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Kelly: "Lack of Compromise" Lead to U.S. Civil War; Facebook: Nearly 126 Million Exposed to Russia-Linked Fake News; FBI Opens Inquiry into White Fish Contract in Puerto Rico. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:31:26] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: White House chief of staff, John Kelly, is not one to seek the spotlight but that is where he is today after offering his thoughts on the Civil War and how it could have been avoided. Kelly was speaking to FOX News after being asked about a Virginia church's decision to relocate plaques honoring Robert E. Lee and George Washington. Here's what he said.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, CHIEF OF STAFF: I would tell you Robert E. Lee is an honorable man, he is a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which in -- 150 years ago, was more important than country. It was always loyalty it the state first back in the days. Now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. Men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.


BOLDUAN: All right. Joining me right now, political reporter -- senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, and CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, what is John Kelly doing here? Why is he taking questions about this? I mean, we've seen him in the briefing room. If he doesn't want to take a question, he won't take it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. It's perplexing why he would want to delve into Civil War history and to do so incorrectly. I think that question is from what compromise is he talking about between slavery and freedom? It's unclear to me what the compromise is there. But I do think that this also just raises the larger issue, Kate, which is that John Kelly is very at home in the Trump White House and I think we're seeing that more and more over the last couple weeks. As he delves into more controversial issues, he seems almost sort of Trump-ian in his responses.

BOLDUAN: And I actually do want to get to that in a second.

But, Nia, on this point, as David is saying, we are all aware there were attempts at compromise before the outbreak of the Civil War. But sitting here in 2017, is it clear what compromise John Kelly thinks the North should have accepted. I can't believe I have to ask that question. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm not surprised to hear John Kelly say this. I grew up in the South. So this is kind of a talking point you often hear from people of a certain able, people of a certain race --


BOLDUAN: That is never good when you start an answer with people of a certain age, Nia-Malika Henderson.

HENDERSON: I mean, even if you go back and look at the Civil War documentary, which I encourage John Kelly to look at, Shelby Foot, a historian who wrote multiple volumes on the Civil War, said almost those exact words, that it with was a lack of an ability to compromise. But sort of the fuller context, of course, is compromise over slavery and how do you compromise over slavery, as David -- as David said. And I mean if you look at what Lincoln was trying to do, he was, in fact, trying to compromise over slavery and the South didn't want to compromise over slavery because it was so key to their identity, so key to the economy, so key to the identity of white southern Christians. So that is what's going on here.

You know, I do think it reflects that South, obviously, lost the war, but they sort of in some ways won the narrative battle and kind of memory of the Civil War, and that's what he is speaking to. This idea that Robert E. Lee, who thought that black people were -- did some -- basically benefited from slavery. That was Robert E. Lee's philosophy, that slavery was good for black people because they needed to be civilized. He thought slavery was bad for white people because they were the ones that had to enslave black people to do them some good.

I mean the thing about -- I think that is troubling about Kelly is that he does tend to look at the past through these rose-colored glasses. He talked about women being honored in the past and seen in a respectful way. I mean if you think that women being treated as second-class citizens is honoring them, that was what the past was.

He also seems to be impervious to new information, right. If you look at the Frederica Wilson controversy, he had the story completely wrong. The truth of what she said came out, and he still refused to apologize, refused to change his approach to that story.

So, you know, you would hope that John Kelly will read about the Civil War. I mean it's probably the most covered war and period of history in American history. I mean multiple volumes, hundreds of thousands of books written on that period. You would hope he would read a little more and kind of broaden his idea of what that war was actually about.


[11:36:07:] CHALIAN: And less about the history, right, that it is about the modern political context for the White House chief of staff -- HENDERSON: Right.

CHALIAN: -- to be giving an answer like that in 2017. Yes, everyone should know their history and they should read up on it, but he's the sitting White House chief of staff answering a question like that in 2017.

BOLDUAN: About what a church's decision is to do with plaques that they have. But it gets -- David to your point, so much discussion of how John Kelly wasn't happy about how the president handled the response to the violent racist protests in Charlottesville. Do these comments, I don't know, shed new light or change the perspective on how the president responded then.

CHALIAN: It certainly, I don't know if it sheds new lights on the president's comments, but it brings them back into the spotlight. And you'd think that, you know, John Kelly and Donald Trump sound a lot more alike when they're grappling publicly with these issues of race than they sound different from one another, right.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Kind of seems -- kind of seems that way.

