Return to Transcripts main page

New Day Saturday

Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone Testified For More Than Seven Hours; Funerals Held For Three Victims Of Highland Park Mass Shooting; Biden Signs Executive Order In Wake Of SCOTUS Abortion Ruling; Missile Attack On Kharkiv Leaves Several Injured; Body Of Slain Former Japanese Prime Minister, Abe, Arrives Back In Tokyo. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired July 09, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Beautiful Patagonia life on the edge of the world premieres tomorrow night at 9:00 only here on CNN. The next hour of NEW DAY starts right now.

A very good morning to you and welcome to your new day. I'm Jessica Dean.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be with you, Jessica. I'm Boris Sanchez. Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone spends seven-plus hours with the January 6th Committee, what we're learning about his testimony and how it could shape future hearings. Plus, the community of Highland Park Illinois, still coming to grips with that deadly July 4th shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You go through these waves where you're like numb for a little bit and you're just, and then you get angry, and then you feel guilty, and then overwhelming sadness, and then you go back to feeling numb and like this isn't what happened.


SANCHEZ: How they're planning to move forward and "reclaim the area" where the attack happened.

DEAN: Coronavirus cases creep up in parts of the country. The areas where we're seeing high community spread and the latest tool in the fight to contain the virus.

And WNBA star Brittney Griner pleads guilty and a Russian court, how that could impact your case and why experts say that was a smart move.

DEAN: A very good morning to you and welcome to your new day. It is Saturday, July 9th. So, great to be with you on this July morning.

SANCHEZ: My pleasure as always, Jessica. We have a few more hours.

DEAN: Yes, so stick around. Much more to come.

SANCHEZ: Up first this hour, he was behind closed doors for more than seven hours. That's how long former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone testified before the January 6th Committee. A source saying that Cipollone provided a great deal of new information. Keep in mind, portions of yesterday's closed-door meeting are going to be made public in upcoming hearings.

DEAN: Cipollone is one of the committee's most important witnesses. He was among a handful of people who spent time with then President Donald Trump as the riot at the Capitol unfolded. And the committee's trying to determine what Trump was doing and how he reacted to that violence in real time. Congresswoman and committee member, Zoe Lofgren, says Cipollone testimony was helpful.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Mr. Cipollone did appear voluntarily and answer a whole variety of questions. He did not contradict the testimony of other witnesses. And I think we did learn a few things, which we will be rolling out in hearings to come. So, I think it was you know, a grueling day for all involved, Mr. Cipollini and the staff and the members, but it was well worth it.


SANCHEZ: We also have new CNN reporting this morning on alleged planning by the Oath Keepers to prepare for violence on January 6th in Washington. A filing by the Justice Department says at least one member of the extremist group transported explosives to an area just outside the nation's capital. They say the chapters of the Oath Keepers hold training camps focused on military tactics.

DEAN: That filing says another member had a handwritten document with the words "death list," that included the name of a Georgia election official and their family member. That Oath Keepers member, Thomas Caldwell, telling CNN, "The DOJ has claimed that I sought to assassinate election workers is a 100 percent false and disgusting lie." Nine Oath Keepers are now charged with seditious conspiracy, and they're scheduled to go on trial in September.

And joining us now is Michael Zeldin, he's a Former Federal Prosecutor, Robert Mueller's Former Special Assistant at DOJ, and Host of the "That Said with Michael Zeldin" podcast. Michael, great to have you with us. Thanks for getting up early on this Saturday morning. There were questions going into yesterday's testimony that Cipollone may try to evade some questions or use privilege to get out of answering some of that. But we now know that he testified for seven, eight hours. We don't know exactly what he said. But what's your reaction to the fact he was there for so long?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That he gave comprehensive testimony, that he didn't assert privilege, either attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, that he answered, that he didn't take the fifth, that he answered their questions as fully as he could, and he was present for a lot of important stuff. SANCHEZ: And, Michael, if you were leading that testimony, what would

be some of the questions you would ask Cipollone?

