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Isa Soares Tonight
U.S. House Speaker Arrives In Taiwan Despite Warnings From China; U.S. Strike Takes Out Top Terrorist In Afghanistan; Russia Intensifies Assault On Donetsk; Russia Defends Its Position In Kherson; Interview With International Security Studies, RUSI, Director Neil Melvin; Nancy Pelosi Arrives In Taiwan, Angering Beijing; Interview With Wilson Center Kissinger Institute On China And U.S. Director Robert Daly; Ukraine Grain Shipment Arrives In Turkey; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Back In Russian Court; Federal Judge Hands Down Sentence To A January 6th Rioter; Primary Season Kicks Off. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 02, 2022 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISA SOARES, HOST, ISA SOARES TONIGHT: A very warm welcome to the show everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, the U.S. is at the intersection of two
rapidly developing international stories. Just hours ago, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched down in Taiwan despite warnings from China.
And President Biden authorized a drone strike in Afghanistan that took out the world's most wanted terrorist.
But first, China says its military is on high alert and is preparing to take action in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's arrival in
Taiwan. Well, she touched down in the past few hours, saying in a new statement that she wants to reaffirm her unwavering support for democracy
there. In Taiwan, the reception was warm and bright, with the iconic Taipei 101 Tower lighting up, as you can see there with messages of support.
Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan's presidential office and parliament, as it's expected to happen on Wednesday. But just minutes after she landed,
Beijing issued this response, saying, "these moves like playing with fire are extremely dangerous. Those who play with fire will perish by it."
Well, as Taiwan ramps up security, Beijing says it will now make a series of quote, "targeted military operations, including joint air and sea drills
around the island." Speaking to CNN, China's ambassador to the U.S. say Beijing has the right to defend itself. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIN GANG, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Her visit in whatever form at whatever time during his tenure, you know, carries, you know, high
political sensitivities, and it will result in the escalation of the tension. China has every right to defend its sovereignty and territorial
integrity. We are fully justified to do what we must. The current situation is created purely by the U.S. side, so of course, it has to bear the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, the White House says Pelosi has every right to visit Taiwan, and has urged Beijing not to overreact. But the visit, of course, comes at
a time of hugely-strained relations between both sides. Selina Wang has more for you.
SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Destroyers opened fire, missiles launched, warships shoot into the sea. It's a show of
force ahead of China's military anniversary, training for war in the East China and Yellow Seas. Soldiers also recently run drills around Pingtan
Island, China's closest point to Taiwan just over 77 miles away, renewing fears of a cross-strait crisis.
Triggered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to the island.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good morning --
WANG: In a call with President Joe Biden last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned those who play with fire will perish by it. A prominent
hawkish voice in China even suggested that if U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi's plane into Taiwan, Chinese military should forcibly dispel
Pelosi's plane. if ineffective, then shoot them down. The tweet has now been banned.
He doesn't represent the official government stance, but state media has been promoting his threat. it's not just that Pelosi is the most powerful
U.S. official to visit in 25 years, but Beijing also sees her as a hostile figure. She's been a staunch critic of China for decades. In 1991, 2 years
after China military brutally cracked down on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, Pelosi traveled there and held a banner that read, "to
those who died for democracy in China".
U.S. President Joe Biden has raised concerns over Pelosi's trip.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The military thinks it's not a good idea right now.
WANG: This Chinese state media video says Pelosi is only going to Taiwan to boost her political career, and, that America's fragmented government
cannot agree on what to do about Taiwan. Neither side can afford to look weak. If Pelosi didn't go, it could look like the U.S. is caving to China's
bullying, whereas Xi Jinping is just months away from a key political meeting where he's expected to seek an unprecedented third term.
SUSAN SHIRK, 21ST CENTURY CHINA CENTER: Given the overreaching that Xi Jinping has been doing, I don't believe we can count on his good
WANG: For now, he's keeping the world guessing, as to whether the threats are just bluffing or if Beijing is actually ready for a crisis that could
escalate into a war that no one wants.
SOARES: Well, CNN's teams are covering all developments on this story. Selina Wang is in Beijing, Kylie Atwood is in New York. Selina, let me
start with you, I think it's fair to say about what we have seen in the last few hours in fact, that Beijing is seething. What has been the
reaction from China to Speaker Pelosi's arrival in Taiwan?
