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Russia Frees U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed In Prisoner Swap; Major Wartime Escalation, Russia Cuts Gas To Two E.U. Nations; Putin Vows Lightning-Fast Response To Interference In Ukraine; New Calls For Russia To Free American Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan After Trevor Reed Freed In Prisoner Swap. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We only give you a raise.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed is finally heading home after being freed by Russia in a prisoner swap. This hour, I'll ask the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, about Reed's long-sought release and whether it will have any impact at all on in the war in Ukraine.

As Kremlin forces unleash and destruction in Ukraine, Russia is now is now escalating its economic war with the west by cutting off natural gas supplies to both Poland and Bulgaria. The White House learns Vladimir Putin is now weaponizing energy. And a European leader is accusing him of blackmail.

Our correspondents are covering all this and a lot more with live reports from Ukraine, Western Europe and the White House.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, new threat from Vladimir Putin to the west, vowing a lightning fast response to any foreign interference in Ukraine. This comes as Russian troops are unleashing intense new attacks in Eastern Ukraine right now, and just hours after Russia freed U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed in a major prisoner swap.

We'll have live reports from the war zone and the White House in just a moment. But, first, our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance has the latest on Trevor Reed's release.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the moment Trevor Reed looking frail, took his first steps towards freedom, shown on Russian television being escorted by masked security guards and on to a waiting plane. Amid fraught, U.S./Russians relations, this is an unexpected win.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is a good day for the United States. It also speaks to President Biden's commitment in this entire administration's commitment to do everything we can to secure the release of Americans who are held hostage.

CHANCE: Trevor Reed is a former U.S. Marine imprisoned for supposedly endangering the life of Russian police. Prosecutors said he assaulted an officer after a night of heavy drinking. But he was sentenced by a Moscow a court to a harsh nine years. His shocked Russian girlfriend broke down. This is the reputation of Russia, she screamed, before being escorted out.

Now, from Texas, Reed's parents could finally express their relief but also their continuing concern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest issue is his health. If you have seen any of the videos today, of him getting out of the FSB van to get into the FSB jet, he --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks terrible to us. I mean, as his parents know, he does not look well. He was very thin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was walking strange and it looked like they had to help him get up into the airplane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He didn't look good. So, I understand there's some medical personnel on the plane with him and they are checking him out.

CHANCE: Of course, Trevor Reed's freedom wasn't for free. This is the dramatic moment broadcast on Russian television when the American was swapped for a Russian convict held in a U.S. jail. You can see Reed on the left walking towards the U.S. plane.

Crossing back into Russian hands, Konstantin Yaroshenko sentenced 20 years in the U.S. for conspiracy to smuggle drugs. His conviction in 2011 and subsequent treatment has been a major thorn in U.S./Russian ties.

Two years ago, amid talk of a swap, CNN spoke to Yaroshenko in an exclusive interview from his U.S. Federal Prison. When he accused U.S. authorities of illegally abducting him then torturing him in custody, allegations U.S. officials denied.

I can talk about gross violation of fundamental laws, international rights on what the Americans did in my case regarding extradition, he tells me. There was no extradition, do you understand? These are very serious things. I have not violated a single law. I'm not some kind of soulless creature. I'm not an animal that can be kidnapped, beaten, tortured and then illegally transported to the United States, Yaroshenko said.

He also told me he believed he was a pawn in a political game between Washington and Moscow, a game that has, for him and for Trevor Reed, now finally come to an end.



CHANCE (on camera): But, Wolf, tonight, Russian diplomats the United States are welcoming the release of that Russian national, Konstantin Yaroshenko, saying it is the result of years of vigorous efforts on their part. But they are also saying there are other prominent Russian citizens in U.S. jails, most notably Viktor Bout, a notorious convicted arms trafficker. And Russian diplomats telling me tonight they will continue their efforts to bring him and other Russian nationals in U.S. jails back home.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us, Matthew, thank you.

A senior U.S. official says President Biden made a, quote, tough call to agree to a prisoner swap with Russia out of intense concern for Trevor Reed and his family.

