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Oil Spill off California Coast; Facebook Whistleblower Accuses Company of Fueling Riot; Lisa Banks is Interviewed about the Facebook Whistleblower; Biden Set to Urge Congress to Raise Debt Ceiling; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) is Interviewed about Congress' Standoff. Aired 9:00-9:30a ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Allegations swirling about him.

Ben Smith, media columnist for " The New York Times," as I said, terrific reporting. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BEN SMITH, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me, John. Good to see you.

BERMAN: CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning. Nice to have you with us. I'm Erica Hill.


This Monday, as we speak, crews in southern California are racing to contain a major oil spill that experts fear could quickly become an ecological disaster. Ariel pictures there. So far Coast Guard officials say they have removed more than 3,000 gallons of oil from the Pacific Ocean after a pipeline leaked more than 40 times that amount into the water there.

HILL: Numerous beaches as you can see there, in Orange County closed today. Divers are still searching that 17-mile pipeline for the source of the leak. And there are, understandably, major concerns about the area's wetlands and wildlife. Dead fish and birds have already started to wash ashore.

CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen and meteorologist Chad Myers joining us now.

So, Natasha, first to you.

In terms of where this leak started, do we know this morning the exact location so that it could ideally be fixed or is it still unclear?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know that information, Erica. Yesterday there were divers sent to really look at the 17-mile pipeline to see the potential source location of the leak. And we haven't heard the results of that yet. The parent company responsible, Amplify Energy, their CEO spoke during

a press conference yesterday and he said that this was first discovered by their crews doing a line inspection Saturday morning. They immediately told the Coast Guard.

He explained that this pipeline is routinely inspected every other year and is, quote, meticulously maintained.

Now, we don't know exactly how long it's been leaking because some people in the area say that they started smelling oil as early as Friday evening. And, of course, as you mentioned, there are potentially 126,000 gallons spilled at this point. That is the entire capacity of the pipeline.

So, at this point, there is no more to spill according to the CEO that we haven't seen more spillage since the initial report. But it has come up to the shoreline and that's why we're seeing people -- beachgoers yesterday really having trouble getting tar balls stuck to the bottom of their feet. Here are a couple of the folks we met.




B. OSTASHAY: I mean it's -- it's a sad thing. I mean --


B. OSTASHAY: Accidents do happen but, you know, it's -- it's a little surprised that it -- that it still does.

C. OSTASHAY: It still does, after all this, the way technology is. They can't figure out how not to spill or leak, you know? It's like, come on.


C. OSTASHAY: But it's not just us and our tax dollars. It's damaged all of the wildlife that goes on within the sea. We're already having enough problems.


CHEN: NTSB has also sent a couple of investigators here to help figure out exactly why this happened. You saw some more people out yesterday because a lot of them did not realize that the third day of the air show that was scheduled was actually canceled. And that air show was bringing 1 million people here to the beach over the weekend. And so some of them didn't hear of the news before they arrived.

The key thing now is that all the beaches you mentioned that are closed, officials really want people to stay out of the water, away from the shoreline, because contact with that oil can be very harmful.

Erica and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, the idea that the leak has stopped because all the oil has already leaked, just remarkable.

So, Chad, reference point, Deepwater Horizon spill back in 2010, many people remember that, the scale. That eventually was 4 million barrels of oil. So far here 3,000. But can you give us a sense of the scale, but also the damage to this environment here?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I mean 1,500 times (ph) more oil spilled than Deepwater Horizon, but that was a crude, thick oil, much of it didn't even get to the surface and is still laying down there on the bottom.

This is a refined product, which mean it's a lighter grade, which means it really did rise to the surface and then was washed onto the beaches and, more importantly, into the marshland. It's about the size right now of Santa Monica or just a little bit bigger. You can see the tar balls have already washed onshore. It's 1,300 (ph). You know, I mean talk -- compared to 3,150 gallons they've picked up so far, really only just scratching the surface trying to get the muck off the beach but, more importantly, away from the wildlife.

