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FBI Director Compares Challenge of Confronting Recent Ransomware Attacks to Terrorism Faced after 9/11; Former Trump White House Counsel Testifies after Two-Year Court Fight; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Offers Little Comfort to Frustrated Democrats. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 4, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. It is Friday but it's still bus. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is a busy one. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

We're beginning this hour with breaking news we're following, which is a stunning comparison from FBI Director Christopher Wray about the challenge in confronting the recent ransomware attacks on companies across the United States to who what this country faced in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

SCIUTTO: That is one remarkable comparison from someone who knew what the response to 9/11 was like in Chris Wray. He says in part there are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention. That's a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.

HARLOW: So let's go to our colleague Alex Marquardt. He joins us now to break this down. Tell us more about this interview that Wray gave to The Wall Street Journal.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think Wray is reflecting an urgencies that has been felt by officials and cybersecurity experts for a long time, that this is a plague is a word they often use or an epidemic of ransomware attacks we see only growing by the day.

It is an extremely lucrative practice that cyber criminals around the world have undertaken and it's extremely disruptive, particularly when it hits critical infrastructure like we've seen in the past few weeks, with those Russian ransomware attacks against the Colonial Pipeline, against JBS Foods, one of the biggest food production companies in the world.

And Wray is saying here is that he thinks that Americans are understanding now how deeply important this is and how serious this is, that when they go to the gas station, they might be impacted there, when they try to get a hamburger, they might be impacted there.

So what Wray is saying, as with after 9/11 when the country was very much on the lookout for terrorist groups around the world, potential attacks here in the country, that the country now needs to deal with that threat in a similar way.

We have seen a new memo from the Department of Justice that went out yesterday, saying that there needs to be better coordination, better communication within the department across the country when it comes to alerting the Department of Justice about the threats and investigating these threats.

We also saw an extraordinary letter from the White House yesterday. It was essentially a plea to companies around the country to harden and modernize their cybersecurity defenses. The White House literally saying, we cannot do this alone.

And when you talk to experts on this, they say, yes, companies absolutely need to modernize their defenses, they absolutely need to play a role in this because they do control so much of the critical infrastructure. But at the same time, the U.S. needs to figure out a way to deter these hackers and make it not worth their while.

One way that they're trying to do that is to essentially call out the countries where these attackers are harbored, and that's primarily Russia. Immediately, following the JBS Food attack, Washington reached out to Moscow saying, it's not acceptable for these attackers to operate out of Russia. And that is something that we also heard from Wray in this pretty remarkable interview. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much. They certainly haven't figured out how to deter yet.

Joining me now to discuss the broader issue, John Hultquist, he is the vice president of Mandiant Threat Intelligence. He advises companies on how to defend against this, also the Democrats during the 2016 Russian interference. John, good to have you back on again.


SCIUTTO: So you heard Chris Ray, the FBI director, putting this on the same scale as the threat from terrorism following 9/11. I mean, you're talking to companies every day getting attacked in this way. Is that how bad it is?

HULTQUIST: I think there are some parallels as far as, you know, the sort of attack on our government's legitimacy that we see between this and terrorism, for instance. The problem -- one of the issues here is that this has become a real question whether the government can prevent major attacks against critical infrastructure. And in a lot of ways, that parallels the concept behind terrorism. The attack is not as important as sort of the legitimacy problems that result. Obviously, this isn't violent, which is huge difference. But, you know, before long, we are worried that some people will get hurt, especially when we consider all of these incidents that are affecting health care. Ireland's health care system went down. An entire country's health care system went offline. And that undoubtedly hurt people.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And in this country, you see Florida Health investigating a cybersecurity incident.

Your comparison there is notable, I think.


Because imagine, you know, it's like setting off a cyber bomb at a pipeline. You have the same effect in terms of shutting it down. The only difference being, of course, people aren't killed in it or cyber bomb outside the meatpacking plants of a major distributor of meats, like JBS. The FBI's new strategy here and, again, a comparison with terrorism, is to try to go after the financing behind this, the business of ransomware. How do you do that? It is all taking place in the dark web. You have got block chain and cyber currencies. Is it doable?