Let's get some more from our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. So, Kaitlan, what happened, based on your sources, behind the scenes?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know President Biden called this a difficult decision. And what the White House says he was referencing when he said that in a statement announcing Trevor Reed's release was the fact that they did have to exchange him for this Russian prisoner, Konstantin Yaroshenko, saying that that is something that was a tough call for President Biden to make.

But, of course, as we know, Wolf, it is a call he made in the end and in the early hours of this morning, Eastern Time, that is when this trade on the tarmac in Turkey happened, when you saw Trevor Reed get on a plane to come to the United States to be reunited with his family.

And this is something that the White House says has been months in the making. President Biden just told me a few moments ago when I asked him about the context of this release happening now. It's not just that this release happened at all, it's that it's happening amid this ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and some of the worst tensions that you have seen between the United States and Russia in decades.

And President Biden said that this is something he raised three months ago with Russian officials. Of course, we know it was just last month, about a month ago from now that he met with Trevor Reed's parents here at the White House, because, Wolf, you'll remember it was that day it had been pouring rain. Trevor Reed's parents were outside demonstrating, trying to bring attention to their son's case, saying that he was going on a hunger strike to protest the way he was being treated. He's in need of health care. He wasn't getting that access. Then, of course, the next day, his parents met with President Biden here at the White House and they say they believe that was the tipping point in bringing Trevor Reed home.

And I think, Wolf, this release raises a lot of questions not just about the Americans who are still there, who are still being wrongfully detained, according to the United States in Russia, but it raises questions about the ongoing invasion and the White House says they don't believe it changes anything when it comes to their perspective or their position on this invasion.

They are still expected to ask Congress for more money to send more military equipment to Ukraine. And they say when it comes to what it means from the Russian side, they can't really speak to that. But they said that they do believe that this is still going to be the situation going forward.

Though it is noble, Wolf, this does show that those diplomatic channels between the United States and Russia do still exist and clearly they are still working in cases like Trevor Reed's.

BLITZER: At least in this particular case, they were. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much.

Later this hour, we'll take a closer look at the efforts to win the release of two other Americans still being held in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Now to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a new escalation of tension with the west, our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is in Ukraine for us. He's following all the new angles in the war.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Russia is ratcheting up pressure both inside and outside Ukraine tonight, cutting off natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria in response to western sanctions. Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas company halted gas exports after the countries refused Moscow's demand to pay in rubles. The European Commission called the move blackmail.

ALEXANDER NIKOLOV, BULGARIA'S ENERGY MINISTER: Practically, it's coming from 90 percent to zero. Of course, it's going to be tough. And, of course, we have a price to pay, but at the end of the day, sovereignty is much more important.

SCIUTTO: The Kremlin rejected accusations of blackmail. For now, Poland and Bulgaria have secured alternate gas supplies from E.U. neighbors as well as tapping their reserves.

The move serves as a warning shot to Germany also dependent on Russian gas after it announced it will provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. Today, Putin issued this threat.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: If someone intends to intervene in what is happening from the outside and creates unacceptable strategic threats for us, then they should know that our response to oncoming strikes will be swift, lightning fast. We have all the tools for this, ones that no one can brag about, and we won't brag. We will use them if needed. And I want everyone to know this.

SCIUTTO: The Russian president did not specify what tools he would use.

Meanwhile, the speed of the ground offensive in Ukraine has picked up with targets hit in the east and south.

SERGII LESHCHENKO, SENIOR ADVISOR TO ZELENSKYY CHIEF OF STAFF: The fight on the east is like one of the most brutal wars, brutal battles after the Second World War finished.


SCIUTTO: Shelling caused damage to this hospital in Severodonetsk, where a Ukrainian official says a woman was killed, this bridge near Odessa, destroyed by a missile, blasts overnight in three regions inside Russia bordering Ukraine as well. This image shows an ammunition depot on fire in Russia's Belgorod region.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy did not claim responsibility but said, quote, karma is a cruel thing.

And new evidence emerging of Russia's role and atrocities in Bucha last month, CNN obtained this exclusive drone video showing Russian military vehicles and soldiers on a street in Bucha near the bodies of dead civilians.

