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FBI Director, Deputy AG Hold Press Conference; Senate Passes Stop-Gap Funding Bill to Try to Avoid Shutdown; House GOP Weekly News Conference Delayed. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 20, 2018 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Breaking news. Announcement now live from the deputy attorney general. Let's have a listen.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- Attorney General John Demers, and Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

Today, the Department of Justice is announcing a criminal indictment of two computer hackers associated with the Chinese government. The charges include conspiracy to commit computer intrusions against dozens of companies in the United States and around the world.

[10:35:01] As with all American criminal charges, individual defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

This case is significant because the defendants are accused of targeting and compromising Managed Service Providers, or MSPs. MSPs are firms that other companies trust to store, process, and protect commercial data, including intellectual property and other confidential business information. When hackers gain access to MSPs, they can steal sensitive business information that gives competitors an unfair advantage.

The indictment alleges that defendants worked for a group known to cyber security experts as APT-10. These groups are designated as APTs, or Advanced Persistent Threats, because they use malware to gain access to computer networks and to exhilarate or steal data over an extended period of time.

These defendants allegedly compromised MSP clients in at least a dozen countries, the United States and 11 other countries. The victims included companies in banking and finance, telecommunications and consumer electronics, medical equipment, packaging, manufacturing, consulting, healthcare, biotechnology, automotive --

SCIUTTO: We will continue to monitor this. You heard the deputy attorney general there, backed by the FBI director Christopher Wray, announcing charges against two Chinese hackers for computer intrusions, they call them, against dozens of companies in the U.S. and around the world, a continuing problem. You hear new developments in this vein frequently.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. He's the assistant Democratic leader. Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well thank you very much for having me.

SCIUTTO: First, if I could begin on this continuing resolution. Of course, passed the Senate, will you support it when it comes to the House?

CLYBURN: Yes, I will. I think that this is what we should do. This takes us into February. February 8th, I believe. At which time the now leader, then Speaker of the House Pelosi will be able to sit down during the month of January and hopefully work out something that is amenable to both the White House and the majority of the people here in the Congress.

SCIUTTO: Now, this CR, as you know, and been approved by Republicans as well in the Senate so far, does not include money for Trump's long- promised border wall. In your view, did Nancy Pelosi get the best of Donald Trump?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't think so. She did what was best for the American people. The fact of the matter is we here on the Democratic side are really trying to help the president in this instance. We're trying to help him keep the promise he made to the American people. He promised to build a wall. But he also promised that it would be paid for by Mexico. So we're trying to help him keep that promise. He never said he would ask the American people to pay for it. He always said that it would be paid for by Mexico. And that's what we're trying to help him do, keep that promise that he made to the American people on the building of this wall.

SCIUTTO: The president, of course, is aware now, because Mexico has said repeatedly it will not pay for the wall, and doesn't -- he knows now he's not going to get the money from Congress. Sarah Sanders in the White House podium has suggested a number of times that the president will find the money elsewhere. Is that legal? Is that constitutional in your view? Congress, by law, by the Constitution, has to approve funding, does it not?

CLYBURN: Yes, we do. Maybe he'll find money somewhere to transfer. Maybe he'll take it out of the budget that we appropriated for him to run the White House and his other activities every year. I think there is some discretionary money available to him that he might be able to use, but I don't see the House of Representatives appropriating any money to build a wall.

We will appropriate sufficient money to secure the border. We want to secure the border. We have always been for securing the border. Building a wall is just a way for this president to reward his supporters with big contracts for brick and mortar. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for security, and we're going to appropriate moneys to secure the border.

SCIUTTO: But why wouldn't a wall help improve security at the border?

CLYBURN: Well, because we think if the wall is 10 feet high, they'll get a 12-foot ladder. That's just the simple arithmetic to us. We don't think you secure the border by building a wall. We just think that we have enough advanced technology to secure the border just like we go about securing our homes and our businesses here in the country. We can secure the border in the same way.

