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WNBA to Dedicate Season to Black Lives Matter; Americans Continue to File for Unemployment as Extra $600 is Set to Expire; Twitter Hack Last Night Targeted Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Others. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 16, 2020 - 10:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Can you set the record straight? If she decides not to play for medical reasons, will she still be paid in full?

CATHY ENGELBERT, WNBA COMMISSIONER: Yes. So obviously, we're really sensitive to Elena's health and we support her. And what we've been trying to do, Poppy, throughout setting up this whole season, is to follow the science of the virus and consult with infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, other specialists.

And this virus is obviously complicated, as you were just talking about in your prior segment. So we had to put in a process that we worked out collectively with the players' association and was (ph) put in, actually, to create a level playing field for all WNBA players. So everyone was treated fairly, it's an independent medical review panel, includes specialists. And the level of player was not a factor when making any medical decisions.

And separately, as you reported, the Washington Mystics confirmed yesterday that because of Elena's recent back surgery, she will not be required to report to Florida, she'll receive her full pay. And this is another thing that the pandemic disrupted, obviously: back, rehab and other kind of nonessential COVID matters. So absolutely, she will get paid.

HARLOW: So it's -- but she's being paid because she can undergo back surgery rehab, not because of the COVID concerns related to Lyme disease? I ask because the CDC doesn't list -- as you know, Commissioner -- Lyme disease as one of the things that makes people more susceptible, but there are studies that show it does suppress your immune system, right? And that's her argument. She said, Look, I didn't get to talk to the panel, and I can't appeal.

So big picture, if other players have this concern, right? What do they do if they're denied by the panel?

ENGELBERT: Yes, that's exactly why we have an independent panel of specialists who are following the science. We are not the medical people, at the league level, and that's exactly why we put that panel together, and it (inaudible) collectively with the players' association. But in Elena's case, as reported, she will get paid.

HARLOW: OK. So when you -- when -- let's talk about what you've dedicated this season to, it's about to begin in just over a week. And that is, social justice. Opening weekend is going to be a weekend to affirm and focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, warm-up gear will have that written on it.

You've had players, star players, including Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery step away from the league just to work solely on social justice. Tell me why you, as commissioner in your first year, made this choice?

ENGELBERT: Yes. I think the players, what I've been so impressed with -- and I'll be here a year tomorrow -- that the players have always taken a lead here on social justice. And I think as a league, we've supported and stood by them on the causes that matter most.

So as commissioner, I'm committed to making sure this season is about what the players want to advocate for. And we have worked hard with them around making sure Black Lives Matter, and the players in the WNBA have, you know, platforms at (ph) a time when there is so much injustice, inequality in society. And they have a long history, whether it's fighting for gender equality or opioid awareness or prison reform -- like you mentioned, Maya taking off two years -- she was the reigning MVP a few years ago -- to fight the criminal justice system.

So this movement, I think I'm very proud of the players. And so we kind of coined it the "WNBA Justice Movement" and the creation of a Social Justice Council. And the players are really looking forward to dedicating the season and actually getting to the good work of implementing change here.

HARLOW: Two-thirds of the league's players, in fact, are black. Yet Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, she sent you a letter -- and a lot of us have read it at this point -- and she accused you, Cathy, of inserting a political platform into the league. And then she said this on "Fox News."


SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA), CO-OWNER, ATLANTA DREAM: The WNBA has embraced the Black Lives Matter political organization -- this is a very divisive organization, based on Marxist principles. This week, they threatened to burn the system down, literally and figuratively, if they don't get what they want. I mean, this is an organization that, you know, seeks to destroy American principles. And I had to draw the line.


HARLOW: What do you think when you hear that?

ENGELBERT: So I'll just share, I was surprised to receive the letter from Kelly. From the short time I've known her -- not being in the league more than a year, and even seeing public statements prior to joining my league -- she's been very supportive of women's issues, of women's empowerment, has been very interested in her players and what they stand for. You know, and from what I understand, having played basketball herself, she wanted to help grow and support the league.

So I was surprised to receive it. But obviously, as I just said, as commissioner, I'm committed to making sure that the players' platform to vigorously advocate for social justice is what we're dedicating this season to.

HARLOW: Well, you know, she went on to say, in an op-ed in "The Daily Caller," "The left is lashing out at me. They want to silence me and take away my business... I'm not going to bow down to the woke mob."

Do you support her continued ownership, co-ownership of the Atlanta Dream?


