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Sources Say, Committee Believes Meadows Intermediary Pressured Hutchinson, Meadows Spokesman Denies It; Holiday Travel Nightmare; Griner's Wife Speaks Out As WNBA Star's Trial Begins; Biden Joins Democratic Governors To Plot Next Moves On Abortion; Russian Missile Strikes Kill At Least 20 In Odesa Region Overnight. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 01, 2022 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Congratulations to our producer, Veronica, her husband, Dax, and, of course, big sister Sophia, as they become a family of four.

And be sure to tune in this Sunday morning, the State of the Union. Dana Bash talks to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, plus Republican Congressman and January 6 Committee Member Adam Kinzinger. It's at 9:00 A.M. and noon Eastern.

I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Have a great 4th of July weekend. Our coverage now continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new developments in the January 6 investigation. The select committee now believes an intermediary for former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to pressure Cassidy Hutchinson just ahead of her explosive testimony. A spokesman for Meadows denies the accusation.

We're also following a holiday travel nightmare here in the United States, sky-high gas prices, flight delays and stormy weather are bringing misery to millions of Americans. We'll have an updated forecast on what to expect this July 4th weekend.

Also this hour, a CNN exclusive, Brittney Griner's wife speaking as the WNBA star's trial begins in Russia. She has strong words for President Biden and his administration.

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.

We begin with the latest news of alleged pressure on a former White House aide who gave bombshell testimony to the House January 6 select committee. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill working the story. Ryan, tell our viewers what you're picking up.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. We are learning more and more about the committee's real concerns that witnesses to their investigation could be intimidated by former members of the Trump administration, perhaps even the president himself. And we now know that one of the witnesses that they're concerned about is their star witness, Cassidy Hutchinson.


NOBLES (voice over): Witness intimidation has become a serious focus of the January 6th select committee. CNN has learned that both instances the committee presented as examples of possible witness intimidation during their hearing on Tuesday were directed at their witness, Cassidy Hutchinson.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): He knows you're loyal and you're going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition. I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns.

NOBLES: Sources say the committee believes that pressure was applied at the behest of former White house Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a claim Meadows' spokesperson, Ben Williamson, rejects. No one from the Meadows camp, himself or otherwise, ever sought to intimidate or shape her conversations with the committee, Williamson said in a statement to CNN.

The accusations of intimidations come at the same time The New York Times reports that organizations close to Donald Trump have been helping to pay for the legal fees of witnesses before the committee. It's a practice that is not uncommon or illegal. But according to the committee's former senior investigator, it does raise potential problems.

JOHN WOOD, FORMER JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE INVESTIGATOR: It does run the risk that they would be less cooperative than they would be if they had attorneys who are advising them who are being paid by the client, in other words, the witness themselves.

NOBLES: The committee is also still working with Secret Service to schedule another round of depositions for two agents at the center of a dispute over the former president's conduct inside the presidential SUV on January 6th.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF MARK MEADOWS: Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of, I'm the f'ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the west wing. We are not going to the Capitol.

Mr. Trump then used his free change to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted the story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

NOBLES: CNN learning that accounts of an angry Trump demanding to go to the Capitol over Secret Service objections and lunging forward in the SUV started circulating among agents in the months after January 6th. CNN has learned that Agent Tony Ornato, who was also Trump's deputy chief of staff, has met with the committee on two previous occasions. Some committee members say his version of events on that day were murky.

REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): Mr. Ornato did not have as clear of memories from this period of time as I would say Ms. Hutchinson did.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, the work of the committee was front and center last night in Wyoming.

HARRIET HAGEMAN (R), WYOMING HOUSE CANDIDATE: The only time that the J6 situation ever comes up is when people talk about how unfair this entire committee is.


NOBLES: Vice Chair Liz Cheney's opponent, Harriet Hageman, promoting conspiracy theories about the election results while Cheney accused Hagemen of doing Trump's bidding.

CHENEY: She knows it wasn't stolen. I think that she can't say that it wasn't stolen because she is completely beholden to Donald Trump. And if she says it wasn't stolen, he will not support her.


NOBLES: And back to the issue of witness intimidation, the committee members continue to say it is a focus of theirs and that they're very concerned about it. Congressman Jamie Raskin spotted today outside the House office buildings where the committee has its headquarters saying, it is very serious stuff and that the committee is not ignoring it at all.

