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President Obama Speaks Out; Colonial Pipeline CEO on Capitol Hill; Infrastructure Negotiations; Kamala Harris in Mexico; Insurrection Report. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 8, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining me on NEWSROOM. I'm Victor Blackwell. Alisyn off today.

A new report has revealed the stunning security breakdowns ahead of the January 6 insurrection, unheeded warnings, critical miscommunications, intelligence shortcomings. The bipartisan Senate report says the U.S. Capitol Police main intelligence unit was aware of the potential for violence in the days and weeks before the attack.

That message, however, never made it to the many front-line officers who found themselves in hand-to-hand combat fighting for their lives. The report also has new details on how ill-equipped the officers were. Only four of their seven special emergency response platoons had the right gear. We're talking helmets and shields.

And when they needed the National Guard, the report says that red tape got in the way. What the 127-page report does not address, former President Donald Trump and his role in the attack. It doesn't even use the word insurrection.

CNN's Whitney Wild joins me now.

So, what are the biggest takeaways from this report, Whitney?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is solidifying the timeline of the day, finally a chance to combine the Capitol Hill security timelines and the Department of Defense timelines to actually get a real understanding of how the day unfolded.

So there are several examples of places along the timeline where different decisions could have been made, and yet they weren't. And a lot of those decisions actually date back to weeks before the January 6 insurrection.

Let's talk about operational planning, for example. As you point out, Victor, a lot of these officers simply didn't have the right gear. They lacked riot training, some of them for several years. Fewer than 10 officers were trained in the full suite of less-than-lethal options to dispel a crowd.

And then, finally, as you point out, only four out of seven of those basically riot control units, the civil disturbance units, had the full gear. There were other examples of gear that was locked on a bus and inaccessible to some of these officers.

And what the senators said who reviewed this report was that this was very clearly a breakdown of leadership. The Capitol Police leadership basically left these officers out there to fend for themselves.

So dramatic that was, Victor, the USCP leadership never got on the radio to take control. There were -- excuse me -- I should say, there was only one example. The then acting police chief got on the radio -- now acting police chief got on the radio, called for a lockdown.

After that, silence. One officer even reportedly saying, "Does anybody have a plan?" Victor? I mean, the list of breakdowns here, not just to Capitol Police, but at other intelligence agencies as well, highlights another thing, which is this sort of push and pull within intelligence to properly analyze what some people believe are just radical musings online and translate those into understandable, credible threats.

They were really stuck here between whether or not that was protected political speech, as radical and violent as it was, or if it represented a credible threat, Victor.

BLACKWELL: It is stunning what we're learning from this report.

Whitney Wild on it for us, thank you so much.

Joining me now is retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He's also the author of "Leadership in the New Normal." And earlier this year, General Honore was selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to review security at the Capitol Complex after the insurrection.

General, thanks for being with me.

Let me start here, before we get into specifics. Your reaction to what we have learned from report?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think the report, it's a five-month report just published. As you know, we published our report around the 5th of March to the House side of the Capitol.

There's very little that's new in this report, but it does go into more detail, because they had access to the police and others' e- mails, to be able to come up with the constructed timeline. We did not go at detail in the timeline.

But the rest of the discoveries were the same as far as training requirements, command-and-control issues using the incident command system, as well as actions that day to -- on intelligence.


HONORE: We made...

BLACKWELL: Your report is actually more structural, from what I have read of it, the 15-page report that you gave to the speaker. And then this is the narrative pairing to that.

When we read from this Senate report that there were notifications to Capitol Police that protesters planned to bring guns and other weapons to the Capitol that they could turn on law enforcement if they blocked their entry into the Capitol, how does that -- knowing what you know about the structure of Capitol Police, how does that then become relayed as low probability of violence?


HONORE: Well, there's two things there, Victor.

Number one, we made a significant recommendation in the number of intelligence people we think needed to be added. The staff was understaffed and undertrained in processing intelligence. Number two, we have to have a new look in government from the FBI and all law enforcement that information that is garnered from social media at some point in time must be perceived as a threat.

