Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

FBI Probe: China-Made Equipment May Disrupt U.S. Nuke Arsenal Comms; "An Imposter Christianity Is Threatening American Democracy"; Chess-Playing Robot Breaks Russian Boy's Finger During Game. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 25, 2022 - 07:30   ET



MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP, AUTHOR, "A SACRED OATH: MEMOIRS OF A SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DURING EXTRAORDINARY TIMES": And as FBI Dir. Chris Wray has said, he's opening up a counterespionage investigation nearly every 12 hours. We've known about this for years. It's a threat to our country, it's a threat to our position in the world, and that's why we've gone aggressively against China across the board.

Look, they have a strategic plan to displace the United States as the leading country in the world by the year 2049 and they plan on doing that in the military, economic, diplomatic, information, and technological spheres, and we need to be very cognizant of that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: How quickly does this need to be dealt with considering -- and look, as you mentioned, the timeline there lines up, certainly. You know, you were aware of this when you were defense secretary. It's not undone. It's still sitting there -- all of this technology. How quickly does this need to be dealt with?

ESPER: Look, it should be out immediately. That said, I have complete confidence in the Defense Department's command, control, and communication systems. But this is a problem not just for the United States but for our partners around the world as well.

You know, I used to travel to Brussels for my NATO meetings and I would talk to our NATO allies about getting rid of Huawei technology and other Chinese technologies from their systems. We said that if they didn't it could impair our ability to share sensitive information with them.

This is all part and parcel of a grand plan by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on the West and to achieve dominance over us.

KEILAR: Speaker Pelosi is planning to go to Taiwan next month. She's facing pressure from the White House not to go. President Biden recently said the military doesn't think the trip is a good idea. Do you?

ESPER: I think China should not have any say over where American officials travel. I think if the speaker wants to go, she should go. As you noted up front, I just came back from Taipei. I met with all of

their leadership, to include the president. They are very focused on China and want to make sure that the United States supports them.

And as I said on the road, I believe that our One China policy has outlived its usefulness. I wrote about this in my memoir as well. I think it's important that we have a national dialogue about U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan and make sure that it is credible and durable and principled enough to stand up to some tough decisions we may have to take in the years ahead.

KEILAR: What is the benefit of her visit, and does that outweigh China's promised reaction?

ESPER: Well, China always promises to react to these things, right, and she would not be the first Speaker of the House to visit. Newt Gingrich went there in the mid to late '90s, and congressional delegations travel there all the time. I mean, one of my first trips to Taipei was as a congressional staffer.

So look, I think it's important that American officials get out to Taiwan -- get out to the region and visit and see what things look like on the ground and talk to our leaders and -- the leaders of our friends in the region and understand what they face. It helps them shape better policy back here at home.

KEILAR: You served during a tumultuous time in the Trump administration. You were fired in November -- on November 9 of 2020. As you're watching these January 6 hearings what are you thinking?

ESPER: Well, I wish I was able to see more of them but like many Americans, I find myself stuck on airplanes or at airports. But each hearing, as I read in the paper, the facts are startling. I've been saying it is shocking but not surprising.

And I think it's an important service they are providing to kind of recount what happened on January 6 and the days and weeks leading up to it. It's important for us to understand our history and that there be accountability.

KEILAR: You said you won't vote for him again. You've urged others not to. What's your biggest worry about what happens if President Trump is elected again?

ESPER: Well, no, I won't support him. I've argued to my Republican colleagues that you can find the same type of conservative traditional Republican policies but without all the baggage, the coarseness, and everything else. Because we need a Republican leader that can not just unite the party but unite the country.

So my concern about Donald Trump trying to run for office again is he just doesn't put country first, and that's a problem for me -- a major problem. I think that he has to put country first. Leaders need to lead and bring people together, and he just doesn't have that capability. KEILAR: I know you've seen these numbers. About 10% of the National Guard is in violation of the COVID vaccine mandate. You have almost 60,000 Guard and Reserves who were cut off from pay and benefits. They're not training because they missed the deadline.

What concerns does that raise for you, especially considering how much we saw them being utilized during the pandemic? They were essential.

ESPER: Yes -- look, the Guard is essential. I served in the National Guard. Absolutely critical to 2020 when we were dealing with COVID in an era when it was really unknown. And if at that time I had access to vaccines, which we eventually produced under Operation Warp Speed, then I would have given a similar order for them to be issued -- assuming, of course, that they were FDA-approved like they are now.

So look, I think it made sense to get the U.S. military inoculated. It's important to our readiness. But obviously, this is an outgrowth of the -- of the politicization of the virus -- of the vaccines and the virus and everything else, and it's a shame that it's gotten to that point.


KEILAR: Why did it get to that point? If you're looking at 10% of the Guard -- 60,000 Guard and Reserves not doing this and it's because of the politicization -- I mean, do you draw a line from that to President Trump? What -- who is to blame here?

ESPER: Well, everybody politicized it, right? It became -- it came down to an issue of red state versus blue state in terms of how they deal with COVID. It came down to signaling whether or not you wore a face mask.

