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DOJ Asking Judge to Hold Trump in Contempt Over Classified Documents; Four Trump Allies May Face Criminal Referrals Including Giuliani, Meadows; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Heads Home After U.S.- Russia Prisoner Swap; House Votes To Rescind U.S. Military's COVID Vaccine Mandate. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 18:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, the U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal judge to hold former President Donald Trump in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena to turn over highly classified documents, this as we're learning which top Trump allies may now face criminal referrals from the January 6th select committee, including Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows.

The other major story we're following, WNBA Star Brittney Griner finally is on her way home, freed by Russia in exchange for a U.S. release of a notorious Russian arms dealer. We'll discuss the deal and the risks with State Department Spokesperson Ned Price and veteran U.S. negotiator, former Governor Bill Richardson.

Welcome to our viewer here is in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Let's get right to the breaking news on the Justice Department seeking to hold former President Trump in contempt. Our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is working the story for us. Katelyn, what are you learning?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this comes as the Justice Department continues to ratchet up the pressure on Donald Trump as part of their criminal investigation around what happened to documents from the Trump presidency that the former president apparently kept with him in different places after he left office.

So, Wolf, the ways this arose is that, in May, there had been a subpoena for documents from Trump where the Justice Department didn't believe that they had gotten everything. There was that search we saw at Mar-a-Lago in August where they were collecting more documents being kept by Trump. And there continued to be these questions that the Justice Department had. Do we have everything? They kept wanting to get more. They kept wanting to believe that there may be still documents that Donald Trump had in his possession.

And so this went into court, very confidentially. It was all sealed. And just recently, there were some more searches conducted by Trump's team where they found additional documents. They actually found two more that were marked as classified, turned them over to investigators.

Even with that, the Justice Department is not satisfied. They believe that there still possibly could be more documents in Donald Trump's possession, and that's where this new proceeding comes in, where the Justice Department is asking a federal judge in Washington, D.C. to hold Donald Trump and his office as the former president in contempt of court.

Of course, we don't know exactly how this will be resolved, but it is yet another chapter in this ongoing struggle for the Justice Department to try and get back everything that Donald Trump may have kept after the presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, the legal issues keep escalating for Trump. What is the timeline, Katelyn, on when this could all happen?

POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, as I said, this is under seal. So, we don't know exactly how fast it could be resolved. This is one of those things that may be resolved quite quickly. This judge is one who moves quite fast. This is a criminal investigation, so the pressure is on for Special Counsel Jack Smith to get some resolutions.

But, Wolf, we do know that there is a hearing set in this for tomorrow, Friday. And so one of the Trump spokespeople is saying publicly now that President Trump and his counsel, former President Trump and his counsel continue to cooperate and be transparent. But right now we don't know exactly when there will be a resolution here. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens. Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much. We'll get back with you shortly with more on this breaking story.

But right now, I want to get to the release of WNBA Star Brittney Griner. She is on her way to the United States and is expected to land soon in San Antonio, Texas.

CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood has more on Griner and the deal with Russia that set her free.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After nearly ten months in detention, Brittney Griner has been released from Russia. Russian State Media showing her boarding a plane from an undisclosed location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready for a flight?


ATWOOD: The Biden administration bringing her home in a prisoner swap months in the making.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances.

ATWOOD: The president and Griner's wife, Cherelle, speaking to Brittney, who is on her way back to the United States, after being released to U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi.


CHERELLE GRINER, WIFE OF BRITTNEY GRINER: Today is just a happy day for me and my family. So, I'm going smile right now.

ATWOOD: Griner's team, the Phoenix Mercury, tweeting no more days. She's coming home.

According to senior administration officials, the deal came together in just the last two days when Griner was moved from the penal colony where she had been serving a nine-year sentence. The officials describing Griner as extremely upbeat and all smiles.

But Griner's release did not come cheaply, the U.S. exchanging arms trafficker Viktor Bout, the so-called Merchant of Death. He was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States for charges including conspiring to kill Americans.

Even amid joy for freeing Griner, sadness today for the family of another American who is left behind, Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian prison for almost four years.

