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People Missing and Arrested in Cuba; Biden Considers Hotline with China; U.S. Journalist Targeted by Iranians; Ransomware Gang Disappears Claudia Ordaz Perez is Interviewed about Manchin Meeting. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired July 14, 2021 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Anything that gives you question about what that video shows there, the video itself, in addition to the witnesses you spoke to?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have no doubt in my mind that what we saw is what happened. We have seen two versions of this video. We have spoken to the father of one of those commandos and he showed me the video and he showed me which one of those dead bodies was his son.

This was a commando who was educated in the United States, who had an American fiance, who was due to get married next month.

This happened.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COREN: There is -- there is no doubt about it. I mean we have gone to the Taliban staying we're seeing atrocities on Twitter. What do you say to that? They say it's fake. It's all fake. Everything is fake. So that is their line.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COREN: That is their line.

SCIUTTO: It's a universal answer -- a universal answer now to upsetting or damaging information, it's fake.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Anna Coren, thank you, to your team, you, your whole team on the ground, because it's your reporting that brings this to light. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Anti-government activists in Cuba say more than 100 people have been arrested or are missing following those widespread protests we saw over the weekend. Cuba's president has claimed that protesters were violent and that government security forces are not committing human rights abuses. But, again, in this -- in this country as well, the video shows a different story.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Multiple videos on social media does show violent encounters.

SCIUTTO: CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of these particular videos, but they were posted by multiple social media users who say the footage shows protests in Cuba.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Havana this morning.

Patrick, you've been covering Cuba for years You know how this government handles dissidents and others who stand up and challenge the government. Tell us how they do that, right, and how that fits in with what you're seeing and witnessing there during these protests.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And some of these videos are chilling. And I can say from our vantage point, though, you know, we have seen heavily armed police and certainly heard from, you know, the many Cubans I know of police going into neighborhood, sometimes late at night, looking for people they say had thrown rocks at police, carrying truncheons.

And it's just important to point out that there really is no middle ground for the Cuban government when it comes to people who call for change. Fidel Castro always said that if you're within the system, that's fine, but if you're without the system, then you're just -- there's nothing for you. And we've seen that from the government all along essentially saying that these thousands of people who took to the streets in really unprecedented protests are either an employee of the U.S. government or that they're traitors.

So there really is no dialogue going on. What's going on is a very harsh crackdown. And you heard Cuban officials for the last several days saying it was time for the revolutionaries to take to the streets. Oftentimes those groups that are not official groups necessarily but they go out and enforce order. They keep people from leaving their houses, from leaving -- from being able to protest.

The Internet still seems -- still is very much limited today. So, again, some protests going on, but it's much, much less, much more controlled now.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

Patrick Oppmann, thanks so much for covering it. We're going to keep our eyes on events there.

New this morning, sources tell CNN that the Biden administration is working now to set up an emergency hotline, a red phone so to speak, with the Chinese government.

HARLOW: Similar to the so-called red phone established between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This is Kylie Atwood's new reporting.

Kylie joins us now.

Telling us more about, what does this mean?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Biden administration officials are looking at this possibility, right, of setting up this encrypted hotline, an emergency hotline, between the U.S. and China. This is in early stages, these discussions.

Now, this idea has actually been mentioned by officials dating back to the Obama administration in some informal conversations with Chinese officials. But it wasn't actually formalized until this idea was put into a classified national security memo during the last year of the Trump administration.

So that's where the Biden administration comes in. They have been looking into this possibility and really looking at how they could technically do it. And sources tell me that if they were to integrate this possibility, they would actually do it as part of, you know, a grander effort to reduce tensions, to reduce the possibility of conflict between the U.S. and China.

Now, the key here also is that China would have to buy into this. And there have been tremendous number of troubles getting in touch with Chinese officials over the last two years on a number of issues. That's because China is really top down.

But what this tool would do is allow President Biden, if it was set up, to send encrypted and immediate phone calls or messages to President Xi.

[09:35:03]

This is still something that's under consideration. But it would be useful because a lot of messages from the U.S. often go unanswered by China.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Kylie, thank you for the reporting. Really telling. We appreciate it.

Still ahead, an alleged international plot to kidnap an American journalist from right here in New York City. We will have a full report ahead.

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[09:40:02]

HARLOW: Wait until you hear this developing out of New York this morning. Four Iranian nationals have been charged in connection with an alleged kidnapping plot. According to an unsealed federal court indictment, their plan was to kidnap a U.S. journalist and human rights activist who has criticized the Iranian regime.

Our Brynn Gingras has all the details of this story.

Officials say their plan was to forcibly take her back to Iran. And this happened miles from where we're sitting right now.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, in Brooklyn.

And what we have to keep in mind here is what's being alleged is that the Iranian government backed this kidnapping plot to happen on U.S. soil here in New York City.

HARLOW: Wow.

