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FBI Director to Deliver Stark Warning on Chinese Hackers; Trump's PAC Paid Roughly $50 Million in Legal Fees in 2023; Middle East Tensions Rising as Region Waits for U.S. to Respond. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2024 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: China will wreak havoc on the United States, a glaring warning from the FBI director of being delivered to top lawmakers right now.

BOLDUAN: How much does it cost to defend Donald Trump, for the PACs supporting him millions and millions, apparently, necessary investment, or throwing good money after bad?

BERMAN: A terrifying online video with the son claiming to show his father's decapitated head, new charges filed and now the political connection.

Sara is away. I'm John Berman with Kate Bolduan. This is CNN New Central.

All right, a dire warning from the FBI. China is preparing to wreak havoc on U.S. infrastructure. That message coming from the FBI Director Christopher Wray, who will testify on Capitol Hill very shortly.

He plans to tell lawmakers that Chinese government hackers are positioning themselves to target water treatment plants, the electrical grid and transportation systems. CNN's Cybersecurity Reporter Sean Lyngaas is with us now with the very latest on this. What do we expect today, Sean?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Well, John, this is the most public and direct and dire warning yet from the FBI Director. This actually isn't a brand-new hacking campaign or anything. It's been going on for several months, over a year now, where in my over a decade covering cybersecurity, this is the most frank and public warnings from the National Security Agency, the FBI, and others about how Chinese hackers are pre-positioning, what they call pre- positioning in critical infrastructure, gaining a foothold, not using that access to these sensitive networks now, but lurking in the time of a crisis, like in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The thinking among U.S. national security officials that the hackers could use this access to potentially disrupt the U.S. military's response.

And so the U.S. government sees this as an escalation, frankly, and it comes at a time in a very tense relation between U.S. and China. They've tried to ease those tensions. My colleagues and I reported yesterday that Xi -- President Xi Jinping told Joe Biden last year that he had no intention of interfering in the U.S. election this year, which is the fact that needed to be said is startling, frankly, and U.S. officials are looking to hold them to that.

But today on Capitol Hill, we're going to see more detail than we've previously seen on why senior U.S. security officials are concerned about the Chinese access to these critical systems in places like Guam, the U.S.-specific territory that the U.S. uses to project power in the Pacific. John.

BERMAN: All right, Sean Lyngaas for us in Washington watching this very closely. Sean, thank you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Joining us now for more on this is CNN's Senior Law Enforcement Analyst and former Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe.

Andy, thanks for jumping on. You know, so Ray is going to say that there's been far too little public focus on this threat that Sean was just laying out.

I want to read part of what we've seen from his prepared remarks, which says, "China's hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real world harm to American citizens and communities if or when China decides the time has come to strike."

How do you decipher that warning for us?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think, Kate, the first thing that we have to index on is how direct and bold and -- and dare I say, dramatic the FBI Director's language is. It's very, very rare for Christopher Wray to come out and speak about the threat in these sort of terms.

So we have to take him at his word. He is clearly trying to grab the attention of all Americans on a threat that he thinks is of the absolute highest importance. So you have to -- you have to kind of take that into consideration.

And secondly, he's in a great position to know, right? He has access through FBI resources and his intelligence partners at the NSA and other places he has access to the government's absolute most cutting- edge sensitive information about where Chinese hackers are targeting about the sorts of access they're establishing in critical infrastructure. So this is not based on theory, this is based on real time intelligence, telling the community what's happening out there.


BOLDUAN: And what does real world harm look like?

MCCABE: So the best analog for this case is to think back like historically, at the initiation of hostilities between two nation states, you typically see things like targeting of infrastructure, targeting of communication nodes, trying to take out what we refer to as command-and-control capability, that's your adversaries ability to talk to their own troops, to deploy people, to move resources, that sort of thing.

This is the modern version of that if. If the Chinese or any adversary can establish themselves in our critical infrastructure, they could do things like turn off our ability to communicate, turn off our access to the internet, which provides us control over numerous military and defensive resources. They can hamper societal and economic interaction with, in terms of financial trading, in terms of the delivery of goods and services. We all remember how negatively we're impacted by supply chain disruptions after the -- after the pandemic. This would be that on 100-fold level. And I think -- I think that's what he's primarily concerned about.

BOLDUAN: A couple of questions kind of looking forward is, is the threats real? Sure, what -- but what can Congress and the government do about this? And how linked or separate is this from the warnings we've been hearing for years about China's goal of essentially stealing intellectual property, you know, stealing Scientific and Industrial Research from businesses in the United States?

