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Hackers Exploit Weakness in Windows Computers; Trump Warns Comey, Hints at Secret Recordings; Former Intel Chief Contradictions Trump Claims; U.S. May Extend Laptop Ban to Flights from Europe; Politics Overshadows Eurovision. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's called ransomware. It steals your computer files and only returns them if you pay up. A global cyber hack strikes at least 99 countries. We'll be live with Nina dos Santos in London on this in just a second.

Donald Trump tweets he may have recorded his meetings with former FBI director James Comey. Some critics are linking the veiled threat to a potential obstruction of justice.

And if you are flying from Europe to the U.S. you soon will have to stow your laptops in your checked luggage.

Hi, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: So tens of thousands of computers are completely locked down in what experts are calling the worst cyber attack they've ever seen. Hackers used a weakness in Windows computers to steal the data, which they return against a ransom. If you pay, that is. Let's get the latest with our Nina dos Santos in London.

Nina, one of the most worrying aspects was the attack on British hospitals.

Has the National Health System resolved the matter or is some patient data still being held for ransom?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Hi, there, Cyril. Actually it seems, at the moment, the NHS, the public National Health Service of the U.K., which by the way, uses a lot of centralized information collecting and sharing, which is why this has been so devastating, is bracing itself for a weekend of nightmares in terms of backlog of patient operations set to take place on Friday and couldn't because doctors just couldn't access patient information.

Things as simple as, imagine, trying to figure out somebody's blood group if they were to need a transfusion during an operation or to figure out how much medication they'd already had during the day, say, for instance, if that person was unable to tell you what medication they would need throughout the course of the night.

These are the types of situations that doctors are having to deal with. Having said that, though, they're going back to pen and paper. At the moment I understand that many of these issues aren't resolved.

The U.K. has been investing quite heavily in its cyber defenses for some time. In fact, you'll know that GCHQ, which is our equivalent of the NSA here in the U.K., has set up a specific national cyber security center. They've been working throughout the course of the night to determine exactly where this attack came from and how to try to shut it down, how to get the systems back up and running.

I should point out not all of the NHS has been affected at some hospital trusts, a large amount of them it has to be said, but the hope is that a number of these trusts have a lot of backup systems in place that they can try to rely upon. At the moment some of them do, some of them don't.

You can bet that people are going to be looking in the NHS because, of course, this is an election year and we've got elections coming up in less than a month's time here in the U.K. They're going to be looking at what can be done to try to reassure patients that this doesn't happen again.

VANIER: It was pretty scary on Friday to learn some people seeking emergency care had to be directed away from the ER.

Nina, do we know if anybody paid to retrieve their information, because that's what the hackers are asking for, pay $300, the equivalent in Bitcoin and you retrieve your data?

DOS SANTOS: Cyril, it is very unlikely the NHS would sanction payments. Also, some of the people whose computers have been affected, maybe they wouldn't have the authority to pay up.

Large organizations outside of the U.K., I should point out, across 98 other countries have been hit by this, some of them government institutions like the Russian interior ministry, some big telecommunications and power companies out in Spain.

It is also unlikely some of these organizations would pay up for the ransoming of their data. But we should point out overnight cyber security experts did say some of the accounts, Bitcoin accounts that are linked to this particular scheme, had been filling up with some money.

So obviously there are large and small institutions and companies right around the world from Tajikistan to the U.K., Ukraine, Taiwan and other countries around the world, and perhaps smaller countries might have been tempted to pay up> But at present we have no exact details on that.

VANIER: Nina, there are many aspects to this, which, to me, are just stunning. One of them is the fact that this originated with the NSA, the American National Security Agency.

DOS SANTOS: Yes, that's right. What essentially happened is a trove of NSA tools were leaked, Cyril, back in March. And Microsoft made people aware of this in April, issuing a patch to try to patch over the fault in the software that left these particular people, who didn't have an upgrade on the software, exposed.

Obviously it takes a long time for people's I.T. experts to get around --


DOS SANTOS: -- to trying to upgrading a number of these systems, particularly if you're dealing with something like the National Health Service in the U.K., where a lot of patient data is centralized. It takes a long time and sometimes it can be risky to update these systems because you have to have the backup system in place while you do the update.

