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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg Speaking Out In A Rare Interview With Cnn And Firing Back On Reports That The Social Network Wasn't Transparent About Russian Election Meddling; Mississippi Senate Race And Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith's Continued Damage Control Over Recent Comments About Attending A Public Hanging. Aired: 11:30a-12p ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 11:30   ET


KIMBERLY DOZIER, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: And Mohammed Bin Salman has been the chief architect of the Yemen campaign.

PAMELA BROWN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: And let's not forget the big picture here, okay. There is also a war going on in Yemen that Saudi Arabia is involved in. General Marks, to you on that, the US potentially had an opportunity, there were parts of the Trump administration that were using the Khashoggi killing as leverage to get Saudi Arabia to pull out.

Now that the President has essentially exonerated Saudi Arabia, was this a missed opportunity? JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, MILITARY ANALYST, CNN: I think it is a missed opportunity. The key thing to keep in mind as both Max and Kimberly have pointed out is that you view the situation in the Mid East through a national security lens, but the national security lens is not exclusively a military lens and that is in fact an economic lens, a diplomatic lens.

It is in fact, there is a portion of it which is military. We have got to be able to balance this very delicate relationship that we have with the Saudis. We have to be able to pushback on Tehran. We have to have, in fact, our national security as we in fact as a military try to really reestablish ourselves, migrate away from this focus over the course of the last two decades on counter insurgency operations and really look at the possibility of a peer or near peer competition.

We have to be able to have access and in order to have access we have to be able to maintain relationships. We have to maintain a relationship with the Saudis, but at the same time, our nation is based on values. We view the world through that lens always, always. And it's important that the United States stand up and say, "Look, this type of behavior is unacceptable."

We should, in fact, say, "Look, Mohammed Bin Salman's stock is collapsing." We need to acknowledge that. We need to encourage his replacement to come in, potentially his uncle has returned and could be in fact, the next individual who is going to step up to replace the king.

In this mix, the United States needs to have a very strong and very consistent voice. The problem is our President has made this a transaction that's inappropriate and it's unfortunate because now the filter is an economic one exclusively.

And now, we are viewing this in a way that is not helpful towards the longer term requirements of the United States, let's be frank, our national interests, to have access to the region so that we can try to influence activities in that part of the world.

BROWN: In the meantime, Saudi Arabia still involved in the Civil War in Yemen. Save the Children announced today that 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation in Yemen. Thank you so much. We are unfortunately out of time, but so much more to discuss on this important topic. Thank you.

And coming up, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking out in a rare interview with CNN and firing back on reports that the social network wasn't transparent about Russian election meddling. The CNN exclusive up next.


BROWN: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defends his leadership and pushes back on the "New York Times" investigation that suggests Facebook attempted to cover up evidence of Russian election meddling on its platform. I want to bring in CNN senior technology correspondent Laurie Segall. So, Laurie, what else did he tell you in this exclusive interview?

LAURIE SEGALL, SENIOR TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Hey, Pamela, very interesting time for Facebook as we have seen what has happened over the last couple of years.

I spoke to him about the criticism and he responded pretty defiantly and he also responded to some specific allegations. Take a listen.


SEGALL: I want to start with some of the revelations that came from the "New York Times" piece.


SEGALL: Let's look at Russia. Did you and other leaders try to minimize Russia's role in spreading propaganda on the platform?

ZUCKERBERG: No. Look, here is what happened. In 2016, there is no doubt that we missed something really important. The Russian effort to try to have these coordinated information operations on Facebook and also the internet more broadly was not something that we were expecting. Elections are always a very high security event. We were expecting certain kinds of cyberattacks and we found them, right? The Russians were trying to hack into specific accounts. We told the people and we told the FBI and all of that, but we weren't on top of these coordinated information operations.

We spent a lot of the last couple of years now basically building up our systems and strengthening them to be able to address this. But we have been very focused on this and we've invested a lot in it. Anyone who wants to say that upon learning about this, we haven't been very focused on trying to both address it and also that we have - I think anyone who says that we haven't made a lot of progress, I just think that that is not right.

SEGALL: I think folks talk about transparency though, this idea that the former chief security officer wanted to publish a transparency paper and every mention of Russia was taken out. He was encouraged not to put Russia in that transparency paper. Do you regret not being more transparent at the time or not being more vocal about it at the time?

