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Teachers Slams Police As Cowards In Chilling Account Of Massacre; McConaughey Pleads For Gun Reform As Talks Enter Critical Stage; Trump's Call To Walk To Capitol On 1/6 Spurred Secret Service Action; U.S. Gas Prices Hit Record High, Averaging $4.92 A Gallon; High-Profile Voices Join Fight To Release Americans Held In Russia. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 07, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. You know if you ever missed an episode of the show, you listen to "THE LEAD" wherever you get your podcasts, all two hours of it, just sitting right there.

Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, after two weeks of grieving in Uvalde, a teacher wounded in the school massacre is speaking out. He is slamming police as cowards in a chilling new account of the attack, and revealing his desperate failed attempt to keep his students alive.

Also tonight, the actor and Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey is making an impassioned new appeal for gun reform, appearing over at the White House as Senate negotiations enter a critical stage.

And a new revelation about Trump's call to walk to the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. It turns out the Secret Service actively considered options to get him there. Stand by for our new reporting ahead of a pivotal prime time hearing on the insurrection this Thursday.

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 we're getting the most detailed and gut-wrenching account of what happened inside Robb Elementary School two weeks ago. A wounded teacher is now opening up about the slaughter as local officials keep failing to answer critically important questions. Here is CNN's Omar Jimenez.


MAYOR DON MCLAUGHLIN, UVALDE TEXAS: Our priorities are for the families who lost children --

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Despite a special city council meeting, tonight few answers from public officials.

MCLAUGHLIN: There is an investigation going on and we'll find out what happened. I want those answers just like everybody else. I want to be transparent. I want to be clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of questions that need to be answered and there are a lot of changes that need to be made before kids are going to be accepting of going back to school.

JIMENEZ: It's now been two weeks since the shooting, but the pain hasn't gone anywhere.

ARNULFO REYES, TEACHER WHO SURVIVED MASACRE INSIDE CLASSROOM 111: And I said if I die, don't let it be in vain.

JIMENEZ: Arnulfo Reyes was teaching his fourth grade class when they all began to hear the gunshots.

REYES: The kids are asking out loud, Mr. Reyes, what is going on? And I said I don't know what's going on, but let's go ahead and get under the table, get under the table and act like you're asleep. As they were doing that and I was gathering them under the table and told them to act like they were going to sleep is about the time when I turned around and saw him standing there.

JIMENEZ: Reyes was then shot and says he had to play dead for over an hour. Much of that time, law enforcement was just outside the door.

REYES: You're supposed to protect and serve. There is no excuse for their actions and I will never forgive them. I lost 11 that day. And I (INAUDIBLE) to my parents, I'm sorry. I tried my best with what I was told to do. Please don't be angry with me.

JIMENEZ: For the survivors, it's going to be a long road to normal. The grandfather of Leann Garcia, another young survivor who was shot in the face, told CNN she still hears bullets, he says, and even now gets scared at the slightest sound. That's why her mother along with the parents of three other young survivors are now suing the estate of the shooter for damages alleging in part he intentionally injured these young children, stole their innocence and forever changed their lives. It's trauma Reyes miraculously survived, and now he is not going to settle with just being alive.

REYES: Nothing sets you ready -- gets you ready for this. We trained our kids to sit under the table and that's what I thought of, you know, at the time. But we set them to be like ducks. You can give us all the training you want, but it's -- the laws have to change. They won't ever change unless you change the laws.

I will go anywhere to the end of the world to not let my students die in vain. They didn't deserve this. Nobody in this world deserves this kind of pain. I will go to the end of the world to make sure things get changed.



JIMENEZ (on camera): And that, of course, becomes the question. This week we're expecting to hear testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee from a fourth grader Robb Elementary School, Miah Cerrillo, the parents of 10-year-old Lexy Rubio who was killed in the attack, the mother of someone who was injured in the Buffalo attack that, of course, happened at ten days before this one, all of them hoping that their stories can have at least some sort of impact toward long-term change, Wolf.