Officials from the Department of Justice expressing frustration that an earlier deal allowing Bout's release, which U.S. officials had proposed, included Griner and Whelan. Lawmakers also expressed apprehension about normalizing prisoner swaps.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I think this is good news for Brittney, for her family. That's the risk is that the more we engage in such exchanges, the more Americans are at risk of being scooped up and held as leverage.

ATWOOD: Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, charges he vehemently denies. He spoke exclusively to CNN's Jennifer Hansler from a penal colony, saying he was pleased for Griner, but greatly disappointed he wasn't included.

PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA (voice over): I don't understand why I'm still sitting here. I was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.

ATWOOD: And despite the administration's earlier efforts to include Whelan in the deal, they say Russia made it clear it wasn't going to happen.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: They continue to insist on sham charges of espionage and are treating Paul's case differently. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none.

ATWOOD: As the administration says they're still working on his release, Whelan begging President Biden to free him, regardless of the cost.

WHELAN: My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now, Brittney Griner is on her way back to the United States. A U.S. official tells me she is headed to San Antonio. The Department of Defense has a post-isolation support facility there. And we've seen other Americans who have been detained abroad and brought back to the United States go to that facility.

We don't know when exactly she is landing. We don't know how long she will stay there. That will be dependent on what kind of support she and her family feels that she needs. But we should also say tonight, Wolf, that Viktor Bout is back in Russia. That's according to Russian state media. And his lawyer told me today he'll be reunited with his family, his wife and his daughter, of course, shaving off about ten years from his 25-year prison sentence due to this swap. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood reporting for us, Kylie, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with the State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price. Ned, thank you so much for joining us. What changed in the final weeks and days to actually make this deal a reality and get Brittney Griner home?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, Wolf, this is something that we had been working assiduously for months. We first made public in July the fact that in the proceeding weeks we had made what we called at the time a substantial proposal to the Russians to release both Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. We've gone back and forth with the Russians in the ensuing weeks. We proposed various permutations, various alternatives to that original significant proposal that we initially passed to them.

Just in recent days did the Russians make clear that they were willing to go for the deal, Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. As you heard from Secretary Blinken, this was not a question of getting both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home. This was not a question of us having to choose between Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. This was a decision for us that essentially came down to one or none. And so, of course, we took the deal that was on the table to bring Brittney Griner home at the same time, reaffirming the commitment we've made repeatedly, including today to Paul Whelan, to his family, to David, to Elizabeth, to his other loved ones that we are going to continue to do absolutely everything we can to bring Paul Whelan home just as soon as we can.

BLITZER: Yes, he has been a prisoner over there for almost four years.

Paul Whelan spoke to CNN today. And I want you to listen to his message directly, his message for President Biden.


Listen to this.


WHELAN (voice over): The president and his team are going to have to look at what they have that is valuable that these people want and hopefully give it to them, or I'll be here for a long time. And to be quite honest, in these conditions, who knows how I'll come back or if I'll come back.


BLITZER: He says it seems like nobody is doing anything. That's a direct quote. How do you respond to that, Ned?

PRICE: Well, we have a message for Paul Whelan. It's a message that we conveyed to him as recently as again today. Keep the faith. We are coming for you. We will get you. We will get you returned. We're going do everything we can to see to it that you're reunited with your loved ones just as soon as we can.

Look, we wish nothing more than for Paul Whelan to have been on that plane today with Brittney Griner. going back to earlier this year, we wished nothing more than for Brittney Griner and for Paul Whelan to have been on the plane with Trevor Reed, whom we secured, who's release we secured from Russian custody in April. We made good on our promise to come back for Brittney Griner. We are going to make good on our promise to get Paul Whelan out.

Unfortunately, Wolf, as you know, when it comes to these matters, the other side gets a vote. In this case, the other side, the Russians, they get a veto. They vetoed the proposals that we put on the table to secure Paul Whelan's release today, as you heard from the secretary. They do treat Paul Whelan differently. They have these sham espionage charges attached to him.

Nevertheless, that does not sap our determination. It does not sap our drive to do everything we can to get Paul Whelan back home with his family.

BLITZER: I know you don't want to get into specifics, Ned, and that's understandable, but is the U.S. right now holding any Russians who the Kremlin would want back in exchange for Paul Whelan?

