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CNN This Morning

Today, Biden Departs for Summit With Chinese President Xi; Thousands to Rally in Washington, Hostage Families March in Israel; Supreme Court Announces New Code of Conduct, Critics Say It Has No Means of Enforcement. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 14, 2023 - 07:00   ET




NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Hard to imagine how civilians endured the bombardment here.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The hospital must be protected.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Protecting the innocent. That is what ceasefire now means.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Biden set to hold a highly-anticipated bilateral meeting with China's President Xi tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are so many other conflicts around the world right now. China does not want to be en entangled in something else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ABC News obtaining video connected to the Georgia 2020 election subversion case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said the boss is not going to leave under any circumstances.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There was a coordinated decision to potentially try to not leave power. That's terrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just three days now before government's bills come due.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bipartisan bankruptcy. We have to take this more seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaker Mike Johnson is going to have to rely on Democratic votes.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. As you can see there's a lot happening. We're so glad you're with us.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And part of thing -- probably the top thing on the agenda is this trip for the president, with a massively consequential meeting at a very tenuous geopolitical time. President Biden set to leave Washington and fly to the West Coast where, on Wednesday, he will meet face to face with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It is a hugely consequential meeting between the world's most powerful rivals and it comes at one of the most turbulent and fraught times of Biden's presidency. He's facing multiple foreign policy crisis and sharp political head winds at home.

HARLOW: Right now, President Biden juggling his support for Israel's war against Hamas and the escalation and the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. He is now saying Gaza's largest hospital, quote, must be protected as Israeli troops and tanks surround it. The hospital's director says conditions are catastrophic for the civilian sheltering inside with no food, water or milk for children and babies. The Israeli government saying there is a Hamas command center underneath the hospital.

MATTINGLY: All that happening as the U.S. government is just three days away from a potential shutdown. A vote to prevent it is set for today. The measure does not, however, include any funding for Israel or Ukraine.

We begin this hour with Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv, where families of hostages held by Hamas are marching to Jerusalem. Oren, if there's one message when you talk to people in that crowd that you're walking with now, what is it?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They're chanting as we speak here, Phil and Poppy, bring them home now. They said it in Hebrew. They've said it in English. Their number one demand has nothing to do with defeating Hamas or destroying Hamas' tunnel infrastructure, it's about finding some way, any way to bring 239 hostages home, from the very young to the elderly, making whatever deal is necessary, whatever accommodations to bring them home now. We also heard them chant, (INAUDIBLE), that means bring all of them home. This is the demand.

We're on now the Ayalon Freeway. This is one of the main north/south highways through Tel Aviv. They're shutting down a couple lanes of traffic here and they'll march from Tel Aviv all the way to Jerusalem, some 40 miles over the course of the next several days.

Before now, they spent a couple of weeks outside the defense ministry where the war cabinet met. There, they tried to essentially get attention, make it known that their priority was bringing the hostages home and trying to force the government to make a deal. But they feel like that hadn't gotten anywhere.

So, now, they've come to the streets. And if you take a look behind me, you can see the names of the hostages, names like Atan, Ohad, Dafna, Wogan (ph), these are their families here. They're marching again all the way to Jerusalem. And their goal there when they get there on Saturday is to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reemphasize the call to bring the families home, a tremendous sense of frustration over the lack of answers that they're getting.

Sure, they heard the statements. They've seen what Netanyahu has said until now. They're palpable feeling is that not enough is being done and isn't enough -- essentially not enough of a desire or demand to come to a deal that will free the hostages still held in Gaza. Phil and Poppy?

HARLOW: And, Oren, last hour, you showed us the march from 2010 that ultimately put so much pressure on the Israeli government they made that deal to get Gilad Shalit home, right? Are these protesters hoping the same is true now and also what is the latest on the hostage negotiations?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. If we can pull up that video, you'll see from 2010, the family of one Israeli soldier who was held in Gaza for five years, they decided they were fed up with the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then also prime minister, and marched all the way from Northern Israel to Jerusalem. By the time they arrived at his office, they had thousands with him. That, too, is the idea here.

