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FBI Director Compares Ransomware Threat To 9/11; Facebook Extends Trump's Ban Until 2023 Citing "Risk To Public"; Sources: U.S. Government Report Does Not Rule Out Alien Spacecraft. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 04, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, thanks for watching. Have a great weekend.

Let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, Coop, enjoy the weekend, make some good memories.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

So, here is the reality. The FBI Director is sounding the alarm that we are being attacked like 9/11. Why won't lawmakers protect us? Why won't they protect themselves from cyber-attacks? They're disrupting our way of life. They are increasing by the day.

Did you hear that the Sergeant at Arms, of the Senate, said that cyber-attacks are her biggest security concern that she is more worried about what happens every day there than about another mob coming?

Ransomware attacks are the key concern. Hackers hold companies' critical infrastructure hostage, demand ransom. They target everything, from our hospitals, to transportation, to the gas in your car, the food you feed your family. And these people pay! And we don't even know!

The U.S. government says it won't negotiate with terrorists, but they're OK with all this, critical infrastructure paying hackers, ransom, hundreds of millions of dollars?

And guess what they pay it in? Cryptocurrency. Why? Because you can't track it. Why Is that allowed? Why hasn't the government moved on crypto as a cheat from tracking? One thing is for sure. They cannot claim ignorance.

The DOJ, the Department of Justice, had declared 2020 the worst year ever for extortion-related cyber-attacks. Guess what? We're in the first half of this year, right? We've already seen a 102 percent increase, a 102 percent, in Ransomware strikes, just compared obviously year-over-year. The Head of the FBI equates the challenge of this threat we face to 9/11. Do you understand? That's not something that Christopher Wray is going to just throw around lightly. He knows how disrespectful it is, to even bring it up. If he's going to compare something to it, he better mean it. And he does.

Listen to his quote. "There are a lot of parallels, a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention. There's a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American."

Wray did not come up with this. He is building on what other Intel leaders have been warning, for years. They've even warned Members of Congress straight to their faces.

Look what we put together.


MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: It would be difficult to overstate the breadth and scale of malicious cyber activity.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They come from everywhere. It's sort of a stack - I call it a - sort of an evil layer cake.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.


CUOMO: All the same message. Nobody acts. Congress has failed to go after the perpetrators, many of whom have been traced back to Russia.

So, either it's a troll farm that is related somehow to Russian Intelligence, or they are Russian actors that Russia is aware of, even if they're not in control of them, but they're allowing them to operate, OK?

Now, when lawmakers did have a chance, to pass real cybersecurity legislation, back in 2012, guess who made it die?

Mitch McConnell led a filibuster in the Senate. He also blocked a bipartisan denunciation of Russian interference in our election. He ironically blocked an election security bill, in 2019, and then rejected criticism, he was aiding Russia.

The White House says President Biden plans to bring up these hacks with Putin, in two weeks, at a summit in Geneva.

But Putin is already doing what he does best, laughing off the obvious.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It's just ridiculous to blame Russia for this.

I think the relevant U.S. services should find out who the scammers are. Not Russia, for sure. For us, to extort money, from some company, we are dealing with some chicken meat or beef. It's just hilarious.


CUOMO: Just one little step sideways there. That was Channel One, right? That's state-run media. See how the other guy had to nod along, nod along, why, because he wants to be able to keep doing his job.

Don't forget what you have is a blessing in this country with the media. If that had been in America, that leader would have been questioned about what he had just said.

I know the media is not perfect. I know it's highly imperfect. It bothers me on a regular basis also, even though I am a member of it. But remember the blessing, OK? One step sideways.


Now, back into the focus. He can joke about it. He can say it's hilarious. But we know that he thinks the joke is on us. And we know why he can laugh. Because we know who bought his perfidy. Remember this?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.


CUOMO: I will never get over how embarrassing that moment was. And I don't know how anybody can. Dan Coats was his Intel guy, who says "We think it's Russia." And he believes Putin over his own guys. Amazing to me! So, Biden says he's going to push it, we'll see.

Look, we know that because of where Trump was, on this, and whatever it is about Russia, we know his party is a collective of pawns. But the joke will be on us, if we keep letting ourselves be attacked.

So, let's turn to someone, who was once in charge, of facing down these threats, former Trump National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Author of "The Room Where It Happened."

Welcome back to PRIME TIME, sir.

AMB. JOHN BOLTON, AUTHOR, "THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED": Glad to be with you. Thanks for having me. CUOMO: Now, first, you heard that. Am I overstating? Am I getting anything wrong? What do you want this audience to know about cyber- attacks, the Congressional level of awareness, and relative inaction, and why?

