Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Federal Judge Rules California Ban On Assault Weapons Unconstitutional; Department Of Justice Ramping Up Investigations Into Ransomware And Other Cyberattacks On U.S. Infrastructure; Delta Flight Makes Emergency Landing After Passenger Tries To Breach Cockpit; Disneyland Opening To Out Of State Visitors; Senior Trump Organization Financial Official Testifies Before Grand Jury; Congress Expects Report From Defense Department Detailing U.S. Intelligence Information regarding UFOs. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired June 5, 2021 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

LUCINDA POWELL, WEST VIRGINIA VOTER: He's doing something good. And then the next minute it's like, what are you doing, Joe? It's like pick a side. Do what's right for West Virginia. Don't side with them just because that's your party. Do what's right for West Virginia, because West Virginia is way behind other states and other counties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: And you know, a lot of voters there may want to knock, especially nationally Democrats want to knock Joe Manchin, but he is a survivor where some of the colleagues, Democrats in conservative states who have long lost their seats, he has won his seat over and over again, including in 2018 in a narrow race that kept him in the Senate and has him in the position that he is in right now.

It's also worth noting that first gentleman in that clip, John (ph) Ross (ph) voted for Donald Trump in 2016, voted for Donald Trump in 2020, but in the middle he voted for Joe Manchin. And really that explain his political power, why he's able to stay in a state that arguably has had the biggest transition of any in recent years.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: It is a fascinating look. Dan Merica, thanks so much for bringing it to us.

All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with a major court ruling that affects one of the largest states in country. As our nation struggles with an epidemic of gun violence, last night a judge in California overturned a more than 30- year ban on assault weapons in that state.

And in the decision Judge Roger Benitez says the law violates Second Amendment rights, and that weapons like the popular AR-15s which were used in the deadly shootings in Newtown, Parkland, San Bernardino, Orlando, Aurora, Las Vegas, and the list goes on, and akin to a Swiss army knife, and, quote, "are the perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense weapon."

CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining me now. Polo, the California attorney general is already appealing the decision, but how did we get there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That ruling that was made by the judge is one of the many reasons why many of those who have been advocating for stricter gun laws are outraged this weekend after that ruling was issued, and it all has to do with that 1989 ban that was in place in the state of California. It's one that has actually weathered a lot of opposition for over three decades here.

And just some background and some context on that, that actually happened after shooting at an elementary school in Stockton, California, that resulted in the deaths of five children all under 10 years old. In response to that, the state of California then passed this legislation in what it referred to as the California's first assault weapons act. And what it did, it basically defined what an assault weapon is, and also made it illegal to own and possess unless you have certain permits.

And it had been in place, and it has been updated routinely, that is until, of course, yesterday when Judge Benitez ruled to overturn it, and deemed that it was unconstitutional, that it was basically limiting the ability of California residents to actually own and possess these kinds of weapons that are widely available elsewhere throughout the country.

And this has provoking a huge response by not only those who have actually lost loved ones to mass shootings, but also by California state officials, including the state's attorney general that responded to this in promising to not only appeal this decision, but also went on to write, talking about Attorney General Rob Bonta, who responded writing, "There is no sound basis in law, fact, or common sense for equating assault rifles with Swiss army knives, especially on Gun Violence Awareness Day and after the recent shootings in our own California communities."

That is again, coming from the attorney general that does plan on appealing this decision. And just some quick background on Judge Benitez. He does have a history of butting heads with California and its efforts to try to pass stricter gun measures.

So this is really just the latest, and it's just what is fueling this controversy, and also outrage and heartbreak for so many families who have lost loved to fun violence, mainly mass shootings.

WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

For more on all this now I want to bring in Brandon Wolf. He is a survivor from that deadly shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub back in 2016. Brandon, so good to see you, sorry under these kinds of circumstances. I imagine this makes you relive what you experienced in 2016. Does it?

BRANDON WOLF, PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It does. I just have to say that it's incredibly insulting for an activist judge to gaslight me and other survivors and minimize the hell that we have been through. As you noted, the courts have ruled over and over again that the Second Amendment is not unlimited.

