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Interview With Fmr. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ); President Biden Addresses Job Numbers; Colonial Pipeline Hacked. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 10, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The president says he is following the trend line and that the trend line is headed in the right direction.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us. Also with us, CNN global affairs analyst Rana Foroohar. She's also a global business columnist for "The Financial Times."

And, Rana, I just want to go to you first to get your take on what we just heard from President Biden, because one of the things that he talked about, he pushed back against this notion that workers are having a hard time -- employers are having a hard time finding workers because of the enhanced unemployment benefits.

He has basically dismissed that out of hand for the past week.


CAMEROTA: What do you hear? What do you think is going on?

FOROOHAR: Well, look, Alisyn, there's several things going on.

I mean, one of them, which the president also touched on, is the fact that a lot of women have been pulled out of the work force during this pandemic. They're dealing with childcare, eldercare. That's something he's trying to address in the infrastructure plan, talking about health care, and childcare as infrastructure.

I think that there is a case to be made, and some Republicans are making it, that certain people have received stimulus, and that may be preventing them from working. But I see bigger effects in the tightness of the labor market in certain areas.

Try to find a truck driver, try to find someone in logistics these days, you can't find them. And that's a result of all the backups from the pandemic. I do think, also, there's some issues with tech-related job destruction. Yes, there's some of us that can do our jobs online. Many people can't.

And that's the thing that I'm worried about going forward, how technology is going to really disrupt the labor market longer-term. BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, the president there just at the tip end on the

DarkSide hack took it a step further than we heard from national security and cybersecurity members of the administration, in which he said there's no evidence of Russia being involved, but they have some responsibility to respond.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because he said there is intelligence that shows this group, DarkSide, which the FBI has said is responsible for this ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, resides in Russia.

So, of course, what we have been talking about is whether or not -- what the repercussions could be for nations that harbor these groups, because I think the general consensus is that, obviously, these groups have the tacit permission from where they are operating, especially in a state like Russia.

And so President Biden said there this does not affect his plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin coming up. We're expecting that to happen in June, though the White House has not confirmed when exactly or where exactly that's happening.

But he did say he's still will be meeting with them. And there's no intelligence so far that shows that Russia did sanction this attack. I think you're right that that does go further than what we were hearing from the officials earlier, what they were willing to say about this. They said, basically, just that they were looking into it, and what the intelligence showed so far when it comes to a nation state and what their role in this attack is.

So, I think that's incredibly notable as well that the president did weigh in there on what he believes the future of this is going to be. And, of course, we have got remember this comes as he is preparing to sign an executive order on strengthening cyberdefense when it comes to those federal agencies, when it comes to the software that they're using as well, because this is not just a standout attack.

It is one that is now fitting into a pattern, unfortunately, that we have seen play out for over a year now.

CAMEROTA: And, Kaitlan I mean, it's just hard to know what's obviously going on behind the scenes in Russia, if this is some sort of Kremlin-sponsored attack.

I mean, I know it's a criminal ring in Russia. But do we think that they're operating outside of the Kremlin's knowledge? And can we assume that President Biden isn't waiting until next month, that he's already having conversations behind the scenes about this?

COLLINS: He's definitely having conversations behind the scenes about this.

I mean, this has really taken -- you have seen the efforts that the White House is going to show that they're on top of this and that they are responding to this. That's why they brought those two officials out to the briefing earlier, including the national security adviser, basically, on cyber, and the homeland security adviser, who were not scheduled to be out there.

But they had held all these meetings at the White House this -- over the weekend, these emergency meetings after they found out about this attack to talk about what's going forward, how are they working with Colonial Pipeline?

And I think that one big picture is not just, is this going to disrupt the supply chain, what do we do with Colonial Pipeline, but what does this look like in the evolving threat of these attacks on critical infrastructure and seeing how easy it is for a group like this, like this DarkSide group, and whether or not they have the permission of where they are based out of to conduct these attacks.

And so I think that is what they're looking in to. President Biden says he doesn't see evidence that Russia has done so, so far. But it does appear that they're still gathering all the intelligence here and figuring out what exactly happened and how this went down.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Rana, on the economy, the president said that people will come back to work if they can get a living wage.

And almost on cue, we heard from Chipotle today that they are going to increase their wages for their tens of thousands of employees across the country from $11 to $18 per hour, averaging to $15 per hour, which was a goal of this administration.


