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DHS Watchdog Learned Of Missing Secret Service Texts Months Earlier Than Previously Known; New Details On Russian Demands For Potential Prisoner Swap; Kentucky Flooding Kills At Least 16, Death Toll Expected To Climb; Ukraine Detains Russian Ship Loaded With Grain At Black Sea Port; 9/11 Families Slam Trump For Hosting Saudi-Backed Golf Event. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a CNN exclusive report. We now know when the inspector general over the Department of Homeland Security first learned of those missing U.S. Secret Service text messages. The timeline is raising serious concerns for January 6 investigators.

Also tonight, new developments in the potential prisoner swap between Russia and the United States. We have exclusive details. We'll share those with you and discuss with Trevor Reed who was recently freed from Russian captivity.

And we're tracking a humanitarian disaster in Kentucky right now. The historic flooding has already killed at least 16 people, including 6 children. This hour, I'll speak with Kentucky's governor about the latest rescue efforts.

Welcome to the viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room. We begin our coverage this hour with exclusive new reporting, multiple sources are telling CNN that the top watchdog over Department of Homeland Security learned about missing U.S. Secret Service text messages months earlier than previously known.

Let's get straight to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's up on Capitol Hill. Ryan, what are you learning about these missing texts?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're learning is that the timeline that was initially outlined by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, Joseph Cuffari, just doesn't match up with exactly as how it all played out, that according to reporting from our Whitney Wild, Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb.

Now, according to what our reporters have learned is that Cuffari was notified of these deleted text messages as early as May of 2021. That would have been just a couple months after the text messages were deleted. And he then did not inform members of the January 6 select committee and these other congressional oversight committees until more than a year after this all took place. And so this raises serious questions about the timeline of events, when Cuffari knew it, and then also when he took action to try and rectify and retrieve some of these messages, which the Secret Service has now said are likely unable to be retrieved.

Now, this is just part of what we are learning about the deletion of text messages from these important government agencies with information related to January 6. The Washington Post also reporting that two key members of the homeland security administration, the then-acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, and one of his deputies, Ken Cuccinelli, both had their text messages deleted during this migration program of hardware from old phones to new phones.

Now, Chad Wolf responded to the report of The Washington Post in a Twitter feed today saying that he never deleted any text messages on his government-issued phone and that any potential loss of this information came after he handed that hardware back, which would have been around the time that he resigned from his post, which was January 11, shortly after the January 6th attacks.

And, of course, Chad Wolf among the many people that the January 6 committee has been interested in talking to. I learned that they spoke to Wolf several months ago. This would have been, of course, way before they learned about these deleted text messages. So, Wolf, it's a good chance that Chad Wolf could be among the people the committee would like to bring in and talk to once again.

BLITZER: I suspect that's true. Let me turn to some new comments from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy today about a key conversation with former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson. Our colleague, Manu Raju, pressed him earlier today. Tell our viewers what did he say?

NOBLES: Yes. This has become a partner with the House minority leader, where he doesn't appear to have much of a recollection of the people that he talked to on January 6 and the content of those calls. Of course, Cassidy Hutchinson had testified that Meadows was -- or, I'm sorry, that McCarthy was among the people that called her to try to encourage her boss, Mark Meadows, to encourage Donald Trump to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol. This is how the leader responded to Manu Raju's questions about that earlier today.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she testified under oath saying that you called her after Donald Trump said that -- urged his -- told his supporters that they were going to go to the Capitol and you were concerned about those remarks and said, don't come up here. Figure it out, don't come up here. She said that under oath. Did you tell her that? And why were you concerned about the prospects of Donald Trump coming to the Capitol on January 6?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I don't recall talking to her that day. I recall talking to Dan Scavino. I recall talking to Jared. I recall talking to Trump. That's what I talked to on television, like that too. If I talked to her, I don't remember it. If it was coming up here, I don't think I wanted a lot of people coming up to the Capitol, but I don't remember the conversation.


RAJU: Why were you concerned about Trump coming to the Capitol?

MCCARTHY: I don't remember that.

RAJU: You don't remember being concerned about his comments?