WANG: Well, seething would be an understatement. They are accusing Pelosi of maliciously provoking China, they see this as undermining China's
sovereignty, they have threatened powerful actions, and we are seeing them take some actions, the show of military force that we are seeing was
expected according to Taiwan's Defense Ministry, they said that China had flown 21 war planes into Taiwan's Air Identification Defense Zone the day
This is something that Beijing frequently does and has been regularly doing. We also according to state media, learned that they reported that as
Pelosi was arriving, China had sent fighter jets across the Taiwan Strait. In addition to that, after Pelosi's arrival, we heard this statement from
China's military saying that, this is a serious violation, and they announced a series of military exercises around Taiwan.
They said they are on high alert. Now, Beijing is not buying what officials in the U.S. have been repeating. They are saying, look, this is just
another regular congressional visit, there is no reason for an overreaction or an escalation. What Beijing sees is a high profile visit by the person
who is second in line to the presidency.
And in their view, this is seriously undermining the one China principle that the U.S. had agreed to. So really, the two sides are talking past each
other on this point. Of course, at this moment as well, Xi Jinping cannot afford to look weak, so we know that he has to show this show of strength,
the show of force, because we are just months away from a key political meeting when he's expected to step into this unprecedented third term.
But on the same note, he also needs stability, especially considering all of the problems that you're seeing here at home. So you are also seeing
this rhetorical escalation. This is also directed to the domestic audience here as much as it is directed overseas. It is true that 25 years ago, a
house speaker had visited Taiwan, but today is China is vastly different.
China now is more powerful in every regard, economically, militarily, and Xi Jinping is China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, and he does
not take insults or humiliation lightly. But some key question as we follow Pelosi's visit are what ultimately will be accomplished as a result of this
Will Taiwan be more secure or less secure? And how damaging could this be in the long-term for U.S.-China relations at a time when there's already so
much mutual distrust.
SOARES: Yes. Selina, do stay with us, let me go to Kylie. I mean, Speaker Pelosi, Kylie, has been defending and explaining her visit to Taiwan in a
statement, I saw her op-ed as well in the "Washington Post". Tell us what she said and really what she is hoping to get out of this trip.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, what she said in that op-ed was pretty clear, saying that Taiwan is plain and simple
under threat from the Chinese Communist Party. And the United States, the rest of the world can't just stand by and watch as that happens. And she
laid out her argument for this visit.
Really citing what China has done to threaten Taiwan increasingly so, over the last few years. Talking about the war planes that have flown into the
airspace surrounding Taiwan, talking about cyber attacks, economic efforts to target Taiwan from China. All of those things, she said make it really,
and incredibly important time for the Biden administration, for the U.S. government to reiterate their support for Taiwan.
Now, of course, some would say that she could do that in statements and the like, but you do have to also take into consideration the fact that she is
speaker of the house, she's not likely to be speaker of the house next year. So there is a little bit of this calculation for her, that is
probably related to her personal political legacy on the foreign policy stage, making this visit while she is still speaker.
I also think that It is important to note that the Biden administration has been very clear in expressing their support for Taiwan over the last year.
President Biden himself particularly so, some would say even going a little bit further than the strategic ambiguity that is the U.S. policy towards
Taiwan. But what Pelosi said in this "Washington Post" editorial that came out as soon as she landed on the island was that, the Biden administration
Department of Defense officials do expect that China is preparing a contingency to unify Taiwan and China by force.
And that is one of the reasons that she felt compelled to make sure that the Taiwanese and China also know just how supported Taiwan is by herself
and by the U.S. government with this trip.
SOARES: Yes, important context there from Kylie Atwood and from Selina Wang, appreciate it, thank you very much ladies. Well, the United States
warns the Taliban could face consequences for harboring Ayman al-Zawahiri; the al Qaeda leader who was on the run for decades before he was hunted
down and killed.
Today, we are learning more about the meticulously planned U.S. operation to assassinate him in Afghanistan. CNN has identified this building as his
hideout in downtown Kabul. A senior U.S. official says Zawahiri was standing on a balcony when he was killed in a missile strike over the
The White House released this image of President Joe Biden discussing the top secret operation with aids on July 1st. That lock box you see on the
table actually held a small scale replica of Zawahiri's house, constructed so that President Biden could fully understand his options.
Well, Mr. Biden calls it justice delivered for the families of 9/11, saying Zawahiri was deeply involved in planning the terror attacks. An official
tells CNN how the U.S. managed to track him down. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COODINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: What we were able to do was stitch together some
intelligence based on the movements of his family quite frankly, and then once we tracked them into Kabul, we were able to then -- be able to track
him in his efforts to reunite them. That led into weeks if not several months of making sure that we had the right guy, that this was in fact Mr.
Zawahiri, and that this was in fact their residents.