ZELDIN: So, broadly speaking, you'd want to know, what did he observe with whom did he speak? And what was he trying to prevent during this run up to the January 6th date and then on January 6th. What was going on, on January 6th is a big hole in the testimony. And so, his presence there would be an important hole to fill in.


DEAN: And we heard this, this explosive testimony last week from Cassidy Hutchinson, this former White House aide, she testified about Cipollone's conversations with Mark Meadows, the then president's chief of staff, while the rioters were storming the capitol, capitol. And Zoe Lofgren, the congresswoman and committee member was on our air yesterday, and she was asked if he confirmed all of that. And she said, he did not contradict it, but also made a point to say that's not the same as confirming, what do you make of all of that?

ZELDIN: So, that he didn't contradict is the more important phrase in her statement, because he didn't contradict. If the three of us watch a car crash, we each may have a different perspective on or memory of the event, what may be important to you was something that was less important to me. So, they will could have different priorities in their recollections. And so, the fact that he didn't confirm everything she said, is, I think more analogous to the way people interact with life events. And I don't think it's determinative of anything.

SANCHEZ: And Michael, zeroing in on the question of privilege, as White House counsel, is that limited to his interactions with the President? Or does it also fall into the scope of his conversations with Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, or Cassidy Hutchinson, because there's reporting and testimony that indicates they had some communications about violence at the Capitol about blood on their hands and other things that I think the testimony that the rather the committee really want to get out there?

ZELDIN: Exactly. And it's complicated. The law of privilege is not simple. It's most direct in the conversation between Cipollone and the president, where he's giving the President advice, but it can also apply in the indirect way. I tell Meadows. Meadows tells the president, that's possible. Now, in this case, of course, Biden holds the privilege. He has essentially waived the privilege as to all events related to January 6th.

So, the assertion of privilege probably would have been contested by the committee members. But they didn't do that they worked around it. And so, I expect that we did hear conversations between Cipollone and Meadows, between Cipollone and Cassidy Hutchinson, and between Cipollone and the private sector lawyers. I was going to say something different. The private sector lawyers, who were advising President Trump, former President Trump.

DEAN: And we know that we should expect to hear more of Cipollone's testimony in the next several hearings, especially next week. What do you think his testimony could mean for President Trump and his inner circle?

ZELDIN: It depends on what he has to say, of course. But it seems to me that he has the vantage point of someone who was trying to stop the president from doing things which he considered to be illegal. Remember, the testimony was, Mark, we can't go to the Hill, we'll be charged with every crime imaginable. Well, what crimes, what was Cipollone aware of? What was the planning that he was afraid of, that if they went there, he would be in violation of all these, these, these laws. That is really important stuff.

Because Cipollone said, I am here, I'm staying in my job to keep the car on the rails or whatever goes on the rails -- train on the tracks. I'm terrible with those things. And so, what was it that he was trying to prevent the president from violating? And I think that's, that's important. And that relates to, to his knowledge of what was going on at the Willard Hotel. And that connection between the White House and the Oath Keepers. That's something that we see a lot of I expect on Tuesday's hearing, and thereafter.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, because reportedly the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, wants to give testimony, but he wants it to be public. What do you make of that?

ZELDIN: Well, it can be made public after it's taken privately, but no lawyer, no committee member is going to allow him a forum without pre- taping his, his conversation. Same thing with Bannon. We hear that he may not want to cooperate, but we don't know whether these are Trojan horses --


ZELDIN: Or they're you know, people who have, you know, sort of found faith, and we'll see about that, but there's no way that these guys are going to walk in and have the committee say, well, so what's up?


DEAN: Right. Right. And so, what -- as someone who's been watching this obviously with your expertise with your eye? What else is left, in your opinion, to really unfurl for people, to really walk people through, what do we need? What do you hope to see?

