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Colonial Pipeline Has Not Shared Information with Federal Government on Vulnerability Used by DarkSide Gang; House GOP to Vote Tomorrow on Ousting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) for Trump Criticism; Biden COVID-19 Response Team Testifies before Senate Committee. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired May 11, 2021 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Happening right now, two consequential Senate hearings kicking off on Capitol Hill, one on the continuing COVID pandemic, the other on better protecting our country against foreign cyber attacks, timely, of course, with this week's events. New details in the Colonial Pipeline shutdown are expected.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: But first to COVID-19 and a live look right now inside the hearing room where Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will soon testify. This as America reaches big, big vaccine milestones this morning, millions of 12 to 15-year-olds now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine. We'll take you live to this hearing as soon as it gets underway.

Our Lauren Fox is standing by. Let's begin there. Lauren, good morning. A lot of attention on Dr. Fauci and also Senator Rand Paul. The last time they faced off, it was tense.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, Poppy. And that has been a continuing theme since the beginning of this pandemic. Senator Rand Paul, someone who is a doctor, someone who also had COVID-19 early in the pandemic and someone who really has refused to wear a mask on Capitol Hill, someone who has argued he doesn't need to be vaccinated because he already had COVID-19. Of course, that flies in the face of CDC guidance that all Americans, even if you had coronavirus, should still be vaccinated. Expect things to heat up once again today.

And I'm told from an Republican aide that this is not going to just be Rand Paul versus Fauci but there are going to be a lot of tough questions about when exactly Americans can expect their lives to get back to normal.

But I want to focus a little bit on those interactions between Senator Paul and Fauci in the past. Here's a little mash-up of what we've seen over the last couple of months.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): They've developed enough community immunity that they're no longer having the pandemic because they have enough immunity in New York City to actually stop it.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I challenge that, Senator. I want to -- please, sir. I would like to be able to do this because this happens with Senator Rand Paul all the time. You were not listening to what the director of the CDC said that in new York, it's about 22 percent. If you believe 22 percent is herd immunity, I believe you're alone in that.

PAUL: If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater?

FAUCI: No, it's not.

PAUL: You have the vaccine and you're wearing two masks. Isn't that theater?

FAUCI: No, it's not. Here we go again with the theater.


FOX: And, of course, we expect more of those showdowns to continue in the hearing that is set to get underway in just a few minutes, Jim and Poppy. But, of course, there are going to be a lot of tough questions, like I said, from Republicans to Fauci to understand how much longer Americans are going to be asked to wear masks indoors, how much more do Americans need to be vaccinated in order to get back to normal. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. Let's hope for more answers and no theater of lawmakers today. Thanks, Lauren.

Let's talk about this as we wait for this hearing to begin with Dr. William Schaffner on all the news and infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Good morning.

Let's start with the great news, shall we, that millions of kids, 12 to 15 years old can get vaccinated starting today. What does this mean for the pandemic, writ large, in this country?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIVISION, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Poppy, I'm smiling. Tomorrow, the CDC's advisory committee will, I think, endorse that and make the recommendation that every child 12 to 15 years of age should be vaccinated in this country. That will spread the protection to yet another large segment of the population, should make parents very happy because schools will be safer and we will contribute to a reduction in transmission in our communities and raise the total of people in our communities so that we reach herd immunity sooner.

This is really great news. The vaccines are safe and they're effective and we're working our way down the age ladder, as it were, to vaccinate now our children also. SCIUTTO: Dr. Schaffer, we've heard from health experts that vaccinating this younger part of the population is particularly key to getting the pandemic under control because young people remain what they describe as a reservoir of the virus. Explain how that works and why it's important not only, of course, for the safety of the young people but for the broader population.

SCHAFFNER: Sure, Jim. As we all know, younger adults and these teenagers are much less likely to get severely ill. Good. They're not zero but that's very good. But they're also asymptomatic transmitters. They can have the infection and feel fine but give it to all their friends. And, of course, these youngsters are very congregate, they get together all the time, spread this infection amongst themselves and then youngsters they bring it home to adults, to their neighbors, to their grandparents and such.


So if we can dampen the transmission in this group, we can help bend that curve downward and get to a more normal life much more quickly.

HARLOW: Can I ask you if there is anything that would stand in the way of that, obviously, not enough people getting vaccinated? But the World Health Organization has just come out and said that the coronavirus variant first identified in India last year is now a variant of global concern. What does that mean for our viewers here?

