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Griner Verdict Expected Today; Pete Buttigieg is Interviewed about Oil and Airlines; Football Season Kicks Off Tonight. Aired 8:30- 9a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 08:30   ET




JOHN AVLON, Happening now, WNBA star Brittney Griner's legal team making their closing arguments in a Russian courtroom. Griner, charged with smuggling cannibals oil in her luggage, has plead guilty, saying the drugs were prescribed for pain management. She's hoping for leniency at sentencing. A verdict could come today.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen standing by live near Moscow, and Kylie Atwood at the State Department.

But first, let's go to Fred.

Fred, what are you hearing?


Yes, it's a really fast-moving situation here on the ground just north of Moscow. We have already heard from the court, from the judge today, saying that there will indeed be a verdict. That will happen later today. We're not exactly sure when it's going to happen, but this trial is, of course, something that's ongoing.

They've just gone into the break, but we have already heard a lot happening. The prosecutor made the closing arguments for the prosecution and demanded a sentence of 9.5 years. Nine years and six months for Brittney Griner. And also, on top of that, a fine of about a million rubles. That's about - between $16,000 and $17,000 fine. But those 9.5 years, obviously a lot, saying that the prosecution believes that guilt was proven. They believe that Brittney Griner took in those vaping cartridges intentionally.

Into the court -- Brittney Griner, by the way, herself, when she entered the court, held up a picture of the team that she plays for here in Russia. The team Ekaterinburg. Remember, when she took the stand a couple of weeks ago, she said that she had wanted to come here so badly and so quickly and therefore accidentally packed those vaping cartridges into her luggage.

Her defense team, literally just about a minute or two ago, finished their closing arguments. They, once again, made a case for leniency. They said that she admitted her guilt. Also that she's been very important for basketball here in Russia. Is very beloved, especially in Ekaterinburg, but in general in the basketball community in Russia and around the world. That she never had the intention to take any sort of narcotics here into Russia or to use them here in Russia. In fact, that she only used them for medical purposes in the United States where it is actually allowed. So sort of trying to shed some darkness, if you will, into some of the things that the prosecution has been saying.

They were also trying to call into question some of the forensics that was done in the early stages and the way that the authorities here handle it, saying that Brittney Griner should have had a translator earlier, at least been made aware of what exactly she was facing and some of the documents she was signing.

But, right now, we're in a break. We know there will be a verdict today. Not exactly sure when it's going to be. But, again, the prosecution asking for 9.5 years against Brittney Griner, John.


KEILAR: And 9.5 years. And we're waiting to see what they decide.

Kylie, how will this impact - this sentence impact the prisoner swap negotiations?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it's a great question because U.S. officials have previously said that they believe that Griner would have to admit guilt, so we know that she did that with pleading guilty, and that there would have to be sentencing as part of this ongoing trial in order for a prisoner swap to actually come to fruition. We now have that sentencing of 9.5 years. So, there is conclusion to that aspect of this, that U.S. government officials were waiting for.

But, the Biden administration came to the Russians back in June to try and get the wheels turning on a potential prisoner swap, and they were essentially rebuffed with the Russians saying to them that they wanted included in that deal not just Viktor Bout, who the Biden administration put on the table, that convicted armed trafficker who's serving 25 years in U.S. prison, but they also wanted a Russian who is facing a lifetime prison sentence in Germany right now for murder.

Now, the Biden administration said that was not a serious counteroffer. So now that this sentencing is in, the question is, are the Russians going to come back to the table with a more serious counteroffer? Are they going to engage in some serious substantive conversations to try and get this prisoner swap to actually come to fruition? And, of course, they will also have to work on the logistics. Nothing is assured. But the fact that this sentencing is in means that those wheels could move a bit more quickly now.

KEILAR: So - and, Fred, just to be clear, this sentencing -- the sentencing request is in, right? So this is what the prosecutor wants.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes. Yes, this is --

KEILAR: And so then - and so then where does that leave us with the next step?

PLEITGEN: Well, the next step is going to be the actual -- first of all, more statements from the judge and then the verdict is going to come later today and then the actual sentencing is going to happen. So, the prosecutor has said that the prosecution believes that 9.5 years are in order and laid all of that out.

But it really is very much up to the judge to decide what kind of a sentence Brittney Griner actually gets. There's a lot of leeway that the judge has. It could even go for something like probation. But we really don't believe that is going to happen. The conviction rates here in Russia are well into the 90s of percentage. They are very, very high. So it could be 9.5 years. It could be less than that. But we are going to have, as Kylie said, a sentence today and this trial is going to come to a close.

Of course, it does leave a possibility for Brittney Griner and her team to go into revision if they choose to do so. And then, of course, you have all the political machinations that Kylie was speaking about there as well.