And we know the restaurant industry has said that, if you increase to $15 per hour minimum, that will lead to higher prices and job losses. But the reality of the industry now forces them to be more competitive to get these workers back.

FOROOHAR: Yes, it's a tricky balancing act for a low-margin industry like restaurants.

But I think, across the board, there is really a case to be made for wage hikes right now. You have to look at it in historical context. I mean, the labor share of the overall economy is really near post-World War II lows. So, we definitely have room to get wages up. And, ultimately, that creates more consumer demand.

I mean, we are a 70 percent consumer-demand economy. And if people don't have more money in their pockets, they can't spend. So I don't see $15 really as the big problem here. Again, I see technology as a bigger disrupter. You go into a restaurant these days, you're going to be ordering online.

There's a lot more coming down the pike in that way. I don't think $15 an hour is our biggest problem.

CAMEROTA: Rana, what about the president's rationale for the lousy jobs report last week? He was basically saying that's just a snapshot, folks, and that was taken -- that the date of that he was saying was taken somewhere around April 12, and that that was when COVID numbers were worse. Immunization numbers were worse. And so that's what he was chalking it up to.

FOROOHAR: Yes, absolutely.

And, Alisyn, you have heard me say this before. Three's a trend when it comes to data. You don't look at just one report. If you start to see three months where numbers are not great, then you get concerned. I'm not concerned yet. There's also just a lot going on in the economy right now.

We are in a generational period of transition. And I think it's going to take a while for the numbers to shake out.

BLACKWELL: What are we to glean from the necessity for this news conference, this address from the from the president, Kaitlan?

I mean, he spoke about this on Friday. They decided to come out again on Monday to talk about these numbers. And the comparisons they made stood out to me is that the president compared his first three months of job growth to those of Carter and Reagan. He's reaching back decades to make those comparisons.

COLLINS: And even took a shot at the Trump administration, saying that it wasn't -- because, remember, on Friday, he said the virus stole their jobs, the 22 million people who lost their jobs amid the pandemic. He said was the virus.

Today, he said it was not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the bungled response, as he put it, from the Trump administration that caused to have such a job loss, such an economic response as to what they are now dealing with, what we're seeing with these numbers.

And so I do think you're right to point out that they are having another set of remarks on this on Monday for him to address this. I think that's because there was a weekend of Republican criticism, saying it is these enhanced unemployment benefits that President Biden extended earlier this year that are contributing to this, why you are seeing more Americans stay home.

That is a criticism they have seen repeatedly. And so while President Biden said there they do not see evidence of that, he did also warn people that, if you are offered a suitable job, as he put it, and you don't take it, then you are going to lose your unemployment benefits.

So they do seem to be addressing that criticism there. But one new thing he said today was just how incrementally they are looking at this. He is talking about what the COVID-19 vaccination numbers were at the beginning of April, what they were just a few weeks later, saying that that is how they're hoping people are more optimistic about the job market as these vaccinations are going up.

Of course, we know now vaccinations are dropping on a daily basis, as people are less interested in getting vaccinated. So it really is anyone's guess what this is going to look like in the months to come.

CAMEROTA: Rana, last, one of the big -- biggest factors that President Biden seems to think is going on with the jobs numbers is childcare and that not enough parents, he said particularly women, are able to find childcare right now. And, therefore, they can't go back to work.

And he said that they are going -- they're basically proposing the biggest investment in this since World War II.

FOROOHAR: Yes, and I think it's a great idea.

I mean, a lot of policy-makers have been saying for many years that investing in childcare would both increase wages for women in that field, mostly women, particularly black and brown women. So that would be a part of the racial equality, racial justice, economic justice.

CAMEROTA: All right.

BLACKWELL: All right, looks like we just lost Rana Foroohar there, the realities of this time we're living in.

Our thanks to Kaitlan Collins and for Rana for being with us at the top of the show. We will, of course, continue the conversation about DarkSide and the economy throughout the next two hours.

We're also learning details about that Russia-based group that the FBI says was responsible, the attack on the largest gas pipeline in the U.S., as we have been discussing. Americans are starting to worry about gas prices hitting $3 or above in some places.


CAMEROTA: We also have some breaking news out of Israel, Hamas firing multiple rockets. We are live for you in Jerusalem.


CAMEROTA: President Biden moments ago explaining how the U.S. will fight ransomware attacks, after one of the nation's essential pipelines had to be shut down.

