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FBI and DNI Announce Increased Foreign Interference; Interview with LabCorp CEO Adam Schechter; Barack Obama Joins Campaign Trail. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 22, 2020 - 10:30   ET



MILES TAYLOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The bad guys are back and the president and the White House have not done enough in the past few years to deter foreign adversaries from interfering in our democracy, and that's something that Elizabeth and I, when we were at the Department of Homeland Security, we raised with the White House constantly that this needed to be a priority.

But because they didn't deter them, we've got more countries in the game, which of course -- it's not just the Russians now, it's the Iranians and we also know the Chinese are interfering. But as you know, the good news here is that this revelation last night shows that the U.S. government has gotten better at uncovering and monitoring these threats in real time, and that's because of enormous investment made by the intelligence community in detecting and disrupting these threats.

And the last piece of good news here, of course, is that that it doesn't sound like this is necessarily a threat to election infrastructure. Americans should still feel confident their votes are going to be counted, and counted correctly.

However, it is alarming that these nation-states managed to get, you know, ahold of voter registration information. We're not clear on exactly how they got ahold of that information. But at this moment, it seems like they're trying to use it for relatively low-level purposes to dissuade voters from going out rather than attacking the actual infrastructure of voting systems themselves.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Miles, I'm glad you brought that up.

And I want to ask you, Elizabeth, what do we know exactly, right? Because the big fear in 2016 -- beyond disinformation, right -- was that Russia was going to interfere with actual voting systems. And there was that warning from Obama directly to Putin, saying, don't even think about it.

We haven't had any such similar warning -- to our knowledge -- from Trump to Putin. What is the level of concern that a Russia or a China or Iran would take that step, mess with voter registration on Election Day, attempt to interfere in counting, even in a small number of counties or districts?

ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: There is a concern there, right? And the lack of clear, forceful pushback on Russia, on Iran, on North Korea and other actors that are attempting to sow seeds of dissent and potentially manipulate the outcome of the election, it does hurt, right?

If Trump had chosen to handle things differently in 2017 or 2018, we likely would be seeing a different type of game being played by our foreign adversaries.

That said, the men and women in the intelligence community, in the law enforcement community, at DHS and CISA particularly are doing their darndest to try to keep everything safe. And I've spoken with people in the states where the elections are actually housed.

I mean, part of what makes this difficult is that it's not just one election, it's not even just 50 elections. Elections are often run by the secretary of a state, but they are administered locally, so you are dealing with any number of various apparatuses and election capabilities, and that's where the vulnerability is. We as a nation need to do a better job of ensuring that our local communities have both the information and the resources they need to protect these elections.

So I think they're doing a great job. But I think on the other side of this, there's going to be more resources and more education needed to make sure that we can keep our elections secure in the future.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, what do you say to folks who are waking up this morning, really confused at how e-mails from a -- you know, meant to come from the Proud Boys, saying, you know, you're in harm's way if you don't vote for the president.

How those are meant to damage the president and the fact that that message came from DNI Ratcliffe who, not that long ago, was a member of Congress, very partisan, a conservative who even some Republican senators had questions about confirming, at least the first time around?

TAYLOR: Well, I think there are big question marks still. You noted that last night, when the DNI spoke, he said that the Iranian interference was meant to harm Trump. But when the FBI director spoke, you did not hear that message again reflected. So I have a question about whether there's disagreement in the intelligence community on that assessment.

But for your average voter, I think really it doesn't matter whether a foreign government's trying to harm or, you know, help Donald Trump with this interference. I think your average voter needs to listen to U.S. authorities, especially the FBI director.

Elizabeth and I worked closely with Christopher Wray and his team. He's a man of integrity, and we should believe what he says. And when he says they're undertaking every effort to protect this election, that's true.

So Americans should feel like, again, their votes are going to be counted, they will be counted correctly. Go exercise your democratic rights and don't let any of this disinformation fool you. Your mail-in ballot, your in-person ballot, it will be counted and it won't be disrupted by a foreign government.


SCIUTTO: Elizabeth, there's been a deliberate effort to equate the threat to the election from Russia and Iran and China by Ratcliffe and others in this administration. You served this administration, you've seen the intelligence. Is that a false equivalency? Who is the biggest threat as a foreign actor?

NEUMANN: So I'm going to answer this question based on open-source information, not based on intel that I saw. But we have heard from intelligence officials over the last year that Russia still poses the biggest or has the best capabilities and has been at this game of disinformation for so much longer than China or than Iran.

