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Russian Prison Service: Alexey Navalny Dead At The Age Of 47; President Joe Biden Speaking On Reported Death Of Alexey Navalny; Sen. Joe Manchin Rules Out Any Run For President This Year. Aired 12:30a- 1p

Aired February 16, 2024 - 12:30   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are standing by for President Biden to speak on the apparent death of another Putin critic Alexey Navalny. His wife took the stage at the Munich Security Conference just a short while ago in just moments after the Russian Prison Service announced his sudden death.


YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S WIFE (through translator): I thought about I quite a while. I thought should I stand here before you or should I go back to my children. And then, I thought, what would have Alexey done in my place and I'm sure that he would have been standing here on this stage.


ACOSTA: And this just in in CNN, Alexey Navalny spokesperson says reports of his death are, "Most likely true," adding that the Russian opposition leader's family will travel tomorrow to the Siberian penal colony where he was imprisoned.

I want to bring in CNN Jill Dougherty. She's an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She served as CNN's Moscow bureau chief for many years. Jill, it's hard to decide where to start on this. Your thoughts on Navalny's apparent death, what it means for Russia, what it means for the world?

JILL DOUGHERTY, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: You know, who's a complex person and I think it's Alexey Navalny the person, very brave in his role in what he did in modern Russia. But I think also it's his legacy. It's his ideas. It's his criticism of corruption that really struck home to Russians.


And so, I think, now, you know, what will the Kremlin do? You already see people coming into the streets and laying flowers in many cities across Russia and outside of Russia where Russians have fled, and they are bringing flowers in memorial to Alexey Navalny. The Kremlin appears to be allowing that to happen. They're not cracking down on it. And that could be because, you know, there's a lot -- there could be a lot of pent-up emotion and anger. So, the Kremlin could be letting out the steam on that.

But I think they're going to have a really difficult time in what I would believe they want to do, which is essentially disappear his memory, you know? Just making disappear.

ACOSTA: Right.

DOUGHERTY: And in the context of March 15th, there is going to be an election over three days, Putin will be reelected. But the -- I think the Kremlin was very nervous about the reaction among the Russian public.

ACOSTA: And we may go into the president at any moment. But essentially, Jill, Alexey Navalny was a light in Putin's darkness and that had to be snuffed out. Is that essentially what we're talking about here? From Putin's standpoint?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I mean, that's putting it, I think, poetically, I do. But I do think he was a real threat.

Again, because of his ideas, and his ability to communicate, and really connect with Russians. Not everybody supported him as a political figure. Not everybody wanted him to become president or even mayor of Moscow, but his ideas about what another Russia could look like. You know, a Russia without Putin or Russia without a lot of corruption and a system that is built on that corruption. I think that's the thing that resonates, and the Kremlin will have a very difficult time controlling any of that.

ACOSTA: And it was the image of Navalny and his beautiful family. I've spoken to his family before, they are -- they are just lovely people. And this image that he offered up to the Russian people of that they could be a peaceful democratic nation and not this violent police state.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, I mean, his image is, you know, handsome guy, beautiful wife, beautiful family, as opposed to Putin, who is an older guy, divorced, with stories about, you know, a wife and a children out of wedlock. Let's put it that way. That is -- it's a -- it's a completely different image. And Putin never wanted to even use his --

ACOSTA: All right, Jill, I have to cut in, here's the president.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am heading off to East Palestine at the moment but I wanted to say a few things this morning about Alexey Navalny.

You know, like millions of people around the world, I'm literally both not surprised and outraged by the news, reported death of Alexey Navalny. He bravely stood up to the corruption, the violence and the -- all the -- all the bad things the Putin government was doing. In response, Putin had him poisoned. He had him arrested and

prosecuted for fabricated crimes, he sends him to prison, he's held in isolation. Even all that didn't stop him from calling out for his lies.

Even in prison, he was a powerful voice for the truth, which is kind of amazing when you think about it. And he could have lived safely in exile after the assassination attempt on him in 2020, which nearly killed him, I might add. And -- but he was traveling outside the country at the time.