MCCABE: Yeah, so that's really interesting. And that's where I see the biggest pivot here. So traditionally, that's what we were worried about in terms of Chinese hacking. They were interested in targeting our -- our private sector to steal research and, you know, technology and things that information and data that could help them bolster their economy.

This is fundamentally different. This is hacking for military and intelligence advantage in a conflict. So in terms of what we can do, there's really two main target audiences here. The first is the private sector, the private sector in this country, unlike China, the private sector is in control of our national cyber infrastructure. These are, you know, assets of companies and things like that. And the director and Government writ large is trying to get the attention of private sector, particularly critical infrastructure entities to get on board with updating and securing their systems that is really the on the ground way to defend from this sort of -- this sort of attack.

And the second audience is, as you mentioned, Congress. Congress' role is to address these issues in a real and factual way, and to start providing the resources to places like the FBI and NSA. But even more importantly, the cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency, otherwise known as CISA. They are really on the front line of working with our critical infrastructure partners to try to strengthen the systems that are critical to U.S. society in general.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, I guess the first step is getting there -- getting everyone's attention and getting everyone to agree on what this threat is and how serious it is in the moment.

It's good to see you, Andy. Thank you so much. We're going to be watching as this hearing is going to be starting during our show today. We're going to bring you the highlights from it. John? BERMAN: All right. This morning, how expensive is it to be Donald

Trump, $50 million. Sources say that's roughly how much his PAC paid in 2023 for legal bills. Today, we're going to find out the exact some where the new filing from the to the Federal Election Commission. CNN's Alayna Treene is in Washington with the latest on this. That's a lot of money?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Yes, it is, John, $50 million for legal fees is a massive staggering sum. And I think it just important to think about where this came from, right?

So a lot of this money is coming from his political action committee, Save America. And that means essentially that this is money coming from donors. That tell save America raises its money from donors, mainly small dollar donors who are essentially paying for Donald Trump's legal fees.

And look, Save America, I think it's just important to remember that they raised a lot of money. They saw a flood of donations come in after the 2020 election when Donald Trump was spreading false claims of election fraud. So a lot of -- they had a lot of money in the bank already before Donald Trump even launched his 2024 campaign.

But obviously huge numbers here for what he spent in 2023 on legal expenses. And of course that number is likely to grow as Donald Trump is facing for criminal indictments. If any of those go to trial this year, that number is going to rise exponentially.


But there's a couple of things here, I want to point out. One is that, not all of this money was just for Donald Trump. Some of this is being used for lawyers, for his co-defendants and other witnesses. But also, I think another thing worth noting is, you know, there's the question of, is Donald Trump personally paying for any of his legal expenses?

And I think, you know, we'll see more later, as you mentioned, John, we're going to see the filing to the FEC come in later today. And we'll have a better sense of the real numbers here.

But if you think about the math and the numbers that we have already, it doesn't seem like all of this is going to be able to be covered by his political action committee, that Donald Trump is going to have to foot some of the bill on his own. And we know that in that first trial with E. Jean Carroll, he did put forward $5 million of his own money. And so, I think that's something that the Trump team is going to have to deal with moving forward.

And just to quickly add, you know, I've covered Donald Trump for many years now. He is someone who historically hates paying his lawyers. He hates paying his legal fees, and he's stiffed some of his attorneys in the past. So again, just something that I think we'll watch closely as this year progresses and we see, you know, just how much more -- more money excuse me it's going to have to go toward footing the ball for a lot of his -- his legal expenses. BERMAN: All right. Alayna Treene for us in Washington. On the subject of legal bills, any minute now, one of the rulings we have been waiting for could come down.

Now Judge Arthur Engoron here in Manhattan, after closing arguments in the civil fraud trial said, quote, "It's up to me now and I will do my best to have a final decision by January 31st."

With us now, Elie Honig, CNN Senior Legal Analyst, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And, Elie, this just in. It's January 31, it's the day Arthur Engoron told us he would try to have a ruling by, what are you watching for?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So John, a couple things. First of all, big picture, this ruling could determine the future of Donald Trump's business in New York and elsewhere, although to an extent that future has already been determined, because it's really important to keep in mind, Judge Engoron actually ruled on one of the causes of action before this trial even started. He found the Trump Organization liable for repeated fraud. And he said I intend to suspend their business certificate, which would end their business -- ability to do business in New York state.

