Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump on Firing Comey; Threat from North Korea to the U.S.; Global Cyber Attack. Aired at 4:00-4:30 am ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: President Trump weighing his options for a new FBI director, but some top Democrats say no replacement for James Comey should be confirmed until a special prosecutor is appointed for the Russia investigation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: An ominous warning for the U.S. from North Korea following its latest missile launch. Pyongyang says not to provoke them because the U.S. is in range of a missile strike.

BRIGGS: And companies worldwide bracing for more fallout from a cyber attack and some are calling the biggest ever. What it means for you and who could be behind it. This is terrifying on a Monday.

ROMANS: Yes, it is.

BRIGGS: A lot of people turning on their computers and thinking what's in store.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs. Welcome to "Early Start."

ROMANS: Nice to see you all this morning. I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, May 15th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east. Up first, a defining moment in Donald Trump's presidency, who will he nominate to be the next director of the FBI? At least eight candidates interviewed this weekend at FBI headquarters by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his number two at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein. A White House official says the president will get reports on the interviews and speak to leading candidates himself to make a final decision.

BRIGS: That could happen as early as this week as shock turns to anger over the firing of James Comey. On Sunday, former director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned of the dire circumstances our democracy now faces.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think in many ways our institutions are under assault, both externally, and that's the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well, our institutions are under assault internally.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Because he's firing the checks and balances?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the founding fathers in their genius created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that's under assault and is eroding.


ROMANS: Democrats are threatening to block the nomination of a new FBI director unless a special prosecutor is named for the Russia investigation. All the chaos taking the focus off the president's first foreign trip since taking office. CNN's Athena Jones has more on a very busy week ahead at this White House.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHTE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. The fallout over the president's surprise move to fire the FBI director continues with Democrats ramping up the pressure to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the Russia investigation. One of those Democrats, minority leader Chuck Schumer who talked about this on "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper. Watch.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The silence of my Republican colleagues is choosing party over country at a time when we can ill afford it. Foreign manipulation of our elections, no matter who did it, is a very, very serious issue. It damages people's faith in our government. So, our Republicans should be stepping up to the plate and joining us in asking for a special prosecutor.


JONES: We've also heard from Senator Mark Warner, who is the Virginia Democrat who is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's one of the committees that's carrying out its own Russia investigation. Senator Warner has said that Democrats should stand in the way of a vote for the next FBI director if Republicans don't join his call to appoint a special prosecutor.

The problem there is that you need Republicans to join that call because they just need 51 votes to confirm any FBI director. I should note that as of right now, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has indicated that he doesn't think that a special prosecutor is necessary. All of this coming on the same week the president is preparing to leave on his first foreign trip. He's leaving on Friday.

Before he does that, though, he'll be meeting with the Turkish president, Erdogan, where he's likely to discuss Syria, peace in the Middle East, and more specifically when it comes to Syria, his decision this past week to allow limited arming of Syrian Kurds to help in the fight against ISIS. So, a lot on the agenda as this fallout continues. Christine, Dave?

BRIGGS: Sure is. Athena Jones, thank you.

Meanwhile, President Trump still trying to defend his decision to fire director Comey. He's calling Democrats hypocritical for criticizing the move. In an interview with Fox News, the president insists he believed Democrats would actually be pleased by Comey's dismissal.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTOF THE UNITED STATES: I guess I was a little bit surprised because all of the Democrats, I mean, they hated Jim Comey. They didn't like him. They wanted him fired or whatever. And then all of a sudden, they come out with these glowing reports. Look, I thought that this would be a very

[04:05:00] popular thing that I did when I terminated Comey, because all of the Democrats couldn't stand him. But because I terminated him, they said, ah, we get some political points, we'll go against Trump.


BRIGGS: It was of course the timing that was the problem. The president also denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin then claimed it's very important for him to resolve the issue of Russia's meddling in the U.S. Election.

ROMANS: All right, several influential Republicans are expressing serious concerns about the future of the FBI under Donald Trump's presidency. Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham strongly suggesting the president choose Comey's successor from within the bureau.


SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: How about the idea of an FBI agent leading the FBI, promoting within the ranks? There are so many good agents, men and women out there capable of leading the agency. This is up to the president. He has a duty and obligation to pick somebody beyond reproach, outside the political lane.


BRIGGS: There has never been a current or former congressman selected for that post. The president's decision-making and its impact on the public also being called into question by members of his own party. Here's Nebraska's Republican senator, Ben Sasse, speaking with John Dickerson of CBS.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: We are in the midst of a civilization- warping crisis of public trust, and we need to talk honestly about our institutions that need to be restored and need to have the ability for people in five and eight and ten years to trust these institutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: You have heard it before, but as a civilization-warping crisis of public trust. It's an oldie, but it's a goodie. It's effective from Ben Sasse.

