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Microsoft Thwarts Kremlin-Backed Hackers; Colorado Father Charged with Killing Wide and Daughter; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. Microsoft says it foiled the latest cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The latest target? American senators and conservative think tanks. We're live in Russia.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A Colorado man now charged with killing his wife and two daughters. Chris Watts. His defense? Killed his wife but only because she killed the girls.


KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: Because in this game, you guys are allowed to kneel. You can do whatever the hell you want. There is no old white man that can stop you. Do it.


ROMANS: No shortage of political tones at the MTV Video Music Awards. All the big moments in the network's new mission to engage young voters.

You missed that while were you sleeping? We're going to bring you the highlights.


ROMANS: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning. I hope JLo was rocking it.


BRIGGS: I see that on Twitter this morning.

I'm Dave Briggs. Tuesday, August 21st, 4:00 a.m. in the East. We start with breaking news overnight.

Conservative think tanks and the United States Senate the latest targets of hackers linked to Russian military intelligence. Microsoft says it stepped in to stop the attack last week. The company says it took control of six Web sites operated by the same group behind the 2016 DNC hack of 2016.

Let's go live to Russia and bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen live for us. Fred, good morning. What's the latest?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Dave. Apparently according to Microsoft, the group Fancy Bear was behind this attack. And of course in 2016 we learned that apparently that group is directed by Russia's military intelligence the GRU. Now as you've noted, they targeted apparently some senators and also two conservative think tanks which are close to the Republican Party, but both of which, they are actually highly critical of the politics of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Now there's apparently no evidence at this point in time that any of these attacks were successful, but of course, guys, it comes only a month after Attorney General Rod Rosenstein indicted 13 members of Russia's intelligence for meddling in the 2016 election. Of course, we know that President Trump only a short time after that cited against America's intelligence services together with Vladimir Putin during that meeting in Helsinki.

At the same time President Trump in an interview yesterday with Reuters said that he would be willing to look at sanctions relief for the Russians if they helped him out or at least keep towards him on the topic of Syria and Ukraine.

I can you, guys, I was actually in Syria with the Russian military just last week and what I heard from them is they'd like to cooperate with the U.S., that they're the ones who want to be taking the leading role. And just on a final note, where I am right now, I'm at one of Russia's largest arms expos where they are today set to display their stealth fighter jet which is Russia's answer to the F-35 and the F-22, and also a hyper sonic missile. Of course another way they want to challenge America -- guys.

BRIGGS: Fascinating. Excellent reporting.

Fred Pleitgen live for us this morning in Russia. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Three minutes past the hour. Imagine a world where you and your allies are under investigation, but you get to dictate how the investigation proceeds. President Trump musing Monday about pushing Robert Mueller aside and running the Russia investigation himself.

In a new interview with Reuters, the president says he has chosen not to get involved in the probe. He says, "I don't have to stay out as you know. I can go in and I could do whatever. I could run it if I want."

Jeff mason was on the Reuters team that interviewed the president.


JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: In the run-up to that quote is he said he was staying out of it and that it was better if he did. So it's interesting, he was -- he was making it clear that he viewed it as a decision and that he had made the decision to stay out, but it wasn't the only option that he had.


BRIGGS: President Trump also said he is concerned about falling into a so-called perjury trap if he consents to an interview with the special counsel. He said he worries Mueller would compare his statement against others who have testified like former FBI director James Comey who Trump said was, quote, "best friends" with Mueller. In that situation, the president said, "Even if I'm telling the truth, that makes me a liar."

This comes after his lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the perjury trap truth isn't truth. Giuliani attempted to clean that up with the tweet Monday saying he was referring to the classic he said-she said dilemma. When fact check a perjury conviction requires someone willfully telling a lie. It is not he said-she said which happens every day in court.

ROMANS: all right. White House Counsel Don McGahn's extensive cooperation with Mueller's team has unsettled President Trump, we're told. The president approved McGahn's cooperation but two sources familiar with his thinking tells CNN the president did not know the interviews stretched for 30 hours nor that his own legal team did not fully debrief McGahn afterwards.

As to why the president let McGahn to talk investigators?

[04:05:02] Sources tell CNN the Trump legal team felt they did not have a strong legal case to stop it and they thought it fit with their strategy of cooperating with the probe.

BRIGGS: The White House still could seek to prevent details in McGahn's testimony from coming out by exerting executive privilege. The president meantime in full attack mode against the Russia probe Monday with a lengthy series of tweets including this, "Disgraced and discredited Robert Mueller and his whole of group of angry Democrats thugs working to impact the election. They are a national disgrace."

ROMANS: Not deterred by the president's Twitter attacks against critics and political opponents, Melania Trump. She addressed an anti-cyber bullying summit Monday. Her "Be Best" campaign focusing on the well-being of children, warns against, quote, "destructive and harmful uses of social media."

The first lady may have had her husband in mind when she said this?