So while we have seen Iran's capabilities increase, as far back as 2017, 2018, you have the cyber-security companies that have come out and assessed some of the connections to disinformation that they've spread, that they have increased their capabilities in the last few years. It still does not match what Russia can do.

And on the China pieces, there was some conversation in September when Microsoft released some information about potential disinformation and hacking into campaigns, and there was this equivalency idea that China was actually trying to support Biden.

And if you read through the details, what it actually seemed to be saying is that China was doing what China normally does: long-term strategic espionage, trying to understand this (ph) intents (ph) if a Biden administration were to come into play. They want to know what his intents would be towards China. So very, very different type of hacking than election interference hacking that we're seeing out of Russia and Iran.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Thanks for clearing it up.

HARLOW: Guys -- yes.

SCIUTTO: It's important to hear from the folks who know.

HARLOW: For sure. And just going to say, so good to have you both, given your previous work on this, this morning. Thanks so much and we'll be right back.



HARLOW: Welcome back. So we know the vaccine trials are moving at record speed right now, but do we know for sure how much immunity a vaccine actually gives someone? LabCorp is now launching a new antibody test designed to tell us exactly how effective these vaccines are.

Adam Schechter is here, he's chairman and CEO of LabCorp. They're processing over 200,000 COVID-19 tests a day. Thanks for coming on, Adam, good to have you.

ADAM SCHECHTER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, LABCORP: Good morning, Poppy, glad to be here today.

HARLOW: So explain how this is going to work, what you're developing that's going to tell us just how much immunity these vaccines actually give us.

SCHECHTER: Yes, so there are three types of tests, Poppy. The first one's a PCR test, that's seen as the gold standard to tell if you actually have the disease.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHECHTER: There's the antigen test, which are the fast-acting tests that you hear about. That also tells you if you currently have the disease. They're faster but not necessarily as accurate.

And then there's antibody tests, which tells you if you've had the disease in the past and if your body is able to fight the disease in the future. There's still a lot we don't know about the antibodies. We don't know what level you need for protection, we don't know how long they last, we don't know if somebody has immunity, if that means they'll have immunity forever.

So as we go through the vaccine trials, we're going to learn a lot more. And then we'll know what we need to measure exactly.

But we have tests for neutralizing antibodies, for total (ph) antibodies, quantitative and qualitative analysis. What we're trying to do is develop a whole series of tests so that wherever it ends up scientifically, we'll be able to help.

HARLOW: You know, Adam, people were just so frustrated back in the spring and summer, that it took so long for many people to get their tests back. Our babysitter couldn't come for 14 days because that's how long it took her to get her results. And I'm not saying hers went through LabCorp, but I mean, even you have said, at one point, 14 days is not OK. Your longest wait time, I know, is about 4.5 days.

The reason I'm asking is all the experts say the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest period of this pandemic. Are we going to go through that testing lag again?

SCHECHTER: So, Poppy, we've been building capacity since the beginning. When we first started back in March, we could do two to 3,000 tests per week. Right now, we can do more than 210,000 tests per day.

HARLOW: So it's not going to happen again? SCHECHTER: Partly, we're running (ph) --

HARLOW: It's not going to be as bad as it was?

SCHECHTER: Well currently, we're running about 125,000 tests a day, so we still have plenty of capacity. But we need people to social distance, to wear masks and to continue to wash their hands. We have to all be in this together.

There is -- there are scenarios that we continue to build capacity. But in the flu season, we have to all be trying to minimize the impact of this virus together.

HARLOW: Why is it that the rapid tests still are not nearly as accurate as the PCR tests? And is that just a function of science that can't be changed, or is there something that is going to make them, soon, as accurate as the PCR test?

SCHECHTER: Yes, the PCR test is seen as the gold standard. It takes very sophisticated equipment. You're searching for the genetic material of the virus through multiple cycles. And you have to do that in a laboratory with that equipment.

The point-of-care tests that you're talking about, they'll search for the virus, the protein of the virus. But it's not going through multiple cycles and it doesn't use that sophisticated equipment. So I don't --



SCHECHTER: -- it's going to get better, but I do think it serves a very important purpose.

HARLOW: Some. But as we saw at the White House with the Rose Garden event, they're not perfect and people were getting tested negative with these rapid tests, and then clearly there was COVID.


What about our children? So I take, you know, my kids to the pediatrician and they get that 15-minute flu test. You guys have developed and just put out this three-test (ph). So you test for the flu, you test for RSV, you test -- you can test for COVID at the same time. How widespread and broadly used do you think that is going to be for our kids this fall and winter?

