A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Late last week, a CIA report suggested Russia intervened in U.S. elections to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning. On Tuesday, a New York Times investigation supported that conclusion – and revealed new evidence that Russian hackers also targeted nearly a dozen congressional races. The investigation details a series of missed signals, slow responses and a mis-estimation of Russia’s ability to influence U.S. politics—by political leaders, the FBI and The White House. It also traces two decades worth of Russia’s attempts to tamper with America’s most sensitive computer networks. Diane and a panel discuss new details about Russia’s role in the 2016 race and its efforts to destabilize democracies around the world.
- Eric Lipton Reporter in The New York Times Washington bureau who covers lobbying, ethics and corporate agendas. He's the author of a new investigation of Russian-related hacking in the U.S.
- James Lewis Director and senior fellow, Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
- Lawrence Lessig Professor, Harvard Law School; director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He founded the Mayday PAC in support of campaign finance reform.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On the heels of U.S. intelligence reports pointing to Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 race, the New York Times released new details about what it called an unprecedented interference by a foreign government into U.S. elections. Some security experts have said what the paper found is comparable to Watergate and has global implications.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about what we've learned, what it all means, Eric Lipton, a reporter for the New York Times who helped lead the investigation, James Lewis of the Center For Strategic and International Studies and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. I'm sure many of you will want to weigh in.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always a welcome guest on the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. ERIC LIPTONGood to see you, Diane.
MR. JAMES LEWISThank you.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINThanks for having the show.
REHMEric Lipton, talk about what it new in the information you and several others discovered.
LIPTONPerhaps the most startling fact is that the FBI first approached the Democratic National Committee in September of 2015 to notify the DNC that their -- they had evidence suggesting that there was a hacker that had already infiltrated their computer system and that that hacker was associated with Russian cyber sleuths. And there was a series of telephone conversations that ran from September, really through April of 2016.
LIPTONSo for seven months. And they attempted to convince the DNC that this was a real threat and for at least the first several months, the DNC IT tech guy who handled the call did not even believe that the person calling was an FBI agent. And this dragged on and on and on and it's sort of startling. I mean, one other major revelation was that the Obama administration was unsure, once the hack became public, how to react. Should it publically attribute it to Russia and should it retaliate to try to send a message to Russia?
LIPTONAnd that indecision went over a period of months and dragged through much of the remaining period of the presidential election.
REHMTell me about the groups responsible, the so-called Cozy Bear, also known as The Dukes and Fancy Bear.
LIPTONSo there are two different Russian cyber groups that the various federal authorities have attributed this intrusion to. And it appears as if they both have ties to the Russian intelligence operations and it appears as if they, at times, they did not even know that the other was there resident within the DNC system because at times, they were taking the same materials that the other group had already taken.
LIPTONThe first one was The Dukes that went in -- or APT 29, in as early as July of 2015, it appears that they gained entry to the DNC's computer system. And they are more of a traditional espionage organization. So both the United States and Russia have, for decades probably, been collecting information on each other's operations in advance of elections to try to anticipate outcomes. And so The Dukes appeared to be just collecting information that they could use to try to, you know, know where things were headed.
LIPTONThe second actor came in, in apparently March or April of 2016 and that actor had the intention of actually using the information to try to influence the outcome by making it public.
REHMBut you're not just talking about the presidential election. You're also talking about congressional candidates targeted?
LIPTONRight. I mean, what many of us in the public did not realize, because the press did not cover it that thoroughly, but at the same time as the DNC had been hacked, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC, was also hacked. They share a building and they actually have connections between their computer systems at the DNC headquarters just next to the capital. The DCCC had tens of thousands of pages of documents which were internal strategy documents about their most important House races in the United States.
LIPTONAnd the same hackers grabbed those documents and then started to make them public and they strategically rolled them out in -- at the most critical moments in different races across the United States, which were some of the most competitive races. And they damaged the sort of standing candidacy of several Democrats. And you could almost blame some of the losses to some -- particularly in some Democratic primaries to the damaging material that was put in the public domain by the hackers.
LIPTONAnd it appears as if they were trying to influence House races, as well, is the short answer.
REHMWell, and that's the question. Are you talking deliberate intent or are you talking about -- I mean, can we prove intent?
LIPTONOh, I think there's no question that they intended to disrupt the elections, that they intended to sort of undermine democracy and show that the United States is not as noble and, you know, it's not the world's stellar, you know, example of democracy. I think that was the -- whether or not they intended for Democrats to lose and Republicans to win or for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose, that's beyond my pay grade and I know there's even some dispute within the various federal agencies as to whether or not.