BOLTON: Well, I think there's no doubt Chris Wray had it correct that this is a threat overall, equivalent to or probably greater than 9/11. It comes in a lot of different forms. Some cyber-attacks really are acts of war. I think Russian efforts to interfere in our election, are a war against the Constitution.

Then there are others that are Intelligence operations, Intelligence gathering, or clandestine. Then there's another category of criminal activity. Some of it's state-sponsored, some of it just by good old- fashioned criminals. There's cyber vandalism, and then there's just mischief.

We need better thinking to understand the nature of the threats, and therefore what the responses are. But the greatest threats come from state actors.

And we've seen, over the past decade, a huge amount of interference with our Information Technology, and computer systems. We've gotten very reliant on them. They're enormously convenient.


BOLTON: They vastly increase productivity. But they've left us at risk. And we have ignored the problem for far too long.

CUOMO: So, when you say, we've ignored the problem, you were aware of it, you were there, why don't we do more?

I understand that "Well, it's not always easy to know." But my understanding, in digging in on this, is you guys know, plenty. People come up with proposals and plans of things to do. And there is some kind of nonchalance, when it comes to cybersecurity.

I often analogize, if one person came into this country, and attacked one factory, as an act of terror, we would all be talking about it, know everything about that person, their organization, and the government would be going all out to do something.

But when it comes to cyber-terror, you have no such reflex. Why?

BOLTON: Well, I think a lot of people have trouble adjusting to the potential implications of these cyber-attacks. And I think you've put it well. If somebody came in, and blew up a bridge--

CUOMO: Right.

BOLTON: --and you can see the pictures of it, people would say "That's bad."

But when you hear that, China, for example, has extracted tens of thousands, of government personnel records, from the Office of Personnel Management, and taken them to Beijing, it seems very abstract.

Now, this may be a question of age. It may be a question of unfamiliarity with Information Technology. But I think when you begin to see it, in the form of Ransomware, that actually, as bad as it is, helps generate public understanding, of what's going on.

This is a threat, not just of government agencies, but in the private sector, involving transportation. We saw one against Colonial Pipeline. But think of it, in terms of railroads, air traffic control systems, traffic light systems, in cities. This kind of vulnerability exists. We have not done enough to defend against it.

CUOMO: Right.

BOLTON: And let's also be clear. This is never going away. This is never going away.

CUOMO: Well, especially if we don't do anything about it.

BOLTON: Each time we do better defenses.

CUOMO: And that's why Ambassador, I wonder.

BOLTON: Well but--

CUOMO: Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, I know that there was something with the former president, and Russia. I mean no suggestion of any collusion or anything of the sort. But he had a political resistance to them, because of the media, and scrutiny dynamic, and that had to lead to that BS, he said in Helsinki.

I know you had to be as embarrassed by that, as every American was, when he said "My Intel guys tell me it's Putin. But Putin says it isn't. And I believe him." Doesn't get more embarrassing!


Do you wish you had done more that you had pushed back more on him that you had pushed on cybersecurity, and said, "Look, I know you got some kind of flavor of crazy going on? But we have to do this anyway" that you had been more outspoken in hindsight?

BOLTON: Well, you can always do more. But I will tell you, I'm very proud of the cyber strategy that we developed, when I was National Security Adviser.

It received praise, even by Obama administration officials. And we did some things that are - that are classified, but that include changing the rules for initiating offensive cyber operations. It's not enough to be defensive.

I think you need to create structures of deterrence. And we reversed a lot of what had been done in the Obama administration that inhibited our ability to engage in offensive cyber operations. But there's no question we can all do more. And the point I'm trying to make is there's never going to be stasis

here. We're never going to have adequate defenses. As long as there are valuable assets at stake here, people will try to hold them at risk. So, this is a new reality.

We get a lot out of Information Technology. But it leaves us vulnerable. And we have to protect against the vulnerabilities. There's got to be a continuing focus of attention.

CUOMO: But Ambassador, I've heard this, and not just from you, so I'm not singling you out. But you were in a very privileged position. And you have been open to what worked, and what didn't work, to a certain extent.

You guys pat yourselves, on the back here, for addressing cybersecurity, in the Trump administration specifically. And yet, in 2020, you had your worst year ever, in number of attacks, only second to this year, where it's up 100 percent, in just the first half of the year, apples-to-apples.

How can you feel you did anything right, if it's getting worse and worse?

BOLTON: Have we lost the signal here?

CUOMO: Oh? Can you hear me John, or no?

All right, let me take a break. Unless John's doing a great job of pretending not to hear me! No.