BLITZER: It is so, so heartbreaking. Omar Jimenez on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Let's hear more now from the Uvalde Mayor. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz was at today's special city council meeting and pressed the mayor for answers about the police response to the shooting.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Do you have confidence in the local police department to continue their duties, and in the chief as well, Chief Rodriguez?

MCLAUGHLIN: Chief Rodriguez, just so you know, was out of town when this happened. Now, he had put in vacation for a month before. So, when this initially took down, Chief Rodriguez wasn't in town. He canceled his vacation and flew back the next day.

PROKUPECZ: So, who was in charge of the police department at that time?

MCLAUGHLIN: He had an assistant chief. I'll have to find exactly who it was.

PROKUPECZ: Do you have confidence in Chief Arredondo?

MCLAUGHLIN: I have no -- I have nothing to say about that.

PROKUPECZ: Excuse me, sir, don't push me out of the way.

I want to back up. That's fine. Please don't get in my way. Well, he has been avoiding our questions.


BLITZER: Our Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is joining us right now along with CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Anthony Barksdale, the former acting Baltimore police commissioner.

Shimon, what more can you tell us about this meeting today?

PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly the important thing, Wolf, it was really our first opportunity to ask the mayor questions. He is the mayor of this city. We've certainly had a lot of questions. So, having him in this public venue, allowing our cameras there, I felt it was certainly important to ask him those questions because this community right now doesn't have a lot of confidence in this police department, the local police department, certainly the school police department. And so that's why it was important to ask those questions. The community wants to see change. You know, it's perhaps too early to talk about those changes.

But I think one of the key things that we learned today was that the chief, the chief of the local police department, the Uvalde Police Department, was not here that day. He is a more experienced chief. Instead, the duties were left to a lieutenant who was the acting chief. So, we need more information on that. And, really, the highest ranking official at this point from what we can tell locally was Chief Arredondo, who the DPS has said made that decision not to storm the classroom.

So, we learned some new information, obviously. And, you know, the mayor also told us, Wolf, that he is frustrated. He is frustrated that he is not getting more information. So, we wait. But the fact that we learned some new details today about the local police chief, I thought that was important.

BLITZER: Well, we're grate to feel you, Shimon, for pressing, so, so important.

Anthony, what goes through your mind hearing that truly harrowing account from that survivor, that teacher, Arnulfo Reyes? Can you comprehend how he was forced to play dead for 77 minutes with officers outside?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It makes me realize the significance of their failure, how it impacted everyone, those poor children, the teachers, and now the citizens, the community still without answers. So, it was sad to hear him tell that story of officers not doing the job that they're sworn to do.

BLITZER: Yes. And he pointed out they had bulletproof vests. He didn't. He didn't have anything.

Anthony, this teacher also told ABC he heard police officers outside, tell the gunman that they wanted to talk to him, to come out and talk, that they didn't want to hurt anybody. Is there any explanation for trying to negotiate with the gunman while dead and wounded children are inside that room?

BARKSDALE: None. You enter the room. You kill him. That is what you do. It's not pretty, but if you're in there killing innocent kids and shooting teachers, you go. That's the training.

And it's clear saying that they had training, that doesn't mean anything in the real world. Do you have the heart, the courage to go in a room when there is an active shooter and eliminate the threat? And they didn't have it. And it was a blessing that that tactical team overrode the stupid decisions of that chief and went in that room.

BLITZER: Yes. It was so, so critically important moment.

Shimon, there has been some talk, and you're familiar of this, of a report supposedly coming from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Is there any update on this, any clarity on whether this is really coming?


PROKUPECZ: No. I think it's going to be a while, Wolf. Part of what I have been hearing also is some of the officers, and certainly we know about Chief Arredondo, they've not been coming in for follow-up interviews. The Texas Rangers are conducting a lot of this investigation. They're wanting to interview law enforcement officials who were on scene. And a lot of them are not coming in for follow-up interviews.

And, really, Wolf, that brave teacher that spoke to ABC News, when you think about how brave he was, first, to come forward, of course, and just to talk about those harrowing 77 minutes in that classroom, and it's really our only account of what was going on, our only possible accurate account of what was going on in that classroom. And it's going to take people like that to come forward to be brave, to tell us exactly what was going on.

