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Microsoft: Russian Hackers Break into "USAID" System; Tens of Thousands Flee Volcano in Democratic Republic of Congo; Family of Iranian-Americans Worries They'll Be Left Behind; Texas Republican Move Further Right, Toward Trump; Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey Host Mental Health Town Hall. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get right to Matthew Chance live in Moscow. So Matthew, more Russian hacking. What can you tell us about this latest attack?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well we've had this posting by Microsoft that say that this week they identified this new cyberattack against various aid agencies, non-government organizations in the United States, but also in about 24 other countries as well. That seems to have emanated from Russia. They've said it's the same group of hackers that were behind the SolarWinds attack as you just mentioned.

And what we know is that the White House the course of specifically identified through intelligence work that it was the Russian foreign intelligence service the SVR that they believe was behind the SolarWinds attack which targeted various U.S. government organizations in an intelligence gathering effort.

And the U.S. is so sure of that that they of course instituted tough economic sanctions in April against Russia for that, putting restrictions on the purchase of Russian government debt. They also sanctioned individuals and companies that were linked with that SolarWinds attack and even expelled Russian diplomats from the country in protest at this wide scale attack. Which, as I say, they believe was carried out by the Russian Security Services.

If this latest attack is indeed by the same group of hackers backed by the Russian Intelligence Service, well you're going to expect to see some kind of reaction as well from the White House. And it all of course adds to the fraught atmosphere that is generating ahead of the face-to-face talks, the summit that's been organized between Presidents Biden and Putin, the Russian leader in Geneva in the middle of next month.

There's already a list as long as your arm of things they need to discuss, issues they don't agree on, whether it's hacking, whether the detention of the main opposition figure here, the military buildup near Ukraine as well. This merely adds more tension and more pressure on than relationship -- Kim. BRUNHUBER: Yes, it will be interesting to see what the repercussions

of this will be. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks so much for that.

The Belarus government claims it had good reasons for diverting a Ryanair flight that just happened to have a dissident journalist on board who is now in state custody. But the timing doesn't add up. Belarusian authorities said they received an email about a bomb on board and that was why they had to force the passenger plane to land in Minsk. But CNN received a image of the e-mail with a time stamp showing it was sent almost a half hour after Belarusian authorities alerted the plane's crew about the supposed threat. The e-mail provider, Proton, confirms the timing. Meanwhile, the Belarusian president is getting ready to meet with his key ally the Russian president and that's set for later today in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

Well there's chaos and panic in the Democratic Republic of Congo as tens of thousands of people are fleeing the city of Goma. A deadly volcano there threatens to erupt a second time in less than a week. Officials are also worried about earthquakes, lava flows or a potential catastrophic implosion from magma underground. Joining me from just outside Goma is CNN's is Larry Madowo. Great to have you in the region reporting on this terrifying situation there. I understand you're standing on the lava that flowed from the last eruption. What's the latest there?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, we're standing on top of what is left of the lava at the foot of Mount Nyiragongo which erupted on Sunday. This is smoke billowing from that mountain. We understand the lava lake is now clear but the damage is still very evident for people to see.

What you see there is igneous rock. That is a molten lava that wiped out this settlement, several homes, about 900 to 1,000 that were completely wiped out of here. 31 people died as a result of this and the government still telling people in ten neighborhoods around here in Goma that it is not safe for them to stay.

Aid agencies tell CNN that about half a million people were on the move yesterday trying to get away to safety because there is still magma underground that might implode. There's methane gas from the nearby lake table, and if those two combine there might be a catastrophic event.

This is how serious it is, Kim. If you look over here, this is a major highway connecting two provinces in this part of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, that road was completely taken out and they are only trying to reestablish it back. It's not quite successful, a bit of traffic because they're driving on top of this molten lava, this igneous rock. But there still -- the big danger here is the earthquakes that have numbered more 300 could be a sign of another, another eruption coming up or there could be other danger.