We'll take a break. We'll get the comms right, and then we'll come back and continue the conversation. Stay with us.









CUOMO: "The hackers don't even want us having this conversation, so they tried to knock us off." John Bolton gave me that joke in the break. And it's a good one. We have him back.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much, obviously a former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. It's good to have you. So, let's just sit back. It's Friday night. Let's get this right. So,

we were talking about why it was hard for you, when you were in the administration. I mentioned and showed the audience a reminder of the Helsinki disgrace.

What did you come up with as an idea for why the former president was so sensitive to being overly aggressive, towards Russia, on anything, let alone on cyber-attacks, where you have them so red-handed?

BOLTON: Well, I think, on Russia, in particular, he thought that any reference that could be used against him, for being complicit with the Russians, in the 2016 election, would have undercut the legitimacy of his election. I didn't agree with that. I thought he ought to confront what Russia was doing directly.

And I can tell you that components of the government did do a lot, to try to, for example, protect against Russian interference, in the 2018 election, including some of the offensive cyber operations that I mentioned. And I think with good effect, we've learned a lot. We need to do a lot more. We're coming from behind.

I think, generally, Trump got along with authoritarian figures, for reasons, even he couldn't explain very well. And Putin certainly fit that bill.

CUOMO: I've heard that from other past members of the administration that he came to the conclusion, that anything, that was said about Russia, was somehow bad for him, because whether he liked it or not, he was connected to them. So, he just wanted them out of the conversation. He didn't want to deal with them on any level.

It still doesn't really explain Helsinki, but maybe in some perverse way, it does that that's where his head took him that "I can't have anything bad said about Russia, because it's bad for me." It's the only thing that makes even a modicum of sense.

So, then it comes to the efforts, and what I was asking before the break, which is, I understand that you did things that you believe deserve credit that you say even former Obama officials said was good.

But you're doing a lousy job here, right? Because, in 2020, we had the worst year of cyber-attacks, ever, and the only reason it's second place is to 2021, so far. So whatever was done, during the Trump administration, and now, stinks.

What do I have wrong?

BOLTON: No. I think there's a lot more that can be done. I think public awareness is still not what it should be.

I think people don't appreciate how reliant we've become, on Information Technology, and therefore, how dangerous it is, when people can get in, and interfere with it. We have seen a number of areas where I think that's changing.

If you look at the threat, for example, to telecommunications, from Chinese companies, like Huawei and ZTE, very strong steps were taken against them. Those have been continued, and indeed, recently even expanded by the Biden administration.

But we're still coming from behind. And I think these recent Ransomware attacks give us an opportunity. I think it would be catastrophic to change the view that you don't pay ransom. That's like paying ransom for the release of hostages.

CUOMO: Right.

BOLTON: I think we need more reporting on this. But mostly, we need the private sector to do a lot more, to look at what the risks are, to their Information Technology systems, and do more to protect them.


We've gotten a lot of profits and convenience, out of this technology, but it's brought risks. And we need to pay some insurance.

CUOMO: Experts say that the biggest reason for the ramp-up is not technology, on the bad guys' side. It's how to be paid, cryptocurrency, that now they don't have the problem of having the money tracked, wires or anything, offshore accounts, whatever it is.

A real currency, at some point, has to be cleaned. Cryptocurrency does not. This is not new to you guys. Why haven't you moved to regulate cryptocurrency in this regard?

I have been told that in the financial world, they have figured out how to reconcile crypto with their KYC policies, their Know Your Client, and Know Your Customer, policies. Why hasn't the government done this?

BOLTON: Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint you. But Donald Trump actually, on several occasions, told Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, "We should outlaw cryptocurrency." I don't understand why it's considered to be a repository value.

CUOMO: Well, why didn't it happen? I'm not upset by that.

BOLTON: I think it's certainly--

CUOMO: I'm upset by why nothing happened. So, if Trump had a feeling about this--

BOLTON: Yes. I think--

CUOMO: --I certainly never heard him talk about it publicly. Why did nothing happen?

BOLTON: Well, I think people didn't fully appreciate how dangerous it was. Again, it's - there's a breakdown across, not just a few people in the administration, but across the country, generally. Look how many people have invested in it.

So, I think this is something that, that for both organized crimes, and for rogue states, and adversaries of the United States that want to mask their financial transactions, it's a great boon to them. It's not something we should accept.

CUOMO: All right, I want to ask you about something else, while I have you here. And I appreciate your time, especially with the difficulty.

What happened with General Flynn? His comments recently are just more proof of his perfidy, right, that he's willing to say things that are incendiary, to play to the advantage of this president.