ZUCKERBERG: You know, I wish that we understood the issues sooner. I wish we understood it before 2016, before the Russians tried to do these information operations in the first place. I do think sometimes people say, "Well, how did you not know this?"


ZUCKERBERG: I think in some of these cases, it's a really big deal to come and say that a nation state is behind something and before our company puts a stamp on somebody saying that, I want to be really sure that that is the case.

SEGALL: Quite a few revelations in this piece, one references the decision to keep up the Trump post that many consider fell under the hate speech category. Part of this revelation said that one of the reason your team decided to keep it up was because they were worried about a conservative back lash. I know Facebook is under a lot of pressure from the Democrats and Republicans, the government in general, are leaders making content decisions based on appeasing political leaders?

ZUCKERBERG: No, in a lot of those cases --

SEGALL: But did they in that situation?

ZUCKERBERG: No, they didn't. And I was involved in those conversations. I think it's very important that people have the opportunity to hear from what political leaders are saying. So in those cases, I don't think that a lot of the content violated our policies. We also have a specific point in our policies where newsworthy content, we give a special deference to which certainly somebody who is a prominent politician going out and making a point fits into that. So I think we did the right thing there.

SEGALL: I was on the reporter call where you repeatedly denied that you knew about hiring this opposition group PR firm. I have spoken to so many people within Facebook and former employees who say this is Mark's company. Can you state it for the record, did you know anything about this?

ZUCKERBERG: Well, like I said on the call, I learned about this when I read the report as well. But I'm not so sure that is the most important point. I think your question is right that I do run the company. I am responsible for everything that happens here. I don't think that this point was about a specific PR firm. It was about how we acted.

That's why I think it is important not just what we are doing in relation to this one firm, but that we go through and look at all of the different PR firms and folks who we work with and make sure that we are operating in the way that we want to.

SEGALL: The PR firm was founded by a Republican political strategist and it launched a campaign linking Facebook critics to George Soros. This is a common tactic used by anti-Semitic and alt right groups. That's why I think people were so shocked when they found out about this. I think that was one of the parts of the report that a lot of folks had real questions about. Does that strike you as stooping low?

ZUCKERBERG: Yes, I wasn't particularly happy about that piece of it. That certainly is a big part of what I - when I read about this, what made me want to look into this more deeply. The intention here was never to attack an individual. But there are these lobbying groups and folks who are out there whose primary purpose is to attack the company. I do think it is fine to push back on them.

SEGALL: I mean, but in this particular scenario launching - it's not common for tech companies to necessarily hire these types of firms. Many would argue it is a way of spreading the same type conspiracy theories that Facebook has worked so hard in the last couple of years to get on top of.

ZUCKERBERG: Yes, look, from the review that I have done so far, it doesn't appear that anything that the group said was untrue as far as we can tell. But again, this really isn't about one PR firm. This is about the standard that we want to hold all of the different folks who we work with and we work with a lot of different PR firms and a lot of different contractors and vendors at the company.

And we need to make sure that we're comfortable and that all the folks that we work with uphold our values.

SEGALL: Do you approve of the way they went after George Soros? Do you approve of that methodology?

ZUCKERBERG: I don't think this is the type of thing that our company should be engaging with.

SEGALL: What would be your message to George Soros?

ZUCKERBERG: Well, I know that George Soros has been the target of a lot of really horrendous attacks and I think that that is terrible. And I certainly wouldn't want anyone who is associated with our company to be a part of that.


SEGALL: And Pamela, you know this "New York Times" article also painted Cheryl Sandberg, Mark's Number 2 in an unflattering light. So I asked him about Cheryl's role at the company, will it change? And he said it wouldn't change, that he hoped - she has been a partner for 10 years, he hopes she'll be a partner down the line. I think that's a relationship and that's a role to look out for and I

also asked Mark Zuckerburg because I think a lot of people worry that he has too much power. He is the CEO and the chairman of Facebook. If he would step down as chairman and he said, he wouldn't. He was very defiant on that. He said that wasn't the right thing for him. He doesn't plan on stepping down anytime soon.

BROWN: All right, very interesting interview there. Laurie Segall, thank you so much. And be sure to check out Laurie's new series "The Human Code" where he sits down with tech's most influential leaders, talking privacy, tech ethics and the future of innovation at


BROWN: And coming up, the Mississippi Senate race and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith's continued damage control over recent comments about attending a public hanging. Highlights from last night's debate with Democratic challenger, Mike Espy, up next.

