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Marcus Zuckerberg Apologized for Holocaust Statements; Intel Chief Says Important to Take a Stand Against Trump Comments; Dan Coats Says Intel Is Nonpolitical; Dan Coats at Aspen Security Forum. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] LISA REIN, BROKE VA STAFFER STORY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": These are people who have served multiple VA secretaries, and they're in crucial support roles for a new secretary to kind of get the new person acclimated. Robert Wilke who is waiting in the wings at the Pentagon, where he is a top personnel official himself, is said to not know anything about these moves who were done by the acting team in power now, led by Peter O'Rourke, who is the acting secretary.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The VA as you well know has long been troubled, underfunded, understaffed. Doesn't such a staff shakeup exacerbate those problems?

REIN: Well, there's a long history even in the Trump era of turmoil at VA, so Trump's first VA secretary who was an Obama holdover he was fired eventually and ousted in large conflicts he had with this group of Trump loyalists who are now in power. Then we had Ronnie Jackson, the Presidential physician who Trump wanted to be secretary who was forced to withdraw amid misconduct allegations, and the agency has 360,000 people, and it has always struggled to give veterans timely benefits and to give them timely health care. And what's really troubling to a lot of people and now on Capitol Hill is that even after Shulkin was fired, there was a big brain drain at the agency, lots of qualified people left because they were just concerned about the chaos. Now what we've got is mostly civil servants who have really nothing to do with politics are being moved around, so a lot of people are very concerned, especially on Capitol Hill now.

BALDWIN: Keep asking the tough questions, Lisa Rein at "The Washington Post." appreciate you so much for your reporting.

REIN: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Up next, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg forced to apologize after comments he made about Holocaust deniers, why he doesn't think the social media platform should block the content.


BALDWIN: New today. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clarifying remarks he made about Holocaust deniers and their content. Zuckerberg said he was not defending Holocaust deniers, his initial comments triggering intense though criticism earlier this week.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: There's a set of people that deny the Holocaust happened, right? I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think that there are things that different people get wrong, either I don't think they're intentionally getting it wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the case of the Holocaust deniers they might be. But go ahead.

ZUCKERBERG: It is hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.


BALDWIN: Oliver Darcy is with me, CNN senior media reporter. Lori Siegel is with us, CNN Money senior tech correspondent with us in Los Angeles. Oliver, first to you. Love how the interviewer was like actually there is a lot of times -- and he is like well. Wow, first of all over his comments and secondly, what's Facebook saying?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Mark Zuckerberg actually a few hours after that interview aired sent a statement over to Kara Swisher we connected with for the initial interview. He said. "I personal find Holocaust denial deeply offensive and I absolutely didn't intend to defend intent of people that deny that. Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue. But to stop fake news and information is spreading across services and it went on.

What's interesting about this whole thing is Zuckerberg was trying to clean up a mess that Facebook had over comments made last week by Facebook executives regarding why they "Infowars", a site notorious for spinning conspiracy theories, while they are saying they're trying to fight fake news and take false information on the platform seriously. So, Zuckerberg went on, try to clean up that mess and ended up igniting --

BALDWIN: Made a mess of his own.

DARCY: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Lori Siegel, you just interviewed the guy not too long ago, you know him. Talk about a total PR bungle, what's going on with Zuckerberg?

LORI SEIGEL, CNN MONEY SENIOR TECH CORRESPONDENT: I think he put his foot in his mouth. I think the larger story, something we can't ignore is this question of free speech versus censorship. I think Mark Zuckerberg was trying to sit here and explain it and wasn't doing the best job. If you look at some of the issues Facebook faced in the last year with the weaponization of the platform, spread of fake news, this is a company that hasn't gotten in front of it, haven't talked about the nuance and importance of the issues and what they mean for the platform.

There's a fine line between free speech and censorship. You take down some content, you have to take down other content. I was recently at the campus. I'm telling you, they're having these really important conversations behind closed doors but not doing a good enough job of bringing the public into these conversations and talking about what's at stake here, and why certain decisions are being made. They'll tell you we want to be sure that people have the right to speak freely on the platform.

BALDWIN: But holocaust deniers.

SEIGEL: Of course. And the question I have for them is OK. They say they'll limit the distribution of the information, they'll make sure it is limited, but why not remove it. They say we'll remove it if it could cause physical harm. You know, there are all of these policies, you almost get the sense this is a company that historically hasn't wanted to go near policing content. You hear Mark Zuckerberg say over and over, we are a tech company, not a media company. Recently when he was testifying in front of congress, he said but we are responsible for content on our platform. I think that was a big omission. As you see from his recent interview with Kara Swisher, they're not doing the best job of talking through the nuance of some of these issues and a lot of people are offended at certain content that's allowed to remain.

