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Microsoft Thwarts Kremlin-Backed Hackers; Colorado Father Charged with Killing Wide and Daughter; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:39] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. Microsoft says it foiled the latest cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The latest target? U.S. senators and conservative think tanks. We're live in Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A Colorado man now charged with killing his wife and two daughters. Chris Watts' defense? He 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.


BRIGGS: No shortage of politics at the MTV Music Awards. All the big moments in the network's new mission to engage young voters.

Welcome back to EARLY START on a Tuesday. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning.

Let's begin here breaking overnight. Conservative think tanks in the U.S. Senate the latest targets of hackers linked to Russian military intelligence. Microsoft says it foiled an attack, it stepped in to stop that 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.

Fred, what do we know about this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. Well, the group that we're talking about is the one that's called Fancy Bear and of course we have the U.S. intelligence services say that it's apparently linked to Russia's military intelligence.

Now the organizations that were targeted were the Senate, some members in the Senate, but then also two think tanks which are conservative think tanks. The Hudson Institute and also the International Republican Institute. Interesting because both of them of course are conservative, but nevertheless have been very critical of President Trump's advances towards Russia and also very critical of Vladimir Putin's foreign policy.

Now we do have to point out that it's unclear, at least there's no proof that any of these domains have been used for any sort of successful attacks. But certainly this is big enough for Microsoft to be coming out with this and we do expect to get more information from them later today.

Now of course all of this, Christine, comes only about a month after Attorney General Rod Rosenstein indicted 12 Russians for hacking into the DNC in the 2016 election and also the Hillary Clinton campaign. But of course we also know that only a few days after that indictment, President Trump seemed to side against his own intelligence services while he was at a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

And only last night we had that interview from President Trump where he essentially offered Russia sanctions relief if they worked together with the U.K. -- with the U.S. in Ukraine and in Syria. But I can tell you, guys, I was just in Syria with the Russian military and they certainly seem to believe that they are going to be the ones who are going to take the leading role as far as solving the issues in that country.

And just on a side note, I'm actually at one of Russia's largest military fairs right now where the Russians plan to display their stealth fighter jet which is the Russian answer to the F-22 and the F- 35. Of course another way that the Russians are looking to challenge the U.S. -- guys.

ROMANS: We're so glad you're there, Fred, covering it for us. Thank you so much. Fred Pleitgen for us.

BRIGGS: All right. 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, saying, quote, "I don't have to stay out as you know. I can go in, 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.


ROMANS: 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 a tweet Monday saying he was referring to the classic he said-she said dilemma.

Quick fact check, a perjury conviction requires proving someone willfully told a lie. It is not he said-she said, that something that happens in court every day.

[04:35:05] BRIGGS: White House Counsel Don McGahn's extensive cooperation with Mueller's team has unsettled the president. President Trump approved McGahn's cooperation but two sources familiar with his thinking tells CNN the president did not know the interviews stretched for some 30 hours nor that his own legal team did not fully debrief McGahn afterwards.

As to why the president let McGahn to talk investigators? Well, 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.

ROMANS: 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."

BRIGGS: Not deterred by the president's Twitter attacks against his critics and political opponents, Melania Trump addressed an anti-cyber bullying summit Monday. Her "Be Best" campaign focusing on the well- being of children, warns against 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 --


BRIGGS: Melania Trump has announced plans to go to Africa in October. Her first major solo trip since becoming first lady. No word yet on which countries, though, she will visit. But 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.

ROMANS: All right. 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.

BRIGGS: 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. This new plan 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, even cancer. The issue likely to come up tonight when President Trump headlines a rally in West Virginia, one of the nation's leading coal-producing states.

ROMANS: 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 little girls. Prosecutors, though, 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.


ROMANS: 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.

[04:40:05] ROMANS: That's an awful story. Scott McLean for us.

BRIGGS: Devastating.

All right. Ahead, protesters at the University of North Carolina topple a statue of a confederate leader that stood for over 100 years. The governor, a Democrat, is not pleased.


ROMANS: All right. Trade news, folks. China heads to Washington tomorrow for another round of trade talks. But President Trump does not expect, quote, "anything to come of it." "The Wall Street Journal" reported that China and the U.S. want to end their trade dispute by November. That's enough time President Trump and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet. But Trump told Reuters he has, quote, "no timeframe" and that it will, quote, "take time because China has done too well for too long and they have become spoiled."

The talks come during a big week for U.S.-China trade. The U.S. will begin collecting tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese goods on Thursday.

[04:45:05] Beijing said it would strike back dollar for dollar. And the U.S. Trade representative holds hearings on proposed tariffs for additional $200 billion in Chinese goods. That list includes things consumers buy, handbags, car seats, refrigerators. The hearing got U.S. companies weigh in. Many say the tariffs will cripple their businesses and raise prices for consumers.

BRIGGS: All right. Two men face charges for allegedly acting as agents for the Iranian government according to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. The suspects were monitoring Israeli and Jewish facilities, gathering information on members of an Iranian opposition group here in the U.S. The suspects are a 38-year-old dual citizen and a 59-year-old Iranian citizen living in California.

ROMANS: Authorities are searching this morning for a man who threatened to shoot President Trump. Shawn 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 Service is offering $20,000 for information leading to Christy's arrest.

