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CNN Review Shows Chinese Government Is Intimidating Critics In U.S.; Accused Paul Pelosi Attacker Testifies In His Own Defense; Fire Damages Los Angeles Freeway Will Take 3 To 5 Weeks To Repair. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 14, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Soon the president will land in San Francisco. So setting the stage for this meeting of the world's top two superpowers, President Biden going to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow, their first face to face in a year, and they're expected to discuss the wars in Ukraine and also this war between Israel and Hamas.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Yes, high stakes meeting there and as the U.S. seeks China's cooperation, Beijing has been on a campaign of intimidation against U.S. citizens. A CNN review has found, not only is China's government attacking Americans online, but doing it while they're in the U.S. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan has the details on the world's largest known online disinformation operation.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just as President Biden is due to meet President Xi, a CNN investigation takes a look at how a Chinese disinformation propaganda and harassment campaign is targeting American citizens on U.S. soil.


CHEN POKONG, ACTIVIST AND U.S. CITIZEN: They use hateful words or threatening words.

JIAYANG FAN, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": They will make life very uncomfortable for those who speak ill of China.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): They are here on American soil thousands of miles from Beijing, but still being hounded and harassed by the Chinese government.

FAN: I was instantly flooded with messages asking me to kill myself.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Her name is Jiayang Fan, a writer for "The New Yorker." She's been targeted with a wave of online harassment since she covered pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong four years ago. More than 12,000 tweets calling her a traitor.

FAN: I was caught so off guard and I wasn't sure if it was a coordinated effort.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): It is a coordinated effort of fake and anonymous accounts, and it's called spamouflage.

PROFESSOR DARREN LINVILL, MEDIA FORENSICS HUB, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY: Depending on how you measure it. It's the biggest disinformation campaign the world's ever seen.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Professor Darren Linvill from Clemson's Media Forensics Hub has tracked spamouflage for years. But it's only now been revealed that the vast disinformation campaign is tied to the Chinese government.

LINVILL: Thousands and thousands of messages repeated over and over again.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): A CNN review of court documents, social media reports and interviews with victims reveals a massive, relentless campaign of intimidation by the Chinese government targeting people on U.S. soil.

QIU: They told me they will kill me if I don't delete my YouTube.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Jiajun Qiu posts pro-democracy YouTube videos criticizing the Chinese government from his office here at this church in Virginia. To hit back, the Chinese trolls post thousands of messages attacking him.

QIU: They cover people's eyes so the Chinese people cannot see the reality.


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): A vast campaign of intimidation that even employs artists to create original illustrations to mock and harass its victims.

O'SULLIVAN: It's not just some guy in his basement.

LINVILL: No. I think it's clearly a very sophisticated effort. I'm often staggered at the number of platforms where we come across their content.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Some of the people behind spamouflage are these Chinese police officers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ charged 34 Chinese police officers for using social media accounts to threaten, harass and intimidate specific victims in the United States. The indictment is full of pictures allegedly taken from inside the special trolling unit, showing laptops, phones and other equipment used as part of the operation.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. said the DOJ's allegations are politically motivated and have no factual evidence or legal basis.

POKONG: Yes, they tried to shut me up. They tried to silence me, you know, to minimize my voice.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Chen Pokong spent nearly five years in a Chinese prison for his pro-democracy work. Now, he's an American citizen and campaigns from here.

POKONG: They started to make noises, yelling, shouting.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): At the height of COVID in 2021, he organized a Zoom meeting for pro-Chinese democracy activists in the U.S. But Chinese police officers, part of spamouflage, broke into the Zoom and shut it down.

POKONG: At that time I was myself even shocked. I said, what? The CCP don't even allow us to have a meeting -- overseas meeting.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The U.S. State Department has warned that the Chinese government is spending billions of dollars annually on foreign information manipulation efforts. And if it goes unchecked, it will reshape the global information landscape.

JAMES RUBIN, SPECIAL ENVOY AND COORDINATOR, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: A Communist Party's bloodstream is propaganda, repeating it over and over again and trying to get everyone to repeat that same point of view and reject alternatives. That's in the DNA of communist parties.