And then of course, developing a pattern of life, his habits, if and when he went outside, how often on what days, for how long, all that kind of
stuff, factored into it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, let's get more now from CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. And Barbara, before we talk about really the significance of this --
of his attack, talk to us about the operation itself. You know, the challenge of finding him, tracking him and killing him in this precision
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I suppose in a way it starts really one year ago at the end of last August when the U.S. left
Afghanistan. No troops on the ground, no planes. No military or publicly acknowledged U.S. personnel inside Afghanistan. That may have led in fact
to somebody like Zawahiri feeling more comfortable that he could go into Afghanistan, that he could go to Kabul, it was controlled by the Taliban
allies and he may not have felt any threat.
So fast-forward, around April, the U.S. begins to realize that his family is there as you heard John Kirby say, and they began to track Zawahiri's
whereabouts. They begin to understand he is in a house in a very well to do neighborhood in Kabul, and they continued to track him. The U.S. has not
acknowledged and does not say that there were any Americans on the ground as part of this Intelligence-gathering operation.
So we are assuming that it was done by drones overhead, possibly communications intercepts, nothing that would involve American government
personnel on the ground. And they begin to stitch the picture together. And then it was really last Sunday that President Biden gave the final OK after
he was assured again apparently, knows there was very little risk of civilian casualties and they were absolutely positive they could get their
SOARES: Thank you very much, Barbara Starr there for us, we'll talk more about the significance of Zawahiri's assassination and what it means --
SUSANNAH GEORGE, AFGHANISTA & PAKISTAN BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes --
SOARES: For the future of al Qaeda. I'm joined now by Susannah George; the Afghanistan and Pakistan Bureau chief for "The Washington Post". Susannah,
thanks very much for joining us. Talk to us really about how much of a demoralizing blow this is for al-Qaeda.
GEORGE: Well, this is a clear indication that the Taliban are not abiding by the Doha Agreement, which a key part of that agreement was that they
would not allow terrorists with international ambitions to live on Afghan soil after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
So this was a key part of the Doha Agreement and it was also a key part of the Biden administration's counterterrorism strategy, this over-the-horizon
counterterrorism strategy that rested upon this Taliban commitment.
To not allow people like Zawahiri to live in central Kabul for months. So, that is -- raises a lot of questions about the future of this over-the-
horizon counterterrorism strategy, and it gives us a glimpse into what it could look like in the future.
SOARES: And I suppose it begs the question at this stage, whether really, Susannah, whether this can be -- whether, you know, the Taliban can be
GEORGE: Oh, I think it certainly --
SOARES: It's the most obvious question --
GEORGE: It begs that question. Yes, it does. I mean, this was part of Kabul that was incredibly highly secured by the Taliban. The Taliban, for
all of their shortcomings --
SOARES: Yes --
GEORGE: In terms of governing, are incredibly good at providing security. This is a place where a lot of NGOs were based, a lot of foreign
organizations were based, a lot of senior Taliban leaders. There is no way that Zawahiri was able to live in this area without Taliban acknowledgment
So, that shows that the U.S., moving forward with their counterterrorism strategy, I mean, we could see, if this continues this way, we could see a
series of drone attacks in Afghanistan against terrorist officials like Zawahiri. And is that really what the Biden administration wants the future
of their counterterrorism strategy to be in Afghanistan?
SOARES: I want to play, Susannah, a little clip of what John Kirby said exactly about that, the kind of the violation of the Doha Agreement that
took months and months to agree upon. Let's listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRBY: We've made it very clear that this was a violation, not that we believe, not that we think, it was a violation of the Doha Agreement, which
specifically says and it commits them to not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven or a launching pad for attacks against the United
States or other of our allies and partners.
And clearly, because Mr. Zawahiri was not only there, but was actively encouraging his followers to plot and plan attacks against American
interests and the American homeland, that's a violation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: How do you think, then, Susannah, will this shift any sort of relationship of discourse or communication that the U.S. may have with the
GEORGE: I spoke to a Taliban Intelligence official, and what he said and what the Taliban have said for months now, is yes, there are people with
links to al-Qaeda who are in Afghanistan. They say these people are not operational, they're not planning operations. And so, that actually does
not violate the Doha Agreement. Obviously, the United States does not agree with that.
But he defended Zawahiri's presence because he said that he was there with his family as a refugee from Pakistan -- he had moved over from Pakistan,
and that he was not actively planning any operations against the U.S. or U.S. interests overseas. And so, it actually was not a violation.
SOARES: No, very quickly. Are you surprised of just how the attack unfolded, the fact that he was caught, really, in his veranda so brazenly
and so specifically and so targeted?