BRIGGS: The 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 television interview, she claimed she boarded a spaceship occupied by aliens when she was 7 years old. The "Herald's" editorial board acknowledges Rodriguez Aguilera is an unusual candidate but agrees with her assessment that her past comments about aliens are not an issue in the race.

ROMANS: Past comments about aliens are not an issue in the race. I never thought I would hear you say that.

BRIGGS: 2018.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: It's just Tuesday.

ROMANS: Investors who have big doubts about Elon Musk's plan to take Tesla private, sending shares to a three-month low. We'll tell you why on CNN Money, next.


[04:51:42] ROMANS: Protesters on the campus of the University of North Carolina pulling down a Confederate statue known as "Silent Sam" 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 is -- it's 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: Police in Nashville, Tennessee, holding two men wanted for questioning in shootings that left three people dead this month. Demontrey Logsdon was arrested on an outstanding warrant for aggravated kidnapping and Lacory Lytle who turned himself in had outstanding warrants including charges of felony identity theft among other crimes. The men have not been charged with any of the killings which police say happened during robberies.

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easy. Easy, kid. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus, god. Help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow it down. Slow it down so we can see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dad, what if a tree falls on us? Please God help us.

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



ROMANS: 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. They were 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.

BRIGGS: Authorities in Los Angeles 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 sexually assaulting him just months after she accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department says its special victims' bureau is reaching out to the alleged victim.

ROMANS: The "Times" report 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 years old at the time. The "Times" said it received the documents through encrypted e-mail by an unidentified party. Bennett played Argento's son in a 2004 movie "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things."

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

BRIGGS: Rapper Nicki Minaj facing backlash for a tweet comparing herself to the abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman. Minaj who's new album is called "Queen" tweeted her definition of a royal on Monday saying all of the queens I remember shook stuff up. She touted Tubman who helped free slaves through the underground railroad as a queen of the weak. Many calling her comments disrespectful, some comparing it to Kanye West, saying slavery was a choice.

[04:55:07] Minaj for her part laughed it off when she realized her comments had gone viral, tweeting, "She said she could have rescued more slaves had they known they were slaves. I fought for streaming services to count toward billboard when a lot of people stayed quiet."

ROMANS: All right.


ROMANS: Last night pop culture and politics colliding as they often do at the MTV Video Music Awards. Top prize Video of the Year going to Camila Cabello for "Havana." She also won Artist of the Year. Cardi B won the Moon Person for Best New Artist. And Jennifer Lopez accepted the Video Vanguard Award with some nice words for 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: Exactly how Romans talks about her husband.

Politics very much front and center last night. 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, comedian 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: MTV also announced its first ever midterm get-out-the-vote. The new digital initiative called "Plus One the Vote" aimed at getting young people to convince their friends to register along with them.

All right. The New York Mets' season summed up in one play. Sorry, Mets fans. Top 13, Giants tied at one. Brendan Crawford, easy pop up, right? Wrong. That shortstop and their left fielder both go for it, colliding and misses. Just perfect microcosm of the season. Andrew McCutchen scores. Giants win 2-1.

I think the back page of the "New York Post" has it. "Dumb and Dumber." Very well, very well said.

ROMANS: Sorry, Mets fans.

All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money this morning. Global stocks mostly higher right now as China and the U.S. gear up for another round of trade talks. A Chinese delegation heads to Washington tomorrow. Previous rounds yield little progress but investors like the two keep talking.

Wall Street also closed higher. The S&P 500 now less than 1 percent from a record high. And just one day away from becoming the largest bull market in stock market history. The S&P 500 added more than 300 percent from its March 2009 low.

Tesla shares hitting a three-month low as investors doubt Elon Musk's plan to take Tesla private. Shares fell 4 percent after JPMorgan Chase slashed its price target for Tesla. Musk previously tweeted he had secured funding for a buyout. JPMorgan doubts that's true and does not believe there is any formal proposal. Shares were covered a bit by the close. Musk's original tweet triggered an 11 percent rise in Tesla stock which has since it had lost. It also triggered some scrutiny including an SEC probe into the accuracy of that statement.

PepsiCo is buying SodaStream. Its latest effort to expand into healthy drinks. Pepsi will pay $3.2 billion for the DIY seltzer maker. SodaStream is marketed as a healthy alternative to sugary soda and it fits with the vision set by outgoing CEO Indra Nooyi. Nooyi had steered Pepsi toward more healthy offerings following consumer taste. She will step down in October after more than a decade as CEO.

BRIGGS: OK. EARLY START continues right now with the latest attempts by Russia to attack -- cyber -- here in the United States.

Breaking overnight. Microsoft says it foiled the latest cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The latest target? U.S. senators and conservative think tanks. We're live in Russia.

ROMANS: A Colorado man now charged with killing his wife and two daughters. Chris Watts' defense? He killed his wife but only because she killed the girls.


HART: 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.


BRIGGS: No shortage of politics at the MTV Music Awards. All the big moments in the network's new mission to engage young voters.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: It is Tuesday, August 21st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Let's begin with that Russia story. Breaking overnight conservative think tanks and the U.S. Senate the latest targets of hackers linked to Russian military intelligence. A hacking group created fake versions of Web sites meant to look like the real sites. Microsoft said it stepped in to stop the attack last week.