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Justices Face Public Backlash After Overturning Roe; Whistleblower on Capitol Hill Testifying on Twitter Security Practices; Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Says, FBI Warned Twitter That One of Its Employees May Be a Foreign Intelligence Agent. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired September 13, 2022 - 10:30   ET


MICHAEL WIRTH, CEO AND CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, CHEVRON: Impact being felt in the European economy and I do think it is likely that Europe goes into a recession.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Energy Secretary Granholm wrote you a letter a few weeks ago and asked Chevron and other big suppliers not to export more fuel and instead to, quote, focus on building inventories here in the United States. This is after a number of Democrats in the Congress called on you guys to flat out stop exporting oil out of the United States. Would a ban like that actually bring down prices for American consumers, because that is their argument?

WIRTH: The risk in an action like that has unintended consequences. And, in fact, the U.S. is both an exporter and importer of products. An export ban runs the risk of taking supplies that are needed in other parts of world and reducing those, which can drive oil prices up, which then can affect the price of imports into this country.

HARLOW: Which means it doesn't get cheaper here is what you're saying?

WIRTH: I think there's a risk that it could take prices up, not down.

HARLOW: So, you wrote a letter to Biden over the summer responding to his letter to you. Here is part of it. Your administration has largely sought to criticize, at times, vilify our industry. These actions are not beneficial to meeting the challenges we face and are not what the American people deserve. The president responded saying that you were mildly sensitive, that is a quote, and he didn't think your feelings would get hurt so quickly.

Beyond that back and forth, I'm interested in if the relationship has improved. Are you guys seeing more eye to eye?

WIRTH: Well, we've certainly been interacting with the administration more in recent times than that we did in the early days. Through the period of time when prices were accelerating, there was a lot of very sharp rhetoric that was not, in my view, well-informed about how energy markets really work. And we really didn't have a foundation of dialogue to agree on the things that I think we both are seeking, which are well-supplied markets, stable markets and policies that encourage investment in supply in this country that can keep markets stable.

HARLOW: So, when you say, ill-informed, are you referring in part to when the president tweeted, my message to companies running gas stations and setting prices at the pump is simple, bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you're paying for the product and do it now?

WIRTH: I think that is a statement that doesn't really reflect a full knowledge of how these markets work.


WIRTH: Because the price of gasoline is set in international markets, regional markets and it is not necessarily directly related to the input cost.

HARLOW: If you were sitting with the president now and leading members in Congress, I wonder what the one main thing you would ask of them.

WIRTH: I would call for the president and others to look at what we're seeing in Europe, look at some of the signals we're seeing in our own country and acknowledge that a different conversation is necessary, one that balances economic prosperity and affordable energy for economic growth, one that acknowledges the importance of energy security, which is national security, as we're seeing today, and one that also acknowledges the importance of protecting the environment.

In the short-term, permitting reform is the single thing that could enable not only the oil and gas industry but the renewables industry to continue to grow energy supplies in this country.

HARLOW: How big of a threat do you think that climate change is to our planet right now?

WIRTH: Climate change is real. It's underway. We don't do original climate science. We accept the findings from the IPCC. And, look, we're working to deliver a lower carbon energy system. We're committed to investing billions of dollars in renewable fuels, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, we're reducing the carbon intensity of our own operations and building new, lower carbon energy systems today.

HARLOW: The U.N. climate report said it is now or never to address climate change. They said, we're on a fast track to climate disaster. A third of Pakistan is under water right now. So, on a scale of one to ten, one being not concerned, ten being a five-alarm fire, where is your concern level about climate change?

WIRTH: It is difficult to put these things on a scale for me. We take it very seriously. And our objective is to deliver lower carbon energy to supply a growing economy. We also need to keep the economy running. And I think the instability we're seeing in certain markets around the world today is a signal that we can't count on tomorrow's energy system until it is built.

HARLOW: You've been at Chevron, people might not know this, your whole life. 40 years, right?

WIRTH: That is right.

HARLOW: 40 years now. So, you've seen a lot. I wonder, knowing what we know now about the climate crisis, do you wish Chevron and your peers had done more sooner like the investments you're making now?

WIRTH: I think we understood the climate science --

HARLOW: Any regrets for not doing it sooner?


WIRTH: Well, the technologies that we're working on today are technologies we've actually been working on for a long time. I was involved in natural gas refueling stations decades ago. We built the hydrogen highway in California 20 years ago. So, we've been working on these technologies for a long time. If they were cost-competitive and if there were market demand for them, they would have grown already.