Again, with the benefit of hindsight, do you think that you should have done more, to squash the kind of talk that's coming out of his mouth, and others, while you were there?

BOLTON: Well, I certainly didn't hear any talk about the - of the kind we've seen about the stolen election.

I think Trump is really understandable, entirely, in terms of what he sees benefiting him. I think this is - this was a demonstration that he is an anomaly in American politics. It's very - it's very concerning.

I don't think it's as dangerous to democracy in this country, as some people do, because I think it's so much a fringe movement, that, at this point, it's not the kind of threat some people think. I think it's bizarre, extreme and unacceptable. But I don't think it's so--

CUOMO: Well--

BOLTON: --it's so much of a threat.

CUOMO: --there are two dramatic counterpoints.

One is January 6th was an act of terror, an insurrection, as found by our federal government, against the U.S. Capitol. You and I, in our lifetimes, have never seen anything like it. So, that's scary.

And you now have all of these Republican-run states passing laws that you and I have never experienced in our lifetime, either that take us the closest to the kind of reductionist policies, where race is involved, that we thought we got out of, in the 50s and 60s.

How do you see those as not worthy of concern?

BOLTON: Well, I think January the 6th was one of the most tragic days of American history. But I don't see it being repeated. I don't see the circumstances coming together again.

And I think one way to make sure it's not repeated is that everybody, who crossed the lines in the Capitol that day should be put in jail for the maximum amount of time allowable, and anybody who engaged in violence against police, or others, in the Capitol, should be put in jail--

CUOMO: The Republican Party won't even investigate it, though, John.

BOLTON: for an even longer period of time.

CUOMO: The Republican Party doesn't even want it investigated--

BOLTON: Well, look, it's--

CUOMO: --when they were the targets.

BOLTON: I'm part of the Republican Party. And I would have voted to have a commission to investigate it.

CUOMO: Why won't they?

BOLTON: I think it's serious and - because I think they're scared of the political consequences. And that's one reason why I and others have tried to explain, Trump's influence is declining. It is a fact that his influence with real voters is declining.

CUOMO: Even with all these states passing these laws?

BOLTON: I think the problem is fear among--

CUOMO: To limit voting rights?

BOLTON: Well, let's--

CUOMO: And to recall elections on their own will (ph)?

BOLTON: Let me come back to that.

CUOMO: Go ahead. Make your points. Please.

BOLTON: Let me come back to that in one second.

CUOMO: Sure.

BOLTON: I - yes. I think a lot of Republicans are afraid of their shadow, when they don't realize Trump's influence is diminishing. And I've put out a poll, we'll have others, that I think will show that as well.


Now look on the voting rights thing, it's hard to have a serious conversation about this these days. But I think, as a matter of civic responsibility, I think everybody, who's physically able to vote, on Election Day, should vote on Election Day, at the polls.

And I say that because we have very little that is required of us, as citizens, to demonstrate civic responsibility. Jury duty is one. And voting is another. I think making that a common act, on one day, where everybody does the same thing--

CUOMO: The Republicans won't even make it a day of vacation.

BOLTON: --would help enhance--

CUOMO: They won't even give people the day off on that day.


CUOMO: To make it easier to vote.

BOLTON: Yes, look?

CUOMO: Every restriction that's put in place--

BOLTON: Yes, look?

CUOMO: --has been done by your party, though, John. Nobody shares what you're saying, in your party.

BOLTON: We have had - we have had a couple of 100 years, where Election Days have not been days off. And it's amazing people have voted.

It's just - it's just part of being a citizen, to get up a little early, and vote, before you go to work, or vote after you come back. To say that it's - that we have to have days off, to get people to vote, I don't buy.

CUOMO: I'm not saying you have to have days off. I'm saying that would be in keeping with what you're saying about making it such a sacred duty.

However, what I'm saying is your party has historically been the beneficiary of early voting, and absentee ballot voting. It was only when Trump came in, and demonized it, that the enthusiasm amongst your party fell off.

BOLTON: It's not a question of--

CUOMO: It's - but we've had it around--

BOLTON: It's not a question of what party it votes.

CUOMO: --since the 1800s.

BOLTON: No, no. Look, I remember once I - well the first time I voted absentee, I had to swear out an affidavit that I was necessarily out of my state, on business that day. And I think basically, that's the way it should be.

I think the civic responsibility point is everybody, on the same day, going to the polls, standing in line, if necessary, and voting. It's one thing the country can do altogether.

CUOMO: I know. But John, you know what's wrong with that theory.

BOLTON: And it'll benefit one party or the other.