And the Guard, more than any other part of the United States military, lives in its communities. Reflects the view of the communities in which they serve. And so, I'm not surprised that given a force that spread in every state of the union and territory that you would have this type of -- this type of reaction and response.

KEILAR: Yes, they're right there -- all across the country in their communities.

I also want to ask you because Kari Lake, who is a Republican candidate for governor in Arizona, says if she's elected she'll send armed National Guard to the border and stop people coming across.

What do you think of a plan like that?

ESPER: Well, I haven't seen her comments so I don't know exactly what she means. But look, we've had National Guard on the border for years supporting the Department of Homeland Security and CBP, in particular, through both Republican and Democratic administrations -- so that's not unusual. But I'd have to understand what she means.

I certainly don't see the need for armed Guard -- armed National Guard. That suggests maybe some type of use of force in some way. To support Customs and Border Protection with surveillance and logistic support makes sense to me. That's the type of assistance we've provided in the past.

KEILAR: Sir, we appreciate you being with us this morning. Former Defense secretary Mark Esper, thank you.

ESPER: Thank you.

KEILAR: So ahead, we have a look into what clergy and experts are calling imposter Christianity and why they say it's threatening American democracy.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And first on CNN, investigators have identified potential missing text messages from Secret Service personnel sent and received around the Capitol attack. We have the very latest on the probe.




REP. MAJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We need to be the party of nationalism and I'm a Christian and I say it proudly. We should be Christian nationalists. And when Republicans learn to represent most of the people that vote for them, then we will be the party that continues to grow without having to chase down certain identities.


BERMAN: That's Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene calling for her party to embrace an ideology of Christian nationalism. And she says the government should take steps to keep it that way.

This is a new CNN digital report that takes a look -- an in-depth look at the rise of, quote, "imposter Christianity" and what it means for U.S. democracy.

Joining us now is the author of that report, CNN enterprise reporter John Blake. John, it's great to see you.

You know, you hear Marjorie Taylor Greene saying we should embrace an ideology of Christian nationalism. What about people who aren't a Christian who happen to live here?

JOHN BLAKE, CNN ENTERPRISE WRITER/PRODUCER (via Webex by Cisco): Well, what I was saying -- and thank you for having me -- is that this country -- and this according to the people that I've talked to. We can't be a multi-racial democracy, a multi-religious democracy, and a multi-ethnic democracy and be a Christian nation at the same time. There's a contradiction between the two.

And someone used the term Trojan Horse in the earlier segment. I think you were talking about China. And I would compare this type of imposter Christianity to kind of a Trojan Horse.

On the surface, when you hear that kind of rhetoric it doesn't seem that much different than maybe something you've heard in church or maybe a friend, or you read it somewhere. But as we saw on January 6, it's really destructive.

KEILAR: How did this become co-opted -- the Christian religion in the name of politics?

BLAKE: Right.

KEILAR: And also, even the imagery of the American flag where some people feel like if they display that they're sending a message that maybe is actually not something they identify with even though they're proud to be Americans.

BLAKE: Yes. Actually, that's a long history in the United States. White supremacy has co-opted Christian symbols really literally since this country was founded. I mean, white slave owners co-opted the Bible to justify slavery. White southern Baptist pastors co-opted the Bible to tell the civil rights movements in the '50s and '60s that they were anti-communist and wrong.

So there's a long history of white supremacists and other groups co- opting religious symbols to exclude other people.

BERMAN: You use the word imposter. What do you mean by that?

BLAKE: Right.

BERMAN: What exactly are you referring to?

BLAKE: Well, I want to be accurate. The person who used that word is a gentleman named Samuel Perry from the University of Oklahoma who is an expert.

It's an imposter Christianity because it takes on the rhetoric -- the language. It takes on the look of Christianity. But in essence, it's a contradiction of Christianity. It's not really Christianity, it's something else. It masquerades as Christianity.

For example, when you saw January 6 and you saw some of the demonstrators wearing 'Jesus Saves' shirts while pummeling police officers, you can see visually is that Christianity?

When you hear some of the hateful rhetoric or when you hear people talking about we might have to use violence to save this country, that's not Christianity. If there's anything that the gospel of the new testament is clear about, Jesus was non-violent. In white Christian nationalism, there are some people who believe that true patriots may have to resort to violence to save this country.

So that's what I mean when I say or when I use the term imposter Christianity.

BERMAN: John Blake, it's great to see you this morning. Everyone should check out your piece on


BLAKE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you so much for being with us.

BLAKE: Thank you.

BERMAN: So I'm pretty sure this is exactly how "The Terminator" began, OK? A chess-playing robot broke a child's finger during a match. The robot broke the kid's finger when they were playing chess. Why? What set it off?

KEILAR: And a Florida woman stabbed by a 100-pound sailfish while boating off the coast -- how she is doing this morning.


KEILAR: So, a chess-playing robot breaking a boy's finger during a game. This happened at the Moscow Chess Open.