O'SULLIVAN: Now the social media platforms that have taken down accounts that are part of this operation points out that, you know, the accounts rarely are -- are basically never go viral. It's not as if they're being seen -- these accounts are being seen by 10s of millions of people every day. However, as you can see there, if you are the target or victim of this campaign, it is very intense. You are being intimidated. You are dealing with a deluge of harassment on a regular basis -- Pam and Brianna.


BROWN: Donie O'Sullivan an excellent report. Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, the man accused of attacking Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, taking the stand in his own defense. Why he said he planned to target other notable figures, including Congressman Adam Schiff and Tom Hanks. Next.



BROWN: Today, the man accused of brutally attacking Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, took the stand in his federal trial. David DePape testified that he was, quote, surprised and confused when he found out Nancy Pelosi wasn't home at the time that he broke into the couple's home and that he thought Paul Pelosi was dead after attacking him with the hammer.

CNN's Veronica Miracle is right outside the courthouse. Really interesting -- other things that he said that he thought at one point he had a good rapport with Paul Pelosi. But did David DePape appear remorseful at all for attacking Pelosi?

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, I think that was one of the most striking parts of his testimony that he showed a lot of remorse for attacking Paul Pelosi even in fact saying that he did not intend to hurt him, but that he reacted because his plan was ruined. I recalled hitting him once. The medical report appears that he was hit more. My recollection is only one. I felt bad for him because we had a very good rapport and things were going good until the very last second.

Moments after the attack, suspect David DePape said that he felt bad for Pelosi. While he was on the ground he actually feared for his life. And he said that he didn't know that he was still alive until he was charged with attempted murder. He said that Paul Pelosi was never his target and that he never intended to hurt him.

It was also very interesting throughout David DePape's testimony to hear his thought process and his motivations. He is deeply motivated by and entangled in conspiracy theories. He would get emotional at times and start sobbing. He actually broke down at one point while talking about former President Donald Trump and had to stop and collect himself and start again before he could answer more questions.

Aside from Nancy Pelosi, DePape said he planned to -- he had planned other targets, including notable individuals like Representative Adam Schiff, actor Tom Hanks, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, California Governor Gavin Newsom and a University of Michigan professor who's being referred to as target one in order to protect her identity.

So he said that all outside of his work -- when he wasn't working as a contractor -- he would wake up in the morning until he went to sleep, he would play video games and listen to political podcasts and videos. He said he is motivated by and committed to the truth.


And he said that when he went to Nancy Pelosi's house, his intention was to give her the opportunity to tell the truth about Russiagate and other things that he says she lies about. Otherwise he would have broken her kneecaps.

The jury now -- the case has rested for both sides, and the jury has the case, and we expect that this federal trial will conclude sometime this week and then the state trial begins. He faces decades in prisons for all of the charges that he's facing if convicted -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Veronica. Miracle. Wow. Thank you. Well, just ahead, LA traffic was bad before this. Now a busy stretch of I-10 in Los Angeles is out of service after a massive fire -- up next. What authorities are doing about it?


[15:50:04] KEILAR: All right, commuters in Southern California are bracing for another month of traffic headaches as they wait for a critical section of I-10 in the heart of Los Angeles to reopen. Investigators now believe arson is the -- is to blame for this weekend blaze that heavily damaged what is known as the Santa Monica Freeway. More than 300,000 vehicles traveled this busy corridor every day, and those commuters are now scrambling to navigate around this closed stretch of road.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us now on this. All right, Steph, what do they know so far about what they think is arson and also tell us about the reopening, as it's expected of this stretch of the highway.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for as far as Angelinos are concerned, Brianna, that's the big part of this is. That what we thought could be a really bad situation, it's the best possible outcome of a bad situation here. That demolition will not be necessary here after they did some core samples and they show that they could be repaired. In fact, take a listen to what Governor Gavin Newsom said this morning about it.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM, (D) CALIFORNIA: We will continue the kind of repairs you're seeing being done behind me and continue a shoring plan to shore up this site. Again, 100 columns have been damaged, 9 or 10 severely, but that shoring work will continue 24/7 and it will allow us to reopen for traffic the I-10 in a matter of weeks. The estimate currently is 3 to 5 weeks.