Instead, he returned to Russia -- returned to Russia, knowing he'd likely be in prison, or even killed if he continued his work. But he did it anyway. Because he believes so deeply in his country and Russia.

Reports of his death are true, and I have no reason to believe it or not. Russian authorities are going to tell their own story.

But make no mistake, make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny's death. Putin is responsible. What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin's brutality. No one should be fooled. Not in Russia, not at home, not anywhere in the world.

Putin does not only targeted citizens of other countries as we've seen in what's going on in Ukraine right now. He also inflicts terrible crimes in his own people.

And as people across Russia and around the world are mourning Navalny today because he was so many things that Putin was not. He was brave. He was principal who's dedicated to building a Russia where the rule of law existed and I'm worried applied to everybody.


Navalny believed in that Russia, that Russia, he knew it was a cause worth fighting for. And obviously, even dying for. This tragedy reminds us of the stakes of this moment. We have to provide the funding so Ukraine can keep defending itself against Putin's vicious onslaught, and war crimes.

You know, there was a bipartisan Senate vote that passed overwhelmingly in the United States Senate to fund Ukraine. Now, as I said before, and I mean this in a literal sense, history is watching. History is watching the House of Representatives.

The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten. It's going to be down in the pages of history. It really is. It's consequential, and the clock is ticking. And this has to happen. We have to help now.

You know, we have to realize what we're dealing with with Putin. All of us should reject the dangerous statements made by the previous president that invited Russia to invade our NATO allies if they weren't paying up. He said if an ally did not pay their dues, he encouraged Russia to, "Do whatever the hell they want." I guess I should clear my mind a little bit, not say what I'm really thinking. But let me be clear, this is an outrageous thing for a president to say. I can't fathom. I can't fathom from Truman on their rolling over in their graves hearing this.

As long as I'm President, America stands by our sacred commitment to our NATO allies, as they have stood by their commitments to us repeatedly.

Putin and the whole world should know, if any adversary to attack us, our NATO allies would back us. And if Putin were to attack a NATO allies, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory. Now's the time for even greater unity among our NATO allies, to stand up to the threat that Putin's Russia poses.

You know, I send my deepest condolences Alexey staff and supporters. They're going to continue his work despite this loss. Despite all Putin's desperate attempts to stamp out the opposition.

And most of all, to his family, especially to his wife, his daughter and his son, who have already sacrificed so much for their family, and a shared dream for a better future for Russia.

So, I just want to say God bless Alexey Navalny. His courage will not be forgotten. And I'm sure it will not be the only courage we see coming out of Russia in the near term. Thank you.

I'll be happy to take questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, first, was this an assassination?

BIDEN: The answer is we don't know exactly what happened. But there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something that Putin and his -- and his thugs did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to be clear, you warned Vladimir Putin when you were in Geneva of devastating consequences if Navalny died in Russian custody. What consequences should he and Russia face?

BIDEN: That was three years ago. In the meantime, they faced a hell of a lot of consequences. They've lost and/or had wounded over 350,000 Russian soldiers. They've made this position where they've been subjected to great sanctions across the board. And we're contemplating what else could be done.

But what we're talking about at the time, there were no actions being taken against Russia. And that's -- look at all this transpired since then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be looking at increasing sanctions on Russia right now?

BIDEN: We're looking at a whole number of options. That's all I'll say right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you can do to get ammunition to the Ukrainians without a supplemental from Congress?

BIDEN: No. But it's about time they step up, don't you think, instead of going on a two-week vacation? Two weeks they're walking away, two weeks. What are they thinking? My God, this is bizarre, and it's just reinforcing all the concern and almost -- and I won't say panic, but real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you more confident now that you'll get the Ukraine aid, given what's happened today?

BIDEN: Well, I hope to God it helps. But, I mean, the idea we need anything more to get the Ukraine aid, I mean -- I mean, this is in light of a former president's statement that -- saying Russia, if they haven't paid their dues, just go get them. Come on. What are these guys doing? What are they doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, how concerned are you about the anti- satellite capability that Russia is developing? And what is your administration planning to do in response?

BIDEN: First of all, there is no nuclear threat to the people of America or anywhere else in the world with what Russia is doing at the moment, number one.