MCCARTHY: No, because I didn't watch it. This is what is so confusing. I didn't watch the speech. I was working. So, I didn't see what was said. I didn't see what went on until after the fact.

RAJU: Did you want him to come to the Capitol?

MCCARTHY: No. I've never communicated with him about coming to the Capitol. I had no idea he would come to the Capitol. I had no idea that he was even going to come to the Capitol. That's news to me.

RAJU: But she said that under oath that you told her throughout the course of the week -- or she told -- reassured you through the course of the week that he was not going to come to the Capitol. So --

MCCARTHY: I don't remember conversations with her about the president coming to the Capitol.


NOBLES: So, of course, this does not, in any way, contradict Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, it certainly doesn't confirm it, but, of course, the minority leader somehow just forgetting exactly what his conversations were on that very important day. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles, good reporting. Stand by.

I also want to bring in Defense Attorney Shan Wu and CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, what do you make of that non-denial denial, if you will, from Kevin McCarthy?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he seems, Wolf, like he is trying to suggest that he didn't have that conversation with her. And, of course, we don't know for sure yet but he's not under oath. And, listen, if he called her from his phone to her phone, those phone records are there and they will show up. So, it won't tell us the content of what was said but it would tell us that they did speak.

BLITZER: Shan, do these comments from McCarthy show just how difficult it is been to get straight answers from Trump allies about what actually happened back on January 6?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It certainly does, Wolf. I mean, sounds like McCarthy is really warming up his, to the best of my recollection, I can't recall anything-type of speech. And I think that is very problematic. It is very easy for witnesses to say they don't recall. Of course, one of the problems for him is there are other people who are basically disputing what he said and it seems very hard to believe, frankly, that on such an important occasion, such a traumatic day that he would have such poor recall specifically of conversations that other people said they had with him.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Ryan, just in terms of those Secret Service text messages, how cooperative have the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security for that matter been with the January 6 select committee?

NOBLES: I would say, Wolf, that the cooperation has been is uneven, particularly as it relates to those text messages specifically. The committee has felt very frustrated that they aren't getting straight answers as to exactly what happened to these text messages. And then if you take it a step further, whether or not there's any effort to retrieve those text messages.

Now, that being said, the committee did subpoena the Secret Service for a bevy of records and the Secret Service has handed over thousands of documents, call records and other things, which have already proven to be beneficial to the committee, we saw some of that pop up in their last hearing, but they are obviously really concerned about these text messages being deleted.

I talked to Jamie Raskin, a member of the committee, earlier today. He just doesn't buy the argument that text messages from such a vital period of time were just lost in some bureaucratic migration of phones, from an old set of phones to a new set of phones. He believes that there's something more to it. He wants straight answers. And they really feel at this point that they are not getting those straight answers. Part of it is because of the Secret Service. Part of it is because of this issue of oversight, which department should they respond to and even Secret Service, I think, on some level, is unclear exactly who they should be talking to.

BLITZER: Yes. Jamie Raskin is, by no means, the only member of that select committee who is worried, deeply worried about those missing text messages.

Jennifer, The Washington Post is now reporting that text messages between top Trump homeland security officials from a key period leading up to January 6 are now missing as well. An increasing number of records regarding the insurrection seem to be unaccounted for, don't they?

RODGERS: Yes. This is a major, major problem and it's shaping up to be a massive scandal. I mean, you have a lot of missing information. Of course, the Secret Service information, and all those records from January 6 itself, the presidential diary, presidential call logs, this suggests tampering with evidence, is what it suggests.

Now, whether they are able to prove that or not, I don't know, but, particularly, the Secret Service problem is exacerbated by a DHS inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, who really needs to be removed by the Biden administration.

Time and time again he has slow-walked investigations, refused to do investigations and now we learn that it's been over a year that he violated the law by not informing Congress and the DHS secretary of what he learned about these text messages going missing.

So, it's time for him to go, and at least if we got someone independent in there, we could be more confident that there's true oversight going on at Secret Service.


BLITZER: Shan, what do you make of all of this?

