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The Situation Room
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson Resigns After Mutiny In His Party; One-On-One With Ukrainian President Zelenskyy; NY Post: Shooter's Father Thought Son Would Use Guns At A "Shooting Range"; Former Trump W.H. Pat Cipollone To Give Videotaped Closed-Door Testimony To 1/6 Cmte Under Subpoena Tomorrow; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty To Drug Charges In Russia. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 07, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
W. KAMAU BELL, AMERICAN STAND-UP COMIC: That's all wokeness is slang that we invented that just means, hey, be educated and I think we should all agree that being educated is good, right?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: All right. W. Kamau Bell, thank you for joining us. Be sure to tune in to the all new season of United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell this Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.
And I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a great rest of the day.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, political upheaval in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down pushed out by a mutiny within his own party and a series of scandals in his government.
Also this hour, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is sharing his reaction to the resignation of Johnson calling one of his staunchest allies against Russia, a friend standby for my exclusive and in depth interview with Zelenskyy from his war headquarters in Kyiv.
And the father of the Highland Park gunman says he does not bear responsibility for the attack as new reports are now surfacing about his views on his son's guns and the family's past interactions with police.
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 political upheaval rocky one of America's most important allies, Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigning after a truly historic revolt in his own Conservative Party over a series of ethics scandals. CNN's Max Foster's in London, just outside parliament for us. Max, a truly seismic shakeup for the UK. Walk us through these truly dramatic developments.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, throughout his tenure, you can say that Boris Johnson can claim some pretty notable wins. He was the man most responsible, the person most responsible for bringing the UK out of the European Union, whether you like that policy or not. It had a profound effect on the UK and Europe and the wider world. And he was responsible for that.
There was the vaccine rollout. There was him being on the front foot in supporting Ukraine, but throughout his premiership, there were scandals and every time he managed to mishandle them. He said there weren't parties in Downing Street during lockdown. He later had to admit there were and apologize. And the latest scandal was a member of his government, accused of sexual assault. Boris Johnson's office said he knew nothing about it. Later on, he had to admit and apologize for the fact that he did know about it.
And that was the final straw for many members of his government. And they started resigning on mass a couple of days ago. And it came to a head really last night where members of his own cabinet said time was up for him. He had to go. And his immediate response was to start firing people. But he's slept on it, woke up this morning, except that he had to go in he came out and gave a speech to that effect. But listen to this part of the speech. He's obviously going reluctantly, he feels he's being treated unfairly, and he's not happy about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But as we've seen, Westminster the herd instinct is powerful. When the herd moves, it moves. And my friends in politics, no one is remotely indispensable. And our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: There's still a lot of bitterness towards him, though, Wolf, I have to say. And there are plenty of MPs even in his own party, who want him to go now or in the next few days and not even wait until a new leader has been appointed.
BLITZER: So as you say, Max, Johnson will remain in office until a successor is chosen. Who's on the shortlist to succeed him?
FOSTER: Well, I'll bring you up this list. It's our best guess really. At this point it's an open game. And there's often an outlier who comes in and ultimately wins and the favorites usually don't win. But these are the current favorites.
And I'll point out a couple of them to you Ben Wallace, for example. You know, our audience, even our British audience don't necessarily know who these people are, but he's very popular in the party. Rishi Sunak, a bit better known. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer until he resigned earlier in the week. He's got charisma, but again, isn't that widely known.
And this is the issue they've all got. They don't have that profile that Boris Johnson's got. His campaigning ability, and they're going to have to prove that in the next few weeks, because it is the Conservative Party that decides who's going to be the next prime minister. But they all want to know that they're going to win an election at the moment. I can't say that any of these figures will resonate enough to be elected.
BLITZER: We'll watch it closely together with you. CNN's Max Foster in London. Thank you very much.
Let's get reaction right now from the White House. Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is working this part of the story for us. Kaitlan, what's the White House saying about Johnson's resignation?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, well, I just asked President Biden himself if he had any reaction to his resignation earlier today, a very dramatic resignation. Of course, President Biden himself kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, not really, Wolf. He said, it's all part of the process, obviously, meaning the democratic process about who the leader in the United Kingdom is going to be.
