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At This Hour

CNN Reports, What the American Accused of Plotting to Kill Haiti's President Told Police; Biden Administration to Begin Evacuation Flights for Afghans Soon; Russian Ransomware Gang Vanishes from Internet. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 14, 2021 - 11:30   ET


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hired an American private investigator under guise that they basically were trying to find someone who owed debts and asked that person to get all of the surveillance, the photographs they could, not only on this journalist, but of her family, of strangers that were visiting of her home, of her -- traces all around her Brooklyn area where she lived.


And then in addition to that, according to this indictment, they even researched how they were going to bring her to the Brooklyn Waterfront and get into a military-like speed boat that could bring her to Venezuela, to what's believed, ultimately, bring her back to Iran, so serious, serious details of this plot in this 43-page indictment.

And she was on New Day this morning talking to John Berman. It's important to note, the U.S. attorneys didn't name her in this indictment, but she says she was the target. Take a listen.


MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST: The FBI came to my house like eight months ago. And they were telling me that this house is not safe for you. And I was like you must be kidding me, because I receive daily death threats. What's new? I'm here in America. They cannot do anything.

And then when they showed me the photos of my private life with my husband, my stepchildren, my beautiful garden in Brooklyn, I was like, wow.


GINGRAS: Yes. And Alinejad and U.S. attorneys think she was a target because she is an activist who speaks out against the Iranian government, particularly on social media. The government saying that this is just something that the United States has undertaken as a Hollywood scenario, denying all of it. And the state department essentially released a statement saying that they stand up to Iran's human rights abuses and support those who are both here and in Iran. And we are expecting more though at a press conference later today from the state department, Kate. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: It will be important. Brynn, thank you so much for that reporting.

Turning now to Haiti, we're getting new details on the American citizen accused of orchestrating the assassination of that country's president. Today marks one week since the president of Haiti was killed and his wife was critically wounded in an attack by a hit squad.

CNN's Matt Rivers is live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, once again, and joining me now. Matt, what are you learning about what this key figure is telling police?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, we spent the day yesterday trying to get a better idea of who this man is, what his response to police has been. And we have a government source here in Port-au-Prince who is very aware of this man, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, is telling investigators.

And he's basically saying he's 100 percent innocent, that he didn't orchestrate this, that he doesn't know these Colombian hit men, as they are alleged to be by the government, that he had no idea that there was all this ammunition in the house that he was staying in, that was ultimately raided a few days ago. He's saying he's innocent.

But let's tell viewers a little bit more about who this man is. Again, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, that's his name, he's 63 years old, he is accused of basically orchestrating all of this, recruiting and the organizing here on the island this hit squad that is accused of killing the president.

But also his background, he's a traveling Christian pastor with a medical background. He has a license to practice medicine here in Haiti. He's worked with a Florida-based medical charity group over the years. He's one of three Americans that have been detained in this case.

And I want to play you just a very brief sound bite from a 2011 YouTube clip from Sanon, he posted it himself, where he talks critically about the Haitian government.


DR. CHRISTIAN EMMANUEL SANON, SUSPECT: Where is the leadership of Haiti? Nowhere to be found. You know why? Because they're corrupt.


RIVERS: Now, that is Sanon. We know there are ten other Haitians officially that have been added to the suspect list, Kate. That brings the total number of suspects in this case to 39.

BOLDUAN: Wow, matt, thank you. Continue to bring great reporting around this. Thank you very much.

Still ahead for us, America's infrastructure is crumbling and America's mayors have a message for President Biden. Two mayors from two different parties who are meeting with the president today join us next.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back. In just hours, President Biden will be meeting with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors at the White House. The focus will be on one of Biden's top priorities, infrastructure, and what exactly cities across America need.

Joining me now are two of the mayors meeting with the president today, the democratic Mayor of Dayton, Ohio, Nan Whaley, she's also a Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio, and the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt. Thank you both so much for being here.

Mayor Whaley, what is your message when you sit down with the president about infrastructure today?

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D-DAYTON, OH): Well, today, we're really -- yesterday, we released 369 mayors from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have signed a letter to say, we need to get this done and we need to make sure we have local control on infrastructure, but we want to be in partnership from the bipartisan plan.

Really, the only place we see bipartisanship happening regularly is in America's cities and with mayors. And so, today, I think the message that we really want to bring to the White House is we stand in partnership, ready to move and ready take action to see infrastructure actually get digging in America's cities.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Mayor Holt, one thing that Republicans in Congress are balking at is how to pay for this. As a Republican mayor of a big city, what do you say to Republicans in Congress who aren't going for this yet?

