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Russian Troll Farms; Puerto Rico in Crisis. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 16:30   ET




And we are back with our national lead.

And this just in. Military officials tell CNN that the Pentagon is sending an additional 2,000 to 3,000 U.S. troops to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, this in the coming days.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, desperately needs the help. Local officials say they are short of every basic necessity, food, water, medical supplies. And the aid they have received so far is just not enough.

CNN has learned that dozens of people have been arrested for looting during this time of desperation.

CNN crews are spread across Puerto Rico documenting the damage and the suffering there.

Among them is CNN correspondent Rafael Romo. He's in San Juan, the capital.

Rafael, as if the situation is not already dire enough there, we are hearing reports of lawlessness, people, I imagine, desperate for the most basic necessities.


In addition to lack of water, food, and power, there is a new crisis looming here in Puerto Rico. And it has to do with looting, thefts and security.


ROMO (voice-over): It happened just hours after the hurricane hit San Juan. Scores of people rushed into this supermarket.


FERDYSAC MARQUEZ, SUPERMARKET OWNER: They pushed the door. Bring it up, all the way up.

And once they started doing that, they lifted it up to about here, then they start kicking the main doors, through the windows.

ROMO: Manager and owner Ferdysac Marquez says the mob then proceeded to loot the entire store. And it was not necessarily food items they were after.

(on camera): What did they take?

MARQUEZ: All the items. They took alcohol, cigarettes, meats.

ROMO: But if I'm hungry in the middle of a storm and I'm desperate, alcohol is not the first thing I'm going to take.

MARQUEZ: No, no, no, definitely not. I don't think they were hungry. Obviously, they weren't looking for something to provide for their families. They were probably doing so for personal benefits.

ROMO (voice-over): This is what the store looked like when Marquez showed up to assess the damage after the hurricane. The first thing he noticed was the vandalism to the front door and about six inches of floodwater throughout his store.

And then he noticed that most cashiers had been toppled and that the ATM machine had also been vandalized.

(on camera): Not only was this store looted and vandalized. The manager also says that they are going to have to dispose of all of this food. There is meat. This is ham back there. There's more food here.

It's been sitting there for a week, and since they haven't had any power, this food is no longer any good.

(voice-over): The back of the store was also vandalized.

MARQUEZ: One of the things that happened was that, obviously, as you can see, people were trying to go upstairs and get the forklift to get pallets of goods.

ROMO (on camera): How does that make you feel, not only as the manager of this store, but to see fellow Puerto Ricans in a moment of difficulty, when the island is being hit by a hurricane, that they're trying to take advantage of that situation to do this to you?

MARQUEZ: See, I realize that it's a small population of this. A lot of us in Puerto Rico, we are helping each other and we're giving our hand to each other.

ROMO (voice-over): For Marquez, the vandalism and looting at his supermarket, it's a multimillion-dollar loss. But he's not focused on that right now. He and his employees are cleaning up as fast as they can to restock the store. They know there is plenty of hungry people all around them.


ROMO: And the irony here, Jim, is that the store owner told me that when he discovered his store was looted, he was coming back to reopen because he knew the community would need food -- back to you.

SCIUTTO: They need food and a lot more.

Rafael Romo in San Juan, thanks very much.

So, as the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico is looking for that much needed aid, an obscure 100-year-old U.S. law is standing in the way. The Jones Act limits shipping into U.S. ports by foreign vessels. President Trump lifted the act during the response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to help get aid into Texas and Florida, but he has not done the same for Puerto Rico.

CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now.

Rene, Puerto Rico, it's a U.S. commonwealth. These are Americans. And we should remind our viewers that they are Americans as much as you and I are. What is holding the president back this time?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: He was asked that very question today. And what the president said today really is rubbing people the wrong way. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we are thinking about that. But we have a lot of shipments and a lot of people and a lot of people who work in shipping industry this don't want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.


MARSH: Well, it sounds like, in that sound bite there, he's putting the shipping industry's needs before Americans' needs in Puerto Rico.

We heard from Senator John McCain. He tweeted: "The people deserve better than policy decisions driven by special interests."

Now, both Puerto Rico lawmakers, as well as members of Congress, they have come out and they say, by lifting this act, Jim, it would allow supplies to get in a lot faster.

SCIUTTO: Well, it seems a relatively easy call. We will see what the president -- the president did, we should note, leave open the door to possibly lifting the ban, although he explained the thoughts as to what is holding him back there.

Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

It could be one of the biggest threats to the U.S. democracy, and it's happening right now, Russian Internet trolls using social media to stir the pot, even stepping into the NFL debate.

That's right after this.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

And we are back with our politics lead.

We learned new hard evidence today that Russian continues to meddle in U.S. politics, not just in the 2016 presidential election, but, as we speak, in political debates dominating the airwaves and your social media feed.

Here's Senator James Lankford during a hearing on threats to the homeland.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: We watched even this weekend the Russians and their troll farms and their Internet folks start hashtagging out take a knee and also hashtagging out boycott NFL.