CUOMO: You know what's wrong with that theory, is that once you get to poor communities, and communities of color, especially, what happens? Less staff, less hours, longer lines, hours and hours, now you're not allowed to give them water.

BOLTON: That doesn't mean--

CUOMO: As they're seeing in these states. Come on! It's onerous. People can't get time off work.


CUOMO: They're working two jobs.

BOLTON: It is not onerous, no. And I don't - I absolutely don't agree with that.

CUOMO: It's a fact.

BOLTON: My father was a firefighter for the City of Baltimore. And he managed - and he managed to vote despite long hours, and everything else.

I think, on Election Day, people can find the time to vote, if they're interested. And the point is that when the community does it, as a whole, it helps bring the community together, which we need more of in this time.

CUOMO: I know. But what I'm saying is your civic duty aside, and the fact that firefighters usually have swing shifts, right, so they work like 24 hours, and then they have like two days off. So, it's a different kind of mentality. I'm not saying this is not about that.

BOLTON: Maybe in New York.

CUOMO: These laws - look, we all love our first responders. Not the point.

What I'm saying is that these laws are very obvious, in what they're trying to do. And it's interesting to me that you would fight the assertion. Every one of the laws makes it more difficult to use what is an accepted method of voting, in your own party, that you had capitalized on--


CUOMO: --organized around, and benefited from.

BOLTON: That's why I said it's hard to have a serious conversation about this.

I'm trying to make a philosophical point, about the nature of voting, and the civic responsibility, inherent in it, and asking how best do you bring that to the fore, to help strengthen faith, in the political process, in this country?

And I think uniformity of voting would help do that. So, to that extent, I don't think it has anything to do with restricting voting. I think the more casual you make voting, the less important it becomes. The more-- CUOMO: Right. But John, it's not about making it casual.

BOLTON: --it becomes a task that you have to do.

CUOMO: This past election, they said, was the safest election they've had in these states that are Republican run, OK? So, it wasn't that it was casual, using that as a euphemism, for unfair or sloppy.

It was efficient, and allowed a lot of people to vote that your party apparently doesn't want to vote. Doesn't that concern you, from a--

BOLTON: No, I don't--

CUOMO: --national security perspective?

BOLTON: I think it - I think Trump, to the contrary, not withstanding, that we probably, as a party, have benefited from early voting.

CUOMO: Yes, I just said that.

BOLTON: That doesn't change my opposition to it.

CUOMO: Right. But aren't you concerned about big laws--

BOLTON: That's what - and I'm agreeing with you. And I'm saying--

CUOMO: --that are curtailing it?

BOLTON: --I still don't like it.

CUOMO: I get it. I get that you don't like the concept.


CUOMO: But the concept exists. And these laws are a--

BOLTON: But the concept is important.

CUOMO: --fundamental abridgement of them for advantage. Doesn't that bother you--


CUOMO: --from a national security perspective?

BOLTON: If everybody - look, I think - I think equal treatment under the law is key. And if you treat everybody the same, and say we're basically going to have everybody vote, in-person, on Election Day, with limited exceptions, troops deployed overseas--

CUOMO: But that's not the state of play, John.

BOLTON: --people unable to make it for medical reasons.

CUOMO: That's not the state of play.


BOLTON: Look, what I'm trying to tell you, and what I'm trying to explain to you is the theoretical basis on which we should try and make these laws conform. And I think to say that you want to reduce voting on Election Day, decreases the importance of the active civic responsibility.

CUOMO: Last thing on this. Just because of a national security concern, the idea of states passing laws that make it easier for them to overturn election results that they don't like, does that present a national security issue?

BOLTON: Well, I don't think it presents a national security issue. I think laws that undercut public respect, for the integrity of the process, are damaging. But I would say one other thing.


BOLTON: One of the most important barriers to Donald Trump, trying to upend the 2020 election, was the fact we have such a diverse federalized system of counting votes, in the presidential election.

If everything had been centered, in Washington, as some legislative proposals in Congress now, would do, it would have been easier for Trump, to try and subvert the election.

I think we need to strengthen federal - the federal disbursement of this authority, because I think that's an important safeguard, against efforts, to corrupt the outcome of elections.

CUOMO: His saying that he's going to be reinstated in August, do you dismiss that as Trump hogwash, or is that something that concerns you, as it is catching fire in the ranks?

BOLTON: Well, I think this is another example, where Republicans should say, "It's not going to happen. It's crazy thinking and that people need to be disabused of the idea that it's anything other than delusional."