ZELDIN: So, from a legal perspective, I think from a political perspective, they're doing a terrific job. From a legal perspective, I'm sitting in Garland's chair, Attorney General Garland's chair. And I'm thinking, is there a crime that I can charge here? I still think they need to tighten the connection between the White House and the insurrectionists in the pre-planning of that.


So that we can say he was part of or the leader of a conspiracy that was designed to commit the crime of election fraud or defrauding the government. I think that still needs to be made. If I'm sitting in Merrick Garland seat trying to make a charging decision. But politically, I think they made a great show of this.

SANCHEZ: And quickly Michael, Sarah Matthews, a former press aide, she's expected to testify Tuesday, what would you ask her?

ZELDIN: The same sort of questions I asked that were asked of Cassidy Hutchinson.


ZELDIN: What can you tell us about what was going on? Remember, she quit on January 6th, saying enough is enough. We need an orderly transition. I can't be part of this anymore. So, you want to say, well, tell us about this, because you were very loyal for a very long time. You said I'm very proud to have served former President Trump, but now you reached a breaking point. So, let's talk about that.

DEAN: It's going to be fascinating. Michael Zeldin, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, Michael.


SANCHEZ: Appreciate it. So, funeral services have begun for some of the victims of that July 4th parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. Three of the seven people killed in Monday's attack. 63- year-old, Jackie Sundheim; 88-year-old, Steven Straus; and 78-year- old, Nicholas Toledo Zaragoza, were laid to rest on Friday. But for this close-knit community, healing is still a long way away.

DEAN: The youngest victim in the massacre: 8-year-old, Cooper Roberts, who was shot in the chest and is now paralyzed from the waist down, continues to fight and regain consciousness briefly, Friday, before being sedated again due to pain. Cooper is just one of dozens of survivors who will be forever changed by this shooting, and many are still trying to make any sense of the violence and why somebody would carry out such a heinous attack. CNN's Camila Bernal has more on this.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As a way to heal, Steve Tilken visits this makeshift memorial, takes pictures, and talks.

STEVE TILKEN, HIGHLAND PARK SHOOTING WITNESS: I just want to confront this, this demon of carnage if you want to call it that. And for me to do it, I have to come here.

BERNAL: He's lived in Highland Park for 26 years. And on July 4th, went to the parade with his wife and grandchildren.

TILKEN: We're 50 feet from the shooter. And the easiest targets possible, and why we weren't shot, I can't figure out.

BERNAL: He heard the shots and ran then saw the injuries and one of the dead. Here he is on surveillance video.

TILKEN: I just couldn't wrap my head around what it just happened. And I kept trying to figure it out. And I guess, I'm still trying to figure out what makes somebody this evil.

BERNAL: It's the question this entire community is trying to answer.

ALY PEDOWITZ, HIGHLAND PARK BUSINESS OWNER: For the first two days, I would say, am I still sleeping? Is this a nightmare? Like wake me up because it cannot feel real. And you go through these waves where you're like numb for a little bit and you're just, and then you get angry and then you feel guilty, and then overwhelming sadness, and then you go back to feeling numb, and like this isn't what happened.

BERNAL: Ali Pedowitz co-owns seven businesses in the middle of the crime scene. All her stores are closed.

PEDOWITZ: Before this all happens. Our street was meant to be a place that provided a safe and fun-loving space for families for kids.

BERNAL: Healing for her, she says, will come when she's allowed to reopen.

PEDOWITZ: We will be able to reclaim it as this place of where we can all be together and be happy and heal together and just support one another.

BERNAL: And little by little in a business, in a neighborhood and in a makeshift memorial, members of this community showing their string.

TILKEN: I will heal, I will absolutely heal.

BERNAL: Camila Bernal, CNN, Highland Park, Illinois.


DEAN: Camila, thank you. I had a rise in new COVID infections has some medical experts concerned, is the country about to see a summer surge?

And the assassination of Japan's a former prime minister leaves the world in shock. We're going to have the latest on that investigation and tell you what we know about the weapon used by the suspect.