The White House, for their part put out a statement, they did not mention Prime Minister Boris Johnson by name, but they said that the close alliance between the United States and United Kingdom will continue.
Obviously, that's what they refer to often as this special relationship between the two countries. They said that will go on and they will remain in close cooperation, because obviously there is a lot for them to discuss, including what's happening on the ground and Ukraine, Wolf.
BLITZER: And Kaitlan is different -- is Boris Johnson and President Biden clearly are they were in lockstep when it came to Ukraine, right?
COLLINS: It was pretty notable, Wolf, because obviously, they were two leaders who had their differences. Boris Johnson was someone who was very close to former president Trump often cozied up to him, you saw a different relationship. When Biden came into office, they had disagreements when it came to that Northern Ireland protocol. House Speaker Pelosi warning that if they were going to rewrite it that was going to potentially cause some issues. There are questions about trade.
But on Ukraine, you really saw the two of them come together, obviously ever since that invasion of Ukraine, this has been something where the United States has not only maintains close contact with United Kingdom on their response and trying to be united on that, but also with other nations.
And so they have said that that is something that will continue that they are not concerned that is going to change as a result of Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigning that new united approach on Ukraine will go forward. But Wolf, it is notable, given how much they have spoken lately about this. And of course, they were just together last week in Germany, at the G7 summit and at the NATO summit in Madrid as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House. Thank you, Kaitlan. Thanks very much.
Right now we have the first reaction to Boris Johnson's resignation from the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, I spoke exclusively with President Zelenskyy about the support he received from Johnson in the war with Russia the help he needs from the United States, and much, much more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us. I want to start by asking you about the news today that the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resigned. He's been of course one of your biggest advocates in Europe. He's visited you twice during the course of this brutal war. Do you believe it's the correct move for him to step down at this point?
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): He resigned not because he was in Ukraine. I think on the contrary, what Johnson has been doing for Ukraine was helping us a great deal. I consider him a friend of Ukraine. But I think a society also supported Ukraine in Europe. That's why I think the UK it's on the side of good on the side of Ukraine. And I'm sure that UK policy towards Ukraine is not going to be changing because of Boris Johnson's resignation.
Our relations obviously gained a lot from Boris Johnson's understanding of things. We went through a lot of dramatic moments quite quickly. The help we needed was delivered rather quickly.
Yes. It will affect the speed of health. I don't know. I will pray to God it won't be affected that help.
Firstly, the military help in this moment of time.
BLITZER: Let me follow up on that point, Mr. President. In his resignation speech, Boris Johnson had a direct message to the people of Ukraine. He said the UK will quote, continue to back your fight for freedom as long as it takes. That's what he said. Are you at all worried that whoever replaces him may lead a British government less dedicated to supporting your country in this fight?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): Unfortunately, I didn't hear the resignation speech. I will be talking to him at 4:00 pm. I will be talking to him about everything. I will try to understand the details of what will be going on when it comes to supporting Ukraine in this war.
I think he's a deep and serious person. When He resigned, he wanted to talk to me in order to calm me down and see that Britain will be carrying on its support for Ukraine. I also understand that he will be working as a prime minister for a certain period of time after his resignation.
BLITZER: That's correct. Mr. President, let's turn to the state of the war right now. As you of course know, Russia abandoned its efforts to capture the capital of Kyiv, three months ago, but since then Russian forces have been steadily gaining ground in the east. What's your assessment, Mr. President, of where the war stands right now?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): Thank you for this question. Firstly, I want to say the Russians didn't abandon their attempts. Although, we push them back, and they retreat. I think that overall, they didn't give up on their military plans, and their leadership plans to capture our country. These are their plans for years and years.
They have been always occupying our country. First politically, there was Crimea, and then it was Donbas. Now we've got a full scale invasion. That's why Russia's plans contain changing our political leadership and occupation of the whole country. We are totally convinced.
As to the situation in the east, it's very difficult. We have different situations all over Ukraine. But the most difficult one isn't Donbas. The Russians have advantage and artillery, soldiers, and they sustain more losses. But they don't count their military equipment. They don't count their victims. We're counting our people. Most of all, we're doing everything in order to save lives of our people.
This is our weapons, our people our weapons. We want this disadvantage the military equipment primarily artillery compared to Russia to get rectified. So we were appealing to our partners for help.
