Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Elina Svitolina is Interviewed about Banning Russian Players; French Presidential Candidates Clash in Debate; DeSantis versus Disney; Paul Alexander's Story of Achieving his Dreams. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 08:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Wimbledon will not allow tennis players from Russia or Belarus to compete this year because of Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine and Belarus' support for that. In a statement, the All England Tennis Club said it would be, quote, unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive benefits from the involvement of players with the tournament. So joining us now is a Ukrainian professional tennis player, Elina Svitolina. She is ranked number 25 in the world.

Elina, thanks for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: Yes, as you know, in response to this decision, both the men and the -- women and the men's tennis associations, they are criticizing Wimbledon's decision.

What specifically do you want to hear from Russian and Belarusian players before they can be allowed to play in tournaments such as -- such as Wimbledon?

SVITOLINA: For us, for Ukrainian tennis players, there should be few questions posed to Russian and Belarusian players. Do they support the Russian and Belarusian invasion to Ukraine? Do they support their military activities that are happening in Ukraine? And do they support Putin and the Lukashenko regimes? These three questions should have been asked them. And, for me, if they would answer to those questions negatively, then they would be allowed to play.

But the -- Wimbledon made their decision. For me what is bad to see this (INAUDIBLE) that 85 percent of Russians, they support the war in Ukraine. So that's why I think it's very important to know those answers. And then we would know that there are no bad people among us. SCIUTTO: Elina, I've been covering this war for weeks. I know the --

and as my colleagues know and have witnessed, it's a horrible war and the people here are paying a horrible price.

As you know, though, in Belarus, in Russia, there can be consequences for people who publicly criticize the government. Not just for those people, but their families, the families of people left behind in Belarus and Russia who have criticized the government, they are punished as well. Does that make you reconsider what you're asking these tennis players to do?

SVITOLINA: There is danger for them. There is danger for us. Every single day there are people dying. There are kids dying. They are shooting schools, kindergartens, the buses with kids, women. There are horrible things happening. So there is danger in Ukraine. There is danger in Russia.

But I think what is happening, all the invasion, the war that's happening is much more horrible right now. And I'm from Ukraine and I don't know when the next time I'll be able to go back home. And -- as many other Ukrainians, that's their homes, their homes have been destroyed. So, that's why, for me, this is a genocide what is happening right now. That's why -- that's why we want to make it stop and that's why we are here speaking about it.

SCIUTTO: Before we go, Elina, have any Russian or Belarusian tennis players spoken to you privately and said, listen, I can't say this out loud, but I support you? Does that happen?

SVITOLINA: Very few. I can count on one hand how many tennis players came up to me, asked me how am I doing, how is my family, if everything is fine. So that's why, for many Ukrainians, it was a big surprise that not so many Russians, Belarusians came up to us and gave us their support. So, that's why, for us, was a big surprise and still a big mystery.



Well, listen, I certainly understand your reaction to this war here. What we're witnessing here is just -- it's heart breaking.

Well, I wish you and I wish your family safety as well.

Elina Svitolina, professional tennis player, thank you.

SVITOLINA: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: It is an election that could reshape Europe. Why Vladimir Putin was the focus at a fiery presidential debate in France.

Plus, back in the U.S., Republicans once touted themselves as pro- business. Now, they're picking fights with companies such as Disney, threatening to punish them economically. A reality check is ahead.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: French voters head to the polls on Sunday, where they'll decide whether to give Emmanuel Macron a second term or to elect his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen. The two sparred in a debate last night where Macron criticized Le Pen over her track record on Russia.

Let's listen to this.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, FRANCE (through translator): You depend on Russian power.


You depend on Mr. Putin. A few months after saying that, Madam Le Pen, you took out a loan from a Russian bank in 2015. First Check Russian Bank. When you talk about Russia, you're not talking to other world leaders, you are talking to your banker. That is a problem, Madam Le Pen. We see it. When there are brave and difficult stands to take, neither you nor your representatives are there.

MARINE LE PEN, French PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): He knows very well that I am a completely free and independent woman. I defend France and the French because I'm a patriot, and I've shown that all my life.


GOLODRYGA: Joining me now is Julia Ioffe, founding partner and the Washington correspondent of "Puck." We're also joined by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor.