So I'm looking for a couple things. First of all, there are six additional causes of action relating to insurance fraud, falsifying business records. Will the judge find the Trump Organization liable or not liable for those?

Second of all, what will the number be? As you just said, the A.G. is now asking for a mammoth amount $370 million, the judge can give anywhere from zero to $370 million. And then finally, will the judge reaffirm that, yes, I intend to suspend their business certificates. Important to note, whatever the judge does today will be subject to appeal.

BERMAN: And Elie, how will we find out? Is he going to announce it from the bench? Is he just going to hit send on an email that goes on to a court site?

HONIG: So it could be there's an announcement saying that the ruling will be coming out at fill in the blank time. Or yes, it could just take what we call the docket sheet which is just a publicly available then you can get on the internet and all sudden you'll see there's a new entry.

I guarantee you we have reporters hitting refresh on the docket probably every 30 seconds or so. But yeah, it could just pop it could just appear on the docket sheet and then we'll have to -- we'll have to dissect it.

BERMAN: All of our best people right now hitting refresh, refresh, refresh. And I will note I'm not one of our best people.

Elie Honig, there's another case we are waiting on, really surprisingly, still waiting on which is this is the federal appeals court that heard arguments more than three weeks ago now on whether Donald Trump had immunity from all the actions he took on January 6. This is taking a long time for them to issue a ruling. And I think a lot of people thought was going to come right away.

HONIG: Yeah, John, I certainly did, I'll admit to that. Because ordinarily, three weeks is no time at all for a court of appeals to rule. Ordinarily, courts of appeals take months. But in this case, and this is, like you said, the criminal case where Donald Trump has claimed he has immunity. The Court of Appeals there set a mega expedited briefing schedule of schedule faster than one I've ever seen where the parties had a week or two each to get in their briefs.

Now, the oral argument happened, as you said three plus weeks ago, so it is taking longer than I think most of us expected. And that really tells me one or two things is happening. One, it could just be that they're taking their time, they're writing more slowly than expected. They're doing more research maybe than expected.

The other possibility is there could be a split of opinion. This is a three-judge panel. It could be that one of the three judges, we don't know which might be dissenting, issuing a formal dissent. And if that's the case, then they're going back and forth or exchanging drafts or having conferences and that would prolong a decision.


BERMAN: All right, Elie Honig, I have to say, don't go far from that camera because these decisions especially the one here in New York, could come at any minute. Thank you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: A man is accused of beheading his father and showing it online calling his dad a trader for working for the federal government and ranting about President Biden. Pennsylvania police are no deep into this disturbing investigation. We'll bring you the updates on what's happening there.

Iran's first response and warnings since President Biden confirmed that he has now decided how the United States will respond to the deadly strikes on U.S. troops. And a new video from the trial of the mother of a school shooter what she said as she broke down in the back of a police car after her son's arrest and what it could mean for her trial, it is underway.



BOLDUAN: Iran's top military leaders now speaking out saying threats from America will not go on answered. Now, this is the first pushback if you will from Iran after the Middle East has been waiting to see what move President Biden has decided to make in retaliation, and we're in response to Sunday's drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded dozens more.

Let's get over to CNN's Arlette Saenz who's at the White House for us. Arlette, what -- are let what are you hearing anything from the White House yet to this statement now coming from Iran threatening against any threats as it says?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we're still waiting to hear a response from the White House on this specific matter. But yesterday, President Biden was quite clear, and that he is not looking for an additional war in the Middle East. This comes even as President Biden did say that he believes Iran is responsible in the sense that they've provided weaponry to Iranian backed militia groups.

But going forward, we are still waiting to hear what exactly the U.S. will response will be to this strike that killed three American service members. President Biden told me yesterday he has made up his mind and we know he and his team have been meeting behind closed doors crafting this response with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby yesterday said that it could include multi-layers to it and also potentially could be carried out over a period of time and come in multiple formats.

But one thing that the President has also been trying to make clear as he is crafting this U.S. response to this attack is that he's also keeping in mind the families of those three American service members. The President spoke by phone with each of the families yesterday, that includes Sergeant William Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Sanders and Specialist Breonna Moffett, all of Georgia. It's worth noting the U.S. Army Reserve actually posthumously promoted Moffett and Sanders to the rank of sergeant after their death. And that is something President Biden shared himself in a phone call with a family of Kennedy Sanders yesterday. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I know there's nothing anybody can say or do to ease the pain. I've been there. And by the way, were promoted her posthumously to Sergeant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow, that is the best news I've heard today. Thank you so much. You don't know how much that means to us.