As to the situation in the south, it's a bit different. As we're containing the enemy, and in some cases, we're counter attacking. As to the Kharkiv region, it's almost all liberated.
It's not easy, because the Russians lift their combat units. Overall, we have to stabilize the situation in the east.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, Putin says he's achieved one of his primary goals, capturing the key eastern province of Luhansk. Has Luhansk in fact fallen to Russia?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): I don't believe what they say publicly, as they're constantly changing their position. It's like, you remember, in Crimea, they were saying it was not them, that they didn't grab any land. In Crimea was Russia's historic land, and it was just given to Ukraine. Then in the East, they said there were no Russian troops. Those were some rebels they would say.
We were saying those were terrorist and the Russians, then they told the whole world that those thousands of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine they were just military exercise, and there wouldn't be an invasion. They were even laughing saying how is it even possible that one brotherly nation will be killing another? And it actually happened.
That's why we don't believe them when they say their plans were only concerning parts of Luhansk and Donetsk region. This is not true.
Their plans are totally clear. We found maps from downward plans. We saw their targets. We talked to their POWs. They were telling us they had orders to capture Kyiv in two to three days, torture our people anyway they want, shoot at civilian buildings in order to spread fear and panic because it shakes up the situation.
They needed chaos in Ukraine. It was all being done in our country. They're sabotaging for its operating all over the place. This is we launch status from Donbas from the sea, from the Caspian Sea, from Crimea, from the Belarus territory.
And when they were saying when they were not shooting and shelling. They were shooting and shelling to civilian targets. The whole world has seen Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka. There's nothing military there. They're small commuter towns. That's why they won't believe their plans. Their only concern to capture the Luhansk region. We will defend our country.
BLITZER: So I just want to be precise, Mr. President, you're saying that the Russians do not, do not control Luhansk right now, is that what you're saying?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): They control almost all the Luhansk region, and there's ongoing fighting on the outskirts of this region. The main towns of Luhansk region, it's where the fiercest fighting happened. And a lot of people died. They're could have been encirclement. And that's why our forces retreated from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
There are almost no people left in those two biggest towns of the region. Around 10 percent of the local population left there.
I cannot tell you how many of those people are still alive as we are evacuating everyone who could and wanted to leave. I will honestly tell you there were people who didn't want to leave. So the Russians do control the majority of that totally ruined region.
I don't even understand what exactly they're controlling there. They ruined towns, schools. They're the occupiers of the rubble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Coming up much more of my exclusive interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Ukrainian president says he's not quote, soaking overrate NATO's decision to leave his country out of the Alliance, even as NATO expands to include Finland and Sweden.
Plus, questions about the father of the Highland Park parade shooter. What role did he play in helping his son obtain weapons? We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: More now, my exclusive interview with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He spoke frankly about the expansion of NATO. Ukraine's exclusion so far from the alliances and the support he's receiving from the west.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want to ask you, Mr. President, about the support you're getting from the United States. What specifically do you need President Biden and the United States to do that it is not already doing?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): President Biden head of the United States is the biggest, biggest supporter of Ukraine. Not only President Zelenskyy, but all Ukrainian people. And he's a friend. And I'm really grateful to him. And I'm very grateful to the United States and the American society for the weaponry. It costs a lot.
And these funds, they belong to people. And I believe that Americans trust that they're paying for someone who's paying the highest price, and I am grateful for the support.
There's a long distance between us. But there is no distance in a war. And every people, every nation realizes that. There are different challenges and different wars. Now the United States is helping Ukraine, helping a lot, but it's not enough in order to win.
I hope my trust will speed up this helps Ukraine. We want to increment of the south. We're fighting for our land. We don't want people from different countries to fight for our territory. But the U.S. is a world economy and can help us with both arms and finances.
And also the U.S. can influence the decisions of the European countries. This is also the political support.
I have to be honest some countries in Europe want a balance between Russia and Ukraine. But owing to the U.S. help, they started supporting us.
So when I talk about the volume and speed of the arms support, I'm not appealing only to the United States. I appeal to all the world leaders and saying that the faster help, the increment of help will save the lives of Ukrainians and help us regain territories occupied by Russia.
