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Assassination Attempts on Russians; Brittney Griner's Trail Begins; Rep. Colin Allred is Interviewed about Brittney Griner; Joe Walsh is Interviewed about Trump's 2024 Prospects. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 01, 2022 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, at least 19 people are dead, including two children, 38 were injured in these overnight strikes in Ukraine's Odessa region. Three Russian missiles hit a nine- story building in a recreation center as officials there say the number of victims likely to rise as search and rescue operations continue. We are told the missiles are the same type Russian forces used when they hit a mall in Kremenchuk. This happened one day after Russian forces evacuated Snake Island. A Kremlin spokesperson has denied that Russia targets civilians, although, as we've seen in the past, civilians often hit by Russian attacks all over the country in places where clearly the Russians know that civilians are.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some new CNN reporting. U.S. officials saying that Ukrainians in the Russian-occupied Kherson region have carried out a trio of assassination attempts on pro- Russian officials here over the past two weeks. They believe this suggests a growing resistance that could challenge Russia's control over captured territory across Ukraine.

And CNN's Oren Liebermann is with us now on this story.

They're watching this very carefully.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Of course, because these three assassination attempts have come in the same region in a very short period of time. Now, officials say there doesn't appear to be any organization or command and control behind this. But as you said, it's something they're watching because they see here evidence of a potential growing resistance movement, one that may, in the long run, and Russia has made it clear that they intend to occupy this in the long run, may turn into a counterinsurgency.

The first one came just about two weeks ago on June 16th when the pro- Russian head of the prison service of Eugeniy Sobolev was targeted in an attack right near his car. He was hospitalized but not killed.

Then, less than a week later, there was another bomb right next to a car against the pro-Russian head of the youth and sports department. Dmitry Savluchenko. That attack killed him. And then just earlier this week there was a third assassination attempt. The U.S. is watching this to see how it develops and if it spreads from here.

Again, there doesn't appear to be a level of organization behind this right now. The U.S. assesses, according to U.S. officials, that Russia doesn't have enough forces or enough pro-Russian authorities in Kherson to control the region and, therefore, that may be the window that has allowed this to happen. Russia has pulled troops from Kherson to feed the ongoing fight in Donbas. The U.S. assesses that if this continues in the long run, Russia will face a counterinsurgency as they try to crack down on Ukrainian ethnicity, history and culture that only motivates that counter insurgency, that growing resistance more. But, again, this is still very early on and has only come within a very short span here.

Now, the question of, did Russia prepare for this. It appears that answer is yes after long and bloody insurgencies in Afghanistan and Grozny. That's why you see the filtration camps and the removal of Ukrainian authorities, their replacement, Brianna, with pro-Russia officials.

KEILAR: All right, Oren Liebermann live for us from Washington. Thank you.

As the trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner gets underway today in Russia, Griner's wife is speaking out to CNN.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you trust that the maximum amount of effort is being put forward to bring BG home?



KEILAR: More from this exclusive interview with CNN's Abby Phillip, next.

BERMAN: Plus, the woman suspected of murdering an elite American cyclist finally captured in Costa Rica. How authorities say she got away for so long. That's ahead.



BERMAN: Happening now, WNBA star Brittney Griner in a Moscow courtroom for the start of her trial. Griner has been detained in Russia since February, accused of smuggling drugs in her luggage.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live outside the courtroom for us this morning.



And the reason we're outside the courtroom is because we were not let inside the courtroom by the court here. They said that the room is actually too small. Nevertheless, we did see Brittney Griner as she was led into the courtroom. I would say that that was about an hour ago.

We are getting some information from inside as well. Apparently the charges were read to Brittney Griner. Then there was an opening statement by the prosecution and after that there is apparently right now, as we speak, a break that's going on. It's unclear when the trial is going to resume.