Meanwhile, the committee is still pushing forward on that subpoena that they issued this week for the former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. CNN has learned that Cipollone would be willing to sit for a transcribed interview, Wolf, though, there are members of the committee that would like to see Cipollone testify in a public setting. Those negotiations are ongoing. Wolf?

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

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu and CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio. Guys, thanks very much.

Gloria, how damning is this allegation that someone actually sought to influence Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony on behalf of Mark Meadows, who was then Trump's White House chief of staff?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's damning and I think it's potentially illegal. We know from our reporting that Mark Meadows, in many ways, was the Donald Trump enabler in all of this. And we know that he was warned of violence before January 6th. We know at multiple times we know that before January 6, he met with Rudy Giuliani, and after that meeting, Cassidy Hutchinson went in to speak with Meadows and he said to her things might get real, real bad.

She also says that he asked for a pardon, although but he disputes that. I would say that Cassidy Hutchinson said this under oath. And so we know that he also let the president speak with some conspiracy theorists and that when Trump told him to call Michael Flynn and to call Roger Stone, he did. He listened to the president there.

So, in terms of all of this, we would have to say that he was the man closest to the president on this and did nothing to kind of stop what the president intended do, which was go to the Capitol.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. Shan, Cassidy Hutchinson was told, and I'm quoting now from what Liz Cheney said, do the right thing when you go in for your deposition, that's what she said. From a legal standpoint, what red flags potentially does that raise?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it seems like an obvious case of witness tampering. I mean, the statute requires an attempt to corrupt or influence, and it certainly sounds like that's what's going on here. This is a very easy case to investigate and prosecute actually, Wolf. I mean, you just follow the text messages.

And it's kind of astounding that they would put this kind of thing in a text message. I mean, Mark Meadows is going to wish he followed the old adage of if you want something done right, do it yourself and don't do it via a text message. It's just amazing that that evidence is there.

BLITZER: The committee has all these thousands of text messages and documents that they've gathered over these many, many months.

Governor Kasich, you have seen Trump's grip on his allies out there. Does this pressure stop witnesses potentially from being truthful with the select committee?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: You know, Wolf, think about this for a second. This is a 26-year-old woman who had access to the top levels of our government. Think about the pressure that she was under as she went into that hearing room. All the lights, all the people, all the cameras, sitting down there in her chair with the committee up at the top and she never flinched, pretty remarkable.

I mean, she was a big Trumper. And think about this, she was one person who was in the inner circle who decided that the truth mattered more than anything else in her life. And it's really pretty remarkable and pretty amazing.

Am I surprised that they would have tried to move her away from saying what she really thought? No, I'm not surprised. But I think our attorney said something really important, and that is witness tampering, if it happened, is a very serious issue. But kudos to that woman that she was able to do that. She had great poise, had great influence and it's affected the whole country.

BLITZER: It certainly has. You got to give her a lot of credit for the courage she had in doing what she did.

Gloria, these new accounts that we're just getting of January 6 from two -- not one but two Secret Service sources, they clearly align with what Cassidy Hutchinson was saying under oath before the committee.

BORGER: Well, they do. I mean, we all know that it was an angry confrontation with an angry president. There are details, there're differences in the details, did he grabbed the steering wheel, whatever, forget about it.


It becomes a sideshow.

The important thing to understand is that the president of the United States was warned that this was an armed crowd. And he still wanted to go to the Capitol to lead the armed crowd to disrupt congressional proceedings, to ratify a free and fair election. That's what we need to focus on, that he was intent on doing that.

BLITZER: Congress was doing what the Constitution wanted Congress to do.

BORGER: Certifying an election.

BLITZER: Yes, which is so, so important.

So, how does all this reflect, Shan, from your perspective, legal perspective, on Cassidy Hutchinson's credibility, the fact that two new Secret Service sources have basically confirmed what she testified to under oath about what the president was doing in that limo?

WU: Well, I think it strongly supports her credibility that she's already testified this under oath. Now, there's more corroboration from other folks.

And to Gloria's point here, I mean, whatever the Secret Service's spin on this, and they have reasons as an institution not to want to sound like they're ratting out the person they protect, but these are going to be differences and minor details, was it a lunge, the move towards his neck.

The important thing, as Gloria said, is the president of the United States wanted to lead an armed mob to overturn the election. That's really the critical point.