But, Wolf, the D.A.'s office here, that she is claiming that she is doing her own investigation. So, we could be in for a very long time before we get any more information.

BLITZER: You're probably right. Shimon Prokupecz, Anthony Barksdale, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, the Uvalde shooting is very personal for the actor, Matthew McConaughey. Stand by to hear his plea for gun reform over at the White House today.

Also ahead, then President Trump's talk of marching to the U.S. Capitol on January 6th triggered action by the Secret Service. We'll explain. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight is the January 6th select committee prepares for its first prime time hearing. We're getting new information about then- President Trump's plans on the day of the insurrection.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill for us. Ryan, what are you learning about Trump and the scramble by the Secret Service?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you'll remember that what former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows downplayed the idea that the former president had a real interest in coming here to the Capitol on January 6th with his supporters.

He wrote in his book that when the president suggested to his reporters during his speech in The Ellipse that day that he was going to march to the Capitol with them, that he was just adlibbing, that he wasn't being serious and he never had any plans to come to the Capitol, well, now we're learning that wasn't the case. And that, in fact, administration officials were in contact with the Secret Service to try and come up with a plan to safely allow the president to be with his supporters as they came here to the Capitol.

They even discussed attempting to find a way to get a motorcade route from the White House to the Capitol on January 6th and later determined it wasn't feasible. They even reached out to Washington, D.C.'s Metro Police Department to ask for assistance in that regard and were told that they would not get that help.

Now, the reason that this is important is because the former president and his aides have downplayed the idea that these were only Trump supporters that crashed the Capitol on that day. This would show that the president must have believed his supporters were going to be a part of it if he wanted to join them on their march here to the Capitol. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ryan you also have new details on what to expect during the select committee's first public hearing this coming Thursday night.

NOBLES: Yes, that's right. You know, Wolf, the committee has worked hard to try to downplay this idea that what happened here on January 6th was just a group of peaceful demonstrators that got out of control. They believe there was a level of premeditation.

And they believe it's connected to some of these right-wing extremist groups that were very present here on January 6th, including the Proud Boys. A number of the Proud Boys have been facing serious charges through the Department of Justice. And there are going to be two individuals that were directly connected to the Proud Boys on that day that are going to testify at this hearing tomorrow night, including a documentarian who was with the Proud Boys in the week leading up to January 6th. And on that day, Wolf, the committee considers him a firsthand fact witness.

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's get some more right now on this and more from our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe. He is the former FBI deputy director.

Andrew, how shocking is it that the Secret Service even considered bringing then President Trump to the U.S. Capitol on January 6th when we obviously saw what was going on?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, it boggles my mind that in the middle of a rally that was clearly kind of out of control with tens of thousands of people, the Secret Service were actually considering facilitating the president's clear wishes to move with his supporters from the site of the rally at The Ellipse up to the Capitol for everything that followed.

It's just unbelievable to me that they made that call to the Metropolitan Police Department. The MPD sounds like gave them a resounding no. They certainly had their hands full that day with many different protests and rally activities going on. But it's really remarkable that they even thought about it.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. The U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, as you well know, has faced lots of criticism for not going after the January 6th insurrectionists more aggressively. But do these most recent charges of what's called seditious conspiracy against the Proud Boys signal there might be more going on behind the scenes?

MCCABE: They definitely do, Wolf. This is a significant escalation in the government's attack on those individuals that they see as being most responsible for the violence and for the organized, coordinated assault on the Capitol.

We've seen this already with their seditious conspiracy indictments of several of the Oath Keepers, and now they are expanding that approach to include the Proud Boys. We've known all along there are plenty of video highlights and things to bear out.


The fact those two groups went up to the Capitol in an organized, disciplined, almost militaristic fashion, and now it appears that the Justice Department is putting together cases to address exactly that.

BLITZER: A bulletin from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now warning that the threat from domestic extremism here in the United States is growing, and will grow this summer and fall. How dangerous is this domestic threat?