LIPTONThe FBI seems to be less willing to make that conclusion. But did they intend to disrupt the process, to embarrass the United States? Clearly, that was the intention and they succeeded.
REHMAnd why would they be so intent on doing this?
LIPTONI mean, there's a lot of reason. You know, Russia, if we -- again, if we believe the intelligence, and it is pretty convincing, Russia feels as if the United States was intrusive in its affairs involving Ukraine and Georgia where, you know, they consider that their backyard. And the United States felt that it was only appropriate to stand up once Russia annexed part of Ukraine. And similarly, you know, Russia has been in a difficult period with the decline in oil prices and, you know, the resources available for military spending.
LIPTONAnd cyber attacks are a very low cost way to sort of show influence globally. And then, also, there's some history between Putin and Hillary Clinton, where Hillary Clinton was blamed for causing protests during parliamentary elections in Russia and perhaps, there was animosity there, that he wanted to show some retaliation for. I mean, we don't know exactly what the motivation was, but these are some factors that may have influenced it.
REHMAnd how do you see the media's role in all of this?
LIPTONIt's a question that we certainly raise in the story because you know, during the Sony hacks, this was when North Korea hacked into the Sony computer systems and stole thousands of emails and then distributed them to the public, there was a lot more deliberation as to whether or not it was appropriate to take that stolen material and to use it for newspaper stores. The New York Times, you know, debate internally, you know. This is a foreign power stealing information to try to punish Sony for making a movie that embarrassed the leader of North Korea.
LIPTONIn this case, it was similarly, you know, a foreign power had infiltrated the DNC and stolen the documents and was distributing them to try to embarrass and hurt the Democrats. But there was less debate as to whether or not we should be taking that material and writing stories about it. And there was a lot of focus on the gossipy content. You know, Hillary Clinton's speeches to Wall Street, you know, the snipe-y remarks of the Democrats about Bernie Sanders and perhaps, you know, trying to do things that might hurt him at the DNC.
LIPTONWe grabbed those emails, we wrote about them. But there wasn’t enough reflection, I don't think, about the role that the media was playing in weaponizing material that the foreign power had taken. And is that appropriate for us? I mean, we were handed the weapon and then we essentially detonated it in public. And I think that's something we need to think more about in the era where people are hacking into systems and then handing over large cashes of documents to reporters.
LIPTONIt's something all newspapers and media operations need to think more about.
REHMEric Lipton of the New York Times. Turning to you, James Lewis. Donald Trump dismissed the CIA's report, all the other reports that have come out over the weekend. Have we seen any new reaction from him? Do you think his reaction was appropriate?
LEWISI think that the CIA guess that the Russian intent was to tilt the election needs a lot more material behind it. But there should be no doubt that the Russians did interfere with the election and they probably would prefer Trump to Clinton. There shouldn't be any doubt about that. So did they do this intentionally? We've seen them do things like this in the past. I would err on the side of the CIA on this one if I was going to guess.
REHMWhat do you mean, err on the side of the CIA?
LEWISYou know, intelligence is always ambiguous. You're never going to get the kind of case that you would see in a court. That's one reason why FBI is being -- one reason why FBI is being a little gun shy about saying, yes, the Russians sought to tilt the election, because it's a different kind of world. It's a different kind of evidence. They're probably a little more cautious than they need to be. So, I think, in this case, it's probably called right. The Russians had intent.
LEWISWe've seen them do this in Europe, in their own neighbors. It's consistent with their behavior. They were trying to get an outcome.
REHMNorm Ornstein, how do you see it?
ORNSTEINFirst, Diane, I want to give a shout out to Eric and his colleagues, David Sanger and Scott Shane. This is one of the finest pieces of journalism, digging into things and then coming to no holds barred conclusions that I've ever seen. It's why the New York Times is the paper of record, although I've criticized it plenty and in this case, for -- along with others, mindlessly publishing and gleefully publishing gossipy stuff and things that are politics as usual that had an impact on this campaign, and a profound impact.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, as a general matter, to me, there is little doubt at what Russia was trying to do and they succeeded and they tilted the election that was decided by a literal, almost a handful of votes.