Let's be clear, this judge's ruling is going to be appealed, it will be struck down, and he is going to be remembered as having stood on the wrong side of history. I am just curious how many people are going to die in the meantime, how quickly will gun manufacturers will try and flood California with these weapons. It's shameful.

[14:05:02]

WHITFIELD: I wonder, in the meantime what your thoughts are about the judge's comparison to assault weapons and an army Swiss knife, what are the concerns that his opinion could help provoke or incite or influence?

WOLF: Well, I will tell you this much. If a Swiss army knife had been used at pulse, we would have had a birthday party for my best friend last week, not a vigil. The weapons we are talking about don't come with a nail file and corkscrew just in case you get lost in woods with a bottle of wine. They are designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to kill as many as quickly as possible.

After the shooting at Pulse, I don't know why, but I thought that getting copies of the autopsy reports for my best friends would bring me some sort of closure. But instead, it underscored for me just how gruesome their deaths really were. They took 19 rounds between the two of them.

One died on the operating table. His parents had to come and identify his body, and the other never got up off of the dance floor. Their organs were perforated. Their bodies were torn apart. That is the human cost, the reality of what these weapons do.

No amount of copying and pasting gun lobby talking points is going to change that, and no insulting comparisons to a Swiss army knife is going to take away the pain that these weapons have caused so many people in this country.

WHITFIELD: But the loss of your two friends is still very great. The pain that you are experiencing remains indelible. So now, how concerned are you that those who were trying to create the same kind of change, or overturn other state laws, that they might be inspired by or find fuel in Judge Benitez's ruling? Are you concerned to yourself at all that this is just the beginning?

WOLF: Well, we know that this is the tactic, right? This is the tactic not just of gun manufacturers and the gun lobby, but of the far right in general. Because their entire purpose right now is to roadblock progress, they go to the courts, the courts that they have packed over the last couple of decades, and they work really hard to undermine the progress that we have made.

And we have made a lot of progress. I am really proud of advocates across the country who have turned the tide on how Americans talk about gun violence and our need to keep our communities safe. But the truth is that, yes, opponents to gun safety are going to look to this ruling as fuel for their fight. And lawmakers beholden to these special interests are going to continue to stand as our greatest roadblock to progress.

One thing I noted, Fredricka, is that in the Judge's opinion he used the inconsistencies among state laws as justification for his ruling. And if that is not an endorsement of a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, then I don't know what is.

And on that, the judge and I may agree. We absolutely need comprehensive and consistent gun safety policy in this country. Americans are and have been ready for that, but it is time for our elected leaders to stop making excuses and to get it done.

WHITFIELD: This is a very emotional time for you and for so many, particularly because you're just one week away from the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Did you expect that by now there might be greater movement on the spate of violence, gun- related violence in this country?

WOLF: I know that we are all looking for the headline, right, that big headline on top of "The New York Times" that says federal ban on assault weapons reinstated. And of course, I'm disappointed that we haven't gotten there. But I think it is really important to note that across the country communities have been fighting, and they've been winning.

Think about the power of young activists in the wake of the shooting at Parkland, how that was tidal wave of support for fund safety legislation that ushered in, by the way, Florida's first gun safety laws in over 20 years. Think about at the black and brown communities who experience violence every single day and then get out there and fight for safer communities.

Think about the fact that in the 2020 presidential election cycle, Moms Demand Action spent more money than the NRA. We have made a ton of progress as a community, and we have to be able to celebrate that progress. But we are still missing the big wins, and that is coming at a real human cost.

And so my hope is that as we hit this five-year mark, we reflect on the things we have been able to achieve, but we also recommit to honoring those victims and victims of gun violence everywhere with action by creating a world that they would be proud of, a world that doesn't let them down.

[14:10:05]

WHITFIELD: Brandon Wolf, so glad that you could be with us, and so sorry under these kinds of circumstances.

WOLF: Thank you. Great to be here.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead this hour, ransomware attacks are closing schools, raising gas prices, derailing everyday life. The White House declaring it a national security threat in a new warning to companies.