PRICE: Look, Wolf, I'm just not in a position to get into it. What I can say is that we've tried a number of alternatives and permutations to the original substantial proposal that we put on the table. The Russians to-date have not accepted any of them. And I say to-date because we're convinced that one day we will be able to get Paul Whelan back home to his family, and we hope one day very soon. We are going to be creative.

These are difficult decisions that the United States government has to make. And when it comes to these issues, there is only one person in the United States who can make these decisions. That's the president of the United States. The president decided to make the difficult decision today to see Brittney's release. He decided to make the difficult decision back in April to see Trevor Reed's release. And we are prepared to be creative and potentially to make those difficult decisions once more if it means bringing Paul home.

BLITZER: Democratic Senator Chris Coons said today the more the U.S. makes these kinds of exchanges, the greater the risk, he says, of more Americans being detained down the road. Is he right?

PRICE: Well, look, Wolf, we have two imperatives. And I say this speaking from the State Department, where this is especially meaningful to us.

We have an imperative to get wrongfully detained Americans home, Americans who are wrongfully detained or held hostage anywhere around the world. And we have made good on that imperative when it comes to Russia, when it comes to Venezuela, when it comes to Burma, when it comes to a number of countries over the course of this administration.

But we also have a second imperative. And that is an imperative to deter countries, or even non-state actors, like terrorist groups, from engaging in this horrific practice, this practice of detaining, imprisoning, holding hostage innocent Americans. We can do both.

And we're going to continue down that second path by ensuring that those responsible for this practice face costs, whether that's sanctions, whether that's visa bans as part of a new executive order that President Biden signed in recent weeks. We're being very clear with the American people regarding where they should not travel because they could well face the risk of wrongful detention if they travel there.

And importantly, for this building, we're working with countries around the world, nearly 60 countries to establish and to reinforce a norm against this horrible practice, to make clear to countries and non-state actors around the world that there will be costs, there will be significant repercussions for those who engage in this practice that should have been relegated long ago to the dustbin of history.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that Paul Whelan comes home soon. Ned Price, I know you're working hard on this, thank you so much for joining us.

PRICE: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Just ahead, former Governor, former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson on his work behind the scenes with Brittney Griner's family and his take on the prisoner swap that sealed Griner's release.

Plus, more on the other breaking news we're following on the U.S. Justice Department's request to hold former President Trump in contempt.


We're also learning right now which of his top allies could potentially face criminal referrals from a January 6th select committee.


BLITZER: In just a moment, we'll have much more on the release of WNBA Star Brittney Griner from Russia, but there is other breaking news we're following right now, including the U.S. Justice Department asking a federal judge to hold former President Trump in contempt, in contempt of court for failing to turn over classified documents.

We're also just learning right now that the House January 6th select committee is considering criminal referrals for at least four senior Trump associates in addition to the former president himself.

CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel is working the story for us. We also have CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig standing by and CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is back with us as well.

Jamie, first of all, what are you learning about who the select committee is now considering for these formal, very serious criminal referrals?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we have new insight, this is first on CNN, into the deliberations about these criminal referrals from our January 6th team.


I just want to give credit Annie Grayer, Zach Cohen, Pamela Brown, Sara Murray have all been working on this story.

According to multiple sources, CNN has learned that, in addition to former President Donald Trump, the committee is considering criminal referrals for at least four other people who the committee believes played significant roles around the January 6th insurrection.

So, here we go. Under consideration, first of all, Trump's former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who had a front row seat to Trump's actions, his inactions and provided some of those critical text messages to the committee before he stopped cooperating.

Second, Conservative Lawyer John Eastman, who was advising Trump and was part of those meetings we heard about to pressure then Vice President Mike Pence, to try to be part of a plan to overturn the election results.

Third, former Justice Department Official Jeffrey Clark, who advised Trump and who the committee believes played a critical role in trying to weaponize the Justice Department to go along with Trump's attempt to stay in power.

And, finally, a familiar face, former Trump lawyer and ally Rudy Giuliani, who we saw played a key role in promoting claims of election fraud and trying to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election result.