REHMNorman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Short break here. Your calls, comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about a New York Times investigation into Russian hacking into both the DNC, as well as the Democratic Congressional Committee's websites and the perhaps thumb on the scale that Russia may have put in regard to not only presidential election but congressional elections, as well. Norm, why doesn't the FBI go along with this?
ORNSTEINWell, you know, here we get back to a comment that James made, which is there's a lot of ambiguity where you have to try and pull together circumstantial evidence. But when you look at the role of the FBI throughout the course of this election, we all had all intelligence agencies issue a statement that Russia was behind hacks.
ORNSTEINThe FBI wouldn't sign on because James Comey, the director, said it's too close to the election, it might influence it. Then shortly thereafter we get the two Comey letters that by almost every account, certainly mine, had an enormous impact on the election. After the CIA came to its conclusions, we had the FBI coming out and, in effect, undermining them and saying we can't say that they were trying to influence the course of the election. The fact that they seemed to have very strong evidence that they've hacked into the Republican National Committee, if they didn't even try to do the Republicans, but they did only the Democrats, that would tell you something, that it wasn't just about disrupting an election as a general matter.
ORNSTEINAnd the FBI has been absent without leave here, and if you look back at one other example, we had -- we know that the New York office of the FBI was insistent in talking to the career people in the public integrity section at the Justice Department that they should issue indictments over the Clinton Foundation based on their evidence, which was a book that has in many ways been discredited, "Clinton Cash," and some newspaper articles.
ORNSTEINThe public integrity section appropriately said that's not indictable evidence, and they were furious. There's clearly an internal battle within the FBI, and this seems to be an agency that is out of control.
LIPTONYou know, the Russians think they've won, and in some ways when you find out about a hack, it's too late because this is always post facto. You found out after the data has been taken. What's shameful here is that the administration knew about this for six months, months before the election and did nothing. And to say, well, maybe this time they'll live up to their promises in Syria, or we don't want to escalate this, how much more escalation do you need than interfering in a presidential election? Our failure to act is what opened the floodgates for the Russian.
REHMWhat happened in the White House, Eric?
LIPTONSo, you know, certainly by, you know, late spring, early summer, there was full acknowledgment within the White House that this was a Russian cyber attack on the DNC and also on Hillary's campaign and at least through John Podesta. And there was, you know, indecision. There was, well, do we publicly attribute this to Russia, and do we retaliate, and if we retaliate, how should we retaliate. And among the factors that they were considering was, you know, how does this affect negotiations with Russia over Syria and trying to bring peace to Syria.
LIPTONAnd also will Russia take material that they perhaps have grabbed from the intelligence services in the United States and make that public and then really embarrass the United States and threaten the United States with, you know, in terms of its cyber-programs globally. And also, you know, would they be tipping the scale in favor of Hillary?
LIPTONAnd so all of these things, there was -- you know, there was a number of plans that were represented to them as options as to how to appropriately, you know, respond and retaliate, and they rejected those plans that came from other agencies, and there was disputes within the White House as to what the appropriate step was, and then they went on summer vacation, to some extent. And this dragged on really through October.
LIPTONAnd so we got in right up before the election, and they had still not -- the month before the election, they still had not formally blamed it on the Russians. And so finally on October 7, there was a formal statement, blaming on the Russians publicly, but no public -- you know, no, like, moment where Obama came forward and said this is an attack on the United States and the system of democracy, which would have changed the whole use of those emails because then people would have looked at them as something that was tainted, and it wouldn't -- I think it would have affected the whole perception of it.
LIPTONAnd so that inability to come to a conclusion played a role in how this thing played out.
REHMHow did the newspapers receive those emails?
LIPTONSo there were two methods. One was the hackers handed the material over to the two websites that they set up. One was called DC Leaks, which appeared to be a front for the Russian intelligence folks, and the second one was called Guccifer 2.0, which also appeared to be a front for Russian intelligence folks, and then also WikiLeaks was given a huge cache of them, you know, something like 60,000 emails from John Podesta.
LIPTONAnd so then WikiLeaks, all three of the websites were then posting stuff, and they didn't just dump all the stuff at once. They put it out in small increments on a daily basis, which clearly was intended to damage, to cause consequences because in speaking, for example, with the -- Donna Brazil, who I interviewed in her office at the DNC, she was explaining that here they were daily having events in which they were trying to bring coverage with, you know, the Clinton campaign to, you know, Hillary Clinton's positions, then there would be, you know, a leak of this, a leak of that, and the day would be ruined because the message was destroyed.