I mean, Nia, I don't think there's going to be I guess we can't say there's going to be a correction coming from the White House on this one especially in light of what John Kelly said about not wanting to apologize to Frederica Wilson either.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. That's another way in which he is like Trump, right. It's sort of never backing down and never apologizing even when you're wrong, even when you're inaccurate and have part of the story. So I think again --


HENDERSON: -- he is like Trump in that way with the Civil War and Frederica Wilson. You know, I mean this whole idea of make America great again. I think John Kelly believes in that idea, too. There's a nostalgia for the past he shares with Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: We've seen if you do apologize then you get in trouble with the boss. That's kind of what we've seen at least in this White House.

Nia and David, thank you. We appreciate it.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Kate.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, executives from Facebook and Twitter set to be grilled on Capitol Hill on how deep Russia's reach was during the 2016 election. This, as the social media giants are revealing startling new numbers of how many Americans were exposed to Russian generated fake news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:42:40] BOLDUAN: One hundred and twenty-six million, more than half the voting population in 2016, is how many people Facebook says might have been exposed to content from a Russian government-linked troll farm. We are talking about posts that are meant to stir up division leading up to the 2016 election. And Facebook isn't alone. Today, representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter, will all be before the Senate Judiciary Committee and you can expect a grilling on just how Russia used their platforms to get in the way of our politics.

CNN's Drew Griffin is in Washington with more on this.

Drew, the number says it all, 126 million, just Facebook. What is Facebook saying about this?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It is astounding. But let me walk you through it to tell you how they got to that figure. Kate, we know that 470 or so fake accounts were found at the Internet research agency in St. Petersburg, Russia. Let's call them the Kremlin-connected P.R. firm working in Russia trying to send Americans fake news or news that messes up the election. Twenty-nine million Americans got direct messages on their Facebook feed from those accounts. And what Facebook is saying is then the 29 million Americans reposted it and shared it with their friends so many times that over the course of two years, 126 million Americans would have been reached. As big as that number sounds, the general counsel for Facebook today will try to tell Senators that wasn't that big of a reach over the course of two years. He's liking it to having to watch 600 or so hours of TV just to see one commercial. I'm not sure the Senators are going to buy that.

And as for the second question you, ask about collusion, I think that is the much bigger question. I'm not sure if the Senators are going to drill down on collusion. But I can tell you, the experts we've been talking to, Kate, believe that Facebook, Twitter, and Google know the answer to this. Were those messages coming out of Russia, simultaneously coming out of the Trump campaign, was there coordination with incidental timing of these messages? Facebook apparently has the data and I'm not sure if they will be asked about it. I wish I could subpoena those people to come over here at CNN, but we will have to wait and see what Senators have to say.

BOLDUAN: First you have to get elected and then get on a committee and then you, too, can ask the questions.

Great to see you, Drew. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now is CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." And joining us also is former special counsel at the Defense Department and co-editor-in-chief of "Just Security," Ryan Goodman.

Good to see you. Thanks for being here.

Brian, the number is huge, and just Facebook. What do you think it means? [11:45:24] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST,

RELIABLE SOURCES: Everyone has the experience of scrolling through the news feed, scrolling by items not paying attention.


STELTER: So most people may not have paid attention to this Russian propaganda. It didn't take most people. It only took a couple million or a couple hundred thousand given how close the election was in key states.


STELTER: We talked a lot in the last 12 months about fake news, not President Trump's definition, but fake stories that are made up to design and deceive you. A lot is done for financial gain. But some is done by these foreign governments trying to affect elections. And the question for the Facebook and Twitter and Google today and tomorrow is, what are you doing now to make sure this never happens again? Because I don't see enough action being taken to stop it in the future.

BOLDUAN: On "Today," Ryan, it made me remember an interview that was done with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook recently, and a lot of criticism leading up to these big names that haven't been forthcoming about what they know. But Facebook knows more, as Drew is getting to, more than what they've been saying.

Listen to how Sheryl Sandberg answered the questions a little while ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you all learned about the overlap and targeting between the Trump campaign and the Russian accounts?