CUOMO: John Bolton, former Ambassador, former Assistant to the President for National Security, thank you for having this extended conversation with us tonight. Appreciate you.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

CUOMO: And as John Bolton just told you, Trump will not be reinstated. There is no mechanism. There is no chance. He's not going to be reinstated as President.

He's not even going to get reinstated at Facebook, at least not anytime soon, on the social network. They gave him the maximum penalty. It announced an extension on his ban today.

And, of course, Trump's barking up a storm about it. But does he have anything but sour grapes? Is there a fair argument that this was the wrong thing to do? Smerconish, with his take. Plus, new details about what happened behind the scenes, on January 6th, between Trump and Kevin McCarthy. The lengths McCarthy had to go to, to get Trump to call off his mob. Brian Stelter has the scoop, next.









CUOMO: Today is five months to the day, since January 6th, five months to the day. And, on that day, Facebook has extended its ban, on Donald Trump, stretching it to at least 2023.

The explanation? "Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump's suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merits the highest penalty available, under the new enforcement protocols. At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded." An ex-president considered a risk to public safety!

Of course, Trump, as always, playing the victim, crying censorship, "An insult" to all the millions who voted for him, and still lying about the election being rigged against him.

He's also dangling a return to office, in a follow-up response. Next time he's in the White House, no more dinners with Mark Zuckerberg.

Was Facebook right to do this? Let's bring in the man with the right stuff, Michael Smerconish.

It's good to see you brother. Right or wrong?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": It's hard for me to give you a direct answer. And here's the reason why. He deserved to be punished. I think that he incited the events of January 6th.

But Facebook is managing a fire hose. They cannot keep track of all of the content from the 3 billion, think about that, nearly 3 billion users worldwide. So, by definition, they're singling him out, for a treatment, and for a punishment that they can't apply evenly. And by that definition, it's unfair.

CUOMO: Look, certainly practically, it's going to play to his advantage, within his base, because I think people who don't like him, won't really care. It's not going to change their feelings. And the people who do like him, will now have another layer to him being a victim.

Here's my question for you. What is Facebook?

"No shirt, no shoes, no service." That's what a business has the right to. But is Facebook more like a restaurant, or more like AT&T, or Sprint, or Verizon, where they are using something that belongs to everybody, the internet, and providing access? What are they?

SMERCONISH: I'm so glad you raised that. Because earlier tonight, at dinner, one of my sons said, "What are you going to tell Cuomo?" And when I gave him my answer, he said, "Dad, you're an egghead."


SMERCONISH: You're talking about Section 230.


SMERCONISH: And Section 230 gave immunity to the platforms like Facebook, right?

They said, "Hey, we're going to treat you like we treat Verizon, rather than the way we would treat CNN or a newspaper." In other words, "You're not going to be held accountable for the content that comes across your transom."

But now, Chris, when Facebook begins to regulate content, like that of Donald Trump, aren't they inviting additional scrutiny?


SMERCONISH: Aren't they saying the 230 should no longer apply to them?


SMERCONISH: I mean that's really what I think this case is about.

CUOMO: Me too.

SMERCONISH: On the deeper level.


CUOMO: Me too. And we have to get an answer. And the problem is the state of play stinks.

Because Right and Left are playing it to advantage, about who gets hurt more by social media. And you get a perversity in that dynamic, because you'll have the Right, who's just better organized in attacks, than the Left, in general, saying "Facebook is against us."

But you look at all the main traffic things, on Facebook, they're all Righty. They're all Righty organizations. They're all Righty-fringe outlets and others, who get the most wattage on Facebook. So, I don't know what they're crying about.

But I do think we have to decide this though, Mike. We have to decide what the level of scrutiny is, because they're going to keep making these decisions.

SMERCONISH: Well, the only thing I feel confident about, in predicting for the future, is that Facebook is going to continue to be a political football.

And something else, when I read the statement that they issued today, Chris, that's unclear to me, what is it that happens, at the end of the two years, when they assess the climate? Because the language was very imprecise. I don't know.

Are they saying, "We're going to evaluate the way that Donald Trump has behaved himself?" Or "Are we going to look at the American landscape and determine whether in that landscape, it's safe for him to reemerge?" They really didn't define that. Or if they did, it went over my head.

So, I think that in trying to do the right thing, all they've done is set themselves up for a continual Ping-Pong match, between the Left and the Right.

CUOMO: Look, I mean, their high ground is he's unique. He can create a unique environment with unique reach.

The language that they use, from the Oversight Board, tracks very close to First Amendment language. "He created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible."

That is dancing with Brandenburg, the legal standard about what is an imminent threat, and when is something really, you know, what we used to call fighting words, which don't really exist, as a protected thing anymore.