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults. But we still need to do all we can to --

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Melania Trump has announced plans to good to Africa in October. It will be her first major solo trip since becoming first lady and no word yet which country she will visit. Back in January, you might remember the president used a derogatory term at a closed- door meeting bemoaning the influx of immigrants from s-hole countries in Africa.

BRIGGS: The verdict watch resumes this morning in the Paul Manafort trial. Jurors will return for a fourth day of deliberations in Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial. The former Trump campaign chief faces 18 counts of various financial crimes. His defense team sees it as a good sign that the jury has not reached a verdict after three days. Manafort faces up to 305 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

ROMANS: Later today, the Trump administration rolls back clean air provisions that were put in place by President Obama. The move gives states the power to determine emission standards for coal fired power plants. The new plan is expected to increase the release of carbon dioxide at a rate 12 times higher than current standards allow. Those emissions can lead to heart disease, strokes and cancer.

The issue is likely to come up tonight when President Trump headlines a rally in West Virginia, one of the nation's leading coal-producing states.

BRIGGS: Chris Watts is expected to appear in a Colorado courtroom today after being formally charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of his pregnant wife and their two young daughters. Court documents, unsealed Monday, reveal that Watts claims he killed his wife after she killed the girls. Prosecutors, though, are not buying Watts' confession.

At a news conference Monday, the father of Shannan Watts thanked the community for its support.


FRANK RZUCEK, FATHER OF SHANNAN WATTS: We would like to thank everyone in the Frederick Police Department and all the agencies involved for working so hard to find my daughter, granddaughters, and Nico.

Thank you, everyone, for coming out for the candlelight vigil and saying all your prayers. They are greatly appreciated. And keep the prayers coming for our family.


BRIGGS: We get more now from CNN's Scott McLean in Frederick, Colorado.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we are now hearing the story that Chris Watts told police. According to a brand new police arrest affidavit, he had initially said that he'd woken up early on the morning of August 13th, told his wife that he wanted to separate, and then went to work. She had apparently planned on going to a friend's house but then never returned. But later he told a different story, saying to police that he had, in fact, killed his wife Shannan but not his young daughters. He says that after he told Shannan he wanted to separate he went

downstairs, and when he came back up as he saw Shannan had strangled the young girls. And in a fit of rage, he then strangled his wife to death.

He says he loaded the bodies into the back of his truck, took them to his work site, dug a shallow grave for his wife, and dumped his daughters' bodies into an oil storage tank where they stayed for four days. But police say that he left out one key detail, that he had been having an extramarital affair with a co-worker.

Watts has now been charged with the murders of his wife and two daughters, three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, and because she was 15 weeks pregnant he was also charged with the unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Now, the defense had asked for their own expert to take DNA swabs of Shannan's fingernails, presumably to prove her involvement in the deaths of those young girls, but the judge ultimately denied that request -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Scott. Just a terrible, terrible story there.

All right. The president says he is looking for help from his own Federal Reserve chairman. Why he says he is not thrilled with Jerome Powell.


[04:13:52] ROMANS: President Trump breaking presidential protocol by sharply criticizing the Federal Reserve. He told Reuters he's, quote, "not thrilled" that Fed chair Jerome Powell is raising interest rates. The Fed has raised rates five times since Trump took office, twice under Powell who Trump appointed last year.

Trump also said the Fed should do more to help him boost the economy. Now candidate Trump criticized the Fed for doing exactly that in his mined keeping interest rates low to help President Obama.


DONALD TRUMP, THEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a Fed that is doing political things. This Janet Yellen of the Fed, the Fed is doing political. By keeping the interest rates at this level.


ROMANS: Now President Trump wants those same easy money policies for himself. The Fed did not comment. Historically, presidents avoid talking about Fed policies. The Central Bank works independently from political influence which Powell reaffirmed last month.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We do our work in a strictly nonpolitical way based on detailed analysis which we put on the record transparently. We don't talk political considerations into account.


ROMANS: The fact is the Fed has been carefully raising interest rates to keep this economy from overheating. Experts worry it may become over stimulated by government spending and tax cuts.

[04:15:11] BRIGGS: Breaking overnight. A Nazi labor camp guard living in New York as been deported back to Germany. The White House says early this morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out a 2004 order of deportation of Jakiw Palij. It took 14 years to deport Palij because until now no country would take him.

He immigrated to America in 1949, became a U.S. citizen in 1957. Now during the naturalization process, he concealed his Nazi service saying he spent World War II working on a farm and in a factory.

ROMANS: Authorities are searching this morning for a man who threatened to shoot President Trump. Sean Richard Christy of McAdoo, Pennsylvania. Officials say the 27-year-old was last seen Sunday night in Cumberland, Maryland, driving a stolen vehicle. Christy is accused of posting threats on Facebook against the president and the prosecutor in North Hampton County, Pennsylvania. The U.S. Marshal's Service is offering $20,000 for information leading to Christy's arrest.