Number two, anything that they're doing and/or they will do relates to satellites in space and damaging those satellites potentially.

Number three, I -- there is no evidence that they have made a decision to go forward with doing anything in space either. So, what we've found out, there was a capacity to launch a system into space that could theoretically do something that was damaging. Hadn't happened yet. And my expect -- my hope is that it will not.


I'll take one more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Switching gears for a moment, have the Israelis presented a credible evacuation plan for the nearly 1.5 million displaced Palestinians sheltering in Rafah? And what would the consequences be for Israel if they move ahead with a full-scale ground innovation without clear measures to protect civilians there?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, I've had extensive conversations with Prime Minister of Israel over the last seven days, almost an hour each.

And I've made the case and I feel very strongly about that there has to be a temporary ceasefire to get the prisoners out, to get the hostages out. And that is underway. I'm still hopeful that that can be done.

And in the meantime, I don't anticipate, I'm hoping that the Israelis will not make any massive land invasion in the meantime.

So, it's my expectation, that's not going to happen. There has to be a ceasefire temporarily to get those hostages.

By the way, there are -- we're in a situation where there are American hostages, American citizens that are being held hostage. It's not just -- not just Israelis, it's American hostages as well.

And, you know, my hope and expectation is that we'll get this hostage deal. We'll bring Americans home and the deal has been negotiated now and we're going to see where it takes us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An FBI informant -- an FBI informant at the center of the impeachment inquiry into you has been indicted for allegedly lying, your reaction to that and should the inquiry be dropped?

BIDEN: He is lying, and it should be dropped. And it's just been a -- it's been an outrageous effort from the beginning.


See you in Ohio.

ACOSTA: And there's President Biden leaving the Roosevelt Room after taking questions from reporters and commenting on the death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. The apparent death, we should say at this point hasn't been 100 percent confirmed.

But you heard the president say a few moments ago, he has no doubt that that has occurred, and our reporters and experts are back with me. Arlette Saenz over at the White House. Matthew Chance in London. Joe Dougherty, CNN's former Moscow bureau chief.

And Arlette, we heard the president say a lot of things just a few moments ago, he reassured NATO allies that if Russia were to attack any NATO country, that the United States would respond forcefully to defend any NATO country that is attacked by Russia. He said that was going to be in response to what Donald Trump said recently where he said, if NATO countries aren't spending enough money on common defense, that Russia can do whatever they want.

The president sounding very feisty there and saying that is not going to happen on his watch. What are your thoughts on that what we just heard there, Arlette?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden made a whole lot of news on things related to Russia and also on Israel.

But on the matter at hand, the death of Alexey Navalny, President Biden came out and said they're still waiting for confirmation. But he has no reason to believe that it's not true, saying, "Putin is responsible for Navalny's death." That is something that this administration has been trying to stress over and over over the course of the day. The president calling Navalny a powerful voice for the truth, and not just as -- the president's using this moment to really criticize Putin not just for the imprisonment of Navalny, but also his other actions writ large. I think that one thing that the president was asked about is what the consequences might be going forward.

Back in 2021, the president told reporters that he directly told Putin there would be devastating consequences if Alexey Navalny were to die in prison.

The president went on to say that there's a lot that's changed in those three years, that Russia has lost troops in its war against Ukraine that the U.S. and allies have imposed sanctions on Russia. He said they're still evaluating what they could do going forward.

But I think the president's also using this moment to really highlight the contrast with former President Donald Trump, criticizing Trump once again for suggesting that Putin should be able to do whatever the hell he wants to countries who are not meeting their NATO obligations. This is something that has personally irked President Biden, you've heard that today in his remarks trying to stress that the U.S. will be there to support NATO allies and condemning Trump for his most recent comments.


ACOSTA: Yes, and Arlette. And let me turn to you Jill Dougherty because the other thing that the president did with those comments is he went after Republicans up on Capitol Hill, and said, now is the time to pay for foreign aid to Ukraine, to make sure that they get enhanced military aid to continue this fight against the Russians.