LIPTONSo Hillary would be giving a speech on this topic or that topic, and they knew that by releasing emails that were embarrassing, that would steal the attention from the reporters. And so they released them in small increments. Now they also -- they gave individual reporters from individual news organizations and bloggers who they picked out, Guccifer set up a messaging opportunity where you could write him a private message, him or her, whoever it was, and request specific caches of documents that you wanted and then -- and he sometimes would give the reporters passwords that they could -- had to fill in in order to get access to those documents.
LIPTONAnd so then it became a private exchange, essentially, with the Russian intelligence services and individual U.S. reporters, and then they wrote stories about those things.
ORNSTEINAnd at least for some of the reporters, Guccifer 2.0 asked please don't identify me as a Russian. So they had their paw prints all over this one.
REHMOkay, so many people on every program we've done on this issue has said, look, the U.S. does this all the time, the U.S. tries to influence other countries' elections. What's so special about this one?
ORNSTEINWell first of all, I think we probably have some dirty hands in other elections, but something like this, which changes the course of history, which is in effect an act of war, I would call it....
REHMHow do we know it changed the course of history?
ORNSTEINWhen you have an election that is decided by less than 80,000 votes in three states, way, way, less than one-tenth of one percent of all the votes cast, and you look at -- you could look at a large number of factors, but if you look at the weight of all of this, the way the campaign was framed, the -- the fact that we had a Clinton campaign that could gain no traction because overwhelmingly the stories on cable television and in newspapers and all of the coverage were about internal Democratic disputes and problems with Hillary Clinton, when you look at the number of Bernie Sanders supporters outraged by some of the nasty things said about Sanders, and of course there were no leaks through the Sanders campaign of the things that her managers were saying about Hillary, and those who said we weren't going to vote or voted for Jill Stein, enough votes that actually made the difference in those states.
ORNSTEINAnd then you think about the consequences of this election, which will extend for decades through the Supreme Court, which changed policies across the gamut of climate change to reproductive rights to relations with Russia and elsewhere, I put all of that together, and I would say that while you could point to a dozen things that might have tipped the scales, this one did.
REHMDo you believe that, James?
LEWISI do, and I think it's important to note that the last president who interfered in foreign elections was Ronald Reagan, right, and that was during the Cold War and so a very different set of motives. Putin has a larger campaign to undermine democracy in the West. The U.S. is not the only target.
REHMSo are you saying it wasn't necessarily just Hillary, it was the whole of the democratic system he was aiming at?
LEWISThey're doing this in Germany, in France, in the U.K., in other European countries. It's part of a larger campaign.
ORNSTEINMajor effort in Germany now to undermine Angela Merkel.
LIPTONSo we see the Russians, they changed their mind about this in 2010. They were on the defensive. They looked at Arab Spring, the Green Revolution and said we have to push back. And the way to push back is against what they call Western values.
REHMBut here's the thing. You had so many American officials aware of what was happening. What was the reluctance to take some action?
LIPTONWell, I think history will not judge Barack Obama well on this at all, and I think you've got two factors here. One is the one that James suggested. We've got so many other complicated relations with Russia, we don't want to damage them. of course the reality is if you let a bully and a thug get away with something, it's going to get worse, and if that thug is blackmailing you with evidence about intelligence agencies, do you think he's going to say, all right, I'll erase all of that?
LIPTONAt the same time, we know that there were meetings held with top congressional officials where this evidence was presented in a powerful way, and there was effort to do a joint statement, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said no, if you do that, I'll say you're trying to influence the election and tilt it towards Clinton.
LIPTONAnd I think Obama wanted to bend over doubly backwards not to make it look like he was using the power of the presidency for this. But in the end, it is so deeply destructive, you can't even imagine it.
REHMJoining us now from Cambridge is Lawrence Lessig. He's professor at Harvard Law School, director of the Edmond Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Professor Lessig, thanks for joining us.
MR. LAWRENCE LESSIGThanks for having me, Diane. I'm actually calling you from Reykjavik, so the connection might not quite be perfect.
REHMAll right, got you. Tell me what your reaction is to this investigation by the New York Times.
LESSIGWell I think this is going to send a shockwave through the electors, Republican electors, as they weigh their constitutional obligation to cast a vote for Donald Trump or not. I've been working with groups that are counseling electors, giving them legal advice about their rights and their obligation, and we know that there's a substantial number who are anxious about their vote, and I think this is going to just build that anxiety.