HULTQUIST: I think it's a fantastic strategy and I'm real excited. These are our businesses. So what a lot of people don't realize is these are not single actors. This is marketplace, actually, where lots of different actors are sort of working together and forming business relationships.

The ransomware names that you hear often, the ransomware families, are actually run by ransomware as a service operators. They develop the malware. They do the branding and customer service. But the hacking -- a lot of the hacking and deployment is done by affiliates. It's sort of like the big beverage companies where somebody owns the brand and the formula and somebody else is actually doing the bottling.

SCIUTTO: It's an interesting comparison. And they are structured like big corporations. By the way, they pull in a lot of money like big corporations. The way they pull in money is by demanding ransoms and companies pay those ransoms. Colonial Pipeline paid $4.5 million, right? And, by the way, they're insured for it. And, by the way, the hackers know they're insured so they know who to target and for how much.

Should the government straight up ban paying ransoms, make it illegal?

HULTQUIST: I think that's a possibility. But I also think that the government is going to need to be in a position to start basically turning down some of the heat on these companies, right? It's one thing to just, you know, ban these payments, but I think these companies need to be in a better position to survive these incidents if that's the case.

SCIUTTO: So, how do you make them better able to, right? I mean, there are dozens of cybersecurity firms out there charging millions of dollars to these companies to better protect themselves, and yet the hackers still get through.

I just -- I don't know -- and I've I covered this for a while -- I don't know what is working. Of course, the success stories don't make the headlines, like the failure stories, but is anything working?

HULTQUIST: Well, I think we do have some success stories. We are constantly getting ahead a lot of these operators through a lot of our intelligence programs. For instance, we've been able to make calls and get people to make the right moves at the right times to stop these incidents in their tracks. But that takes resources. The government is capable of things like that.

And it's just is important to remember that this is a fight against a consistently evolving actor, right? You can't just make a single purchase and move on with your day. This is a -- these are people. They're incredibly intelligent. And they're always evolving. There is enough money here to keep them evolving and growing and ahead of us.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's sort of drug cartels, right, I mean, the war on drugs. How long has that been going on? But follow the money. Hard to beat it. John Hultquist, thanks so much.

HULTQUIST: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: All right. After two years of fighting over this and back and forth, the House Judiciary Committee is now today questioning former White House Counsel Don McGahn. You see him there arriving on Capitol Hill moments ago. Of course, he was a significant witness during Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

SCIUTTO: Way back in 2019, House Democrats subpoenaed McGahn to testify but the Trump administration fought that subpoena in court.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill. Lauren, Justice Department, House lawmakers, they struck a deal to get McGahn to testify but not like he could spill all the beans. I mean, what are the limits as to what he can talk about?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right. Look, today's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which is happening behind closed doors, is really sort of a blast from the past when you think about exactly how long this fight has been going on.

Like you said, Democrats tried to get this testimony back in 2019 when they came into the majority. But the testimony today is going to be very limited in scope. Essentially, the deal that was reached between Biden's Justice Department and House Democrats is that the Democrats can ask about anything related to the Mueller report and whether or not certain instances, certain testimony that McGahn gave in those interviews. Remember, he sat with Mueller's team five different times, whether those stories were true, whether there are any additional questions about those incidents, that's how limited this will be.

[10:10:06] Expect the Democrats are going to be asking today about whether or not McGahn was, again, asked to fire former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Now, of course, that is what was chronicled in the Mueller report. That is going to be something that Democrats are going to dig into. Trump, of course, denied that. But that is going to be the scope of exactly what can be asked today.

And just a larger point, these fights with House Democrats, whether it is McGahn's testimony, whether it's the fight for Trump's tax returns, these have been embroiled in these court fights for years. And that's why you're starting to see some of this information just getting out. We should say that we expect in future days, even though this is occurring behind closed doors, we will see a transcript of what transpires today. So we're going to get a little more information, it's just going to take a few days to get to. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. Lauren, thank you very much, transcript critical, thanks.