We already know that some wildlife has been affected. We have seen some birds and some fish in the water lifeless, of course. But they're still going to try to do everything that they can.


The real problem is here in the marshland that for decades, for decades they have worked on this, trying to make this the most populated little area for wildlife, fish, birds, plankton, every kind of marine life, but now we know that oil did get into this area and you start from the bottom and you go up. When you get the plankton or the little microorganisms, when they get covered, they get eaten by something else and then so on and so on and so on.

Jim and erica, this -- really, for this wetland, could really be an environmental disaster because we know oil is already in there.


HILL: Yes. Yes, it's awful.

All right, Chad, Natasha, appreciate it. Thank you both. We'll continue to stay on that this morning.

Also now these scathing accusations from a former Facebook executive about how the company handles hate content and misinformation. The whistleblower, Frances Haugen, is a former product manager at Facebook. She's set to testify before Congress tomorrow on how she says the company put profits over public safety. Haugen telling CBS' "60 Minutes" that Facebook knows its platform is being used to spread hate and encourage violence, but when given the choice between the public good and the company's bottom line, Facebook looked after its own interests. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCES HAUGEN, FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER: One of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today, is that it is optimizing for content that gets engagement, a reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money.

SCIUTTO: Wow. It's the bottom line.

Haugen also accused Facebook of contributing to the climate that led to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Why? She says that after the 2020 election, the company reversed some of its own safeguards against election disinformation.


FRANCES HAUGEN, FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER: They told us, we're dissolving civic integrity. Like they basically said, oh good, we made it through the election. There wasn't riots. We can get rid of civic integrity now.

Fast forward a couple of months, we got the insurrection. And when they got rid of civic integrity, it was the moment where I was like, I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.

As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off, or they changed the science back to what they were before to prioritize growth over safety, and that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.


SCIUTTO: Growth over safety.

CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter has been following this story.

Brian, you know, this is really the latest in the series -- in a series with Facebook, right, where they know about the damage, the disinformation being shared online and don't do anything about it or in this case it seems hid that information.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: And that's why there are so many comparisons this morning to big tobacco, to decades ago when big tobacco companies were revealed to have known their products were addictive and deadly.

Now, of course, Facebook rejects those comparisons. But they're going to keep coming up because the whistleblower is testifying before a Senate subcommittee tomorrow. So she will be speaking out on Capitol Hill and she's already lined up a chance to testify in the United Kingdom as well.

So what we have in this situation is an insider saying what so many of Facebook's outside critics have been saying for years. Now you have someone who was on the inside, who was working as a product manager, working on misinformation, trying to combat Facebook's problems. She came to conclude that Facebook was not going to do so, that the situation was getting worse. And as you see on screen there, her lawyers have filed eight complaints, at least eight complaints with the SEC, of course the government agency that regulates the financial markets. So what she is charging is that what Facebook says in public is a lie compared to what she knows in private.

She's also the person who leaked all those documents to "The Wall Street Journal" and provided all this evidence that Facebook knows about the flaws of its platforms.

Now, I interviewed Nick Clegg yesterday. He's one of the top spokespeople for Facebook. And essentially he advances the argument that no social media platform is perfect but we are trying our best.

Here's a part of what Clegg told me.


NICK CLEGG, VP FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: I think this is a good example of the company doing exactly what I hope people would expect we should do, which is not pretending that everything is perfect on social media. It isn't. Researching where there are the minority of instances, where it's not working out right for people and then trying to fix it as much as we can on our own apps.


STELTER: So what you hear there is Clegg saying, you know, most people have a good experience on Facebook and Instagram. And for the people who don't, we're trying to improve that. We're trying to fix that.

I think the broader question though is when there's a product so addictive that's warping our brains and minds that is used by billions of people, is it bigger than anyone can control, has the monster become too big for Facebook to control?


HILL: That's an important question.


HILL: Brian Stelter, appreciate it, as always.

