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CNN NEWSROOM

Former Navy Pilot Tells "60 Minutes" that Flight Crews Saw UFOs "Every Day for at Least a Couple of Years"; AT&T to Spin Off WarnerMedia, Combine it with Discovery; Parler Returns to the App Store; "Reality Check": Arizona GOP Official Says Trump Is "Unhinged" over Audit. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00]

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, Natasha Bertrand with the latest on something quite mysterious. Thank you so much.

And speaking of mysterious, this former Navy pilot says his flight crews observed UFOs off the coast of the Atlantic every day for a couple of years.

Now, in an interview with "60 Minutes" former Navy pilot, Ryan Graves, called whatever is out there a security risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WHITAKER, CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES": So you're seeing it both with the radar and with the infrared, and that tells you that there's something out there?

LT. RYAN GRAVES, FORMER NAVY PILOT: Pretty hard to spoof that.

Every day, every day for a couple of years.

WHITAKER: Every day for a couple of years?

GRAVES: Uh-huh.

The highest probability is it's a threat observation program.

WHITAKER: Could it be Russian or Chinese technology?

GRAVES: I don't see why not.

WHITAKER: Are you alarmed?

GRAVES: I am worried, frankly. If these were tactical jets from other countries that were hanging out up there, it would be a massive issue.

But because it looks slightly different, we're not actually willing to look at the problem in the face. We're happy to just ignore the fact these are out there watching us every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Joining us now is CNN Pentagon correspondent, Oren Liebermann.

Oren, what does the Pentagon say about all of this?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: First, crucially, the Pentagon is not confirming the authenticity of some of these photos and videos we have seen put out there over the course of the past few months.

A couple of these came from 2019, including video from aircraft that had shown fast-moving objects. Another set of photos from the Navy appeared to show three such objects, which looked like a blimp, an acorn, and another object moving across screens and sensors.

Crucially, at this point -- and I think this is important to note -- nobody is tossing around the word "alien." So I apologize for disappointing on this one.

But beyond that, there isn't a full explanation. Is there a glitch in the sensors? Is it something being picked up? Is it a drone from a foreign country?

If so, it certainly lacks an explanation. And that's the key point here, the point Ryan Graves made at the end of that.

An explanation from something that may be a threat, something that appears to outperform U.S. military aircraft and U.S. military systems is something that should very much be looked into.

To that end, the Pentagon set up a task force late last year to look into what the Pentagon calls, UFOs, unidentified flying objects, but UAPs, unidentified or unexplained aerial phenomena, to try to get a better sense of what this is, where it came from, and crucially, if it poses a threat.

They're due to release a report next months, led by the director of National Intelligence, backed by the Department of Defense to at least try to offer a better explanation of what it is we're looking at here.

The former National Intelligence director, James Clapper, said it's good there's transparency here. That report should be unclassified.

But he also warns, in speaking with CNN, expect quite a bit of ambiguity in that report, perhaps enough to allow anyone reading the report to read into it what they want to read into it.

In the meantime, we'll certainly keep an eye out for more videos of the unexplained variety.

CAMEROTA: Oren, they can call it whatever they want, it is fascinating.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Joining us now to share his reporting on UFOs is former "New York Times" reporter, Ralph Blumenthal. He's the author of "The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack."

Great to see you, Ralph.

This was gripping last night.

RALPH BLUMENTHAL, FORMER "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER & AUTHOR: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: I mean, your reporting is gripping. But last night's "60 Minutes" was gripping.

Let me just play, again, for people in case they missed it, what Navy pilots have seen with their own eyes. Watch a portion of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED NAVY PILOT: Look at that thing!

UNIDENTIFIED NAVY PILOT: It's rotating.

UNIDENTIFIED NAVY PILOT: My gosh! They're all going against the wind. The wind is 120 miles to the west.

UNIDENTIFIED NAVY PILOT: Look at that thing, dude.

WHITAKER: You can sort of hear the surprise in their voices.

GRAVES: You certainly can. It seems out of character but -- and they are just kind of amazed at what they're seeing.

WHITAKER: What do you think when you see this?

GRAVES: This is a difficult one to explain. You have rotation. You have high altitude. You have propulsion, right?. I don't know. I don't know what it is, frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Ralph, you heard him there. Basically, we don't have the technology or even technological know-how to create something that defies the laws of technology as we know it.

And so from all of your reporting, how do we explain that Navy pilots keep seeing things without wings, without propulsion that can defy all of the laws?

BLUMENTHAL: The big breakthrough since our reporting in 2017 was that they are real.

For years, they were written off as psychological constructs, archetypes, hallucinations. And now we know from the Navy imaging devices, et cetera, that they're real. What we don't know is where they come from, who's behind the wheel,

why they're here, and how do they produce the amazing aerodynamics that they have.

[14:35:07]

So the big questions are still out there. But at least we know for the first time that these things have a physicality, and that's a good start.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it's a game-changer.