ROMANS: Yes. It really is, and I think it just shows you, it puts a period on the end of the sentence of last week, doesn't it?


ROMANS: I mean, last week was a really chaotic week for this White House, no question.

BRIGGS: Most Republicans are defending the president, Ben Sasse said I don't know how this president makes decisions so I don't know how to defend him. So, he's certainly on the fence a little bit.

ROMANS: All right, members of both parties are calling on the president to turn over any secretly recorded conversations he may have had with Jim Comey before firing him. That's based on that tweet from the president last week when he said "Comey better hope that there are no tapes." Look at tapes is also in parentheses --

BRIGGS: Where have we seen that before?

ROMANS: -- or quotation marks. Many are taking that as a veiled threat against the former FBI director. Comey has already said he is not concerned about any tapes, insisting he never said anything to the president to worry about.

BRIGGS: We're also getting a fresh read on voter reaction to the Comey firing this morning. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds just 29 percent of Americans say they approve of the president's decision to dismiss the FBI director, 38 percent disapprove and 32 percent say they don't have enough information. Do any of us really?

The poll found a sharper divide, though. Look at this. When party affiliation factored in, 58 percent of Republicans support the move. Only 9 percent of Democrats back the firing. That is a massive political divide, folks. I mean, think about the gap between the two parties there.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Two entirely different realities of this situation, right? The shake-up is having little impact on the president's overall approval rating, though, which means that remains a low of 39 percent.

ROMANS: All right, later today a federal appeals court will hold a hearing in Seattle to decide whether to uphold the president's revised travel ban. The administration wants the Ninth Circuit to lift the injunction issued by a federal judge in Hawaii. The Ninth Circuit blocked president Trump's first travel ban. Now a different three- judge panel will weigh a revised version. The Fourth Circuit based in Richmond, Virginia heard arguments on this matter last week.

BRIGGS: Coming up, North Korea claiming the U.S. is now within range of a missile strike. Why Pyongyang's latest missile test is more cause for concern than usual.


BRIGGS: Growing concerns this morning over North Korea's rapidly developing nuclear program after a successful ballistic missile test over the weekend. The Kim Jong-Un regime now claims it's capable of striking the mainland United States. Pyongyang also warns, its latest missile test proves it has growing capacity to launch bigger nuclear weapons. CNN's Alexandra Field live in Seoul for us with the latest. Good morning to you, Alex. How does this latest launch differ from those we've seen in the recent past?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Look, this is being celebrated as a big victory in Pyongyang, and frankly, the rest of the world is taking notice, too, recognizing that this is a significant step forward for Pyongyang with their missile development program and with their nuclear ambitions as a whole, perhaps. This is a missile that went farther and went higher than other previous tests.

Even U.S.-based analysts are saying that this missile launch appears to demonstrate that North Korea could have the capacity to conduct a strike on the U.S. base in the pacific, Guam. So, these are significant steps forward. North Korea saying that the U.S. should take this as a warning not to further provoke North Korea.

This launch comes on the heels of a number of previous launches this year, but U.S. officials are being very clear that while this could indicate some advancement toward the stated goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead all the way to the mainland U.S., they say that the launch this weekend was not representative of an ICBM, but that is the capacity that North Korea still does not have, Dave.

BRIGGS: To say the least, Alex, we've seen varying responses to North Korean tests in the past. How is the United States and the new regime there in South Korea responding?

FIELD: Yes, look, we've seen the White House try and walk a fine line here when it comes to these launches because the launches themselves have been fast and furious. You've seen at least ten different ballistic missiles launched from North Korea just since the beginning of the Trump administration. And while you've seen a build-up of the military assets from the U.S. in the region as a deterrent against North Korea, you have sometimes

[04:15:00] seen the White House try to limit their response to these provocations in order not to fuel the tension on the peninsula.

But this time they are reacting, and that's because this is seen as a significant development, a significant stride forward to that goal that could threaten the security of the U.S. You had a statement coming from the White House that was longer than what we had typically seen after these launches.

They have called North Korea a flagrant menace and they've called on all countries to continue to fully enforce sanctions against North Korea. That's part of the developing Trump policy about working to further isolate the regime in order to try and force cooperation, but this is the first ballistic missile launch for the South Korea president's new term in office. He was elected just last week. This was a man who came to office.

He was believed to have a policy of greater engagement with North Korea, a Democratic Party president. He has had to come out now firmly of course condemning the latest launch but saying that there is still the possibility for engagement with North Korea. There is still the possibility for talks with North Korea, if North Korea changes its attitude. Certainly no indication that they are changing their attitude now, Dave.

BRIGGS: No. No, not likely. Alex Field live for us in Seoul, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 16 minutes past the hour. It's being called one of the biggest cyber attacks ever, ransom ware. Today's a pivotal day to avoid becoming a victim. We'll tell you everything you need to know.