And brace yourself. More than 50 million people across the country are under heat alerts today. We'll tell you just how hot it's going to get.


SANCHEZ: President Biden yesterday signed an executive order aimed at protecting abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe versus Wade. The president, in his speech, making clear that the best way to protect the right to abortion and codify Roe into law is to vote. In the meantime, Biden's executive order attempts to soften the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling.

DEAN: CNNs Jasmine Wright joins us now. Jasmine, it's great to see you. What are some of the steps that the administration is laying out in this executive order because it's limited what they can do.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. He laid out some incremental steps, really, as this administration is searching for ways to protect access to abortion. Now, when he laid those out, he used a really strong language -- I want to read for you -- he called it terrible, extreme, totally wrongheaded decision out of, an out-of-control Supreme Court, really ratcheting up that rhetoric there.

But when it comes to the executive order he signed, the president said it will do things like safeguard access, access to abortion care, and contraceptives, really, as they tried to expand access to medication, abortion, protect patient privacy, especially as they warn Americans about their data on those period administration tracking apps and establishing an interagency task force to use every federal tool available to protect access to reproductive health care.


Now, notably here, Jessica and Boris, this executive order, it does things that the president really already outlined, especially in that first speech, we saw him the day that the decision was announced. It really had very few additional and new, like steps that this administration is going to take. Instead, the President made the case as he has done before that really his ability is limited unilateral, unilaterally on what he can do. The stroke of his pen, really, he said, instead, he said change is going to come from the people. It's going to come from political change. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me explain. We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice house to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality. I know it's frustrating, and it made a lot of people very angry. But the truth is this, and it's not just me saying, it's what the court said. When you read the decision, the court has made clear it will not protect the rights of women, period.


WRIGHT: So, obviously, there we heard from a heartfelt president but no matter how heartfelt messages, the reality is, is that a fall short of what abortion advocates and liberal, liberal Democrats want to see this president? Do they want to see him do things like establish a public health emergency or really put abortion clinics on federal lands in states that are now going to ban them? Now, those are things that the administration has said either lack real efficiency to get to the main goal or lack legality and what they feel still though this administration is saying that every option is on the table when it comes to potential future steps here.

SANCHEZ: Jasmine Wright, thank you so much.

DEAN: A Russian missile attack on a residential area and Kharkiv, Ukraine has left several people injured. This as the U.S. is sending extra firepower to help Ukraine push back against the invasion. We'll have a live report from Ukraine, that's next.



SANCHEZ: At least four people including a child have been injured in a Russian missile strike on a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv.

DEAN: This latest attack comes as the U.S. repairs to send Ukraine a new multimillion dollar security assistance package. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying the country will not give up territory for peace with Russia. CNN Scott McLean is in Kyiv with the latest on the fighting. Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jessica. Yes, you mentioned President Zelensky, vowing to take back every square inch of occupied territory. And I should tell you that in response to that, President Putin said, OK, let them try. Now, it seems like they actually are and they're starting in the southern part of the country. This is an area that has really been a stronghold for the Ukrainians, especially the city of Mykolaiv.

The city of Kherson though, has long been occupied by the Russians, it's about 30 miles away or so. So, this morning, there have been strikes reported in Mykolaiv, but the Ukrainians are also starting to send missiles the other direction as well. We know that there has been the strike north of the city around the airport, there is a black smoke, that you can see a new video rising on the horizon.

There are also smoke trails, and you can see that the Russian air defense system is working to try to strike down any incoming fire that is headed in their direction. This is an area that we expect the fighting to really intensify in the next couple of days and weeks because the deputy prime minister has warned people who live in the occupied parts of this area that they should try to evacuate in whatever direction they can, because the efforts to de-occupy this place are going to require some pretty fierce battle.