BLITZER: You have the times, Mr. President, been extremely critical of NATO's mixed messages towards Ukraine. What's it like now, Mr. President, to watch NATO move very rapidly to embrace Finland and Sweden, after Ukraine has spent more than a decade trying to join NATO without success at least so far? ZELENSKYY (through translator): Firstly, I'm very happy that Finland and Sweden will become NATO members. It's easier. It's more straightforward, more clever than the bloody war.
The acceptance of Finland and Sweden is just a preventative measure to keep Russia from invading those territories and people. This is why we support 100 percent the decision of the world and those countries. It's a mutual decision, respect and understanding. It's not superficial, but deep understanding of the risks for these countries because of the aggressive attitude of Russia to sovereign countries. That is why we're fully supportive of their membership.
The whole world is helping Ukraine, some doing humanitarian aid, some financial or military aid. Both houses and in the United States support us. The world is doing a lot but it could have been easier Ukraine could have been accepted as a NATO member.
It would be much more straightforward than people imagine. That's why I'm not soaking (ph) because this that we're not members of NATO. This is a joint decision. You know, always in everything you use a shortcut, you look for a shortcut, not the other way around. And now we're talking about the security guarantees and the support. And it could have been so much easier just to accept Ukraine as a member of NATO.
This is already being discussed during the latest NATO meeting they all the members agreed to support Ukraine. We are grateful for that. Otherwise it would have been cynicism. I understand this decision but they always found reasons behind not accepting Ukraine.
I only can say that accept for Finland and Sweden, this is the right decision. Not accepting Ukraine, this is the wrong decision.
BLITZER: So Mr. President, do you still want Ukraine to be a member of NATO?
ZELENSKYY (through translator): Nobody invented better security guarantees so far. We are ready to go to any structure that would guarantee for us the end of the wars and security. So far, I cannot see any other security guarantee apart from NATO. We did not give up this route. The whole world is witnessed that this route does not depend on us. The issue of open doors depends only on the other NATO member states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Coming up in our next hour, much more of my exclusive interview with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He opens up about the personal struggle he and his family are enduring right now in the face of the brutal and ongoing Russian invasion of his country. Much more of the interview coming up.
Also, we're watching other important stories including this and I'm quoting now I didn't do anything wrong, why the Highland Park gunman's father now says he had nothing to do with son's actions. And why he's calling for a long prison sentence. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: New revelations today in the wake of the deadly Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. The gunman's father who initially helped his son get a gun license tells the New York Post he thought his son was merely going to use the guns to go to the shooting range. This comes as prosecutors learn more about the gunman's previous interactions with police.
Let's bring in CNN's Josh Campbell. He's got details. Josh, I understand you just spoke with the Highland Park Police Chief, what did he tell you about the shooting? And what more are we learning about the investigation?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes, I just talked to the police chief here in Highland Park and I asked him about that previous police contact back in 2019, when law enforcement was called to the shooter's house. He told me that he believes that officers did everything that they could under the law at the time, saying that they couldn't just throw the suspect in jail, particularly because the family at the time who called police did not file a complaint against him, that would allow officers to do more.
Of course this is all coming as the family itself is facing greater scrutiny, particularly as it relates to the genesis of that firearm used in this deadly massacre.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): Tonight, serious questions are being raised about Robert Crimo Jr., the father of the alleged Highland Park parade shooter, including what role he may have played in helping his son obtain his weapons. Police say the father sponsored his son's gun license application and that he ultimately purchased a total of five guns, including the assault style rifle he used in the attack.
ROBERT CRIMO JR., FATHER OF HIGHLAND PARK PARADE SHOOTER ROBERT CRIMO III: I filled out the consent form to allow my son to go through the process. They do background checks. What that entails.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): He told the New York Post he did thinking this because his son was going to use them to go to a shooting range. Saying, "He bought everything on his own and they're registered to him."
The shooter's father says he bears no responsibility for the shooting and is furious over his son's actions.
CRIMO: I love my son but it's devastating to everyone involved.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): Prosecutors say the 21-year-old confessed to the massacre. There are also new disturbing details about nearly two dozen police calls to the shooter's home, most painting a picture of a household in disarray. In April 2019, police were called after the family said the shooter had attempted suicide using a machete. Then in September of that year, officers responded to the home after the shooter made a threat in the household.