KEILAR: That specter of a decade, though, Kylie, you're right, that is worrying people so much in the U.S. at the State Department.

AVLON: For sure.

All right, Kylie, Fred, thank you very much for all your reporting.

Now, the price of oil is falling to its lowest level since before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And up next, we're going to speak to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ahead.

KEILAR: And just in this morning, this week's jobless claims numbers have been released. We'll have those ahead.



AVLON: Oil and gasoline futures are slightly higher in premarket trading following yesterday's close which saw the lowest level since before Russia invaded Ukraine. Oil futures dropped below $91 a barrel for the first time since before Russia invaded, partially because of fears of recession. It comes as gas prices continue their drop for the 51st straight day.

And joining us now, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Secretary Buttigieg, good to see you.

Should we expect that trend to continue?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I think so. We don't have a crystal ball, but we've seen a lot of these factors that are helping the oil prices and gas prices settle, including, by the way, some of the action that the president took earlier this summer, releasing millions of barrels from the oil reserve, working with partner nations, making it easier with ethanol, creating some flexibilities there. But also these global market dynamics that, at the moment, are helping us continue to move in the right direction.

AVLON: Now, the counterpoint is that oil prices are still significantly higher than they were a year ago. And so folks are still feeling a lot of pain at the pump. And to add that, to add insult to injury, in effect, yesterday, OPEC only increased their production a really minuscule amount. It's been described as a slap in the face. And that's after the president's trip to Saudi Arabia.

What do you have to say about that?

BUTTIGIEG: There's no question that oil prices and gas prices still have a long way to go before they're at what we would think of as the normal level. We're seeing them below $4 in more and more places, but still elevated, certainly compared to where they were before the Russian Federation's war of aggression in Ukraine, and where they were before we saw the red hot economic demand that came with the expansion, the growth and the hiring that's happened since this president took office.

Look, we continue to see shock waves disrupting every part of our economy from the pandemic and from the other geopolitical and economic things that are taking place. But, we have seen now more than a month, getting on two months of day after day reductions in gas prices. And, you know, some of the same folks who wanted to assert that this was basically directly the president's responsibility when gas prices were going up have been silent when gas prices are going down. We're just keeping our heads down and doing the work.

AVLON: Well, and, look, you -

BUTTIGIEG: In my department that means looking at the medium and longer term with fuel efficiency standards, making it easier to afford EVs, other things that help protect Americans from the effects of these ups and downs in the oil markets.

AVLON: Sure. And we've covered the prices as they were going up. We're covering them going down.

But I want to bring you back to OPEC because that indicates how this is a global commodity. But were you disappointed at the fact that they chose to raise production such a minuscule amount yesterday?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, this is what happens when you have a cartel that is deciding what the production levels will be and therefore the prices. This is not a normal textbook, you know, supply and demand sort of situation. Governments decide, especially the governments of OPEC and those countries, dictate a lot of the dynamics around oil prices.

[08:45:07] And it's one of many, many reasons why Americans will be better off when we have more domestic clean energy production. One of the many, many benefits of transitioning the way we fuel our cars, for example, to make them more efficient and ultimately liberate more Americans from having to worry about decisions that are being made in capitals in the Middle East.

AVLON: Let's skip over to airlines. Now, yesterday, you announced new rules to protect passengers from cancellations, which have been a major problem particularly this summer. But why do this now and not earlier and should you go even further in terms of requiring refunds from companies?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, so this rule-making has been in the works for some time. We didn't just wake up one morning and decide to do it. It's one of a number of steps that we've had underway. It was actually last year when we announced the stiffest fines in the history of the Consumer Protection Program for an airline that was failing to issue refunds, and we've got about 10 investigations that have just wrapped up that are going to lead to action as well.

This latest news is about a new rule that we're proposing that would expand passenger rights to things like refunds when your flight gets delayed or when you have an extreme delay or some other change to the itinerary that really changes the whole experience, moving you to a different kind of plane or changing which airports you're going to.

AVLON: Sure.

BUTTIGIEG: Making sure passengers are protected.

Now, the way rule-making works, we -- I don't just get up in the morning and sign it. We take input. We want to make sure that we're being thoughtful. And so, right now, if you have input on this proposed rule, there's a window to make your voice heard at the Department of Transportation website.

And, of course, we're continuing to assess other measures that we can take to improve the passenger experience.

AVLON: Now, you just moved to Michigan, so I want to talk politics, because Democrats there just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads supporting a Trump ally, John Gibbs, who defeated centrist Republican Congressman Peter Meijer. Meijer voted for Trump's second impeachment. He voted to protect same-sex marriages. He voted for the gun legislation. So, do you think that Democrats should be supporting election deniers to improve their chances in the general election? Where do you stand on that?