So, they're telling people to get out, even if it means heading toward Russia, even if it means heading toward Crimea. It is a very different story, though, in the eastern part of the country. This is where the Ukrainian say that the Russians are along the regional boundary between Luhansk and Donetsk, they are trying to push forward toward Donetsk.

They're not, they're having only limited success, though, and so they're resorting to a pretty familiar tactic which is simply to lob bombs, lob missiles onto the other side and try to flatten all of the towns and villages in their way, and that is what we are seeing in that part of the country. The Ukrainians have long said that look, they are outgunned, they are outmanned. In this part of Ukraine, they need more artillery systems if they're

going to launch any kind of serious effort to actually take back territory there. And now, there is help on the way. The U.S. says that it is ascending for new artillery systems, the high MARS system, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said previously is exactly what his country needs.

They are precise, they also have a longer range which allows them to strike further into Russian held territory and really disrupt the supply lines and try to hamper the Russian effort to move the frontlines West. Boris, Jessica.

DEAN: All right. Scott McLean for us in Kyiv, thanks so much. The body of slain former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is back in Tokyo. Abe's body arrived today in his hometown accompanied by his wife. Following his assassination, in the western city of Nara, while he was making a campaign speech.

Hundreds of people, as you see there, lying the streets to witness the procession. Funeral services will take place Monday and Tuesday. Meantime, police investigating the killing stormed the home of the suspected gunman who they say confessed to that assassination.


The police chief where Abe was murdered admits there were problems with Abe's security detail. Officials also say the suspect killed Abe with a homemade gun, and that he had several more types of weapons made with pipes.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Let's dig deeper on the international headlines with Washington Post columnist and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin.

Josh, good morning. Great to have you here in person. We should also add to those notes, you spent a lot of time reporting and working and living in Japan. Your reaction to this shocking assassination of someone who was beloved in Japan?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): Right? Well, it's hard to overestimate the impact that this incident will have on the psyche of Japanese people, Japanese culture, and Japanese society.

Of having lived and worked there for years, I know that this kind of violence is unthinkable, especially perpetrated with a gun. Thing is that guns are almost non-existent inside Japan. And you know, this type of environment where people feel safe on the streets where politicians interact with people with little or no fear that they're going to be attacked. That environment has gone forever.

And this ushers in a new era of uncertainty and lack of safety and fear of political violence that Japanese people will have to grapple with as soon as they are done grieving, which they're not done with it yet.

SANCHEZ: Yes. You also wrote in your column for the Post this week about the U.S. providing arms to Ukraine and what you described as hand wringing within the White House, almost a hesitation to provide what the Ukrainian say they need to fight this war against Russia.

Where's that hesitation coming from the White House?

ROGIN: Right? Well, to its credit, the Biden administration has provided almost $8 billion worth of military assistance to Ukraine, that's a lot, more than any other country by far.

At the same time, lawmakers and officials who have gotten to Kyiv, and talked with senior Ukrainian leaders say that it's simply not enough. And as we see on the reports, the Ukrainians are not gaining ground. And winter is coming in the fight in the east is about to intensify. And eight or 12 artillery systems is simply not enough, according to the Ukrainians.

And so, the question is, why aren't we giving them the things they need to go on the offensive and win the war before the freeze comes? And what officials inside the Biden administration tell me is that it's not a logistics problem. It's a political problem. It's a decision making problem that inside the White House, senior leaders, including President Biden don't want to escalate the war. And their theory is that if Putin starts to lose too badly, that he will escalate further and the war could spill over.

But for the Ukrainians, that seems crazy, because they want Putin to lose badly.


ROGIN: And they think that a stalemate, which is what we're doing now, is a recipe for endless suffering and redounds to Putin's benefit.

So, the question is, are we going to give the Ukrainians just enough arms to fight to a tie? Or are we going to give them enough arms to win? Right now, it looks like we're giving them just enough to fight to a tie. And for them, that's a worst case scenario.

SANCHEZ: It prolongs the war, and it benefits ultimately, the Russia.