However, the court here has already said not to expect a verdict today. And you're absolutely right to say that the Russian authorities are claiming that Brittney Griner tried to smuggle narcotics into the country. They say that it was cartridges with CBD, so cannabis oil for vaping that she attempted to bring in through the airport that's not very far from where I am right now.

Again, unclear how long this trial is going to last. However, what is clear is that in the Russian legal system very difficult for defendants. Of course, she does face up to ten years in prison if indeed she is convicted, John.

BERMAN: All right, Fred, this is going on throughout the morning. It's great to have you there. Please keep us posted. Thank you.

KEILAR: Now to a CNN exclusive. Abby Phillip spoke with Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, and she said the U.S. isn't doing enough to bring Britney home.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you trust that the maximum amount of effort is being put forward to bring BG home?

CHERELLE GRINER, WIFE OF DETAINED WNBA STAR BRITTNEY GRINER: No, I don't. And I hate to say that because I do trust that they are -- that the persons working on this are very genuine people. That I do believe.

But I don't think the maximum amount of effort is being done because, again, the rhetoric and the actions don't match.


You know, when you have a situation where BG can call our government, the embassy, 11 times, and that phone call don't get answered, you don't have my trust at that point until I see actions that are in BG's best interests. It would have been in her best interests for her phone call to have been answered. It would be in her best interest for her to be back on U.S. soil. So until I see things like that, no. PHILLIP: I know that you've had some conversations with the secretary

of state and with other officials, but you want to talk to President Biden, right?

GRINER: Absolutely. And the reason why is because I'm new to this, you know, so I don't -- I'm no politician. I just graduated law school. So I can only, you know -- I can only do those things that are being told are beneficial for my wife. And the most beneficial thing that I've been told is that, you know, you meet with President Biden, you know, he has that power. He is a person, you know, that ultimately will make that decision for BG to come home. And so while everybody else wants to tell me they care, I would love for him to tell me that he cares.

PHILLIP: What do you want to tell him? If you were to sit in front of him, what would you say speaking directly to him?

GRINER: Well, honestly, the first thing is, I want to humanize my wife to him. You know, BG, she's no politician. She, honestly, you know, didn't really get into this type of stuff when it comes to voting and all of that until, you know, we got married and, obviously, I'm very, very, very big on, you know, voting and all of, you know, the legal process and stuff in our system. And so this is our first year voting. You know, so his ballot was my wife's first-time --

PHILLIP: She voted for President Biden?

GRINER: She did. You know, she took -- made that conscious decision to trust in him and his administration.

PHILLIP: There's talk of prisoner swaps being the thing that needs to happen. Is that what you think should be done? Do you think that the administration should say, we will swap who you want for Brittany and bring her home?

GRINER: To the very honest with you, I don't really listen to much of the talk about the how and measures of, you know, what is necessary to get her home. But if that's what's necessary, then, yes, do it.


KEILAR: All right, joining us now is Democratic Congressman Colin Allred of Texas. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution that calls on the Russian government to immediately release Brittney Griner.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us.


KEILAR: You hear Cherelle there. She is starting to feel desperate.


KEILAR: I think that has been beginning for a while and you really feel it in that interview. What do you say to her? ALLRED: Yes. Well, my heart goes out to her. This is a terrible

situation for any American detained abroad, and Brittany has been detained -- wrongfully detained now for four and a half months. And, obviously, with this sham trial going on, this is a heartbreaking situation.

But I would like to try and reassure as much as I can, having worked with the State Department and been in multiple meetings with them and knowing the team that is working on this, that everything possible that can be done to bring her home is being done.

KEILAR: She's not wrong that elevating this to the presidential level is what gets stuff moving. Have you asked the White House, have you asked that President Biden meet with her?

ALLRED: Yes. Well, there's a process for this. We are trying to get her out and we're working with a hostile government. And we're in negotiations with them around that. And so this is going to work its way through the process. I can guarantee you that the president is aware of what's happening, I certainly think that at the right time President Biden will be involved in whatever way he can productively be involved.