There have been some rumors and reports of progress on hostage negotiations. President Joe Biden spoke with the emir of Qatar over the weekend, and they spoke about the need to release hostages. We also learned of a three-year-old toddler, American citizen who's being held hostage, the youngest American there.

And although there is some optimism here that there is a possible deal to bring hostages home, there is nothing substantive. And that is part of what's feeding the frustrations here. The negotiations largely held in Qatar with the Qataris who can talk to Hamas, the CIA and the Mossad.

MATTINGLY: All right. Oren Liebermann walking with those marching in protest asking for their family members held hostage by Hamas to come home, we'll check back with you. Thanks, Oren.

HARLOW: So, as we had mentioned, President Biden is making a really significant trip this week. He's going to fly to San Francisco. He will attend the APEC Leader Summit. It's an economic summit. But the big deal is tomorrow. That's when Biden holds a much anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Joining us now, Washington Post Foreign Policy Columnist Josh Rogin. Josh, great to have you on.

President Biden really deeply believes, still knows this very well from covering the Biden White House, when you sit with someone face- to-face, you accomplish things you can't otherwise accomplish. And he's known Xi Jinping for a very, very long time. What is the best hope that the White House can get out of this after Jake Sullivan said over the weekend, look, we have to just like reopen the lines of communication here?

JOSH ROGIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, you're absolutely right, Poppy. For his entire career, President Biden has believed that foreign policy is personal, that if he just gets into the room with these leaders, good or bad, that he can connect with them and make a relationship and convince them to do good things instead of bad things and make deals that he otherwise wouldn't be able to make.

Funnily enough, that's exactly what President Trump thought. And President Trump pursued a very similar strategy with Xi Jinping. He thought they were friends. They signed a fentanyl deal in 2019, I don't know if you remember, where Xi Jinping promised to curb the transfer of dangerous drugs to America in exchange for trade concessions. And Trump thought their friendship would really seal the deal.

Well, it didn't work out, okay, because Xi Jinping doesn't feel that way, because the Chinese system doesn't work that way, because their policies are not going to change based on this one meeting. I hear they're going to sign another fentanyl agreement in exchange for some economic cooling off. And I'm sure both sides will present that as progress, but it's not.

And that's the bottom line here, is that they're going to meet for four hours. They set a bar that's so low that communication is the goal and they will achieve that bar. But in terms of solving any of the problems in the U.S.-China relationship, addressing China's economic aggression, its military expansion, its internal repression, its problem with all of its other neighbors who will also be there in San Francisco, 20-something Asian countries. No, no real progress at all. So, yes, talking is better than not talking. Winston Churchill said, jaw, jaw is better than war, war.

But if you set the bar that low, then that's not really an improvement in U.S.-China relations. That's just stopping it from getting worse fast.

MATTINGLY: Which, I mean, honestly, even if the bar is low, to be able to exceed that, especially given where relations have been over the course of the last 11, 12 months, probably isn't a terrible thing. Can you assess where the bilateral relationship is? It was so bad for so many months of 2023. It seems to have cooled off a little bit. Where does it actually stand?

ROGIN: Right. I mean, you're exactly right, Phil. All you have to do is watch Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo's interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, excellent interview, I encourage everybody to watch it. And what Gina Raimondo said is it's time to lower the temperature in the relationship. It speaks to what you just said, Phil. Well, it was hot. Now it's going to get cool.

The problem is that the goal, in my view at least, the goal of U.S.- China relations is not to have a low temperature. It's not to get along. The point is to protect U.S. values and interests and to work with our partners to respond to the threats and challenges that China presents as it rises, where they affect us.

So, for the first two years of the Biden administration, I think you had this really competitive policy led by people like Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, which was like, oh, we're going to solve some of these problems by being pretty tough with the Chinese, not as rude and obnoxious as the Trump people, but still pretty tough. Now, we're here in year three. It's a political cycle. And now the ball has been handed to the economic officials, which is what the Chinese want. And now you have Janet Yellen and Gina Raimondo saying, okay, well, listen, we got to turn down the temperature. So, yes, they'll be able to turn down the temperature but I worry that doesn't solve the problems.