GEORGE: I'm not surprised. What I am surprised by is how long it took to coordinate this attack --
SOARES: Yes --
GEORGE: In a way that minimizes civilian casualties. This was a months- long --
SOARES: Yes --
GEORGE: Operation that the Biden administration admitted, and so we can see that this over-the-horizon counterterrorism operations, they're not
going to be quick responses. These are going to be long planned operations.
SOARES: But then I suppose it begs the question whether the U.S. can keep up this level of vigilance, intelligence, resources in the long haul.
GEORGE: Exactly, if there are not U.S. assets on the ground --
SOARES: Yes --
GEORGE: In Afghanistan, and the U.S. Is going to rely almost entirely on aerial surveillance in order to conduct counter-terrorism operations, now,
that's a very -- that's a very serious question.
SOARES: Susannah George, really appreciate it, thank you very much for coming in --
GEORGE: Thank you.
SOARES: Well, Zawahiri may have been infamous, of course, for his role in September 11th. He declared war on the United States as far back as 1998.
Michael Holmes traces the roots of Zawahiri's long links to terror.
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, TERRORIST: We want to speak to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?!
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time Ayman al- Zawahiri burst onto the world scene after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he was already a terrorist, committed to turning
Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state. The young doctor came from one of Egypt's leading families, there's even an al-Zawahiri Street in Cairo
named after his grandfather. His uncle described him as pious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was known that he is a good Muslim who -- and he came to pray at time in the Mosque, and so -- and to read, and to sing, and
to have his own decisions.
HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri spent three years in prison after Sadat's assassination. After he got out, he made his way to Pakistan, where he used
his medical skills to treat those fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. That's where he met Osama bin Laden and they found a common
cause. He talked about it a decade later.
AL-ZAWAHIRI: We are working with brother bin Laden. We know him since more than 10 years. We have walked for 10 years in that sense. And we are
working with him in Sudan and in many other places.
HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri was many places in the early 1990s, even it's believed visiting California on a false passport. His group attacked Egyptian
Embassies and tried to kill Egyptian politicians, eventually al-Zawahiri folded his group into al-Qaeda.
SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Al-Zawahiri pretty much led the group. He did the strategic policy of what al-Qaeda's agenda was.
Certainly, bin Laden gave his authority and blessings to it, but al- Zawahiri called the shots.
HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri was at bin Laden's side when he declared war on America in May, 1998. Weeks later, they launched an attack on U.S.
embassies in Africa, and then gloated after they escaped a U.S. cruise missile attack launched in retaliation. After the 9/11 attacks, al-Zawahiri
began to become the voice of al-Qaeda, taunting the U.S.
AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator): American people, you must ask yourselves, why all this hate against America?
HOLMES: After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were on the run. Sometimes together, more often apart. His wife and
daughters were killed in a U.S. airstrike aimed at him. But he continued to issue messages on subjects ranging from the war in Iraq to the London
subway attacks in 2005. And while he was always the likely choice to succeed Osama bin Laden, it took the organization several weeks to announce
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al-Zawahiri, he's not charismatic, he is not been -- was not involved in the fight
earlier on in Afghanistan. So -- and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you're going to see them start eating
themselves from within more and more.
HOLMES: Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda can never be the same.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: It's an idea personified by Osama bin Laden. He was this charismatic figure to join al-Qaeda. You saw -- you pledged a
personal oath to him. People went and died not for Ayman Zawahiri or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but for Osama bin Laden.
HOLMES: Terror experts say that two Jihadists worldwide, al-Qaeda still has great appeal as an inspiration. And while al-Zawahiri was an obvious
successor to bin Laden, it's not at all clear who would succeed al- Zawahiri.
SOARES: And still to come tonight, there's fierce fighting in Ukraine. We will take a look at the front lines and tell you who is making gains and at
what cost. That is next.
SOARES: Welcome back to the show, everyone. Russia is bearing down on eastern Ukraine with intense shelling, that is according to Ukrainian
forces. They say Russian troops are targeting civilian infrastructure in the Donetsk region. But Ukrainian military officials say they have repelled
Russian advances. They have also started the mandatory evacuation of civilians in Donetsk.
Meanwhile, Ukraine wants Russia sending more troops as well as equipment to Kherson, that is in the south. Well, I'm joined now by Neil Melvin;
director of International Security Studies, RUSI, a British defense and security think-tank. Neil, thank you very much for joining us. Let's start
off with the front lines.
It seems that we have various frontlines now. What's started in the east, we now have the south. Talk us through the state of play as you see it
right now, six months in.