MCCABE: Wolf, in all of my time working, managing, leading counterterrorism efforts at the FBI as a Head of the Counterterrorism Division and in other positions, I have never seen a time quite like this where the threat from domestic violent extremists so clearly outweighs any sort of threat that we face from foreign terrorists.

It is unique in my experience the history of our fight against terrorism. I think the Department of Homeland Security is doing the right thing by putting Americans on notice. I thought it's also unique that what they're seeing about the threat is it's multileveled, it's dynamic. It's not just one group or one ideology, and there are several upcoming events that could lead to violence.

BLITZER: They certainly are, Andrew McCabe. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, the actor and Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey makes an impassioned plea for gun legislation. You're going to want to hear his message to lawmakers after meeting with families of the victims.



BLITZER: Actor and Uvalde, Texas native Matthew McConaughey took to the White House podium this afternoon where he made a very, very powerful and emotional appeal for gun reform, speaking at length about visiting his hometown in the wake of the massacre, as well as his personal experience meeting with the families of victims. Listen as he shares their stories.


MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, ACTOR, UVALDE NATIVE: Maite wanted to be a marine biologist. She was already in contact with Corpus Christi University at A&M for her future college enrollment, nine years old. Maite cared for the environment so strongly that when the city asked her mother if they could release some balloons into the sky in her memory, her mom said oh, no, Maite wouldn't want to litter.

Maite wore green high-top Converse with a heart she had hand drawn on the right toe because they represented her love of nature. Camilla has got these shoes. Can you show these shoes, please? Wore these every day, green Converse with a heart on the right toe. These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting. How about that?

We also met a cosmetologist. She was well versed in mortuary makeup. That's the task of making the victims appear as peaceful and natural as possible for their open casket viewings. These bodies were very different. They needed much more than makeup to be presentable. They needed extensive restoration. Why? Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle.

We heard from so many people, right, families of the deceased, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, Texas Rangers, hunters, Border Patrol, and responsible gun owners who won't give up their Second Amendment rights to bear arms, and you know what they said? We want secure and safe schools and we want gun laws that won't make it so easy for the bad guys to get these damn guns.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Senator, thanks for joining us.

Clearly, the pressure is on the Congress to act right now, but a lot of Democratic priorities on gun control have already been ruled out in these bipartisan talks that are going on. Will you settle for a narrow deal that focuses less on deadly weapons and more on mental health and hardening schools, for example?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I will settle, Wolf, for meaningful and real measures that will save lives and hope to build on them in the future. And that would include not only mental health measures and school security but also extending background checks and improving that system, and also for me personally, maybe most important, a red flag law that separates people from guns when they say they're going to kill someone, themselves or others.

And these red flag laws work. Connecticut had the first. 19 have adopted them. They've saved literally thousands of lives. For me, the goal is to save lives, and then do more, like banning assault weapons, which I strongly support, raising the age for their purchase, banning ghost guns, banning high capacity magazines and measures that will, in fact, provide more security to people so as to make our streets safer and help prevent suicide, which now accounts for the majority of gun death.

BLITZER: CNN has learned, Senator, that privately, privately, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has expressed an openness to raising the age limit to 21 for buying these semiautomatic rifles. But is this still a nonstarter for most of your Republican colleagues in the Senate?

BLUMENTHAL: I hope it is a full starter, because I think that my colleagues are hearing the same message I am, which is the American people regard it as a no-brainer, not a nonstarter.


And here is the other fact. We need to provide resources for every one of these measures, like a red flag statute in hundreds of millions of dollars, same with mental health. The number has to be robust. So, it's not just these component, it's other moving parts to this proposal.

And I hope that Mitch McConnell is serious about them. I'm very clear- eyed about the history here. I've lived through it. I've tried to negotiate before, and we foundered on the gun lobby's opposition. But I hope my Republican colleagues will stand up this time. It's really a put up or shut up moment for them.

BLITZER: The son of a Buffalo, New York, shooting victim pleaded with U.S. senators on the Judiciary Committee today. You're a Member of the Judiciary Committee. Watch what he had to say. Listen to this.