MAYOR DAVID HOLST (R-OKLAHOMA CITY, OK): Well, I want to be careful to draw the distinction. Mayor Whaley alluded to a letter yesterday that we released from 369 mayors. That is in support of the bipartisan framework. That's what we have brought consensus on. And the payment plan for that seems to have bipartisan support, at least in the Senate so far.

So, I know there're discussions about tax policy, but those tend to relate more to the other portion of this infrastructure discussion. But we're really focused on this part that seems to have bipartisan support and seems to have legs.

And I think as mayors, we're kind of tired of talking about it for the last ten years. It's not just -- it's cross-multiple administrations that we've been in this endless infrastructure week. And we want to see it come to an end and get something done.

And this feels like -- this bipartisan framework for infrastructure feels like the closest thing. It doesn't have as much controversy about payment and it seems to have a lot of consensus in Congress and around the country. And we wanted to kind of pitch and try to push it across the finish line so something finally gets down on infrastructure.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I will say I have heard from a couple of Republican senators who, when it comes to these pay-fors, as they say in the Senate, they're still not there yet. Not that they won't get there, but they're not there quite yet.

Mayor Whaley, when we talk though in the dollar amounts that we are about this deal, $1.2 trillion over eight years, $109 billion for projects on roads and bridges, your eyes glaze over, right? So what specifically do you need this money for in Dayton?

WHALEY: Well, I think really simple things that you talk about when you think about the word infrastructure to mayors. It's about roads, it's about bridges, but it's also about the infrastructure that we don't necessarily see when we're talking about water and wastewater and sewer lines, that across America, cities need this investment.

In Ohio, we have a bridge that takes you from Ohio to Kentucky that's been covered over and over again in all these weeks that Mayor Holt was talking about, fix the Brent Spence Bridge, so Ohio and Kentucky can move logistics across the Ohio River. That's the kind of stuff we're talking about. It needs to happen.

But also for cities, we need good broadband. We've seen in this pandemic what that means for schoolchildren and for people doing their jobs. And so all of this is the infrastructure that's really important to America's cities.

BOLDUAN: And, Mayor Holt, broaden this out to the economic recovery after the pandemic, because Oklahoma City was in a unique position. Right before the pandemic, your city had the lowest unemployment in the country. Now, what did the pandemic do and what does the road to recovery look like now?

HOLT: Well, thank you for pointing that out. We were in a great position entering the pandemic and we're starting to return to a great position. Our last three sales tax checks, they come in every month, they are the three largest in Oklahoma City history. So it seems like we're booming right now and that we've picked up where we left off, but, absolutely, I mean, greater infrastructure is integral to the future of our city's growth. I'm attracted to the portion of this bipartisan infrastructure framework that's got transit in it, for example.

We're a southwest city, a city largely built around the automobile. We do the best we can with what we've put into transit, but we'd sure love to have the partnership of the federal government to make a better public transit system, passenger rail, we don't go north. We don't connect to Kansas and to the rest of the Amtrak network around the United States. We had better passenger rail service in the day of the (INAUDIBLE) in 1889 than we do right now.

So, those are the things are attractive to me in this package, as well as the roads, the bridges and the core infrastructure, which is also all part of the bipartisan framework. All of that helps us continue move into this new post-pandemic chapter in Oklahoma City's history.

BOLDUAN: And, look, you guys are doing something that is hard to come by in American politics right now, which is bipartisan cooperation and, really, the spirit of let's find a way to get it done. Don't start at no, let's start yes and figure out a way, which is an important thing to celebrate and highlight. Let's see what it does in Washington. Thank you both very much.

WHALEY: Thank you.

HOLT: Thank you. Well, mayors get things done.

WHALEY: That's right.

BOLDUAN: He's not an unbiased opinion right there.

WHALEY: No, not at all.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

Coming up next for us, we have some breaking news coming from the White House on new plans to evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S. military. Breaking news coming up.



BOLDUAN: We do have some breaking news coming in. The Biden administration just announced it will have evacuation flights for Afghans who helped the U.S. military during the two decades' long war.