ROGIN: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: President Zelenskyy has repeatedly said, he's doubled, tripled down on the idea that he's not going to cede any territory to Vladimir Putin. Given that the Russians have made gains in the eastern part of the country, what is the outcome, then? Is Ukraine going to bulk up their armory, and go back and try to retake that territory? Or do you see a middle ground where there can be some kind of peace agreement?

ROGIN: Right. Well, wars end when one or both sides are so exhausted that they sue for peace. Neither side is there now. So, it's clear that both sides want to keep fighting. And whether or not Zelenskyy ends up negotiating an agreement that allows Russia to keep some of the territory at least for a time -- the time being is up to him. Everyone thinks that's up to the Ukrainians. But our job is to give him the option, our job is to make sure that he's not forced into that choice. And it may be a rhetorical or negotiating position to say we need all the land back. But if he's going to lose the land anyway, because he doesn't have enough arms, well, then, he can't even negotiate.

So, there's a sense inside the Ukrainian leadership that the Biden administration is trying to pressure them to negotiate by keeping them just weak enough that they can't take the fight to the Russians in Russian territory.

Now, the Biden administration denies that they say they're doing the best they can. And what I found is that there's a tension inside the U.S. government over this very issue.

The bottom line is when the freeze comes, wherever the troops are, wherever the lines are, that's going to be a line that's going to be hard to thaw. And when spring comes, those realities on the ground are going to have their own effect. So, time is on the essence -- time is of the essence, and time is not on Ukraine side.

That's why I think you're seeing more calls from inside the government, around Congress, and from Kyiv to give Ukrainians the weapons that they're asking for, and to give them to them quickly.

SANCHEZ: Josh, I want to pivot to some very dramatic scenes out of South Asia. This video coming from Sri Lanka, showing protesters taking over the presidential palace.

Sri Lanka has been undergoing a devastating financial crisis. What is happening now?

ROGIN: Right. Well, as we see in many places around the developing world, the combination of existing political tensions, economic instability, rising inflation, and energy crisis, and a food crisis are spilling over into outright political chaos.


ROGIN: OK, and this is not the first time this has happened in Sri Lanka.

But it's in -- it's undeniable that this is connected to the all of the other problems that are going on in the region and the world. And so, what happens in Ukraine doesn't stay in Ukraine. And when people say, oh, well, why should we help the Ukrainians? That's over there, that's not over here.

Well, this is why. It's because we live in an interconnected world. And there are a lot of pressure on these societies: from the pandemic, from the economic situation, and from rising problems that have failed to be addressed by the international community.

And when they spill over like this, when people are storming parliament, that's too late. We have to do more on the front end, to help these countries before they get to this point. And it's very sad situation in Sri Lanka, and it's not too late to help them now.

SANCHEZ: And connecting the dots further, if we don't help them, that those issues those tensions wind up affecting us and our economy as well.

ROGIN: Exactly. Josh Rogin, always good to have you. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate you.

DEAN: COVID cases are surging across the U.S. with high community spread and cases increasing. What does that mean for the weeks ahead? We're live in New York with details on that.



SANCHEZ: There are new concerns this morning about a summer surge of COVID 19 infections as they continue to increase across much of the country.

According to the CDC, nearly a third of Americans live in a county with a high COVID-19 community level.

And the agency says, that means people in places with high spread like New York City, Houston, and Miami should be wearing masks indoors to slow the spread.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is here with more on this. And Polo surges earlier this year were driven by the Omicron -- were driven by the Omicron sub-variant. Is that what we're seeing here as well?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's so sub-variants, Jessica and Boris. That really has officials concerned here. That roughly one-third of the country equals about 32 percent right now, which is about what we saw last week. But it's a significant increase over what we had about two weeks ago.

So, that is certainly what's concerning officials. Now, the counties that are affected some of those regions also, by the way, those states that are highlighted on the map.