Let's bring in our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor. So, Elie, as Lauren explained, there is stuff he cannot answer but at least there's a transcript of what was asked even if he doesn't answer for the public. You talk about what a key witness he was for Mueller and what a key witness he is now on this front on any obstruction, potential charges. Can you explain why today is so important even though it is two years after they asked for it?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's crucial what will happen today but it also sort of undermines the travesty -- underscores the travesty of all of this. Because we've known the gist of Don McGahn's testimony for over two years because he gave it to Robert Mueller.

And Don McGahn is the single most important witness to the single most flagrant instance of obstruction of justice in the Mueller report. Donald Trump instructed Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller mid- investigation, and then Trump called on McGahn into the Oval Office and told Don McGahn to lie about that prior incident and to create a false document.

Even Donald Trump's most ardent defenders, even those who say, well, he was exercising a constitutional imperative of the presidency, cannot defend that. And here we are two years later and the travesty is there has been zero consequences to this.

SCIUTTO: Okay, so does it matter, right? I mean, it matters in terms of correcting the record. And that's important. But, legally, can his testimony provide the basis to reopen any lines of inquiry regarding the president or the former president and obstruction of justice?

HONIG: That's exactly the question, Jim, will it matter. There's really only two avenues for accountability here. One is impeachment. That is not happening. We're not going to see Donald Trump impeached for a third time at this date. The other thing though is I'm looking at the Department of Justice, because Doj absolutely still has the jurisdiction. They're still within the statute of limitations to charge obstruction of justice.

And we all seem to have sort of just moved on, but let's not forget, Robert Mueller laid out 11 separate instances of obstruction of justice. The McGahn incident is, I think, the most flagrant one. I am one of over 1,000 nonpartisan, non-political former federal prosecutors who signed a letter saying the evidence was more than sufficient to charge obstruction. So what will DOJ do? I know it is easier to just walk away. I know it's messy and difficult to consider a charge like this, but guess what, prosecutors don't take the job to look for the easiest way out. So, DOJ has got a job to do here.

HARLOW: Elie, that is so interesting. And just to remind people what McGahn did tell then Special Counsel Robert Mueller when he says he was directed by the president on this. He said that he decided he would resign rather than triggering what he regarded as a potential Saturday night massacre. So, yes, it's harder because of the politics and the way it could look if the Justice Department goes after this, but your point is it's necessary given the severity of what he told the Special Counsel.

HONIG: Yes, exactly. Let's not lose sight of this. The president tried to knee cap Robert Mueller in the middle of the investigation. As you said, Poppy, McGahn refused to do it, which is the right move, but it is still a crime to try to obstruct justice. And then he tried to get McGahn lie and create a false piece of paper. I mean, there is just no defending that. And I'm not okay with just sort of breezing by it because it happened a long time ago and we've had a couple of other interceding scandals.

SCIUTTO: Just so much lying, so much, incredible. Elie Honig, Thanks so much.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Well, still to come, President Biden -- thank you, Elie. President Biden is set to speak at any moment about the state of the economy. This comes right after the May jobs report that we just got this morning. Next, we'll speak with the labor secretary, Marty Walsh.

SCIUTTO: Plus, a CNN interview with Senator Joe Manchin holding firm on his commitment to bipartisanship even as calls grow louder for Democrats to go it alone.

And Facebook set to change its policies after suspending former President Trump. That could have widespread implications for other politicians on this site.


They're going to have to follow the same rules you and I do to some degree. We're going to talk about it ahead.


SCIUTTO: When it comes to passing some of President Biden's key policy initiatives, such as infrastructure, all eyes remain on that familiar Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat signaling he is not ready to give up negotiating with Republicans despite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he will do everything he can to block the president's agenda.


HARLOW: Our Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with the latest. You got the interview everyone wants. You talked to him about all this stuff. What stands out?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he made very clear that he's not ready to break with the Republicans on some key issues, namely on major infrastructure package that, of course, is being negotiated, has been negotiated for months between Republicans and the White House, and they are still hundreds of billions of dollars apart on the overall price tag, and as well as just how to pay for it, as well as the definition of infrastructure. And a lot of Democrats are saying time to go it alone. Joe Manchin, on the other hand, says he is not ready to do that. He wants talks to continue.

