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Russia Denies Hacking Allegations; Pandemic Developments around the Globe; FBI Investigates Twitter Hack; Concerns Over Twitter Hack; Redskins Staff Accused of Harassment. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 06:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: These are literally arguments that come out of a 1960s, 1970s, 1980s playbook, which, by the way, is -- is when President Trump was a sort of at the -- you know, that is -- was at the height of sort of his maturity in adulthood. This is what he knows best. And he typically reverts back to those kinds of things.

But this is 2020. It really makes me wonder, do people hear those messages the same way. Are these messages that black and brown people coming into your neighborhood will bring crime and lower property values, are they really going to resonate the way that he thinks that they are. I don't know. The suburbs are becoming more diverse. Who exactly is he speaking to with this? And I think, like you said, it's not even a dog whistle any more, it's just being said out loud and it's part of the re-election strategy that they've been really leaning into increasingly over the last several weeks.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Abby Phillip, always good to have you to put a finer point on it. Thanks very much.

PHILLIP: Good to see you guys.

SCIUTTO: A quick programing note, Jake Tapper will investigate what really happened in the beginning of the U.S. fight against coronavirus and what could happen next. A CNN special report, "The Pandemic and the President" will air tomorrow, 10:00 Eastern Time, only on CNN.

The U.S. and its allies have accused Russia, based on intelligence, of attempting to steal vaccine research. There has not been a peep from President Trump about these Russian efforts.



SCIUTTO: Developing this hour, Russia, not surprisingly, is denying intelligence from the U.S., U.K. and Canada that Russian hackers have been attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research. President Trump has said nothing about it, much like he's said nothing about intelligence regarding Russian bounties on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

CNN's Matthew Chance, he's live in Moscow with more.

And, Matthew, what's interesting about this is one of these Russian hacking groups, accused of attempting to steal this research, known as "Cozy Bear," the intelligence term for it, who were also involved in hacking the 2016 presidential election. So there's some history here.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean what the security services of both the United States, Britain and Canada have said jointly is that they've identified that Russian hacking group, "Cozy Bear," as the group that has been involved in identifying vulnerable, you know, kind of symptoms inside organizations that have been trying to develop a Covid vaccine in all three of those countries.

And, you're right, you know, we've seen "Cozy Bear" before. It was one of the hacking groups that was believed to have infiltrated the Democratic National Committee servicer back in 2016, which led to the release of those e-mails designed to embarrass the Democratic Party in that election.

Russia, for its part, as always when it's confronted with these allegations of wrongdoing, has issued a categorical denial. Dmitry Peskov, who's the spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, saying this, Russia has no involvement with these attempts and does not accept such allegations, he went on to say. He also didn't accept the allegations that were made yesterday that Russia had interfered in the 2019 elections, that's the general elections in Britain. So a double denial there issued by the Kremlin.

But, nevertheless, you know, it's not, on one level, altogether surprising that Russia would deploy its the formidable sort of intelligence gathering espionage resources on something like trying to garner information about what other countries are up to when it comes to finding a vaccine for coronavirus. Russia is, of course, one of the countries worst affected by Covid. It's got more than 750,000 people who are recorded to have been infected with the virus and the real number is probably much more than that.

And they've applied enormous amounts of resources of the state in trying to get a vaccine of their own. They're very protective of that. There's a bit of, I suppose, vaccine nationalism going on. They're very proud of the idea that they are at the forefront, they say, of trying to find a vaccine for Covid-19. And they're very defensive about any suggestion that that could have been done -- well, that's being done with the help of espionage, which is what a senior Russian official said earlier. He said these allegations are simply an attempt to tarnish the Russian vaccine which still could be, he said, the first vaccine against Covid-19 in the world.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'll take it, Matthew. Thank you very much for the update from Moscow for us.

So, overnight, India becoming the third country, after the U.S. and Brazil, to surpass 1 million coronavirus cases. CNN has reporters covering the pandemic developments around the globe.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN PRODUCER: I'm Vedika Sud in New Delhi.

According to the ministry of health, India has surpassed a million confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Friday. It has also registered its highest jump in Covid-19 infections with close to 35,000 cases reported. While the death toll stands at over 25,600, the ministry of health says that India had recorded a fatality rate of 2.6 percent on the 14th of July, one of the lowest among the 20 worst affected countries according to the Johns Hopkins University.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN REPORTER: I'm Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo.