Plus, wild videos of a passenger being dragged off a Delta flight after trying to breach the cockpit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Last month, all kinds of major companies have been targeted with ransomware attacks, from meat producers to oil pipelines to media conglomerates and transit systems. It seems like everyone is a target for what the White House calls a rising national security threat. Jessica Schneider reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

[14:15:03]

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration sounding the alarm about the growing threat of cyberattacks. FBI director Christopher Wray comparing the effort needed to combat this rapid succession of hacks and ransomware attacks to how the FBI approached the response to terrorism after 9/11.

"There are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention," Wray said. Director Wray told "The Wall Street Journal" the FBI is investigating about 100 different types of ransomware, many that trace back to hackers in Russia.

One study shows the U.S. was hit by more than 15,000 ransomware attacks last year alone, costing businesses and organizations between at least half a billion to $2.3 billion in 2020. Ransomware locks up computer files, and hackers demand payment to release the files.

JOHN CARLIN, PRINCIPAL ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: A study of cryptocurrency payments and some of the techniques that were just described to you show you a 300 percent increase in ransom payments over the prior year.

SCHNEIDER: Ransomware attacks have impacted everything, from the gas pipeline operated by Colonial that led to gas shortages all along the east coast, to meat production plants being shut down, and even individual health care networks whose computer systems have been shut down sporadically across the country and the world.

JOHN HULTQUIST, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS, FIREEYE: Before long we are worried that some people will get hurt, especially when we consider all these incidents that are affecting health care. Ireland's health care system went down.

SCHNEIDER: The Department of Justice signaling this week it plans to coordinate its cyber investigations the same way it treats terrorism cases, by sharing information and interagency coordination. Former FBI cyber official Shawn Henry says it is going to take an international effort.

SHAWN HENRY, PRESIDENT, CROWDSTRIKE: They have got to work collaboratively with foreign law enforcement agencies to take these people off the field.

SCHNEIDER: The massive threat from cyberattacks have been looming for years. Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned about the threat three years ago.

DAN COATS, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: They, the digital infrastructure that serves this country, is literally under attack.

SCHNEIDER: The White House this week sent business leaders nationwide a letter appealing for immediate action, saying "We urge you to take ransomware crimes seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defenses match the threat."

FBI Director Wray also called out Russia in that interview for knowingly harboring cyber attackers. But President Vladimir Putin is fighting it back, calling it nonsense that Russia was ever involved in any cyberattacks, specifically on the JBS meatpacking plants.

And President Joe Biden will get the chance to confront Putin at a summit in Switzerland later this month. The White House says President Biden will address that JBS attack with Putin as well as the increased cyberattacks that we know have been emanating from Russia.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: I want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Jonathan Wackrow right now. Jonathan, so good to see you. So you heard the FBI Director Christopher Wray say the scale of this response needs to rival the aftermath of 9/11. Do you agree?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I absolutely do agree, Fred. And here's why. Ransomware, while it has been around for a long time, it is now the weapon of choice by cybercriminal groups. And the reason being is that there has been a quick payoff to criminals by entities that have had identified vulnerabilities in their infrastructure.

What is happening is that these organizations are becoming targets of opportunity by threat actors who have increasingly adopted more sophisticated tactics. And the significance of the recent ransomware attacks is that they focused on these operational technology networks rather than what we have typically seen in the past, which are these traditional networks. So that has a significant second and third order of consequence to our daily lives.

And it's really difficult to predict what the next company is going to be to fall victim to this attack, but what we have to do is we have to understand how these attacks are leveraging human error or known vulnerabilities, and then address that.

What has become very clear, this year specifically, is that ransomware attacks are going to continue to proliferate, because they have been so successful, and they become more complex are they are just only funded by the money that they are able to extort from these companies. WHITFIELD: So then, what should the proper response be so that you can

also simultaneously avert another cyberattack?

WACKROW: Listen, Fred, I think here this is really where you need to bring the public sector and the private sector together to come up with a very comprehensive plan. The Department of Justice said last week that it is now treats ransomware as a high priority crime.