This weekend, the Colonial Pipeline took down its system as a precaution after that massive hack. The FBI confirming it was the work of a criminal group from Russia called DarkSide.

BLACKWELL: And DarkSide now demands a ransom from Colonial for the return of its data.

Now let's talk about Colonial. The pipeline carries 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast. A 5,500-mile span carries more than 100 million gallons per day of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from Texas to New York Harbor.


A top energy regulator says that the hack is a real wakeup call to all energy companies to beef up their cybersecurity. The White House is now working on an interagency response. They say that it's -- so far that there is no supply disruption. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH SHERWOOD-RANDALL, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Thus far, Colonial has told us that it has not suffered damage and can be brought back online relatively quickly, but that safety is a priority, given that it is never before taking the entire pipeline down.


BLACKWELL: CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell is with us.

Josh, you have learned some new details about DarkSide and why they did this, why they hacked. What did you learn?


According to this group -- this is a post on the Dark Web associated with this group -- they're saying that they didn't do this for political reasons, but they did it for financial reasons. There was this question about whether or not this was linked possibly to a nation state. The group -- and you can take it or leave it, what they're saying -- but they're saying that they were doing this simply for money.

Now, what was interesting is that we just heard from the president himself, as well as White House officials, in a briefing also indicating that there's not any indication right now of a connection to the Russian government.

However, that continues to be investigated. Now, to talk about the seriousness of this attack that went down on Friday and just a little before that, I want to show that map again of this pipeline. This spans from Texas all the way up to New York, this pipeline carrying nearly half of the fuel consumption used on the East Coast.

Now, we got a new statement from that pipeline company a short time ago saying that they are trying to incrementally bring these systems back online. But they took the pipeline down in its entirety, out of an abundance of caution, once they realized that they had been the victim of this ransomware, saying that they didn't want this cyber- intrusion to then infect some of the sensitive portions of their system.

Of course, this pipeline is more than just metal. This is carrying fuel, jet fuel, highly flammable, so you can imagine the kind of havoc that could be reaped by cyber-hackers if they were able to gain control of some of these switching systems.

Now, lastly, we know that the FBI is continuing to investigate, as well as other government agencies. There's been this question about what an entity does when they are victim of ransomware. This isn't the first time we have seen this. This certainly won't be the last.

The deputy national security adviser at the White House weighed in a short time ago on what companies should do. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNE NEUBERGER, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR CYBER AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGY: The FBI has provided advice in the past that paying a ransom would encourage further ransomware activity and is so troubling.

We recognize, though, that companies are often in a difficult position if their data is encrypted, and they do not have backups and cannot recover the data. And that is why, given the rise in ransomware and given, frankly, the troubling trend we see of often targeting companies who have insurance and maybe richer targets, that we need to look thoughtfully at this area, including with our international partners, to determine what we do, in addition to actively disrupting infrastructure and holding perpetrators accountable, to ensure that we're not encouraging the rise of ransomware.


CAMPBELL: So you can see the fine line there that the government is trying to walk.

On one hand, the FBI is saying that they don't recommend that companies pay this ransomware, saying that will only perpetuate this kind of activity. But then the White House there noting that some of these companies are often in a difficult position.

It will be interesting to see how forceful the administration is as it comes down to these critical infrastructure entities. The White House said that, because this is a private entity, obviously, there's not as much control that they would have over them if it was a government agency.

As that all gets sorted out, it's finally worth noting that the FBI, according to the White House, has sent out what they call a flash alert across the country, basically taking the ones and zeros, all the indicators of this attack, sending it out to the private sector, so they can scan their systems in order to ensure that they don't see the same indicators of this ransomware that impacted this pipeline -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Josh Campbell there for us.

Josh, thank you so much.

Let's bring it now Kiersten Todt Coon, managing director of the nonprofit Cyber Readiness Institute. She was also the director of President Obama's Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity.

Kiersten, thanks for being with us.

I want to start with the reporting from Josh Campbell there that this group says that this was financially motivated and apolitical. But if you're working with -- or investigating in a group that originated in Russia, do you start with the theory that there is some tacit endorsement? What's your take on their saying that this is not politically motivated and Russia's potential involvement here?

KIERSTEN TODT COON, CYBER READINESS INSTITUTE: So, quite frankly, in response to something like this, initially, it doesn't really matter kind of the background.