REHMOn Tuesday on "Meet the Press Daily," the Harvard Constitutional paper said that you are aware of at least 20 Republican electors seriously considering voting their conscience and not voting for Donald Trump. How do you know that?
LESSIGWell in these three groups, we've been putting together our numbers, and people who -- that each of us are talking to. And that's my conservative estimate. Now of course if it doesn't grow beyond that, if it doesn't get to, you know, the critical number of 37, then I predict none of them, or maybe -- or actually no one has come out publicly, but none of them are going to take the risk of going against Donald Trump unless there's a reason to do it.
LESSIGSo we're in this weird moment where depending on how many coalesce, and they're confident about other coalescing around voting against Donald Trump, it's either going to be a substantial number or very little.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So you would need 37 people to have to change their votes, correct?
LESSIGThat's right. I mean, we're going to have to see that amount before it questions the result in the college.
REHMAnd okay, let's assume you have that 37 votes. Then what happens?
LESSIGSo assuming that they don't switch their votes to Hillary Clinton, which is, I think, a safe assumption, then the House of Representatives would have to take up the top three candidates, and they would have to vote among the top three candidates to pick the one for president. Each state gets one vote, and then a majority of states to prevail. That obviously is a significant advantage to the Republicans because the Republicans control more state delegations, but it would be a fight at that point, I think, whether the states are going to rally around Donald Trump, or they'll find the third candidate as the moderate or, you know, my view is that they should go with what the majority had done and support Hillary Clinton. But that will be their choice at that point.
REHMYou don't see that happening, James?
LEWISThat's not going to happen.
LIPTONAgain, I'm a newspaper reporter, and I'm not supposed to have opinions, but I mean, the notion that because a Russian intervention occurred that we would kind of even consider undermining democracy to the extent that we would, you know, override the process of electing the president, I mean, we're talking about a revolution then. I mean, that just seems like -- I mean, we -- whatever you think about the outcome of the election, we're a democracy, and we have to stand on that.
REHMA popular vote, however...
LIPTONWell let me just...
LESSIGWhat is the process? The process is that there are electors who vote, and the electors who vote vote on the basis of, as (unintelligible) said, independent, nonpartisan judgment about who they're going to vote for. So they have a legal right, a constitutional right, to exercise that judgment, and that's exactly what many of them are considering doing.
LEWISIt would also be suicide.
ORNSTEINWell it's -- you know, it's very unlikely to happen. I would say it's very interesting. If you go back and read Federalist 68, probably written by Alexander Hamilton, which was the framework for an Electoral College, the electors were supposed to be independent and make an independent judgment. But in that Federalist 68, what Hamilton talks about is you've got to protect against foreign, corrupt influence, and that's why you have independent electors.
ORNSTEINSo it's a very interesting twist on all of this. Maybe he predicted something that would happen. I would say it's -- you know, it's -- there are only two candidates who won electoral votes. The only options would be that they would vote, because an overwhelming number of states have Republican delegations, for Trump, which is what would likely happen, or they wouldn't get to the 26 states, and then you'd have a vice presidential election decided in the Senate by a simple majority, so Mike Pence would become president.
ORNSTEINAnd if it ever got to that point, you probably would have some intense discussions in some of those state delegations...
REHMThat's putting it mildly. Lawrence Lessig, final word from you?
LESSIGWell it's true only two got electoral votes, but the Electoral College gets to vote, and as they vote the top three come out into the House. So the decision for the House is among the top three. Now I'm not claiming anything is likely here to happen, you just asked me what the -- probably, given what we knew about how electors were thinking about this, and if the electors exercise their independent judgment, then we're going to have the provision of the Constitution in the 12th Amendment invoked that is the process for selecting the president that shifts it out of the ordinary democratic process...
REHMLawrence Lessig, professor of law at Harvard University. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about an investigation by The New York Times into Russian hacking, into the U.S. presidential and congressional process. Norm, during the break you were talking about information that apparently the FBI has.
ORNSTEINWell, we certainly know from some of the stories written before the election that the FBI was investigating deeply the links between the Trump campaign and people close to Trump and the Russians, including Paul Manafort, of course, who was his campaign manager for a significant period of time. And there have been suggestions, plenty of them, that the Trump campaign and the Russians were talking to each other during the course of the campaign.
