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Russia Denies Vaccine Research Hacking Allegations; FBI Investigates the Hacking of High-Profile Twitter Accounts; Supreme Court Allows Florida to Place Voting Restrictions on Ex-Felons. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 07:30   ET



RICHARD CLARKE, CHAIRMAN, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: So that they can develop their own. The most valuable piece of information in the world right now is how to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and therefore everyone is trying to steal that information.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This is yet one more Russian activity against U.S. national security that the president refuses to call out Russia publicly on. And we noted that yesterday was the two-year anniversary to the day of that infamous Helsinki moment. I want to play that for our viewers and then ask your view about the significance of all this.


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 we're four years removed from Russian interference since 2016 election. A little more than three month from another one. Folks talk all the time about the necessity of leadership, a whole of government response to effectively defend the country from these kinds of hacks. Without the president's leadership, does this country have that?

CLARKE: No, of course not. And the president will not say that Russia has done anything bad. He still doesn't even think that they have interfered in the last election, and they are already interfering in this one. Their social media fake personas are out there on YouTube and Reddit and all the other platforms spreading lies, spreading dissension, making Americans hate each other. And he does nothing.


CLARKE: They engage in --


CLARKE: Active war activity like putting out a prize for killing Americans, and he does nothing.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and he might frankly be contributing to it. I want to ask you about this hack we saw of Twitter yesterday because this was a remarkable breach. It's our understanding that these hackers got so- called administrator privileges.

In other words, they hacked senior people in the company, and therefore had access throughout the system. The explanation to this point is that they were just after bitcoin, that this was a financial thing. Are you convinced of that? And tell us what the broader concerns are regardless.

CLARKE: Well, we don't know yet, the FBI is investigating. Of course, Twitter wants to say it was a minor event. But somebody got into the system re-set, the account re-set controls. They took over accounts of famous people. Verified accounts. And what that means is that somebody is in the system. It may be a criminal group trying to make money, but it could be the Russians.

And what that means for Americans is they can no longer believe when they see something, even from a verified account. They can no longer believe what it says. If they see the account like CNN, for example --


CLARKE: Saying Biden has already conceded, if they say that on election night, don't believe it. Don't believe anything you see on Twitter, verify it on your own.

SCIUTTO: That's -- it's remarkable and it was notable that one of the targets of this happens to be someone running for president against Donald Trump, the former Vice President Joe Biden. What can be done now? I mean, given -- you say they're in the system. Can Twitter reliably get them out of the system so that we don't have the potential for those kinds of false messages on Twitter as we get closer to the election?

CLARKE: It's very difficult to do that. If it's a sophisticated attacker, and you never know if you've succeeded in getting people out. It took the United States Navy four years to get the Iranians out of its unclassified system. And if they did it once, they can probably do it again. This means that Twitter does not have adequate internal controls. When this happened, alarms should have gone off in Twitter right away, instead they were able to do this for hours.

SCIUTTO: Yes, all right, it's a sobering assessment. Well, listen, good to have you on, I hope we can keep up the conversation and just attention on this as we go forward.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Jim, thank you very much for that. I will now read. The Supreme Court allowing Florida to block convicted felons from voting unless they have paid their court fines. This decision could affect hundreds of thousands of potential voters enough to swing an election. Florida voters approved a measure in 2018 to restore voting rights for felons after they complete their sentences. But Florida's governor then signed a law that only allows them to vote after they have paid outstanding fines and penalties.

Well, just days after Chuck Woolery tweeted that, quote, "everyone is lying about coronavirus including the media, Democrats and the CDC". The former game show host announced his son has tested positive. You'll recall President Trump re-tweeted Woolery's comments, Woolery's latest tweet about his son was very different. He said, quote, "to further clarify and add perspective, COVID-19 is real and it is here."


My son tested positive for the virus and I feel for those suffering, especially for those who have lost loved ones." Woolery has since deleted his Twitter account. Well, Florida just set a new record for new coronavirus deaths in a single day. Should the federal government be doing more to help? Who is responsible for this? A Democratic Congresswoman joins us from Florida next.


CAMEROTA: Masks now mandatory for shoppers at major retail chains, and New York's governor taking a hard line as New York City readies for phase four of reopening. CNN's reporters are covering developments coast-to-coast.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill in New York where Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is cracking down on restaurants and bars, calling it a three-strikes and your closed rule. This in response to complaints that many bars and restaurants around the state and specifically in the down-state area have not been complying with social distancing and other reopening regulations.


