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Russian Hacking Allegations Will Follow Trump Into The White House

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So maybe not the news we expected from Moscow this morning. After the Obama administration decided to expel 35 Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions over Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. election, Vladimir Putin announced, well, that he hopes American diplomats in Moscow enjoy their holiday. He even invited their children to come enjoy the holiday at the Kremlin. This could be a peace offering to the person who will have President Obama's job in a matter of weeks, Donald Trump.

And let's talk about this with NPR's Scott Detrow, who's been covering the Trump transition. He's in the studio. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So Trump in the past has really downplayed the allegations about hacking against Russia, saying they were just a way to undermine his victories - he reacting to any of this?

DETROW: Well, Trump has not said anything yet on Putin's latest move, though Trump has said over and over that he wants to have a better relationship with Russia. And last week, the Trump transition shared a letter that Vladimir Putin sent to him that was along the same lines.

On the hacking itself, Trump did seem to back down just a little bit last night. He's no longer outright rejecting the intelligence committee's findings that Russia was behind this. He did say that he plans to meet with the heads of intelligence agencies about this next week.

But Trump still isn't saying that - he isn't expressing the concern about this that other leaders have. Yesterday, he said that the country needs to, as he put it, move on to bigger and better things.

GREENE: OK, so reacting to what's happening by saying the country needs to move on but saying he's open to listening to U.S. intelligence agencies - I mean that sounds pretty unpredictable here.

DETROW: Yeah, and when it comes to how he deals with Russia, I think Trump is really in a tricky spot here. He may want to improve on the relationship with Russia. He may want to move on from the hacking episode. But a lot of Democrats especially are focusing on this hacking. They view it as a powerful political weapon. It's a way that they can paint Trump is illegitimate and a Putin puppet.

And on the Republican side, remember; the Republicans have long pushed for tougher policies when it comes to Russia. Just look at the statements from House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Obama sanctions yesterday. They approved of the sanctions, but they spent most of their time criticizing the Obama administration for not being tougher on Russia.

So you've got that, and then you've got senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham actively pushing for a whole new round of sanctions and more investigations into this hacking.

GREENE: It's amazing. I mean we have - January 20, we have all this ceremony of a presidential inauguration, but we also have a really important international relationship that could really hinge on this change of power in the United States.

DETROW: Yeah, and there are a few more key points to look for over the next few weeks that could create more tension. One thing is that meeting that Trump's going to have with intelligence agencies. Another is a broader report that President Obama has ordered to be released before he leaves office. So this could come out just before the inauguration, shedding more details on these alleged Russian activities. It will be interesting to see how Donald Trump reacts to that.

And then two things in Congress - first of all, Democrats continue to push for a new special commission, something like the 9/11 commission, to investigate this. There's already a Senate investigation going on. They want a broader one.

And lastly, given all this stuff with Russia, given the business ties that ExxonMobil has had with the country, you can expect this to come up over and over again in Rex Tillerson's secretary of state hearings.

GREENE: OK, a lot to look forward to. NPR's Scott Detrow, thanks so much.

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