They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America.


SCIUTTO: We should note that even President Trump retweeted a post with that #boycottNFL just over the weekend.

Senator Lankford warned that Russian bots and troll farms -- these are not science fiction characters -- these are very real -- are fueling divisiveness across the country and will do that and more again with upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.

Jessica, really a sobering statement at this hearing there, making it very clear that this kind of interference in the U.S. political process is continuing coming from Russia.


It was sobering. It was really eye-opening as well. Senator Lankford pointing out that the Russians aren't just working to influence U.S. elections, but also the everyday discourse of the American public.

Senator Lankford talked about how Russian trolls are flooding, still, social media with hashtags now related to the NFL national anthem debate, working to raise, as he puts it -- quote -- "the noise level." So, of course, a lot of people turn to social media to educate themselves on issues. But the Senator today warning, be aware out there what you see and read, since it may actually be the Russian propaganda machine at work on your computer.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question we all have to be smarter about this. The new FBI Director who Christopher Wray to replaced James Comey of course, he also testified today. Did he detail what's being done to prevent this kind attack particularly with the next election coming so soon?

SCHNEIDER: Right, he said it's a full-scale effort by the FBI. Of course, this is the first time that Christopher Wray testified before Congress as FBI Director. He does say that his agencies are closely monitoring Russian election meddling efforts, not just here in the U.S. but all over the world, and they're sharing information with other countries devoting vast resources to protecting the integrity of our future elections.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: We're spending enormous amount of time talking about this very subject. We are surging and more resources specifically focused on the upcoming elections. We are collecting more intelligence. We're also in the FBI looking at this as a multidisciplinary effort, not just across agencies but even within the FBI multidisciplinary. So our counterintelligence and cyber-people are working together on it.


SCHNEIDER: So FBI Director Wray not giving the numbers, saying, that the FBI is committing, as he put it, to surging more resources toward this effort.

SCIUTTO: I know that the DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke also talked to this -- about this, particularly as it relates to states because it's the states who run the election. And oftentimes they've been protective about the process turning down even federal help. Is she saying that that's changing at all?

SCHNEIDER: Well, she says that they are working with the state. So, of course, we've heard that officials have in fact said as many as 21 states were potentially targeted with election systems scanning attempts by Russian government-linked cyber actors in that past election cycle. So now Acting Secretary Duke, she says the DHS is ready to go on-site in any state that needs assistance safeguarding its voting systems. But you know, Jim, she did say of course, like you said that she's still sensing a bit of pushback from the states because they don't necessarily want the federal government involved in their local or state election process.

SCIUTTO: Even if they need it, right? Jessica Schneider, thanks very much. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman Kinzinger is also a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks very much for being here. You hear this, and this is a warning we hear often, not just from DHS, from the FBI, we hear it from the intelligence committee, the Senate in the Hill, Russia is still attacking, is still seeking to get into our political process. What's being done to stop this kind of influence and we are just about a year away from the midterm elections in 2018?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: More needs to be done. That's what needs to be done. I mean exposing this is the first thing. So as your reporter had mentioned, you know, being aware of and as Senator Lankford mentioned, being aware of using both sides of the NFL debate hashtags to try to create dissension knowing that if you log onto Facebook or social media account and you see an article that seems crazy, it probably is. It could be one of these real fake news things we see.

So I think understanding that they are doing this is one. Number two, obviously election security is essential. Making sure they are not hacking the voter rolls and finding out what's going on and ultimately God forbid ever hacking vote totals. There's been no acquisition of that yet. And then the other thing is I think we have to be on offense against the Russians as well. Whether that's in Eastern Europe, they're doing the same thing all through year up. We need to be involved with our global engagement center which we have funded in the House of Representatives to try to push back against this Russian influence because nothing Vladimir Putin fears more than losing his own election. And so, I think we need to talk about fighting fire with fire here to some extent as well.

SCIUTTO: Is it difficult for the U.S. to respond as aggressively as necessary when the President himself questions the intelligence which is found that Russia did interfere in the election process and continues to interfere in the political process?

KINZINGER: Well, it's obviously not helpful. And I think it's counter to the narrative we need. I think this would be very beneficial to the President to say, look, it's obvious when we saw with these Facebook ads, they were ads promoting Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, other people, and it was all about creating political debate, and dissension, and anger. And I think recognizing is not questioning the legitimacy of the President's election but it is saying they're going to try this in 2018.

And in 2020, I guarantee the Russians are going to try against President Trump because he's -- they're not going to like him. But they're doing this to tear apart a free and open society. They're exploiting the very advantage we have, which is something that -- by the way, Vladimir Putin doesn't give them which is the ability to express ourselves free and openly with whatever opinion. And so, they're going to exploit that and we have to be aware of it and you know, it obviously would be beneficial if the President was upfront with that.

[16:50:04] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, Russia did not interfere with voting systems in 2016, vote counts et cetera. But I've spoken to members of both Republicans and Democrat in-House and Senate Intelligence Committees who say that they would not put it past Russia to do that next time around in 2018, in 2020. Is that a concern of yours as well that Russia might the next time try to interfere with actual vote counting?

