal. For it to happen now, especially as Russia says, this war in Ukraine is a U.S. proxy war with all these high tensions. Why now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it just shows you that the effort to diplomatically bring these two sides together and to find a deal that would secure the release of Trevor Reed. And of course, Konstantin Yaroshenko, the Russian national who was swapped for Trevor Reed have been ongoing and they have been apparently not affected by the extremely poor relationship and the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the United States, particularly since the conflict in Ukraine also seems to have been compartmentalized in some way.

I know that the Russians wanted much more. They wanted the release of Viktor Bout, as well as Konstantin Yaroshenko. Viktor Bout is a notorious arms trafficker that is serving a lengthy prison sentence in a U.S. jail. But the position of the United States all along when it came to Viktor Bout was that he's too serious, a criminal for them to consider releasing early. And, you know, it's astonishing because, you know, the political risk for the Biden administration right now, of doing a deal with Moscow, even if it's to secure the release of U.S. national has been raised considerably because of the appalling violence that we've been witnessing over the past couple of months in Ukraine. But, you know, for better or for worse, they went ahead and did it anyway.


And these are the images, you can see on television now of Trevor Reed, coming out being put on to a Russian airplane. There's also been images, just so you know, on Russian state television, of Konstantin Yaroshenko landing in Turkey, and the two men actually being swapped at the actual airport. And Trevor Reed getting onto that American plane where Konstantin Yaroshenko was dropped off.

KING: And Steve Hall, you heard Trevor Reed's father early, on saying a scene just like you see in the movies. The prisoners walking past each other, as they go from one country's airplane to the other country's airplane. I want you to listen here to Paula Reed, Trevor Reed's mother this morning, saying that the Biden White House, the state department told them all along. We're going to try to do this separately, as Matthew says compartmentalize. She didn't believe it until this morning. Listen?


VOICE OF PAULA REED, TREVOR REED'S MOTHER: It's just a testament to what the state department has told us all along that even though the war or things going on with Ukraine, that the talks for negotiations were on a different channel. And you know, and I was always kind of skeptical of that, but obviously, they were correct. And it happens.


KING: Is it that simple, Steve? If you or your old job, and you had to write a report on this, what would your intelligence assessment be of why? Why the Kremlin decided, let's do this now?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Yes. I think it is entirely possible in the descriptions as to what happened are accurate. You know, the United States and Russia and previously in the Soviet Union, have always had sort of these parallel channels that they can work in, you know, at any time, and a lot of people will ask, well, why do we have a - why do we maintaining our embassy open over there, because there are issues like this.

There are other issues that sometimes, such as counterterrorism threat information that regardless as to what's going on, for example, in Ukraine, you need to have those channels open. But let me remind people that this is - there is no moral equivalency here. I don't want people in the west here to think, well, you know, we had one of theirs, and they had one of ours.

And so, it's an even moral swap. There is no rule of law in Russia. Anybody who travels to Russia, may be arrested for any reason whatsoever. And there's simply no telling as to why it happens. Because there's no rule of law. Here in the United States, it's very different, obviously. But there is no sort of moral equivalency between - to compare between these two individuals.

KING: And so, to that point, Matthew Chance, back to you first, and then back to Steve on this up. What should, obviously Trevor Reed's family is grateful. He is coming home. What should the family and the friends of Paul Whelan, also held for four plus years now in Russia, be thinking about this moment.

What about the basketball star Brittney Griner, who detained a couple of months ago on alleged drug charges in Russia? Should they have any hope that the return of Trevor Reed means these channels are still open? Or is this a one off?

CHANCE: Now, I think, you've got to have hope, because I think the assumption was that because of the conflicts in Ukraine, that all bets were off and that all conversations had ceased. But what we've seen today is a very vivid illustration of the fact that that's not the case. There are still conversations and discussions and negotiations going on behind the scenes.

That's borne fruit when it comes to Trevor Reed and Konstantin Yaroshenko. And presumably that conversation (Inaudible) was telling for a fact, that you know, that conversation will be continuing when it comes to Paul Whelan and then the other Americans that are held in Russian custody.