So three strikes, the business has to close, but if there are egregious violations, in the words of the governor, they could lose their liquor license immediately.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Lavandera in Dallas, Texas. Health officials reporting 129 people have died of coronavirus. That is a record single-day high. And we've now seen more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases being reported for three days in a row. The positive infection rate remains around 17 percent which is almost quadrupled in the last month and a half.

And the state of New York is now sending help here to the state. New York is setting up two testing sites at Houston area churches that could test up to about a thousand people per day, mostly in minority communities.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Cristina Alesci in New York. Grocery store chain Publix became the latest retailer to require masks in all of its stores nationwide. It joins Wal-Mart, Kroger, CVS and Target that have all made announcements in the last 48 hours alone. Soon Americans around the country will not be able to go big brand shopping unless they have a mask. The rising amount of coronavirus cases really forced retailers to step in, in the absence of a sweeping federal regulation.


SCIUTTO: Well for many small businesses, time and money are in short supply. The Paycheck Protection Program, PPP, stops accepting applications in August and lawmakers have yet to reach a deal on a phase four relief bill. Now, some small businesses are closing permanently, thinking there may be no end in sight to the crisis. It's a sad fact playing out across this country. CNN's Phil Mattingly, he's live on Capitol Hill with more. Phil, any hope for this or continued disagreements on Capitol Hill?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, on Capitol Hill, there is still a lot of disagreements. Everything should kick into gear next week. But I think the recognition right now in both parties is that something needs to happen and it needs to happen fast because when you look across the economy, particularly as the coronavirus resurges, things aren't getting any better. Optimism is waning and businesses are just flat shutting down.



MATTINGLY (voice-over): When Ayeshah Abuelhiga left her corporate job to launch Mason Dixon Biscuit Co., she couldn't have dreamed of how big of a hit it was going to be.

ABUELHIGA: We had lines all the way down to the Costco, probably like 2 miles long, and then it was like as if that opening day lasted a month and a half.

MATTINGLY: A first generation American who grew up in public housing and worked a half dozen jobs just to get through college. The comfort food pop-up was the ultimate success story and the accolades. The permanent brick-and-mortar location and most importantly, customer loyalty followed in spades.

ABUELHIGA: It was really important for us at the time to be part of a neighborhood and the community, and not just be in downtown.

MATTINGLY: Then came the pandemic.

ABUELHIGA: The first week or two, it was basically no traffic. I think we were making $100 a day. So like it went to nothing.

MATTINGLY: Business never returned above 50 percent of its past sales, leading to this gut-wrenching decision.

ABUELHIGA: We couldn't sustain the business anymore which we should have done.

MATTINGLY: With Abuelhiga, writing a letter now taped in the window of her restaurant, a letter from the owner of a thriving business could ever imagine putting together.

ABUELHIGA: This is the last thing I wanted to do and I avoided it at all costs. What do you say to your team members? What do you say to their families, right? What do you say to customers that feel like they've been there for you the whole time.

MATTINGLY: Small businesses are a central driver of U.S. economic activity. More than 30 million in the country representing nearly 50 percent of all U.S. jobs. But as the crisis has continued unabated, thousands of brick-and-mortar small businesses have taken the route of Mason Dixie Biscuit Co., and closed their doors. With nearly 66,000 businesses closing their doors for good since March 1st, according to data from Yelp, and some researchers pegging the total number at north of a 100,000.

Even more are on the precipice with 23 percent in a recent survey, saying they could only survive for not more than six months in current conditions. Even some that received crucial federal Paycheck Protection Program loans have started closing their doors altogether like Mason Dixie Biscuit. Yet in a sign of the very resiliency that defined what small business owners represent, a second business run by Abuelhiga; a frozen biscuit business once driven by customer loyalty to the restaurant itself has taken off.

ABUELHIGA: Never in a million years could we have planned that it was going to be as crazy as it was. The demand surge for us was upwards of 200 percent month-over-month.

MATTINGLY: And Abuelhiga isn't closing the door to giving another restaurant a shot post-pandemic.

ABUELHIGA: There isn't a bone in my body that doesn't want to try this again.

MATTINGLY: But as small businesses around the country fight for survival, she strikes a chord many facing is once in a century pandemic are clinging to each day.