Joining us now is Lisa Banks, she's an employment and whistleblower attorney who has represented several high-profile clients, including Steven Sund, the former Capitol Police chief and former HHS whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright.

Lisa, it's good to have you with us this morning. Based on your experience, what happens next here?

LISA BANKS, EMPLOYMENT AND WHISTLEBLOWER ATTORNEY: Well, I think the whistleblower will continue to expose what she perceives to be wrongdoing and she'll do that to Congress, she'll do that through the SEC and will continue -- in all likelihood to continue doing it through the media as well.

SCIUTTO: Did Facebook, big picture here, by having this information internally and not sharing it, you know, including with filings with the SEC, I mean did Facebook break any laws here?

BANKS: It's possible. That would be the basis of her SEC filing, which is that what Facebook was saying publicly to Congress, to regulators, to the public was false and it was misleading to investors. And that can be a violation of SEC laws and regulations. And so that is the basis of her SEC filing.

HILL: We know there were a number of filings to the SEC, as you pointed out, we just talked about. She is set to testify before Congress tomorrow.

In terms of also providing these documents to the media, is that generally what you would also advise a client to do to make sure that this information gets out? I mean how important and how wise is that part of what we're seeing?

BANKS: Well, it's risky to do it for sure. When you reveal information to government agencies, the SEC, Congress, that's generally protected. But when you go to the press, when you give "The Wall Street Journal" thousands of documents, that's a little riskier, but sometimes it's necessary because what a whistleblower is trying to do is expose serious wrongdoing in the hopes that change can be affected. And if you go to the SEC or sometimes even to Congress, you're not assured that that information will get out. That the -- you know, you want to shine a light on this. And sometimes going through the media is the -- the best and the only way to do that. So it often -- it often is a necessary step for whistleblowers.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I mean, we saw that in the Trump administration, for instance, you know, concerns that it -- following the internal process could be quashed, right, by partisans and you saw folks who then went outside that process.

My question to you, big picture is, are whistleblower laws written to sufficiently protect whistleblowers like this from criminal prosecution?

BANKS: Well, depending on where they bring the information. So, obviously, she's protected in going to the SEC, for example. She may not be protected in going to "The Wall Street Journal."


BANKS: And it's entirely conceivable that Facebook will bring some sort of civil action against her, breach of a nondisclosure agreement or misappropriation of trade secrets or something like that. But just because they can doesn't mean they should.

SCIUTTO: Right, they may make their own judgment about public profile, public relations on that issue beyond the law.

BANKS: Correct.

SCIUTTO: Lisa banks, so good to have you on.

BANKS: Thank you very much.

HILL: Up next, President Biden set to speak this morning on the urgent need for Congress to raise the debt limit. This as progressives in his party draw a hard line in what they want in exchange for that vote on infrastructure.

SCIUTTO: I'm going to be speaking to Congresswoman Debbie Dingell about how they plan to break the stalemate as the president is set to visit her state tomorrow to make the case. There she is right there.

And later, COVID cases finally headed in the right direction in the U.S. This is good news. So why does the CDC's new holiday guidance sound like it's from 2020? We'll see.



SCIUTTO: Just about two hours President Biden will speak from the White House, expected to push Congress to raise the nation's debt ceiling. It comes as Senate Republicans are holding firm that Democrats should increase the country's borrowing limit on their own with zero GOP votes. Of course we should note there was no hesitation from Republicans during the tax cut negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

HILL: Details, details.


HILL: All of this happening as President Biden is expected to travel to Michigan tomorrow to rally support for his bipartisan infrastructure bill and sweeping social and climate spending package.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House for us this morning. CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

Jeremy, let's start with you.

Where -- sorry, what do we expect to hear from the president later today?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, we've already heard President Biden repeatedly make clear that not lifting the debt ceiling just isn't an option, defaulting is not an option for the United States. And, obviously, so far, a lot of this has been focused on trying to pressure Republicans to join along with Democrats, or at least allow Democrats to do this by a simple majority vote, something that they have tried and failed because Republicans have prevented them from doing so over the last week.