HARLOW: And Gina Raimondo went -- I mean, she went a couple of months ago. First, I think one in her position for like five years to go and saying it's important to be there.


HARLOW: Josh, just to talk about the big picture here, Biden goes into this meeting with extraordinarily low poll numbers and multiple world crises, the Israel-Hamas War, dealing with the civilian casualties now, both in Israel, but also now in Gaza, dealing with the ongoing war on Ukraine and Iran's 52 attacks on U.S. service members and posts now since October 7th.

And when you think about the relationship between China and Iran, how does he navigate that tomorrow?


ROGIN: Right. Well, I think one of the useful things you can do when sitting down with Xi Jinping is you can talk to him about all these other issues, Ukraine, Iran, the Israel-Hamas War, all of it. And, you know, China's the world power and the second biggest country economy in the world, second biggest military in the world. They deserve to be treated with respect. Don't get me wrong. We want good relations with China. Don't get me wrong. We want good trade relations with China. But it takes two to tango, Poppy.

So, what you're going to have is the president United States tell Xi Jinping, well, we really want you to tell Iran to stop being so bad. We really appreciate if you tell Putin not to be so bad in Ukraine. And Xi Jinping will have his own list of grievances, some of which are absolutely valid.

And for both sides, it makes political sense to have this meeting. They can go back to their countries and say, hey, we talked You know, I told them the tough messages and I got an agreement that things are going to get better, and it makes sense politically. I get why Biden is doing this. I don't think it's bad to talk. You know, I'm not -- that's not what I'm trying to say. All I'm trying to say is this is a political exercise more than a diplomatic exercise and they both get something politically out of it.

But the structural problems in the U.S.-China relationship are only going to get worse and I think the relationship is just going to get worse before it gets better. But, you know, let's be optimistic. Maybe they'll surprise us and come up with something that I can't even predict. HARLOW: Hey, we will take that glass half full at the end. Josh Rogin, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

ROGIN: Anytime.

MATTINGLY: Well, for the very first time, Supreme Court has adopted new self-imposed ethics rules, but who's actually going to enforce them? That is the big question.

HARLOW: And growing concern around Donald Trump's rhetoric about a potential second term as president, as one of his former Georgia co- defendants says she was told Trump never intended to leave the White House after his 2020 loss.




SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The Supreme Court of the United States is the only court, maybe the only federal agency that doesn't have an enforceable court of ethics.

These nine people are acting as if they're above the law. They're making critical decisions to change America and they won't even concede when there's a clear conflict of interest.


HARLOW: After months of pressuring the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin is getting some of what he asked for.

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced a code of conduct. It outlines procedures for justices involving recusal from cases, acceptance of gifts and speaking at various events. Pressure had been mounting for the Supreme Court to act after a series of embarrassing news stories alleged that justices, including Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, skirted ethics regulations when accepting luxury trips.

MATTINGLY: In April, Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify on the court's ethics rules before his committee. Roberts declined citing the separation of powers and calling a testimony of a chief justice before Congress, quote, exceedingly rare.

Now that the code has been announced, Durbin says he's not sure it goes far enough.


DURBIN: All of these are important steps, but they fall short of what we could and should expect when a Supreme Court issues a code of conduct.

The court's new code of conduct does not appear to contain any meaningful enforcement mechanism to hold justices accountable for any violations of the code. It also leaves a wide range of decisions up to the discretion of individual justices, including decisions on recusal from sitting on cases.


HARLOW: The code does not specifically lay out how it would be enforced to enforce it.

Our CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic is with us now. I mean, Durbin is right in the fact that there's these lack of enforcement mechanisms, but critics would say this is a co-equal branch.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right. Good morning, Poppy and Phil. Yes, the Supreme Court is really walking a fine line here. It really needed to answer to the public, answer to the congressional critics, but also to preserve its own sort of integrity in its space.