Despite the Kremlin's repeated denials of responsibility for the deaths, here are Russian military vehicles seen sitting in an intersection. CNN has identified three objects in the video as the same bodies that were seen in previously re released video and satellite images.


SCIUTTO (on camera): CNN reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment but did not immediately receive a response. The trouble of course, Wolf, is that there's been evidence of similar behavior by Russian forces in other parts of the country, particularly after those Russian forces have withdrawn, but also in addition to that, well, evidence we see every day here, right, of Russian military, Russian artillery, Russian aerial bombardment targeting civilian areas of several cities in the country, that's been a pattern and it appears to be part of the Russian war plan. Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly does, Jim Sciutto, on the scene for us. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, how exactly was the U.S. able to secure the release of American Trevor Reed? We're going to ask the State Department spokesman, Ned Price. That's next.


BLITZER: Tonight, Ukraine is acknowledging that it's lost some eastern towns to the invading Russian forces as Moscow concentrates its military offensive.

Right now, CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is live in the Ukrainian Capital of Kyiv for us. Clarissa, I know you recently spent some time out there in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. Give us some perspective on the late breaking developments, what all this means.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, essentially, Ukrainian authorities basically bracing people here for what promises to be a really tough few months or weeks ahead, as we have seen or heard now several towns and villages have fallen to Russian forces in the Donbas region.

We spent time there last week. It is heavy fighting, street to street in some of these towns, a lot of really heavy weaponry being used, long-range artillery, and Ukraine finds itself at more of a disadvantage than it did in the battles surround Kyiv because it's much further to try to resupply those troops with weapons and ammunition on the frontlines.

Russia, of course, has weapons coming in just from its border behind them. And they are now pushing in, Wolf, on three different frontlines, down from the north, in from the east, up from the south. Ukrainian military also saying that they had seen cruise missile units being moved down from Belgorod towards the frontlines.

The Ukrainians have also said, however, that they have successfully repelled nine attacks today. They have destroyed a number of tanks and other weaponry. And, of course, we saw those attacks inside Russia on several ammunitions depots, one of them in Belgorod.

The Ukrainians not officially claiming responsibility for those explosions, but they did believe sort of coy message of presidential adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying, that this is essentially what happens when you go in and invade another country and kill a lot of people that eventually you have to, quote, pay your debts and that, quote, karma is a cruel thing.

So, Ukrainian forces fighting back hard, but there's no question about it, this is going to be a long grind ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: This war clearly escalating right now. Clarissa Ward, be safe. We'll be back to you soon. Thank you very, very much.

And joining us now is the State Department spokesman, Ned Price. Ned, thanks so much for joining us. Can you take us behind the scenes on what exactly led up to the successful return of Trevor Reed?

PRICE: Sure, Wolf. Well this is something that at this department and elsewhere across the government, we have been focused on, on cases around the world. President Biden has made a commitment to do everything we responsibly can to see the safe release of American who are unjustly detained around the world. We've done that in the case of Afghanistan. We have done that in the case of Venezuela, in the case of Haiti, in the case of Burma, and as of today in the case of Russia.

What culminated in Trevor Reed's release earlier today, and as you've heard the swap took place in Turkey, was months of concerted discussions with Russian officials, for us as is every case. There was an added degree of urgency because Trevor has been in Russian custody unjustly for far too long, but also his deteriorating health was a cause for great concern.

So, the president was presented with a decision. It was a difficult decision. But the president given his role as command-in-chief thought that it was the right decision. And because of that decision, Trevor Reed is on the way home. He's being accompanied by our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Ambassador Roger Carstens. They're on the plane right now. We expect they will land in the United States later this evening where Trevor will be reunited with his family at long last.

BLITZER: You have said, Ned, that these negotiations with the Russians were focused only on Trevor Reed.


But does the timing of Russia now making this swap signal any hope for a diplomatic breakthrough on Ukraine or a breakthrough on the other Americans being held in Russia?

PRICE: Well, to be clear, these discussions were focused on one thing and one thing only, that's the safe return of American who are unjustly detained in Russia. There was no intent to negotiate or even to speak to anything about Ukraine or anything broader.