NEIL MELVIN, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, RUSI: Yes, we're really at a critical moment I think in the war, in which we're seeing a
transition in the fighting. The war has gone through three phases. The first phase was very much focused on the battle for Kyiv, we saw that --
SOARES: Yes --
MELVIN: In February and March. Then it moved into the Donbas area, and now we're seeing fighting spreading and really being focused around the
southern area, as Ukraine is seeking to push the Russian forces back. And so this is a new development emerging.
SOARES: Let's focus on Kherson. This is a bigger picture of what we saw in Kherson. In the last few days, as you said, we've seen heavy shelling in
Mykolaiv, Kryvyi Rih as well, as of course as you're saying, the Ukrainians are trying to regain, push -- regain that ground and try to push the
Russian forces out. How do you see that movement? Can -- do you think they can achieve this by September as Ukrainians were suggesting?
MELVIN: Well, what Ukraine is trying to do now is in the months up to the Winter, to really push back into this territory that Russia grabs from
February onwards. And Kherson is the key initial strategic point. The only city that the Russians managed to seize in the war so far. But also all
these Russian forces to try and trap them west of the Dnipro River, which is just here --
SOARES: Yes --
MELVIN: And cut them off. If Ukraine can do that, of course, it would be a big strategic victory. It would be the first time that the Russians have
been defeated in a war, and also the territories being regained.
SOARES: And just explain why the Dnipro River is so important. The Russians -- how the Russians were using it here?
MELVIN: Well, in the initial phases of the war, the Russians were hoping to push across Ukraine to the west, and the Dnipro River really divides
Ukraine between east and west. It's a natural barrier. So, the fact that the Ukrainians are able to push them back, and then potentially even push
into this area, which would be at the heartland of Russian gains, that would count as a massive victory if Ukrainians could do that.
SOARES: How if -- how much have the HIMARS really played a part in the Ukrainian battle in pushing the Russians back here? Specifically, and we've
seen that mostly in Kherson --
MELVIN: Yes --
SOARES: Now, I believe.
MELVIN: Well, the HIMARS, these are the multiple rocket systems that the West has been providing in various formats. But what they've allowed the
Ukrainians to do is really undermine what the Russian advantage was. In the battle for Donbas, they had massive artillery advantages.
SOARES: Yes, this is --
MELVIN: Ukrainians have been targeting the arms supplies, the operating forward bases of the Russians and the infrastructure. So the Russians now
have lost that artillery advantage, and they've been very accurate, Ukrainians, in taking this out. So, now, we see that there's been a massive
drop-off in Russian artillery activity. They're not able to play that card anymore. And this is why the Ukrainians are now beginning to be able to
push them back.
SOARES: And give us an idea, obviously, Dnipro River has played a huge part in how the Ukrainians are pushing the Russians back. But how effective
-- I mean, what kind of -- what measures are we seeing, how clever are the Russians becoming in trying to control, you think, trying to control of
MELVIN: Well, the HIMARS and the whole now shift in the dynamic of the conflict, is seeing the Russians have to change their tactics. They have to
disperse their forces in a way we haven't --
SOARES: Yes --
MELVIN: Seen before. And they're having to dig in and defend. And this is going to be what's going to characterize the next phase of the war, which
is the Russians trying to build defenses in the south, to bring their forces down to the south, and Ukrainians trying to break through with their
SOARES: Let's have a focus then on really how this war started. And it started on the eastern front. How do you see this battle? I mean, are we at
a stalemate here?
MELVIN: Well, the peak of the Russian success was really in June and July, which they managed to push into this Luhansk region and take most of it.
Take a couple of key cities here, Northern Donetsk, several Donetsk. Now, we see that the Russians are not really making very much progress at all.
Only a few hundred meters each day.
SOARES: Why is that then?
MELVIN: A big factor is the western weapons. But also, the Russians have now -- they're starting to run out of fresh troops. Their troops have been
in the field since February, they have not done a massive mobilization, so they are not being able to pull in large numbers. They are bringing in some
private contractors, but they haven't got the troops that allow them to breakthrough anymore.
SOARES: Yes. And we are starting to see evacuations from President Zelenskyy. I want to get you back to the main map for our viewers. This is
where the battles now are being fought, your view now where this could go next is the final -- obviously this is here. Then, now, they are trying to
take the south. Where should we be looking to next, would you say, Neil?
MELVIN: Yes. Well, this is going to be the center of activity here, focused into Kherson, but also here into Zaporizhia here. But the conflict
will also carry on in Donbas, because as the Russians are moving their forces south to try to block the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians will look for
opportunities also to push back into Donbas, where they have lost some territory.
So, it's going to be quite a dynamic battlefield over the next four months after the winter, but the south is really where battles are going to be
SOARES: Right. So, that's the next phase of this war. Neil Melvin, we really appreciate you taking your time. Thank you very much.
And still to come right here on the show, Beijing vows targeted military operations as Nancy Pelosi arrives in Taiwan. We take a look at tonight's
top story. That's next.
SOARES: Welcome back everyone. While China is vowing targeted military operations in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to
Taipei. Pelosi arrived just hours ago visiting Taiwan despite warnings by both Washington as well as Beijing. Pelosi says the trip is intended to
reaffirm support for democracy on the island.
Well, let's explore the ramifications of this visit. Robert Daly is director of Wilson Center at Kissinger Institute on China and U.S. And he
joins us now from Washington, D.C.
Robert, thank you very much for joining us.
I just want to read out a statement, really, for our viewers that we received from Beijing, that Beijing issued, in fact, just minutes after
Pelosi landed. It says, these moves, like playing with fire, are extremely dangerous. Those who play with fire will perish by it.
More fiery rhetoric as you can see there from Beijing, or is there a risk that this could escalate?
ROBERT DALY, DIRECTOR, WILSON CENTER KISSINGER INSTITUTE ON CHINA AND U.S.: There is always a risk always, I think it's unlikely in this case. When
Beijing speaks of targeted military action, they probably don't mean something targeted as human beings or at other military assets. And they
may not mean an action taken while Speaker Pelosi is in Taiwan.
Beijing can take its time. They can act at a moment of their choosing. But they think a little more (ph) efficacious for them. But this could include
things like live missile exercises where the missiles fall into the water or flying closer to Taiwan than it has previously. The language sounds
murderous, the action could escalate, but it is unlikely to be something fatal.
SOARES: You know, in the meantime, we have heard from h Speaker Pelosi, she issued a statement today. She also put her op-ed in "Washington Post"
when she landed, where she is being defendant, Robert -- defending and explaining her visit to, what she says, promote, obviously, democratic
values. Do you think that she needed to go to show this solidarity with Taiwan? Was this trip needed?
DALY: I don't think it was a necessary trip. We have been sending more assets, more leaders to Taiwan. We have been helping them to gain more
international space. We have been receiving Taiwanese officials at a higher level in the United States, and I think that that is all fine. There is a
good reason to do that.
I don't believe that the Pelosi visit adds any reassurance to Taiwan, but I think that it does provoke Beijing. Her justification further in the
"Washington Post" is a little strange, she says that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 set out America's commitment to a democratic Taiwan. That is
wrong. Taiwan was not a democracy at the time, it was a one-party dictatorship and the Taiwan Relations Act makes no mention of democracy.
And so, we have both from Beijing in its way and from Washington in its way, a reinterpretation or a conflation of some of the documents that had
been seen as the foundation of peace in the Taiwan Strait, that foundation appears to be eroded.
SOARES: So, how much then, Robert, is this trip about optics and not giving into China more than policy at this stage?
DALY: Well, the justification most often heard in Washington is that the trip should be made to show Beijing that we will not back down from its
threats. But that is a second order of concern. There would -- these threats wouldn't have existed if the trip hadn't been planned. So, we are
making a trip in order to assert our right to make a trip even if it doesn't, in fact, advance American interests.
DALY: Great powers get into these kinds of escalatory games. What's concerning is that our energies are going into this kind of mutual testing
rather than into the kinds of dialogues we need to get a little bit more stability in the area and to try to manage U.S.-China relations well, even
as that relationship gets more fraught and more contentious.
SOARES: And like you said, I think it's -- you know, there is so much mistrust, the relation between U.S. and China are already quite strained,
how do you think this will impact then, Robert, this relationship?
DALY: I think the long-term impact of the Pelosi visit will be negative all around. In Taiwan -- I mean, I'm sorry. In Mainland China, coming after
the trade war and all of the friction over COVID, this will cement in the minds of Chinese policymakers, and the Chinese public that the United
States is simply opposed to China's rise, that it wants to constrain China and keep it down.
In the United States and I think in much of the rest of the world, you know, Beijing is really bellicose over the top rhetoric, that you started
out by quoting, is going to cement the idea that China is a dangerous new power. That it is a bully and that it does not always play in accordance
with international best practices. Beijing does not come out of this looking good.
SOARES: Obviously, we are focusing on the U.S., we're focusing on China, but let's not forget Taiwan. Do you fear, Robert, that this could ramp up
China's military as well as economic coercion of Taiwan? Does it put Taiwan at risk here?
DALY: Beijing has been coercing Taiwan heavily since Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, was elected about seven years ago. They've been ramping up
military pressure, they have been isolating it internationally, particularly in the economic sphere.
