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Congressional Hearing on Threats to Homeland; Biden Meets with Xi; Nick Akerman is Interviewed about a Gag Order for Trump. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 15, 2023 - 09:30   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we are going to go live now to the committee that is looking at threats to the homeland. We have FBI Director Christopher Wray talking about that. And some of the first things he mentioned was the Israel-Hamas war, and the impact it may have here, the threat it may cause here.

Let's listen in.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: It's been more than five weeks since Hamas terrorists carried out their brutal attacks against innocent Israelis, dozens of American citizens, and others from around the world. And our collective efforts remain on supporting our partners overseas and seeking the safe return of the hostages.

But this hearing, while focused on threats to our homeland, is well timed given the dangerous implications, the fluid situation in the Middle East has for our homeland security. In a year where the terrorism threat was already elevated, the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole nother level.

Since October 7th, we've seen a rogues gallery of foreign terrorist organizations call for attacks against Americans and our allies. Hezbollah expressed its support and praise for Hamas and threatened to attack U.S. interests in the Middle East. Al Qaeda issued its most specific call to attack the United States in the past five years. Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula called on jihadists to attack Americans and Jewish people everywhere. ISIS urged its followers to target Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.

Given those calls for action, our most immediate concern is that individuals, or small groups, will draw twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home. That includes home grown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization and domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish Americans or other faith communities, like Muslim Americans. Across the country, the FBI has been aggressively countering violent by extremists citing the ongoing conflict as inspiration. In Houston we arrested a guy who had been studying bomb making and

posted about killing Jewish people. Outside Chicago we've got a federal hate crime investigation into the killing of a six-year-old Muslim boy.


At Cornell University we arrested a man who threatened to kill members of that university's Jewish community. And in Los Angeles, we arrested a man for threatening the CEO and other members of the Anti-Defamation League. And I could go on.

On top of the so-called lone actor threat, we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil. We have kept our sights on Hamas and have multiple investigations into individuals affiliated with that foreign terrorist organization. And while historically, our Hamas cases have identified individuals here who are facilitating and financing terrorism overseas, we continue to scrutinize our intelligence to assess how that threat may be evolving.

But it's not just Hamas. As I highlighted for this committee in my testimony last year, Iran, the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, has directly, or by hiring criminals, mounted assassination attempts against dissidents and high ranking current and former U.S. officials, including right here on American soil.

Or take Hezbollah, Iran's primary strategic partner, which has a history of raising money and seeking to obtain weapons here in the United States. FBI arrests in recent years also indicate that Hezbollah has tried to seed operatives, establish infrastructure and engage in spying here, domestically, raising our concern that they may be contingency planning for future operations in the United States.

And while we are not currently tracking a specific plot, given that disturbing history, we are keeping a close eye on what impact recent events may have on those terrorist groups' intentions here in the United States, and how those intentions might evolve.

Now, I want to be clear, while this is certainly a time for heightened vigilance, it is by no means a time for panic. Americans should continue to be alert and careful, but they shouldn't stop going about their daily lives. All across the country the FBI's men and women are working with urgency and purpose to confront the elevated threat. That means working closely with our federal, state and local partners on our FBI-led joint terrorism task forces, taking an even closer look at existing investigations and canvasing source to increase awareness across the board, and doing all we can, working with our partners, to protect houses of worship here in the U.S.

SIDNER: All right, you are listening to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill talking about homeland security and really going very hard on the idea that this fight between Israel and Hamas and Hamas in particular is heightening some of the threats to the United States, the terror threats to the United States, which he said were already heightened.

He mentioned that al Qaeda has made its most specific call in recent times to attack the United States and Jewish people. He talked about several of the arrests over the past six months or so that have happened, and over the past several weeks since the Israeli-Hamas war began, where there are heightened attacks against -- potential attacks against Jewish organizations, like the ADL, or the six-year-old Muslim boy who was killed, talking about the fact that this war is heightening dangers to America itself and its homeland.

We will have more on that in a bit.