ELAM: Now when you look at this and you look at how expansive this is, this part of the freeway is five lanes on the north -- I mean, the east side and the westbound side. So this is a massive bridge that we're talking about. The work here is going to go on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We're having a big storm coming into California later this week. They're saying that's not going to stop them at all. This 450 foot section, though, shut down for right now. It is absolutely bizarre, Brianna, to see the freeway as empty as it is. Driving here, it's just a weird thing in California to see an empty freeway.

So they're asking people to telecommute, to not come in. What we can also tell you, too, is that they want you to use public transportation. But what else we heard from officials today was that they do believe that this was arson and that they do have some leads, but they're asking for the public to give any more information that they can. Because they do believe this was intentionally set and obviously it's a big impact to this area -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, look, as a southern Californian, I can attest, these are our arteries. I think more so than almost any other city. This is a huge deal. Stephanie Elam in LA. Thank you for that report -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, thanks, Brianna. Now to other headlines we are watching this hour. For the first time

we're seeing photos of the cocaine that was found over the summer in the White House. The photos show a small bag of cocaine inside a locker near the West executive entrance. A Secret Service investigation was unable to identify a suspect.

Also, after more than a century of waiting, justice for members of an all Black military regiment known as, "The Buffalo Soldiers." The U.S. Army has set aside the convictions of 110 black soldiers charged after the World War I era Houston riots. After a thorough review, an Army board determined the soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials.

And finally the city of St. Paul, Minnesota has made a bit of history. For the first time ever, voters there have elected an all female City Council.

Up next, Patrick Mahomes confirms a rumor about his game day superstition. We'll be back. We'll have the dirt next.



KEILAR: All right, super. Bowl champion and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, he has a dirty little secret that Pam is lucky enough to explain to you.

BROWN: Oh, I can't wait to tell you about the dirty little secret. He recently confirmed this rumor that he has worn the same pair of red undies every game day, the same pair until the team loses, and then he washes them. And we just did a check for this year and the longest winning streak was 6 weeks. So that means six weeks, wearing them, not watching them.

KEILAR: Gross.

BROWN: CNN's sports (INAUDIBLE) somewhere. Coy Wire is here with all the dirt. So Coy, is this kind of like NFL ritual, like do other players do this or is this just like Mahomes's superstitious play here?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: First of all, yes, you have me cracking up -- dirty little secret. I love it. Is it, from my experience playing the NFL, more NFL players are superstitious than not. Even if it's vowing to not be superstitious like Tom Brady has said. That in itself is a mode of operation, right? And a mental tactic. But here is Mahomes. Giving a little more detail about his lucky red underwear that his wife gave him that he may or may not wash.


PATRICK MAHOMES, SUPER BOWL CHAMPION/KC CHIEFS QUARTERBACK: Awesome, I do. I wash them, I wash them every once in a while, at least.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a thong? Is it a G-string? What is it? MAHOMES: I mean, if we're -- if we're on a hot streak, I can't wash

them, you know. Like I got to just keep it rolling. So you know, as long as I'm winning football games, I'll keep the superstition going.


WIRE: He has played in 103 games, has won 82 of them. I was there on the field with him in Super Bowl when the confetti came down on those under-roos and he won two Super Bowl, two NFL MVPs.


I've had a lot of teammates over the years with wild superstitions, Brianna and Pam. Marshawn Lynch, my former teammate, would do a shot of Hennessy before every game, and he has talked about this publicly, so I'm not airing his dirty laundry, if you will. But yes, superstitions are real.

KEILAR: Wow. But underpants going unwashed, boy. I mean, can't the line be drawn somewhere?

WIRE: Yes, my skin's kind of crawling. Just thinking about that one. But hey, Patrick Mahomes, it's pretty darn good.

BROWN: It is Patrick Mahomes. Coy Wire, thanks.

KEILAR: "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.