WU: Yes. I very much agree with Jennifer. He needs to go. And, really, the sad thing is this type of whether it's ineptitude or corruption really complicates the investigation. Because now you have to go back, someone has to untangle what really happened to those messages, who was responsible for it. And, really, the point was getting to the evidence in those messages. But instead, you have to basically do the side investigation to look backwards and basically unravel it. So, it just makes things much harder.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Shan Wu, Jennifer Rodgers, Ryan Nobles, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, more deaths confirmed in a truly devastating flooding right now in Eastern Kentucky, including a number of children. We'll go one-on-one with the Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear, that's next.


BLITZER: Look at this. It looks like a war zone. That's how a Kentucky resident put the aftermath of historic flooding that wiped away homes, cars and washed out roads. At least 16 people have been killed. That number includes children, according to the Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear.


CNN's Joe Johns is in Hazard, Kentucky, for us right now, where first responders are racing against the clock.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our little room completely crushed.



JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tammy Eversaw's (ph) home in Perry County now in the middle of Squabble Creek. Like her, hundreds of families have lost everything in the floods in Eastern Kentucky.

JOE CRESS, FLOOD VICTIM: No water, no electricity, no nothing.

JOHNS: Joe Cress is one of the lucky ones, but he said many of his neighbors lost their homes.

CRESS: Our house is gone. I mean, they're just washed away. I mean, people in them. I mean, we don't even know how many is missing at this point. I mean, it happened in the middle of the night. I mean, nobody ever got a warning. I mean, the problem, it just happened so quick, everybody got washed away.

JOHNS: Nearly 300 people cut off by the flooding have been rescued so far, according to the governor, the devastation widespread, debris along this creek, broken bridges, downed trees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never seen this before. In all the years I've lived here, I have never seen this, never.

JOHNS: The storm wiped out power, breaking down communication.

SHERIFF JOE ENGLE, PERRY COUNTY, KENTUCKY: The area of this storm, it's totally annihilated our infrastructure, water, telephone, internet, electricity, all the basic roads, all the basic things you would build a community around had disappeared.

JOHNS: And it's not over yet. More rain is expected. Eastern Kentucky has a slight to moderate risk of flash flooding through Friday evening.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): I have certainly done three-plus flights and/or tours over flooded areas. This is by far the worst.

JOHNS: After flying over the hard hit region, the governor delivered more grim news.

BESHEAR: I have received notice that they have located the bodies of those four children. It means we've got at least six dead children, and it's hard.

Hundreds of homes, their ball fields, their parks, businesses under more water than I think any of us have ever seen in that area, absolutely impassable numerous spots, so just devastating.


JOHNS (on camera): We did just get a blast of the one thing people out here really don't need one thing. That is more rain. Fortunately, that storm moved in and moved out very quickly.

Over my shoulder here, you can see just a little bit of evidence of the power of that flash flood as it moved through, taking many whole buildings along with it along with the belongings of so many people here in Eastern Kentucky. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Joe Johns reporting for us in Kentucky, thank you very much.

And joining us now, the governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

What's the latest that you can tell us about these flooding conditions and the risk to Kentuckians right now?

BESHEAR: Well, I just finished an aerial tour over part of the flooded area at Breathitt County, and it is devastating. This is a type of flood that even an area that sees flooding has never seen in our lifetime, hundreds of homes wiped away with nothing left.

As we sit here right now, the official count of Kentuckians we have lost is 16, but we know there are more, number is likely to double. I believe we have at least six children, six dead children. That are families in our communities are missing.

BLITZER: So, Governor, I know you have said that the death toll will continue to rise. But what are you bracing for when it comes to this loss of life?

BESHEAR: Well, we think that, certainly, it could potentially double from where it is right now. There are so many areas we still can't get to. The water hasn't crested in some parts of Eastern Kentucky, so we can't get in to some hollers and see who is there.

There are people out there, all across Kentucky, in America, that are scared because they can't reach their relatives with cell phone service down, thousands without power, water systems overwhelmed. So, we are still in search and rescue for what is an ongoing disaster. In the days ahead, as the water goes down, we'll turn towards the rebuilding and that's going to take years.

It is devastating for us, especially after the western part of our state went through the worst tornado disaster we've ever seen just 7.5 months ago.


BLITZER: We know that the first responders in Kentucky have conducted hundreds of water rescues so far. What sort of situation are people in who need rescue?