But also, Ralph, is it plausible this could be from Russia or China, that they would have technology that is that many light-years ahead of the United States?

BLUMENTHAL: Extremely unlikely. Sources we talked to at "The New York Times" say they cannot imagine that an earthly adversary has this advanced technology.

As for our own technology showing up there, it's even more unlikely we would risk accidents or disclosure of our secrets, if they are our secrets, in our own airspace.

So everything points to an extraterrestrial explanation. But of course, no one wants to say that because it's so outlandish and so unprovable that their sticking with what they know, which is that these things are unidentified and they're real.

But beyond that, no one knows.

CAMEROTA: From your reporting, is there any evidence of these UFOs ever crashing to earth? Meaning, is there any physical evidence that you think the government -- the U.S. government may be examining?

BLUMENTHAL: There's contradictory accounts. It's highly classified.

We touched on it in our last story in "The New York Times" saying that members of congress and congressional committees will agree on possible recovery of materials and that possibly some reverse engineering is going on.

These stories have been around for a while. They're very, very hard to confirm, as I said. It's all top secret and classified.

But there are quite a number of accounts from reliable sources that there have been recoveries of materials. And that may be the next big thing to come out.

CAMEROTA: OK, so next month, a report is being presented to Congress about some of this stuff. What will it include?

BLUMENTHAL: First of all, I wouldn't set my clock by that deadline. We hear it may slip. And it could easily slip. All they have to do is say we're not quite ready, and they'll get an extension. There's a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of secret corners of

the government where this research is going on. And the UAP Task Force is having some trouble, we understand, in getting access to all of these secret corners.

So I think it's highly unlikely the deadline the deadline doesn't slip.

Also, a lot of it will be classified. And some will be public. But maybe the most important details will not be.

So what I would say or could say is what the government experts are making of these things.

And mostly, what accounts for their amazing aerodynamics? They can appear and disappear almost at will. They operate in the water as well as in the skies. They operate at hypersonic speeds. I think they said something like 13,000 miles an hour.

So these are extraordinary capabilities that nobody on earth, as far as we can tell, has the ability to do that. So that's what they're going to be analyzing.

CAMEROTA: Well, it just gets more and more fascinating.

Ralph Blumenthal, thank you very much for sharing your reporting with us. Obviously, we will speak again.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Up next, let's talk about this big media merger that's happening. What AT&T's plan to join WarnerMedia with Discovery, Inc., means for CNN and HBO Max. But most importantly, what this means for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:42:46]

BLACKWELL: A new mega merger is about to change the media landscape. AT&T has announced that it is spinning off its content company, WarnerMedia, which includes CNN and HBO, and combining it with Discovery, home to channels like Animal Planet, HGTV.

The deal would create a news standalone company, which owners hope can compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus.

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's bring in CNN chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter.

Brian, this is a huge deal. Let's start with, what does it mean for the millions and millions of CNN viewers?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDICA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It means I won't have a home renovation show right away. Don't worry about that. (LAUGHTER)

STELTER: We will not go to Food Network and HGTV, though maybe some of us can dream.

This deal will take effect about a year from now. And it is premised on competing with Netflix and Disney.

Think about how much the world's changed in the last five years and how much the pandemic accelerated streaming/viewing trends.

Netflix is the leader of the pack, Disney right behind. And Warner and Discovery believe they need to work together and get bigger together in order to compete in the land of the streaming giants.

It's also about linear cable. Everyone watching this, most of those watching us now are watching through cable.

And this gives Discovery and WarnerMedia more scale on cable as well, with channels like Animal Planet and TLC and the Food Network, as well as CNN and TNT and TBS.

Nothing changes right away. But what we will see is a continued emphasis on streaming packages, whether it's HBO Plus, HBO Max or Discovery Plus. Sometimes it can get confusing.

By the way, we don't know the name of the new company yet. It'll be announced later this week. Maybe it will be Max Plus. Maybe it will be Discovery Warner. Maybe it will be something else entirely. We don't know yet.

But we know this deal is about creating more scale, more size to compete against Netflix and Disney.

BLACKWELL: This is the intention, right? We remember when AT&T started with the purchase of Time Warner, that the previous administration fought that. There's still some approval that must happen?

STELTER: Yes, that's right. That's why it won't take effect for about a year.

So far, the regulatory environment is looking more favorable for this deal. We have had not had any signals to the opposite yet.

[14:45:00]

Certainly, this is mostly about entertainment, about bringing streaming packages together.

But since CNN is involved, of course, there's questions about the news side as well.

And I spoke with Discovery's CEO David Zaslav today. He will be taking over, running the combined company. He is pledging absolute editorial independence for CNN. He also spoke with our colleague, Poppy Harlow, earlier about what

this means globally. This is not just a deal in the United States. It's really about a global expansion plan.