Can we get to the bottom of this Russian bank loan? What is this about?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: So, several years ago, she did indeed take about a $10 million loan out from this Russian oriented bank, affiliated bank. And she's never denied it. She says she's going to pay it back. But that's a problem for her.

KEILAR: She hasn't paid it back?

JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND Washington CORRESPONDENT, "PUCK": It's been a while now. It's been a while now and she still hasn't paid it back.

You know what's interesting, though? Yesterday, Alexei Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader. weighed in from prison on Twitter with a long Twitter thread urging the French people to vote for Emmanuel Macron, saying, a, that Le Pen was not a true conservative. You know, and if she is representing conservative values, then why is she constantly repping Vladimir Putin and all his people who have second and third families and mistresses, et cetera, as if conservatives don't vote for that. And he said, you know, this loan from the Russian -- from a Russian bank is essentially, he said, our -- my team has investigated it. It's essentially money laundering. And it would be akin to Marine Le Pen taking a loan from Cosa Nostra, from the Italian mafia.

KEILAR: That's -- wow, it's incredibly interesting.

And she seems to put -- she puts a lot of her policies in -- she frames them as, this is what is best for the everyday French people, right? Keep money in their pockets. Don't cost them.

And, of course, when you're talking about, say, sanctions on Russia, there is a cost on the people who are, obviously, bearing them, right? There will be a cost on Europeans. There will be a cost on Americans.

But I wonder what you think because we're hearing from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he's maybe a little more tepid than Navalny, but he doesn't seem to be a fan.

TAYLOR: He's not a fan. But the interesting thing is, even Le Pen is backing off from her support for Putin. Putin is isolated. But even his -- people he lends money to do, like Marine Le Pen, are backing off from him. So, this is an isolated man, and he knows this.

KEILAR: But if she were elected, what -- how do you think the policies might change?

TAYLOR: So, she would, obviously, focus more on domestic issues. That's been her main thrust, as I understand it. And so she would focus on that.

Macron has been very active, not particularly effective, but very active in this in trying to find the solution. She probably would not do that.

KEILAR: I want to take a focus -- or focus a little bit on Mariupol because we heard Putin saying that he doesn't want to storm the Azovstal metal plant. He wants to lay siege, a very tight siege, to it.

What is this rhetoric say to you?

IOFFE: Well, he said he want the siege to be so tight that a fly can't fly in. And he said that the reason he wants to do that is he doesn't want Russian soldiers crawling around, as he said, in the labyrinth tunnels under the plant and that we have to spare Russian soldiers.

I think, one, that's a signal saying, no, no, no, we do care about the lives of our soldiers. They're not just cannon fodder. Which, you know, it's -- today marks eight weeks since the invasion and it seems they have been basically cannon fodder and that Putin hasn't really cared much to date about Russian casualties. Now he's saying he does.

And I think it's also this kind of like, you know, we don't even have to storm this thing. Let's just like -- let's starve them out. Let's smoke them out. It's this kind of, we already won, so why do we even have to bother with this? KEILAR: What do you think about it?

TAYLOR: So, I think that the Ukrainian people will see this as heroism. They will see -- they will see Mariupol as a hero city. They do see it. This will be an inspiration. We have our symbols that we remember. They will remember Mariupol. And they will fight on. They will fight to the death. And that's demonstrated, illustrated by the people -- by the soldiers and civilians in Mariupol.

KEILAR: And they'll celebrate that Putin couldn't even go in it get the holdouts, right?

Julia, Ambassador, thank you so much to both of you.

Just in, we are getting word of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine as the war is intensifying in the nation's east.

Plus, new audio purporting to reveal some serious morale issues within Russian forces.


Troops, soldiers saying that their commanders f-ed off and left us. We're live in Ukraine coming up.


KEILAR: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis snapping back at Disney after they paused political donations in Florida and condemned the so-called don't say gay bill. The state senate advancing a pair of bills pushed by the governor aimed directly at the company.

John Avlon has a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Nice amusement park you got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it. Yes, that's essentially the threat that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis unleashed on Disney after the company's CEO had the temerity to criticize a new state law dubbed don't say gay by critics.