BUTTIGIEG: So, look, I'm appearing today as a member of the executive branch. I can't comment on campaigns or decisions made by political parties.

What I will say is that right now we've got a track record to be proud of. And I believe that good policy is good politics. We're going to focus on continuing to deliver. And I think constituents in every part of the country are going to notice that.

AVLON: Good policy is good politics. Well, I think sometimes decency can also be the most practical form of politics, and I'm sure you'd agree in a different capacity.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, thank you very much.

All right, the NFL pre-season kicking off today. Senior data reporter Harry Enten here with a preview and some exciting odds if you just happen to be a Buffalo Bills fan.



KEILAR: The NFL pre-season kicking off today with the Jaguars taking on the Raiders. And joining us now with a preview is Harry Enten.

All right, this is a big day.

AVLON: This is it.


KEILAR: Huge day. How many people are going to be tuning in for these pre-season openers?

ENTEN: You know, you say pre-season, who gives a flying hoot about the pre-season.

AVLON: That's not what we were saying.

ENTEN: But the fact of the matter is that 7.3 million people tuned into that first pre-season game. Last year it was the second highest rated Thursday night primetime show from July to August. Only the Olympics rated higher.

But here's the thing that I will note, does it really matter? So, how many wins? Does the pre-season mean anything? Well, the 2017 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Detroit Lions, they won every pre-season game and they both won no regular season.

AVLON: Zero.

ENTEN: Zero.

AVLON: All right, so no - no correlation. Got it.

ENTEN: No correlation.

AVLON: Moving on.

ENTEN: But, in terms of what we're looking for since we are starting off, Harry Enten's Buffalo Bills, this could be our year. The chance of winning the Super Bowl, they lead the league at a 6.9 percent chance. Of course, that's really a nominal favorite. Really just plurality, right? But this could be the year for us.

But, I just want to point out, since we're talking about the Buffalo Bills -

AVLON: I think you for this.

ENTEN: John Avlon forced me to put this slide in. He really forced me, Brianna.

AVLON: Yes, I did.

ENTEN: Look at this.

KEILAR: It's coming out of nowhere, guys.

ENTEN: Aaron Judge and the home run record, he's at 43 home runs right now. His pace, 66 homers.

AVLON: Sixty-six homers on pace.

ENTEN: Sixty-one homers is the American League record. Roger Maris back in '61. I just want it noted, though, I hate the Yankees.

AVLON: And you know what, despite that, I like you.

ENTEN: Thank you very much.

AVLON: All right, moving on, though, are we really moving toward autumn? It's august.


AVLON: The beginning of August.

ENTEN: Yes, right. Here's the thing, the road to autumn, 80 percent of states record highs happen pre-August. Peek hurricane season begins in August. And sunset in New York City is now 21 minutes earlier than the latest this summer. So, in my opinion, when you look at this, we're moving towards it.

And here's one other thing. We have this New York City centric view on when school actually begins. What does school begin by percentage of students? Forty-three percent of students are back in school by mid- August. Another 33 percent are back in the back half of August, pre- Labor Day. Just 23 percent are back after Labor Day, like New York. So I wanted to bring the whole country into this.

KEILAR: Yes. Thank you for that.

AVLON: That's a kind of reality check that is painful.

KEILAR: My sister is a teacher. Back to school before the kids on Monday. On Monday.

ENTEN: I hate school. Oh, I don't need it.

KEILAR: Well, you schooled us, Harry Enten, thank you.

ENTEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: A puppy emerging from the wreckage of a California wildfire. Watch the moment that he was discovered.


AVLON: Plus, the jaw-dropping revelation at the Alex Jones trial that could have big implications for the January 6th investigation.


KEILAR: Time now for "The Good Stuff."

Photojournalist Jonathan Rivas was documenting the destruction of California's McKinney Fire when, here, this is what he captured, the moment that a lost puppy emerged from the ashes.


JONATHAN RIVAS, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I heard like a - like a yelp in the distance, but, like, I just didn't really know what it was. I thought it was maybe like an injured deer, or, you know, like one of the wildlife that's there.

(INAUDIBLE) you, buddy.

And all of a sudden this little - this little puppy just comes and runs up to me and, you know, I was like super shocked, you know, just to see that come from that -- just from the rubble there.



KEILAR: Awe. So, after giving him some much needed affection and water, Rivas posted the video on social media and he helps reunite the pup with his family.

AVLON: I mean, a pup emerging from the ashes, reunited with his family, that is the essence of good stuff. I love it.

KEILAR: Just a nice little silver lining in this terrible fire story.

AVLON: Very.

KEILAR: All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.