And it was sort of a -- you know, a very feisty, fierce response from the president going after those Republicans and saying, what are you doing leaving town for two weeks, Ukraine aid is obviously needed now. Look what just happened to Alexey Navalny. And oh, by the way, I'd hate to be Tucker Carlson today after everything all the events that have unfolded over the last week.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, I mean, I think it was the strongest I've ever heard Biden on, you know, Congress going on vacation. He called it bizarre. He was obviously furious. Yet, he almost, you know, didn't have the words for it. Bizarre and outrageous, because right now, he's trying to make the point that any lack of aid for Ukraine right now, not next week, but now is a gift to Vladimir Putin.

And here you have this indication, you know, of -- as he would say, the brutality of Putin, and the death of Putin's greatest opponent. What more do you need, I guess is what he was saying.

ACOSTA: Yes. Matthew, any thoughts from you?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this outrage, this criticism and condemnation expressed by President Biden, what we're -- it's obviously shared by many people around the world, but also many people inside Russia. But I think what we're waiting for now is to see what reaction there

is on the streets of Russia. In the past, Navalny was able to bring tens of thousands of Russians out in protests as part of his anti- corruption campaign. Will we see the same sort of mass protests now that he's dead, or appears to be dead? Obviously, we're waiting confirmation of that now.

All will this be yet another sign to the Russian opposition that protest will not be tolerated and that will have a chilling effect on dissent and on criticism of the Kremlin? We're watching very closely now inside Russia to see what happens.

ACOSTA: Yes, that's going to be critical to see what happens next on the ground in Russia, the response to the apparent death of Alexey Navalny. We just heard the president's response to all of this. And of course, we'll keep tabs on all this throughout the afternoon here on CNN.

Thanks to all of you, really appreciate it for your insights.

Coming up, big breaking political news. Senator Joe Manchin makes a major announcement, he says he is not running for president, more on that, next.



ACOSTA: Another major headline this hour, Senator Joe Manchin has announced he will not run for president this year, the West Virginia Democrat have been flirting with a third-party candidacy.

For more, I'm joined now by CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere, who broke the story here on CNN. Isaac, how did Manchin explained his decision?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Jim, he has been very critical of Republicans and Democrats alike for a long time now. And he gave a speech in West Virginia this morning, and torched both but clearly, he was upset by what happened with the immigration and border deal, saying that he felt like Joe Biden was responsible for the situation at the border. But Donald Trump is 10 times more guilty for not letting Republicans fix it. He was very disappointed, he said in his Republican colleagues.

And so, I think this goes to where Manchin is on this. He's always felt like Joe Biden is a good man, a compassionate man, he's a decent man, he's told me, but that he's gotten too liberal. But he has said he loves his country too much to let Donald Trump be president again. And that seems to be what drove him to this decision.

ACOSTA: Right, he didn't both sides this one, making this very important decision. And Isaac, I mean, there are others who have said they're running as independent candidates, Robert Kennedy Jr., and so on. Is this third-party threat still going to be as big of a headache for Joe Biden now? I guess that remains to be seen. DOVERE: Yes, like we'll see how this all develops. The Manchin had he run would have likely run on the ballot line of this group No Labels, this independent group that has been getting ballot lines all across the country. They were not so hot to the idea of him being their candidate, and that was part of what drove him to where he ended up today.

But that was a threat clearly because of the number of states that he would have been honored that any No Label candidate would be on going forward. If that continues, if it's a prominent candidate, then maybe No Labels will be a threat to Joe Biden. That's what a lot of Democrats fear.

These other candidates out there, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. obviously started out running as a Democrat, now running as an independent, he's toying with running as on the libertarian line. There are some who see him as a threat to Joe Biden, there are some who see him as a threat to Donald Trump. Those sums include people who work for Biden and work for Trump.

We're not sure exactly how this is going to play out as we go into what looks like a rematch between two candidates that polls show us voters keep saying they don't want except for the fact that they have chosen Joe Biden as the nominee for the Democrats and Donald Trump as their nominee for the Republicans.


ACOSTA: All right. Thanks very much, Isaac, for that, and thanks very much for joining INSIDE POLITICS on this very busy Friday afternoon. CNN "NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.