SCHAFFNER: The virus is still, in a sense, in control, right? And if these variants that can escape our vaccines come to this country and start to spread here, then we have to start over. Because we'll be dealing with booster shots, second generation vaccines designed to prevent infection with those variants. But we're not there yet. The vaccines we have work very well against the variant that are spreading here in the United States. So let's take this one step at a time.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Schaffner, you know, as with so many things, it's a tale of two countries right now in terms of the response to this pandemic. You travel to southern states. People have already stopped wearing masks, right? I mean, the CDC guidance, no one is listening down there. You know, even as it struggled with how to slowly roll these things back, masks outdoor or indoor, what effect does that have on the country's ability to -- you know, to truly get this under control? Because you're seeing that reflected kind of a regional political difference as well in terms of vaccine hesitancy.

SCHAFFNER: Well, Jim, there are differences in approach. And certainly in my own state, the cities, I think, are doing a much better job in vaccinating their population than are the rural counties. We're still reaching out to all those people trying to persuade them to come in. There isn't any doubt that there is a real desire now that the summer is starting to bloom everywhere, that people want to get out and about and take off masks. And we're going to be working with that tension in an ongoing way for a while.

SCIUTTO: Sadly we will. Dr. William Schaffner, always good to have you on. SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: This morning, a top government official says that Colonial Pipeline still has not shared some information with federal government about how exactly a criminal gang out of Russia managed to launch a ransomware attack, as it's known, on that company.

Joining me now to discuss broader issue here, Cyber Security Experts James Lewis, he is Senior Vice President for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Lewis, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, first of all, big picture, I'm trying to get a handle on how severe the impact will be from this attack, because you do have some systems coming back online now. But both within Colonial and also in this broader pipeline, you have the White House saying yesterday they don't see a broad supply shortage. I wonder based on what you know, are we getting on the other side of this or are the effects of this attack still rippling through the system?

LEWIS: No, this will be cleared up in a few days, maybe by the end of the week, if we're lucky. The U.S. has a fairly large supply of gasoline in reserve, so -- in the east, so the consequences will be limited. If they can clean it up, if this goes on for more than a week, then, yes, you'll see real problems.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Now let's talk about how the company has managed this. Because, early on, I spoke to a lot of cyber security experts and they said, listen, Colonial did a lot of the right things. They got right in touch with federal agencies involved. They took some of their systems down deliberately to limit the scope of the attack. And they also shared information with other private companies. Now, there is some criticism that they didn't share the full extent of this. What do you know?

LEWIS: You know, I think it's what the military might call left a boom, which is they did everything right after they were hacked, right? They turned off systems. The they shared information, maybe not enough. That's not really the issue though. The issue is what happened beforehand that let them get whacked by this Russian group.

SCIUTTO: Understood, okay. So you have a Biden executive order, which was already planned before this attack, but this attack, of course, has kind of focused attention on the danger here. Among other things, it lays out new parameters for investigations but it also requires companies to do what this company didn't do, share a lot of this information up front or, I believe, risk being able to do business with government. Which of these changes are most important, in your view?


LEWIS: The executive order is actually going to make a big improvement in cyber security mainly because it's focused on getting better software and getting secure software development processes. So those are real steps. It will help with information sharing and remove some of the obstacles.

One of the complaints I heard from agencies during SolarWinds is we don't have insight into what's going on. You know, that's a dilemma if you want to respond to a crisis.

The executive order doesn't address things like pipeline directly but the overall infect on information sharing, on cooperation, on better software will be a long-term improvement.

SCIUTTO: There is a carrot and a stick in these proposals there. You say that the risk of companies having their products banned from sale to the federal government is significant. Is that the right way to go? Say, hey, guys, you have got to take care of this or we ain't buying your stuff.

LEWIS: You know, I think the White House thought carefully about this because you can use existing authorities that regulate what the U.S. government buys. No one questions as the buyer. It has the authority to say, you need to sell me a secure product. If you want to do more, if you want to go to other sectors, the don't sell to the government. Then you have to go to Congress. And people thought no matter what you think of Congress at a minimum, that would take a long time to get any answers.


LEWIS: So the hope is that using the federal acquisitions regulations will give the leverage to improve cyber security.

SCIUTTO: You know, this attack, a ransomware attack, basically, as you all know, that folks at home, cyber hackers get into your system and they'll say, listen, I'm going to shut it down or keep it shut down unless you pay me money. This happens far more often than people realize. And the fact is a lot of companies pay these ransoms. They think they have no choice.

And, you know, we used to say we don't negotiate with terrorists. That encourages them to take more hostages and do whatever they do. I mean, is some of this, you know, self-inflicted damage by paying -- by doing business with these folks in the past and encourages them to keep doing what they're doing?