A caveat, Wolf, the committee has not made any final decisions. We also don't know what possible charges might be included in these referrals, but we are told these four are under consideration along with Trump himself, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, keywords, along with Trump himself.

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: Elie, why do you suspect these four individuals, in addition to Trump, are specifically under consideration right now for these criminal referrals?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think it's because the committee is aiming right at the top. And I think the committee wants the Justice Department to focus on the highest levels of the power structure behind this coup attempt.

And, really, there is no surprises in this list of names. Of course, Donald Trump has been front and center throughout the committee's investigations, throughout the committee's hearings. And each of the other four have had at least some indicators that they could be in real trouble.

Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman, the two attorneys that Jamie mentioned, they have both been the subject of federal search warrants, and they both have taken the Fifth in various proceedings. Rudy Giuliani has had his law license suspended. He has been informed by a prosecutor in Georgia that he's a target of their ongoing investigation and he was behind much of this effort. And then, Mark Meadows, of course, was by Donald Trump's side as his chief of staff throughout this process.

So it's no surprised that this is who the committee is focusing on and they are aiming high here.

BLITZER: Katelyn, on your excellent reporting that the Justice Department now wants Trump held in contempt, as far as the classified documents investigation is under consideration, that subpoena was issued months and months ago. How has all this escalated in these past few weeks?

POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, things have moved very quickly since the appointment of Special Counsel Jack Smith to take over this investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents. And one of the things that has been happening here is Trump has tried to delay. There is this tug-of-war over these documents that's been ongoing for all these months, as you mentioned, and now it's getting to the point where the Justice Department is saying, okay, we do think that you are in contempt of court. We've gone back and forth with you. We've been in court. Trump's team even was given the opportunity and decided to conduct searches of places.

So, there is lot of things that are happening here. But Wolf, over the course of this year, there have been many times where Trump has tried to delay. But, ultimately, he has a pretty strong track record of losing in court.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Katelyn Polantz, Jamie Gangel, Elie Honig, guys thank you guys very, very much.

Coming up, we'll take a look at the notorious Russian arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death who the U.S. swapped with Russia to get Brittney Griner released. We'll also talk about it with a key player in the deal, Ambassador Bill Richardson as well as former NBA star and Basketball Analyst Charles Barkley.



BLITZER: Now, a closer look at the man the U.S. swapped with Russia in exchange for the release of WNBA Star Brittney Griner. CNN's Brian Todd has more on the notorious arms dealer, Viktor Bout. As you know, Brian, some call him the Merchant of Death.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That has been his nom de guerre on the past, Wolf. And as you know, Viktor Bout, was rumored for months to be the key part of any deal for Brittney Griner.

We have new information tonight on a man believed to be an almost a mythical player in the murky world of arms dealing.


TODD (voice over): Viktor Bout is believed to have cut a figure so legendary in the arms trafficking underworld that he is widely acknowledged as the inspiration for Nicolas Cage's character in the movie, Lord of War.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The arms bazaar was open, guided missiles, unguided missiles, mortars, mines, armored personnel carriers, whole tank divisions.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He's notorious. They made a movie about him and he provided arms to all parts of the world in contravention of international law.

TODD: Tonight, the man nicknamed the Merchant of Death is back in Russia, his 25-year prison sentence cut very short in a prisoner swap for Brittney Griner. Bout always denied breaking any laws but before being apprehended in an elaborate sting in Thailand in 2008, he was believed to have funneled weapons to warzones from Africa to Afghanistan.

Douglas Farah, co-Author of a book on Viktor Bout, says he was known as charismatic figure, a devoted family man, but also as a bully who would barge in on government meetings.


DOUGLAS FARAH, CO-AUTHOR, MERCHANT OF DEATH: If you look at the wars that were directly impacted by his weapons deliveries, you can see they escalate directly in proportion to the amount of weapons arriving. So, I would say, certainly, tens of thousands of people suffered, if not hundreds of thousands of people, because of the weapons he was able to deliver.

TODD: Former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty interviewed Bout in Moscow in 2002. At that time, he denied accusations that he'd sold weapons to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.