Yet another grim milestone for Brazil where the total number of Covid- 19 infections is now over 2 million. The South American nation registered more than 45,000 new cases on Thursday and 1,322 additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to over 76,000. Experts have said they don't expect the pandemic to peak in Brazil until sometime in mid-August. Nonetheless, we've seen a shift from big cities like Sao Paulo to smaller cities and towns with indigenous communities especially hard hit.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm David McKenzie in Johannesburg.

South Africa has crossed the 300,000 confirmed Covid-19 threshold.


In fact, cases are rising rapidly, especially here in and around Johannesburg, the commercial hub. Now, doctors say a key pressure point in coming days will be the availability of oxygen. The country has reinstated a liquor ban and they've put in a curfew to try and free up beds in emergency rooms. The next few weeks, they say here in South Africa, will be key to see if they can manage the Covid surge, but death rates here are still not as high as some other parts of the world.


CAMEROTA: Our thanks to all of our correspondents there.

We're now getting more information about that huge Twitter hack that breached many high-profile accounts, including Joe Biden's. The latest on what we know, next.


CAMEROTA: Developing overnight, Twitter confirming 130 accounts were targeted in this week's huge hack. Hackers target a slew of high- profile celebrities, including presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Donie O'Sullivan joins us now with more. What have you learned, Donie?


Yes, the FBI is now leading the federal side of this investigation with calls from the Senate Intelligence Committee and Congress to be briefed on this worrying breach.


Also here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched his own investigation into the breach.

For Twitter's part, they're still trying to really figure out how this all happened and what really went on. Last night Twitter putting out a statement saying, based on what we know right now, we believe approximately 130 accounts were targeted by the attackers in some way as part of the incident. For a small subset of these accounts, the attackers were able to gain control of the accounts and then send tweets from those accounts.

The company is still also trying to figure out importantly if private messages were accessed.

But, Alisyn, I mean this really just puts into perspective and raises questions, really, about the trust that we put in private companies, like Twitter, with our data. And given that Joe Biden's account was compromised, it raises questions and does put a spotlight on the possibility that hacking could play a role in November's election.



Donie O'Sullivan, I mean that's the question, four years ago we saw it happen, will we see it happen again.

So what does this mean for national security?

Joining us now, CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a correspondent for "The New York Times" and a documentary based on his book, "The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age," that's going to air on HBO in the fall. We should mention HBO owned, of course, by CNN's parent company. Good book for the right time.

So as far as we know, David Sanger, this was about bitcoin. But imagine the implications --right, after all, two of the targets here, one a candidate in the election, a little more than three months away, Biden, but also former President Barack Obama. Imagine what this could do a few days, a few weeks before Election Day if -- if you were to do something similar. Is that a concern of federal authorities at this point?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, it's a big concern, Jim. And, you know, in this case, I think we all got lucky and Twitter got lucky. These hackers seemed to be interested largely in money. And that tells you that it probably wasn't a state actor in this case.

But they revealed a huge hole. This was not a case of guessing Joe Biden's password or former President Obama's password or any of the other of the 130. They were inside Twitter's control system, which means they got what's called administrative privileges, somebody on the inside who could actually tweet under the name of someone else.

So think about this in the scenario you described. And this is exactly the discussion some federal officials I was talking to had the other night as this was playing out. Suppose on November 2nd Joe Biden had announced falsely -- or somebody had announced for him under this, I've come down with coronavirus, I'm not going to stand for president.


SANGER: Or, because there is too much disease in Michigan and Pennsylvania and so forth, we're postponing the election for a week. Just anything to disrupt the election or voters coming out. So, you know, Twitter's basically got 110 days to get its act together. But it's not just Twitter.

BERMAN: Yes. And, listen, as you said, they didn't just phish someone. I mean they got administrator privileges inside the system. Truly alarming.

Question, do we know for sure that it was just about money? I mean, as you know, in 2016, Russian hackers hid behind WikiLeaks, you know, as if this was sort of a journalistic project and as a deliberate attempt to interfere in the election. Do we know this -- this was not sort of a, you know, a false flag, right, you know, that it was -- that it could still be a state actor behind it?

SANGER: We don't know for sure. And there's going to be a big -- big investigation. But think of it this way, Jim, if you were going to exploit a hole in Twitter's system this big, you probably wouldn't do it in mid-July. You'd do it much closer to the election.

And this issue -- this question of timing goes beyond just Twitter. You know, one of the things we're most concerned about is the voter registration systems and whether they could get locked up by ransomware and you wouldn't do that until you hit the right moment.