But this is more than just the old free speech for me but not for thee hypocrisy because last night the Florida State Senate passed a bill in special session to eliminate Disney's special tax district status, which had been in place since 1967, and now goes to the GOP-led house. And this was done at the governor's request. It was retribution for political opposition.

See, it's funny how Disney just missed the cutoff date in 1968, but a special district for the villages, which is a massive retirement community with right wing sympathies, will remain untouched. Coincidence.

What makes it even more absurd is that Disney didn't even initially speak out against the bill, which in part restricts discussions on gender, sexuality in schools until after it was passed.


But even that meager pushback from one of the largest employers in his state was too much for this ivy league populist to tolerant.

This shakedown is actually part of a larger fight that's been brewing between the far right and big business. Now, keep in mind, the big -- the GOP has long been the party of business. The conservative movement championed by Ronald Reagan believed that freedom and free enterprise were one and the same. So the idea of a politician attacking a private business for not toeing a particular political line would have been seen as meddling with markets or much, much worse. But since the rise of Trump, we've seen a growing impulse by Republicans to threaten businesses.

Trump's attacks on business were a common occurrence. Business Insider (ph) counted at least 21 companies he criticized or threatened with taxes, boycotts or revoked licenses in just his first two and a half years in office.

But that behavior started catching inside the GOP. So, when Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 all-star game from Georgia in response to that state's restrictive new voting laws, Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina threatened its antitrust exemption status. Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz chimed in tweeting the #gowokegobroke. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the pile-on, saying that, quote, corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs. Though he later clarified that his warning for businesses to stay out of politics did not apply to political contributions.

And then, when phone companies chose to comply with the January 6th committee's request to turn over cell phone records, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reacted with a threat of retaliation saying this, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States. A Republican majority will not forget and stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.

And just in case this was too subtle for you, here's Fox's Laura Ingraham earlier this month.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: When Republicans, they get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing, everything will be on the table. Your copyright and trademark protection, your special status within certain states, and even your corporate structure itself.


AVLON: Imagine the reaction if a Democrat leveled a similar threat.

But this is now being mainstreamed inside the GOP. And now DeSantis wants to polish up his bona fides by getting there first. It's a sign of coming attractions. Because this isn't a debate about the right level of corporate tax rates or environmental regulations, these are outright threats of retaliation against private businesses, using the power of the government if they do not fall in line.

This is not conservative. It's radical. This is not freedom of speech. It's intimidation and coercion. And it is most definitely not pro- business.

And that's your "Reality Check."

KEILAR: You like that theme park, John Avlon? You like it all right?

AVLON: I like that theme park. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.

KEILAR: Sure would be a shame.

John Avlon, thank you so much for that.

AVLON: Take care, Brianna.

KEILAR: The face-off over masks hitting a new snag. What the Justice Department just did that could impact the way that you travel.

And we're waiting for -- we're waiting for an address from President Biden with an update on the war in Ukraine. And we just learned what he's going to announce.



KEILAR: The polio epidemic put Paul Alexander in an iron lung. But for 70 years with only the use of his head, he has broken barriers and is still going strong.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us his remarkable story in today's "The Human Factor."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Meet Paul Alexander. He's one of the last people in the world still in an iron lung. The iron lung works to change the air pressure and stimulate breathing.

It has been his home, keeping him alive for 70 years.

In 1952, Paul contracted polio, and became paralyzed from the neck down. He was six years old. A therapist promised Paul a dog if he could breathe on his own for three minutes.

PAUL ALEXANDER, 70 YEARS IN AN IRON LUNG: I developed a way to (INAUDIBLE) in air and breathe it. I worked on it for a year before I could breathe for three minutes. But I reached it.

GUPTA: Eventually, Paul would be able to gulp or take in air for hours at a time, allowing him to leave the confines of the iron lung during the day, and accomplish more than anyone thought was possible for him, college, law school, and a 30-year career as a courtroom attorney. Paul wrote his autobiography, and he's working on a second book now.

ALEXANDER: I've got some big dreams. I've got (INAUDIBLE) from anybody their limitations on my life.


I'm not going to do it. My life is incredible.


KEILAR: What an inspiration.

CNN's coverage continues right now.