ROMANS: All right, companies and computer users around the world bracing for more fallout from the biggest cyber attack ever -- 200,000 users in 150 countries were hit by attacks that started late Friday. Law enforcement warns, there will be more victims this morning as the workweek begins. Already attacks being reported overnight in China, Japan and Korea.

Now, this virus locks users out of their own computers and then demands hundreds of dollars to regain control. It's ransom ware, holding all of your information for ransom. Global companies like FedEx and Nissan, as well as hospitals, universities, even government agencies have been hit by the so-called ransom ware around the world.

The software target's a flaw in Microsoft windows and now Microsoft released a security patch in March, but the virus hit networks that had not updated their systems, which Microsoft stressed the importance in a statement Sunday, but also said the attack is a wake-up call for governments that's because the tools used in these attack were stolen from the NS>, you know,.

Microsoft wrote that government should consider the damage of stockpiling cyber weapons and that they should treat cyberspace as they would physical weapons. A remarkable statement I will say from Microsoft here about this hack. And again, this is going on as we speak, as people are waking up this morning.

BRIGGS: A new starting and a lot of concern. Let's get more on the global impact of the cyber attack and what could be in store today with CNN's business and technology correspondent Samuel Burke live for us in London. Good to see you, my friend. So, they stopped this over the weekend, but it looks like a new batch has started. What's the latest on this want to cry virus this morning? SAMUEL BURKE: Good morning, Dave. Good morning, Christine. They

stopped the spread of this virus, but it doesn't matter, because a lot of computers were already infected. Remember, this hit the U.S., we started breaking this news on Friday. By that time, people in Asia were already at home starting their weekend.

Now people in China have already gone back to work. They're getting a little preview of what people might be seeing in the United States -- 40,000 new infections in China. People there, especially universities, we're hearing 4,000 plus universities turning on their computers and seeing my files are now frozen, my computer was infected over the weekend.

So, we're really seeing that is isn't stopping, and we're also seeing new strains of this virus. Other people have gotten their hands on this code, maybe the group that's behind this has altered the code a bit. So, while the main virus has stopped, really, you have other places are trying to pick up on this and keep using it.

But I want to just draw down a little more on what Microsoft is saying there. You had a little bit of that, Christine, but it's remarkable, because I covered this, and usually there are these pleasantries, well, governments, they don't say which one. But Microsoft is being very, very specific, saying that this was stolen from the NSA.

And I want to put up something else on the screen that really gets to the core of what Microsoft is saying here, is their pointing their finger straight at the U.S. government, "repeatedly exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into public domain and caused widespread damage.

An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some off its tomahawk missiles stolen." Incredible that a U.S. corporation is being that direct, that blunt at the U.S. government.

ROMANS: So Samuel, is this as simple as clicking that little box that says you need to update your software?

BURKE: That's all it is. Sometimes we get up here and we say, oh, you have to do this, this and that. But you know that annoying little pop- up you get in the right-hand corner of your screen on Microsoft Windows and you say, I'm about to go on air, I don't want to restart my computer right now or I'm busy. If you have updated your computer, you are fine. If you haven't updated from March, you could be vulnerable to this or some of the new strands of the virus.

So, if you're watching right now, just put up your computer, and if you've been ignoring that little exclamation point with that yellow badge in the lower right-hand corner, now is the time to do it and you can just set windows to automatically do that so you don't have to worry about it anymore. A lot of companies have it paid to update from windows XP, which isn't even serviced anymore.

ROMANS: Right.

BURKE: So, this is really just about keeping Windows up to date, and that's it, nothing more complicated.

BRIGS: Any glimpse as to who's responsible? Some of the usual suspects involved here have been hacked -- China and Russia.

BURKE: A lot of times we see Russia and China are behind an attack and a lot of cyber experts say really that's usually what it is,

[04:25:00] but this time, China and Russia have been some of the biggest victims, so every expert I'm talking with says we can rule out a nation state, some type of government, not Russia, not China. It's likely a small group of criminals, cyber criminals, probably a half dozen people who are getting tens of thousands of dollars, maybe a day.

And I think what's most interesting here is all these experts tell me they want to be seen as giving good customer service, Dave. They want to get a good reputation, these bad guys, because they want people to pay up, and so they want to provide support to people online. Even some of the ransom wares have phone calls -- telephone numbers where you can call up, get your good customer support.

BRIGGS: Come on.

BURKE: So that their reputation is so good that people know they pay up and these cyber criminals get richer and richer.

ROMANS: Just pay $300, make the problem go away.

BRIGGS: Good consumer service from cyber criminals.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Samuel Burke. Come back in a few minutes, we'll talk about this some more, OK. Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump looking to get back to business, but can he really do that with Washington waiting to see who he'll nominate to replace James Comey at the FBI?