And so there are real technical challenges, economic challenges in scaling these energy systems up. We've been work on them for decades.

HARLOW: Lately, a lot of focus has been on oil company record profits. I want to give you a chance to address some of that. Second quarter profit $11.6 billion, roughly $2,200 a second, as some folks put it. This is a cyclical business. People need to understand that. It is boom, it is bust. You were losing money a few years ago during the pandemic. I want to make that clear. What do you say to people at home who see these numbers, see these record profits now for Chevron and the big oil companies and they feel like they're getting the short end of the stick and they blame you guys. What do you say?

WIRTH: Well, I recognize that high energy prices are difficult for consumers. That is why we've talked about increasing production, trying to increase supply to markets. In a commodity business, you go through these cycles. Two years ago, we were losing billions dollars a quarter and now we're making strong profits through the cycle of the returns on capital in our industry are lower than they are in most of the rest of the economy. It's a very capital-intensive industry. It is a long cycle industry. And we need to continue to invest in delivering the energy of the future or we'll find ourselves in these situations that we're seeing around the world today.

HARLOW: Because there is legislation proposed by a number of Democratic senators to double what oil companies make on what they are calling excess profits. Let me read you from Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, quote, big oil companies are raking in record profits, rewarding their CEOs and wealthy shareholders with massive stock buybacks and using special loopholes and tax codes to pay next to nothing in taxes.

WIRTH: Windfall profits taxes have been tried before in this country. They didn't achieve the goal that was desired. It is pretty basic that if you want more of something, you tend not to tax it. If you want less of something, you put taxes on it.

HARLOW: That would make you produce less, you're saying?

WIRTH: If you tax our industry, it does not incentivize -- if you increase taxes on our industry, that does not incentivize investment. It discourages investment. And that's a -- it's a simple economic truth. We work around the world and our capital is mobile. And so a windfall profit tax in one country is likely to move that investment somewhere else.


HARLOW: My thanks to Chevron CEO Michael Wirth for that.

Jim, I would just note a brand-new report from the U.N. today says, quote, the climate impact is heading into unchartered territory of destruction and the secretary general saying, yet each year, we, as a globe, as a civilization, doubled down on this fossil fuel addiction.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: That is the thing. That's the point. And he was saying there that a lot of the infrastructure in renewables is not there yet, and that is true, right? It is progressing faster in some places than other places but we've heard that argument from the fossil fuel industry for a long, long time, right?


SCIUTTO: The other thing that stood out to me was comment about a recession coming in Europe. I mean, that is quite a statement.

HARLOW: Right? I think he made a lot of news. I mean, he was unequivocal in saying, yes, this energy crisis in Europe will likely push them into a recession. So, we'll watch, all right.

SCIUTTO: We will. Great interview, an important one.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, on CNN, a first on CNN, how the Supreme Court is responding to public concerns about its legitimacy and the cases ahead that could put the court back once again in the center of attention.



HARLOW: Well, we're just weeks away from the Supreme Court's next term, and according to a new CNN report, the justices find themselves defending the legitimacy of the court. The new term will launch on October 3rd with the justices considering really critical issues that deeply divide the public. But after the Dobbs decision overturning Roe versus Wade, some the justices are facing public backlash. SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN Legal Analyst and Supreme Court Biographer Joan Biskupic. Joan, you've been covering this court deeply, including the chief justice for years now. You've written books about it. Tell us your reporting about this disconnect because, boy, last term, of course, enormously controversial, this next term is going to have a whole host of big issues.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND SUPREME COURT BIOGRAPHER: That is it. We're right on the eve of a new term where they'll be taking on voting rights, racial affirmative action, religious liberty, LGBTQ protections. And we wanted to see just how are they responding to how the public has responded to the abortion rights rollback, 50 years of privacy rights eliminated by this court, and other politically-charged rulings, and so many of the justices in the conservative majority have essentially vanished this summer. They've spoke only to closed sessions, friendly sessions, essentially not confronting public responses.

But two justices in particular have taken on the legitimacy question. You know that just on Monday night, Elena Kagan, who was a dissenter to those decisions in the liberal minority said the court has a legitimacy problem, but the chief justice, John Roberts, who in the past has defended the court's integrity, tried to just recently by saying, well, people are having problems with not so much the court's legitimacy, he maintains, is that they simply do not like the rulings.