I think you can expect President Biden to continue trying to raise the pressure on Republicans to fulfill this responsibility of raising the debt ceiling. But I don't know that that's going to have a huge impact on those Republicans. And so ultimately here there are two weeks left to go and President Biden and Democrats may need to find another path ahead.

One thing that I think is very clear here at the White House is that not lifting the debt ceiling just is not an option and I think Republicans are very, very cognizant of that.

Now, at the same time, President Biden is also going to be continuing to focus on trying to bridge the divides within the Democratic caucus on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as well as that $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.


That's why we're going to see him tomorrow heading out to Michigan to try and rally support for this agenda. We've seen the president focus on a lot of these behind the scenes negotiations over the last week. Now I think we're going to see a lot more public pressure from him using the power of the bully pulpit to try and get Democrats on board and get to a place where they can pass these two bills.

SCIUTTO: All right, Lauren Fox on The Hill.

So Republicans seem pretty comfortable letting the Democrats burn themselves here on the debt limit. You do have some Democrats saying, well, you know, Mitch McConnell will blink on this. He doesn't want to put us over the edge. But, I don't know, if you're betting against Mitch McConnell to blink -- or betting for him to blink, you're probably going to lose that bet based on history. I mean where does it stand? Are Democrats going to have to go it alone here?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I think your read is correct, that if you are betting on Mitch McConnell to blink, then you're probably going to be on the losing side of this argument. Republicans continue to say they are not going to increase the debt ceiling if it comes to the floor. And they've shown that repeatedly. As majority leader Chuck Schumer has brought various iterations of this legislation to the floor, Republicans have rejected it.

And that includes some Republicans, like Mitt Romney, somebody who sometimes does vote with Democrats on big items, whether that was impeachment or other items in the past, like the bipartisan infrastructure bill. So Democrats cannot count on some Republican colleagues to cross the aisle on this one, which leaves them very limited options.

One of those options that they could use, and this is according to guidance they got last week from the Senate parliamentarian, is they could move ahead with a separate budget process that would allow them to raise the debt ceiling, increase the debt ceiling with just a simple majority. That only takes 51 votes. But it does require Democrats to put in that legislation exactly how much more money they're going to be spending. That's a difficult vote for some moderates, which is why Democrats have been saying all along they don't want to use that option. You've heard that from Schumer. You heard that last week from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But, potentially, that may be the only tool at their disposal. And they only have a couple of weeks left before this deadline coming up in mid-October, which means they have to get moving on that option if they're going to pursue it. It takes probably about two weeks and we're right at that two-week deadline now.

So the question of what they're going to do next is really up in the air. A lot of Democrats saying they cannot default. But when you have limited tools in your toolbox, there just aren't a lot of options left.

Jim and Erica.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

Lauren Fox on The Hill, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much.

I'm joined now by Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. She is a rare one who is both among the Problem Solvers and the Progressive Caucus in the House.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Good morning, Jim, good to see you.

SCIUTTO: So you bridge the gap, the gap that went so public yesterday within the Democratic Party between progressives and moderates on the way forward. Tell us, what is the middle ground here? What is the way forward? Who gives and who gives what?

DINGELL: Well, I don't look at it as who's going to give. I look at it, finally we're legislating. The president came to The Hill last Friday and made it clear where he was. I think until that point, different people had different perspectives of who might -- what -- of what he might want or not want.

On top of that, really, I've heard members talking to each other last week. The president was very clear on Friday that he doesn't want to talk numbers. He wants to talk programs. What is it that the people of your district want and need?


DINGELL: And I think that's what we're going to focus. Everybody's (INAUDIBLE) --

SCIUTTO: So what are the programs, right? So let's set aside the $3.5 trillion versus $2.1 trillion or $1.5 trillion, Joe Manchin's figure. If you break it up into -- into the constituent parts, right, which are the red line issues for Democrats? I mean is it expansion of Medicare? Is it universal Pre-K? Which are the ones that are going to survive this, that must survive this?