BESHEAR: We have thankfully had National Guard, Fish and Wildlife, Kentucky State Police, the fire group from Lexington bringing their boats. There's a group from Mayfield that drove an ambulance across Kentucky today. That's the area hit hardest by the tornadoes because other Kentuckians were there for them and they want to be there for Eastern Kentuckians in their time of need.

We've had over 150, I think it is now, air rescues. Those are people on top of the roof or in a tree, where the National Guard, the state police -- thankfully, National Guard from West Virginia and Tennessee helping us out, are actually lifting people up because they otherwise can't get out. Otherwise, you're looking at boats and different level of boats. The National Guard had to bring in their Zodiac boats we got serious current in some places, which makes it really dangerous to get to people. So, we're just trying to get them.

All their belongings are gone. And these are folks that didn't have a lot to begin with that are losing everything.

BLITZER: As you mentioned, Governor, Western Kentucky is still recovering from last December's tornadoes, and those first responders are helping now. What does it say about your state's vulnerability to the climate crisis and its resilience?

BESHEAR: Well, first, we are resilient people. We love each other. We care about each other. And when this happens, we open our homes and our hearts to each other. I want to thank the hundreds of people that are out there trying to bring people to safety, bringing them into state parks, feeding them, caring about them.

Certainly, as we move forward, us and the whole rest of the world has to be more resilient to these weather events. I don't want to lose another Kentuckian. We have lost far too many. Right now, I want to make sure that the conversation that I focus on is of the loss that our families have suffered but that they also know that we're going to be there to help them rebuild. And as we rebuild, we rebuild stronger.

And we've had some offers from FEMA. The administrator was on the ground today to unlock some funds to help us do that. I also talked to the president probably about two hours ago, pledged to do anything and everything to help, actually helping us cut through some red tape right now so we can get direct FEMA assistance to our families. We are grateful to him and his administration.

BLITZER: We wish you only the best. Good luck to you, Governor. Good luck to all the people of Kentucky. Thanks so much for joining us.

BESHEAR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And for more information how you can help victims of the flooding in Kentucky, this is what you need to do. Visit and you will impact your world.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive, Russia is now asking for a second prisoner in exchange for Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. Stand by, we have new information.



BLITZER: First on CNN, details of a new memoir by Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and once senior adviser to former President Trump, revealing heated clashes behind the scenes between Kushner and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

Our White House Correspondent Jeremy diamond is here with me in The Situation Room right now. How vicious was it according to Kushner in this new book?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so much of our reporting in real-time revealed how vicious that infighting was, but this new book forthcoming memoir by Jared Kushner really does get at providing new details and new insights. And it is the first time that we are hearing publicly from Jared Kushner about that infighting with Steve Bannon, where he described so much of the infighting that went on, including describing Steve Bannon as a, quote, toxic figure, and he says that he confronted Bannon at one point over his leaking, saying, quote, and this is a quote from Steve Bannon responding to Jared Kushner saying, Cohn is the one leaking on me. Jared, right now, you are the one undermining the president's agenda. And if you go against me, I will break you in half. Don't F with me.

Very strong words obviously from Steve Bannon there, and it's not the first time. In another instance, Steve Bannon confronted Kushner who he thought was leaking about him, saying, how f'ing dare you leak on me? If you leak out on me, I can leak out on you 28 ways from Sunday. And this was obviously Jared Kushner account of this.

And, listen, Kushner claims that he was woefully unprepared for this media battle with Steve Bannon, but the reality is he figured it out quickly and Steve Bannon was the first in a very long line of people who learned that in the Trump White House, if you went against Jared Kushner, you usually lost.

BLITZER: Yes, usually is a key word. I understand Kushner also had some pretty harsh words about Steve Bannon's departure from the White House.

DIAMOND: It's intresting, Wolf. In these excerpts, what you see is Jared Kushner taking credit for bringing Steve Bannon into the fold but also taking credit for the firing of Steve Bannon. And he writes this, quote, admitting that I didn't have any major policy successes to show for my seven months in government, I joked, quote, at least I was able to get Steve Bannon fired. That partially saves the world from immediate disaster. And, look, we know that Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon butted heads repeatedly, and that was part of what led to Steve Bannon's firing.