LEWIS: No, I don't think so because they don't need an encouragement. This is a risk-free profit-making enterprise. Ransomware has gone from 0 to 100 in basically less than two years. And, you know, it's a business decision for the company. So if you want to take a week, like Colonial, take a week, see if you can fix it, if you can't repair the damage quickly, then you're going to start losing money. And it might be worth paying off.

FBI, of course, doesn't like. The terrorist precedent is a good example. But it doesn't actually -- they don't need much incentive to hack us. And so if you don't pay them, they'll just go somewhere else.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, too many targets. James Lewis, thank you so much.

LEWIS: Thank you.

HARLOW: Happening now, a hearing on the federal coronavirus response, Dr. Anthony Fauci will testify at any moment. We'll take you there when he starts to answer questions. Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: House Republicans will vote tomorrow whether to strip Liz Cheney of her leadership role, the highest ranking woman in the Republican leadership in the House. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to his colleagues yesterday making clear his intentions. He wrote in part, it had been my hope that our driving focus will be taking back the House in 2022 and implementing our commitment to America. Unfortunately, each day spent re-litigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future, of course, kind of a garbage statement given that by questioning the 2020 election. We have a lot of Republicans that will be reliving the past.

HARLOW: Let's bring in our Chief Political Correspondent, co-Anchor of State of the Union Dana Bash, also with us this morning, Tim Miller, Writer-at-Large for The Bulwark, also worked on the Jeb Bush campaign and a whole lot of work with conservatives. Thank you guys very much for being here.

Tim, let me begin with you on all of this. I mean, it's ironic to talk -- to hear McCarthy talking about a big tent party and we need diversity of ideas given what is going to happen tomorrow.

TIM MILLER, WRITER-AT-LARGE, THE BULWARK: Look, this is a bunch of nonsense spin that did all these guys are given to Dana and everybody else over on the Hill to try to save face over the truth, which is really embarrassing. The truth here is that in order to be a Republican in good standing, you have to put Donald Trump's feelings ahead of the facts about what happened in the last election.

And Liz Cheney is not spending any more time talking about 2020 than any of the other Republicans. The NRCC, the NRSC, they're emailing and texting me all the time about Donald Trump. You saw Elise Stefanic who is going to replace her as conference chair, going on Steve Bannon's podcast to discuss the ludicrous audit happening in Arizona, where they're checking the ballots to see if there is Chinese bamboo on them.

The entire party is obsessed with 2020, with Donald Trump in the past, and Liz Cheney just happens to be the one that is speaking honestly what is happening and her unwillingness to spare Donald Trump's feelings that he's lost is going to cost her her job.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Stefanik on Bannon's podcast referred to Trump as our president, notably.

Dana Bash, you do have, I guess you could call it a rear guard action here within the party, Cheney among them, but Adam Kinzinger, who are willing to state the facts about the election and say that we have to rescue the party, in effect.


But when you look at the -- sorry. Dana, hold that thought. Dr. Walensky, Director of the CDC, has just begun her testimony on the Hill.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Since that time the dedicated professionals at CDC have been working diligently to provide additional resources to states, localities, territories and tribes thanks to support from Congress. We are updating our guidance based on the latest scientific evidence and we are working with our partners around the country and around the globe to reduce the burden of COVID- 19.

I am pleased to report that since January, we have seen a consistent downward trend with daily averages of new infections dropping 76 percent, hospitalizations down 71 percent and reported deaths decreasing by 75 percent.

This progress is also reflected in our data on the county level risk. Just a few months ago, 85 percent of all counties in the U.S. were experiencing high COVID-19 transmission rates and increased community risk. This morning, that is down to 33 percent of counties.

These trends give me hope. And still I continue to emphasize that we must remain diligent and committed to our surveillance and prevention efforts because the emergence of variants could set us back.

With your help, CDC is using the $1.7 billion Congress provided to expand nationwide genomic sequencing efforts. Since January, we have dramatically increased sequence output from 3,000 samples per week to approximately 35,000 samples per week.

We are also keeping our commitment to prioritize health equity. Since March, we have announced a number of investments that center in health equity. This include $2.25 billion to address COVID-19-related health disparities and advance health equity among high risk and underserved populations, $3 billion to strengthen vaccine confidence with a focus on increasing uptake and equity in administration particularly in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, $332 million in community health workers to support COVID-19 prevention and control and $250 million to develop targeted strategies for vaccine education and outreach for uptake in specific communities.

