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Kremlin-Backed Hackers Target U.S. Senate and Two Conservative Think Tanks; Colorado Father Says He Killed Wife After She Killed Their Daughters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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. 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.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys. The organization that we're talking about, this hacking group, is called Fancy Bear. Apparently that's the same group that hacked into the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election campaign.

Now U.S. intelligence highly likely believes that this group is linked and possibly even directed by Russian military intelligence known as the GRU. As far as the organizations and groups that were targeted by this attack, apparently, it's parts of the Senate but then also two think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Both of those think tanks have been highly critical of President Trump's advances towards Vladimir Putin but then also towards Russian foreign policy.

Now we do have to point out there's apparently no evidence that any of these domains were used for successful hacking or spear phishing attacks. Of course all of this comes just a month after Attorney General Rod Rosenstein indicted 12 Russians for hacking into the 2016 campaign and for election meddling during that time. And of course we know just a few days later, President Trump seemed to side with the Russians instead of his own intelligence services while at a summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And now just last night President Trump gave an interview to Reuters where he said he'd be willing to offer the Russians sanctions relief if they work together with the U.S. in Syria and in Ukraine. But I can tell you, guys, just got back from Syria with the Russian army, it certainly seems to be a fact that the Russians seem to believe that it's them who are going to take the lead role and the U.S. that needs to follow at least in Syria.

And finally, right now, I'm at one of Russia's largest arms expo where they're looking to showcase their new stealth fighter jet. Of course another way that Russia wants to challenge the United States -- guys.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Fred, thanks.

Imagine a world where you and your allies are under investigation, and 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 this 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 called 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 a 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.

A quick fact check here. A perjury conviction requires someone willfully told a lie. It is not he said-she said, which happens in court every day.

BRIGGS: White House Counsel Don McGahn's extensive cooperation with Bob Mueller's team has unsettled the president. President Trump approved McGahn's cooperation with two sources familiar with his thinking telling 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, sources tell CNN the Trump legal team felt they did not have a strong legal case to stop it and they thought it fits 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: At the very moment the president was attacking his critics on

Twitter, Melania Trump was addressing an anti-cyber bullying summit. 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 --


[05:05:05] BRIGGS: Melania Trump has announced plans to go to Africa in October. Her first major solo trip since becoming first lady. No word yet which countries 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 day four 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 yet after three days. Manafort faces up to 305 years in prison if convicted on all the charges.

BRIGGS: Later today, the Trump administration rolls back clean air provisions 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: All right. Chris Watts is expected to appear in a Colorado courtroom today after he was 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: We get more this morning 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: Really tough story especially since he took to the cameras last week and was pleading for whoever took his family to bring them home. You know, I mean --

BRIGGS: You look at all the social media posts.


BRIGGS: It's just an awful story.

All right. Ahead, the president says he's looking for some help from his own Federal Reserve chairman. Why he says he's not thrilled with that man Jerome Powell.


[05:13:02] ROMANS: It's Tuesday, 13 minutes past the hour. 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 now 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. But candidate Trump criticized the Fed for doing exactly that in his mind 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, something that Jerome Powell reaffirmed last month.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We're working on a, you know, strictly nonpolitical way based on detailed analysis which we put on the record transparently. We don't take political considerations into account.


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

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight. A Nazi labor camp guard living in New York City has 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, concealing his Nazi service in the process.

ROMANS: 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 is running as a Republican for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

[05:15:04] 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 this race.

BRIGGS: You can argue it's an asset. She knows how to deal with other countries, even other planets. Yes, right?

The Oakland A's hosted children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation last night and slugger Chris Davis did something very special for a 10- year-old boy battling cancer. Andy Scholes has this great story next in the "Bleacher Report."


[05:20:07] BRIGGS: Pop culture and politics colliding as they often do at the spectacle that is the MTV Video Music Awards. Top prize Video of the Year going to Camila Cabello for "Havana." She also won the Artist of the Year. Cardi B won the Moon Person for Best New Artist. And Jennifer Lopez accepted the Video Vanguard Award, and 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.


ROMANS: That's so romantic.

BRIGGS: Yes. That's how my wife talks about me. OK.


ROMANS: 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, Kevin Hart went directly at the president.


KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: 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.


ROMANS: 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 with them.

BRIGGS: OK. The University of Maryland football team making plans to honor their fallen teammate.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys. Jordan McNair, you know, he died in June 15 days after suffering a heat stroke at a practice. Maryland's head coach DJ Durkin remains on leave while the school investigates the circumstances surrounding McNair's death. In the meantime, McNair's teammates want to focus on his memory.


ELLIS MCKENNIE, MARYLAND GUARD: It's time to get back to what is important and that is honoring our fallen friend, brother and teammate, Jordan McNair. The moment that we stop saying his name, the moment that we begin to forget, his legacy will begin to fade. But we plan to have his legacy live on forever.


SCHOLES: Maryland's players say no one will wear the number 79 until 2021 which would have been the season after McNair would have graduated. McNair's locker will also be encased in glass and the Terps will wear number 79 decals on the back of their helmets throughout the season.

We had high drama last night in the Little League World Series. Georgia down to their last strike against Texas. That's when Jansen Kenty gets a hold of this one for a game-tying two-run homerun. All the kiddos start going nuts as does Kenty's dad in the stands. Check him out. He starts running around everywhere. He couldn't control himself. He was so excited.

As the game would go to extras, in the 9th, Georgia pops out. But the umpire gets in the way. The winning run comes in to score for Georgia. They win 7-6 to stay alive in Little League World Series.

All right. Mets and Giants playing extras last night as well. Look like some of the Mets may need to go back to the Little League. Two outs in the top of the 13th. And Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith collide. The easy pop up. Drops to the ground. Allowing the game- winning run to score. That play pretty much sums up the season for the Mets. Giants win that game 2-1.

Finally the Oakland A's hosting children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation last night. And A's star Chris Davis doing some really cool. He asked 10-year-old Anthony Slocomb who's in remission from cancer to sign his jersey then Davis wore it during the game. You could clearly see it when he was at bat. And check out what Davis did. Hitting a blast to center field. Davis said after the game, he thought about Anthony while he was rounding the bases and hopefully the homerun brought him some joy.

And I'll tell you what, guys, that's pretty cool. That's what sports is all about right there.

BRIGGS: That is brilliant.

ROMANS: Sports heals, man. It's so great.

BRIGGS: Outstanding.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks.

BRIGGS: Thanks, buddy.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning. Microsoft just found another cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The target this time U.S. senators and conservative think tanks. All in the lead-up to the midterms.


[04:28:43] ROMANS: Breaking overnight. Microsoft says it foiled a cyber attack linked to Russian intelligence. The latest target? U.S. senators and conservative think tanks.

BRIGGS: 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.


ROMANS: Politics at the MTV Video Music Awards. All the big moments and the network's new mission to engage young voters.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs, 5:29 Eastern Time. The president in West Virginia tonight. But we start with breaking news.

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. The company says it took control of six Web sites operated by the same group behind the 2016 DNC hack.

Let's go to Russia and bring in Fred Pleitgen -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys. The organization that we're talking about, this hacking group, is called Fancy Bear. Apparently that's the same group that hacked into the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election campaign. Now U.S. intelligence highly likely believes that this group is linked and possibly even directed by Russian military intelligence known as the GRU.