Ultimately, what's interesting though is that Jared Kushner described Steve Bannon as toxic. The reality is that entire west wing was a toxic environment fostered by President Trump, intentionally so in many cases, to watch these aides go after each other. And what's also interesting, of course, is Steve Bannon, of course, did ultimately find his way back in Trump's good graces. He got pardoned by President Trump in his final days in office and he was also, of course, advising him, as we've learned, around those events surrounding January 6th.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly was. All right, thanks very much, excellent reporting, don't go too far away.

I also want to get some analysis from former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Charlie, thanks for joining us.

Is this at all how a typical White House is supposed to operate behind the scenes?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, having spent time some time in that White House in a few meetings, I can tell you, this was a toxic, hostile work environment. And, in fact, it was a team of vipers. And that's the name of one of the books written by a former Trump staffer, Cliff Sims. That was the nature of that White House.

Jared Kushner's book, in my view, does not absolve Jared Kushner of enabling his father-in-law, but his father-in-law is responsible for all this. I mean, the fact that it would have brought Steve Bannon into the White House in the first place, Steve Bannon is a nihilist. He wants to burn it all down. He wants to blow it all up. We have all heard many times his comments about January 6th, about, really, how he just is almost an anarchist.

And this is a person advising the president. I'm glad that Jared got him fired, but at the same time, it just speaks to how dysfunctional this White House was and, really, the president of the United States is responsible for it.

BLITZER: I want to bring in John Kasich as well, the former Republican governor of Ohio, to get his thoughts on all this. What is your reaction when you hear what Kushner is now writing in his soon- to-be-released memoir?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, there's not much I can say to amplify what Charlie just said. I mean, look, I ran a big state here, seventh largest state in the country. And when you have your people together when they're fighting at each other and backbiting and all these other things, it is really hard to get anything done.

I'm not really surprised by this. I'm not surprised that there was tremendous chaos inside that building. But it just shows you why you there was -- you have seen what you have seen here in terms of what is rolled out of that administration.

And so there's no real surprise to me. But what I would say is, for anybody who wants to assume an administrative role, if you don't have your people together, if they don't get along, if they don't all move in the same direction, you're going to descend into chaos and you're not going to get good results, plain and simple, Wolf.

BLITZER: Charlie Dent, how concerning is it to learn of this dysfunction, clearly, this dysfunction within Trump's west wing as he seems to be gearing up right now for potentially another presidential run?

DENT: Well, again, I am not at all surprised about this. And, in fact, Governor Kasich may recall too, I witnessed it firsthand in March of 2017 how this dysfunctional president had zero interest in policy and he tried berate me in the office over health care. And I was trying to basically show some of the problems with the repeal replace bill at the time in 2017, as provided to me by Governor Kasich on the Medicaid provision.

But I learned quickly that policy didn't matter. This was just an environment that was vicious and it was cruel. And the fact that the former president now wants to gear up and run again and try to give us four more years of this dysfunction and never-ending anarchy, I mean, that's why he was rejected.

So, he can go ahead and run again but I just don't see how he can win that White House again in a two-person race given all that we know about how that White House was run and certainly since January 6th.

BLITZER: Governor Kasich, we're learning today that both Trump and Pence, his former vice president, they are eyeing visits to the Iowa State Fair. What does that say to you?

KASICH: Well, it means they both want to run. And it is a long way between now and that 2024. There's going to be a lot of changes. But, of course, you're going to see a lot of people going to Iowa. They are going to do the soap box in Iowa. They are going to eat all that funny food out there. He is out there. Trump is serious about running and Pence is as well, but I don't think Pence is going to be the main competitor. I don't see it at this point. It's somebody who is going to have a lot of new, bold, good ideas and a lot of money. And we'll have to see whether Donald Trump does this or not. He is certainly not a lock at this point.

BLITZER: John Kasich, Charlie Dent, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we have exclusive new information on a potential prisoner swap with Russia.



BLITZER: Now, a CNN exclusive, sources saying tonight that Russia wants a second man to be part of the prisoner swap proposed by the United States to gain freedom for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow working this story for us. Fred, what can you tell us?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Yes, CNN originally learned that the U.S. put forward possibly trading Viktor Bout, obviously the Russian arms dealer, for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan to bring them home.