Voters in Mississippi head back to the polls on Tuesday in a runoff between Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy. The race has gotten national attention thanks to Hyde- Smith's joke about a public hanging. Last night at a debate, Hyde- Smith tried to tamp down some of that criticism, but she also accused others of twisting her words.



CINDY HYDE-SMITH, US SENATOR, MISSISSIPPI, REPUBLICAN: For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain.


BROWN: Joining me now to discuss CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Kevin Madden and CNN political commentator and Hillary Clinton's former presidential campaign manager, Patti Solis- Doyle. Thank you both for coming on.

Kevin, I want to start with you. What do you make of Hyde-Smith's apology? Was it an apology?

KEVIN MADDEN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, it was an apology, but the problem with apologies, especially when you have to do them in a debate is that it puts you on the defensive. And when you're in a debate, you're in the closing days of a campaign like this, you never want to be on the defensive. You want to be talking not about your mistakes or comments that you think are being twisted by your opponent, but instead you want to be talking about your record, you want to be talking about the future. Not, it will be up to the voters in Mississippi on whether or not they

believe it was heartfelt. But clearly just from a tactical standpoint in this campaign, the Mississippi Republicans and the Hyde-Smith campaign are definitely on the defense right now.

BROWN: So on that note, Patti, Hyde-Smith's Democratic opponent Mike Espy, who would be the first African-American senator for Mississippi since reconstruction chose not to hammer her on those comments. He said after the debate that he tried not to be too hard on her. What's your advice to Espy on how to respond to something like this?

PATTI SOLIS-DOYLE, HILLARY CLINTON'S FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Look, I think Hyde-Smith really has taken a hit over these really awful comments and as for her apology, it wasn't really - I agree with Kevin, it wasn't really very sincere. She had to read it from notes. When you have to read an apology from notes, especially in a debate, it looks like it wasn't heartfelt or sincere, but more like your political advisers wrote it for you and she didn't want to get it wrong, to make sure not to offend her base and not offend anybody else that she's already offended.

In terms of Mick Espy, look, this race is going to depend on how most of the 2018 midterm races depended on, and that is turnout, and the fact that this election is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is going to be very, very difficult. So he really, I think needs to focus on getting his vote out and getting his GOTB plan out. Most voters right now are mid-termed out. They're focused on getting through Thanksgiving and then getting through the holidays and spending time with family. So this is going to be tough.

BROWN: Before we wrap, I want to get to this other story out of Mississippi today, this Federal judge blocking a law that prohibited most abortions after 15 weeks. The Supreme Court has struck down similar law to ban abortions before 15 weeks of pregnancy, but do you think, Patti that this will discourage any other states from passing similar abortion restrictions, particularly with the new makeup of the Supreme Court?

SOLIS-DOYLE: I think Democrats picked up a lot of governor seats. I think it was six last count, and that's really important especially when it comes to policies like Roe v. Wade and decisions like Roe v. Wade when we have a Supreme Court that is now really tipped to a conservative tilt. So I think I'm just very happy that we've got some Democratic governors now who will make this an issue.

BROWN: All right, Kevin, quickly, in his ruling Judge Reeves made this observation. He said, "The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the court." What is your response to that?

MADDEN: Yes, I think there's a lot of advocates on that side of the issue that believe that as well. But as far as the question that you posed Patti earlier on whether or not this will discourage people from getting involved in this issue or from taking fights to the court, quite the contrary. This is an issue that both sides feel so strongly about. If anything,

I think it will even embolden more activists to get involved and, of course, always make central to their case the importance of the courts and nominating judges that strictly interpret the Constitution when it comes to that part of the political debate.

BROWN: All right, thank you so much, Kevin and Patti. We should note, a lot going on in Mississippi. President Trump going there, two rallies planned before the election there. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

Really quick, before we wrap, what is your reaction to that? What kind of sway could he have, Kevin?

MADDEN: I'm sorry, what was -- on who?

BROWN: President Trump is going to Mississippi, of course after his holiday in Florida.

MADDEN: It goes right back to what Patti said. This is going to be one of those races, particularly in a special election where getting out to vote is important.


MADDEN: Nobody rallies the Republican base like President Trump. So he'll have a huge impact on making people aware of the actual election on the 27th and getting them to the polls.

BROWN: Okay, thank you. Sorry, Patti. We have to wrap, but I appreciate you both coming on and sharing your insights. And still ahead, more on that bombshell story that President Trump wanted to use the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey.