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White House Pushes Companies to Take Ransomware Threat More Seriously; Blinken: Russia, Other Nations Should Bring Hackers to Justice; DOJ Investigating Trump-Appointed Postmaster General DeJoy; Fauci: "Cautiously Optimistic" about Vaccinating Kids This Fall; Fauci: "The Progress Is Good" for U.S. in COVID Fight; Fauci: Likely Origin of COVID-19 Is Animal-to-Human Transfer; Valedictorian Ditches Speech to Slam Texas Abortion Law. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 3, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The White House is calling on U.S. firms to prepare for more ransomware attacks after Russian hackers hit key oil and food processing companies.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Government officials are urging corporate leaders to take the problem seriously and beef up their defenses -- no pun intended.

The world's largest meat supplier, JBS Foods, says it will resume production at all its facilities today after a ransomware attack forced a shutdown of its plants around the world.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us from Washington.

Alex, what does the White House want these execs to do?


Well, the White House is telling companies quite literally, we cannot do this alone. They are saying that we have stepped up across the board to try to harden and modernize the country's cybersecurity defenses.

And they are asking companies to do the same to protect themselves, to protect the country, particularly when it comes to critical infrastructure.

As you noted, we've had these two back-to-back ransomware attacks that appear to have generated from Russia. One against the Colonial Pipeline, the other against JBS, one of the biggest food production companies in the world.

Both of those attacks crippling those operations for those two companies.

The White House is now stepping up the urgency of their message by putting out an open memo, a letter from the most senior cyber official at the National Security Council, which lays out five immediate steps that they want companies around the country to take.


And in this letter, she writes, in part:

"All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location. But there are immediate steps you can take to protect yourself. We urge you to take ransomware crimes seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defenses match the threat."

Now, White House official told me that this letter was prompted not just by a spike in these ransomware attacks but also an evolution from these ransomware attackers trying to not just steal data but then go after and take down companies' critical services.

Now, the White House has said that they are asking other countries to help them to take action against countries like Russia that are harboring malicious actors like those that carried out these attacks.

Take a listen to what Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CNN.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think there's an obligation on Russia's part to make sure that that doesn't continue.

We also need countries around the world to make commitments and then make good on those commitments, not to harbor criminal enterprises that engage in these attacks.

And on the contrary, to seek them out and to stop them and bring them to justice.


MARQUARDT: So, the White House says that the U.S. has been in touch with Moscow about harboring these actors.

You can bet that this is something that is going to come up at that summit between Presidents Biden and Putin in Geneva in just two weeks' time.

In the meantime, the FBI has named the group behind this latest attack against JBS. It's called R. Evil. It's a very prominent Russian ransomware group.

Victor and Alisyn, the big question now is whether JBS, like Colonial, paid some sort of ransom. Colonial paid $4.4 million to get their I.T., their network backup online. We don't know yet whether JBS did the same. But they said that they

should be back up to close to full capacity by today. So that's some good news -- Victor and Alisyn?

BLACKWELL: Seemingly a new one of these hacks every week.

Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: OK, this just into CNN. The Justice Department is investigating Trump-appointed postmaster general, Louis DeJoy.

BLACKWELL: A spokesman tells CNN the focus of the investigation is campaign donations made by employees at DeJoy's former business.

Let's go now to Kristen Holmes with the details -- Kristen?


Well, that's right. So, essentially, this investigation comes after reports last fall citing mostly anonymous former employees of DeJoy's who said that while they work for DeJoy, they felt pressure at times to donate to Republican candidates.

And even going further than that, some saying that when they did donate, they were reimbursed through bonuses.

Now, while Louis DeJoy does deny these claims, it should be noted that he is, in fact, a mega donor to the Republican Party.

Now, it appears that these claims are the center of this investigation.

I want to read to you from a statement from DeJoy's spokesperson. He says:

"Mr. DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector. He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them."

Again, this is someone who is a known Republican mega donor.

And It is important to note this is a man whose tenure as postmaster general has been mired in controversy.

He was accused by Democrats, because of his close relationship to Donald Trump, because of the fact that he was such a big donor, of tampering with the mail around the election because of Donald Trump's rhetoric at the time about mail-in voting.

But again, this is a very real investigation. We are reaching out on all fronts to get more details and will be following incredibly closely.

CAMEROTA: Kristen Holmes, thank you very much. So, the prognosis is good in the fight against COVID-19 in the U.S.,

but, of course, there's still some work to be done. That's the message today from President Biden's chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

BLACKWELL: So, the CDC reports a drastic decline in new cases and more than half of the country's adults are vaccinated now.

But Fauci warns while there are no fears of a post-Memorial Day surge, it is not time to celebrate.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The one thing we want to make sure is that we don't declare Victory prematurely and feel that because things are going in the right direction, that we don't have to keep vaccinating people.

We're on a really good track now to really crush this outbreak, and the more people we get vaccinated, the more assuredness we're going to have that we're going to be able to do that.

So, we want to reach the president's goal of 70 percent of adults getting at least one dose by July 4th. But we even want to surpass that.


BLACKWELL: Fauci also said he's optimistic about meeting the president's goals there. He says that it's very likely that kids under 12 can start being vaccinated by Thanksgiving.


FAUCI: We are now doing studies that are ongoing as we're speaking. Studies that are looking at what we call age de-escalation, children from 12 to 9 and then 9 to 6 and then 6 to 2 and then 6 months to 2 years.


We hope that as we approach the end of this calendar year, we'll have enough information to vaccinate children of any age. So, I'm cautiously optimistic we might be there by the end of the year.


BLACKWELL: All right, let's discuss with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He's a CNN contributor, an epidemiologist, former Detroit health commissioner.

Doctor, welcome back.

Let's start here with that goal of 70 percent in a month from now. Do you think that's going to happen?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's right, Victor. So, we're at about 63 percent, and we've got a month to get to 70 percent.

And this all comes on the heels of what the administration is calling a national month of focus.

And what they want to be able to do is really pull out all the stops. A lot of folks can't get vaccinated because they can't get childcare. They feel like the vaccines are too far away. They don't have enough information.

So the administration is pulling out all the stops to get all the information folks need to pull out some of these obstructions that get in the way for too many people to get to that number. And I think they'll do it.

But this is to say the point that Dr. Fauci made is an important one, just because we get to 70 percent of some vaccination among adults, doesn't mean that we've really cleared where we need to go to be able to get to the point where we can look this pandemic in the rear view.

And so we've got to keep going and we've got to keep blowing past what is, I think, a relatively low bar, and I think we're going to do it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, just out of curiosity, Victor and I are sitting next to each other. There's people behind us not wearing masks. When can we celebrate?

EL-SAYED: Well, you know, the problem with the pandemic, right, is that there's no end date. It's not like a war where you sign a treaty and the war is over. That's just not going to happen.

And in a lot of ways, the question is really up to all of us about when do we feel comfortable? Of course, after we've been vaccinated, of going back to some of the things that we've not been able to do for the past 15 months.

And so I wish I could tell you that on a certain date, we're going to be able to celebrate that the pandemic's over.

But really what's going to happen is slowly but surely, more things are going to come online. And at some point, we're going to look to the right and left and say, this is close to normal.

What I worry about, though, in a lot of our pockets of the country where there has been a general disdain for any of the means to try and prevent this disease, whether it's masking or vaccines, there are going to continue to be certain outbreaks.

And that's worrying, because of course this is now a preventable disease and people just have to do the things they can do to prevent it, which is get your vaccine.

BLACKWELL: Get the vaccine. We are getting back together, as you said. We are now close to one another.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I feel celebratory some days because we have some so far, Dr. El-Sayed. At some points, we have to mark the progress because, otherwise, you're just in a slog. Otherwise, you're just in an endless slog.

And I think people want to take a few moments to say, Memorial Day was OK for some people in most parts of the country.

BLACKWELL: The concern is, is there potentially, as we get back together, could there be a summer surge?

Here is what Dr. Fauci says about that potential.


FAUCI: That's nonsense. I don't even see how they get that from that email. That email was sent to me from them.

I have always said and will say today to you, John, that I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human. But I keep an absolutely open mind that there may be other origins of that. There may be another reason. It could have been a lab leak.

As a nation, I feel fairly certain you're not going to see the kind of surges we've seen in the past.

What I am concerned about are those states in which the level of vaccination is low, that you may continue to see higher levels of cases as we get into the summer.


BLACKWELL: Clearly, that sound byte was the wrong one but he got to the summer surge, Dr. El-Sayed, which is the important part here.

We saw an ebb last summer but we also were still separated from one another. Do you expect we will see one this season?

EL-SAYED: I do. I think we're going to continue to see the same general trend downward in the number of cases and the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths.

I think that we have enough baseline vaccine that across the country, that folks are generally not going to be experiencing the kinds of surges that we'd seen after holidays.

Here's the thing, though, right. The point that Dr. Fauci made, that caveat about communities where there's low vaccine coverage, look, there's no nothing magical protecting it.

It's the fact that enough people have gotten vaccinated that when people come together, there's little room for the virus to spread.

But in communities where that coverage is low, the virus still has that oxygen that it needs to continue to burn.

And so the question here really is about whether or not enough people in these communities can get vaccinated fast enough to protect one another.


But across the country, I think, you know, at that 63 percent rate, the risk of seeing a major surge after the holiday weekend is really quite low.

CAMEROTA: And on Dr. Fauci's other point that he was making there in that other sound byte, that he still thinks the most likely origin is from animal-to-human transfer.

Do you have enough information to have an opinion about this yet?

EL-SAYED: Well, what I'll tell you is this. At this point, there's no consensus about where this virus emerged.

The reality, though, is that every time we've had a serious pandemic disease, it's come from an animal at some point. Even if it came through a lab, it still came through an animal, though it may have been being researched in a lab and leaked in that respect.

The key point here is that we don't actually, as a community, have enough information because, of course, the Chinese government has been so nontransparent, so opaque with the evidence.

They've been holding the hands of the WHO investigators. They tried to squeeze in this hypothesis that somehow the virus came in via cold stored food, which is preposterous.

And they've done everything they could to dissuade us from looking at that lab leak hypothesis, rather than just sharing the evidence so we can have confidence about what we do know, that we can prevent it from happening again.

This isn't about blaming any one government. This is about getting to the bottom of this so we can understand how to prevent the next one from happening.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you.

EL-SAYED: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Coming up, a Texas valedictorian goes off script to protest the state's new abortion law and what she calls "a war on her body." Paxton Smith joins us next.



BLACKWELL: You know, a lot of graduating seniors are feeling extra celebratory this year after enduring months of virtual learning.

But my next guest used her cap and gown moment to make a major statement.

Paxton Smith, a high school valedictorian, tossed out a preapproved speech to criticize a new Texas law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks.


PAXTON SMITH, TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL VALEDICTORIAN: As we leave high school, we need to make our voices heard.

Today, I was going to talk about TV and media and content because it's something that is very important to me.

However, under light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything other than what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state.

Six weeks, that's all women get. So before they realize -- most of them don't realize they are pregnant by six weeks.

So before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially and stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they can get a chance to take on the responsibility to take on human in the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger.

That decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.

And I have dreams, hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent out entire lives working towards our future.

And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us.


BLACKWELL: Now, there were huge applause from her fellow students, getting praised on social media, and even getting the attention of Hillary Clinton who said, "This took guts."

Paxton Smith is with me now.

Paxton, thanks for being with me.

This certainly did take guts. I read that you typically don't like to share political or controversial opinions. Why did you decide to talk about this?

SMITH: I felt like reproductive rights were so important. And right now, they are currently under attack from so many different states with passing of legislation that is restricting abortions all over this -- over the country.

And I felt like it was crucial that I used my platform to reach people who were neutral about the topic or didn't agree with me on the topic to spread the message this was not OK.

BLACKWELL: Did anybody know this was going to happen, and I note organizers and administrators didn't, but did you tell your family or friends?

SMITH: I only told my parents.

BLACKWELL: What did they tell you?

SMITH: At first, they were a little apprehensive, understandably so. It's a very controversial topic and it's scary to put your face on that topic. But they were supportive after about a day.

BLACKWELL: Took them a day to be supportive. OK.


BLACKWELL: So I watched the entire section of the graduation ceremony. You talked for about two and a half minutes. And the organizers and administrators did not cut your mic. They let you finish. And we heard the applause.

Was there a response or response or reaction afterwards from the administrators?

SMITH: Afterwards, most of the staff members were very supportive and congratulatory.

However, when I did make my way back to the stage, a couple of people -- I think they were working for the school or helping to run the event -- I am not sure how they were affiliated with the school district.

But they pulled me aside and they told me that the college was considering withholding my diploma. That did not happen.

BLACKWELL: So you have it? You have your diploma?



You are staying in Texas. I understand you're going to UT Austin.


BLACKWELL: And you'll be a Texas for a few years more.

When I watched this, this was not -- it didn't feel political. This felt very personal, emotion. You seemed nervous as you discussed it.


I want you to take little more time of how this feels when it comes to the date when this law is enacted?

SMITH: How it feels? It feels terrible. It feels unreal, like this could be a dystopian novel that women don't have that control over their body. And it's really upsetting to me.

BLACKWELL: You're going to study music, I read. Is that correct?

SMITH: Yes. Most likely.

BLACKWELL: Is there activism in your future, or a political future for you as well?

SMITH: Potentially. I'm waiting to see how things go.

I will play it by ear and see what opportunities are open to me in Austin and see if there's something that I feel just as strongly about or if this continues to be an issue I will continue to speak out about this.

But when I get to Austin, I will make a game plan and I can let you guys know.

BLACKWELL: What did you feel when you saw that tweet from Secretary Clinton?

SMITH: I was shocked. I was -- I was shocked.

BLACKWELL: Paxton Smith, thank you so much. Your words are resonating online and I know you are getting a lot of reaction.

Thank you so much for your time.

SMITH: Thank you for having me.


CAMEROTA: I mean, just thinking about how nerve-racking that must have been for her, because she didn't know she was going to get applause from classmates and from the guests. It could have gone any way.

BLACKWELL: At that age, to step out on that platform on that issue. And watching it back, she did -- you could tell it was emotional and it was not something political, very personal. Very personal.


All right, ahead, Matt Gaetz' legal troubles may have gotten worse. There's new reporting that the Florida congressman is now under investigation for a potential attempt to obstruct justice. Our legal experts are here to weigh in.