But we've learned that the Russians apparently also wanted someone who is actually sitting in a German jail. His name is Vadim Krasikov. He's been in German custody since 2019 for a murder in Berlin that the German government says was carried out by the Russian government and for which the Russian government is responsible for, even though the Russians have denied that.


Now, according to information that was obtained by our own Natasha Bertrand, the U.S. put forward that offer for Viktor Bout in return for Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, the Russians said that they also wanted Krasikov. And a senior German government official tells me that the U.S. did make a quiet, informal inquiry as to whether or not something like that might be possible. The Germans didn't really take that as a serious inquiry, it didn't reach the highest levels of the German government, but it certainly does show that the U.S. is very serious about trying to bring both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the Russian foreign minister says the U.S. should return to what the minister is quoting, saying quiet diplomacy. Are there risks, Fred, to this back and forth being public, at least public so far?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, the Russians seem to believe that it makes the negotiation process a lot more difficult and it could very well be that it might make it more difficult if things like these are discussed in public. The State Department is now also saying, a senior official there, that they won't comment further on this process simply to have the best opportunity to achieve a good outcome in all of this.

It was quite interesting because I also asked the spokesman for the Kremlin for Vladimir Putin whether or not they had anything to say about this, and all I got from them was no comment. They clearly want to do all this behind closed doors, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right, thanks very much, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us.

Let's get some more right now. Joining us, Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine who was freed in April in a prisoner exchange after being held by Russia for more than two years. Trevor, thank you so much for joining us.

What is the reaction, first of all, to this Russian response asking for yet another prisoner in exchange for the two Americans, Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner?

TREVOR REED, FORMER U.S. MARINE RELEASED FROM RUSSIA IN APRIL: Yes. I'm not surprised by that at all. I would expect that if they have the opportunity to get more out of a possible exchange, that they will definitely attempt to do that.

BLITZER: I know you are encouraged, Trevor, to see the administration's the transparency, but do you have any concerns that having this play out so publicly could give Russia potentially an upper hand?

REED: No, I don't believe so. I think that it's probably slightly embarrassing for the Russian government to have to basically make this process public and I think that that may actually be a useful tool in discouraging Russia from taking hostages and wrongful detainees in the future.

BLITZER: You've said, Trevor, that the Russians would be stupid not to take this deal. So, what do you think needs to happen for Russia to ultimately say yes to this potential swap?

REED: I think that the proposal by the president of the United States by President Biden and his administration is an excellent opportunity both for the United States and Russia to get citizens, which they value, back. I think that that's an even trade. Obviously, Viktor Bout is a serious criminal with a serious criminal past and Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner are not criminals. They are innocent Americans and I think that an exchange like that would benefit both sides. I hope that they're able to accomplish that.

BLITZER: It's been only a few months, Trevor, since you were released from Russia in a prisoner exchange. I'm curious, did you get any indication ahead of time?

REED: I did slightly before. I'm not going to go into detail on that, but a little bit before that exchange occurred, I did have a little bit of information that something may possibly be going on. I didn't know that it involved exchanging prisoners. I just knew that there was a possibility that I may be going home.

BLITZER: What would you say to Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner right now, if you could, because you've been in their shoes?

REED: Right. Yes, I would tell them to hang in there, do what they need to do to be able to survive, and to hope for the best, and also to prepare for the worst. Obviously, these are difficult deals to accomplish. There's a lot of detail and different things that go into these types of situations. So, I'm optimistic about it. I hope that they are optimistic as well, but they should be cautiously optimistic.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Just lastly, before I let you go, how are you doing personally?


What have these last few months been like for you?

REED: To be honest with you, it's been the best few months of my life. I can't ever remember having as much fun and feeling as good as I do now. It's been incredible.

BLITZER: Well, we are grateful that you are free now.

Trevor Reed, you look, you sound good. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

REED: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, a new threat to a fragile deal for food supplies around the world. Ukrainian authorities are holding a Russian ship full of grain. We'll tell you what's going on when we come back.