VIKTOR BOUT, ALLEGED ARMS DEALER: Unfortunately, I don't have a chance to meet him maybe, if I would on this position to meet him some way. Maybe in that period I would decide to do something to prevent what happened.

TODD: I asked, Jill, if Bout struck her as fearsome.

DOUGHERTY: You know, at that point, he really didn't. He is kind of like a big goofy-offy guy. I did not get any vibes. And I guess you could expect somebody with the rap like that to be kind of scary and fearsome, but he wasn't.

TODD: Western intelligence officials said there was evidence Bout shipped arms to fighters in Africa in exchange for blood diamonds. He denied it. But U.S. officials say he routinely dealt with people like ex-Liberian president and convicted war lord Charles Taylor. We interviewed a former DEA official who took part in Bout's arrest in Thailand, who says there was no weapon big or small that Viktor Bout wouldn't sell to you for the right price.

TOM PASQUARELLO, FORMER DEA REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA: A wide variety of weapons ranging from Antonov Aircraft to air and ground missiles, to AR-15s, to a number of different military grade weapons that he intended to supply to the FARC, a terrorist organization, for the purpose of killing Americans.


TODD (on camera): Viktor Bout's lawyer told CNN in a statement that the prisoner swap between his client and Brittney Griner is, quote, fair. The attorney said that since Russia's ambassador to the U.S. visited Bout in October at the prisoner in Marion, Illinois, where he was serving his sentence, that Bout had been very confident he would be released, Wolf. Even in prison, he had swagger.

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

And joining us now, Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the former Governor of New Mexico. He played a very key role in helping secure the release of Brittney Griner as well as other Americans who have been detained overseas. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you have been working closely with Brittney Griner's family to help get her out and I know you actually went to Russia recently, met with top officials there in that effort. What can you tell us about how this deal came together?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: All right. Well, credit has to go to the Biden administration, to John Finer, the National Security Council, and the president who made this tough decision to get Brittney Griner out in exchange for Bout, who is a bad guy, an arms dealer.

I had been to Russia twice. The good news is that we got a marine out earlier and then Brittney Griner. So, we now have to get Paul Whelan out. The inside stuff is -- I can't get too much into it, but we were hoping for a two for two, Paul Whelan and Brittney for Bout and another Russian.

But at the end, I think the geopolitical differences, the bad relationship between Russia and the United States. Russia said, we'll do one for one. And I think the president was right to go ahead with Brittney Griner, get her home to her family, to her father, to her wife who I've been talking to constantly.

But now we have got to concentrate on Paul Whelan. And I think we have to make an effort to get him out before the end of the year. Because I think his family deserved that. He is wrongfully detained. He is a marine. He deserves to come out.

BLITZER: He has been there and detained for almost four years now.

Paul Whelan spoke to CNN, Governor, about how Russia is treating him. I want you listen to what he had to say. Listen to this.


WHELAN (voice over): They've always entered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort. And for whatever reason, I'm treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that's also on a charge of espionage. So, even though we're both here for espionage, I'm treated much differently than he is. And my treatment is also much different than others held for espionage at other prisons.


BLITZER: So, Governor, why is he treated so differently? And where do you see talks on Whelan going from here? RICHARDSON: Well, we have tried, my foundation, for four years to get Whelan out. And somehow it always falls short. We tried it during the Trump administration, early on in the Biden administration.


And it seems at the very end, possibly because of the espionage charge, because he is a marine, because he is wrongfully detained, the Russians hold on to him at the very end.

And this is what happened again. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a possibility that we can get him out. I think we can. I think that the conditions are good. The good news is we got this other marine out about four months ago. His last name is Reed. He was a young man who was not treated properly, now, Brittney Griner, and now the next is Whelan. Despite the fact, Wolf, that the relationship between Russia and the United States just keeps getting worse, and that affects negotiations.

But I think the president made a decision. I think the Russians said it will be one for one. And then the next move is Whelan. But, you know, his family, his sister, his brother, four years, you're right, the guy needs to come out and I think he will.