Despite the previous reports of potential violence, none of the shooter's family members filed a complaint that would have spurred further police action. And the shooter was able to later legally purchase guns, including the one used in the attack.
CHIEF LOU JOGMEN, HIGHLAND PARK POLICE: We have to understand, you know, if we're going into homes and we go into homes all the time where these things are happening, we can't just -- you know, they're not corroborating it, or they're saying it's not happening. Where you -- how we can't just take that person out and put him -- I mean, it just isn't the way the law set up.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): All seven deceased victims have now been identified. Victims Irina and Kevin McCarthy's toddler was found alive by a couple who stumbled across him following the attack, taking him to a nearby fire station.
GREG RING, CARED FOR TODDLER, AIDEN MCCARTHY, AFTER SHOOTING: And I stepped outside with Aiden and I said he's not our boy, what should we do? Can somebody help us? And somebody said I'll never forget, he said, you know, we can't be babysitter. He wasn't disrespectful. He just said we can't be babysitters right now. Can you take care of him? And we said, of course.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): They took care of him until police later got him to his grandparents.
DANA RING, CARED FOR TODDLER, AIDEN MCCARTHY, AFTER SHOOTING: And every time I asked his name, his response each time was mom and dad to come to get me soon. Their car did come to get me soon. And I'm just like, yes, buddy, they're going to come so soon.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): In an interview with CNN, the police chief says he understands the public is anxious for answers.
JOGMEN: That's the first thing people want to know which we want to know why, why. At this point, I don't think I could give you a why based on what I'm hearing from my investigators. We'd love to have that reason out there so people could process but not sure that we're there yet.
CAMPBELL: Now, Wolf, some disturbing news into THE SITUATION ROOM. This is heartbreaking. But we have to focus on the human toll. I want you to take a look at this picture. This is eight-year-old Cooper Roberts, he was shot in this shooting on Monday suffering significant injuries to his chest, severed spinal cord. Wolf, we sadly just got word from his family that he is now paralyzed from the waist down. Wolf? BLITZER: So heartbreaking. So awful, indeed. Josh Campbell, thank you for your reporting.
Just ahead, a witness who could be key to the investigation into the January 6th Capital attack. We'll talk to a House Democrat about what he hopes to learn from the former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
Plus, much more of my exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy coming up. He opens up about the personal toll, the personal toll the war is taking on his family. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The January 6th House Select Committee is less than 24 hours away from talking to a critical witness whose name has come up over and over again in the panels public hearings. Former Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone will sit for a transcribed videotaped interview tomorrow.
Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. The January 6th Select Committee calls Pat Cipollone, and I'm quoting now, a uniquely positioned witness. Why is this testimony going to be potentially so pivotal in this investigation?
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO), FORMER IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: Well, hi Wolf. Pat Cipollone was one of President Trump's closest advisors so much so that Donald Trump actually entrusted in Pat Cipollone, the defense of the first impeachment trial. I know because I tried that case against Pat Cipollone and debated and win against him during that first impeachment trial.
So in a lot of these discussions, there was Pat Cipollone. And this is somebody that knows what the President was thinking, know who he was talking to, what he was saying. It's going to be really important to get his information out into the public record.
BLITZER: So given your personal and very direct confrontation, shall we say with Cipollone during that impeachment trial, what do you anticipate? How do you think he will behave in the course of this sworn videotape transcribed interview tomorrow?
CROW: Well, Pat Cipollone, I mean, he's a smart lawyer, there's no doubt about that. He's an accomplished lawyer. He's somebody that I think has a lot of information that we need to know about, that's essential for this entire process. But, you know, he's not a bomb thrower in my experience. He's not somebody who's going to be aggressive and abrasive.
I could be wrong on that, but that's not the Pat Cipollone that I know. I think he'll go before the committee. And he'll tell his story as he is required to do. I mean, this was a duly lawful issued subpoena. He has an obligation to tell the story.
I think the larger issue here that we always have to zoom back out and look at, as you look at this committee process over the, you know, the time that it's been doing this work, and there have been so many stories, so much information that was not told voluntarily. It was only told and only came forth into the public after people will be required to do it, because of subpoenas, and because of the committee requiring people to come forward and tell these stories. That is a huge abdication of responsibility here.