He is also making it very clear that he's not ready to do what a lot of Democrats want to do. He's been saying what he's been saying for months. He will not try to change the Senate's filibuster rules to try to allow legislation to pass along a simple majority vote. He will not take that off the table completely but he made very clear he wants Democrats to continue these negotiations with Republicans.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I've always been to the point where we have to work together. You can only do so much by yourself. And that's -- we're not designed to work that way. The House is. The House is designed strictly, strictly for what they do. It comes hard at you whether it's Republicans in control or Democrats.

The Senate was never designed that way. The Senate was designed for, okay, I see that right there, we can maneuver that a little bit and we can massage a little bit and make it a little bit better.

RAJU: And you've been very clear about your desire for the Senate --

MANCHIN: I'm still very clear about that.

RAJU: And could you just say, just take it off the table and say you'll never reduce the 60-vote threshold on the filibuster?

MANCHIN: Let me just tell you one thing. We're going to make the Senate work the way it was intended to work. I'm totally committed to that. And I'm not throwing caution to the wind. I have never desired to do that.


RAJU: So, one of the issues that's coming to the Senate floor later this month is the issue of voting. And Democrats say the legislation that they are pushing would combat efforts on the state level to restrict voting access. Joe Manchin opposes the Democratic bill. But he is working on a separate voting legislation that still does not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

And I asked him, are you willing to do what so many Democrats want, which is to carve out some sort of exemption to allow voting legislation to pass along straight party lines? He essentially said, what comes around goes around, another sign that he's not willing to do it because he's worried about what would happen if the Democrats were in the minority and dealing with those same rules.

SCIUTTO: All right. So, the Senate failed, let's say they did. Senate Republicans filibustered the bipartisan plan to investigate January 6. But a couple senators didn't show up. If you do the math, maybe you only need a couple more. Senator Manchin said he has not given up hope. How exactly?

RAJU: It's still not clear how they could get to 60 votes, but Joe Manchin seems to think that there's a possibility. Even with those absences, they're at 57 senators who would force this commission to go forward and allow it to happen but they don't have the 60 to break it. And that is because of the opposition, strong opposition from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

And I asked Manchin, how can you expect to work with McConnell on a range of issues if you can't get him to support something like this on a commission? And he seemed to suggest a commission could still be possible.


RAJU: What evidence do you have that Mitch McConnell wants to work with you. Last week, he blocked commission bill and he could have -- and you saying that he wants to work with you.

MANCHIN: I'm not saying that one is dead either. I was very disappointed. I think it was wrong what he did and I've said that. He knows how I feel about that. And they look it as strictly political. I did not look at it political from that standpoint. I look at it as our country coming back together. It was totally everything they asked for, it was totally bipartisan.


RAJU: So, essentially, he is saying keep hope alive on a lot of these issues, whether it's the commission, whether it's infrastructure talks, whether it's the issue of coming together on voting. Somehow, he believes Republicans and Democrats can come together when there is just simply no evidence on several of those fronts, namely on voting and particularly what we're seeing on the commission vote. But Joe Manchin, the key vote, 50-50 Senate, what he does matters here. Guys?

SCIUTTO: The China Competition Act, right, was supposed to be another bipartisan party kumbaya. It didn't work out there yet either.

HARLOW: Manu, thank you, great job getting that interview. Well, President Biden is set to speak in just a few minutes. We're going to be joined next by the labor secretary to talk about the new jobs numbers. Stay with us.



HARLOW: President Biden is set to speak in minutes about the just released jobs report. New numbers show the U.S. economy added 559,000 jobs in May, it is significantly higher than April, still a little bit lower than economists were expecting.

SCIUTTO: There is some more encouraging news. Unemployment is now below 6 percent for the first time since the start of the pandemic, really, March 2020, falling now to 5.8 percent.

CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond joins us now. Jeremy, so, listen, it's a solid number, as Christine Romans, a big one, but a bit below expectations. How is the president and the administration feeling about these numbers?

JEREMY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is certainly feeling good about these numbers and they're at least projecting optimism. We already saw from the president on Twitter this morning.


He is saying America is on the move again. He is calling this jobs reports more evidence of historic progress for American families and the American economy.