[10:40:11] SCIUTTO: On to the president's surprise decision on Syria. In a single day, the president handed Russia two substantive victories. Leaving Syria in Russia's interests and the Russian president welcomed that decision this morning. But also yesterday, the president lifted sanctions on two major Russian companies including the second largest aluminum maker of the world, and a friend of Putin, Oleg Deripaska, with an interest in that. It appears that the president might be throwing a bone to Vladimir Putin. I wonder if you find that concerning?

CLYBURN: Yes. It's very concerning to me. And I wish he were only throwing a bone. I think he has given a real Christmas feast to Putin. I think that those of you who may or your viewers who may have even thought that there was nothing to this investigation by Mueller are finding out each day that there's a lot of substance here that we need to get to the bottom of. There is a reason that this president is doing so much to insult our allies and to make Putin happy. I think it is because he is in hoc to Putin and to Russia, and I hope that the Mueller investigation will soon get to the bottom of it and that this Congress will perform its oversight duties and really help make things right in this country, to preserve this Democracy and stand up this great Republic.

SCIUTTO: Congressman James Clyburn, thanks very much for your time, and also wish you the best of holidays to you and your family.

CLYBURN: The same to you and your family as well. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Investigators in California say that a local utility company has already been linked now to several wildfires in that state. Investigators are taking an even closer look at the company as they search for what caused what was the deadliest fire in the state's history.


[10:46:44] SCIUTTO: Well, Ryan's House Republican news conference has just been delayed. Manu Raju is on the Hill. Manu, do we know why?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSOPNAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a lot of questions about whether or not President Trump is going to sign the stop-gap measure to keep the government open until February 8th. We expected Paul Ryan to come out at the top of the 10:00 hour as they wrap up the congressional session. We expected a vote to happen very soon to keep the government open after the Senate passed it last night. But the president has faced mounting pressure from his right flank and he tweeted this morning criticizing Democrats and also criticizing the fact that there's no wall money in there. And in this closed-door meeting, I'm told, Paul Ryan stepped aside to take a phone call from President Trump, closed-door meeting with House Republicans. House Republicans emerged with mixed messages, some saying he would definitely sign it. Others saying there was no guarantee. So a lot of uncertainty about what will happen at this late hour as the president may be having second thoughts about whether to keep open a significant chunk of the government.

SCIUTTO: We know you'll be on top of it. The other news, the House Intelligence Committee has voted to make public Roger Stone's transcript of testimony on the Hill.

RAJU: Well it's not to make public, Jim. It's actually to send that transcript to Robert Mueller. At Robert Mueller's request, he had asked the House Intelligence Committee to provide his testimony in a classified setting from 2017, and by unanimous vote, the committee did agree to send that to Robert Mueller.

Why this is significant is that a number of Democrats on the committee believe Stone lied to the committee about his contacts with "WikiLeaks." And of course, Stone himself has been under enormous scrutiny by the Mueller investigation itself. So just moments ago, the House Intelligence Committee voting to release that, send that transcript to Robert Mueller's team. So we'll see how they pursue their investigation as Stone gets under increased scrutiny by the special counsel.

SCIUTTO: Lying on the Hill is illegal. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to that. Manu Raju on the Hill. Thanks very much.

Coming up, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham set to speak live with CNN, this after his blistering criticism of the president's decision to immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Please stay with us.


[10:54:22] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. This breaking, just seconds ago, moments ago, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asked about the acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Have a listen.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what since Mr. Whitaker has come in? What your role has been in overseeing the Mueller investigation?

ROSENSTEIN: We'll have more for you on that later today. In terms of my role, as we have described previously, we have continued to manage the investigation as we have in the past. And it's being handled appropriately. Bob Mueller or Rod Rosenstein or Matt Whitaker or Bill Barr that investigation is going to be handled appropriately by the Department of Justice.