The air is polluted, the water here is poisonous and power is not even restored to most parts of this city. But still a long way from recovery and the government can't tell people here when it will be safe for them to go back to their own homes.

BRUNHUBER: Oh, unbelievable scenes you're showing us there. Larry Madowo, stay safe.


Thanks so much for that.

A family member of two Iranian-Americans who are being detained by Tehran is speaking out just as Washington tries to revive the Iran nuclear deal. He's pleading with the Biden administration to not forget about his loved ones accused of working for the U.S. He sat down with CNN's Kylie Atwood.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Babak Namazi is living in fear.


ATWOOD (voice-over): Both his brother and his elderly father are detained in Iran. And while the Biden administration is in talks to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, he's worried about them getting left behind again. His concerns are justified. American prisoners were released from Iran in 2016. On the same day, the U.S. officially entered the Iran nuclear deal. Then in 2019, as part of a prisoner swap and once again just last year, but every time Babak's family members remained in Iran.

NAMAZI: Each time I saw lights at the end of the tunnel. It's turned out to be a fast-moving train unfortunately.

ATWOOD (voice-over): He fears for their lives every day, particularly if they are abandoned once again.

NAMAZI: I have no doubt that Siamak and my dad will not survive. Siamak has said so much himself, and how much can any human being endure in these kind of conditions to be mistreated, to be tortured six years of this been going on and then also be betrayed by your own government in a sense.

ATWOOD (voice-over): The family's nightmare started when Siamak was taken into custody in 2015, accused of working with the U.S. government, which the family denies. The following year when American prisoners were freed as the Iran deal was implemented, Babak was told his brother would be released within weeks. But that never happened.

NAMAZI: That tried and failed catastrophically because not only Siamak was not released, but within weeks my dad was taken, and as well as other hostages.

ATWOOD (voice-over): His father, Baquer, flew to Iran to get his son out. And that's when he was arrested by Iranian authorities, charged with the same alleged crime. And while in prison, the 84-year-old had two heart surgeries and nearly died. His sentence was commuted last year, but he's still not allowed to leave Iran. Babak says his brother, Siamak, has been tortured in Evin Prison.

NAMAZI: He was beaten up physically, he was tased he was tied down, he had wires connected to him with threats of electrification.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Babak is in Washington this week. He will meet with members of Congress and see State Department officials who he's in regular contact with. He's requested a meeting with the White House, but that has not been granted.

ATWOOD: Your heart has been broken multiple times before, right? What gives you any confidence that this time it won't happen again?

NAMAZI: I don't have a good answer. I guess faith and humanity. I still have that faith.

ATWOOD (voice-over): The State Department says securing the Namazi's release is a top priority.

ROBERT MALLEY, SPECIAL ENVOY FOR IRAN: We can't forget them and anything that happens on the nuclear side whether we succeed or fail, our goal is going to be to get them back home.

ATWOOD (voice-over): There are some signs that talks over the Iran deal are happening in parallel to the discussions about the release of his father and brother, but Babak says the release may require bold action.

NAMAZI: I think the expectation I have from President Biden along with I've had from all other presidents is to be prepared to make difficult decisions, to make courageous decisions.

ATWOOD: The weight on Babak's own shoulders is truly unimaginable. He says that thoughts about securing the release of his father and his brother engulf him every single day from the minute he wakes up until the time he goes to bed at night. And one devastating thing is that his son recently graduated from college and it tore him apart that both his father and his brother couldn't be there to watch.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


BRUNHUBER: Marjorie Taylor Greene's short time in Congress has been eventually to say the least. And if a rally Thursday night in Georgia is any indication, well she's just getting warmed up. We will tell but it just ahead.