ABUELHIGA: I can't say that you should feel like it's failure. It's really just closure on a chapter, but it forces you to think what's the next step, what's the next move?


MATTINGLY: Jim, and one of the things I've been struck by in talking to small business owners over the course of the last four months is the reality that these businesses are failing or near failure of no fault of their own, right? They didn't make mistakes. They had huge customer loyalty like Mason Dixie Biscuit Company, and yet, they're still going down, I think that more than anything else is what highlights the need for lawmakers to come together and figure something out over the next couple of weeks.

One thing there is bipartisan agreement on, more small business aid is coming, $130 billion, at least is left over from the Paycheck Protection Program, they want to direct that to the hardest hit. I think the concern now when you talk to the small business community again is speed. They need it now. They needed it yesterday. And if --


MATTINGLY: They don't get it soon, it's going to be a cascade of more failures, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And then you have continued debate on extending unemployment benefits as well. We know you're covering that. Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Well, Georgia's governor, he's going to hold a press conference in just minutes, this after he announced that he is suing the mayor of Atlanta over a mask mandate there. We'll keep you posted.



CAMEROTA: Florida breaking another sad coronavirus record on Thursday. It's reporting 156 coronavirus deaths. That's the most yet in a 24-hour period. Hard hit Miami-Dade County reporting record hospitalizations and ICU beds not able to meet demands. Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida. Congressman, thanks so much for being here. I know that Florida is in dire shape this morning.

I mean, we just ticked through it. The record hospitalizations, deaths, ICU past capacity. They cannot meet the demand for ICU patients who are coming in. And I know there's a lot of blame to go around, but who do you hold most responsible for the situation there today?

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL): Good morning, Alisyn. Like you said, we are at a boiling point. We have been called here in Miami- Dade County the global epicenter of the rise in cases for coronavirus. And I have been talking to hospital administrators, my constituents, and they are desperate for resources. And one of the top and most valuable resources are our frontline workers in the hospitals that are taking care of these patients.

I personally know one of the ICU nurses who just got COVID-19, and now this nurse is going to have to be away from work, from doing what he loves the most, and we have gotten no responses, no plan from the Miami-Dade County mayor, you're asking me who to blame. I mean it's leadership. We have seen failure at all levels of leadership here in the state of Florida.

The governor, the Miami-Dade County mayor, not giving straight directives. We asked our constituents, we asked our small businesses to close down early on, making that sacrifice, and they did not use that time properly to make sure that we had the appropriate public health infrastructure so that we don't get to this point. It is negligent. It is full incompetence, and my colleagues and I have been asking them for a plan and it's gone on deaf ears, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: We should mention that the Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos

Gimenez is a political opponent of yours, he is trying to take your congressional seat, he is running against you. So, given all of that, what should he have done?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Look, I have to tell you that I could care less about the election in November against Carlos Gimenez. I would love for him to have a conversation with me and with our other Democratic colleagues so that we can put together a plan. I have been working very closely with one of the top public health experts here, Dr. Aileen Marty, and I'm glad that he is now discussing with her what to do.

But because of politics, he has not been able to stand to this president, he was endorsed by President Donald Trump early on, and when the president came last week when we were at a point where it was a situation where we needed to take action, the mayor instead of taking action went to welcome the president at the tarmac and allowed him to violate his own mask order.

He had put in place a mask order here in the county, and the plan -- he's just very incompetent, Alisyn, and it's not because he's running against me, but it's because he hasn't had a clear strategy or plan to contain the spread, and now like I said, the numbers speak for themselves. And my constituents are desperate -- and it's really unfortunate to have to now consider to do another shutdown, which he says he may put out an order again today.

And we have businesses that are not going to be able to survive that. So, in Congress, what we're asking for is for the Senate to move so that we can get Heroes Act passed quickly and people can get that relief because I'm extremely concerned about we're going to see not just for the health crisis that we're going through, but also the economic crisis that we're facing.

CAMEROTA: And what are you hearing, will there be another shutdown announced today?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: It seems like they are considering that, and unfortunately, the curfew, you know, blaming young people for getting together a party, that's just not the reason why this virus is spreading. We know that there's community spread. We have known this for weeks. We knew this even when the mayor was starting to reopen. Cases were continuing to rise across the county. And -- but he went on to open most of the public spaces.

