An Update On Russia Investigations
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
We begin this hour with the swirl of investigations surrounding the Trump administration. The FBI and a couple of congressional committees are trying to answer two basic questions - how did the Russian government meddle in the U.S. presidential election? - and what ties, if any, did Moscow have with Donald Trump's campaign? Adam Entous writes about national security and intelligence for The Washington Post. And he has been reporting extensively on those issues. He's here in the studio to shed some light on the current status of these investigations.
ADAM ENTOUS: Great, nice to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere in the election. But I guess the question is, how? What do the FBI and the Senate and House intelligence committees hope to add?
ENTOUS: All right. So basically, over the summer, they watched - the intelligence community watched the Russians intervene and steal emails from Democratic organizations and then leak those emails to organizations like WikiLeaks in order to damage Hillary Clinton and, they believe, help Donald Trump. This was a - what they know - what they refer to in the intelligence community as a high-confidence assessment, which means that they have multiple reasons for concluding that, both based on things like signals intelligence but also what's known as human intelligence - so in other words, moles, spies that reported to the CIA in this case to say that they knew this to be the case. This was the...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they're pretty sure - right. The intelligence shows that they're pretty sure that that happened.
ENTOUS: Yeah. To reach a high-confidence assessment, you have to have - the intelligence community has to have a great deal of intelligence. And in this case, according to the officials I talked to, it was an extraordinarily strong case that they were able to build, based on both electronic intercepts as well as human intelligence.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does this have to do with the Trump administration? Talk us through the different investigations going on.
ENTOUS: I think it's important to separate out what that assessment was about Russia's role in the election and their goal of trying to help Trump from any possible collusion that there might have been. That assessment did not include any evidence of collusion. That is separate. That is part of an FBI investigation that has been going on since the summer that is referred to as a counterintelligence investigation. This is the murkiest sort of investigation that the FBI does. These normally last for years, sometimes they...
ENTOUS: Years. Sometimes they go nowhere. They very rarely end up in prosecutions. This is the kind of investigation, frankly, we're never even supposed to know is underway. Often, they conduct these counterintelligence investigations and nothing is ever made public. In this case, given the extraordinary nature of this investigation and the political implications, Director Comey of the FBI has publicly disclosed the existence of this investigation and outlined at least the parameters in what they're looking.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And who are they looking into, briefly? Who are they - what connections are they trying to find...
ENTOUS: I think it would be - I don't think I really have - and other reporters - have a real clear understanding of exactly what the FBI is looking at specifically in terms of collusion and who specifically. Obviously, there are a lot of names that have been floated by members of the intelligence committees, which are also doing this investigation, people like a Roger Stone, who is a Trump - a longtime Trump associate who, you know, spoke publicly of having, you know, knowledge in advance that WikiLeaks might be releasing some damaging materials.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's look at someone that they have mentioned, former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Obviously, he had to resign. What would be the innocent explanation for why he would cover up his communications with Russian officials?
ENTOUS: Well, I mean, one innocent explanation would be that, you know, he was involved in trying to negotiate with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, a policy that would be implemented after Trump took power on the 20. And so you know, as we saw when, for example, the Obama administration was negotiating with the Iranians, they had to do that initially secretly in order to avoid, you know, opponents of that policy from putting pressure on them to basically ditch the negotiations.
So there is a possible explanation that Michael Flynn was doing something similar. He needed to keep those discussions discreet in order to avoid pressure to abandon that negotiation because - keep in mind that those discussions were coming after the intelligence community had determined that the - Russia had intervened in the election to try to help Trump win. So you can understand why that would be intense scrutiny over any communications like that. So that could possibly explain it, but I really do not have a explanation. I wouldn't want to let the audience think that that is what happened here. I don't think we know what happened here. And there...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there's other - on the Democratic side, there are people who say that they've seen intelligence that shows that there might have been collusion. Just briefly, what - why does this matter? You know, we have only a few seconds left, but why does this matter? Why should the American public be interested in this?
ENTOUS: Right. Well, the Russians historically have tried to influence our election. Obviously, the internet and social media has made that job maybe a little bit easier for them. What we saw in 2016 was truly extraordinary according to the intelligence community. And if we want to let that happen here or somewhere else again in the future, you know, that's something I think, you know, we need to really understand what happened if we want to make sure that that doesn't happen again.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How much of a threat is this to the Trump administration?
ENTOUS: I think it's a massive distraction, obviously, from what they wanted to achieve. And it could be a huge blow to them. I mean, already Michael Flynn is gone after an extraordinarily short period as national security adviser. And Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from this investigation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adam Entous reports on intelligence for The Washington Post. Thank you so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.