GARNELL WHITFIELD JR. SON OF BUFFALO SHOOTING VICTIM RUTH WHITFIELD: Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires? Because if there is nothing, then, respectfully, senators, you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue.


BLITZER: Can you assure him, Senator, that the U.S. Congress will deliver this time?

BLUMENTHAL: I've assured him, Garnell Whitfield, to his face that we are going to work as long and hard as possible. It will be no fault of Democrats. It will be on Republicans if we fail to cross this finish line. And I met with members of his family and heard their plea as well.

And here is a really important point, Wolf, to finish on what you raised earlier in the program. Domestic terrorism, violent extremism, white supremacism, the massacres motivated by these venal and vile prejudices are associated, almost all of them, with the use of guns. El Paso, White Oak, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Charleston, go down the list, and now Buffalo, all involve firearms, and many of them assault weapons. So, there is an inextricable length between firearms and violent extremism, which is the most persistent and lethal threat to our security today internally. That's not my saying. That's a quote from the intelligence community. The most persistent and lethal threat is violent extremism and domestic terrorism. Not a shoe bomber from outside the country.

BLITZER: And let's put the picture up again of Ruth Whitfield, the mother of this man who testified before the Judiciary Committee today, a wonderful, wonderful woman, obviously brutally massacred in this horrible assault in Buffalo, New York, my hometown.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the Kremlin now says Russian troops have achieved a major goal of its invasion of Ukraine. What that is and what it means for Putin's war, that's next.



BLITZER: Turning now to an update from Ukraine where the Kremlin is now claiming Russian forces have just secured a major goal of Putin's invasion, a land bridge from Crimea to Russia through occupied Ukrainian territory.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has our report from the war zone.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At three-years-old, Ivan doesn't know war rages around him. He doesn't really understand it yet, says his father, Igor. We try to explain boom, boom, we tried to explain, it's only loud car passing by.

Ivan's mother Senya shows where they live. Neighbors who left the city of Slovyansk let them move into their ground floor apartment because it's safer. The hallway is full of bottled water. The bathtub is full there has been no running water here for weeks.

As the air raid siren blares, those who remain behind wait for food supplies at a distribution center. We're staying, says Zanaida. My neighbor has a well. Have I dogs and two cats. My husband has diabetes.

64-year-old Nikolai shrugs off the danger of staying put. Where can I go if they bomb everywhere, he asks me. You can't escape your fate.

Galina fled her village nearby on the frontlines. It was very hard there, she says. There was a lot of shelling. Half the village disappeared. Her son-in-law and her daughter are taking her away.

Every day, people gather for buses out of Slovyansk. The war now into its fourth month has seen millions flee their homes. With no end in sight, a sense of resignation and exhaustion has set in. Some who leave may never return.

Katya's mother and father have come to say goodbye.

KATYA, SLOVYANSK RESIDENT: Actually, I didn't plan to leave, but I decided to leave because the situation is getting more and more dangerous.

WEDEMAN: Her parents will stay behind, even as a part of them leaves.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And Ukrainian officials say that Russian forces are approaching that town, Slovyansk.


Meanwhile, as you referred to earlier, Wolf, the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, says that their conditions are now -- the necessary conditions have now been put in place for a resumption of rail connections between Russia and Crimea, and also that the road connection between Russia and Crimea is now up and running. And, of course, that's the so-called Crimea land bridge, which was one of the conditions, or rather one of the goals of the Russian invasion into Ukraine. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, it was. Ben Wedeman, stay safe over there. Thank you very much for that report.

Let's dig deeper right now with retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a CNN Military Analyst. General Hertling, thanks for joining us.

If that is indeed the reality on the ground right now, the so-called land bridge, how significant is that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'd question the reality, Wolf, quite frankly. And Russia is claiming this. But from many assessments, that M-14 highway that goes from Rostov-on-Don inside of Russia to Crimea is not cleared. There is still active resistance and insurgencies going on in every single major town along that route.

