Return to Transcripts main page


Two Senate Committees Expected to Release a New Report Detailing Security Failures of the January 6th Attack; Rep. Matt Gaetz Now Under Investigation Attempted Obstruction of Justice; W.H. Pushing CEOs in the Private Sector to Take Ransomware Attacks More Seriously After Attacks by Russian Hackers; Supreme Court Issued an Opinion That Will Narrow the Scope of a Key Federal Crime Law. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 3, 2021 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. There is breaking news this hour on Capitol Hill. Two senate committees are now expected to release a new report detailing security failures on January 6th, but this is what's missing. They will not examine, at all, former president Donald Trump's role, not just in the run-up to the attack but what conversations, what decisions he made that day, January 6th.

HARLOW: So you can bet that is going to further increase the fight over whether more investigation or a bipartisan commission will even happen in the end to look at this fully. Our Manu Raju broke the news, he's on Capitol Hill with more. Explain to us what exactly is going to come of this report?

MANU RAJU, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Two committees have actually been investigating this for some time, but what they've been looking at is what happened on January 6th? Why was the response so slow? Why was there a lackluster information sharing between law enforcement agencies? Why did the National Guard not come in at that time?

They are looking narrowly at the failure of the secure this building on January 6th, and some of the run-up to it on the law enforcement side. It's been part of the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and they plan to release the first authoritative report of what happened that day sometime next week.

Now this is a narrow focus. It is not going to look into the - Donald Trump's role in fueling the insurrection, his rallying his supporters to come to the Capitol on January 6th, come and suggest the election was stolen repeatedly, trying to subvert the will of voters. That is not within the mandate of this investigation.

But in talking to the leaders of this, they are trying to focus very specifically on the issue of the lack of security that happened on that day, and that is likely to fuel a push to try to provide hundreds of millions of dollars and more money to secure this building to prevent this from ever happening again.

But ultimately, this is going to spawn a broader fight between the two parties about whether or not there should be a further investigation into Donald Trump's role and into all that happened in the run-up to January 6th, and that is what happened last week.

We saw the Republicans block an outside commission that would have investigated all of this, and the House Democrats are looking into looking - creating their own committee that - to look into everything that happened in the run-up to January 6th as well as the failures that day, a more comprehensive look.

So you're seeing here the first take on this. Republicans saying this is enough, this is really all we need to do. It's going to be a report more than 100 pages long. We'll have some key recommendations here, but only it's going to spawn a further fight on what else Congress should do about this.

SCIUTTO: Yes, won't address a key question, what did Trump do, say, or not do and say, including the Pentagon, on January 6th in terms of the response? Manu Raju, thanks very much. Let's bring in Sabrina Siddiqui, she's the White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" and a CNN Political Analyst.

Sabrina, how can this be a substantive investigation of security failures if you don't look into the commander in chief's decision- making, conversations on that day, including with the GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy when he called to warn him? What did the president do or say to the Pentagon about mobilizing a National Guard response? I mean, how can you have a security failure investigation without answering those questions?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it's quite clear that it will not answer those questions, and Republicans do not want to wade into what the former president's role was, not just on January 6th itself in terms of responding to the insurrection at the Capitol but also his role in inciting the events of January 6th and everything that precipitated the riots at the Capitol.

And we've seen that Republicans have rejected, of course, a bipartisan commission to more comprehensively investigate January 6th. At the same time, you have a number of Republicans in Congress who are openly acknowledging that they believe this will be damaging to them in the mid terms, reinforcing this idea that, you know, the kind of belief among a significant faction of Republican voters that the election is stolen, that they believe that is actually politically advantageous to them in the upcoming mid terms.

And what it really does is it just completely glosses over what was really at the core of the events at the Capitol on January 6th, which was an effort to overturn an American election and cast doubt on the integrity of the democratic process. [10:05:00]

HARLOW: Here's the thing. You have Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota who heads the Senate Rules Committee, which is one of the two committee's on this saying look, this is not a replacement for a bipartisan commission, you know, what collapsed.

She said this report focuses on things that can be done right now. But is the concern, or your belief Sabrina, that this will be taken by those who do not want a bipartisan commission who said look, just look at the Senate report, it was done in a bipartisan manner, there you go?