ENGELBERT: You know, I think obviously we review all of our owners' public statements. But you know, we are aware there are interested parties who want to purchase the team. And so I know that's being worked on. But again, you know, I can't really comment on everything that's said in the political environment, but --


HARLOW: Well, but -- I -- no, I hear you, you're in a tough position, Cathy. But this is your first year as commissioner, and we all remember what Adam Silver did in his first year as commissioner, and based on Donald Sterling's racist remarks.

And the reason I bring that up is because there are current players, like New York Liberty Point Guard Layshia Clarendon, who said that this is your league's, you know, Donald Sterling moment. Or retired NBA player and coach Alex English, who said this is a bad look for the WNBA. And he said, "Donald Sterling vibes." Are they right, is this --

ENGELBERT: Yes, so --

HARLOW: -- the WNBA's Donald Sterling moment and do you personally think Kelly Loeffler should maintain her co-ownership of the Atlanta Dream?

ENGELBERT: So you know, the senator has not served as a governor. We have a board of governors, she has not served as a governor since she became a senator, so since October of 2019, she's no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.

And again, we believe the WNBA platform -- I mean, what the players want to focus on -- and I know some of them have spoken out, but -- they want to focus on getting owners in who otherwise are supporting what they stand for, and that's what we're working on.

HARLOW: OK. I know she, as Layshia has pointed out, still co-governs the team. And I -- I guess I ask because there are companies and PACs that have donated to her that are not going to any more, for example, Boston Scientific. So at this point, just final word on her ownership, is it something that you support at this point or do you not believe that she should be a co-owner of the team?

ENGELBERT: Yes, again, we are not going to force her to sell her ownership. She is not a current governor, she is not involved in the day-to-day and we are aware there are interested parties who want to purchase the team.

HARLOW: OK. I understand, Commissioner, thank you. And a lot of luck to you guys as you kick off next weekend.

ENGELBERT: Thank you, Poppy. Stay healthy, take care.

HARLOW: OK, talk to you soon.

Well, CNN is exploring the past, present and future of women's rights in the United States and around the world. Take a look, it's called "CNN Represented." You can find it all at -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Security officials in the U.K. say that Russian cyber-attackers are targeting groups trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Why? CNN has new details, coming up.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. New this morning, security officials from the U.S., Britain and Canada say that Russian cyber-attackers are targeting organizations working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us now with more.

Alex, what do they believe the intention is here, to steal that data, to use it themselves, or to disrupt the efforts or both?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly to get at the intelligence behind any sort of development of a vaccine for COVID-19. Jim, the fact that these three countries are coming together shows you what a big deal this is. The fact that they are calling out Russia, attributing -- in the parlance of the security agencies -- attributing these attacks to Russia shows the level of confidence that they have, that that country is behind these malicious cyber-attacks.

What these three countries are saying in the advisory is that a group known as APT29 or Cozy Bear is almost certainly part of the Russian intelligence services. And what they are saying is that they are -- that Russia is taking advantage of this pandemic to steal that intelligence relating to the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Jim, let me just read you part of this advisory that went out this morning. "Throughout 2020, APT29 has targeted various organizations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines." Now, the Brits have called this a despicable attack -- and of course, Jim, this comes as almost every major country in the world is actively quickly trying to find a vaccine for the coronavirus -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Cozy Bear, you'll remember, was one of the hacking groups involved in interfering in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Long history there. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

HARLOW: We learn this morning that another 1.3 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits just last week. That is more than 51 million people, needing that assistance since just mid- March. Those numbers have steadily declined, but they are still just stunningly high.

With no end in sight to this pandemic, the burden so many are feeling is about to get a lot worse. Vanessa Yurkevich explains.


VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Delena Sanders took a leap of faith. She quit her job, picked up her life and moved to Atlanta in January. She wanted to make a difference.

DELENA SANDERS, UNEMPLOYED DOULA: The reason I became a doula is because I really wanted to make a difference in the black community as far as the birth disparities. And I figured this would be a good area to do that.


It's a celebration of pregnancy --

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Her hopes of getting her business off the ground, gone. She's one of millions of Americans now without a job, on unemployment.

SANDERS: COVID seems to be getting worse and not better. So at least here in the city of Atlanta, we're in the process, it seems like, of going back to phase one. So I may not be able to go into the delivery rooms any time soon.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): And it's about to get worse. In two weeks, the extra $600 a week in unemployment that's helped Americans like Sanders to pay bills, put food on the table and stay in their homes, will expire.