You know, the person I mentioned who is responsible for much of this work, Roger Carstens, his title, again, is special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, and hostage is the key words. Roger Carstens and his team, they can talk to elements, they can talk to parties, they can talk to countries where we might not otherwise do that because they are not conducting traditional diplomacy, as you might think of it. Their work is focused on one thing and that is securing the release of Americans.

So, I also want to reiterate, Wolf, that our work today is not yet finished. There's Paul Whelan who remains in Russia. There are other Americans including Brittney Griner who were detained in Russia. We're going to continue to do everything we can to support them and to achieve successful outcomes in those cases as well.

BLITZER: Well, we certainly hope that those other Americans are brought home quickly and that they come back safe.

The Ukrainian military, as you know, Ned, now says it has lost several eastern towns and villages to the Russians. With the Ukrainian defense minister warning, and I'm quoting now, he's suggesting there will be extremely difficult weeks that lie ahead, does Russia have the upper hand right now in the eastern part of Ukraine?

PRICE: Well, if it you take a step back for a moment, Wolf, the fact is that Russia is losing. And we saw very clear indications of that over the last several weeks. Russia has lost the battle for Kyiv. I don't need to tell you but my boss made is a somewhat surprise trip to Kyiv over the weekend accompanied by the secretary of defense.

They took a lengthy 11-hour or so train ride from the Polish border into Kyiv. The fact that they were able to take that train, the fact that they were able to pass through territory that Russia thought it would conquer in a matter of days, if not a matter of hours, is a testament to the fact that Russia's war aims have been thwarted. They have been thwarted for a couple reasons.

Most importantly is the grit, the determination, the bravery, the courage of our Ukrainian partners, but there's a key enabler there. And that key enabler is the massive amount of security assistance that we're providing our Ukrainian partners, $3.8 billion from the United States alone since the start of the invasion. More than 30 countries have provided security assistance. And with that, our Ukrainian partners have been able to push back, and have been able to thwart Moscow's aims.

Now, at the same, I don't want to suggest that this war, this conflict is anywhere close to over. Russia has quite a bit of firepower. It is training that firepower contrary to its initial goals on the south, on the east, they are inflicting brutality, they are inflicting devastation on parts of the country. We're going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to defend their country, to fight back, to continue, to halt Russia's operations, just as we also continue to mount what is a massive amount of economic and financial pressure on the Russian federation so that they change course.

BLITZER: We'll see how that works out. The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, thanks so much for joining us.

PRICE: Thank you, Wolf. I Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Coming up, CNN is on the frontlines right now in Eastern Ukraine as police deliver life-saving aid to some of the most vulnerable residents while Russia intensifies its brutal attacks.



BLITZER: Yet more intense Russian attacks in Eastern Ukraine have now left some of the most vulnerable residents, so desperate and so trapped, they are relying on police and volunteers for life saving aid.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley, has a firsthand look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Severodonetsk on the frontline with Russia, it's an artillery frontline.

Let's get into the basement.

Local police are delivering aid to civilians unable to leave. There's no time to wait out the bombardment. There's no likely end to the shelling either. Supplies need delivering and fast.

She tells me there are three people next door including a granny of 92. Upstairs, a bedridden woman. She says that normally they stay in that flat and only use the basement when it's bad.

Thank you for not forgetting us, she adds.

The urgency of these sort of deliveries cannot be exaggerated. Just in this, flat there's mostly old people, one gentleman is dying of cancer in front of his wife. She's saying she's living in a double hell. Since we've been here, they have been five, six, eight impacts very, very close.

In almost every tree, every corner, every bit of this local neighborhood has got the signs of recent impact. And Russians are just a kilometer, maybe three away.

Russian guns are so close you can hear the whole arc of their shells. From Kyiv to Mariupol, from Kharkiv to here, this is the Russian way of war, pound civilians, flatten cities, and maybe occupy the ashes.


Oleksander (ph) says we are in danger now. They are shelling us so it could come at any moment and shrapnel could hurt us. We try to hide there in the bomb shelter.

Two months of war has driven these people underground. And there's no end in sight. The fear, Oleksander (ph) confesses, he tries to keep inside but it creeps out.