So it is a laborious process and it doesn't seem to have been done across a number of these institutions around the world. Some security experts explained this overnight as saying, well, using the NSA tools means that essentially it is like having somebody who is coming to rob your home, one person arriving with military hardware.

It just makes it far more powerful. At the moment we still don't know whether or not this was a very simple attack, which basically bolted on that NSA exploit there to try to make it so damaging around the world.

We just know that already we're talking about over 80,000 cyber attacks around the world in 99 countries so far and it still hasn't really been stopped -- Cyril.

VANIER: Wow, tens of thousands of computers involved. All right, Nina dos Santos, thank you very much.

Let's move on to U.S. politics now. Three days after Donald Trump fired the FBI director, it is still not clear why he did it. Instead of settling the matter, the U.S. president tweeted what appeared to be a threat, aimed at James Comey, the former FBI director, warning him against going public with details of their previous conversations.

Here is latest from CNN's Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump firing off an apparent threat to the ousted FBI Director. Trump tweeting, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to press."

Trump's barbed warning coming as the President is facing scrutiny for his private conversations with Comey before he was fired. Today, the President is refusing to explain what tapes he was referring to and whether he is secretly recording conversations in the White House. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest and I hope he will be. And I'm sure he will be. I hope.

MURRAY (voice-over): As Comey was overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump said he asked Comey repeatedly for reassurances that he wasn't under investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did you ask, "Am I under investigation?"

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, will you let me know? Am I under investigation?" He said, "You are not under investigation."

MURRAY (voice-over): Those conversations, which quickly raised ethical red flags coming twice in phone calls and once over dinner, when Trump says Comey was vying to keep his job.

TRUMP: As dinner was arranged -- I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens.

MURRAY (voice-over): But a source close to Comey disputes that account, saying Comey did not request the dinner and had already been reassured by the President he would keep his job. During that dinner, a source says Comey was taken aback when Trump asked for a personal pledge of loyalty, which Comey refused to provide.

All this as the administration struggled to get a story straight about why the President ultimately decided to fire Comey after administration officials initially said it was at the prompting of Department of Justice officials, now Trump says it was his call and says he was thinking about the Russian investigation when he made the decision.

TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself -- I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."

MURRAY (voice-over): Trump took to Twitter to explain the discrepancy, saying, "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy."

And since it is so difficult for the president's staff to keep up with him, he floated another proposition on Friday, doing away with those White House press briefings altogether and instead the president doing his own press conferences himself -- Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: And the White House has made several claims about the Russian investigation, among them the fact that previous intelligence officials had confirmed there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Well, not so fast. The former head of National Intelligence directly challenged that claim. Our Jim Sciutto explains.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nation's former top spy says that he has never ruled out evidence of collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign, directly contradicting President Trump, who tweeted just hours earlier, "When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?"

In an interview with MSNBC, the former Director of National Intelligence says he believes...


GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There was no evidence that came -- that rose to that level at that time, that found its way into the intelligence community assessment, which we had pretty high confidence in.

That's not to say there wasn't evidence but not that met that threshold.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): But during the White House press briefing Sean --


SCIUTTO (voice-over): -- Spicer insisted it is James Clapper who is changing his story.

SPICER: It is interesting how the story has changed and now suddenly he's saying I wasn't sure about it. The burden seems to be on him, not us.

SCIUTTO: Director Clapper also expressed doubts about Mr. Trump's version of a dinner with fired FBI Director James Comey in January.

TRUMP: He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked for the dinner?

TRUMP: A dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.

SCIUTTO: But Clapper says it was Trump who invited Comey.

CLAPPER: He had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president.

SCIUTTO: And that the former FBI chief was uncomfortable with the invitation. CLAPPER: In a difficult position to refuse to go, but I do know he was uneasy with it just for the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI.

SCIUTTO: The dinner came just one day after then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be compromised by Russia. That timing raising concerns about White House interference in the FBI's ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign associates colluded with the Russian government.

CNN has learn that Comey was, quote, "Taken aback" when Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty during the dinner. A source close to Comey tells CNN, the FBI chief refused and instead promised to always be honest with the president.

In fact, FBI employees pledged to be loyal only to the U.S. Constitution, not to any individual including the president.