BRIGGS: A congressional candidate who claims she communicates with aliens and was once visited by extraterrestrials has been endorsed by the "Miami Herald." Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera running as a Republican for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat. In a 2009 interview, she claimed she boarded a spaceship occupied by aliens when she was 7 years old. The "Herald's" editorial board acknowledges Rodriguez Aguilera as a, quote, "unusual candidate" but agrees with their assessment that her past comments about aliens are not an issue in the race.

ROMANS: I can't believe you said that line.

BRIGGS: 2018.

ROMANS: They acknowledged her comments about a lot of issues and the alien. OK.

BRIGGS: She says the aliens were long, blond haired and they telepathically told her to come outside. Nothing unusual here. Nothing to see.


BRIGGS: I can't believe it. Acknowledged her comments about past issues with aliens. OK.

ROMANS: 17 minutes past the hour.

BRIGGS: Just Tuesday.

ROMANS: Imagine if your life depended on driving through this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's going to go through -- go, go. Easy. Easy. Keep going.


ROMANS: A father and a son race to escape a wildfire. You don't want to miss how this ends.


[04:21:39] ROMANS: Protesters on the campus of the University of North Carolina pulling down a Confederate statue known as "Silent Sam," a statue that has stood since 1913. About 250 protesters gathered Monday night at Chapel Hill's Peace and Justice Plaza before marching to the base of the statue, calling for its removal, and eventually pulling it to the ground. The University officials called the toppling dangerous and said it was fortunate no one was hurt. One arrest was made.

North Carolina's governor says he understands people are frustrated by the pace of change but there is no place for violent destruction of property.

BRIGGS: All right. Check out this dramatic harrowing video as 70- year-old father and his son desperately trying to escape a blazing forest fire in Glazier National Park in Montana. Justin Bilton and his dad driving through hell, as he put it, down a winding mountain road seemingly with no way out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't see. Just go easy. Easy. Easy. You can't see. Just go easy now. Easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dad, the car is heating up, it's going to explode.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all right. Oh, Jesus, God. Help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow it down. Can you slow down so we can see --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, what if a tree falls on us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, God, help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing good. You're doing good.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Can you imagine? Eventually they were stopped by a downed, burning tree in the road. Justin says he had to reverse all the way back to the trail head where they were lucky to flag down a boat and taken to safety by two park employees. The car burned in the fire. Justin Bilton and his father Charles will be guests on "NEW DAY" later this morning.

ROMANS: Terrifying. Authorities in Los Angeles are investigating sexual assault allegations against actress and filmmaker Asia Argento. The "New York Times" reports Argento paid off a young actor who accused her of sexual assaulting him just months after she accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department says the Special Victims Bureau is reaching out to the alleged victim.

BRIGGS: "The Times" reports it has legal documents showing actor and musician Jimmy Bennett alleged Argento sexually assaulted him in 2013 when he was 17 below the age of consent in California. She was 37 at the time. The "Times" also says it received documents through encrypted e-mail by an unidentified party. Then it played Argento's son in a 2004 movie "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things."

CNN has reached out to Argento for comment. "The New York Times" has been trying to get a response from her since Thursday.

ROMANS: All right. While you were sleeping, pop culture and politics colliding at the MTV Video Music Awards. Top prize Video of the Year going to Camila Cabello for "Havana." She also Artist of the Year. Cardi B won the Moon Person for Best New Artist. And Jennifer Lopez accepted the Video Vanguard Award paying tribute to her boyfriend, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez.


JENNIFER LOPEZ, MTV AWARDS VIDEO VANGUARD AWARD: You are like my twin soul. We're like mirror images of each other. No, my life is sweeter and better with you in it because you make me realize that every day the sky is not the limit. The universe is infinite and so is what we can accomplish together with love and trust and understanding.


BRIGGS: Politics very much front and center last night.

[04:25:02] Rapper Logic wore an "F the Wall" shirt, inviting on stage families displaced by immigration laws, all wearing shirts that read "We are All Human Beings." Earlier during the monologue, Kevin Hart went directly at the president.


HART: I'm looking at this like it's game day, people. But do not worry because at this game you guys are allowed to kneel. You can do whatever the hell you want. There's no old, white man that can stop you. Do it. You never know what's going to happen at the VMA. I mean, beefs pop off, bad language, people run to the bathroom and send out crazy tweets. It's basically like a typical day at the White House. In your face, Trump.


BRIGGS: Wow. MTV also announced its first ever midterm get out the vote. A new digital initiative called Plus One Vote aimed at getting young people to convince their friends to register with them. Groups on the right encouraging a boycott, mind you, of Kevin Hart after those remarks. But he is a comedian people. He's a comedian.

ROMANS: And it is the VMA.

BRIGGS: That's right.

All right. Ahead, breaking news. Microsoft has found another cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The target? U.S. senators and conservative groups in the lead-up to the midterms.