Plus the blue wave that didn't happen. Republican red shines bright deep in the heart of Texas. We will explain. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRUNHUBER: Controversial Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene one of Donald Trump's most vociferous supporters didn't mince words as she address a political rally in her home district. Her brash and incendiary rhetoric about the Holocaust might be appalling to some of her Republican colleagues but that hasn't silenced her and just the opposite. Listen to this.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Four years calling Republicans Nazis. Yes, remember that? How many times have you seen it? Nazis. That's a mean, nasty, dirty word. You know, Nazis were the National Socialist Party. Just like the Democrats are now a national socialist party.


BRUNHUBER: Political analysts say it would be wrong to dismiss Greene as an aberration. She's recently proven to be one of the Republican party's top fundraisers, bringing in $3 million in the first quarter.

Former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is speaking out against Donald Trump and his hold on the Republican Party. Ryan gave a speech in California Thursday urging Republicans to move away from the, quote, populist appeal of one personality and remember the core principles of conservatism. He didn't mention the former president by name, but the remarks add him to a growing list of establishment Republicans who are speaking out against Trump's grip on the GOP. Ryan retired from Congress in 2018.

In Texas, the Republican-controlled state legislature is working towards a controversial bill that critics say directly targets voting rights. Republicans have managed to hold on to power for years in the Lone Star state despite warnings of a blue wave for Democrats. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the clock struck midnight inside the Texas capitol. This group of Democratic state representatives celebrated the end of a day long effort to kill a number of Republican bills. But it was one of the few moments you will find a Democrat smiling in Texas these days.

STATE REP. DONNA HOWARD (D), AUSTIN: We have really been just steam- rolled.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Texas lawmakers are wrapping up a legislative session and Democratic State Representative Donna Howard says she is surprised even by Texas standards by the red meat agenda pushed by Texas Republicans in the months since the November election.


HOWARD: I think it has a lot to do with what happened in the last election. There's some bitterness there and that they want to see some of the Democrats squirm.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Remember are all that talk about Democrats turning Texas blue in 2020? Republicans crushed those dreams. For now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": CNN projects that President Trump will win the state of Texas.

LAVANDERA: In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in Texas by 16 points. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nine points. And in 2020, Trump won by five. So, you might think that as presidential elections here in Texas get closer and closer, that Texas Republicans would be more moderate. But that's just not what we've seen here in the Texas Capitol.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Texas Republicans have passed a "Heartbeat" bill banning most abortions as early as six weeks, a permitless carry bill will allow Texans to carry a handgun without a license or training. Republicans are pushing an election overhaul with new voter restrictions. Another bill aims to control how systemic racism is taught in schools. But bills aimed at fixing the state's power grid system that failed during February's deadly winter storm have not yet passed.

Brendan Steinhauser is a veteran Republican strategist in Texas. He says when predictions of the Republican downfall in Texas went up in smoke, the Republicans felt emboldened to push further to the right and toward Donald Trump.

BRENDAN STEINHAUSER, STEINHAUSER STRATEGIES: There's no real political incentive for those in the state house or in the state senate who are Republicans to do anything but appeal to the base.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Steinhauser just helped run the campaign for Michael Wood, an anti-Trump Republican candidate in the special congressional election. Wood didn't come close to winning.

LAVANDERA: Where is the Republican Party in Texas right now?

STEINHAUSER: So, we find ourselves having been very successful in the last cycle but also kind of worried about the long-term future of the party.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Signs are everywhere that Trump's shadow looms larger than ever over Texas Republicans, and now the state's Republican Party is led by Allen West who is pushing the party to not be afraid of embracing Trump. We caught with him at a neighborhood fundraiser with conservative activists.

LAVANDERA: Do you worry that sessions like this --


LAVANDERA: -- end up driving away maybe middle of the road voters?

WEST: And you know what my dad taught me -- I grew up in Georgia. He said the only thing in the middle of the road is roadkill and I don't want to be roadkill.