I'm optimistic. I'm not negative. But, you know, the relationship, the Ukraine issue, the U.S.-Russia tensions on arms control, on human rights, it's not conducive to a negotiation, yet it did happen. Brittney Griner is out on a negotiation, so is Travis Reed. So, we got one more, and there are others also that we're trying to get out, other Americans. There is one POW in the Russian section of Ukraine, Gordie Korazi (ph), who needs to come out too. So, we've got more to do. But Whelan should be our next target.

And I think the president is doing everything he can. I've got to say that. His team, John Finer at the National Security Council, the State Department, they're working hard and they're doing everything they can.

BLITZER: And we want the thank you, Governor Richardson, for all you are doing as well behind the scenes. I really appreciate your joining us tonight. Thank you very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll have more on the release of Brittney Griner from Russia. We'll get reaction from former NBA Star Charles Barkley. That's next.



BLITZER: More now on the release of WNBA Star Brittney Griner heading back to the United States tonight after being held by Russia for almost 300 days as part of a prisoner swap for a Russian arms dealer.

And joining us now, the former NBA star and TNT basketball analyst, Charles, Barkley. Charles, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you've been speaking out about Griner's wrongful detention for months and months. So, what's your reaction to the news today that she is finally returning home?

CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Well, I'm just happy for her. You know, the NBA family, the WNBA family, we're a family, and it's just a great day for the NBA and a great day for the WNBA and Brittney obviously and her family.

But also, you know what, it's a bittersweet day because Mr. Whelan is still over there and also we let a scumbag arms dealer who might go out and kill other people. So, on one hand, I'm really, really happy for our NBA and WNBA family, but, man, you've got to feel for Mr. Whelan. He's been there four years, Wolf.


BARKLEY: But also, man, we let a scumbag back out on the street.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what happens with these trades. As you know, Griner's detention has sparked a lot of conversation about the enormous pay disparity between NBA and WNBA players, which leads so many WNBA players, the stars, like Griner, for example, to go play overseas, including in Russia where they can make more money. Is it time to shrink that pay gap?

BARKLEY: You know, that's a great question, but you have to factor in a couple of things, Wolf. I hear that argument all the time. You know, they only play 40 games in the WNBA. The NBA players play 82 games. We have an enormous T.V. deal from TNT and ESPN. We both pay, I think, about $2.5 million a year.

I don't think you can compare apples to tangerines because, like I said, those girls are -- those women are amazingly talented. But like I say, they only play 40 games, and they do not have an enormous T.V. package.

So, yes, we need to make sure they don't have to go overseas to make a living, but to think that they're going to make the $40, $50 million what NBA players are making, that's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Yes. The WNBA commissioner, Charles, says she thinks the more opportunities WNBA players can have here at home, the better we'll all be, that's a direct quote. Would you like to see WNBA players getting more U.S.-based opportunities, including in broadcasting and coaching rather than going overseas, playing overseas?

BARKLEY: Sure. If the ladies want to coach in the NBA, I think that would be a great thing. It would be an amazing thing. You know, I think we've got to do a better job of getting them endorsements. A lot of these NBA players, myself included, we make a lot of money in endorsements. I think the WNBA need to really do a better job.

Because I can't think -- I think Candace Parker, Sue Bird, two of the best women ever --


I can't think of many other WNBA women who have, like, endorsements. I think that should be the first line of revenue they should be looking at.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's a good point.

BARKLEY: I apologize, but I think only a coupe of the women have endorsements. And that to me would be a avenue to look for.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point indeed.

After seeing what Brittney Griner went through, Charles, what's your advice to WNBA players who are even considering playing abroad, including in places like Russia?

BARKLEY: Well, I think that even though we got some issues here in the United States that we need to work on, we're not perfect, this is still the best place in the world to live. We are so lucky and blessed to be born in the United States, to live here.

You can say what you want to about anybody. That's freedom of speech protected. You say anything bad about other people in other countries that got dictators or communist countries, you just disappear.

If you go to a foreign country, you can't make any mistakes, especially when you're dealing with a guy like Putin. He is not the only dictator and not the only communist country. When you go to a foreign country, you can't make any single mistake.

And that's unfortunately what happened to Brittney. And that's why we're in this situation we are today.

BLITZER: Yeah, we're so happy she is on her way home right now.