In addition, CDC continues to update our guidance as we learn more. This includes a recent update outlining levels of risk of activities for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people. We will continue to update this guidance to be clear that vaccines are a means of returning to activities we stopped as a result of the pandemic.

I am so proud to report the administration of more than 261 million vaccine doses, including more than 133 million since I last testified before you in March. Over 84 percent of Americans age 65 and older and over 58 percent of all adult Americans have now received at least one vaccine dose.

With these cases trending down in the United States and more people getting vaccinated, we are cautiously optimistic. However, globally, the pandemic is more severe than ever. India's surge of cases is tragic and a reminder the virus can outstrip our efforts to contain it if we are not careful. We will not this end pandemic without working hand in hand with countries around the globe to fight COVID-19.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that while we have made great progress over the last few months, more than 579,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 during this pandemic. And just since I saw you in March, over 39,000 of our loved ones have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

Every death is a stark reminder of why we must remain vigilant and focused to end this pandemic as quickly as possible.

I want to close with a promise and an appeal to the American people. My promise is that CDC will continue to follow the science as our guide. And my appeal is to implore everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible as the fastest way to end this pandemic.

But even with this powerful tool, while we continue to have community transmission, we must also maintain public health measures we know will prevent the spread of the virus, mask, hygiene, hand hygiene and physical distancing.

Finally, as we get through this pandemic, we must work together over the months and years ahead to build on the investments, partnerships and innovations that we have created during this crisis. This includes achieving sustainable investments in it public health infrastructure to be better prepared for whatever comes next. It is one way we can turn tragedy into lasting progress and improved health for all.

Thank you again for the opportunity and invitation to testify today and I look forward to answering your questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Dr. Fauci?

FAUCI: Madam Chair, Ranking Member Burr, members of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you this morning the role of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the NIH and research addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I mentioned to this committee during the last hearing that we attended, we have a strategic plan that has four major components, fundamental knowledge of the virus, diagnostics, therapeutics and the development of safe and effective vaccines. For the purpose of today's discussion, I will focus on the issue of vaccine.

We often get asked how it could be possible that the virus was discovered in January of 2020 and we have doses of vaccine going into the arms of individuals, a vaccine that was highly efficacious and safe 11 months later in December of 2020. Well, the story behind that has been the decades of investment in basic and clinical biomedical research that has led to our ability to accomplish this extraordinary feat.

Just some examples, the basic preclinical and clinical research in developing vaccine platform technology, particularly the highly successful mRNA platform. In addition, scientists at the vaccine research center at NAIAD, as well as grantees and contractors throughout the country, developed the optimal immunogen, which is the confirmationally correct spike protein, which is used by virtually all the vaccines that are being tested right now. And, finally, the utilization of a clinical trial network that we have set up decades ago for influenza and for HIV.

When one thinks of efficacy, it really what are the results of a clinical trial? Often, when you get into the real world, the effectiveness of vaccines falls short of the original efficacy. That is not at all the case with the vaccines for COVID-19, because the real world effectiveness is even more impressive than the results of the clinical trial.

One example, the University of Texas looked at 23,000 of their employees and found that the incidents of infection was 0.05 percent, markedly lower than unvaccinated individuals. The CDC has multiple MMWRs reporting on various aspects of the real world effectiveness.

Importantly, a recent paper in The Lancet reported on the experience in Israel, which as Senator Burr had mentioned, has done an extraordinary job of getting their citizens vaccinated. And what we have seen is a remarkable diminution in the number of infections that reached a critical turning point when they reached the certain percentage of the individuals who were vaccinated.

It wasn't only limited to Israel. Another recent paper in the country of Qatar showed a similar type of a result, in which not only was the mRNA vaccine highly effect in over 300,000 individuals tested, in preventing the original wild-type virus. But it also had a very interesting capability of protecting against mild to moderate disease of a problematic variant from South Africa, the 351, and protected virtually 100 percent from severe disease, including hospitalization and deaths.

And so when the president makes the goal of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one vaccine by the 4th of July, we believe that that is an attainable goal. The reason we feel it's important is that I believe that we are about at that critical turning point where we get a certain percentage we don't know exactly what it is, but it could clearly the majority of the individuals in the country vaccinated, we will see a sharp turning point and marked reduction in cases.

And so as I said the last time I testified before you, we are in a race between the vaccine and the virus, if left to its own devices, will continue to surge. Based on experience thus far in this country and globally, I feel confident that if we continue to vaccinate people at the rate that we're doing, then we will very soon have a situation where we will have so few infections in this country, we will begin to return to normality that all of us desire so much.


Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Dr. Marks?