REBECCA DIXON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NELP: It's going to be total economic devastation. The unemployment insurance program is the lifeline for workers in this public health crisis.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): This lifeline is disappearing, just as some states roll back their reopenings, forcing many workers back on unemployment. Up to 23 million Americans could be evicted from their homes by the end of September. SANDERS: When they take the $600 away, that would reduce me down to about $300 a week, which is, for me, not really feasible as far as covering my bills.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Cara Steele has been waiting 17 weeks for unemployment. She's making some drastic decisions.

CARA STEELE, UNEMPLOYED BARTENDER: What is most important that day, you know? Or you know, am I going to go out and buy something to eat, or am I going to purchase medication, or am I going to, you know, save my funds to go to a doctor or put gas in my car?

YURKEVICH (voice-over): She's a bartender in New Jersey, where indoor bars and dining remain closed. The back pay she's owed from unemployment will go straight to her bills, piling up for months.

STEELE: When is everything going to reopen? Because if I'm getting the $120 a week without this extra $600, what happens if I'm not going back until October, November, December? Or until there's a vaccine?

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The unknown is leaving many Americans paralyzed. And with Congress unlikely to pass an extension of the extra unemployment benefits by July 31st, Sanders faces a start reality: giving up.

SANDERS: I would feel very set back. I mean, it took a lot of self- encouragement for me to even decide to leave my job and move to another city to kind of chase after a dream. So if it gets shut down, I kind of would feel like I did all this for nothing.


YURKEVICH: And like with so much with this pandemic, women and people of color are going to be hit the most. Once this $600 expires, about 50 percent of those people receiving those benefits will be women and people of color.

And, Poppy, I've spoken to so many unemployed Americans over these last four months, and they've all said the same thing. They don't want to be on unemployment, they want to be able to go back to work. But we're only seeing such a small amount of jobs coming back online, there's simply not enough in order to re-employ so many people, Poppy.

And the thing to remember is that this lifeline, this lifeline in unemployment is the only lifeline that these Americans now have to turn to -- Poppy.

HARLOW: It absolutely is. Thank you for bringing the numbers to life because, behind every single one, are the stories like what you just shared. Great reporting, Vanessa, thanks a lot.


A huge hack of Twitter's biggest names: it may be the biggest security breach in its history, next.


HARLOW: Twitter accounts belonging to a whole lot of famous people -- former President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Kanye West, many other well-known names -- hacked in a huge hack of Twitter, an apparent cryptocurrency scam as well. The social media giant calls it a coordinated social engineering attack.

TEXT: Twitter Support: We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.

SCIUTTO: CNN technology reporter Donie O'Sullivan has been following this. Donie, I don't have to tell you the significance of being able to breach the Twitter accounts with many millions of followers, including of leading politicians, three months from a presidential election. What do we know about who did this and why?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: Yes. This is a historic attack. The biggest, I think, security incident Twitter has ever faced. As you mentioned, Vice President Joe Biden's account, also being part of this. Twitter said last night that one of their employees -- or at least one of their employees -- had been targeted by a social engineering attack.

Now, what that means is that rather than these hackers just hacking into Obama's account, hacking into Biden's account, hacking into Elon Musk's account, they had actually hacked into a Twitter user's account -- a Twitter employee's account, who had sort of master controls. And then those hackers were then able to use that control to take over these accounts.

There is so much, though, Jim, unknown. We don't know who is behind this, we don't know if it's a nation-state, if it's just scammers; if this bitcoin scam element of this was just designed to be a distraction. These are all very important questions that Twitter will have to answer, and especially if these hackers had access to the private messages of the former president, Obama, of Biden, and of others -- Jim.

HARLOW: Donie, one question we had is, what does it signal to you, the fact that Twitter had such a hard time regaining control of these accounts? Like, they tried to do it, and then it would be -- the hacked account would tweet again from the hackers.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I think it just underlines how badly they were compromised here. You know, we saw that Elon Musk's had a tweet up, it got deleted, then it kept reappearing and reappearing. This was a very serious breach and for a few hours last night, Twitter even turned off tweeting for most verified users: most politicians, famous people around the world were not able to tweet for a few hours last night -- Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Yes, the president -- even the president had to retreat to Facebook for a moment.

O'SULLIVAN: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much for following the story. We know you're going to stay on top of it. It is important.

HARLOW: Yes, really important. Thanks, Donie.

And thanks to all of you for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King starts right after a quick break.