And what we heard from the reporting just a moment ago, the administration ranks ransomware as one of the most serious threats to national security. When we have now critical infrastructure being attacked, that is a national security issue.

[14:20:2]

And the White House is looking at how do they retaliate against these types of attacks. But the U.S. response is not going to be the same as what these attacks are, because the U.S. engages in cyberattacks based on strategy and precision, not the way that these foreign hostile actors do. So the reality is that nothing is going to change until the U.S. government actually imposes serious, impactful consequences to those actors.

So the responsibility shifts back to the private organization, the organizations themselves to make sure that their response plans, their cyber response plans, their networks, and how they are addressing this threat are really codified. And the JBS attack and the Colonial pipeline attack only should serve as a call to action for organizations to stop and look at their own systems to make sure that they are not a victim of this increasing crime.

WHITFIELD: So what should be learned from these attackers who are engaged in the Colonial pipeline attack and others? What should be learned from them so that the U.S. can do a better job at getting ahead of them?

WACKROW: Well, listen, I think what it comes down to is don't become a victim. One thing a lot of people have asked me now is with Colonial pipeline and JBS, is critical infrastructure being attacked? And the answer is no. No specific sector is being targeted. The reality is that companies of every sector are being targeted. So really the way to look at it is hostile actors are looking at companies that can afford the pay the ransom, and have vulnerabilities.

So again, the responsibility shifts back, you have to develop a very unified strategy within your organization not to have these vulnerabilities. And it comes down to a cyber governance and cyber response policy that will allow you to defend against these types of attacks. And again, these things are going to continue as long as organizations are deemed profitable and exploited by these hostile actors.

WHITFIELD: It is a complex problem that is going to need some real complex interdiction as well. Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much.

WACKROW: Thank you, Fred. WHITFIELD: Coming up, more passengers behaving badly as COVID lockdowns lift. This time, a man tried to break into the cockpit. The video of his takedown, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:52]

WHITFIELD: All right, a Delta flight in route from Los Angeles to Nashville had to make an emergency landing after a passenger tried to breach the cockpit. Witnesses say the man was quickly taken down by another passenger, and held down by the cabin crew after he abruptly started banging on the cockpit doors midflight.

Video taken by a passenger shows the man barefoot and bound at the wrists and ankles being pulled from the jet after landing in Albuquerque. For more on this frightening ordeal, let's bring in Natasha Chen. So Natasha, you actually spoke with the woman who took that video. Pretty frightening moments.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. She said that a lot of the people on the flight were very excited to be back on a plane, many of them not having flown during COVID. And she said it was a very energetic crowd, perhaps some of them perhaps already drinking.

In this particular case, she said about an hour into the flight, the drink service had just completed, she was starting to check work emails, and then saw this one passenger in first class starting to yell and get up and say "stop the plane." And she said for 30 seconds he was yelling and banging on the cockpit doors.

That's when another passenger in the section behind first class got up, tapped a second passenger. The two men went over there and tackled him. She said these people really are the heroes. Here's what she told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRACE CHALMERS, PASSENGER/WITNESS: In that moment, you do, you freeze, because it's so scary, it's so overwhelming, and you really just can't believe it's happening to you. And I think that was the biggest thing. And for those gentlemen to jump up and be like, oh, not today, sir, I mean, it was very heroic, honestly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Not today, sir. That is the attitude of those people who really jumped up efficiently and without pausing, without freezing. Of course, the plane diverted and landed in Albuquerque, and she got video, of course, too of law enforcement coming on board, and there you can see the gentleman being dragged out of the plane, his wrists and hands were tied at that point. He was taken into federal custody, we understand.

This is just one of several incidents that have happened recently. Late last month someone on a Southwest assaulted a flight attendant, taking out two of her teeth. And I want to read a statement from the Southwest flight attendants union there, saying that "This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable with passenger noncompliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature."

Right now, the FAA does have an extension of their zero-tolerance policy, which really was formed around the idea of making sure people keep their masks on, but they basically have stronger ways to enforce people who are unruly, and they've had more than 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior since the beginning of the year, sometimes having to fine people up to $52,000, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow, that's extraordinary. Natasha Chen, thank you so much for bringing that story. Very frightening.