We also want to tell you about the fact that President Biden is going to be meeting, in an extraordinary meeting because it hasn't happened in a whole year, with the president of China, Xi Jinping. That is going to happen on our west coast in just a bit here. We will also bring you that live when it happens.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping face to face today on the sidelines of a summit in California. The stakes, just like the global tension right now, extremely high. This is the first time the leaders are talking in a year. Big issues to hit on, of course, but the overall goal appears to be somewhat limited, essentially just reopening communication again.

Joining us now, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times," David Sanger, and the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bonny Lin.

Thanks, guys, for coming in.

Bonnie, the goal, just to keep these two sides talking. I don't think people are wrong to hear that and think, that's the expectation? It's that limited? I mean, what does that say?

BONNY LIN, DISTINGUISHED PRACTITIONER IN GRAND STRATEGY, YALE SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS: I think the Biden administration is trying to lower expectations prior to going into these meetings because they weren't sure exactly what could be achieved.

But I think we're hearing that we probably will see a couple of positive outcomes. This morning I think we've been hearing news that of the potential outcome on agreement on climate change. We're likely to see a resumption of military-to-military ties. There also may be progress on the Chinese willingness to curb down on precursors that are supporting the trade in fentanyl.

So, I think we might see more, but I - but the administration has been trying to keep expectations low.

BOLDUAN: Look, David, you've been covering U.S.-China talks for a few decades now. How is this time different?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, thanks for the reminder, Kate. It has been a little --

BOLDUAN: It's a compliment. It is a compliment.


SANGER: It has been a little while. And you know what really strikes me is, when you think back about the meetings between Chinese and American leaders that had real substantiative elements to them, President Obama meeting with his Chinese counterpart in 2009 and basically setting up a way that the two countries were organizing their economic activity to pull the world out of what was at the moment a really, really scary recession. Work together on North Korea, where the Chinese were actually the host of the year's long talks about North Korea's nuclear program. Worked together on Iran, where the Chinese joined the Americans in containing the Iranian program.

So, while the list that Bonny gave you was absolutely right, and I think we'll hear about those, and an interesting one on artificial intelligence and keeping it away from - from command and control of nuclear weapons, the opportunities here are pretty limited. The Chinese had made a commitment before on fentanyl in 2021 and didn't stick with it. We have had various moments where they have turned on and off military communications, yet when the balloon incident happened back at the beginning of the year, no one answered the phone, and so that led to a lot of the tensions there.

So, the question is, how many of these are for sort of show and which ones stick? Even the environmental agreement that they reached with John Kerry, the special envoy on climate issues, does not include a commitment of any kind to cut back on their coal burning plants.

BOLDUAN: And, Bonny, I wanted to ask you about what Biden told donors at a campaign fundraiser yesterday, the day before this big meeting, and said -- telling donors in this closed-door meeting that China's got real problems. It's not the first time Biden has used off camera situations like fundraisers to kind of knock at Xi and China. Why do you think Biden is saying this? What do you think it does?

LIN: Well, I think President Biden is, in some ways, reflecting the reality that we are seeing in China, which is China does have tremendous economic issues. I think one of the reasons President Xi Jinping is interested in coming to the United States now, in addition to the optics of better managing U.S.-China relations by meeting President Biden, I think he's probably also hoping that during this CEO dinner that he will have with a number of American business leaders, that he will be able to convince them to invest more in China.

We know that China has seen declining foreign investment. And with the economic problems that China is facing at home, the - the -- it will be important for the Chinese leader to be able to go back to China and say, hey, this meeting not only helped project a more powerful China on the international stage, but now we are see -- going to see more investment, including from U.S. corporations, into China.

BOLDUAN: And speaking about the Chinese economy, David, real quick, is a slow growing China more or less dangerous in terms of competition to America?

SANGER: Great question, Kate, because there have been some who have asked the question, you know, if China's growing quickly, then it's got a lot to lose from a conflict, say, over Taiwan, because it doesn't want to slow down the growth. If it's growing slowly, the administration is hoping they've got even more leverage and more time because China couldn't risk the sanctions.