Now, in Miami-Dade County, Alisyn, part of the problem was that we never completely shut down. Back in March, they did some closures and they just suggested a safer-at-home order, but we never saw a complete closure to really contain the virus. And now here we are.


CAMEROTA: We are learning about a report this morning from the White House coronavirus taskforce, and we're only learning of it courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity that got this 359-page document, otherwise, it's unreleased. We wouldn't know about it. And basically, in it, the White House coronavirus taskforce lays out specifics -- specific recommendations for different states.

I mean, tailored to each state. Here's what it says for Florida. Mandate the use of masks in all counties with rising positivity rate. Counties with rising positivity rates should keep the bars closed, decrease indoor dining to 25 percent, limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people. And then ensure that all the individuals who engaged in big 4th of July activities are immediately tested. Do you think that somehow the White House coronavirus taskforce has shared that with the governor or with other officials, and we just don't know about it?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I think that the governor is taking his cue only from President Donald Trump. I am sure he has probably or someone in his office has probably seen that. It would surprise me if they hadn't seen those guidelines. But I think that he's talking directly with the president, and unfortunately, he has put the lives of Floridians at risk. We have Alisyn, over a million people here still waiting for their unemployment benefits.

The rise in food insecurity in our constituency here in Miami-Dade County is one of the highest in the country. I mean, I am tired of being the laughing stock here in Florida for the rest of the country. What we need is leadership, we need the support of the president. He needs to call on the National Defense Production Act so that we can get the reagents that we need to expand testing.

We need to hire contact tracers today. We've been talking about this for weeks, and it hasn't happened.


MUCARSEL-POWELL: And we have great leaders in this state. You know, I keep hearing that Florida -- you know, it's crazy what's happening in Florida. We have great leadership. But the governor and the county mayor are not listening to our advice and our requests.

CAMEROTA: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, we really appreciate your time this morning, we're thinking of you and everyone in Florida this morning. Thanks for being here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, for months, port authority police officers in New York and New Jersey have been going beyond the call of duty to ensure that doctors, nurses and paramedics on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight stay safe. CNN's Alexandra Field has the story.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was like nothing this country had ever seen.

PAUL NUNZIATO, PRESIDENT, PORT AUTHORITY, PBA: These guys and girls are our heroes. They're out here in the medical profession doing God's work, just trying to save lives.

FIELD: New York and New Jersey's first responders were doing battle at the epicenter for the COVID crisis before it spread across the country.

(on camera): Were you fearful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. We didn't know what we were dealing with.

FIELD: The 911 calls kept coming, they kept answering. But at hospitals and among healthcare workers, one question remained --

MICHELLE KOBAYASHI, EMS DIRECTOR, HACKENSACK MEDICAL CENTER: How do we -- how do we know we're going to not get our family sick?

FIELD: That's when police officers with New York and New Jersey's Port Authority responded with a solution.

NUNZIATO: We came up with a thought of, hey, let's try to get to the hospital, not only disinfecting the ambulances, but disinfect the doctors' and nurses' cars just to try to do something to help them because they are the front lines around COVID.

FIELD: The officers have travelled to hospitals throughout the region, deploying the same chemical disinfectant used to decontaminate patrol cars, using it even to decontaminate healthcare workers clothes.

KOBAYASHI: It changed the entire (INAUDIBLE) Department, they went from being afraid to being a little bit more relaxed.

NUNZIATO: We were over at Elmhurst in Queens, it's one of the hardest hit in New York City, just trying to make a safer environment.

FIELD: They're just showing up for the sake of the people who show up for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt good to give back. Like I said after 9/11, everyone came running to help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was stationed down on Liberty Street for like weeks.

FIELD: Medics who always raced to help now welcoming a hand.

DENNIS LUNDE, EMS SUPERVISOR, HACKENSACK MEDICAL CENTER: We're doing 100 to 200 calls a day. We have to make sure that we're definitely getting our trucks disinfected as best as possible to keep both the crews, patients and everybody safe, and then getting back out on the road and making sure that we're able to respond to help other individuals who are calling.

FIELD: Alexandra Field, CNN, Hackensack, New Jersey.


SCIUTTO: Folks stepping up to make a difference. Well, NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do have a serious situation now. The southern states have seen surges that are really quite disturbing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. shattering another record. More than 75,000 new infections in just the past day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government needs to do a better job of testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just impossible to have a useful program if it takes a week for a test to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mask mandates now in at least 39 states.