SIDDIQUI: Well, that is exactly what I think a number of Republicans will do, kind of ignoring the narrow scope of this report. And, again, the elephant in the room which is the commander in chief at the time, former President Trump, and his own role as well as what his administration knew, when did they know it?

What protocols did the former president not put in place or perhaps in what ways did he encourage the insurrection to continue to carry on by refusing to more quickly send not just the National Guard but other federal law enforcement.

Even as Jim you pointed out, Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House -- Republican Leader of the House is pleading with him on the phone. So I think you'll have a lot of Republicans say this was sufficient, but again it really does not address what the essence of January 6th was really about.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly, Sabrina, the option has been floated that the senate can revisit this question because you had a couple senators, including Republicans for instance, Pat Toomey, said that he would've voted for it but he was out of town, he had a family commitment, Kyrsten Sinema, she had other commitments as well. Is that -- is that a snowball's chance that they might go back and say hey, maybe we can get the 60 on this or has that ship sailed?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I - House Speaker Nancy pelosi did float the idea that they could, perhaps, try and have another vote on the Senate floor. She's kind of ruling out this idea that President Biden would establish a commission himself. There are a couple options that House Democrats are weighing, do they set up their own select committee?

But that wouldn't, of course, have, you know, perception of being bipartisan, and that's exactly what Democrats want for this to be, a bipartisan exercise. I just want to really quickly say, look, absent Republicans will be reckoning with the former president and his role. A number of Republican voters continue to live in this alternate reality where the election was stolen.

There are polls showing that a majority of Republican voters actually believe the election was stolen. And so that's why this investigation is not really just about January 6th and the 2020 election, it has significant implications for the integrity or the perception of the integrity of elections to come. And it really also calls into question how Republicans will retake

control of their party if they continue to allow supporters to believe that the election was stolen, and not actually reckon with -


SIDDIQUI: - the way in which that belief culminated in the events of January 6th.

HARLOW: Sabrina, good to have you. Thanks for the in - insight on this.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, also this, Congressman Matt Gaetz is now under investigation for a potential attempt to obstruct justice. Sources tell CNN the investigators were told that Gaetz and an associate discussed a plan to talk to Gaetz's ex-girlfriend about the federal sex crimes investigation last fall.

SCIUTTO: We should note, the Florida Republican has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He has also denied sex trafficking and prostitution allegations. There is, however, an investigation under way. CNNs Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has been covering it. Paula, tell us the significance of, as you noted in the last hour, this investigation, in effect, expanding here, right, to the possibility of obstruction?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this heightens the legal jeopardy for the congressman. If he or any of his associates have tried to influence witnesses in this case, that's a federal crime. That could mean jail time.

And what's so interesting is in our reporting we learned that investigators have been concerned about possible obstruction in this case pretty much since the investigation into Congressman Gaetz began at the end of the Trump administration.

New in our reporting, we learned there are a few incidents that are under scrutiny. One we've learned occurred in the first week of October, 2020. We know that investigators have been told that the congressman and an associate discussed going to visit one of Gaetz's ex-girlfriend's who's a key witness in the case.

Now there's nothing wrong with going to visit an old flame, they could even talk about the investigation. But we learned that investigators have materials that suggest Gaetz and his associate may have tried to influence her cooperation in this investigation. And to be clear, this ex-girlfriend is not the minor that he allegedly had sexual contact with.

This is a woman that he was involved with in the summer of 2017, and that is key for this investigation because that is the time period where he allegedly had sexual contact with this other woman who was just 17 at the time, and that's why she's of such interest to investigators. [10:10:00]

Now "Politico," which was the first to report the obstruction investigation late last night, they have also reported that another incident is also being scrutinized in the obstruction probe, and that is a call that occurred between the ex-girlfriend and a witness, and at some point the congressman joined this call, and investigators are trying to figure out exactly what was said on that call.

Now the congressman, of course, has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and his spokesman issued a statement in response to our reporting, saying "Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he doesn't obstruct it. After two months, there is still not a single on-record accusation of misconduct, and now the story is changing yet again.

But, Jim and Poppy, we know the story is not changing. Our reporting has consistently been that this investigation is expanding. First, allegedly sexual contact with a minor, questions about sex trafficking, public corruption, and now questions about possible obstruction.