SCHECHTER: Yes, so it's already available through physicians' offices. And luckily right now, we're not in the flu season. So we'll have to see when the flu season starts and how bad of a flu season we face.

By the way, masks, washing your hands and social distancing also stops the spread of the flu, and everybody should get flu shots if they're eligible. But at the same time, what we have to do is we have to continue to find new innovative ways to get those tests to people.

So we have filed with the FDA to try to have an at-home test that you can order to your house with a simple nasal swab, take the test, Federal Express it back to us and we'll test for flu, COVID and RSV together.

HARLOW: I would love for you to see me attempting to put a, you know, nasal swab in my daughter's nose. I don't know how well that would go, but it could help families a lot.

Final question, you have said it's not going to be another 100 years before we have another pandemic. And you've also been to the White House more than four times, you talk to Admiral Giroir all the time. What is the one thing the federal government could do right now to help you guys on the testing front, to help all of us?

SCHECHTER: Yes. What I would say is, the White House Task Force in general, Admiral Giroir has been terrific to work with. And when we needed help in terms of getting supplies, they've been really helpful. What we need to --


HARLOW: But what do you need now?

SCHECHTER: -- do is prepare -- well right now --

HARLOW: Right? Because --

SCHECHTER: -- we have to continue to build capacity, and we need everybody to do their part in terms of masks, social distance and washing hands.

For the future, I do think we have to think about redundant supply chains. We have to think about stockpiling of materials that we need, and I think we have to continue to think about, in the future, what else would be helpful.

HARLOW: OK. Adam Schechter, thank you to you and your team, we appreciate it.

SCHECHTER: Thank you, Poppy, nice to see you.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.




BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to, I don't know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere.


SCIUTTO: Well, he's back on the campaign trail -- unleashed, you might say -- David Axelrod, here to talk about all this. David, I'm curious, what does the timing of Barack Obama hitting the trail exactly 13 days to Election Day say to you?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the timing is actually pretty smart because what you didn't want was a long protracted surrogate battle between Barack Obama and Donald Trump when Joe Biden is the leading man on the Democratic side.

And what you have now is a situation where Biden has a significant lead, and Obama is coming and adding value where it needs to be added. He's focusing on young people, he's focusing on people of color, constituencies that did not come out for Hillary Clinton, who did not come out for Hillary Clinton in sufficient numbers in 2016.

And it's not just his public appearances, but he's pretty active on social media, on networks and channels that reach these voters. So he has a surgical role here that is really important to the Biden campaign.

SCIUTTO: With the big goal -- and I want to play another comment from him, talking about on -- already -- a Trump transition. Have a listen, I'll get your reaction.


OBAMA: We cannot leave any doubt in this election. Because you know he -- the president's already said if it's even close, I'm going to just make stuff up. He's already started to do it. So we can't have any doubt.


SCIUTTO: So in effect, gaming not just for a win but for a big win. And I wonder, you've done a lot of races, some of which haven't turned out as expected. What is your level of confidence that the public polling we're watching accurately reflects the race?

AXELROD: I have a high level of confidence, actually, in the polling. Remember, Jim, there's a lot of disquiet about polling in 2016 --


AXELROD: -- but the national polls were quite accurate actually. I think the final polls had Hillary Clinton winning by a little more than three points, she won by 2.2 in the popular vote. Joe Biden has a more significant lead of, you know, eight, nine points now. She was less so at this point in the campaign four years ago.

If Biden maintains anything close to this lead, it's very hard to see him lose the electoral college. But listen, we -- you know, vigilance would be the word if you were over there in Biden headquarters, because of -- we've seen what's happened. And because this is an extraordinary election, all the mail voting that is being done creates an element of uncertainty. Mail votes are disqualified at larger rates than in-person voting.



AXELROD: So there are all these factors that you have to be concerned about. But yes, I have some confidence that Joe Biden has a significant lead right now and is in a very good position going into this debate tonight.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, we'll be watching the debate, we'll be watching the final 12 days. David, I know we'll have you back on. Thanks very much.

AXELROD: Looking forward to it, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Our special coverage of tonight's final presidential debate, that starts 7:00 Eastern time, only here on CNN.

HARLOW: Thanks to all of you for joining us today. We'll try not to look too tired tomorrow morning after the debate. We'll see you then. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto -- coffee works, I think, sometimes --

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: -- NEWSROOM with John King starts right after this.