But this is not just up to the United States government. This is up to the Russian Federation and what they're going to do because they held her and basically are proceeding with this sham trial because she is basically a political prisoner. And so we have to understand, this is not a normal trial. This is not a normal situation. And it's also not only in the hands of United States, unfortunately, otherwise she'd already be home.

KEILAR: But Cherelle doesn't feel the U.S. government is doing enough. And part of that stems from the fact that no one even picked up the phone when she was trying to speak with her wife here recently.

ALLRED: Yes. Yes. Obviously, that was a tragic mistake really in that circumstance. But I know that the negotiating team, I've been in meetings with them, been briefed on what they're doing and I know how hard they're working and I also know that it's under extremely difficult situation. We are actively participating and trying to help the government of Ukraine resist, you know, the Russian invasion. We are basically in hostilities with this country right now.


They are using Brittney Griner as a pawn to try and, you know, potentially have some kind of benefit from holding her. So, this is not a simple situation, but it is heartbreaking.


ALLRED: And we need to do more to make sure that Cherelle feels how hard we're working.

KEILAR: Look, no doubt. Trevor Reed was used as a pawn as well. He is now home. ALLRED: Yes.

KEILAR: Is the negotiating team, you've met with them, are they making progress?

ALLRED: Well, it's hard - you know, I really can't say exactly where they are in terms of the negotiations. And really with the Russians, you won't know, honestly, until you arrive at some kind of agreement. And so, you know, as I think Secretary Blinken has said, their highest priority with this team, and also just with the State Department, has to help Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad come home. Particularly, obviously, in this scenario, because of the heightened scrutiny and also because we have other Americans who are wrongfully detained in Russia, like Paul Whelan.

So, we know dealing with this country, with this kind of rogue regime really in many ways that, you know, their demands will be unreasonable. We know that, you know, this trial is a complete sham. Americans and Brittany's fans should not really, you know, follow in terms of what the verdict is. Whether or not that matters to any kind of sense of guilt, it has nothing to do with that. This is all about trying to put pressure on the negotiations.

KEILAR: How often are you talking with the Biden administration about this?

ALLRED: We have regular briefings. And I -- we've been working closely with them to try and make sure that we understand how we could be helpful on the outside. And, you know, at some point - at one point the, you know, best thing to do was to try to keep this out of the headlines and to try and keep it mostly hoping that this would not reach this point.

Now we are at the point where, you know, outside political pressure, outside global pressure, the norms really, the international norms that are being broken by Russia in terms of this case that hoping that every single kind of pressure can help. But we know that it's really difficult. And I do think, as I said, we've had some success, you mentioned Trevor Reed, in getting folks out, but that was a long process and folks should be prepared for that as well.

KEILAR: To that point, real quick, Congressman, before I let you go, can you assure us that Brittney Griner, one of the best players in WNBA history, sort of an icon here in the U.S., won't be in a Russian jail for years?

ALLRED: Yes. Well, listen, I'm a fellow Baylor grad, fellow Baylor athlete with Brittany. I've been working on this since we found out about her detention. We're going to do everything we possibly can to get her home as soon as possible.

And I just want to say to everyone who, you know, cares about this and, you know, thank you for your coverage of it, that this trial is not legitimate, that you should not draw any conclusions about any kind of guilt or anything like that from whatever, you know, quote/unquote, evidence is presented and the United States government is doing everything we can to try to make sure Brittany comes home as soon as possible.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

ALLRED: Yes. Thanks.

KEILAR: Ahead, Abby Phillip will join us live on this. You're going to hear more of her exclusive interview with Cherelle Griner.

Is the bombshell testimony from the January 6th hearings hurting Donald Trump's chances in 2024? What one retiring GOP senator is saying about it.

BERMAN: It's a first on CNN, Senate Democrats seeking to protect abortion access for members of the military. Who they are now turning to for help.



