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Politics In The News

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The revelation over the weekend that the CIA believes Russia interfered in the election to help sway the vote to Donald Trump isn't going over well with one Donald Trump. Here's the here's the president-elect speaking to Fox News yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY WITH CHRIS WALLACE")

DONALD TRUMP: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. I don't know why. And I think it's just - you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it's another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know.

MARTIN: Trump's team also put out a statement slamming the CIA for its intelligence failures in Iraq a decade ago. At the same time, Democrats and plenty of Republicans in Congress are urging a deeper look into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line now with more. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: This isn't some liberal advocacy organization making this claim about Russia's interference. It's the CIA.

LIASSON: It's the CIA, and it sounds like Trump doesn't really want to accept anything that undermines his win, which was stunning and even decisive, but not, as he just said, a landslide Electoral College victory. You know, he got 306 electoral votes. That actually ranks 46th out of 58 Electoral College victories. But yesterday, he even said that this - these reports, or a consensus view of Russian hacking, were just another excuse by Democrats to minimize his win. But he is doing more than just saying - rejecting the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election not just to undermine confidence in American democracy but to actually help him.

He is also rejecting the bottom line that Russia hacked period. I mean, he's been adamant about this for months. He said we don't know who hacked. It could have been some guy in New Jersey. Why is he rejecting that? We really don't know except that we do know that he has a much more positive view of Russia than the foreign policy consensus, which is alarmed at Russian aggression around the world.

MARTIN: There was a bipartisan statement from the Hill yesterday saying Congress needs to look into this further. So how's that going to unfold?

LIASSON: There was a bipartisan statement yesterday. Four senators said Russia's cyberattacks should alarm every American and that Congress should look into this without it becoming a partisan issue. Yesterday, John McCain, one of those senators, was on "Face The Nation." He said he doesn't know what to make of Trump's comments because he said it's clear the Russians did interfere and, quote, "facts are stubborn things." Also in the House, Mike McCaul, who's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also wants an investigation. And the chief of staff of the incoming Trump administration Reince Priebus, said he does support any investigation to protect Americans from foreign interference. So it looks like Trump will have a hard time stopping this if Congress wants to look into it. We also have President Obama who's asked for an inquiry into the cyberattacks to be completed by the time he leaves office, which, of course, is inauguration day for Donald Trump.

MARTIN: One of the more remarkable things about Trump's reaction to all this isn't that he's dismissing the conclusions of the CIA, which is in and of itself remarkable. But he is blasting the agency in particular, calling out the intelligence failures that led to the invasion of Iraq, trying to make this kind of personal with the CIA.

LIASSON: Well, he - not only did he insult the intelligence community yesterday, he said in a statement - not a tweet - he said that these are the same people who were wrong about weapons of mass destruction. But he also said on FOX yesterday that he doesn't need intelligence briefings every day. He said he's, quote, "like a smart person" and doesn't need to hear the same words every day for eight years. They can call me when there's something new. And that raises the question what happens if the intelligence community comes to him with information about Iran or China or North Korea that doesn't fit into his assumptions and worldview?

This is a big breach. He hasn't even taken office yet, but already we have this big breach between the president and the American intelligence community. This also raises some questions about what kind of president Trump will be. You know, all during the campaign there were questions that, oh, Trump will change. He'll pivot. There's a candidate Trump and then there'll be a different, more sober, less bombastic President Trump. I think the answer so far is what you see is what you get. He said during the campaign that his brain was his best adviser, and he's shown the same impulsiveness, willingness to insult others and lack of curiosity. None of those traits have changed.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I want to ask you about another name that's been floated for secretary of state. This is Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO. NPR hasn't confirmed this independently, but reports are saying he's the top of the list now. He's done a lot of business himself with Russia, has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Let's listen to what Senator John McCain said about it yesterday on CBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

JOHN MCCAIN: It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close, personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. And obviously, they've done enormous deals together that that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat. But that is a matter of concern. We will give him his chance.

MARTIN: We should say reports are that Condi Rice and Bob Gates, both old Cold Warriors, have recommended Tillerson. But what do you think this means for his likelihood to get through a vetting process on Capitol Hill?

LIASSON: I think there'll be some pushback. It wasn't just John McCain. You know, Marco Rubio, who was the Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted that being a friend of Vladimir is not an attribute I look for in a secretary of state. But I think that he'll be asked some tough questions. He was against the sanctions against Russia for taking over Crimea. ExxonMobil, of course, was hurt by those sanctions. But Trump likes him because he's a dealmaker, and this does fit into Trump's transactional view of diplomacy.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.