And from the Russian side as well, they are very keen to make sure they get their prisoners who are being held in U.S. jails returned to their country as well. Particularly, as I said, that the notorious arms trafficker, Viktor Bout. So, I think it's a positive sign, particularly given the context of the extreme violence and the extreme deterioration of relations that we've seen in the past couple of months between Washington and Moscow.

KING: And to that point, Steve, do you share Matthew that it's a possibility? I know there's a lot of skepticism involved in these negotiations get incredibly difficult, then you add in the complexities of Ukraine. They're difficult to begin with. Is it an opening you think or a one off?

HALL: You know, the channels are always there. So, you know, I don't think it's either an opening neither is it a one off? I mean, those opportunities are there. Here's the problem, though, with both Whelan and Griner.

Whelan is accused on espionage charges. And so that's going to be a big deal. The Russians are going to want to make propaganda news out of this. They're going to say, well, we have an American spy, which in my assessment does not at all to be - appear to be the case. In Griner situation, you have an African American woman who's openly gay. And this is something that the Russians rail against.

You've heard it recently with, you know, the corruption of western society in our failing morals and all of that stuff. So, both of these people who are still unfortunately imprisoned in Russia, and in all likelihood, with no good reason, are going to be used as political pawns to make various points that Putin wants to make.

KING: Steve Hall and Matthew Chance, grateful for your important insights at this important moment, and we'll continue to follow both of those other stories as well. Those captive Americans appreciate it. Gentlemen, up next to show immunity from House Republicans. Leader Kevin McCarthy gets a standing ovation this morning, despite newly released recordings where he has heard criticizing Donald Trump and several Republican lawmakers.



KING: It was a rally around the leader morning today for House Republicans. CNN is told Kevin McCarthy received a standing ovation at a closed-door GOP meeting this morning. That after defending things he has heard saying in newly released recordings, obtained by the office of a new book.

In those recordings, McCarthy has heard, saying he would tell President Trump that be best to resign because of the January 6 insurrection. He's also heard being highly critical of several Trump loyalists in the House GOP, warning some of their post-election rhetoric could incite violence. Here's just a snippet.



VOICE OF REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Tension is too high. The country is too crazy. I do not want to look back and think, we caused something, or we miss something, and someone got hurt. I don't want to play politics with any of that.


KING: Today, though, McCarthy insisted the recordings do not capture the full context of his views. And he suggested the release is somehow, somehow part of a plan to hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. With me to share their reporting and their insights, Tarini Parti, the Wall Street Journal, Rachael Bade of Politico, and McClatchy's Francesca Chambers.

Rachael, to you first. So, Kevin McCarthy first said, he never said, he would recommend the Trump resign. Then we heard the tapes. He said, he never called out any Republicans by name, in saying Twitter should take them - take their accounts away. Then we heard the tapes. So, he lied twice. Today, he's spinning, and saying this doesn't take me in full context. But does he survive?

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR: Yes. I think the most surprising thing for those of us who have covered him for years is just how much the amount of slack he's getting from conservatives on the Hill and MAGA-world allies. I mean, if this was happening just a couple of years ago, McCarthy would have been toast. I mean, he has always had this very fraught relationship with the far right and with a lot of people in Trump's orbit.

And yet this morning, you had people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, stand up and say, this is the media that's trying to divide us. You have people like Jim Jordan, who single handedly kept Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker in 2015 when John Boehner retired, saying he backs in for speaker.

In this, I think it really is a testament to McCarthy's strategy working, as you know, as much as you know, we criticize it and you can see the hypocrisy of it, mobilize, the spinning etc. He has really tried to reach out to these conservatives to give them positions on committees. Jim Jordan is going to be the next judiciary chairman, potentially overseeing impeachment hearings.

He loves that. He's tried to, you know, dole down any criticism of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, or other conservatives who, you know, spoken at conferences, where they're talking about racist things. And so, you know, as much as the media has criticized him, and for the flip flopping and the lying, this is clearly working with his members, because right now they're staying with him on this.