And I think that it will -- things will be slightly worse because of the Pelosi visit, China will take some new military action that it hasn't taken
previously, they have promised us that. And that will set a precedent. That will establish a new baseline, so they will be essentially be pushing upon
towards greater intimidation of Taiwan. That's just because of the Pelosi visit. Aside from the Pelosi visit, U.S.-China relations continue to
deteriorate in almost every track, and that too is going to put more pressure on Taiwan.
SOARES: Such important insight and context. Robert Daly, we really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. Thank you very much, Robert.
DALY: Thank you.
SOARES: And still to come tonight, Brittney Griner's trial in Russia continues. The American athlete's first court appearance since we have
learned about a potential prisoner swap. We'll have the details next.
SOARES: Well, a ship carrying Ukrainian grain has just anchored in Turkish waters. The ship left Odessa on Monday, carrying 27,000 tons of corn. Its
passage was delayed due to bad weather. It will now be inspected by Turkish officials, then will head off to Lebanon. And of course, it's the first
shipment of grain to leave Ukraine since Russia invaded. We'll keep on top of that story for you.
Now, American basketball star, Brittney Griner, was back in court a short time ago. She's detained in Russia on drug possession charges. This was her
seventh hearing and her first appearance since we learned that the White House was offering to exchange a Russian arms dealer for her and another
If convicted, Griner could face 10 years in prison. She is set to return to court later this week. CNN's Fred Pleitgen spoke with her lawyer. Have a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tell me how Brittney is doing now ahead of this court date? Because she said she's a
bit nervous, but also quite focused.
MARIA BLAGOVOLINA, BRITTNEY GRINER'S LAWYER: She's still focused and she's still nervous. And she still knows that the end is near. And of course, she
heard the news. So, she is hoping that sometimes she could be coming home. And we hope too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Fred Pleitgen joins me now live from Moscow.
Fred, so she's focused, but still nervous. Give us a sense of what happened today. What did we hear, crucially, from this expert witness, Fred?
PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, certainly, there's a sense that this trial is going to be coming to an end very soon. And you could really feel how Brittney
Griner, obviously, is becoming more and more focused, and somewhat nervous as the final days of this trial move on.
Today, what the defense did is they -- really, as part of their broader strategy, they called an expert witness to sort of try to cast doubt on
some of the original forensics that were done on those vaping cartridges that Brittney Griner has admitted to having had with her as she tried to
enter Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17th, saying that some of the analysis was done apparently, as they put, not done in a scientific
way. Apparently, there were some serial numbers that were not put into a certain form.
So, in any case, they are trying to cast some doubt on some of the forensics. And the quantity of THC that might have been inside those vaping
cartridges, and that's really part of a larger strategy, Isa, that we've been seeing from the defense. Where on the one hand, Brittney Griner has,
of course, pleaded guilty. She has shown remorse. She has said that she accidentally packed those vaping cartridges and did not mean to break
Russian law. But at the same time, they also tried to cast some doubt on some of the things that were in those initial findings when Brittney Griner
She's also, of course, had some character witnesses as well, testifying to the fact that. But, of course, she's done a lot for basketball around the
world, but specifically in Russia. And she also said during her testimony, that was very important for her, to be back in Russia and to be with her
teammates. All of this, as the defense, as they once again said today, is looking for leniency.
We know that Russian courts have an extremely high rate of conviction, well over 90 percent. So, essentially, if they don't get her acquitted, they do,
at least, want a fairly lenient sentence. And, you know, the defense team believes that they've so far had done as well as they possibly could under
these circumstances. And now, they say, of course, it's up to the court to decide things.
So, the next trial date is on Thursday. But Brittney Griner's legal team told us today that they believe that not only closing arguments could
happen on thursday, but we might actually also have a verdict. So, this trial could be coming to an end very soon.
SOARES: Wow. OK.
PLEITGEN: Obviously, a very important time. Also, as that possible prisoner exchange is also being discussed, Isa.
SOARES: Yes. On that, where are we on the negotiation front about this potential prisoner exchange that we heard about last week from Secretary
SOARES: How much crucially does this loom large over this trial, Fred?
PLEITGEN: Yes, I think loom large exactly the right word. It definitely looms large over this trial. However, of course, right now, it's not clear
whether or not there is actually active negotiations going on, whether or not the U.S. and Russia are even engaged at this point in time, or whether
it's some sort of waiting game that is going on.