BALDWIN: Thank you both so much. We're standing by to hear from the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. He will be answering questions in a moment about the wild week that was between Putin and Trump and the walk backs and all of the fallouts of Helsinki. We'll be right back.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS REPORTER: -- Aspen Security Forum, thank you, director. It's great to have you here.

There's a lot at stake. No one knows this more than you. Let's get right to it. Want to start with Russia, we'll move to the other threats and things you're looking at about the world. Let's start with Russia. You did something really extraordinary on Monday. Moments after the President appeared to be siding with Vladimir Putin over you, you personally by name, you stood up and spoke out. I'm wondering why did you do that?

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I'm not surprised we're starting with Russia. I was just doing my job. As I expressed to the President on my third visit to the Oval Office as his new principal adviser, said Mr. President there will be times when I will have to bring news to you that you don't want to hear. I just want you to know that the news I bring to you, information I bring to you will be to the best extent that we can be unvarnished, nonpoliticized. The best that our incredible intelligence agency can produce so that you will have the information you need to make the policy decisions that you're going to be faced with.

And on that basis, we started a good relationship. I felt at this point in time that what we had assessed and reassessed and reassessed and carefully gone over still stands. And that it was important to take that stand on behalf of the intelligence community, on behalf of the American people. As we have seen. The President has made statements relative to -- in support of that, which I appreciate, the latest being on I think one of your rival networks. Give you the privilege of not naming them, keep NBC in front here. So therefore, it was part of my role and I felt it was important that I do that. It has been said, it has been discussed personally with the President, and I think it is time to move on.

[15:45:00] MITCHELL: Except that the President has made so many conflicting statements. He has switched from one position to the other, even in the same day as recently as yesterday and I'm wondering when you watched that in Helsinki, what was your gut reaction watching him validate Vladimir Putin's assessment over yours?

COATS: Well, my thoughts there were that I believed I needed to correct the record for that and that this is the job I signed up for and that was my responsibility. Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement, but I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this and so I don't think I want to go any further than that.

MITCHELL: In the cabinet room one of the statements you referred to, these clarifications, he said I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place, could be other people also. Could be other people also? What does he know that you don't know?

COATS: Well, could is not a definitive word here. Could someone else be looking at how to do this relative to our elections, possibly rogue states, whatever, we know others have potential capability, but it is undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this basically, they're the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values that divide us with our allies. They're the ones that are trying to wreak havoc over the election process. We need to call them out on that. It is critical that we do so and then take steps to make sure that they're not able to do this with the election coming up.

Learn the lessons from the past, put in place things that we need to put in place in terms of making sure that we can guarantee to the American public when they walk in that voting booth and cast their vote, however they cast it, it is a valid vote. It will not be tampered with. -- tampered with. Whatever result comes, it is something the American people can have confidence in it wasn't manipulated, whether externally or internally. Politically there have been times parties tried to manipulate the votes one way or another. That just simply is not acceptable. The very pillar basics of democracy is the ability to have confidence in your elected officials, that they were elected legitimately, and we have to take every effort to ensure that happens in this upcoming election and future elections.

MITCHELL: Just to nail this down, the 2017 intelligence assessment of the community, the finding said Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. 18 months later, has anything changed that would make it more or less certain that it was Vladimir Putin in charge of that?

COATS: Well, I don't want to get too far into what the investigation that's going on and what they may produce from that.

MITCHELL: But in terms of the intelligence assessment.

COATS: We just continue to provide intelligence that we achieve relative to our customers, which is the President, which are the policy makers in the White House, which is our oversight committees in the House and Senate, and that basis, that is available to them. And we will keep doing that.

[15:50:00] Relative to what's coming in 2018 as the Director Nielsen said this morning, DHS does not have evidence of the fact anywhere near what happened in 2016, however despite that, we absolutely cannot rest on that assumption. As I mentioned in my speech at Hudson a week ago or so, one click of the keyboard that could change this narrative. We have to be ever vigilant on this, and I think we have to be relentless in terms of calling out the Russians for what they've done, we have to be vigilant in terms of putting steps in place to make sure it doesn't happen again, more transparency we can have relative to this issue, the better.

MITCHELL: Men and women who work for you are working around the clock.

COATS: They are.

MITCHELL: Around the world, putting their lives on the line in many cases to make sure that our democracy is safe. What do you say to them when the President disavows their work or others in our government, disavows their work and criticized their work?

COATS: I say to our people posted around the world and the 16 agencies and within the United States, I say to them we are professionals. We are here to provide professional service to our government. We need to keep our heads down. We need to go forward with the wonderful technological capabilities that we have to produce intelligence. There is a lot of political swirl going around. Just do your jobs. Our goal is to provide un-politicized information necessary for our policy makers to make good decisions. So, try to get up every morning, go to work, do your job. If you have thinking in one way or another way relative to a plus or a minus, set that aside. Go home and think about it. The work product that you are putting together has to be absent from any kind of political manipulation.