KINZINGER: Oh, 100 percent. You look at the breaches that happened, whether it's with a credit reporting agency or breaches that happened in medical records, anything like that, they can enter these systems. They could put something downrange into these voting machines that somehow is going to end up in the production process that would give them control over them. I'm not a tech expert but I know that's a huge concern. And the biggest thing -- again, the Russians, they don't necessarily care who wins. The biggest thing they want to do, the thing that underpins our hope in democracy and the institution, whether it's of Congress or the White House is the fact that we can vote and have our vote heard. If they can undermine that and make people think that their vote didn't count in a massive scale that they have affected outcomes, that will be the biggest threat to undermining democracy.

SCIUTTO: The situation on the Korean Peninsula is escalating. You have the leaders of America and North Korea trading threats, frankly, of war. You met with the South Korean Foreign Minister yesterday, I understand. Is the U.S. -- are the U.S. and North Korea close to or in danger of a military conflict?

KINZINGER: I think we are in danger of it. I don't think we are close. I think right now we're giving economic sanctions time to work. I think reducing the amount of oil obviously going in, bringing the Chinese online 85 percent of any trade goes over that Chinese border, they can shut it down. I think we are stepping up the pressure. We have to be clear though that there is a military option because also knowing that can make diplomacy against an adversary all the more stronger. So I don't think people need to sleep tonight but understand the North Korean are progressing very fast and they're marrying technology, nuclear technology to a threat to do it. Talking about sinking Japan, Guam and United States and then test which actually put them in that range a bit. So it's a very dangerous situation, but I think the National Security structure of the United States and South Korea are very apt to handle this.

SCIUTTO: Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much.

KINZINGER: Yes, you bet anytime.

SCIUTTO: The whistle blown on a college sports legend. University of Louisville's Rick Patino is out in the wake of a corruption scandal unearthed by the FBI.


[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back, in our "SPORTS LEAD" now. Just hours ago, the University of Louisville announced that Men's Basketball Coach Rick Patino is on unpaid administrative leave. His departure is in response to an FBI investigation tying his basketball program with fraud and corruption, (INAUDIBLE) recruiting. We should note that Patino was not named in the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Yesterday 10 men, including college assistant coaches, and an Adidas Executive were charged with bribing athletes with up to $100,000 in cash and sponsorships incentives to join their basketball programs. Joining me now is USA Today's Sports Columnist Christine Brennan and an old friend as well. Christine, Rick Patino was really a legend of the sport. He is as you were just saying already in the hall of fame. It's pretty remarkable for this scandal to bring someone of that stature down.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: It is. Although in many ways, Jim, this is a lifetime achievement award for Rick Patino. The scandals have been mounting. There was a prostitution and stripper scandal a few years ago. He weathered that.

SCIUTTO: For players.

BRENNAN: For players, exactly, at Louisville. People have kind of tearing their hair out thinking how does he survive? How does he keep surviving? Well, this one is not NCAA related. This is the FBI as you mentioned. This is the feds. This is an ongoing story and we may see even more names linked to this. But right now, Patino's name is the biggest by far. And he is by all intents and purposes he is gone. It is brought down on one of the biggest names in the history of men's basketball.

SCIUTTO: So this case gets at a practice that has been rumored about, talked about, for years. That programs funneling money, prostitutes, parties, cars, you name it, to recruiters to try to get them to join the program. And is this just the tip of the iceberg?

BRENNAN: I think it is. For those who know the sport well, those have been -- you first -- when the first thing you hear and I've known this in decades just covering sports is the shoe company is that it's always been involved with these young athletes, especially, of course, men's basketball and the AAU tournaments. And so, frankly, this is probably the worst kept secret in sports and -- but no one has been able to really nail it down until the FBI. And obviously, you know, interesting point, they put out a phone number for a tip line yesterday to have people call in. And I wonder how many people have called in because everyone in this business, in men's college basketball, they can point fingers at everyone else. So --

SCIUTTO: And probably a lot of folks have stories to tell. Just quickly, if it's just the tip of the iceberg, I mean, this could be devastating for the NCAA because presumably, you're going to find evidence on other premier coaches, players et cetera.

BRENNAN: Presumably, absolutely. So you've got the feds of course with the power of subpoena, the NCAA doesn't have that but we may see death penalties galore.

SCIUTTO: Death penalties meaning?

BRENNAN: Meaning that you lose to play the sport. And it happened with (INAUDIBLE) in football years ago. But the NCAA certainly can enter this picture. Right now the FBI seems to be doing a fine job of starting to police about this situation.

SCIUTTO: When FBI gets involved. Christine Brennan, thanks very much.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Be sure to tune in tonight special CNN "TOWN HALL," Patriotism, The Players, And The President. Anderson Cooper moderates that of course about the NFL. It all starts live 9:00 Eastern time right here on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @jimsciutto and I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer now where you expect to find him in "THE SITUATION ROOM."