But in terms of some of those counties that are been specifically seeing an increase in, in some of these numbers. Las Vegas's Clark County, Houston's Harris County, and also here at New York City, where test positivity right now an average of about 14 percent.

According to Mayor Eric Adams yesterday, it does have city officials concerns so much that, at this point, they certainly have issued a recommendation, sort of re issuing that recommendation for people to wear more of the high quality masks here in New York City. That KN95, the N95, in public indoor spaces and also in crowded outdoor spaces as well.

Infections are certainly not overwhelming the system at this moment. Although, we have seen a significant increase throughout other parts of the country.

But again, when you start to see the map when you start to see some of those regions that have experienced that high level of COVID. How -- COVID community levels, that's really what's concerning officials. But the numbers didn't really come down from the previous -- from the previous week in terms of death as well.

But Eric Adams here in New York City saying that despite this rise, he believes that the city is in a good space. The city did phase out its color coded alert system.

And so, right now, what they're doing, Eric, and Boris are basically reevaluating how they will be recommending that New Yorkers go about, you know, handling this latest increase.

But we've heard from health officials, including here on CNN, where Dr. Leana Wen saying that it's very difficult to actually call this a new wave since many of the numbers have remained constant over the last couple of weeks.

Guys, back to you.

DEAN: All right, Polo Sandoval for us. Thanks so much for that update. We appreciate it.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Polo.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): WNBA star Brittney Griner has pled guilty to drug smuggling charges in Russia. So, what does this now mean for the Biden administration's effort to free the basketball player from Russian captivity?

We're back in just moments.



SANCHEZ (on camera): WNBA superstar and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has chosen to plead guilty to drug smuggling charges. Her lawyers say it was her own choice to do so and they hope that Russian prosecutors give her some leniency.

DEAN: CNN's Brian Todd has details on what happened in court.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want to say something?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brittney Griner doesn't speak as she is led in handcuffs outside the courtroom. But inside, the American basketball star's words were captured in an audio recording.

BRITTNEY GRINER, AMERICAN BASKETBALL STAR DETAINED IN RUSIA: I would like to plead guilty on the charges. But I had no intention on breaking any Russian Laws,

TODD: Greiner told the judge she wants to give her testimony later. After the hearing, Griner's lawyers gave more detail on the less than one gram of cannabis oil, Russian officials said Griner was carrying when she was apprehended at a Moscow airport in February.

ALEXANDER BOIKOV, ATTORNEY FOR BRITTNEY GRINER: She admitted that it was her --- hers, but she said that it was unintentionally brought to Russia. Because she was in a hurry as she was packing and it was just by accident, ended up in her luggage.

TODD: Why would Griner plead guilty? Experts say one reason is that an estimated 99 percent of all criminal cases in Russia end up in convictions anyway.

TOM FIRESTONE, FORMER RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISER, UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: The good -- the smart move is to admit guilt and try to get a lesser sentence.

The Russian government has made noises recently about saying that there can't be an exchange until she is convicted. So, this may expedite that process.

TODD: The White House responded to Griner's guilty plea by saying they're working aggressively to bring her home.

And Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, "We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.

One of America's top diplomats in Russia said she was able to speak to Griner in court and shared detail on her condition.


ELIZABETH ROOD, DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: She said that she is eating well, she's able to read books. And under the circumstances, she is doing well.

Most important, I was able to share with Miss Griner a letter from her from President Biden. And Miss Griner was able to read that letter.

TODD: President Biden's letter to Griner, following her letter to him, pleading for her release, part of a ramped-up pressure campaign on the Biden administration by Griner's, family and advocates, including a rally on Wednesday night in Phoenix.

CHERELLE GRINER, WIFE OF BRITTNEY GRINER: I'm frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice.

TODD: Has her family's pressure and the Biden administration's reaction to it raised the asking price for Brittney Griner in a trade?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, that's an interesting question. Russians are nothing if not, a mercenary. So, the more prominent, the person that they've managed to detain, the hostage, if you will, obviously, the more they think they can get for that. And that, you know, really, I think people should understand this is essentially a hostage taking.