So, what it's done is, for the first time, put some of these rules in writing, at least told us what it believes its obligations are. But to Senator Durbin's point and your point earlier, Poppy, there is no external enforcement mechanism, and also, more importantly, nothing internal. There's nothing internal that they've set up that would allow a channel for any complaints to come in for the justices themselves to even air some of those complaints.

So, I think that you're right when you refer to the separation of powers and the chief justice's interest in trying to make sure that they preserve their own integrity, but they still need to sort of answer that question of, if something goes wrong, if a complaint is even made outside, will the justices answer it in some way?

I do have to say, for an institution that doesn't like to engage in much of a dialogue on things beyond cases, this was a first step in a dialogue.

MATTINGLY: You know, Joan, to that point, you've had some great reporting on kind of the behind the scenes of the process to reach this outcome, which didn't seem preordained in a couple times over the course of the last couple of months, didn't seem possible. What changed?

BISKUPIC: Well, I think it's been the drumbeat of pressure on the outside. You're right, Phil. Earlier this year, I learned that the chief was having a hard time getting even a majority, let alone unanimity, for a formal written code among the justices.

But I think just the pressure kept building. There were so many news stories, as you mentioned, about justices off-bench behavior, lavish trips, other gifts that justices were receiving from wealthy conservatives that just raised a lot of questions about what kind of rules they do abide by.

And I think it was important for them to put something on paper. And the chief justice obviously used some of that outside pressure to make his case within the court. And as I say, this is a significant first step. It's just that it raises a question of how meaningful it will be. And they did, at the end of their report, refer to the fact that they would be looking to see if additional steps should be taken.


HARLOW: Yes, that was an interesting point that was striking, where this leads.

MATTINGLY: Joan, we appreciate you. As always, thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you. Everyone should read.

BISKUPIC: I can keep talking, right, I can keep talking.

HARLOW: And you know we love this, Joan. So, thank you. Everyone should read Joan's new analysis on all of this. It's up on

Well, President Biden leaves for California today, he's set to hold a highly anticipated bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

MATTINGLY: This as a mass information campaign run by the Chinese government targets U.S. residents to silence critics of Beijing.


JIAYANG FAN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: I was instantly flooded with messages asking me to kill myself.


HARLOW: President Biden will head to San Francisco in just a couple of hours. He is set to meet face to face with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That will happen tomorrow. And it comes as CNN uncovers a campaign of online intimidation that can be tracked back to the Chinese government.

U.S. residents who criticized Beijing are targeted and harassed with thousands of posts or emails, like the ones you're seeing.

Donie O'Sullivan joins us now with his reporting.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. Look, just ahead of this meeting between President Biden and President Xi, we're finding that there is an online harassment campaign targeting Americans on U.S. soil and it's being run by the Chinese government.


Have a look.



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

FAN: 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: 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: It is a coordinated effort of fake and anonymous accounts, and it's called Spamouflage.

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

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

Is 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.


MATTINGLY: Donie, one of the experts in the piece said he was staggered when he could see the scale, the reach of this. Do we have any idea of how wide that reach is?

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Yes. I mean, and, look, you saw in the piece there, so oftentimes we talk about these kind of troll operations we can never put faces to the people who are behind it. You saw there that some of these people have been indicted. They are Chinese police officers that go to work every day in Beijing, but not patrolling the streets. They are on their job as they clock in, clock out, is to troll the internet all day.

Look, on one side of things, there are so many accounts, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of accounts actually that have been created over the course of this campaign. And in many ways, they're remarkably ineffective when you talk about that there is this kind of full-time team behind it. In that, we're not necessarily seeing these accounts go viral in the way that maybe Russian disinformation efforts might have done prior to the 2016 election.

And that is something that the social media companies really stress, is that there's a lot of these accounts, but there isn't a lot of engagement. But as you can see there, there's another purpose to these accounts, which it is to intimidate specific people.


And no matter who you are, if you are getting tens of thousands of tweets like these Americans are getting, that is going to have an effect on you. That is scary.

MATTINGLY: And on U.S. soil too.