When CNN presents an exclusive interview Sunday evening between Jake Tapper and Trevor Reed, recently released from Russia after nearly three years of imprisonment, the network has the potential to spur a new strain of activism around U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad.
Reed, who spoke with Tapper for several hours Thursday in Florida, was released “because the Biden administration engaged in a prison swap with Russia, and in the past, that has been seen as controversial,” says Tapper during a recent interview. “The family wants those days to disappear.”
During the hour-long special, Reed talks about his experiences overseas, some of which, Tapper says sound like something out of a “horror movie franchise.” He also speaks about his interest in helping other American families who have relatives detained unlawfully overseas. Tapper also speaks to member of Reed’s family who have spent the past several years trying to call attention to his plight. The special report, “Finally Home: The Trevor Reed Interview,” airs Sunday, May 22 at 8 p.m. eastern.
The meeting didn’t just happen. Tapper says he has spent the past few years checking in with Reed’s family. “I had a relationship with the parents and sister and others,” he notes. “I think that they were very eager to speak because Trevor and his family want to become advocates for others to be freed.”
The anchor says Reed and his family “were incredibly generous with their time” and that he was able “to ask everything I wanted to ask.” But it is Reed’s story and candor, he says, that are the main draws of the interview. “It was a roller coaster of an interview. There are terrifying stories, and tears and laughter,” he recounts. “Trevor is a really solid, interesting guy, kind of a wise ass, sardonic but very serious. He wants to make sure the American people understand in his view how evil the Russian government is.”
Some of that comes through in the details of his imprisonment. Reed tells Tapper of one incident in which he was punished by being “sent to a psychiatric prison where he was thrown in a room with a bunch of homicidal maniacs, and he had to stay awake for two days to make sure they didn’t kill him.” Viewers may also hear Reed’s disappointment at leaving Russia without Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine who was taken into custody in Russia in 2018. The relevance of Reed’s story is also heightened by Russia’s recent decision to prevent WNBA star Brittney Griner from leaving the country.
Tapper, who holds down both a five-days-a-week show on CNN and splits anchoring duties on the Sunday program, “State of the Union” with Dana Bash, says he’s able to carve out time for enterprise work like the Reed interview on occasion. He anchored his weekday program, “The Lead,” from Florida for a few days this week to help facilitate his meeting with Reed and his family.
Viewers thinking Tapper might have taken a break from everything else to get the job done would be wrong, he says. “What’s a day off?” he says. “You are asking me about something with which I’m not familiar.”