But the truth is, Jim, that it is more than that. The kinds of plummeting public approval numbers that we've seen reflect not just dissatisfaction with some of these rulings but the fact that the court has rolled back so much precedent, has come up with questionable rationales and most importantly, according to the poll numbers, multiple poll numbers, people believe that the justices are just voting their partisan affiliations. And, as you know, the abortion rights ruling was possible only because of the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, former President Trump's third appointee.


HARLOW: Joan, your piece is so important. I hope everyone reads it because you really go through the implications of when a court loses the faith of many of the American people. Can you just speak to that and if you get the sense that the justices, in large part, really care if the public, you know, thinks this or not?

BISKUPIC: Well, you know, Poppy, the chief really cares. You remember back in November of 2018 when he came out against President Trump and said there are no Obama judges, there are no Trump judges, there are no Bush judges, we just have these neutral decision-makers here. So, he has tried to take it on because I think he understands, Poppy, that the court only has its integrity. It doesn't have money. It doesn't have an army, as the old cliche goes. It has only its public standing and what I think everyone would hope institutionally would be public confidence that its decisions are fair and impartial. So, I do think it is an issue and I think actually a majority of the justices on both sides really would like to inspire public confidence. But as we all know, they can't just tell people to do that. They have to act in a way that will inspire public confidence, Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely. It is all about the action. Joan, thank you, again, for your great reporting.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Ahead for us, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says the FBI warned Twitter it may have at least one Chinese agent on its payroll. And the Twitter whistleblower who is testifying on Capitol Hill right now has his own dire warnings about the safety of your data. We'll explain it all after this.



HARLOW: Welcome back. So, right now, a Twitter whistleblower is on Capitol Hill laying out damaging allegations of security and privacy vulnerabilities at the tech company. This comes as Senator Chuck Grassley claims the FBI has warned Twitter that the company may have a foreign agent on its payroll. Lawmakers have invited the Twitter CEO to testify as well.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now from Capitol Hill. Donie, tell us about the significance of all this. What are you learning?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This bombshell just dropping in the past few minutes, Jim and Poppy, what we are learning is that the FBI has warned Twitter that it may have a Chinese agent on its payroll. That is coming from Senator Chuck Grassley.

Now, this, what came from this whistleblower's disclosure, which we along with The Washington Post have reported last month, that there was mention that there may be an agent of a foreign government working for Twitter. We did not know what country that was. Grassley today announcing that here publicly at the beginning of this hearing behind me saying because of Zatko's disclosure, we've learned that personal data from Twitter users was potentially exposed to foreign intelligence agencies.

HARLOW: What --

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, also some stark warnings here from Peiter Zatko, the whistleblower, as known by his hacker name, Mudge, this is the warning he had for senators in this room.


PEITER ZATKO, TWITTER WHISTLEBLOWER: It is not farfetched to say that an employee inside the company could take over the accounts of all of the senators in this room. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'SULLIVAN: Now, the reason he is saying that that is not farfetched is because we kind of saw that happen back in 2020 when teenagers hacked Twitter, they took over the accounts of Obama, then- Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, even Elon Musk. And what Zatko is alleging here is that too many of Twitter employees have access to some of the company's key controls and, hence, if somebody, maybe a foreign agent, could go into the company and take control of those accounts. You think about how much politicians, how much public figures use social media platforms, declarations from presidents and prime ministers, how potentially damaging and dangerous that is.

Twitter, for its part, says that Mudge, the whistleblower, is exaggerating the issue, that it fixed a lot of problems. We are still waiting for a response specifically on that alleged Chinese spy at the company.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, I mean, is he saying that these foreign countries, China included, have sort of a sleeper capability inside Twitter that they could and take over anyone's account?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, what he actually just said here a few minutes ago was that the access within Twitter is so broad that foreign intelligence agencies would not be doing their job right if they weren't getting people into this company, trying to access these accounts and access to all sorts of information.


SCIUTTO: Remarkable revelations. Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much for covering it.


HARLOW: Thank you, Donie.

King Charles and the queen consort are in Belfast, Northern Ireland, right now leaving that prayer service at St. Anne's Cathedral, that service in honor -- these are live pictures of them leaving, by the way -- the service in honor, of course, of the late Queen Elizabeth II. They will soon head back to London where the queen's coffin is about to make a final journey to Buckingham Palace and thousands of mourners are waiting there to pay their respects.

Our live coverage continues on this throughout the day.

Thank you so much for joining us today. We'll see you right back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a quick break.