TODD (on camera): Meanwhile, U.S. officials and outside analysts remain concerned about the conditions in which Brittney Griner is being held. Her lawyers have just revealed that Griner and her wife Cherelle have not been able to speak on the phone since her arrest in February.

They say Russian officials have granted permission for a call, but because of logistical issues and an arranged call that was botched by the U.S. Embassy, it hasn't happened. The couple has been able to exchange letters.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

DEAN: Brian, thank you.

And you're going to need lots of water, plenty of sunscreen, and some air conditioning this weekend. Millions of people under extreme heat alerts today. Details on just how hot it will be. That's next.



DEAN (voice-over): On the West Coast, fires are threatening parts of California. On Friday, evacuation orders were issued in Yuba County, though most were lifted several hours later.

Officials say, by the afternoon, local time, the Bay Fire burned around 26 acres and was 60 percent contained. Authorities say power is also out for more than 600 customers.

Officials say another wildfire is threatening the famed giant sequoia tree grove in California's Yosemite National Park.

Campgrounds there had to be evacuated Thursday, while firefighters tried to contain the fire. The Washburn Fire is estimated at 60 to 70 acres so far.

SANCHEZ: Today, more than 15 million people are under heat alerts and depending on where you live, you could be seeing triple digit temperatures.

DEAN: Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin. Tyler, what should people expect today?

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): So, not only dangerous heat, but we're talking at record breaking heat. Wichita Falls, Texas, on Friday, hit 110. That tied in old record. And you can see Memphis here. They also were above 100 degrees, breaking an all-time record, topping out at 103 on Friday.

We're basically going to see the same type of air mass stay in place this weekend.

You can see across the U.S., we have more than 50 million people under heat alerts. The hottest of the weather down here across the southern tier of the U.S. from Texas, all the way to Alabama, we have millions under heat alerts, where it could feel like up to 115 degrees on any exposed skin. That's the feels like temperature.

This afternoon, around the south, we'll see temperatures approaching 100 degrees. That heat index will definitely be above the century mark. But it's not just the afternoon temperatures, it's the morning lows as well.

Those morning temperatures, well, we have record warm morning temperatures on tap fours here across the south this weekend. We're talking about morning lows, only around 80 degrees in Dallas, and the mid-70s in Jackson.

When the temperatures don't cool off overnight that just leads to dangerous heat during the afternoon. Because the air can't cool down, your body can't cool down and that's how you lead to health issues, in terms of the heat come the afternoon hours.

By the afternoon, we are looking at temperatures here getting up into the century mark. But notice that once we get to early to mid-next week, there is a cool down expected in some parts of this region. Talking to you Atlanta, you'll be in the low 80s come early next week.

It's because of this cold front up here to the -- to the north is going to be slicing across the Tennessee Valley. As we go through the day today, the air behind it is nice, but out ahead of it, it's humid, it's warm, and you can see some showers and thunderstorms firing up later on today.

We've got to watch this entire region for not only severe weather and heat, but also, that potential for flooding too.

DEAN: All right, Tyler Mauldin for us. Everyone stay safe out there. Thanks so much.

"UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. Kamau Bell is back with lucky season seven. He is traveling from Appalachia to Hawaii to understand the unique challenges people face in their communities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people say critical race theory today, what they're talking about is a boogeyman that has been created by people who want to vilify the smirch, demonize any sort of thinking that they perceive as progressive thinking about race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, the very fact that this time last year, very few people had heard a critical race theory. But suddenly, overnight, critical race theory is that thing that you have to come out and protect your children against. It's a great boogeyman. And we think we can make it run. And so far, they've been right. W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST (on camera): Yes, yes. Every now and again, certain forces in this country come up with a new boogeyman. That is a thing that they used to say your America is being taken away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you actually follow the money, you'll see tens of millions of dollars had been spend to create critical theory as the boogeyman.