CHEN: Thank you.

[14:30:00]

WHITFIELD: Police in Massachusetts are mourning the loss of one of their own today after an officer died in the line of duty Friday while trying to save a 14-year-old boy from drowning in a pond. Five officers entered the water after responding to a call of a person possibly drowning in Worcester. After returning to shore, they realized that one of the officers was missing.

Divers later pulled both bodies from the water and both were pronounced dead at the hospital. Officials have identified the fallen officer as Officer Emmanuel Familia. He was 38 years old and a five- year veteran of the force. He leaves behind a wife and two kids.

Come up, the probe into the Trump Organization is escalating. A senior finance official just appeared before a grand jury. How damaging could this be for Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:35:00]

WHITFIELD: Perhaps it's a sure sign of things reopening, returning to normal. Just as California is set to loosen most of its restrictions, Disney is opening its latest attraction, the Avengers Campus, as part of Disneyland in Anaheim. CNN's Paul Vercammen is there.

Of course, he would be there. He gets all the cool sightings and excitement there in California. So Paul, this is really part of a much bigger opening of the state of California. It's symbolic, isn't it?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is symbolic, and its important, and here's why. When we get to the 15th of June, California will reopen, loosening most restrictions. Disneyland will allow people from out of state to come into the park, which it has not. And they will no longer have temperature checks.

And I just wanted to check something else for you. The CDC is saying that there are problems, serious problems, of course, related to teenagers and coronavirus. I'm going to bring in Eliza (ph) here real quick. You are a park goer. Eliza (ph), you have been vaccinated, but do you have any concerns when you hear that the CDC says there are problems for teenagers and coronavirus?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like there is other problems that we all go through, like coronavirus, and we have different symptoms and stuff. But there's so many other things we could be worrying about. And the vaccine, I don't think t's something to be scared of or anything or we need to refuse, because we are putting a lot of different stuff in our bodies as teens anyways, and the vaccine, I feel like it is not really going to do so much harm, as just a little bit of side effects to us.

VERCAMMEN: Greatly appreciate your taking time out. Just one perspective here at Disneyland.

Let's talk about the opening of this Avengers Campus. It is the only one of its kind. There isn't a similar one in Florida at Disney Park, those rights to the marvel empire in Florida belong to Universal. But I got a tour of this campus, and it is high-tech. Among other things, there is a ride called Web Slingers where you play along and you sling your web and try to capture these bots that have been running wild. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

VERCAMMEN: Lots of high-tech wizardry here, but some of the effects are just old school optical illusions. I lost my IFB, my communications to you, but the bottom line is that on June 15th, Disneyland, the Avengers Campus, the rest of it opening up fully, and it's a critical part of this Orange County economy.

Businesses up and down the streets have been suffering dramatically with all types of visitors, guests not being allowed to come to these places, and they are just crossing their fingers and hoping they can get fully back on their feet. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. People are starving for a little bit of fun, a lot of fun. So that is one place to make it happen. And it was pretty remarkable to hear from the one young lady. She essentially is saying the risk is low, so she is encouraging people in her own way to go get vaccinated. Thanks so much, Paul Vercammen.

Royal Caribbean, by the way, says it is also ready to resume operations, hopefully a host of a lot of fun out there for people. Six of the cruise company's ships will begin sailing from major U.S. cruise ports starting this summer. Cruises came to a halt when the CDC issued a no-sale order 16 months ago, and many of Royal Caribbean ships are still waiting for CDC approval to sail again. The first cruise will be from the Port of Miami on July 2nd.

All right, meantime today in San Francisco, a ceremony is being held commemorating 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. And among those paying tribute are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Gavin Newsom. Dr. Anthony Fauci is also adding his voice to today's commemoration. As CNN's Elizabeth Cohen explains, he was on the front line of fighting the disease in the early days.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: At the present time, we don't have an effective antiviral therapy.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Decades before Dr. Fauci took on the coronavirus virus pandemic, he was a leading researcher on HIV and AIDS. On June 5th, 1981, this report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was released, the first official report of illnesses that would later become known as AIDS.