KING: But if you're Marjorie Taylor Greene, and there have been efforts to push you out constantly, efforts to hold you accountable for horrible, reprehensible things she has said, isn't it cynically smart to say, oh, G. Kevin, now you're in the same boat with me to sort of get close to him?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. I mean, at the end of the day, this is just more evidence that it's Donald Trump's party, and as long as Donald Trump is OK with Kevin McCarthy, of potentially being speaker, then the Republicans are going to line up. There isn't anyone in the Republican conference that can step up and actually get support from different factions within the Republican party, which we've seen over and over again.

My colleague, Alex Leary, who talked to Trump at Mar-a-Lago last week about the speakership, and potentially if McCarthy would support him, or if Trump would support McCarthy, Trump said that he doesn't know of anyone else who would want to run and that he likes him. So, I think, you know, if that continues, if McCarthy is able to maintain his relationship with Trump, then it seems like he could be speaker If Republicans take back the House.

KING: Which makes it interesting, because Trump says for now, anyway, and we're at the end of April. The election would not be until after the election in November, assume the Republicans win the House majority. The question is by how much? How big of a majority? How many votes can Kevin McCarthy afford to lose, essentially, at that point? One person who's not a House member but does have considerable sway over many of them is the Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, who is no fan of Kevin McCarthy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: Unless conservatives get their act together right away, Kevin McCarthy, or one of his highly liberal allies, like Elise Stefanik, is very likely to be speaker of the House in January. That would mean we will have a Republican Congress led by a puppet of the Democratic party.


KING: Ouch. Ouch.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: You were talking about the former President Donald Trump, and how much time there is between now and when this vote would take place. There are several months. And as we've seen, with the former president, keep your friend one day, but you say something, another day that really upsets him. And then he's suddenly not very loyal to you anymore.

So, there's a lot of running room here. Even if there isn't anyone else. There's plenty of time for someone, I guess, to a merge, who could challenge him for that. But Republicans are signaling, John, and this, I think, is the important part that they are most focused on taking back the House at this point in the election. So, they can even get to that point.

When you look at the comments by the NRCC chair, for instance, who's in charge of taking it back. They're also making comments about, oh, this is a thing of the media. They run it squarely keep the focus on President Joe Biden and Democrats and taking back those seats. So, they can even get to a point where they're having a discussion about who's going to be the next speaker.

KING: I've been doing this for a long time and Republicans have always been more disciplined than Democrats and keeping their family feuds, trying to keep them private. fight it out in the room, don't fight it out publicly. That has been a trademark of Republicans forever.


The question is, though, can this be sustained in the sense that or even if McCarthy remains as leader, is he weakened? Because he's lied to his own members. He has lied publicly. Does he have the credibility? This is one snipped of a call where he's talking, you hear Kevin McCarthy. And you hear his Deputy Steve Scalise, talking about things that Matt Gaetz was saying after the election and around the time of the insurrection. And they are sounding an alarm. Listen?


VOICE OF REP. MCCARTHY: So, I'm calling Gaetz. I'm explaining to him. I don't know what I am going to some, but I am going to have some other people call him too. But the nature of what, if I'm getting briefing, I'm going to get another one from the FBI tomorrow. This is serious shit to cut this out.

VOICE OF REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Yes. That's, I mean, it's potentially illegal what he's doing. VOICE OF REP. MCCARTHY: Well, he's putting people in jeopardy.


KING: You know, that's the number one of the number two in the House Republican conference, talking about things Matt Gaetz was saying, after the election around the insurrection. Matt Gaetz responding, this is from yesterday. Before the meeting today, Representative McCarthy and Representative Scalise held views about President Trump and me that they should share it on sniffling calls with Liz Cheney, not us.

This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders. Matt Gaetz normally does align himself with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, a few others. He seems to be an outlier at the moment but emphasizing at the moment.