And officials say the boy made a move during the robot's turn and that caused the robot to grab his index finger and squeeze it. Several bystanders helped free the boy and take him away from the table. You can imagine how scary this though -- how scary this was though. He was able to continue to compete even after his little finger was put in a cast.


Joining us now is assistant professor from the University of Michigan and core faculty at their robotics institute, Nima Fazeli.

You know, Nima, what do you think of this -- especially, yes, the little boy made another sort of move but that's what little kids do?


You're absolutely right. This is very common. People tend to over- trust robotic systems when they're behaving as though they're intelligent, right? What do you expect? He's a child. He gets excited. He's going to go do something and the robot was not expecting it, clearly.

And whoever decided to put this robot there -- they made a huge mistake. This is really not the kind of robotic system that you should be putting around people, especially children.

BERMAN: You guys are being so calm about this. This --

KEILAR: It's hard to watch.

BERMAN: I swear, this is like what "The Terminator" ends up being about. There are movies based on this. The robot attacked the kid, Professor. Does the robot need to be put down?

FAZELI: (Laughing) No, not quite. I think the robot does not have any sort of intelligence. This robot really is just programmed to go pick up things and put them down.

It's not aware of the kid. It's not aware of the game of chess. It doesn't even know anything about the chess board. It's a simple go there, pick up something, and put it down.

So really, no, don't worry. This is not the sign that "The Terminator" is coming. It's totally fine.


FAZELI: It was just a really poorly designed system.

KEILAR: The problem is that the robot is artificially unintelligent. It's A.U., not A.I.

FAZELI: Exactly.

KEILAR: However, what needs to be considered more broadly when we're talking about safety and robots and using them? And they're always so fun to look at, Professor. But this raises a lot of issues.

FAZELI: Yes, that is an excellent question to be asking. Really, to get these robotic systems to be deployed next to humans there's maybe three key challenges that we still need to be addressing, which there is existing research going on in universities and going on in research labs in the industry.

So number one is making sure that our algorithms are safe to work alongside humans. So, what the robot sees and how it interprets what it sees. We need to be able to say -- make sure that the robot actually is safe when it's doing something and this perception that -- we need to make sure that the robot is safe from the hardware perspective.

So, just soft fingers -- something that you can comply so when it interacts with you it doesn't suddenly crush you. It complies to your finger and realizes oh, I'm holding a finger. I should let go.

And then there are ethical concerns like right now, this kid -- who should they be suing? Should they be suing the chess organization, should they be suing the programmer, should they be suing the company who built the robot? Who is ethically and legally liable here.

BERMAN: Yes, I -- number two there got me when you have to make sure that the robot doesn't crush you -- yes, yes. When you're programming, I think that should be something that's required. No crushing in the programming there.

What did the robot think was happening? I mean, is there any explanation for why a robot would take a kid's finger and break it?

FAZELI: I think basically, the robot just was not thinking. It was not even -- the thing that is happening is this robot was designed about 15 years ago. The system was designed about 15 years ago and it has no -- it's not -- it's not aware of anything.

It does not know there is a child sitting in front of it. It doesn't know there's a chess board. It's just dump -- being told to go here, grasp, pick up, dump here. It has no aware -- it's not aware at all.

Something bugged out and this is exactly the problem. We shouldn't be sitting here and speculating on what's going on. It should be very clear that it should never do this.

KEILAR: All right. It definitely should never do this. I think we can all agree on that.

Professor Fazeli, thank you.

BERMAN: Math kills. I mean, if there's one thing -- if there's one thing I'm learning here --

KEILAR: It's like an elevator that doesn't spring back open when you stick your arm in there.

BERMAN: Or it's a robot that attacks you. Or it's like a robot that attacks you without cause, which is what concerns me. I think this is serious.

KEILAR: You're very animated by this.

So, Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit Indiana as the state is considering a ban on abortion and funding for pregnant women.

BERMAN: And we are going to speak to Steve Bannon's lawyer after the former Trump adviser was found guilty of contempt of Congress.



KEILAR: Happening later this morning, Indiana will convene a special legislative session to debate the proposed state ban on abortions with a few exceptions -- when a mother's life is at stake and in cases of rape or incest.

CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us live now from Indianapolis ahead of this -- Alexandra.


Look, in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court's abortion decision, you'll remember that a number of states were able to implement bans on abortion within minutes or days. That's because they have laws prepped and already on the books.

What we are seeing now is a new crop of states across the nation moving to implement new legislation that would restrict access to abortion or ban it altogether -- Indiana, chief among them. They are recalling legislators today to take up two abortion-related bills. One that would provide greater resources and funding for expectant mothers; the other that would eliminate access to abortion at virtually any stage of pregnancy except, of course, in those cases of rape, incest, or where there is a threat to the mother.

Now, while the legislature reconvenes to take up these bills, Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to arrive later this morning in Indianapolis. She'll be talking to lawmakers about the fight to protect reproductive rights.

Thousands of people are also expected to show up at the Capitol either to voice their support for the bill, their opposition to it, or their desire to see even greater restrictions or penalties associated with abortion care.