There's one more delivery that the police have got to make. But every time we try to get out the front door of this building, there's another impact. There's another one now. They are saying that the hospital, which is nearby, is under heavy shelling. We were planning to go there. We can't get through, nor indeed at thje moment can we even get out of this bunker.

The hospital was hit. Images of the damage done that morning posted online by the local administration. Officials said that one civilian was killed, others injured and several floors were badly damaged.

The humanitarian effort goes on. This woman asks only for the basics of existence, water and candles for light.

Good job. You do this every day? Bogdan (ph), tells me that most people left here have nowhere else to go. They have lived here all their lives and don't want to abandon their homes.

Do you think the Russians are going to take some of Donetsk?

Never, he says. We will stand our ground to the last man. No one will leave here.

That maybe a dangerous claim. It's likely that Ukrainians will destroy this bridge to hold up the invasion. And anyone still here would then be trapped in Russian hands.


KILEY: Now, Wolf, Rubizhne, a town just north of Severodonetsk, where I was reporting from there earlier on today, has fallen to the Russians. They have been able to push much, much closer to the edge of the city. The artillery being fired, that was only about a kilometer away, we now know. And this is part of a campaign to try to take the northern of Donetsk, the northern bank of the Donetsk river before then pressing their campaign on to where I am here.

The real prize from the Russian perspective is the city of Kramatorsk, where I'm speaking to, where I can hear there are air raid sirens going off almost every night, they're going off at the moment now. And mayor here, Wolf, told me just yesterday that he felt that the significant fighting would be starting next week. Wolf?

BLITZER: I hear those air raid sirens. Just be careful over there. Sam Kiley, reporting for us in Kramatorsk, thank you, Sam, very, very much.

Let's get some more on this truly desperate situation that's unfolding right now. Joining us, Avril Benoit, the U.S. executive director of Doctors Without Borders. She recently spent a month in Ukraine watching what's going on and helping the people there. Avril, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

How exactly is your organization, Doctors Without Borders, getting the most vulnerable out of danger, especially those wounded in the eastern fighting right now? In that report we just saw from Sam Kiley, we saw the elderly. We saw cancer patients. We saw a lot of desperate people who are suffering right now as a result of this Russian assault.

AVRIL BENOIT, U.S. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Yes, you're absolutely right. And that was very courageous reporting, if I may say. It's been a huge challenge for the hospitals in the east. Hospitals that are sometimes overwhelmed with a number of casualties all at the same time when there's a bombing that hit civilians.

And with those mass casualty events, it requires surgery. It often requires multiple surgeries. People would need post-operative care and be in hospital for quite a long time. And so because a lot of those hospitals are quite overwhelmed and concerned about being overwhelmed, they have been in collaboration with us and also with the national railway service to organize evacuation trains. They are medical referral trains.

And this is one of the ways we have been supporting the medical system there because they do have highly skilled surgeons, good operating equipment. They are good to go as far as supplies. We have been really helping them a lot with that. But they are worried that they have got too many patients in these vulnerable situations.

And with the kind of bombing that we saw in that report, often the hospitals have to bring everybody down into the basement.


And there are limits to how much you can really care for people over the long-term that way.

So, with the medical referral train we have been taking people from eastern cities, Zaporizhzhia, Kramatorsk, Dnipro, even Kharkiv and we have been transferring them, referring them with doctors and nurses on board the train to hospitals in the west that are quite a bit calmer, have the capacity and where the patients can have the sense of stability while they continue their healing journey.

BLITZER: And what is so disgusting is the Russians keep bombing these hospitals at the same time. Avril Benoit, thank you for joining us. Thanks for what you and Doctors Without Borders are doing. Thanks so much for joining us.

Just ahead, the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, on the defensive right now over comments he made about GOP colleagues after January 6th. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's fallout tonight, yet more fallout from newly revealed remarks by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy after January 6th, raising concerns that some far right Republicans might actually be inciting violence.