FAUCI: I recall very clearly picking up the morbidity and mortality weekly report, and seeing the report of five young gay men who developed a very unusual pneumonia, a pneumocystis pneumonia, in Los Angeles.

[14:40:04]

I had no idea what that was all about. I thought it was somewhat of a fluke that wouldn't really come or amount to anything.

COHEN: Then less than a month later, another report of more patients in more cities, young men dying of this mysterious illness.

FAUCI: I went from a person who was seeing patients with other diseases and developing cures and adequate therapies for them in the early part of my career to every day taking care of people who inevitably were going to die.

COHEN: Dr. Fauci calls these times the darkest years of his life.

That must have been very difficult to watch patient after patient dying.

FAUCI: It was more than difficult. We were really energized by the challenge of the situation and also by the bravery and the empathy for the suffering of the young men who we were taking care of. But I think that many of us still have scars of that.

COHEN: It took 15 years, but Fauci and other scientists brought the worst of the crisis to an end.

FAUCI: It really turned around when we developed the highly effective therapies, first gradually in 1986, 87 with AZT, then the transforming year of 1996 when we had the first highly effective combination therapy.

COHEN: As you are describing this, it makes me think of the current situation that COVID has been so awful worldwide, and now it's starting to change, again with a medical intervention.

FAUCI: I think that is the comparability between the two. The thing that came to the rescue were medical interventions that resulted from years of investment in basic and clinical biomedical research. Some of the science and the technologies that went into our efforts, albeit unsuccessful thus far, for a vaccine for HIV was very important in paving the way for us to get a highly successful vaccine for COVID-19.

COHEN: Fauci still studies HIV even today, a 40-year journey. There is still no vaccine, no cure, but effective treatments mean that people infected with HIV can live long, healthy lives.

FAUCI: It is a long story, a long journey that we are still in. So this is a very meaningful anniversary and commemoration for me.

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, a Trump Organization official heavily involved in the company's finances went before a grand jury. What does that mean for the former president and his family?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:47:18]

WHITFIELD: We are following new developments in the expanding probe of the Trump Organization. "The New York Times" reporting that the Manhattan District Attorney Office but brought a senior Trump Organization financial official before a grand jury.

"The Times" says that Jeffrey McConney, long serving financial executive at the Trump Organization, recently testified. McConney has worked for at least 35 years for the Trump Organization and currently serves as the company's controller. He was also granted immunity on the subject to which he testified, which is related to the probe into top Trump Organization officer Allen Weisselberg.

With me now to discuss all of this, Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor and host of the podcast "That Said with Michael Zeldin." Michael, good to see you. So how significant is it that a senior Trump financial official is testifying before this grand jury?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's very significant. In a financial crimes investigation, you need two things. You need documents, the financial documents, which they obtained recently through subpoena, and then you need somebody inside of the financial arm of the organization to explain them.

That is what McConney is apparently going to do. Weisselberg is the other person who could explain them. Therefore McConney pressures Weisselberg even more to figure out whether he's going to stick with Trump or work out some sort of cooperation and testimony deal.

WHITFIELD: And that McConney is granted immunity, so that would mean that he had some -- prosecutors believe he has some really important, good information in which to make that kind of trade. How detailed might that kind of information be? ZELDIN: So, when you bring, in New York under state law, a witness

into the grand jury by subpoena, they automatically get immunity. It is a quirky sort of thing. It is not the same as in the federal system. So he is brought in by subpoena. He gets automatically immunity.

Of course, he is not immune if he lies, but they brought him in because I believe that they believe that he can explain what they need to be understood in those documents. He is sort of a pathfinder for them.

And because he is probably not a target of the investigation but rather just a subjects, someone who has interesting information for him, they are willing to bring him in, give him the immunity, hear what he has to say, and thereby pressure Weisselberg to do the same.

[14:50:00]

WHITFIELD: OK, so you see that Allen Weisselberg, could he potentially get the same kind of treatment?

ZELDIN: If there is wrongdoing in the Trump Organization. We always have to start, Fred, as we have done together you and I for three years now with the understanding that we don't know what's going on there. And there's a lot of ifs in our suppositions here.