An environment where a serious that would - I'm saying hate speech, fighting words are protected now. "An environment where a serious risk of violence was possible," they're dancing with the law, but it's not a legal ruling. It's weird. We got to do better. And he's going to benefit from this.

Michael Smerconish, thank you.

And I always remind people, "SMERCONISH" airs tomorrow morning, at 9 A.M. Eastern, right here on CNN. His radio show on SiriusXM, the P.O.T.U.S. Channel is the best morning listening you can make.

Now, House Republican leader, and Trump appeaser, Kevin McCarthy is at it again. He tweeted this today, in response to the former president's Facebook ban. "They fueled lies of Russian collusion. They targeted and censored his followers. And now they're blocking him for another two years."

Now, remember, five months to the day of January 6th is today, and that was a big part of what Facebook's reconciling. Yet, McCarthy is Exhibit A of the negative impact that Trump had, because of what he said happened on that day.

And guess who has new information for us? Brian Stelter. He has the updated paper book of his book - the paperback of his book, "Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth."

And he has new details that prove that McCarthy is the last guy, who should be saying that Trump was treated unfairly. This is his first interview about the book.

Congratulations on getting more material.


CUOMO: Congratulations on having "Hoax" out again. And you've learned more things. And one of them, I have a McCarthy on Fox /Donald Trump tweet, synchronicity, for people.

So, let's play the sound that leads to this interesting combination of events.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, should we expect to see the President, on camera, this afternoon?

VOICE OF REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I would think - I would think that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. Again, what was that?

MCCARTHY: I don't know. I would think so. I think that would be appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Sir, thank you for your time. We will - we--

MCCARTHY: (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Just losing a little bit of signal here.


CUOMO: Well, 3:13, a minute later, "I'm asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, we are the Party of Law & Order. Respect the law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!"

It's one of the first times that Trump said to do something, and nobody listened, because they mauled law enforcement by the dozens.

One minute later, Brian.

STELTER: That's right.

CUOMO: Not a coincidence How so?

STELTER: No. Kevin McCarthy called Fox News that afternoon, because he needed help, and because Donald Trump wasn't listening to him directly. So, he called Fox the same way that you would call the most important person in your life, when you needed help the very most. That's what you would do.


You would call - well, Donald Trump calls Fox News - sorry, Kevin McCarthy called Fox News, and tried to get through to Trump that way. And that's exactly what happened on the afternoon of the riot.

I know McCarthy has tried to memory hole the riot recently. But when he was sheltering in place, trying to get the mob, to leave the Capitol, he called Fox News. And it just goes to show the centrality of Fox to Trump in the GOP.

It's still going on today, Chris, these lawmakers taking their cues from Fox, getting misinformed by Fox. And that's why what the Network does matters, even though it is oftentimes annoying, distracting, confusing.

CUOMO: Now, I often say there's no shame in their game, but maybe I'm wrong, because you got a message from a Fox News vet, early morning after January 6th.

STELTER: After the riot, yes.

CUOMO: Yes, and how so?

STELTER: That's right. This is early morning, January 7th. Nobody can sleep after the insurrection.

A Fox News veteran texted me with four words that show there was shame, there was regret, at least among some staffers, at the Network. Maybe we could put it up on screen. The four words were "What have we done? What have we done?" This is a Fox News veteran wondering, "Are we - are we responsible for this?"

And I think we have to ask the question, Chris, could an insurrection possibly have happened, if Fox News had not warped the American body politic for 20 years? And I conclude in "Hoax," the answer is "No." The climate was set up.

I went back for history, and looked at all the times Trump was laying the groundwork for the big lie, last fall. He spent dozens and dozens of days doing it, at dozens and dozens of rallies. In retrospect, none of this was surprising. It was all happening live on right-wing TV. And of course, it led to the attack.

CUOMO: Now, how do you reconcile the fact that it continues the big lie, even though the election is over?

STELTER: Right. And we're seeing that, not just on Fox, but on Newsmax, and One America News. That's one of the reasons why I had to rewrite this entire book practically, because so much has changed since last summer. It's not just that Trump lost, and Fox lost. There are now these new

competitors that are going even further to the right. And it's causing this warping, this sectarianism, in America that I don't think any of us could have imagined 10 years ago.

It is why so many staffers at Fox, were leaking to me saying they are concerned about the Network, and its direction, its lack of leadership.

Look, we've seen a lot of people leave the Network, as recently, the last two weeks, folks leaving, because they couldn't take it anymore. But that's moving right-wing TV even further to the right, in ways that create even more of a - it's not an echo chamber anymore, Chris, it's an echo prison.