There are so many people from the Trump White House and from the Trump administration, they're sitting on important information, important for our democracy that need to come forth and tell their stories.
BLITZER: Well, do you think he will actually do that, or will he come forward and claim executive privilege or other reasons for not answering questions?
CROW: He could, he might, and we'll have to go through that process. I mean, we are a law and order country. That's what this entire committee process is about, is maintaining law and order, making sure that people are doing what they're supposed to be doing, telling the stories that they're supposed to tell. And if we need to litigate that, we will litigate that.
BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.
Coming up, courtroom drama as WNBA star Brittney Griner pleads guilty to serious drug smuggling charges against her. We have a new statement just out from her legal team. And there's also more of my exclusive in-depth interview with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy coming up. Stay with us.
BLITZER: WNBA star Brittany Griner's legal team has just put out a statement following her guilty plea to drug charges in a Moscow court saying she, quote, decided to take full responsibility for her actions, as she knows that she is a role model for many people, close quote.
Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance has the latest from Moscow. Matthew, what are you learning?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Tonight, as you mentioned those lawyers for Brittney Griner saying the hoping for a lenient sentence after she pleaded guilty in a Russian courthouse to bringing in tiny quantities, frankly, of cannabis oil in a luggage. It was found by customs officials in February. This as the female basketball star was handed a letter from President Biden today in a Russian courthouse.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHANCE (voice-over): This is Russian justice conducted behind closed doors. Just a glimpse of Brittney Griner towering above her guards being led handcuffed into the courtroom. The 31-year-old was detained at the Moscow airport in February when Russian customs officials say they found small quantities of cannabis oil in her luggage, an illegal substance under Russian law.
Recordings made inside the court, capture the female basketball star through a translator pleading guilty to the serious drug smuggling charges against her.
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR: I would like to express my attitude towards my charges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): Of course.
TRANSLATOR: Yes, please.
GRINER: I would like to plead guilty on the charges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).
GRINER: But I had no intention of breaking any Russian laws.
CHANCE (voice-over): But under those laws which carry a maximum 10- year sentence, the U.S. athlete who told the court she pack the oil in a hurry by mistake could now be made an example of especially at a time of such strange U.S.-Russian relations. And is concerned the Biden administration should be doing more to help the Olympic gold medalist.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Is the White House doing enough to get Brittney Griner home?
VANESSA NYGAARD, HEAD COACH, PHOENIX MERCURY: We've had great response recently with B.G.'s letter to President Biden and Biden responding with a call to B.G.'s wife Cherelle. We think progress is being made on that front. You know, the coverage of women's sports and the coverage of women athletes is really the concern here.
I mean, the question is, would Tom Brady be home? But Tom Brady wouldn't be there, right, because he doesn't have to go to a foreign country to supplement his income from the WNBA.
CHANCE (voice-over): But U.S. officials in Washington and Moscow insists they're doing everything they can.
ELIZABETH ROOD, DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: I was able to speak with Ms. Griner in the courtroom. She said that she is eating well, she's able to read books, and under the circumstances, she's doing well. Most important, I was able to share with Ms. Griner a letter from President Biden and Ms. Griner was able to read that letter. CHANCE (voice-over): It's unclear what was written but U.S. officials already negotiated the release of one U.S. citizen Trevor Reed from a Russian prison earlier this year in a controversial prisoner swap. U.S. diplomats say they're committed to bringing home all Americans including Brittney Griner and others who they say are wrongfully detained.
CHANCE: Well, Wolf, a light sentence, though, in a Russian court, particularly in a case, which is so political of this as a time of very fraught relations between the United States and Russia, is very rare indeed. And so, you know, it's not like some kind of deal is in any way, imminent. But having said that, you know, look, there are Russian citizens in U.S. jails as well. And the experience of Trevor Reed a couple of months ago shows us that even at a time of strained relations like this, it is possible that some kind of deal in the future could be done. Wolf?
BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting from Moscow, thank you very much.
Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He talks about the very personal toll of Russia's invasion of his country and the toll it's had on his wife and children. Stay with us.