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: All of us in the FBI are focused, hyper focus is on fealty to the mission, not fealty to a politician, not fealty to any person.

SCIUTTO: The president has claimed that Comey assured Mr. Trump that he was not under investigation related to the Russian probe and that Comey asked Trump to keep him on as FBI chief. A source tells CNN this is a fabrication. That Comey did not ask to keep his job and that in fact just three days earlier, the president told Comey he would stay on as FBI director.

The source adds the former FBI chief is, quote, "not worried" about any recorded conversations between him and the president after Trump issued a thinly veiled threat to Comey tweeting, quote, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

Now James Comey was invited by the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify next week. We learned that he has turned down that invitation. I'm told by someone with firsthand knowledge of his thinking that he wants to take some time off and lay low for a while -- Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: Several U.S. agencies are looking into Moscow's meddling and whether there was any collusion with members of the Trump team. CNN's Tom Foreman brings us up to speed on who is investigating what.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you look at all the different agencies investigating the possible Russian connection to the election and maybe to the Trump team, it is a lot of different groups out there, from the Department of Justice and the FBI to congressional committees to the Department of Defense, all the way down to the intelligence community. Tip of the spear, though, is the FBI over here. They have the ability

right now and they are right now collecting evidence, questioning people and analyzing an awful lot of data to see if anything was done wrong out here.

If they find something, yes, they can get together with the Department of Justice there and they can put together an indictment and have criminal charges against somebody.

Is this aimed specifically at Team Trump?

No, it is not. It is aimed at the overall question of Russian involvement in the election, although the outgoing director, who was just fired, said, yes, they have to consider people on the Trump team as part of that investigation.

Beyond that, what about the congressional part of this equation, right here in the middle, all these committees, what can they do?

They can keep summoning witnesses, getting them on TV and on the record and keep the story front and center. They can't really produce criminal charges but they can keep this story very much alive.

And if a bombshell comes out of something that they do out there, well, then that may help keep things going in a lot of different ways and it could produce a special commission or committee. They can name such a thing.

If that happens, then you move into a whole separate phase here because what about the special commissions or committees?

Are they bipartisan?

Can be but usually they will reflect the majority as you see it, so you would see Republicans who control the House and Senate probably control such a committee. It would tend to be seen as a little bit more independent, a little bit more free of political influence and it would be a fact-finding group out there.

And I say it is what it is because each one of these seems to have its own rules about how long it will last and what it will do with its power out there. The bottom line, though, is, if you get to this point and this committee wants to, it can have real teeth in pursuing that investigation and leading toward bigger --


FOREMAN: -- political steps even as the criminal case is also being pursued.


VANIER: That was Tom Foreman reporting there.

We will take a short break. When we come back, European airlines are bracing for turbulence. Why officials are saying more restrictions on large electronics could actually be dangerous.

And it is that time of year again when sometimes questionable singing intersects with global politics. Contestants in the Eurovision song contest are getting ready to do battle. We'll tell you who was left off the list.




VANIER: The airline industry is bracing for a major change. The U.S. is set to expand its laptop ban to flights coming from Europe. However, officials there say new restrictions might actually pose a safety risk. Here is Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the U.S. moves toward expanding its ban on all electronics larger than a cellphone from the main cabin of U.S.-bound aircraft, airlines are in preparation mode. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing to announce it will expand its electronics ban to Europe.

Right now, the ban is in place for flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim majority countries. An expanded ban, though, could impact more than 350 flights a day. The Europe-to-U.S. track is the world's busiest international corridor.

Delta, United as well as American Airlines are the U.S. carriers that would be impacted the most. They have the most flights on this route.

Right now, airlines are trying to figures out new protocols and policy for how to check passengers for compliance. They are also working with international airports to reconfigure the setup to isolate passengers and flights bound for the U.S.

DHS says that the ban was put into place because intelligence suggests that terrorists have perfected their ability to hide explosives in the battery components of these electronics.

Now, European officials, they are voicing safety concerns that there will be a large number of electronic devices with lithium-ion batteries in the cargo holds.