[10:55:00] QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Attorney General, since we have the benefit of you here today, would you mind weighing in on the memo that was revealed last night from the president's pick to lead the department, Bill Barr, that weighed in on the Mueller investigation, calling the obstruction inquiry fatally misconceived and also given the Barr nomination, should we expect that the ultimate report on the Mueller investigation would be deferred until he's confirmed?

ROSENSTEIN: Bill Barr was an excellent attorney general during the approximately 14 months that he served in 1991 to 1993. Bill Barr will be an outstanding attorney general when he's confirmed next year. The memo that you may reference to reflects Mr. Barr's personal opinion. He shared his personal opinion with the department. Lots of people offer opinions to the Department of Justice, but they don't influence our own decision making.

We have very experienced lawyers. And obviously, our decisions are informed by our knowledge of the actual facts of the case, which Mr. Barr didn't have. I didn't share any confidential information with Mr. Barr. He never requested that we provide any non-public information to him, and that memo had no impact on our investigation.

QUESTION: Two very quick questions. Number one, can you give us a sense of the number of groups like this operating in China that are attempting to steal information? My second question is on the rule of law. The president of the United States tweeted a photograph with you behind bars, talked about a cooperating witness as being a rat. Can you assure the American public that this department will make sure it operates directly on the rule of law?

ROSENSTEIN: The second question first. This department operates under the rule of law and as we make our decisions based on the facts and circumstances of each individual case and without regard to partisan political considerations. On the first question, I think it's important for people to understand this group is referred to as APT- 10, Advanced Persistent Threat 10. It's not the only one. And I think Director Wray can talk to you a bit about what the FBI does not only to prosecute perpetrators but to work with American businesses to try to deter and prevent these sorts of attacks.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The one thing I would add to what the deputy attorney general just said is that in addition to these APT-10 groups, APT 1 through 9 or the APTs of the future, we have lots and lots and lots of criminal hackers working in varying ways in coordination with and on behalf of nation states. It's what we call a blended threat. Think of it as just outsourcing your criminal or espionage activity to mercenaries.

China is not the only country, that we have seen do it, but people in this country and around the world need to understand that China is the most active and aggressive in this space. And so it's not just Chinese officials with epaulets on their uniforms. These are state-owned enterprises, ostensibly private companies. Hackers of all shapes and sizes, researchers, businessmen, people working for a variety of reasons, some witting, some unwitting, on behalf of the Chinese government. And it's a very serious threat that this country needs to take very seriously.

QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Attorney General, what do you say to critics who argue the Justice Department is being used for political purposes at a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and China especially when you have a president --

SCIUTTO: You have been watching the deputy attorney general there updating on a number of investigations, including seeming to telegraph an announcement on his role overseeing the Russia probe sometime later today. But we have new news into CNN. It's been that kind of day. This coming from our White House team, a senior White House official tells CNN that it's possible that President Trump will decide not to back down on the wall fight as a result of growing pressure from the freedom caucus and conservatives.

We're joined by our David Gergen here. So it appears, we were talking about this a few moments ago, that the president is hearing it from the right and might decide to shut the government down.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to believe. Just two days ago, he decided he did not want to shut the government down. He would accept gracefully no wall. And now, this sort of pushing the other way -- you know what this invites? It invites people to press him, keep pressing, maybe you'll get it. It's very uncertain policy.

SCIUTTO: Well, what's interesting here, he could lose on both - I mean, he could both shut the government down and still not get the money for his wall, right?

GERGEN: I totally agree. I think it's ultimately where it's probably going to come out. Conservative force his hand and he decides to do this, we were asking this question earlier, how does he then decide to call off the shutdown? What is he going to have to show for it? The Democrats are not going to give him the wall. That's just not there.

SCIUTTO: Dynamic will change as of January when the Democrats control one chamber.

GERGEN: Yes, and you wonder, too, whether to not have - you've got a lame duck chief of staff now. You wonder who is helping to guide this process.

SCIUTTO: Well, possible no one.

GERGEN: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, thanks very much. Thanks so much for joining me today. We had a lot of news this hour, but a lot more to cover. I'm Jim Sciutto.