MITCHELL: In Helsinki the President was alone with Vladimir Putin for more than two hours with only translators. Basically, how do you know what happened? You were on the dark side of the moon? Do you have any idea what happened in that meeting?

COATS: You're right. I think as time goes by and the President has mentioned some things that happened in that meeting I think we will learn more, but that is a President's prerogative. If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted I would have suggested a different way, but that's not my role. That's not my job. So, it is what it is.

MITCHELL: Is there a risk that Vladimir Putin could have recorded it? COATS: That risk is always there.

MITCHELL: Is there a risk that the soccer ball could have been wired?

COATS: Was that a World Cup soccer ball? We have the ability to measure those kinds of things to determine whether or not they are at risk.

MITCHELL: I had a feeling you did.

COATS: Every time I come home there is a limit to what they can give you if you meet with your foreign adversaries. All that has to go through radar and processes. I'm sure that soccer ball has been looked at very carefully.

MITCHELL: I bet you looked at the big letter from Kim Jong-un that was brought right into the Oval Office. Today the White House said that the President now disagrees with Vladimir Putin's offer to question Ambassador McFaul and other Americans and other diplomats. As a former ambassador, are you dismayed that it took the President three days to come to that conclusion?

COATS: You know, I don't know how to answer questions like that. My focus now is on what is happening around the world. That is what I was hired to do. I can't focus on -- when I was a policy maker in the Congress we liked to think as senators we have an answer for everything even though we don't. We like to think that.

[15:55:00] Now I'm in a completely different job. I spent a lifetime trying to get my name in the paper back at home so people would vote for me. I am in a job now where it is just the opposite. I like to spend my lifetime not being in the paper, not having my picture or words. I do very few of these types of --

MITCHELL: We are very grateful for you today.

COATS: It's hard to say no to an invitation to Aspen especially in the hot summer of Washington, D.C. but I'm trying to keep my focus where it needs to be. There are just some things I just don't get into.

MITCHELL: Let's focus on your warnings. On Friday you said the warning lights are blinking red again as they were before 9/11 on terror threats. You were speaking about cyber.

COATS: I was.

MITCHELL: You said Russia was the most aggressive of the foreign actors in cyber.

COATS: By far.

MITCHELL: In what way? What does it mean in terms of the attacks? The frequency of attacks, successful attacks?

COATS: It means we are under attack. In many, many ways. Our financial institutions, our critical infrastructure, our industries. In many ways the plus side of what the interconnectedness of the world through the internet, all the revolutionary things that have incredibly been impactful in terms of moving us forward we are now learning about the dark side and it is pretty ugly. What we see every day against our institutions, against our military, against our financial services, against our critical infrastructure, stretching from those who have major capabilities of doing this starting with Russia including China, their intent I think is different than the Russians.

Add Iran to that, add ISIS into that. We first learned about ISIS when they started slicing off heads. And we identified ISIS as a seventh century barbarism that is totally unacceptable. Where did this come from? At the same time, they were slicing off heads they were operating a sophisticated cyber program to reach out to recruit people, to give them instructions, inspire them to take acts to join this movement, this jihadist movement through some very capable ways of using cyber, sophisticated ways. You see the danger that cyber can provide if you do it in those ways. It is everything from a sophisticated nation with a lot of capabilities to rogue states, to criminal organizations to a kid sitting in his dorm room that can wreak havoc on our economy, our country, our critical infrastructure.

We are throwing everything we have at it to prevent that from happening. It has become in my mind and in what I stated in the threat assessments up there at the top and we need to understand that. I was worried about a complacency. Every day you hear 120 million peoples' names have been snatched from Equifax or this or whatever. You should be changing your pass word every week. I can't remember a password anyway. There is a complacency in acceptance. I am concerned about a cyber 9/11.

MITCHELL: What would that look like?

COATS: Let's say you shut down Wall Street for a week, what does that do to markets? Let's say you crash Bank of America or Wells Fargo and people are saying wait a minute, what happened to my account? We will get it back. We have seen this, and we have seen coverage of that. We haven't seen the big one. What about an attack on the electric grid in New England in January that is sophisticated enough to take it out. How many people would die from minus degree weather on that?

Those are the things I think you have to try to anticipate what are the capabilities that our adversaries have if they wanted to use them. And Charlie Allen, who in my mind is a legend, I won't tell you where we meet for regular breakfast, these are things I think strategically we have to look forward. Tom Clancy's "Sum of All Fears," when a terrorist group obtains a weapon of mass destruction it had been one of those airliners that hit the Twin Towers. We wouldn't be talking about 3,000 victims. We would be talking about 300,000 victims or more. These are the things we have to think about. We can't rest on our laurels that we collect a lot of information. There are people playing this game of chess with us in ways that want to take us down. We have to be better than they. That's a huge challenge in which it is why I say it is a whole of government effort that has to take place relative to cyber. MITCHELL: The White House fired its cyber coordinator and has not

replaced him. Is the President really engaged in this?