GINGRAS: So let me get into more of the details here.

There are still four Iranian officials, who are part of the intelligence agency, according to this indictment, on the lam. Not clear where they are.

There's a fifth person, a woman, who was of Iranian descent, who is currently living in California, she was arrested last week and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She's not a part of the conspiracy charges, but those four men have a number of conspiracy related charges, kidnapping, money laundering, wire fraud, just a whole host of them.

And it's an insane detail that's in this indictment, 43 pages long. Essentially what the U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York are alleging is these men hired an American private investigator to surveil this woman, this journalist, Masih Alinejad, who was on "NEW DAY" this morning, take pictures of her, take pictures of her family. In a fantastic interview with John Berman, she said, she even had -- there was pictures she was shown by the FBI of her watering her plants in her garden in Brooklyn.

Not only that, was she being surveilled, and then, since then, having to move to different safe houses by the FBI, but they also, according to this indictment, tried to look into military-style speed boats to kidnap her.

HARLOW: To get her out of New York City?

GINGRAS: Out of New York City and bring her to Venezuela which, of course, is a country that, you know, is friendly with the Iranian government.

HARLOW: Sure. Yes.

GINGRAS: So it's just an incredible scheme that they were plotting and that the FBI foiled.

HARLOW: I think -- do -- we have some of that interview, right? Can we -- can we --

GINGRAS: We do. Let's -- yes, let's listen to what she said and some of the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MASIH ALINEJAD, SAYS SHE'S TARGET OF ALLEGED KIDNAPPING PLOT BY IRAN: I still cannot believe it, that in New York, the Islamic Republic was allowed actually to threat and follow me, an American-Iranian citizen.

I'm not scared of being dead or being executed. But what scares me, that the whole world keeps silent about such a regime, and allowing them to have such an oppression in the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Wow.

GINGRAS: And the reason that authorities and she believes she was targeted is she has 5 million followers on Instagram. She uses and asks for pictures from Iranian women, send them to her, let her post them to give them a voice. And so that is the belief, for several years that this -- the government was targeting her at this point.

So, I mean, it's just incredible. She's still currently being, you know, protected by the FBI.

HARLOW: Protected, right.

GINGRAS: But, quickly, I want to get to the denial by the Iranian government and what the State Department is saying.

HARLOW: OK.

GINGRAS: The Iranian government said in a statement to CNN, this is not the first time that the United States has undertaken such Hollywood scenarios is what they said. And the State Department, that we're expecting a news conference at 2:00 today, so we should hear more.

HARLOW: OK.

GINGRAS: But in a statement they said, the Biden administration will continue to call out and stand up to Iran's human rights abuses and will support others who do so both here and in Iran. So we'll continue to follow this.

HARLOW: Wow.

GINGRAS: But it's just an incredible story.

HARLOW: Thank you for the reporting. We're glad she's safe. We'll know more today at 2:00.

GINGRAS: Right.

HARLOW: Brynn, appreciate it.

GINGRAS: Yes. SCIUTTO: Well, right now, a notorious cyber-criminal gang that was behind several high-profile ransomware attacks has now all but disappeared from the Internet. Experts say that REvil, the group behind the attack you may remember on JBS Foods, a major IT software vendor, has mysteriously gone dark, offline. This as the White House prepares to brief a bipartisan group of lawmakers on cybersecurity and ransomware threats today. Notable timing.

CNN's Brian Fung joins me now.

I mean two questions, how and who. How do we believe they went offline and do we have a sense of who might be responsible?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Well, Jim, to your first question, that's fairly easy to answer. Essentially all of the websites that REvil uses to list its victims and to communicate with its victims and to collect ransom payments, all those websites have now gone offline.

The why is really the bigger question here. You know, whether it was a U.S. operation or a Russian operation or simply REvil saying, you know what, we're going to take a break for a while.

SCIUTTO: Right.

FUNG: All of that is very much still unclear. The FBI, U.S. Cyber Command not commenting on this matter. The Russian government this morning saying that it has no knowledge about these events. So neither the U.S. nor Russia seems to be weighing in on this or claiming credit, which is leaving cyber experts very concerned or very confused about what's going on.

SCIUTTO: Which is really the norm with cyber activity, that the governments will not comment. It is notable, though, that President Joe Biden was asked last week -- he was asked, will you consider taking REvil off their servers or block their servers?

[09:45:08]

Notable timing.

FUNG: Right. And not just that, but President Biden has, you know, in meetings with President Putin, you know, expressed grave concerns about the Russian government's seeming tacit willingness to allow cyber hacking to occur from within its borders and saying, you know, there are going to be consequence if you allow this to continue.

So the Biden administration here, you know, has taken a very strong line against the Russian government, saying this is an issue that we're very concerned about. We're just not sure whether or not this REvil thing is connected.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and will they comment about it. I suppose the risk always is that these groups, they find ways to come back, too, right? I mean the Internet is a big -- a big thing.