If they are under investigation for financial crimes, if Weisselberg knows about that or participated in it, then what? And so if the if is they are conducting a financial crimes investigation, Weisselberg knows of this or participated in it, then he has to make a deal to protect himself and his son in order to preserve any opportunity that he will stay out of jail if this is a vibrant investigation. He does that by cooperating up, and the ups are people whose last name begins with "Trump."

WHITFIELD: And then does it appear to you that this case is moving fast, or is this likely just one of many more people who will be called to testify?

ZELDIN: Well, it's moving as these cases move, which is they first acquire the documents. They analyze the documents. They have their experts analyze the documents. And then they figure out what do they need from an insider to further explain those documents.

So we're moving quite steadily along the continuum. Weisselberg and McConney are two very senior people in that explanation of the written documents phase of it. So I think it is moving along pretty maturely at this stage of the investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right, fascinating that we know as much as we know. And of course, there is so much we don't know.

ZELDIN: Right.

WHITFIELD: Michael Zeldin, thank you so much. Good to see you. Be well. ZELDIN: Thanks, Fred. Bye.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:56:32]

WHITFIELD: Lawmakers are expecting a report from the Defense Department later on this month detailing exactly what the U.S. intelligence community knows about UFOs. CNN's Brian Todd has more on the uncertainty.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Outside their cockpit windows, veteran Navy fighter pilots apparently see objects that surprise them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a whole fleet of them. Look on the ASA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going against the wind. The wind is 120 knots to the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude.

TODD: This video is from a U.S. military training mission off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, in 2015. The objects are UFOs, and American military pilots have seen so many of them in recent years that the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community have undertaken a large-scale investigation.

CNN has learned U.S. intelligence officials have found no evidence to confirm that those objects are alien spacecraft, but they also cannot rule out that possibility. That's according to five sources familiar with an upcoming report to Congress.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), FORMER AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: There's a lot that they cannot say, a lot they don't know from a scientific standpoint, but also, there may be classification issues.

TODD: In recent years, CNN has spoken to former Navy pilots who could not explain objects they saw on training missions. Ryan Graves, who flew FA-18 super hornet fighter jets, was on the same mission off Jacksonville which spotted this object. Graves told us the object was similar to what he saw on training missions off the southern coast of Virginia throughout 2014 and 2015. He said the objects showed the capability of staying airborne for long periods and could move laterally quickly.

LT. RYAN GRAVES (RET), FORMER NAVY FIGHTER PILOT: A lot of times we'd be flying around these objects, and they would tend to exhibit movement, so as we approached them, they would kind of move out of the way. TODD: Another former Navy fighter pilot, David Fravor, told us he saw

a UFO during a training mission off San Diego in 2004 on a clear day. What surprised him, The object had no visible propulsion and was much more agile than a plane or helicopter. He said it looked like a 40- foot-long tic tac with no wings.

COMMANDER DAVID FRAVOR (RET), FORMER NAVY FIGHTER PILOT: This was extremely abrupt, like a ping pong ball bouncing off a wall. It would hit and go the other way and change directions at will.

TODD: One source tells CNN U.S. officials cannot rule out the possibility these mysterious objects were operated by America's enemies, like Russia and China, who experts say are developing hypersonic weapons.

LEIGHTON: Are we confronted with missile systems, weapons systems from either Russia or China that are far better than our defenses are? And if that is the case, then we have a long way to go to protect our country.

TODD: Or could we actually be confronted with aliens?

PROF. HAKEEM OLUSEYI, ASTROPHYSICIST, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: To me it looks terrestrial. It does not look alien. If it is anything humanlike at all, that is my smell test for aliens. So what do humans do? We build vehicles. We build crafts. We fly around the sky.

TODD: Several sources have told CNN they don't expect the U.S. intelligence community to release a lot of specific information at all in the report to Congress. Why? Because if these sightings are next generation technology operated by Russia, China, or another U.S. rival, intelligence officials don't want to tip them off on what the U.S. has seen.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: We can't be alone, right?

Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.