CUOMO: Let's do this. Let's do a follow-up segment on this, so we can talk about how many copies of the book you've sold and--

STELTER: Well thanks for the plug. I appreciate it.

CUOMO: --and watch what they're doing to Tony Fauci right now, because he is the new Hillary Clinton for them.


CUOMO: They are making him the pinata of all of their disaffection, and their upset. Let's track it for a while.


CUOMO: Let's make sure we're right about the intentionality. Come back and we'll discuss the impact. The book--

STELTER: I've got the assignment, thanks.

CUOMO: Thank you. The book - it's a favor. I'm asking you a favor. I don't assign you. You're bigger than I am.

"Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth." It is a new book. It's the paperback edition. But he has redone all of his reporting, and really knitted things together for you, in a way that will help you understand what we're all living through, and why. Brian Stelter.

UFO sightings, is this crazy talk? No, that's not what the government says. It is taking a serious look, why? Little Green Men or, what they don't know about what's happening on Earth?

So, let's take a look at the report, and let's bring back an expert, in looking at this phenomenon, and figure out where we are, and where we need to be, next.









CUOMO: We don't know what we don't know. That's the story with UFOs.

The U.S. government is preparing to issue a report, detailing what it knows, but more importantly what it says it can't rule out, about a series of encounters with Unidentified Flying Objects. CNN is told officials have not reached a definitive assessment of what they are, not ruling out much in or out.

Let's discuss with Mick West, Author of "Escaping the Rabbit Hole."

So, I have one little bone that a lot of people want me to pick with you.

But first, let's go to the macro here, which is, why do you think the U.S. government is interested in looking at this? Do you think it's because of life beyond our universe, or what they're worried about not knowing here on Earth?

MICK WEST, SCIENCE WRITER, AUTHOR, "ESCAPING THE RABBIT HOLE": I think it's very much about not knowing what's going on here on Earth.

When we see unidentified objects, in our airspace, it's a real concern, and it's a real national security issue. There are issues with foreign governments flying drones, in our airspace, and various other aircraft.

I don't think it's really anything to do with aliens. And I'm really glad that they've explicitly stated that there's no evidence of aliens. They've conceded that they can't rule it out.

But I think that really just means that you can't rule out an unknown, because if you don't know what we're looking at, we don't know what aliens look like, you can't rule it out. It's kind of a silly truism, really.

CUOMO: Well, first of all, people who believe strongly, that this is someone reaching out to us, they don't care what the government says anyway. But all the government needed to say was that they can't rule it out. And all of the belief systems will continue.

Here's what I don't get. How can they not know if it's man-made, where it's coming from, and how to identify it?

WEST: Well, I think it's because they don't have enough information about where - what we're actually looking at. What we have is a lot of different sightings of different objects. And

one of the big problems that they have here is that they're lumping everything under the same category. They're saying "These are all UAPs. Let's figure out what UAPs are."

But we've got about 50 different types of things here. We got fast things, slow things, things that are popping around, big things and small things, hot things and cold things. They're all different.

And it's a huge mistake for the government, the military, and the media, to try to think of all of this as being one problem that needs solving. There's lots of different things going on here.

CUOMO: So, your balloon theory that we discussed, the last time you were on the show, man, people do not like that theory. They say you didn't take into consideration the wind currents, and your explanation doesn't make any sense.


Now look, I know that you dismiss the basis of criticism because you believe these are people who want to believe in something that they can't prove. But what do you make of this specific criticism that your analysis doesn't account for how the object was moving?

WEST: It's very simple, you can actually just do the math yourself, or find a high schooler to do the math, and they will tell you exactly what's going on. The computations are really simple. You don't even need to account for the wind in the GoFast video, which is what we're talking about.

Now, this is something they mentioned in "The New York Times" story that they had eliminated wind and balloons, as one particular cause. But they only did it in some cases. They didn't explicitly say it didn't happen in the GoFast. And since wind really isn't a factor, in that case, that's still very much on the table.

CUOMO: So, you believe that this is about people on Earth, and what they know, how to do that we haven't discovered yet. And that's why it's worth researching. And that's what the government seems to be insistent on. But boy, the mythology will live on, even after this report.

Mick West, thank you for applying analysis, and thank you for doing it here.

WEST: Thank you.

CUOMO: We'll be right back.








CUOMO: So, I'm getting ready to come out of commercial, and I feel this wave of intelligence, this wave of appeal, I'm like, "Wow, D. Lemon has got to be on his game tonight!" And it turns out, D. Lemon isn't here tonight.