BORGER: And, by the way, she said she was told this story. So, she didn't -- she wasn't a witness to it but she let everyone know this is what she was told. So --

BLITZER: She believed she had a very, very good source, an eyewitness account who told her this.

Governor Kasich, does this feel, from your perspective, like a potential turning point at least for some Republicans? And I ask you as a Republican. KASICH: Yes. He's taking on water and he's shrinking. I said the other day that he reminds me of the wicked witch of the west. When they threw a bucket of water on her, she started to melt. And I feel that he is melting. He is losing influence. And there are people beginning to say, you know what, whether I believe the details or not, this is not our guy.

The other thing that I think needs to be made clear is in regard to this woman's testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, if people are going to take shots at her, they should be forced to do it under oath. If they don't agree with her story has been as what she's been able to recount fine, fine. Then get up there and testify under oath. Don't do these potshots in an anonymous way and the go hide, put your tail between your legs and go hide.

The other thing is, Gloria, can you believe this guy was trying to go to the Capitol to overturn the election? It is beyond reprehensible. It's hard for me to even believe in our country we would have somebody doing this, but this guy, he has done so much. And I've never felt he was fit for the office and it's all proven out to be true, unfortunately.

BORGER: What's even more remarkable to me is that, given this testimony, we know who Republicans are talking about the committee and it's biased and unfair and all the rest of it, but you don't Republicans who are inside that building under attack saying, this is terrible behavior, this is unacceptable.

KASICH: Yes, it's just amazing.

BORGER: This is unconstitutional. Your former colleagues are not saying it.


BLITZER: Liz Cheney is saying it. Adam Kinzinger is saying, two Republican members of the House. Guys, thank you very, very much, Gloria Borger, John Kasich, Shan Wu.

Just ahead, we'll have more on all the late breaking developments in the January 6 investigation. A former Republican congressman and an adviser to the select committee is standing by to join us live right after this.



BLITZER: More now on our top story. The January 6 select committee now believes Cassidy Hutchinson faced pressure from an intermediary for former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just ahead of her bombshell testimony.

Joining us now, a former Republican congressman and former adviser to the select committee, Denver Wriggleman. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. As someone who previously worked on this committee, how disturbed are you to hear that someone actually attempted to influence Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony on behalf of Mark Meadows?

DENVER WRIGGLEMAN, FORMER ADVISER, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: Well, it is disturbing, Wolf, but not surprising. And, by the way, Happy Independence Day weekend before we get started here.

But it is surprising -- I mean, it is disturbing but not surprising, but it's very easy to find out who might be doing that. And I think -- I don't know if the American public remembers this or what I'm about to tell them, but the thing is that the committee has resources and data to find out who might have called Cassidy. She can show text messages. She can actually give up her phone records. She can do any of that to find individuals that might be trying to hide, so it's very simple.

And my guess is Cassidy has already told the committee but she's being very, very wise in what she is saying. She did it under oath, just a very impressive individual. And seeing the attacks that are hitting her right now, the fact that she was getting text messages or phone calls to try to persuade to do the right thing when it comes to the Republicans that were in office in 2020 underneath Donald Trump, it just shows you what that ecosystem looks like and the kind of pressure they can put to you if they say, hey.

I said it before. It is sort of the Godfather-type of negotiation. We're going to give you a deal you can't refuse or whatever. But if you don't, they're going to come after you.

BLITZER: What's also disturbing is the committee has made it clear, Congressman, this is just a fraction of the potential witness tampering that they're dealing with. Do you fear this has it undermined the investigation's ability to get to the truth?

WRIGGLEMAN: Well, even if it undermined it at a certain percentage, it seems like these first six hearings have been a bit of a cluster bomb against individuals who thought it was just a peaceful tourist excursion into the Capitol on January 6th. And I still don't think you've seen all the evidence yet. So, even if there's been a blocking maneuver going on with individuals that are trying to stop Cassidy or other witnesses from saying what they needed to say to actually tell the truth, they wanted them to lie, I think that when you see the next few hearings and even up to the report, even with these the blocking maneuvers, I think the committee has done an incredible job in presenting the evidence.


And I do think that very good things are coming down the pipe when you're talking about what the committee is about to show, especially with operational planning.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. We are now also reporting accounts of January 6 from two Secret Service sources. These sources align with Cassidy Hutchinson's explosive testimony the other day, that the former president, that Mr. Trump was irate and demanding to go to the U.S. Capitol even though his Secret Service detail said it's dangerous, we're not doing that. What do you take away from this new reporting?

WRIGGLEMAN: Wolf, I have been doing counterterrorism a long time. I have been in the announces game (ph) a long time, I've been in counterterrorism a long time. And when you put together data and interviews, that could be a sledge hammer. And if individuals come out and they refute sworn testimony, you better have your ducks in a row. Because what happens is the committee doesn't like to come out with data or facts unless they have something in the back pocket.

So, when you see the screaming that's going on on social media or individuals trying to disparage Cassidy or the committee, they need to remember that ones and zeros are pretty irrefutable. So, I would just warn individuals if they come after the committee or they come after people who have facts and truth on their side, it could very come out and really get you on the backside.

And I don't like to call people morons. I don't think that's very appropriate. But I think they have to be careful in what they're doing if they don't have data and facts on their side.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Denver Wriggleman, thanks so much for joining us and thanks for all your important work over these years.

Coming up, chaos at the airports, stormy weather and staffing shortages are now snarling plans for millions of American travelers trying to get out of town for the holiday weekend. Stand by.



BLITZER: Turning now to the travel nightmare millions of Americans are enduring this Jul 4th holiday weekend. CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean is standing by for us over at Reagan National Airport, just outside Washington, D.C. with the latest developments.

Pete, this weekend could portend an entire summer potentially of travel headaches. Give us the latest.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDET: That's right, Wolf. The FAA has lifted the ground stops at some of the major airports on the East Coast, including here at Reagan National Airport, but that does not mean today has been without its problems. Latest check of FlightAware, more than 500 flight cancelations nationwide today, more than 5,100 delays and it is only just the start.


MUNTEAN (voice over): Millions of passengers are descending on airports along with summer storms putting short staffed airlines to their biggest test in years. The TSA screened 2.44 million passengers at U.S. airports on Thursday, just shy of a new pandemic-era record.

DAVID PEKOSKE, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: It feels much more like 2019 than in prior two years. MUNTEAN: Though with more problems for passengers, 3.5 percent of all flights this year have been canceled, a 42 percent increase over 2019.

ANGEL ORISINI, PASSENGER: Prepare, go at the earliest time as possible.

MUNTEAN: Airlines say they are facing a range of challenges at the carrier and federal government level. Just this week, airlines pointed to air traffic control delays caused by staffing issues at a key facility in Florida.

So, who is really to blame when it comes to these massive cancelations?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Bottom line here is that the airlines that are selling these tickets need to have the crews and the staff to back up those sales.

MUNTEAN: In an email to customers, Delta Airlines' CEO is apologizing for cancelations, saying, quote, the environment we're navigating today is unlike anything we have ever faced. Thursday, off-duty Delta pilots organized picket lines at major hubs saying they are overworked.

JASON AMBROSI, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: We've been flying record amounts of overtime to -- in the recovery to help get our passengers safely to their destinations.

MUNTEAN: At its 24/7 command center in Virginia, the FAA says it is monitoring potential weather delays in cities across the country, from forecasted thunderstorms, wind and low clouds.

LAKISHA PRICE, AIR TRAFFIC MANAGER, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: No one likes to be delayed but sometimes that happens and we always are working together intricately to make sure that we mitigate that as much as possible.


MUNTEAN (on camera) : Almost no airline has been safe from these cancelations. Delta Airlines is going as far as incentivizing passengers to avoid this weekend's mess. It has put in place a travel waiver in place now through July 4th, letting passengers rebook their flights completely free of charge. It will be a busy weekend, Wolf. The question now is whether or not it will be a smooth one.

BLITZER: Yes, and what's going to happen in the rest of the summer after this holiday weekend. We shall see. CNN's Pete Muntean over at Reagan National Airport, thank you very much.

Let's get an updated travel forecast right now from our Meteorologist Jennifer Gray, who is joining us from the CNN Weather Center.

Jennifer, could the weather situation out there make the travel even worse? JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think it will, especially today and tomorrow, it's going to make the situation much worse. We have scattered storms across the southeast, severe storms expected across the Ohio Valley. Those are going to extend into the northeast tomorrow, which will make travel very difficult.

We have seen ground stops in D.C. today. We've seen ground sops in New York, Philadelphia. We have two-hour delays in New York City right now, an hour delays in Orlando and we see sporadic delays throughout the day.


So, those showers in the southeast are going to continue and then we have the strong storms are going to be pushing through the northeast by tomorrow and that's going to impact some of our busiest airports. We're looking at places like New York City, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston all seeing damaging winds and the potential for hail tomorrow. And so that could add to the misery as far as the airports are concerned.

We could see minor to moderate delays in many of the cities but we could see moderate to major delays across the northeast and then seeing delays all across the southeast due to just the pop-up showers and thunderstorms that we have seen every afternoon. We had delays in Atlanta today, as well.

But by Independence Day, things should start to clear out for the most in the northeast where we'll still see some trouble will be in the southeast, where we still have some lingering showers and then across the midsection of the country again, across the Gulf Coast, stormy, and then up to the, north we're looking a little bit better, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We shall be in touch with you. Thank you very much, Jennifer Gray reporting.

Now, let's get more on the travel situation right now. CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining us from Miami. Leyla, for those who want to avoid the airport and hit the road, what should they expect?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they should expect this, what we're seeing right now to be the busiest time of the weekend. According to AAA, it is right now, as folks are getting out of work on Friday, expected to be the busiest on the road.

But let's break down those numbers from that AAA Independence Day forecast. They are saying that they expect 42 million people to hit the road, about 3.5 million people on flights in the airports and about 2.5 million that will find other means to travel.

But take a look at that number, 42 million. Perspective, that is about 88 percent of all the travelers that are saying, we're going to avoid the airport and we are going to go by car, and that is as we are seeing gas prices soar. I mean, right now, you are going to you pay on average $1.72 more than you paid on this day last year. So, despite those high gas prices, a lot of travelers saying they are still going to have a getaway, they just might not go as far as they may have because of the gas price. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, lots of problems out there. Leyla Santiago in Miami, thank you very much.

Just ahead, Brittney Griner's trial is finally under way in Russia. We have an exclusive interview with the WNBA star's wife who has a passionate plea for the Biden administration.



BLITZER: A new chapter tonight in the ordeal of WNBA Star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now with the latest information. Brian, Griner's trial on drug charges is now officially under way.

TODD: It is under way, Wolf, and we will continue next week. Many are looking ahead to what will happen in the likely eventuality that Griner is convicted. But in the meantime, Russian prosecutors have given new detail on what she's accused of.


TODD (voice over): Wearing a white T-shirt led hastily in to court in handcuffs, Brittney Griner endures the first hearing of her drug smuggling trial in Russia. The basketball star was read the charges against her, said she understood the charges but otherwise declined to speak. A top U.S. diplomat who spoke to Griner in the courtroom updated reporters.

ELIZABETH ROOD, CHARGE D'AFFAIRES, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances. And she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith.

TODD: The prosecution believes Griner had the intent to import cannabis oil into Russia when she was apprehended at a Moscow airport on February 17th. In court today, prosecutors gave more specifics saying Griner was carrying two cartridges, totaling less than a gram of hash oil.

TOM FIRESTONE, FORMER RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISER, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: I think in most cases it wouldn't even be prosecuted in the United States.

TODD: But in Russia, it carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison if Griner is convicted. The chances of that --

FIRESTONE: We know 99 percent of criminal trials in Russia end up in convictions. So, she will almost certainly be convicted. The question is what kind of sentence is she going to get. And that will be a real indicator of the political motives behind that.

TODD: An indication that U.S. officials expect Griner to be treated as a political pawn by Vladimir Putin's regime came in May when the State Department classified as being, quote, wrongfully detained. It means her case is being handled by a America's top hostage envoy. There's been talk of a possible trade.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: There has been speculation in the Russian media that they might want. His name is Viktor Bouot.

Reporter: nicknamed the merchant of death. . Boot is serving in illinois.

Unfortunately the way to bring Americans home is by making some sort of negotiated swap so the Russians have been asking for the return for a long time.

TODD: Viktor Bout, nicknamed the merchant of death, a notorious Russian arms dealer. Bout is now serving a long sentence at the U.S. federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

PROF. DANIELLE GILBERT, EXPERT ON STATE HOSTAGE TAKING, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: Unfortunately, the only way to often bring Americans home from these kinds of conditions is by making some sort of negotiate swap. And so the Russians have been asking for Viktor Bout's return for a very long time.

TODD: While rumors of a possible deal circulate, new questions over the conditions Griner could be facing in detention.

GILBERT: To be in Russian prison as a 6'9 black LGBTQ American, those are really difficult conditions to imagine that she has been treated fairly.


TODD: The Kremlin hold so many important cards in this case but is typically projecting a disinterested stance. Vladimir Putin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov telling reporters today the Griner case is not politically motivated, a statement that many here in Washington and outside analysts find laughable.



BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, with that report.

Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, spoke exclusively to CNN's Senior Political Correspondent and the anchor of Inside Politics Sunday Abby Phillip, and she's urging U.S. officials to step up efforts to bring the WNBA star home.


CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: I don't think the maximum amount of effort is being done because, again, the rhetoric and the actions don't match. When you have a situation where B.G. can call our government, the embassy 11 times and that phone call don't get answered, you don't have interest at that point until I see actions that are in B.G.'s best interest. It would have been in her best interest for her phone call to have been answered. It would be in her best interest for her to be back on U.S. soil. So, until I see things like that, no.

The most beneficial thing that I've been told is that you meet with President Biden. He has that power. He is the person that ultimately will make that decision for B.G. to come home. And so while everybody wants to tell me they care, I would love for him to tell that he cares.

B.G. is having to travel over five hours roundtrip when she goes court in a very, very, very tiny cage with her knees bent, feet up to the ground, because it's not big enough for her to fit in. So, she is experiencing a lot the days before she walks into court.


BLITZER: And Abby Phillip is joining us now live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Abby, how is Cherelle Griner coping with this incredibly difficult situation?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, it is a very difficult time for her. I think that one of the things that has really helped is their ability to talk to each other via these letters. She's actually been able to communicate with Brittney on a fairly regular basis. In fact, this week, it sounds like they had multiple back and forths by letter in which they can speak candidly.

She told me she doesn't feel like she has to hold anything back. She's not concerned that the Russian government is monitoring is perhaps trying to intercept the communications and they are able to be honest with each other. She also has the support of, I think, a lot of the other families who have gone through exactly this type of scenario who have really brought her into the fold. And she told me that that has been an enormous help to her, she's tried to navigate this process.

BLITZER: Tell us a little bit about the support she is getting from these other families.

PHILLIP: Well, I think this is really important because there are so many families of other Americans who are classified in this way as wrongfully detained. One of the most recently brought home from Russia Trevor Reed, she's been in touch with Trevor Reed himself and with his family.

And they really keep a tight knit network because the effort to bring Americans home is incredibly complex, it's an incredibly difficult diplomatic situation. And when you're dealing with Russia, it adds layers of complexity, questions about how do you plead in the courtroom, how does that affect, what kind of sentence you get? What exchange might the Russians be demanding and how might someone like Brittney Griner be used in the sort of geopolitical atmosphere. These families are talking to each other about how to work with the government to get their loved ones home. Cherelle told me that they all said the same thing to her. You can't stay quiet. You can't just keep it to yourself and hope that everything goes well. And you have to keep your -- her wife in this case on the agenda.

And on the second thing that many people have emphasized to her is that insisting on this meeting, as you heard her say, with President Biden is a critical part of the process. She is pretty clear-eyed. She believes that this is within President Biden's power to do and that he should do whatever it takes, including a potential prisoner swap, as Brian spoke to in his piece, if that is what it takes to bring Brittney Griner home.

BLITZER: That may be the only way to bring her home. Let's hope that happens. All right, excellent work, excellent, Abby. Thank you very, very much, Abby Phillip here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we're going to have more of Abby's exclusive interview later tonight at AC360 8:00 P.M. Eastern. I'll filling in tonight for Anderson. And one more note, Abby will be back for her program, Inside Politics Sunday, that's this Sunday, 8:00 A.M. Eastern. She will have yet more of the interview on Inside Politics Sunday

Coming up, President Biden vows the fight over abortion rights is not over despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe versus Wade. We have details of what he and some Democratic governors are now planning. We'll get to that when we come back.



BLITZER: President Biden huddling with the group of Democrat you can governors to plot next moves to ensure access to abortion for millions of women whose federal right to terminate their pregnancies thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let's bring in White House correspondent MJ Lee. She's joining us from the White House right now.

MJ, the president met with nine Democratic governors today and vowed that the fight over Roe is certainly not over. Tell our viewers what he said.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard President Biden once again condemning the Supreme Court's ruling, using very strong language. He said that that the decision was terrible and extreme, and that it would take the country backwards.

You're right. When he met with these Democratic governors, he essentially tried to have a discussion about different ways that the federal government can try to help the individual states protect abortion rights. Now, we also heard the president call on Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, but he also acknowledged that in the Senate there are not the votes to change the filibuster rules. [18:50:00]

And he said this is just one of the many reasons that the midterm election is going to be so critical.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, the choice is clear. We either elect federal senators and representatives who will codify Roe or Republicans will elect the House and Senate, will try to ban abortions nationwide, nationwide. This is going to go one way or the other after November. This is not over. It's not over.


LEE: Now one idea that New York Governor Kathy Hochul floated this evening was to use federal land to perform abortion services in states where that is banned. The White House has previously said that they are opposed to this idea, saying it could be dangerous for women and healthcare advisers. They're saying today that they're still opposed to this idea.

So we're just going to have to see in the coming days and weeks what new ideas this administration will offer for so many people who are extremely concerned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly are.

MJ Lee, reporting from the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. She's the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She also sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

The president -- President Biden admits Democrats right now don't have the votes in the U.S. Senate to drop the filibuster and protect abortion rights for women.

So, what is the next step you want to see from the president.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, Wolf, it's -- you know, it's a good thing, I think, that the president is keeping up on this issue. I think it's good he met with the governors. The governors, obviously, are doing a lot of work in our states. Jay Inslee was there, my governor was there, and I know we are trying to do everything we can to expand access here.

The president and the White House have already said that they will work to ensure that medication abortion pills are available. I can I think that is very important to speed up as quickly as possible with an executive order, pushing the FDA to make this happen right away. Also, things like telehealth will be very important and, of course, the president has said that the DOJ is going to do everything in its power to ensure that women are not criminalized for crossing state lines.

I hope they continue to look at this question of federal lands. I know there are many things that tie their hands at the White House because of the Hyde amendment and Hyde-like clauses that are there, but I have heard new discussion amongst law professors that perhaps this would be something that's possible. So if there's any chance of that, I think that would be fantastic.

Separately, we are gearing up, and I'll tell you what, Wolf, I have talked to so many people over this last week. People are furious. Women, pregnant people, about what this means for our futures.

And so, we are organizing and I hope very soon we'll have a very clear plan over the next several months, but to codify Roe, we will need to keep the House and expand the Senate, but only by two votes. And it's very important that the president said he supports overturning the filibuster to codify Roe. I think that is important because we are going to get these two seats in the Senate, we will be able to do this but it will take a lot of work and energy and turnout all focused in this direction.

BLITZER: It's a huge issue going into the midterm elections in November.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, thanks as usual for joining us. Happy Fourth of July.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Russian missiles kill at least 20 people overnight in Ukraine. We're going to have an update from the warzone right after the break.



BLITZER: Ukraine is now condemning Russia as a terrorist state after overnight missile strikes in the Odesa region killed at least 20 people, including civilians and children.

CNN's Scott McLean is joining us live from Kyiv right now. He's got details.

Scott, what are you learning?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, rescue workers on the site of these missile strikes, they started looking at the blast sites for survivors but frankly they didn't expect to find any.

President Zelenskyy says the type of missiles used here is actually the same variety of missile used against that mall in Kremenchuk earlier this week, with extremely deadly consequences. There is an older variety not quite as accurate as the newer models. It's also big enough to be used to attack a military ship. It is certainly not meant for these kind of civilian sites and a nine-story apartment building or summer camp in this case that they've been used on, again with very deadly consequences including one 12-year-old boy who has been killed as well.

President Zelenskyy, as you mentioned, called Russia a terror state in response to this. The foreign minister said that Russia was waging a war against the civilian population and we've seen this over and over again. And so the Ukrainians have long been calling for help with their air defense system and it appears, tonight, that they're getting some help from the United States to be able to beef up their defenses against missiles, the United States sending two surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine to help with that system that right, because right now, the Ukrainians are vulnerable to miss missile strikes really anywhere in the country.

They are hoping, though, now that they are in control of Snake Island, that rocky outcropping in the Black Sea, are hoping at least the volume of shelling will decrease because the Russians no longer have this launch pad to access an area of Odesa that frankly, they have been unable to reach by land so far, Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation going after these residential apartment buildings where civilians and kids are. Terrible, terrible indeed.

Scott McLean in Kyiv for us, thank you very much.

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

I'll be back in one hour filling in for Anderson Cooper at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Until then, once again, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.