DINGELL: Well, we're all going to get in a room and we're going to have to have some, you know, discussions. And a part of the discussion is, how does it get funded? Is it for five years versus ten? But their -- childcare, 3 million people have left the workforce because of the lack and cost of childcare. Lead in pipes. We need -- I've never been one to bad mouth the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We need what's in there. But there's not enough money in there to take the lead out of all the pipes in this country.


DINGELL: Here -- I -- long-term care for seniors. Building out an electric vehicle infrastructure. All those things are in there. And just as Joe Manchin fights for the people of West Virginia, I'm going to fight for my autoworkers in Michigan and what we need to be successful and (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: OK, let's talk timing because one thing that was lost last week were a couple of deadlines, right, you know, for voting on the infrastructure bill.

Nancy Pelosi now says vote on bipartisan infrastructure by October 31st.


But White House Adviser Cedric Richmond, he was asked if there was a timeline on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday and he said, we're not using an artificial timeline.

Is there any actual timeline here?

DINGELL: So, first of all, the surface transportation bill was extended through October 30th or 31st.


DINGELL: So, we're going to have to make some decisions by then. I think a lot of members are anxious to get both of these bills done and we need to be delivering for the American people. I think the White House saw what happens when you put artificial deadlines and it, you know, created a -- it was a good weekend for everybody to be able to go home and take deep breaths. Now we've got to come back to the table. I think Nancy's the one that's got to negotiate in the House. No one ever knows what the Senate's going to do and it's probably why Cedric Richmond said what he did because the Senate is a very unpredictable body.

SCIUTTO: It strikes me that this was -- not just me, but this was a wound to Nancy Pelosi's leadership. You know, she promised a vote on a certain timeline, couldn't get the two sides together. And, by the way, you yourself, as you mentioned earlier, criticized that it wasn't clear what the president wanted until Friday in terms of picking and choosing among these various priorities here.

Are you disappointed in how the Democratic leadership didn't bring this through?

DINGELL: I'm not disappointed. You know what, everybody wants to point fingers, et cetera. What I do know is that our caucus is unified, that failure's not an option. I think we all did a far better job of communicating last week than we have been doing. So I look at that as a win., And, you know, you know the old Will Rogers statement, people with weak stomachs shouldn't watch sausage or laws being made. I think everybody knows where we're going now. We know what the broad outlines are and failure isn't an option, Jim, this has to get done because we have to deliver for the American people.


Another issue that has cropped up where there is public disagreement among Democrats is on the Hyde Amendment, which, of course, for folks at home, prevents federal programs from covering abortion expenses.

Pramila Jayapal, your progressive colleague, she said would not support a sweeping economic bill if it includes it. Joe Manchin, on the Senate side, will not support anything that doesn't include it. What is the compromise there?

DINGELL: You know what I want to say to both my colleagues, they should stop making sweeping statements publicly and we all need to get in a room and talk to each other, not go through sound bites.

SCIUTTO: It's a fair -- it's fair advice. Do you think, before we go, that the Democratic Party did damage to itself last week with the midterms a little more than a year away?

DINGELL: I think when we deliver for the American people on a bill that's going to give them so many things we need, from fixing our roads and bridges to addressing the childcare issues and expanding health care, making health care more affordable, prescription drugs, people are going to know what we delivered, and that's what they're going to focus on.

SCIUTTO: OK. We'll be watching.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, thanks so much for joining the program.

DINGELL: Thank you, Jim.


HILL: Just ahead, sounds a lot like 2020. The CDC issuing new guidance for family gatherings this year, trying to get out there ahead of the holidays. As COVID cases are declining across the country, why is this guidance still so conservative?

Plus, we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures lower this morning after rallying on Friday. Investors will be watching what's happening in Washington this week, specifically the debt ceiling. An accidental short default could spark a financial crisis, cost the government billions more in borrowing costs and potentially spike interest rates.