BLITZER: Ukrainian authorities are holding a Russian ship full of grain in the Black Sea. This comes just a week after Ukraine and Russia signed a historic deal on allowing shipments of grain to restart critical to feeding millions of people around the world.

CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us from the port city of Odesa, Ukraine.

Nic, you've been speaking to Kyiv officials on the ground. What are they saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. The Emmakris III, the ship that has 60,000 tons of grain on board that's been already purchased by Egypt and has been stuck in port here since the war began. Ukrainian officials have impounded it or according to sources CNN is talking to, in essence, because it is a Russian-owned ship and the sister ship of the ship, the Emmakris II, has been involved in transporting what Ukrainian officials say is stolen wheat from Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

So this is a dispute between Ukraine and Russia that's preventing that one vessel. But being in the port today with the minister of infrastructure today and President Zelenskyy came down to the port from Odesa, along with ambassadors of G7 nations, the ambassador of the United States, the ambassador of the UK, the ambassador of Germany and various other nations were all there in the port facility and talking to them.

The reason the grain deal is not working at the moment is down to one reason, and that is Russia not signing off on the last details of this U.N.-brokered deal to get the grain out of Ukraine's ports. Ukraine has put forward shipping channels that can be used by these ships. Russia is yet to sign off on it.

I asked a British ambassador, the U.S. ambassador about this, and both of them said to me very clearly, Russia is at fault. The ball is in Russia's court. It is up to Russia now. Russia still, despite signing that deal last week, is still essentially holding up these grain shipments.

BLITZER: Is Ukraine, Nic, still on alert after they struck the Odesa port just days after signing this historic deal?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. There's very title security in and around the area of the port. There are precautions that the government here has taken. They have anti-aircraft gunfire systems ready in case any other cruise missiles are fired. They're very concerned about it, because it undermines the deal because it undermines confidence that these ships can leave and other ships can come in.

And the way that impacts the way the deal is expected to work is it drives up the insurance of any other ships coming in here, making it prohibitively expensive. At the moment, the insurance is 10 percent of cargo value. So, 25 million tons of grain aboard a ship will therefore cost a shipping company and everyone on that chain $2.5 million. And that's just too expensive for shippers, for farmers, to sell their wheat.

So, more missiles will essentially wreck the deal. And that's what officials here are worried about.

BLITZER: Obviously, very serious. Nic Robertson in Odesa, Ukraine, for us. Thank you very, very much. Up next, 9/11 families are speaking out against former President Trump

for welcoming the Saudi-backed tournament at his New Jersey golf club.



BLITZER: Some families of 9/11 victims are slamming former President Trump for hosting a controversial Saudi-backed golf tournament that started today in his New Jersey course.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Bedminster for us tonight.

Polo, these families who are there, they are speaking out pretty aggressively. Tell us what's going on.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are outraged. And it's precisely why many of them traveled here to Bedminster, New Jersey, hoping their voices will resonate. Much of their anger is fueled, at least in part, by Donald Trump's most recent remarks to ESPN where he told the outlet that nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11.

You hear from the family members, at least as we did today, Wolf, say that does not match from what they heard from then candidate Donald Trump back in 2016 when he basically put out there the possibility of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks and also does not match recently released federal documents released by the FBI in which investigators concluded several of those Saudi hijackers that were involved did have some form of support. And that's what is really fueling the frustration here.

I want you to listen to Sandra Felt whose husband was on Flight 93. The plane did not make it to its target after it was forced down by the hijackers when those passengers fought back.


SANDRA FELT, WIDOW OF FLIGHT 93 PASSENGER: There can be no happy ending. What we want is accountability. I want my grandson to learn the truth about how his grandfather died and the people that supported it. That's what I want. That's why I'm here.


SANDOVAL: Now, as for kingdom itself, it denies allegations of the 9/11 attacks, also in the kidnapping and murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Polo Sandoval, thank you very much.

Finally tonight, some good news. More than 60 days after a gunman slaughtered 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, including many more, one young girl is finally heading home from the hospital. Ten-year-old Maya Zamora was the final patient being cared for at University Health. Doctors and nurses and hospital staff cheered Maya her as she walked out of the hospital, passing roses along the way. We're happy for her.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.