LAVANDERA: And the political battles here in Texas will only continue to intensify. Later this year state lawmakers will have to come back to Austin and battle out the new redistricting plans here in this state to set Congressional district boundaries lines. This state is set to gain two more seats so you can imagine how intense those fights will be in the fall.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


BRUNHUBER: Prince Harry is opening up again to Oprah Winfrey. We'll bring you what he says are the two most pressing issues we are all facing today. We will bring you that next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Golf legend Tiger Woods speaks out for the first time about his recovering from his serious car crash, and the NBA playoffs are in full swing with some bad behavior from fans. Here is Patrick Snell with a minute in sports.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Well, Tiger Woods giving his first interview since a car crash left him needing emergency surgery earlier this year. Woods telling "Golf Digest" his number one goal to walk on his own and that his rehab is more painful than anything he's ever experienced.

Three NBA teams are definitely banning fans after players suffered unruly and disrespectful behavior. Among them the Knicks confirming a fan did spit on Atlanta Hawks star, Trae Young during a Wednesday playoff game.

Meantime on Thursday, a third straight victory for Milwaukee over Miami, while LeBron James and the Lakers seeding the win to give them a 2-1 series advantage over the Suns.

Ahead of the French Open, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka who said she won't be doing press conferences in Paris citing players' mental health issues, learning she could meet the Canadian Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 U.S. Open champ in the quarters.

And the countdown is on to biggest match in European club football, the teams have arrive in Portugal. Their English giants Chelsea, and Manchester City will meet in Saturday's Champions League final. Can't wait for that one personally. With that it's back to you, Kim.


BRUNHUBER: Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey are continuing their conversation about mental health on Apple TV Plus. Their documentary series kicked off last week and follow-up town hall discussion started streaming today.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo joins me live. So what are we hearing from the prince?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim, this was another program in the series you referred to, called "The Me You Can't See, A Path Forward." Again, documenting Prince Harry's struggles with mental health and the changes that he wants to see. Something he was keen to reiterate throughout the conversation with Oprah Winfrey is the fact that he thinks the two biggest challenges facing society and the planet are climate change and mental health. But he actually sees an inextricable link the two things. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.


PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: But all this time later I believe even more that climate change and mental health are two of the most pressing issues that we're facing and in many ways they are linked. The connecting line is about our collective well-being and when our collective well-being erodes that effects our ability to be caretakers of ourselves, of our communities and of our planet.


NOBILO (on camera): And as part of Prince Harry's mission to try and normalize discussions around mental health and improve people's mental health he says it's paramount the vulnerability becomes normal. It becomes healthy and it's encouraged. That was something he stressed throughout as well.

He also touched on the very serious topic that he and his wife have been campaigning about and seeking on and, of course, that's suicide.


He said that even though it can be extremely difficult to be the person on the receiving end of a conversation with someone who might be having suicidal thoughts, that the most important thing someone can ever do is simply to be there and to listen. And that is the key first step.

And as part of that discussion he spoke to Zach Williams, the son of Robin Williams who died of suicide in 2014. And they shared their experience about how difficult it can be to lose a loved one when they're famous, when they are so well-known and many people in the public are also grieving for that loss. Here is what Prince Harry had to say.

I think we have a lot of shared experience when you talk about that. When you see so many people around the world grieving for something they felt as though they knew better than you did in a weird way because you're unable to grieve yourself. He said how are you grieving more for someone who is my parent and I'm unable to grieve myself?

So once again, Kim, remarkably open discussions that a member of the British royal family is having in an effort he says to try to normalize discussions around mental health and help people who might be struggling with some of these issues.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, very important. Bianca Nobilo, thanks so much.

The one where they reunited, 17 years later. The famous cast of "Friends" met once more for an almost two-hour special on HBO Max, the sister company to CNN. The six celebrities strolled around their old sets while reminiscing on their ten-year run of the show.


FRIENDS CAST SINGING: Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you. Smelly cat ...


BRUNHUBER: Intertwined with amongst it all, celebrity cameos and throwback songs and in person chat with late night talk show host James Corden. Interviews from the creators and other former guest stars and of course clips of the iconic show.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.