We know you'll stay on top of it. Brian Fung, thanks very much.

Well, Texas statehouse Democrats are on Capitol Hill again today trying to push for federal action to protect voting rights. Senator Joe Manchin, a major player in all this, is already signaling he will not support changing the filibuster, which is really the only thing standing in the way right now. That and also questions about whether the Biden administration has Democratic votes in the Senate. We're going to speak to a Texas Democrat, next.

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[09:50:45]

SCIUTTO: Texas Democratic lawmakers who left the state, at least temporarily, to block Republican efforts to pass new restrictive voting laws, are expected to meet, and this is key, with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin tomorrow here in D.C. to push for federal national protection of voting rights.

HARLOW: The best hope is -- to get that through is, obviously, is to end the legislative filibuster. But Manchin has made clear over and over again nothing is going to change his mind on that.

Let's bring in Texas Statehouse Representative Claudia Ordaz Perez, who, if anybody missed it, is one of the 50 members of the delegation who flew from Texas to Washington so that you would break quorum and you wouldn't be able to get enough people there to vote on this.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: So, I'm sure you saw what Manchin's office, a representative, said yesterday, or Manchin said yesterday when asked, well, what would change you mind on the legislative filibuster and he said nothing. So is it -- is it all for naught?

STATE REP. CLAUDIA ORDAZ PEREZ (D-TX): You know, we are planning on meeting with him I believe later on today sometime. I know he's anxious about this meeting.

Texas Democrats, a few of us, were here about a month ago when we first broke quorum. And we're going to be meeting with him again to talk about just specific points on why this piece of legislation is incredibly harmful. It's the most egregious across the entire nation. So it's just -- it's really an attack on our freedom to vote, not only for Texans, but you're seeing these types of policies that are try to -- being rammed through these legislatures across the nation. So we need -- we certainly need the support.

SCIUTTO: President Biden, as you know, gave an impassioned speech yesterday defending voting rights and attacking new voting laws like the ones you're seeing in Texas.

I heard those words. I did not hear in that speech -- and others have said this -- a plan, right, to pass legislation at this point.

Have you been disappointed by the president's efforts and by congressional Democrats to get something done?

PEREZ: You know, we had a meeting with Vice President Harris yesterday, and it was a very positive meeting, and we did ask those tough questions. I mean we are risking a whole lot to be here. I know the filibuster is something that's common, that's happening in D.C., but it is not common in the state of Texas. This is the fourth time in Texas' history that Democrats have done this. The last time was over 20 years ago. So this is a tool we don't use often.

And so we really stressed that with the vice president. And she assured us that her, along with the president, they're here, they have our backs. They are in communication really with Senate Democrats. And those communications are going to continue.

But they certainly gave us a sense of hope that they feel -- they feel good about the coming days.

HARLOW: You talk about, you know, times that Texan Democrats have done this before. I think about 2003 when Democrats in the Texas legislature fled to -- first it was Oklahoma and then it was New Mexico.

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: And then Governor Rick Perry was calling special session after special session to try to get this redistricting legislation through.

The bottom line is, it got through, right? It took longer, but it got through.

Is the lesson from that, that you can delay but you cannot deny what seems to be the inevitable in the Republican-led legislature in Texas right now?

PEREZ: You know, and we take so much pride in the state of Texas that we are not as polarizing as Washington, D.C., for example. We work across the aisle. We take a lot of pride in that. And, you know, this -- this go-around, it's been a very, very different story for the state of Texas. You know, they called this special session. There's nothing special about it. They have a 24-hour hearing and they rammed this bill through.

And usually they take amendments to somehow make the bill not as bad. But they didn't take a single amendment. Over 400 people had registered against that piece of legislation, and they still rammed it through.

And that's why -- I mean you just said it, we don't take -- we don't use this tool often, and that's why we have to take this fight to our nation's capital.

[09:55:04]

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PEREZ: The timing is ripe here for that and we need that support because, if not, our freedom to vote is really under attack. So we need that support.

SCIUTTO: The governor says he's going to arrest you when you come back. Are you prepared for that?

PEREZ: You know, we're just taking it a day at a time. I was telling Poppy earlier, I mean we just found out on Sunday. I didn't even have time to dye my hair. I still had damp clothes in my suitcase. So we're really taking this a day at a time.

But it is just incredible to see over 50 Democrats, and there's more coming, that are -- that are arriving today and every day and we're really in this together because of just how important this is. It's a scary -- it's a really scary time in the state of Texas.

HARLOW: Texas State Representative Claudia Ordaz Perez, thank you for your time this morning.

PEREZ: Yes, you bet. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: We'll see how this goes.

Well, coronavirus is surging again here in the United States, but there is a significant difference this time around. Forty-six states are seeing a sharp rise in new infections and most are among people who are not vaccinated.

More coverage, next.

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