McCarthy faced his GOP colleagues today, and defended his comments. Our Congressional Correspondent, Ryan Nobles, tells us how it played out.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is facing backlash from the most conservative members of his caucus after audio revealed him harshly criticizing some of them, including Congressman Matt Gaetz, for their potentially dangerous rhetoric in the aftermath of January 6th.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) (voice over): Well, he's putting people in jeopardy and he doesn't need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else. NOBLE: This morning, Republicans huddled behind closed doors. Sources in the room say, McCarthy attempted to explain that he was simply offering up ideas, like taking away social media accounts and he never acted on much of what was discussed. His speech led to a standing ovation. And publicly, most members of the conference say they are ready to move on.

REP. ELVIRA MARIA SALAZAR (R-FL): I am more concerned not about the past but about the future.

NOBLE: Even those he criticized, including Congressman Mo Brooks.

REPORTER: Are you going to take it up with him, sir, talk to him about it?

REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): I don't see any need to.

NOBLE: The party, though, is not a universal agreement. Some members of the far-right freedom caucus are raising concern, like Gaetz, who initially refused to weigh in.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I haven't heard the tapes. And I will have to add when I take a listen to them.

NOBLES: But then unleashed on McCarthy and GOP Whip Steve Scalise on Twitter, saying this is the behavior of weak men, not leaders. And Andy Biggs, the former chair of the Freedom Caucus, who said McCarthy's words caught on tape could lead to bigger rifts between the various wings of the GOP.

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ) (voice over): We have our leader that basically negotiating with Liz Cheney on whether he should encourage President Trump to resign or not. It becomes a huge trust issue for me.

NOBLES: And while McCarthy attempts to hold his membership together, Democrats arguing that this whole episode demonstrates that McCarthy has a problem with the truth.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It's a five-point playbook. Number one, lie. Number two, lie. Number three, lie. Number four, lie. Number five, lie again.

NOBLE: And McCarthy critics, like Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, claiming the audio reveals who the leader really is.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): It's quite obvious that he's failed at that. And he continues to push a narrative that's false. He continues to defend people pushing false narratives and that's wrong.


NOBLE (on camera): And the big question becomes how does this impact the work of the January 6th select committee. They have asked Kevin McCarthy to come before them to testify. He's turned down that opportunity. So far, the Chairman, Bennie Thompson, saying the committee has not yet ruled out the idea of issuing subpoenas to Republican members of Congress, including Kevin McCarthy. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ryan, thank you. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.

Let's get some more on all of this. Our Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel, is joining us right now. Jamie, how much do these new tapes actually jeopardize McCarthy's quest to become the house speaker, assuming the Republicans wing the majority in the midterm elections in November?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big problem. This was a bad week for Kevin McCarthy. It is likely to get worse. His dream job is to be speaker. And you don't make friends with these recordings. This is a question of math. If the Republicans take the house, he will need every vote. We just heard from a couple members who don't look like they are going to vote for him.

BLITZER: The former President Trump, he said, and I'm quoting him now, he didn't like the call, but then he took at this, quote, a big compliment that McCarthy reversed course and supported him. Can McCarthy take those Trump words to the bank?

GANGEL: In a word, no. Look, you and I know their relationship has been rocky for a long time. Donald Trump also has a long memory. He remembers Kevin McCarthy, the angry call that they had on January 6th. Kevin McCarthy standing up and holding him responsible on January 13th. I would remember these words today. He didn't like the call. The Republican sources I spoke to think Trump is more likely to support somebody else in the end.

BLITZER: Yes. These recordings, they are pretty obviously stark. Are they just the tip of the iceberg? Are there more potentially out there?

GANGEL: So my Republican sources on the Hill were not surprised at all that there are these recordings.


There was no I'm shocked shock. They actually were just surprised that it took this long for them to come out. They believe there are other recordings out there. And there will be a continued drip, drip, drip against McCarthy.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be.

All right. Thank you very much, Jamie Gangel, doing excellent reporting as she always does.

Coming up, the latest on efforts to bring home two Americans still being held by Russia after the release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed. Much more on that, right after this.


[18:50:00] BLITZER: Breaking news we were following. The parents of American Trevor Reed are now speaking out after the U.S. Marine veteran was released from Russian custody after part of a prisoner swap today. Reed's parents say their son was in touch with another American Paul Whelan who is still in a Russian prison.


JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED: If they were to take our son and not Paul Whelan, that our son might try and refuse to come home, not wanting to leave another --

PAULA REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED: He doesn't want to leave another -- him and Paul got to talk through messages and stuff occasionally.

J. REED: Well, no --

P. REED: They relayed messages from his family to us.

J. REED: Yeah, from his family to us --

P. REED: From his family to us, and then back to like -- you know, all those kinds of messages. But -- so at first we thought there was going to be a deal to bring them both home. I think that it was going to be really hard.


BLITZER: CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, there are two other Americans, WNBA star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another former marine, who are still being held captive by the Russians.

TODD: They are still being held, Wolf, and even with the release of Trevor Reed, analysts are not overly optimistic that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan will be freed soon.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, attention now turning to the fates of two other Americans detained in Russia, basketball star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. The Biden administration stresses they're not forgotten.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The case of Paul Whelan is one we continue to work day in and day out. Paul Whelan is wrongfully detained in Russia. When it comes to Brittney Griner, we are working very closely with her team, her case is a top priority for us. I can tell you with the utmost certainty.

TODD: Griner was jailed in mid-February on allegations of drug smuggling. Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage, when she arrived at a Moscow airport.

One former U.S. official believes Vladimir Putin has strong motivation to keep holding Griner, her celebrity status and the fact that she's U.S. Olympic gold medalist.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Remember, she was seized in February right after the Olympics, when Russia was roundly embarrassed yet again for doping of its Olympic athletes. And so, this might be also a way of getting revenge at the U.S. Olympic Committee.

TODD: Griner's had access to her Russian legal team and has had at least one consular visit by a U.S. official in Moscow. They reported she was in good condition.

Paul Whelan has been detained since 2018 on espionage charges, which he's denied. One analyst says that charge doesn't bode well for him.

ALINA POLYAKOVA, PRESIDENT & CEO, CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS: Espionage charges, that's basically for life in Russia. So I think the United States, if they're involved in that negotiation, together with the government, that's going to take a very long time because of the complexity of the case.

TODD: Whelan's brother says getting him out will require courage and high level sessions but --

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF AMERICAN DETAINEE PAUL WHELAN: I'm not sure I have a lot of confidence at the current administration or that any administration has that courage or concessions.

TODD: Former Ambassador Bill Richardson who helped secure Trevor Reed's release says a prisoner swap is not certain for either Griner or Whelan, because he says the U.S. government generally frowns upon them.

BILL RICHARDSON, AIDED TREVOR REED'S RELEASE FROM RUSSIA: You don't want to do prisoner swaps, because it encourages the other side to use Americans as bargaining chips, and then there's justice issues.


TODD (on camera): And a short time ago, Paul Whelan and his family responded to Trevor Reed's release. Paul Whelan released a statement which they shared with CNN, saying, quote: Why was I left behind? While I'm pleased Trevor is home with his family, I've been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months. The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn't more been done to secure my relief?

Whelan's family has also complained they were not given more notice before word of Trevor Reed's release was all over the news.

Wolf, these families are raw with emotion tonight.

BLITZER: Yeah, let's hope that they're both released and soon.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, powerful figures here in Washington deliver a final farewell to the first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.



BLITZER: Finally, tonight, she turned the tide of history, that's how Joe Biden eulogized the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. The president joined the Clintons and others at Albright's funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To Madeleine, from my perspective, there was no higher mission, no greater honor, than to serve this great experiment and freedom known as the United States of America.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our last conversation was two weeks before she passed away. She said, look, I've got a little problem here, but I have a perfectly good doctor. I'm doing exactly what he tells me to do, so I'm getting good care, and whatever happens will be the best outcome I can get. Let's not waste any time on that.

The only thing that really matters is what kind of world we're going to leave to our grandchildren. I will never forget that conversation as long as I live. It was so perfectly Madeleine.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: She didn't just help other women, she spent her entire life counseling and cajoling, inspiring and lifting up so many of us two are here today. So, the angels better be wearing their best pins, and putting on their dancing shoes, because if, as Madeleine believed, there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women, they haven't seen anyone like her yet.


BLITZER: Madeleine Albright died last month at the age of 84. May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.