But, the FAA says, the dangers associated with these batteries are reduced because they are spread out in bags, in pieces of luggage, and they are not stored together and on top of each other -- Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: Venezuela has seen countless protests against President Nicolas Maduro in the last few months. We have been covering that here closely on CNN but Friday's Grandparents' March was unlike many we have seen so far.

Thousands of elderly protesters marched through the capital of Caracas. Things turned violent when riot police blocked their path (INAUDIBLE) used pepper spray to push back the crowds.



VANIER: Now let me up update you on the Eurovision song contest which is almost upon us, that's on Saturday. And as often the event reflects the continent's politics and tensions so Ukraine is hosting it this year and its rift with Moscow means that Russia's candidate has been blocked from Saturday night's grand finale.

Diana Magnay reports from Moscow.



DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Get ready for the weird and the wonderful. All of Europe best assets on display. It's that, Eurovision time of year again, hosted this time by Ukraine.

One contestant, though, won't be attending. Russia's entry, 27-year- old Iulia Samoiliva (ph), performing here at a Victory Day concert last Tuesday in Crimea. Ukrainian authorities have barred her from entering Ukraine because she played a concert in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Russia, in turn, has boycotted the event and won't be broadcasting it back home.

Samoiliva (ph) declined to speak to us but others had plenty to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is not a contest of singers. This is a contest of politicians and it is not done in a humane way. We don't like a competition like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Victory Day is indeed victorious for us.

Why is that?

Because they, the Ukrainians, rejected her but we are happy to greet her here with all our soul.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Though less intense than it has been, Kiev's conflict with Russian-backed separatists still festers in the country's east, despite the best efforts of the international community to broker peace.

Donald Trump on Thursday vaunting his latest efforts to mediate between the two sides with a #LetsMakePeace hashtag. Eurovision has always had political overtones. Last year's winner, Jamala (ph), was of Crimean Tatar descent and sang of Stalin's mistreatment of Crimea's Tatars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) of all kinds, political, financial, sexual, integral part of the Eurovision song contest (INAUDIBLE). I remember once several years ago --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- when a Georgian band came up to the contest with a song called, "We Don't Want to Put In." And of course, it is two words, "put in" may sound like a familiar name.

MAGNAY (voice-over): This year, with an active conflict in the host country, the controversy is of a different order. As this year's performers get ready for the grand finale, spare a thought for the one who isn't there.


MAGNAY (voice-over): Diana Magnay, CNN, Moscow.


VANIER: All right. You can count on CNN to be covering the results of that contest.

Now in U.S. politics, once again it has been a head-spinner of a week, firings, tweet storms, a White House game of hide-and-seek. The comedy show "Saturday Night Live" should have a field day with all of this. It has been since the beginning of the Trump presidency.

Brian Stelter previews the show that will feature the press secretary and his doppelganger.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is the Trump administration making America laugh again or just making the press even more frustrated?

SPICER: The president has nothing further to add on that.

STELTER (voice-over): A credibility crisis intensifying this week and making late night comics rewrite their scripts right up until airtime.


Any other questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just mentally, though, are you OK?

"SPICER": Are you kidding me?

STELTER (voice-over): Melissa McCarthy back this weekend, it's perfect timing for her to host "SNL" partly in character.

"SPICER": I came out here to punch you. And also I don't talk so good.

STELTER (voice-over): Friday, the same day Sean Spicer returned to his real podium, McCarthy was in full Spicey regalia, whizzing down the streets of New York on her podium, "SNL" going the extra mile, promoting her return.


STELTER (voice-over): One likely punchline, Spicer's impromptu press briefing among the bushes Tuesday night.

SPICER: OK, hold on. Just turn those lights off.

STELTER (voice-over): The Internet has already had a field day with it. But just how long McCarthy will get to play Spicer is an open question. His absence from the Briefing Room earlier this week stirring speculation about his future.

This as the president refuses to commit to keeping him.

TRUMP: He is going a good job but he gets beat up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will he be there tomorrow?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, he has been there from the beginning.

STELTER (voice-over): For now, "SNL" fans are waiting for McCarthy's masterful impression.

"SPICER": You like that?

You like that, dork?

You like that, dork?

STELTER (voice-over): Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.


VANIER: "SNL" on Saturday night on American TV. Watch this space.

All right. Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines just in a moment. Stay with us.