There's still people in government that we talked to that, if congressional members were not told in the SCIF that there was a threat -- the SCIF is that room that the -- those with clearances go to -- then there is no threat.

In this case, the threat was in plain sight. People were speaking about it. It was in social media. But the government did not take it serious. We had a failure in government that day to interpret those as threats.

And as a result of that, people kept looking for the FBI to say, this is intelligence. Well, intelligence is based on information you gather to see what the enemy's intent -- what they might do. Well, we had tons of that, but it did not come from secret sources. It came from social media, and the government failed to act on it.

And I think it's a crying, damn shame that the FBI, the Secret Service, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, none of them pulled that together.


HONORE: But, at the end of the day, as inefficient as the operation was, they saved the government that day, the Capitol Police, along with the Metropolitan Police.

And the people that we have got to blame this on are the people that attacked the Capitol. We can beat ourselves up all we want. But there's very little in that report talking about the people who did this and why they did it and where did they come from and who they were. And the Justice Department is running them now, because we cannot let something like that happen again, because they had an intention to destroy our democracy that day.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we know that from members of the House who actually voted against or just voted present on this bill that's now going through Congress to fix many of the structural issues that you highlighted say that if you don't add the qualitative elements, instead of just adding money to this to try to get to the radicalization element of it, it won't prevent it from happening again.

Lieutenant General Russel Honore, thanks so much for your time, sir.

HONORE: Good day.

BLACKWELL: Vice President Kamala Harris says the U.S. and Mexico are embarking on a new era.

Harris met with Mexico's president today. This was during the second leg of her trip to Central America to address the surge in illegal border crossings here in the U.S.

Now, Harris is facing criticism from some progressives for telling potential undocumented migrants do not come to the U.S. She's also pushing back against complaints about not yet visiting the U.S.-Mexico border.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: To quickly put a button...


HOLT: ... do you have any plans to visit the border?

HARRIS: At some point.

We are going to the border. We have been to the border. So this whole thing about the border, we have been to the border. We have been to the border.

HOLT: You haven't been before.

HARRIS: And I haven't been to Europe.


HARRIS: I don't understand the point that you're making. I'm not discounting the importance of the border.


BLACKWELL: All right, White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond is live from Mexico City.

Jeremy, does it appear that the administration, the vice president is making any progress here?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, there certainly has been -- have been a few deliverables so far.

Yesterday, in Guatemala, we heard the vice president announce this new anti-corruption task force, as well as tens of millions of dollars in new U.S. investments to help develop the economies of the Northern Triangle.

Today, we saw the vice president meeting with Mexican President Lopez Obrador, and they signed a memorandum of understanding, outlining how they will help to address the development of Central American countries.

And what's interesting here is, there is this increasing alignment between the U.S. and Mexico on that front, given the fact that Mexico, which has long been a transit country for migrants from Central America to the United States, now also increasingly becoming a destination country.

And so, therefore, Mexico and the U.S. much more aligned in terms of helping with development. In fact, the Mexican government has made calls for increasing development in Mexico.

Now, you were also talking about the politics there. And the politics are hard to avoid when you're talking about immigration, whether you're doing so in Washington, or thousands of miles away in Guatemala City or here in Mexico City.


And that is because you heard the vice president urging migrants not to come to the U.S. She took flak from the far left of the party, with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez hitting her on that.

And then you saw those comments where she said that she hadn't been to the border, doesn't plan to be, and pointed out that she also hasn't been to Europe. She's taking flak from the right. So this is certainly an issue that has required some deft diplomacy on the vice president's part, but also some walking of the political tightrope.

And we're certainly continuing to see that as the vice president wraps up her visit today.

BLACKWELL: Jeremy Diamond in Mexico City, thank you.

Now, one day before taking off for his first international trip, President Joe Biden is making another push for his infrastructure deal. He's expected to speak with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito this afternoon as time runs out for any chance of a bipartisan deal.

Now, the president is optimistic about working with Republicans. He tweeted that he's working hard to find common ground, but he says that: "I refuse to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000 a year to pay for it. It's long past time the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share"

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, the president seems to be drawing a line there with this tweet, a line that he's held for some time now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and also that line came as the president has still not spoken to Senator Capito.

He's expected to do that this afternoon. But I think the fact that, earlier today, as of noon, she said she still hadn't heard from the White House on what time that call was going to happen, and the fact that it got pushed from initially supposed to happen yesterday, really does demonstrate just how little the White House thinks they are going to gain from that call with Senator Capito.

And Jen Psaki is briefing reporters right now. She said the president still does view the top Republican negotiator as a viable partner in this talk about what this infrastructure proposal could look like. But it also comes as he's preparing to speak to another group of bipartisan senators, including Senator Jon Tester and Senator Mitt Romney, who have been quietly working on essentially a plan B, in case these talks did fall apart.

And, essentially, they are on the verge of collapse right now. But I think the question of whether they're actually going to get anywhere is running up against some deadlines that are happening on Capitol Hill, including next week, where you're going to start to see senators work on and House members work on what this bill is actually going to look like.

And it also comes as some progressive members of the president's party are saying it's time to move on, with Senator Bernie Sanders saying last night that he does not think they are going to actually get 10 Republican votes for what infrastructure bill they would actually like the end result to look like.

And so the question of how much longer these talks are going to go on remains to be seen, but it is against this broader backdrop that we should note of where a lot of the president's most ambitious goals are essentially running into the reality of the slim majority that he has on Capitol Hill.

And a lot of that has to do with Senator Joe Manchin coming out against that voting rights bill, of course, the essential sweeping overhaul of election law, as we have seen it, and his also stated opposal to getting rid of the filibuster, which means that any bill Biden signs is going to have to have Republican support.

So now you're going to have to see Democrats rethink what that strategy is going to be, because even though, yes, those are long-held beliefs, now it seems that pushes coming to shove and they're realizing he's not going to change his mind on that.

BLACKWELL: Yes, when you have got Mitch McConnell saying he's 100 percent focused on stopping the administration, where does anything go?

Kaitlan Collins for us there at the White House, thanks so much.

So, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline is defending his response to last month's ransomware attack, but hear what he told lawmakers about the decision to shut down the pipeline and pay the ransom.

Plus, why former President Barack Obama says he is genuinely worried about the state of democracy in this country.



BLACKWELL: The Colonial Pipeline CEO was on Capitol Hill today explaining his decision to pay off Russian hackers who hijacked the company's servers.

You remember that hackers forced the company to shut down operations for six days. And that caused panic buying and major gas shortages across the South.

CEO Joseph Blount told lawmakers that he stood by his decision to shut down the pipeline, pay the ransom and not tell anyone about it.


JOSEPH BLOUNT, CEO, COLONIAL PIPELINE: I made the decision to pay and I made the decision to keep the information about the payment as confidential as possible.

It was the hardest decision I have made in my 39 years in the energy industry. And I know how critical our pipeline is to the country. And I put the interests of the country first.


BLACKWELL: Anthony Ferrante is a CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI special agent, also the global head of cybersecurity for FTI Consulting.

Anthony, welcome back.

Let's start here with that decision to pay the ransom. DHS, the FBI, they advise against that because they say that it encourages future ransomware hacks. The CEO says that he did so with full understanding of how much the company's network had been -- or did not know the full understanding of the company's network and how it had been compromised.

Did he make the right decision there without that information?


Look, let's look at it this way. Because that payment was made, look at what -- look at what has happened since then, OK? Because that payment was made, the U.S. government was able to track that money, seize that money, and then literally burn down that infrastructure, so that infrastructure can no longer be used to target additional American businesses.

Let's take a step back and look at what's happened since Friday, OK? We know ransomware is a serious threat. We know it's significant. We know American businesses are being targeted every single day. [14:20:01]

But what has happened is that the United States government has taken notice. They have stepped up.

Look at the press conference DOJ had on Monday, OK? It's safe to say there is a new cyber sheriff in town, Lisa Murkowski, flanked by Paul Abbate at the FBI. Look at the actions that they have put in place since Friday. I'm quoting Lisa here: "We are now in this together. The U.S. government will do more."

That's a significant step on behalf of the U.S. government to come to the aid of U.S. companies. And I think we should applaud them for their efforts. It's clearly significant.

BLACKWELL: Yes, this is significant.

Anthony, we had this conversation about FBI as a deterrent on Friday, and you were far more critical of the agency than you are now. Is this a significant deterrent? This is one hacker that the money has been pulled back, that $2 million. Do you think this heads off some in the future?

FERRANTE: Oh, absolutely.

This sends a clear message that the United States government is not going to negotiate any further when it comes to this threat. Do not attack critical infrastructure. Do not continue to pick on small and medium-sized businesses across the United States, because the FBI and the Department of Justice has taken notice. And they are stepping up their efforts.

The creation of the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, the fact that they are now looking at this threat as they looked at terrorism threats, and that every single ransomware event that happens against a U.S. company should be reported to the FBI and your local U.S. attorney's office, so they can coordinate their efforts and help and come to the aid of these U.S. businesses, this is significant.

And, like I said, it's a dramatic change from where the government has been, candidly, for the last 10 or 15 years or so, when it comes to this threat.

BLACKWELL: So, you headed off my next question there about the CEO of Colonial deciding not to notify the FBI, to keep as much of it private as possible.

So let me go on to this. You say that it's a deterrent. But if these are Russian-based actors, there's no indication that there will be any criminal consequences for them. So they lose the money. They were sitting at a laptop potentially anyway. If you're not facing criminal charges or jail time, losing a portion of the money, is that enough?

FERRANTE: Well, remember these are financially motivated crimes, right? And, as Ms. Monaco said in her press briefing on Monday, right, the U.S. government is going to follow the money, right? Cutting off that funding source is a significant deterrent, OK? And we're imposing costs by cutting off that funding source. But, also, let's not forget the United States government has a very long memory. And while no one will be arrested today, or maybe even this month, or maybe even this year, when it comes to the various ransom attacks, ransomware attacks that are happening across the United States, the U.S. government is taking note.

They are building significant cases against these actors, and they will one day bring them to justice. I assure you that.

BLACKWELL: All right, Anthony Ferrante, thanks so much.

FERRANTE: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Former President Barack Obama is now talking about what he calls dark spirits in the Republican Party. He's also criticizing some media outlets for stoking fear and division.

We will talk about this with someone who worked in the Obama White House next.



BLACKWELL: Former President Barack Obama is talking in a new candid and wide-ranging interview with CNN about being criticized by Republicans for embracing former -- or, rather, the Republicans who are embracing former President Trump's big lie, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

And he addressed the role of right-wing media for accelerating divisions.



And it becomes that much more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other. Now we have more economic stratification and segregation. You combine that with racial stratification and the siloing of the media, so you don't have just Walter Cronkite delivering the news...


OBAMA: ... but you have 1,000 different venues, all that has contributed to that sense that we don't have anything in common.


BLACKWELL: Joining me now, Ashley Allison, former Obama White House staff member.

Ashley, thanks for being with me. The siloing of the media here contributing to what we're seeing, from your perspective, hearing the president describe it this way, and then what gets us out of this?

ASHLEY ALLISON, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE STAFF MEMBER: Well, he talked about economic stratification, racial stratification, as well as the media stratification.

Part of the problem is, it's not just Donald Trump pushing this lie about an election that was legitimate, but he's trying to say is illegitimate. It's Republicans that are following him. But it's also the media.

You have folks who are pushing every single day this disinformation and misinformation about the validity of our democracy. Now, he also talked about the reality of our democracy being -- we -- us needing to be concerned.