BADE: Yes. I mean, look, I think, Matt Gaetz is going to be probably the biggest problem for Kevin McCarthy. He is not just vocal on these sorts of issues, but he is going to be trying to rally other MAGA- world Republicans in the House to try to turn against Kevin McCarthy specifically on this issue.

And you know, it's interesting, because when this whole started, this whole scandal sort of started exploding last week, we were hearing from House Republicans who specifically said, you know, watch what McCarthy says about, kicking members off Twitter. You know, he's been very critical of Twitter, publicly saying, you know, Twitter shouldn't be kicking off conservatives.

They shouldn't be doing censorship of this and that, and then privately, he's saying these numbers are dangerous enough that they shouldn't have their Twitter handles at all. And so that in particular, we were told was going to be particularly damaging for him. And right now, it looks like people are giving him a pass, but you just a few minutes ago brought this point as, is he losing Capitol.

And you know, the more that these sorts of things come out, it's absolutely going to grade in terms of the support he has with his membership. So, people will remember this. They might be giving him a pass right now. But as you said, the speaker's races are very long time away, and a lot of shoes could drop between now and then.

KING: Right. Giving him a pass right now and seeing what they can get for their support. You mentioned the Twitter thing, which is a huge issue right now, obviously, with Elon Musk buying Twitter, but a big issue among conservatives. Anyway, Kevin McCarthy said, he never said any specific member, should be kicked off Twitter. Listen here. The first voice you hear is the House Republican aide, then you'll hear McCarthy.


VOICE OF AIDE: Moore also made this tweet on Saturday night. As the U.S. Capitol police officer who shot and killed a woman as he tried to get into the lobby. So, he tweeted at Marjorie Greene and that NARAL all. I understand it was a black police officers that who shot the white female veteran, you know, that doesn't fit the narrative. This is what we're - we have to confront with this.

VOICE OF REP. MCCARTHY: Can't they take their Twitter accounts away too?


KING: There it is, right there. That's his voice. I mean, he cannot deny what he said. He can try to spin it and say, I said other things, too. That's only a piece of the context. That after saying he didn't say what you hear him say.

PARTI: Right. I also think it's interesting that he was seemed sort of genuinely surprised, I guess by what his own members were saying. And as someone who's been sort of talking to a lot of members of his conference and keeping tabs on, you know, how MAGA-world has evolved, he seemed to be surprised. And you know, the sort of, oh man, in his voice. I think he genuinely it seemed felt that they were a problem at the time and could incite more violence, which you know, the audio is pretty clear on that.

BADE: And yet, did nothing about it.

KING: Yes, did nothing about that. Yes. That's the follow through part is also there. Our reporters will be back a bit later in the program. But next for us new twist in the Ukraine war, more Russian strikes near a strategic port city, and the Kremlin cuts off gas shipments to two NATO nations who are providing help to Ukraine.




KING: Escalation on and off the Ukraine battlefield today. Heavy shelling and rocket attacks are reported in Luhansk region eastern Ukraine, as well as another missile strike near the southern port city of Odessa. And this big step from the Kremlin. Russia says, it will stop supplying gas to NATO nations Poland and Bulgaria just moments ago. The Russian President Vladimir Putin vowing, any country interfering in Ukraine, Putin says will be met with a "lightning-fast" response from Russia.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: If someone intends to intervene and what is happening from the outside and creates unacceptable strategic threats for us, then they should know that our response to oncoming strikes will be swift, lightning fast. We have all the tools for this. Ones that no one can brag about. And we won't brag. We will use them if needed. And I want everyone to know this, or the decisions have been made in this regard.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Scott McLean. He's live for us in Lviv, in western Ukraine. Scott, what's the latest?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, in the escalating war of words between Moscow and Washington, comments like that certainly do not - do much to help bring down the temperature. Putin there didn't specify what kind of tools he's talking about. He also didn't specify what kind of threat he might be retaliating against either. Clearly, the Russian president does not appreciate that foreign weapons are making their way into Ukraine.