And if that was one of the Russian original objectives, they have failed miserably. They have destroyed that area, as you can see from these pictures that you're showing right now. So, that the ability to not only destroy an area but then to occupy and secure it are three different things.

The Russians have not been able to occupy and secure. They are met with great resistance from the Ukrainian territorial fighters and the Ukrainian army. So, this is still a heavy fight going on. And I would guess even in cities like Kherson and Mykolaiv where the active forces of Ukraine are fighting back against Russia, that it's a stretch to say that they control that land bridge. BLITZER: Can you say who has the momentum on these front lines in the east right now?

HERTLING: Yes, that's tough, Wolf. That's a harder question. In the east around Slovyansk, as Ben just mentioned, that's going to be a slugfest for some time. There has been active artillery shelling, barrages by the Russian forces. That is their way of war. After that artillery shelling, they usually tried to put in fast-moving combined arms, ground forces.

The Russians have not been able to do that. If you watch the film of their troops moving, it's very slow and tentative. That's likely because they fear the Ukrainians' technologically advanced weapons systems. But still, both sides are teetering back and forth, and we're likely going to see this for a very long fight.

This is going to be tough. It's a lot like the western front of 1918 in World War I. A lot of artillery shelling, a lot of slow movements. Some forward momentum and then some push back to the trench lines. It's very difficult to judge who has momentum right now in this fight.

BLITZER: Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you very much.

Coming up, gas prices now jumped to another, another record high, up five cents in just one day. I'll discuss with a senior adviser to President Biden right after the break.



BLITZER: American drivers are paying a record high for gas today, $4.92 per gallon. That's a 5-cent jump since yesterday alone.

Joining us now to discuss, a senior adviser to President Biden, Mitch Landrieu.

Mitch, thank you so much for joining us.


BLITZER: National average gas prices all across the country have hit yet another record high today, as I just noted. But the Biden administration seems to be saying there is not much more that President Biden can do to address this.

But doesn't the buck stop with him?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, Wolf, we're in a global economic challenge. You just did a segment on Putin's war in the Ukraine, which as you know is a primary reason why gas prices have gone up not just in America, but all over the country. And the same thing is true about inflation.

The president has said he will use every tool at his disposal. I think most common sense folks know that the president can't turn a dial, and has been said in the White House, and turn the gas price down. But what he can do is release supply from the strategic petroleum reserve, one million barrels a day, gather the other nations of the world to do the same thing, work on biodiesel, E-15, which he has done, and then call on Congress to lower prices in other areas.

The president has also called on oil companies to either use it or lose it. There are lots of leases out there that are not being drilled right now.

So, everybody's got to have hands on deck. This is something that's going to be a challenge for all of us. I filled up my car this weekend. It's a kick in the pants. There is no question that it hurts.

But as president has said many times, he grew up in a household where when the price of gas went up, they felt it at the kitchen table. So, he sees it. He knows it. He has worked hard on doing everything he can do and he will continue to do the same thing.

BLITZER: Today, your colleague, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, said she expects inflation to, quote, remain high in the U.S. but watch what she told me the other day when I asked about her comments minimizing the risk of inflation last year. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Wasn't it a mistake, Madam Secretary, to downplay this inflation risk? Did that contribute to the problems we're all seeing right now?

JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Well, look, I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take. As I mentioned, there have been unanticipated and large shocks to the economy.


BLITZER: Did President Biden also get it wrong when it comes to inflation, Mitch?


LANDRIEU: Wolf, you know, first of all, the secretary is a brilliant woman. And they have economists who are arguing about this over time.

One of the things the secretary said even after she said that was it was really hard to anticipate the strength of the omicron comeback and also the war in Ukraine, even the best economist didn't predict and that's really been the largest impact on inflation.

My expectation and I think that most economists who look at this now say we're moving from massive economic recovery, 5.6 percent growth into more stable method and it has to be managed right.

And president said the other day he has a three-pronged approach to this. He wants to let the Fed do their job and he expects them to do it. He wants to lower prices and he's asking Congress to help us do that and, of course, he wants to reduce the deficit more than he has, $1.7 trillion, which is more than any other president.