CNN's John Harwood is at the White House. He's got the details on this. John, what are you learning?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there are many potential adverse outcomes for the Afghan people from the withdrawal of American troops that President Biden is undertaking now after 20 years of war in Afghanistan. But one of the worst and most indefensible from an American point of view would be deadly retribution against Afghans who assisted the U.S. military during that long conflict that, from a U.S. perspective, is being brought to an end.


There are about 18,000 of those people and President Biden has committed to relocating those people as much as possible out of Afghanistan. There is a special immigrant visa process for them to come to the United States. But while the troop drawdown is underway and the Taliban is making gains and there's increased danger of full- blown civil war, the administration is now launching Operational Allies Refuge. In the last week of this month, they're going to begin flights out of Afghanistan, not saying where those flights are going in the meantime while those visa applicants are in the pipeline, but that process is beginning with bipartisan support from members of Congress and the Biden administration. And we will see if, logistically, they can execute the evacuation of all 18,000 of those people who assisted, interpreters, aides to the U.S. military and so forth.

BOLDUAN: Yes, they are critical to the U.S. mission there and this is a critical move now by the White House. Thank you so much, John, for that reporting.

Coming up for us, a notorious ransomware group responsible for cyberattacks here in the United States has vanished. Where did they go and why this may not be good news.



BOLDUAN: There's a strange mystery unfolding in the dark corners of the internet right now. A well-known Russian cyber criminal gang responsible for the ransomware attack that shut down one of America's last largest beef producers just last month, well, it has simply vanished.

Experts consider REvil one of the most prolific ransom attackers in the world, which makes it all the more surprising that overnight, the group's site suddenly disappeared.

Joining me right now is David Sanger, National Security Correspondent for the New York Times, of course, and a CNN Analyst.

David, I went to your reporting right away on this. What is the leading theory on why they went dark?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there are basically three, Kate. You'll remember that REvil had been the source of a pretty tense conversation between President Biden and Vladimir Putin just a week ago, last Friday. And they had done a fairly sophisticated attack.

This is a big group known for handling about a quarter of all of the big ransomware attacks that we have seen. And so President Biden said, look, either you have to deal with this or I will.

So, option number one is the U.S. did it. And they may have, although we have reason to believe the U.S. was still giving Russia some time. The second possibility is the Russians did it, and the third possibility is they just sort of packed up and went home.

My guess is that right now, the Russians went to them and said this would be a really great time to take a vacation for six or eight weeks, go to the beach. And if you need to go reconvene in the fall, you can figure out a way to do it then. BOLDUAN: David, is this good -- I mean, one would think on a superficial level, like ransomware group has gone dark, good news, is it necessarily that?

SANGER: Well, it's good news unless you just got attacked by them and you were in the middle of negotiating to get your data unlocked. And, in fact, there are hundreds of companies, we think, mostly smaller ones, that were victims of this most recent attack.

I talked yesterday to somebody who was doing a negotiation behalf of a law firm and they were negotiating how much they would pay in Bitcoin to get the code to unlock their data, and then all of a sudden the group went dark. So, if your data is locked up, you're not likely to be in contact with REvil any time soon. You could well be out of business or at least without that data.

BOLDUAN: Look, and the Biden administration has been working on kind of ransomware strategy, kind of a new cyber strategy. How do you think this impacts that at all?

SANGER: Well, a new cyber strategy has to have a couple of major elements to it. One of them is just better defense. And what we've discovered is that while large banks and utilities are pretty good and focused on this, a lot of smaller enterprises don't.

The second thing is better resiliency, which is to say, if you are hit, do you have your data backed up? If you have it offline someplace else, then you don't have to pay a ransom. You have a full copy of it, sort of what you would do with important documents at your home in case of a fire.

And then the third thing is what is the U.S. strategy to go after these groups, is it sort of like what we do with terror groups or drug cartels, where we go in over foreign borders to do it, hopefully with the help of the local government, but not necessarily? And how do you convince the Russians themselves to crack down on these groups? How do you differentiate it from the state-sponsored intelligence agencies that we've seen in Russia that messed around with the election but also was responsible for a very big hack of American companies and federal agencies just in December?

BOLDUAN: Yes. So, now, we can sit and wait and watch the clock and calendar to just see how long this group is on the sidelines maybe on their beach vacation, or for some reason, they might be gone for good. But I think -- I can tell from your reporting, it sounds like this is clearly not over. It's good to see --

SANGER: They'll be back.


They may just be back with a different name.

BOLDUAN: Well, different name, just as darn dangerous. It's good to see you, David. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

SANGER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, great.