BERMAN: Retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, says the January 6th committee's investigation has damaged Trump's chances in a 2024 run.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): I think he disqualified himself from serving in public office by virtue of his post-election behavior, especially leading right up to January 6th. I think the revelations from this committee make his path to even the Republican nomination much more tenuous. You know, never say never. And he decides whether to throw his hat in the ring. But I think we'll have a stronger candidate.


BERMAN: Joining us now, former Republican congressman and former presidential candidate, Joe Walsh.

Joe, does it make Trump's path to the nomination more tenuous, what we've heard from the January 6th committee?

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, Maybe, John, maybe, but I think it's really important to say at the outset that, you know, Toomey and Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and all of these Republicans privately are praying that this committee and these hearings will do what they haven't had the courage to do for the last four or five or six years, and that's remove Donald Trump from the public scene.

Look, John and Brianna, I talk to Republican base voters every single day. They are the ones who are going to decide if Trump's the nominee, not Mitch McConnell or Pat Toomey. And I will admit that there is -- Trump is losing some support among his base based on what I'm hearing because of these hearings, but it's not because they disapprove of Trump's behavior, they just think this is going to make it more difficult for Trump to win in '24. KEILAR: We should point out a Pat Toomey -- Pat Toomey isn't running

for re-election, right? He has the -- he voted to impeach Trump. He has the latitude to go out on a limb and say this.


KEILAR: It's not even going out on a limb for him. So if you -- does it matter, though, if Republicans are talking privately and they're not coming out publicly? Does that even matter as long as they're sort of saying, oh, this guy's kind of weak?

WALSH: Hey, Brianna, I have to watch my language, and, John, I can't say what I really want to say.

I am so damn sick of Republicans talking privately, or anonymously. None of that stuff matters. I mean, look at 26-year-old Cassidy Hutchinson. Look at what she's done this week. I mean, five years ago I came out and publicly called out Trump.


And if I had a dollar for every damn Republican over the last five years who privately told me, oh, Joe, I agree with what you're saying publicly about Trump, I'd be wealthy. Forget about that. None of that matters, Brianna. As long as these Republicans will not put their name and face on what they say about Trump it doesn't matter.

BERMAN: I will make it clear, Pat Toomey just did. Pat Toomey just said it. I know he's not running for re-election, but he just did put his name and face on it.


BERMAN: And he did vote to convict in the second impeachment trial.


BERMAN: So there have been some Republicans who have stood up the way you were asking for in different ways.

One of those Republicans standing up is Liz Cheney, the Republican member of Congress from Wyoming, who's in a tough battle for re- election. She had a debate last night in her primary race. She, of course, is the vice chair of the January 6th committee. And she made that front and center of this debate.



SEN. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We are, in fact, a nation of laws. And we are a nation of laws only if we defend our constitutional republic. And as I made clear last night, we have to put our oath to the Constitution above party.

We are now embracing a cult of personality, and I won't - I won't be part of that and I will always stand for my oath and stand for the truth.


BERMAN: What's going to happen in Wyoming, Joe?

WALSH: Well, John, think about what Liz Cheney just said, I will always put my oath to the Constitution above party. And because Liz Cheney has done that, John, she's really got no place in this party right now. And because Liz Cheney has done that, she's going to lose in a month and a half.

I mean, let's just be blunt, she's probably going to lose decisively in a month and a half. What does that say about the party? It -- look, she -- Liz Cheney spoke at the Reagan Library a couple nights ago. She got resounding applause from Republican elites and establishment types, right? But in a month, in Wyoming, the base, the grassroots voters, are going to vote her out of office. That's where this party is.

BERMAN: Joe Walsh, thank you for being with us this morning. Appreciate it, as always.

WALSH: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" -- a "New York Times" report says former President Trump is offering to cover legal fees for witnesses in the January 6th committee hearings. A look at the concerns this raises for some, ahead.