HARLOW: Paula Reid, excellent reporting. Thank you for that.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, another ransomware attack targeting U.S. companies. We have new details on exactly how the White House is trying to fight back. Plus, stunning new details on a shootout in Florida between deputies and a 14-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy. The Volusia County sherriff is now slamming the juvenile justice system. He joins us just ahead.

HARLOW: And restrictive new voting laws are taking effect in several states, including key battlegrounds, and potentially many more to come. What it means for Democrats in the midterms, how they're going to fight this on a state and federal level. The Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, is here.



SCIUTTO: The White House is now pushing the private sector to take ransomware attacks more seriously, this after back-to-back attacks by Russian hackers on key oil and food processing companies that affect the consumers.

HARLOW: Officials are urging those CEOs to assess the risk exposure, recognize their role in defeating this threat. This is JBS Foods, world's largest meat supplier, says it will resume production at all of its facilities today after that ransomware attack forced it to shut down plants around the world.

Our Alex Marquardt joins us with an update from Washington. Alex, good morning to you. You know, the White House has a point here that some companies, a lot of the banks have spent a ton of money protecting against this stuff in recent years and a lot of other companies haven't. ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Poppy And jim, so many of these companies, particularly the last two that we've seen affected by these ransomware attacks, JBS and Colonial Pipeline, are part of the countries critical infrastructure. So what the Biden administration is now literally saying is we cannot do this alone.

They are saying we're stepping up our efforts and they're asking companies to do the same to protect themselves and to protect the country. And to make the point of how important this is, they're adding urgency to it by releasing an open letter that the White - the National Security Council's top cyber official, Anne Neuberger, wrote today to business leaders across the country, calling on them to modernize and harden their cyber-security defenses.

This is part of what she wrote to those business leaders. She says "All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location. But there are immediate steps can you take to protect yourself... we urge you to take ransomware crimes seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defenses match the threat."

Now Jim and Poppy, a White House official told me that this letter was prompted not just by this recent spike in ransomware but an evolution in the threat, from data theft to taking down critical services. Now the Biden administration very quickly said after this attack on JBS, which is one of the biggest food production companies in the world, that these attackers were likely based in Russia.

And one of the things that the Biden administration says its doing is to try to band together with other countries to essentially call out other countries, like Russia, for harboring malicious actors like this. Take a listen to what Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CNN.


ANTHONY 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 to bring them to justice.


MARQUARDT: The Biden administration says that it has been in touch with Russia about harboring these cyber criminals. Jim and Poppy, we've also now heard from the FBI, which has named the attackers behind this JBS attack.

They are called R Evil, a well known ransomware group out of Russia. Of course all of this, this string of attacks coming from Russia, both from government hackers and criminal hackers, are certainly going to be central to those discussions between President's Putin and Biden later this month in Geneva.

SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: Yes. Huge to have this happen just weeks after the Colonial hack by another criminal group out of Russia. Thanks Alex for the great reporting.

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss is John Hultquist, he's the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the cyber-security firm FireEye, enormous amount of experience on this, including looking into the Russian hack on the 2016 election. John, good to have you on this morning.


You make a very smart point about these latest attacks like we saw in the pipeline and now on JBS, and that is that consumers aren't just sort of collateral damage in these attacks, they're the target. In other words, companies targeted because they know there will be an effect on consumers and therefore more pressure to pay. Tell us the significance of that?

JOHN HULTQUIST, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS, FIREEYE: Well, at some point in the last couple years, we saw these actors, these ransomware actors, transition from a spray and pray sort of business where they got on single computers and locked them up and somebody paid with Bitcoin to these real extensive operations where they gained access to large organizations, long term intrusions, a lot of hacking, a lot of sunk costs, and that meant two things.

One, they had to get people to pay out. They had all these sunk costs. And so we saw all this rise of extortion. They started leaking documents out of these companies. But the other thing is they started moving towards more critical targets, right?

If you want to ensure that these targeted organizations pay out, you got to make sure they're the type of organizations that need to be back online.


HULTQUIST: And consumers will force organizations to be back online. They're complaining about the services they're not getting. And these companies have to make very difficult decisions.