We did ask today, obviously, the defense team about that as well and they said they are not aware of any negotiations. They have not heard about any
negotiations. They've heard, you know, from the media that the U.S., obviously, came out and said that they made a substantial offer, not just
for Brittney Griner, but of course, also for Paul Whelan, the former marine who has been sentenced to 16 years here in Russia, alleged espionage
charges, which he denies.
Brittney Griner's team says, they believe that in order for an exchange to take place, there needs to be a verdict in her trial first. So, that's
something that they say is very important. So, we are going to wait and see how that plays out, but presumably a verdict has to happen first.
SOARES: Yes. And perhaps, like you said, it could happen as early as Thursday. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks, Fred.
And still to come tonight, America goes to the polls as primary season heats up. We will go live to Arizona where some candidates are causing
concern. We will explain, next.
SOARES: Welcome back. Now, a federal judge has handed down the stiffest sentence we've seen so far given to a January 6th rioter. Guy Reffitt has
been sentenced to seven years in prison for his involvement in the insurrection. It comes nearly 20 months after he brought a gun to the
capitol and made threatening comments about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Back in March, Reffitt was convicted of five felonies, and it seems his actions and punishment are dividing his family. Here's his daughter's
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH REFFITT, GUY REFFITT'S DAUGHTER: To mark my dad is this horrible person and then, having him prosecuted like this when somebody is maybe
even able to get elected again, does not seem right to me.
PEYTON REFFITT, GUY REFFITT'S DAUGHTER: Trump deserves life in prison if my father is in prison for this long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: And there were some even harsher words from his wife.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLE REFFITT, GUY REFFITT'S WIFE: No matter if you are a liberal, if you're an independent, if you are a Republican, this is not OK. This is
what this is, it's political persecution. We are patriots. Ashli Babbitt was a patriot. My husband is a patriot. Rosanne Boyland was a patriot. And
all I can say, it's that you all can all go to hell and I'm going back to Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: But Guy Reffitt's son, Jackson, is taking a very different approach. Here's what he told CNN earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON REFFITT, GUY REFFITT'S SON: I don't view this as a political matter. This is more of what is morally correct and how to go about it.
This isn't a matter of a political opinion, what my father did is far from politics. This is completely off the rail violence. It's more about what he
did and who he did it for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, Jackson warned the FBI about his father before and after the insurrection. And this is all happening as America gears up for primary
season. Voters in five states head to the polls later today, and all eyes are on Arizona, as the Republicans pick a Senate candidate to challenge
incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.
As the capitol rioters are sentenced for their part in the insurrection fueled by the belief, of course, the election was stolen, many of the
contenders on the Republican ballot are election deniers. CNN's Kyung Lah Larger is now live from a polling station in Phoenix, Arizona.
And, Kyung, you know, the governor's race is almost really, as we outlined their, a proxy battle between Former President Donald Trump, and his vice
president, Mike Pence. So, who is likely to win and what does that crucially tell us, Kyung, about the future of the Republican Party?
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with who there -- going to the polls to vote for. We will start there, Isa.
I'm at a polling place and the races that we are specifically watching are happening on the Republican Party side. That's where the heated contests
are happening. And we are specifically looking at the top state administrator in Arizona, which is the governor, and there are two
candidates who are battling it out as front runners. The Trump backed Kari Lake. She is a former TV newscaster. She is well-known in the Phoenix Metro
area. And she has been backed by Donald Trump. She is an election denier. She's made it the centerpiece of her candidacy.
She is facing a candidate who Mike Pence and Arizona's governor, Doug Ducey, has backed, Karrin Taylor Robson. They are by many state polls
difficult to tell who exactly is in the lead. There are a lot of different methodologies with state polling. It's very difficult to tell but we can
say that it does appear to be very, very close.
So, what we are seeing here in the State of Arizona, Isa, is a true test of democracy because election lies have taken center stage here in this
primary ballot. There are the Republicans who have either said that they have faced the facts that Donald Trump, in fact, did not win the State of
Arizona in 2020. It has been proven again and again. And then, there are those who say that they believed Trump's lie and they want to not only be
the top administrator of the state, but then, also, administer elections.
The secretary of state is on the ballot and that candidate has also embraced Trump's lie. So, a true test of democracy here, Isa. By the end of
the day, we do hope to know, where democracy in this state will stand. Isa.
SOARES: Yes. I mean, it's the debate -- the baseless debate, I think is fair to say, over the validity, of course, of the presidential election,
still very much front and center there in Arizona. Kyung Lah, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
And don't forget, you can catch up with interviews and analysis from the show online on my Instagram @IsaSoaresCNN and my Twitter feed too. Do stay
right here. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next. I shall see you tomorrow. Bye-bye.