We have got to be dealing with how easy it was for this criminal actor to disrupt an entity, a company that delivers 45 percent of the fuel to the East Coast, and that it was so easy, and that they could say we just wanted to make some money off of this.


We should not be in a position where our critical infrastructure is so easily disrupted for something as straightforward as a ransom payment and to be conducted for something as straightforward as a ransomware attack.

BLACKWELL: There's obviously a vulnerability here, but do people in your field, does the government know how broad, how deep that vulnerability is?

TODT COON: The good news is, the Biden administration has been on this issue from day one. We saw the Department of Justice release an 81-page report, in collaboration with the private sector, a few weeks ago looking specifically at ransomware and how we should be forming an international coalition.

Secretary of Department -- of the Department of Homeland Security, Ali Mayorkas, last week talked about ransomware and identified ransomware as the first of his 60 days sprints, which are immediate priorities in cybersecurity. So this administration is very much aware of how challenging ransomware is.

We have got to be looking at how to prevent ransomware, and not be in the position that we are in right now, where a company did not do a great job of securing its data. And when it's a critical infrastructure owner and operator, I think one of the things we're going to see discussed is the role of government to work with industry to have baseline, minimum cybersecurity standards that owners and operators of critical infrastructure must have.

BLACKWELL: So those are the medium-term, long-term goals. In the short term, the administration said today that the company has not asked for cyber-support, but it is ready to respond.

Considering the implications -- we have listed how important colonial pipeline is to the East Coast and the supply of gasoline and diesel and the rest -- what should be happening right now? I mean, should they just be standing by? What would you like to see from Colonial?

TODT COON: Well, I think we take anything, when we see a cyberattack, and we try to glean what the lessons learned. And so I think we're already anticipating the lessons learned.

We shouldn't be in a position where we're waiting to find out what Colonial is doing. And I would certainly expect that Colonial is working closely with the government, both in its response. I think you just reported that we already have a sense of the type of attack, and that information is being shared across other private sectors, which is critical.

We have to know how they got into the network, so that we don't see this type of attack across other critical infrastructure. And we have got to be working alongside industry. We have established a long time ago that, when it comes to cybersecurity, government can't prevent cybersecurity attacks on their own. The private sector can't do it on its own. We have to work together.

And, certainly, this event is highlighting the need for that collaboration before something happens, so that we don't have to wait to get this information and to have the lack of transparency into what the private company is experiencing.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kiersten Todt, thank you so much.

TODT COON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, still ahead: Some Republicans are now talking about the divide in their party and defending embattled Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

Will it do anything to pull the GOP back from potentially this vote that's coming up this week to remove her from her leadership position?

Former Governor Christine Todd Whitman joins us next.



CAMEROTA: Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger defending his colleague Liz Cheney a short time ago and saying the GOP is -- quote -- "in a pretty bad place."


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): She's being run out for one thing, her consistency.

She said the same exact thing that Kevin McCarthy said on January 6, which is, Donald Trump is responsible. Cheney is making it uncomfortable for them. If you want to hide because you don't want to tick off the base and tell the truth about January 6, you don't want to have to admit that Joe Biden won an election, Cheney makes it uncomfortable for you.


CAMEROTA: It looks almost certain that Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney will lose her leadership spot this Wednesday for refusing to parrot Donald Trump's absurd lie that he won the 2020 election. The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, making it clear that Cheney does not have his support anymore to remain as GOP Conference chair.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We need a conference that's united. That's why we need a conference chair that is delivering that message day in and day out and uniting the nation to make sure that we are on the right footing going forward.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS: Do you support Elise Stefanik for that job?

MCCARTHY: Yes, I do.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now, former New Jersey Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman. She also headed up the EPA under President George W. Bush.

Great to see you, Governor.

FMR. GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R-NJ): Good to be with you again.

CAMEROTA: It was only months ago that Kevin McCarthy called Liz Cheney a fighter and a powerful voice for conservatives. And then it was only five months ago that Kevin McCarthy said Donald Trump bears responsibility for the January attack on Congress by that mob of rioters.

He said Trump should have immediately denounced what happened. And he called it anti-democratic. So, how did he change in the space of just a few months?

WHITMAN: You're really going to have to ask him, because I don't get it.

I mean, I do -- there's this fear of the base. There's now just a fealty within the Republican Party. It has nothing to do with policy, nothing to do with positions on issues, on major issues. It's all about how loyal you are to Donald Trump.