I think most economists agree right now that we're in a stronger position than any country in the nation to weather this very, very difficult storm, and as the president has always been, he's shoulder to shoulder with the American people and we're going to try to get it right.

BLITZER: You say that, but the World Bank just today is warning that the global economy may be headings towards 1970s-style stagflation. What does that mean for American consumers, and for President Biden and Democrats political future if, in fact, that 1970s type of inflation, which many of us old enough to remember, actually does develop?

LANDRIEU: Well, I hope you're not putting me in that category, Wolf, you're a little bit older than me.

But listen, that would not be good. And so, that's -- the whole idea is to hope the Fed does its job well and move from what has been a really rapid recovery into stable, steady growth and finding the right balance is the most important thing. I do think that it is hard for people now in high to put in hindsight to say that they predicted the war in Ukraine was going to be as -- number one, that it was going to happen and that it was going to be as catastrophic on the world economy.

The president and his team have their shoulder to the wheel, both on foreign affairs and domestic affairs. So, we're going to keep working to make sure that we lower the cost on the American people.

BLITZER: Mitch Landrieu over at the White House, thank you very much for joining us.

LANDRIEU: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, high profile figures now ramping up the pressure on the White House to try to bring Brittney Griner home after more than three months of detention in Russia. Stand by.



BLITZER: There's growing pressure on the White House tonight to bring WNBA star Brittney Griner home from Russia where she's been held in detention for more than three months.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story for us.

Brian, what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, you have some of the NBA's top stars in the middle of their championship series using that platform to call for Brittney Griner's freedom, and other prominent people were also speaking out, including a y young man who until very recently was himself detained by Vladimir Putin's regime.


TREVOR REED, FORMER MARINE RELEASED FROM RUSSIA: You have to tell them you want them brought home at any cost, you don't care what that cost is.

TODD (voice-over): Trevor Reed, the former marine held in Russia until a recent swap, dialing up the pressure on the Biden administration to work for the release of two other detained Americans, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Joining Reed in ramping up the pressure, high profile figures in the NBA and WNBA, showing solidarity with Griner by wearing "We are BG" shirts for warm-up.


TODD: And talking about her case at press conferences.

JAYSON TATUM, BOSTON CELTICS PLAYER: We all, you know, together, support, you know, trying to, you know, bring her back and to her family and things like that.

TODD: Stars like LeBron James joining the push for Griner's release, with James tweeting: Our voice as athletes is stronger together.

Fans holding signs at games with phrases like "Free Brittney". The pressure campaign now includes wife, Cherelle, recently telling ABC she wants to speak to President Biden.

CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: I just keep hearing that he has the power, she's a political pawn. So, if they're holding her because they want you to do something, then I want to you do it.

TODD: Griner has been jailed in Russia since mid February. Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived at a Moscow airport. Analysts say her advocates have more of a greenlight to speak out now ever since the U.S. government classified her as "wrongfully detained".

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL AT U.N.: I think there is a shift to let's speak about this.

TODD: Meanwhile, a new window tonight from Trevor Reed into the conditions Griner and Whelan could be facing inside Russian prison.

REED: It's really medieval. The food there is medieval as well. You know, you're given fish. Sometimes the fish is rotten. The cabbage is always rotten. I lost about 45 pounds in captivity there from malnutrition.

TODD: Griner's agent tells CNN Griner has been able to receive letters from family and friends while in detention.

Are the Russians reading them? MENDELSON: Absolutely. There's nothing private. There's nothing

private in a Russian prison. Anything that's coming to her will have been read presumably by numerous people.

TODD: Reed and others also worry that widespread homophobia in Russia could be working against Griner.

MENDELSON: She is openly gay in a country that is, tortures and kills members of the LGBTQ community. It's a terrible situation.

Conditions are not good. And there's abuse, both for women and men. This is the last place on earth you want to be.


TODD (on camera): The State Department says that Griner and Whelan cases remain top priorities for the U.S. government and Griner's case now handled by a special presidential envoy who deals with hostage affairs, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope they get her and get her out soon. Brian, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.