Notably yesterday, as we learned that there's intelligence that Russia -- Russian hackers are trying to steal research on a Covid vaccine. We noted that it was two years ago, yesterday, that this happened in Helsinki, Trump and Putin.

Have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.


SCIUTTO: So, you know, the president, still to this day, right, will not call out Russia for interfering in the election.


We're -- we're a little more than three months away from another election. The FBI says state actors, including Russia, will try, are trying to interfere again.

Are we any safer, as a country, when you have a head of state who denies it's happening?

SANGER: Certainly not. I mean there are a lot of people working hard on the Russia issue, on the election side, on the theft of intellectual property, and I thought it was a good thing yesterday that you saw the United States, Britain and Canada jointly turn out that statement so that it wasn't hanging an just any individual country.

But you're absolutely right, none of this is being led by the president. And if you want to just see the comparison, Jim, just to drive home your point, in May the United States accused China, which has a much bigger Covid-19 vaccine program underway, of doing the same thing, of targeting hospitals, research centers, for any kind of therapeutics or the vaccine. And the president has come out many times since and talked about Chinese theft of intellectual property. So far he has been silent on Russia. Many of those working for him have not been.

But what this tells you in that in this last hundred days or so to the -- to the election, we don't have a central strategy driven from the top of the White House to go figure out how we're dealing with Russia. In fact, you've got two Russia policies. You've got the president's, which is, let's all get along, and others saying, we really need to go push back. And that's why it's been so incoherent.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure, like me, you have asked the president's advisers, national security advisers and others who serve with him, to explain why this president never calls out Russia for this kind of malign activity. The best explanation I've been given is that he has a fascination with Vladimir Putin.

Has anyone given you an explanation for why Trump will not challenge Putin on activities like this?

SANGER: You know, I've asked many, including President Trump himself after his first meeting with Putin where President Putin said to him that the Russians had stolen the DNC data and other data in 2016. The U.S. never would have caught them. And the president called to say, doesn't this sound right to you? I said, no, it doesn't sound right. Why won't you push back? And he says, well, I just think there's so much room for a good relationship here. It's not a convincing explanation. There's a lot of room for a good relationship with China but he doesn't forgive as much. There's a lot of room for a good relationship with NATO allies, who he's much more critical of than he is of Russia.

So we've never really gotten to this central question in the Trump presidency. Is it his fascination with him, is it his belief that he's going to do -- do something bigger and grander? And, you know, it could never be more important, Jim --


SANGER: Because just a month after this next inauguration, the last major arms control treaty with Russia, as you've written about and talked about, runs out. And we don't seem to be anyplace on a negotiation on extending it --


SANGER: Which means you could be left with a pretty big arms race.

SCIUTTO: David Sanger, always good to have you on. Thanks very much.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

SCIUTTO: First, the name change. Now disturbing allegations of sexual harassment against executives of Washington's football team. Details of those allegations in the "Bleacher Report," next.



CAMEROTA: Fifteen women are accusing staff members of the team still known as the Redskins of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

What do we know, Andy?


So 15 former female employees and two journalists who covered the team, they're speaking with "The Washington Post" detailing allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse that went on for over a span of 13 years. Now some of the allegations are against team executives.

Among those accused of misconduct are former director of co-personnel Alex Santos and former assistant director of co-personnel, Richard Mann II. Both of them were fired last week according to "The Post." Santos declined to comment on the allegations according to "The Post." CNN was unable to reach Mann for comment.

Now, long-time radio play by play announcer and senior vice president of content, Larry Michael, he was caught on a hot mic in 2018 talking about the attractiveness of a college intern. He retired from his post on Wednesday. Team owner Daniel Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen, they

were not directly implicated in the allegations, though Snyder is criticized for fostering a culture where the behavior was permitted.

And in a statement to "The Post" the team said, the Washington Redskins football team takes issues of employee conduct seriously. While we do not speak to specific employee situations publicly, when new allegations of conduct are brought forward that are contrary to these policies, we address them promptly.

Now, the team referred CNN to its comments to the post saying they have hired Beth Wilkinson and her law firm to conduct a thorough, independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.

Now, Alisyn, Ron Rivera is in his first season as the head coach of the team there in Washington, and he told ESPN, there's no way he's going to let any of this stuff go on moving forward, especially because his daughter now works for the team.

CAMEROTA: OK. Interesting.

Andy, thank you very much for all of that.

And NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people who are waiting in line to get tested and are fainting, literally, while waiting to get a test.