SCIUTTO: You make a point about a particular kind of institution that's particularly alarming as a target, and that is hospitals, right, where lives are in danger here.

HULTQUIST: Yes, absolutely.

SCIUTTO: How extensive is that kind of attack?

HULTQUIST: Yes, the - you know, we're talking about, obviously, this pipeline case and some other - and the meat supply here. But during this pandemic, we saw actors that were so brazen that they were targeting, en masse, hospitals in the United States and all over the globe.

They recognized how critical those organizations were. And there were some ransomware operators who publicly swore off those targets. But unfortunately, there's always somebody who's willing to break the rules and challenge norms and go after them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You know, we used talk about with hostage taking, right, don't pay the hostage takers, right, it only encourages the next hostage taking. And, yet, you see companies paying this out. I mean Colonial Pipeline admitted they paid in excess of $4 million, right, to get the key to sort of open their system up again. By paying, are companies fueling the business and should they be banned from paying?

HULTQUIST: Well, I think companies are in an impossible position, right. They are being targeted by modern day pirates operating from a safe harbor, and they've got to get these services online. These are - this is critical infrastructure, a large portion of this country depends on it.

So they really are in an impossible position. I think the way that we will really get after this is to basically start focusing on these adversaries. The government is going to have to step up and find ways to put pressure on these criminals, whether that's through Russia or through some sort of regulation that allows us to, for instance, watch money as it moves through Bitcoin.

SCIUTTO: I'm amazed having watched this topic for a number of years because the attacks have been going on, right? And every organization says it's taking steps to prevent -- protect itself, private and government, and yet every other day we're hearing of someone else get out, big corporations, small corporations, big government institutions, small government institutions. I just don't see it. Is any defense working?

HULTQUIST: Well, it's - defense isn't perfect in this game. We're in a risk management game, and there is a lot of different possible targets. So, you know, if they can get into some targets, then I'm sure there are targets they absolutely fail to get into. They'll find one, they can.

SCIUTTO: Yep, and you're only as strong as your weakest link, right. Sometime it's simple stuff like spear fishing emails.

HULTQUIST: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: John Hultquist, I'm sadly - I'm sure we're going to have you back to talk about this. Thanks very much.

HULTQUIST: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: We do have this breaking news into CNN, the Supreme Court just issued an opinion that narrows the scope of a key federal cyber crime law, could have big indications.

HARLOW: Let's get straight to our Jessica Snyder. Jess, you have been reading through the opinion, explain why this matters so much JESSICA SNYDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this could really

narrow the criminal penalties that result from computer conduct. As Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote this opinion said, she said the expansive interpretation of the law would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.

So the Supreme Court really narrowing the definition of this law and how it's applied. This is a 6-3 decision, and it's a case that involves the scope of this Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The court here ruled that a Georgia police officer did not violate the act, which is a - the premier computer crime law when he actually did a search of a license plate database for nonofficial purpose.


In fact, he was actually getting paid off by an FBI informant. So this is this decision that really narrows the scope of how this computer fraud law can - fraud law can be applied. But perhaps more interestingly here, guys, is how this vote count came down. It was 6- 3.

Amy Coney Barrett wrote the opinion here, but she was joined by liberals Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, but also two conservatives, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, so unlikely bedfellows if you will. Justice Thomas filed the dissent with the Chief Justice John Roberts, and Samuel Alito joining.

And the fact that these six unlikely justices joining together in this opinion, it kind of shows that they were all willing to narrow the scope of this law and make it harder to apply the computer fraud act in cases where an individual, like this police officer, authorized to access the information on the computer, even if that individual accessed the information for improper reasons here, guys.

But an interesting opinion, particularly in the fact that it was 6-3 with all the - these justices coming together when they might not otherwise.

HARLOW: Yes. And interesting the onus this now is going to place on businesses and basically bosses to really specify for folks -

SNYDER: Right.

HARLOW: - this is - it's not just about how you get on to something, but what you do when you're inside that database.

SNYDER: That's right.

HARLOW: Jess, thank you. Newly released video, incredibly troubling, and you're actually going to see the key moments of this violent shootout between deputies in Florida and two children after a 12 and 14-year-old shot at officers after they stole guns from a house they broke into. The sheriff of the county will be with us.