BIDEN: Well, I tell you what, it means a lot to talk to me, Sergeant Sanders. Gosh, yes, it was a picture I'm looking at. She's such a beautiful smile. God loved her.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She did -- she absolutely the light up every room she was, yeah.

BIDEN: That's pretty clear from looking at it.


SAENZ: So an emotional moment there for the family, as they heard directly from President Biden, the White House had said that the President in his phone calls asked if the families would like to have him on hand for the dignified transfer of their loved ones remains, which is expected to take place in Dover, Delaware on Friday, the families said that they would like to see him there. And the White House said that he will be on hand for that emotional moment.

BOLDUAN: It's so important to hear from the families and see them if they're willing to be seen publicly and what they're going through. It's just -- it's so important. Thanks for bringing that to us, Arlette. John?

BERMAN: It was a really unique perspective. I'm not sure I heard a call exactly like that before.

With us now CNN Military Analyst, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark and CNN National Security Analyst, Beth Sanner.

General, I want to start with you on what we heard from this militia group, this Iranian backed militia group that may be responsible for its attack on U.S. soldiers that left three soldiers dead. They say they're going to suspend attacks on the United States, how much stock do you put in there?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Not much. But if there's a way of checking it out, you know, we should check it out. Somebody should go backwards. OK, lay out your weapons, have a full inspection, put everybody online, open up your headquarters, fly some drones over and then see what's going on there.

But this is a typical sort of Middle East boy. And it reminds me of many other incidents in history in this region where people will attack and that's, oh, no, no, no, you can't attack me back. Now, I didn't really mean it. It's just -- it's an -- it's an Iranian ploy.

BERMAN: And at the same time that we are hearing from this Iranian backed proxy, which operates largely inside Iraq, Beth, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had from inside Iran is saying that any U.S. response to this attack that left three Americans dead in Jordan will be met with four. So how do you juxtapose those two messages?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, Iran was clearly behind the KH statement, saying that, you know, that they were going to suspend operations there's good Iraqi press on that and.


So what -- you know, what I take from this is both Iran and KH are actually worried about our retaliation, you know, so this is a sign that -- that actually are threatening this retaliation is starting to establish some deterrence. And you know, deterrence is really complicated. It is about, you know, being consistent with what you say, follow through, not just one thing. And so I think despite whatever is said here, the United States absolutely has to respond regardless.

BERMAN: And Beth, I want to change regions, if I can, for a second right now, and come up here to Russia. And there are elections that have been announced in Russia, a lot of people scoff at the notion that Vladimir Putin is so called running for re-election. But we did get worried now that this man, we just saw him right there, Boris Nadezhdin, right there who's an opposition political figure has gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot? And what's interesting about him is he's spoken out against the war in Ukraine. So what do you read into this?

SANNER: It's really interesting, isn't it? Hundreds of thousands of people lined up across Russia, because you need signatures from every region in Russia to get onto the ballot, and people stood in the snow and signed these petitions, to get him on the ballot. And he submitted those petitions. And now we're going to see whether the Kremlin will let him do that or not.

But I also just kind of want to caution people that while there is this silent group of people in Russia that are anti-war, it is not a silent majority is probably a silent minority. And -- and so it's important, but I don't think it poses a real threat to Putin.

That said, you know, Putin always sees threats in a much bigger way than reality shows it to be and, you know, it could very well be that he ends up not making it onto the ballot.

BERMAN: In General Clark, as long as we're talking about Ukraine and Russia, we got word just a few minutes ago, of a prisoner exchange of nearly 200 troops from each side going back and forth, what do you read into that?

CLARK: I think he's -- these have been handled routinely. I think the Russians are trying to move past the embarrassment of the IL-76 shoot down, which we still don't really have all the facts on that. The Ukrainian say that there were only five bodies actually recovered from the wreckage. But -- but there's a lot of mystery surrounding this. And I think Russia just wants to move past it. If it was a play, or disinformation play. It didn't work for Russia.

BERMAN: General Wesley Clark, Beth Sanner thanks to both of you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: I mean, it's just been arrested after allegedly beheading his father and posting video and a political rant online. What Pennsylvania police are now saying about what happened, and about his threats.

And top names of some of the most important and impactful social media platforms in the world. They're in the hot seat this morning. Why senators are Eagle too eager to Question Mark Zuckerberg yet again? We'll be back.