Charles Barkley, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

BARKLEY: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a landmark bill protecting same-sex and interracial marriage now heading to President Biden's desk.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: A bill with same-sex and interracial marriage is now heading to President Biden's desk to be signed into law.

CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is joining us from Capitol Hill right now.

Jessica, tell our viewers more about what this bill does?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is going to protect the marriages of millions of Americans all across the country, and what it's going to do is force every state, to recognize the laws in other states, which simply means, if you get married in one state and then move or go to another state, this doesn't have the same laws, it has to recognize your home states laws.

So, this is protection as I said for same sex couples, for interracial couples, all across the country. It's something that picked up steam over the summer into the fall after Roe v. Wade was overturned here on Capitol Hill lawmakers are afraid that the Supreme Court could overturn its ruling on same sex marriage.

They try to get this voting before the midterms. They just didn't have the votes yet. They got back from the midterms. It got 12 Senate Republicans joining with Democrats in the Senate. And over here in the House today, we had 39 House Republicans joining Democrats to send it to President Biden's desk.

BLITZER: Significant development indeed.

The other major bill the House voted on is involves the national defense authorization act, as it's called. Among the changes, the U.S. military's COVID vaccine mandate. Tell us, what you're learning?

DEAN: Right. So, what this does is set the policy for the Department of Defense. It also authorizes the spending for the Department of Defense.

And it needs bipartisan support. They knew -- Democrats knew they needed Republicans to get on board to get this must pass legislation through. And to that, it became abundantly clear in the last several days that the Republicans are going to demand that that COVID vaccine mandate for military members come out to get a lot of their support.

So, that is what happened in the House. It did get overwhelming bipartisan support. The vote was 350 to 80. So, that just tells you just how many House Republicans supporting that legislation. It now goes to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying that they hope to take it up by next. Again, Wolf, remember, they're up against this deadline in this lame duck session. They need to get that done and they need to fund the government. That comes up next Friday.

BLITZER: Lots going on. Jessica Dean up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Just ahead, Harry and Meghan unfiltered in their new documentary. We'll be right back.


[18:57:41] BLITZER: Harry and Meghan are peeling back the curtain on their lives in a new tell-all documentary series. The couple raising questions about the royal family, is sharply condemning British media in the first episode.

CNN royal correspondent, Max Foster, has the details from London.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, some relief inside the royal family, which anxiously have been bracing for the first episode of Harry and Meghan's Netflix docuseries.

The monarchy spared for now.

HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: No one knows the full truth. We know the full truth. The institution knows the full truth and the media know the full truth because they've been in on it.

FOSTER: Suggesting that the royal press pack as an extension of the palace's PR team, and the families afraid of challenging the media.

HARRY: Sometimes, you know, you're part of the problem rather than part of the solution. And there is a huge level of unconscious bias.

FOSTER: The series shines a light on their childhoods. Harry talks about his mother, her battle with the press, and the difficulty he had growing up as a royal child in the spotlight.

KATE WILLIAMS, CNN ROYAL HISTORIAN: For them, this is very much all tied together. Harry feels he's being chased by the prize ever since he was a child, has continued into his marriage, and it was unsustainable, and that's why he had to leave the royal family.

FOSTER: Then, there was Meghan's perspective, learning to live in the royal fold. The first senior royal she met was the queen.

MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I remember in the car, and driving up and he says, you know how to curtsy, right? And I just thought it was a joke.

FOSTER: And there was this anecdote, when she first met Kate and William.

MEGHAN: I remember I was in ripped jeans, and I was barefoot. Like I was a hugger, always been hugger. I didn't realize that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits. I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside.

FOSTER: The episodes are peppered with intimate moments, and what was billed as an inside look into the relationship from the start. And it includes moments like this.

MEGHAN: Oh my God, Jess. It's happening. It's happening. Its' happening. FOSTER: Videos and pictures never made public before. At the moment Harry proposed.


FOSTER: Lots of to take in for Harry and Meghan fans. For the royal family, there's quite a lot there to unsettle them, but not enough to prompt a formal response. Let's see if that's the case next week, Wolf, because that's the more sensitive part of the story, which is when they were forced out, they feel, from the royal family.

BLITZRE: Max Foster reporting. Max, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.