He talked about bringing Discovery's assets around the world together with HBO Max.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID ZASLAV, CEO & PRESIDENT, DISCOVERY, INC.: You take this incredible I.P. content at Warner that people would pay for before they pay for dinner, like "Superman" and "Batman" and "Game of Thrones," and you put that together with all of the local content that we have in the market and relationships that we have, I think it gives us a big advantage in going global.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Going global. Those are the words you will hear over and over again if you listen to the investor call with Discovery and WarnerMedia.

It's about going global and being able to present programming that hundreds of millions of people will want to watch, like "Game of Thrones," like programs from D.C. Comics and, of course, like CNN.

CAMEROTA: My teenagers want to know where can we find "Friends"? I'm glad that didn't change, that nothing is changing.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: HBO Max --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: -- their big reunion show is airing this week. You know, they have a big reunion of "Friends." Very exciting. That's going to come up in a few days.

CAMEROTA: Don't think I don't have my calendar marked for it already, Brian?

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, while we have you, the Parler app is back after January 6th insurrection. What is happening?

STELTER: This is the craziest story in media, other than the massive merger.

Parler was kicked off because of hate content. Now it's back on Apple but artificial intelligence is going to automatically try to scan out racial slurs, other hate speech, and remove it from the iPhone and iPad version of Parler. So in other words, if you're looking at this Parler social media on

your phone, on your iPhone, you won't see the hate speech, you won't see the slurs.

But if you go onto Parler on the Web, you might see all the nasty content.

That might be a sign of where we're heading in this world, where some devices, some screens have different settings, different kinds of versions of what you see on your social feed.

It's going to be a wild, wild road if that's the case.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, everyone can continue to be in their own reality.

Brian Stelter --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Yes, bubbles. You got it.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

Thanks for all of the information. Great to see you.

STELTER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: So an Arizona lawmaker calls Donald Trump's claims about the election unhinged. And that's coming from a Republican. Is the GOP starting to distance itself from the former president? John Avlon has a must-see "REALITY CHECK."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:52:11]

BLACKWELL: The election audit in Arizona's Maricopa County has become so ridiculous that even some Republican officials can't take it anymore.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon has our CNN "REALITY CHECK."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: The word "unhinged" means highly disturbed, unstable or distraught. And that's what Maricopa County recorder, Stephen Richer, called ex-President Trump's recent claim that the entire database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been deleted.

This was a bizarre bold-faced lie.

Given that Richard was looking at the database, he did what so few Republicans in Congress have been willing to do, he called the lie out.

Tweeting, "We cannot indulge these insane lies any longer, as a party, as a state, and as a country."

He's right. Because backing the big lie is just as absurd and Orwellian as insisting two plus two equals five. But that's now the party line.

A new CBS/Pew polls shows that 67 percent of Republicans still believe President Joe Biden didn't win the election fair and square.

Lately, Arizona has become ground zero for this Crazy Times Carnival. Actually, that's the real name of a comparatively sane operation next door to where 2.1 million ballots are being held.

Because of a shambolic partisan audit, conducted by a Florida-based tech consultancy group, the Cyber Ninjas, whose founder previously tweeted election conspiracy theories, failed to complete a third recount in Maricopa County.

CNN spoke to workers on the audit, including one Eloise Flagg (ph), who said, "I think Donald Trump won the election. Firm believer. I hope we come to a point where we're happy with the results and the truth is told."

Now, there's a lot to work with there. Like, the blurred lines between thinking and feeling.

But this is a cautionary tale for Republicans about the costs of trying to indulge absurdities for political gain.

Arizona State Senate Republicans rationalized the need for a third election audit because their base kept insisting they didn't believe the results.

The problem, of course, is not in the ballots. The base doesn't believe the election results because too many Republicans rolled over for a lie.

More and more GOP officials are realizing they've been suckered into Faustian bargain.

"It makes us look like idiots," says Republican State Senator Paul Boyer, who initially supported the Arizona audit. "I didn't think it would be this ridiculous. It's embarrassing to be a state Senator at this point."

Arizona secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, received death threats after some questioned the Cyber Ninja fraud audit.

The dangers for democracy are not on full displays because democracy depends on losers accepting legitimacy of defeat.

But to protect little more than Donald Trump's fragile ego, Republicans have been willing to undermine faith in our democracy while trying to make our election administrations more partisan.

While Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger fight lonely fights against the big lie in Congress, we can't forget the honest and honorable local Republicans who have defied massive pressure to put the country over pardon.

[14:55:03]

People like Georgia's secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, his deputy, Gabriel Sterling, Michigan's Aaron Van Langevelde, in Philadelphia, Al Schmidt.

Now we can add stephen Richer's name to that list, along with fellow Republican Senator Jack Sellers, and Bill Gates, who recently wrote this:

"If we encourage this madness much longer, we'll lose credibility with the majority of Americans. We have been elected to lead, not to appease conspiracy theorists. To save our party, to save our republic, we need to stop the big lie."

And those are the stakes because there's no compromising between truth and lies.

And that's your REALITY CHECK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: And our thanks to John Avlon for that reality.

All right. Some new details on those child tax credit payments. When the White House says the first checks will go out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)