SHERYL SANDBERG, COO, FACEBOOK: Targeting on Facebook is broad. It's used by everyone. Targeting is used by everyone. We allow targeting to different groups. We've had problems --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you learned about the overlap and targeting between the Trump campaign and these Russian accounts?

SANDBERG: Targeting was broad. It's used by everyone. Targeting is worth talking about because we allow targeting to different groups, different ethnic groups, different races, different religions. We have some problems with -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and these Russian accounts?

SANDBERG: Targeting is something everyone uses. And it really goes to the heart of what targeting is. So the hard conversation is, why do we allow targeting to groups? There are times you shouldn't, and we take this really seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Trump campaign and the Russian accounts, you don't know, or you won't tell me?

SANDBERG: When the ads get released, we will also be releasing the targeting for those ads. And so again, we're going to be fully transparent.


BOLDUAN: And wasn't fully transparent, obviously, in that answer. Is the -- is Facebook going to have to have a better answer today?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY & FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: Yes, they know. It's just that she wouldn't tell. He asked her three times.

The best most charitable read is that they're giving that information behind the scenes to the congressional investigators. And to Mueller. But today they're going to have at least to address that question squarely under a lot of pressure.

BOLDUAN: Do you think we will see the ads ourselves, the public.

GOODMAN: That's a huge question. I think we should.


BOLDUAN: Why not?

STELTER: I think we will tomorrow. There's a lot we don't know, but I have a feeling we're going to see some of the congressmen go ahead and make these available. These are ads, you know, that were bought by these Russian troll farms with divisive messages.


BOLDUAN: I don't understand the argument why not, especially if it's labeled these are the bad acts.

GOODMAN: The public has a right to know. If you go into a medical facility, you are exposed to communicable disease, the facility has to notify you that happened. If you have a data breach and your private information was compromised they have to notify you. Why wouldn't they have to notify the public in this instance. What Facebook says on their site, they will share it with Congress and share it with Mueller but won't share it with the American public. They cite a 1986 law, but that law really is about truly private communications. It would not be a private communication especially when talking about something like an ad.

BOLDUAN: And this all gets to a key question, which lawmakers would say we're no closer to. Are they any closer to protecting and making sure this doesn't happen in 2018, one year from now, than they were clearly not prepared to deal with this in 2016.


STELTER: They would say yes. I think we should be skeptical because I don't see that proof yet.

[11:49:03] BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

You can add -- you can add the FBI now to the growing list of investigations aimed at White Fish, the very small power company that landed a huge government contract to try to help restore power in Puerto Rico. The new questions are piling up. That's coming up.


BOLDUAN: Seventy percent of Puerto Rico is still in the dark. That's almost six weeks after Hurricane Maria hit. Now the FBI is getting involved, launching an investigation into the $300 million contract landed by a small firm, White Fish Energy, to get the power back on across the island. That is very likely a topic on Capitol Hill a Senate committee holds hearing hold hearings on the federal government's hurricane response.

Let's go to CNN's Rene Marsh, joining me from Washington. She's been keeping tabs on all of this.

What do we know about the FBI investigation, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVENRMENT REGULATIONS CORRESPONDENT: We know that the FBI opened this preliminary investigation. And I will want to bring your attention to the fact that on Capitol Hill right now, the head of FEMA is fielding questions. And literally a second ago, before coming on air with you, he was asked about this whole White Fish contract. I want to give you just a little sliver of what the head of FEMA, Brock Long, just told lawmakers. He said that FEMA had nothing to do with the contract. There was no lawyer inside of FEMA who would have ever agreed to the language of the contract. He said FEMA raised the red flag and there were many things wrong. He goes on to tell lawmakers there was also language in the contract that said the federal government would never audit White Fish. He said there is not a lawyer inside FEMA who would have ever agreed to that. That is just seconds ago, coming from the hearing.

[11:55:16] BOLDUAN: Wow.

MARSH: Right. Exactly. On Capitol Hill. Pretty strong words, the strongest we have heard yet from FEMA.

But as you mentioned off the top, in the background of all of this, we've learned the FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into this contract -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: FEMA didn't sign off on it and now the dominos are falling, who exactly did, as the FBI investigates.

Rene, thank you so much. Great to see you. Still ahead, distracted, seething. White officials are not painting a

rosy picture of how President Trump is handling the latest bombshells in the Russia investigation. This, as we just heard from one member of the House Intelligence Committee saying this is just the end of the beginning.