But these are very hard to predict because countries sometimes do things that are not in their immediate economic interests. Think Russia invading Ukraine, right? And the hope here is that if anything the economic slowdown will make Xi Jinping think twice about any military adventurism.

BOLDUAN: It's great to have you guys in. Thank you so much for coming in, Bonny. Thank you so much, old man Sanger, it's great to see you.

SANGER: Thanks, Kate.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: David looks spry after all that time.

All right, prosecutors want a gag order upheld against former President Trump in the federal election subversion case after Trump slammed the wife and family of special counsel Jack Smith at a campaign rally.



SIDNER: All right, as Donald Trump's civil fraud trial resumes in New York this morning, prosecutors in Trump's federal election subversion case are urging a D.C. appeals court to uphold a gag order against the former president. At the same time, because there are so many cases, Fulton County prosecutors are asking a judge there to seal discovery materials in the Georgia election subversion case against Donald Trump.

Today's emergency hearing comes after video depositions from some of Trump's former co-defendants were leaked. They - how all of them -- all four you see on the screen there have taken plea deals.

Joining us now to discuss all this, former assistant special Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman. He's also the former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

You look at some of what came out and, of course, it's riveting to the public because it is information that is normally kept secret until it comes out in trial.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Right. And it's very highly troubling. SIDNER: Who benefits from leaking this?

AKERMAN: The person that benefits the most from all this is Donald Trump.


AKERMAN: Because it really threatens these witnesses. It puts out the fact that they -- three of these four witnesses have direct information on Donald Trump that is highly incriminating and is going to be part of what is likely to be a guilty verdict in that Georgia RICO case.

So, you've got these people out there, these wild, wacko MAGA crazies that will take this upon themselves to try and do something. That's what the concern is. You had this happen in Cincinnati after the search warrant that was executed in Donald Trump's estate.

SIDNER: The warrant.

AKERMAN: And what happened? Some guy goes to Cincinnati to try and kill an FBI agent.



AKERMAN: This is extremely dangerous.

SIDNER: Can I ask you what the protections are for the witnesses because Georgia doesn't - do they have witness protection?

AKERMAN: I don't think so. I mean that's the problem. It's -- first of all, it's very expensive.

SIDNER: Right.

AKERMAN: Look -- Mitt Romney had to - has to spend $5,000 a day just on his own personal protection. I had, at one time, five witnesses in the federal witness protection program. This is a pretty, you know, all 24-hour type of job, seven days a week, to protect people.


AKERMAN: Look what happened to Cassidy Hutchinson after she testified before the January 6th committee. So --

SIDNER: Right. It's madness that we are going through this in this country because these are - this is the right of the witnesses and it's your civic duty, they're doing what they are supposed to do by law and yet they're being threatened.

I do want to ask you, you have had a personal experience with this. Tell me what happened. You were - you were on a case that had to do with the mob. What happened to you? AKERMAN: Well, I basically wound up prosecuting probably two of the

more visible mob bosses in the country, Russell Buffalino, who was played by Joe Pesci in "The Irishman," -

SIDNER: "Irishman."

AKERMAN: And Fon Zitieri (ph), who was played by Marlon Brando in "The Godfather." And I'm still alive. But you never know what's going to happen. Threats made to prosecutors have to be taken seriously. And there's a big difference between the mafia now and Donald Trump, who is really kind of the boss of his organization, which is charged in that Rico case.

At least with the mafia, the FBI made it pretty clear to the mafia bosses, if you go after any of our agents, any of our prosecutors, you're going to have problem. But that's not the case.

SIDNER: But you had to try to evade them yourself.

AKERMAN: That's right.

SIDNER: And it's terrifying for anyone as a prosecutor, but certainly as a witness not used to going through all this.

Thank you so much, Nick Akerman. That was really interesting. I appreciate you coming on.

AKERMAN: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right, new reporting on what Israel is calling concrete evidence of the Hamas' terror presence inside Gaza's biggest hospital.