ORNSTEINSo if we found more explosive information that suggested that this wasn't just Vladimir Putin and the Russians trying to mix into the American election, but the Trump campaign in concert with the Russians doing this, then you get something that is at a very different level. And of course we also know that Donald Trump, who's now dismissing all the suggestions that the Russians were involved, said publicly that he invited Vladimir Putin and the Russians to go in and dig in and find all of those Clinton emails. Now, he would say that's a joke, but it's not a very funny one.
REHMAnd then there was Giuliani's comment.
ORNSTEINThen we had Rudy Giuliani's comment a few days before the first Comey letter about the new emails, that we've got a big surprise coming in a few days. We know that Giuliani had been in close contact with the New York branch of the FBI, with which he had had very close ties before. He said it's former agents, but the relationship of Giuliani to the FBI, the Comey letters and their unwillingness to talk publicly about the investigation of the Trump campaign and its ties to the Russians stinks to high heaven.
LEWISI think that the FBI role has to be looked at closely. And the question that they need to disprove -- and this isn't a criticism of Comey, who I think is a straight shooter. But below him, did people slow roll the counterintelligence investigation into the Republican campaign and we don't know one way or the other, but it doesn't look good.
REHMAll right. To Bill, in Lakeville, Ind. I wonder if Norm has just answered your question.
BILLTo some degree he has answered my question. But I'd like to know what he thinks would happen if they did indeed find some form of coordination between the Trump campaign and Putin's intelligence service.
ORNSTEINWe don't really know what would happen. I think, you know, Eric made a point earlier, and I think it's right, as Americans we look at an election, we did this in 2000, we've done it this time, we may not like the outcome -- in both cases you had the winner of the popular vote losing. In this case, you've got more questions of chicanery. We'd like to put it behind us and move on.
ORNSTEINBut if we find that evidence, the remedy in the end comes after January 20th likely, not before. And it comes through an impeachment investigation. And then we get back to the question that Lindsey Graham raised during the course of the campaign about many of his own Republicans. Does there come a time when you put country ahead of Party? And, you know, we may never get there. It may be that we don't have incontrovertible evidence or strong evidence, but if we know that we had a presidential campaign working with our biggest adversary to undermine American elections and change the outcome, how could it get more explosive than that?
REHMAll right. To Kerl, in Franklin Lakes, N.J. You're on the air.
KERLHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
KERLTo me it seems like three things are fairly obvious. One, that there was an incursion, two, that the intent was to influence the election, but three, that the incoming administration isn't likely to follow up on something that undermines their own legitimacy. So I wonder if there's an editorial responsibility to frame this issue not as something that was intended to influence the election, but perhaps just as a security incursion. Because we don't want Trump administration to just sit on this.
LEWISWe know that the attitude towards Russia, Russia policy will be a huge test for this administration and will determine its success. I think people are looking to the Congress and to people like Senator McCain, some of the others, to push the administration in the right way. Some of the people complain about having too many generals. But the generals probably don't love Russia any more than some of the rest of us. So it will be a big dispute.
REHMTo Taylor, Mich., Keith, you're on the air.
KEITHGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
KEITHI love your show.
KEITHI was just wondering, with all the security agencies like we have, like the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the DOD, why was Russia able to infiltrate the DNC systems and access those emails? And I know you can't prevent everything, but seems like they knew ahead of time, seems like they would have been able to take preventative measures to stop her from happening. Also, in the context of this discussion, a lot of the talk is about the revelation of emails.
KEITHBut no one is talking about the Russians hacking into polling stations or balloting computers, or whatever, to actually have a direct impact on the election. It just seems that they revealed some bad things about the Democrats that they were communicating between themselves and people still in the end made up their own mind and voted. So I just wanted to know your guys' thoughts on that. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Eric?
LIPTONFirst of all, I mean, I think you're right. That their -- the DNC, the RNC, the Republican National Committee that is, the presidential campaigns should have known clearly that they were likely targets, both McCain and Obama had been targeted in the -- in a prior election. So it was no surprise that there would be hackers and maybe not even -- maybe not foreign hackers, but at least hackers. And in fact, Hillary's campaign had a pretty good security system. They succeeded in preventing someone -- so far at least, as far as we know there's been no -- the Podesta emails was his own Gmail account.
LIPTONAnd he did not have two-step verification. If there's anything you should learn from this everyone that's listening, have two-step verification on all of your email accounts. Because that was the primary reason that Podesta was hacked. So in -- so the DNC clearly should have known that it was gonna be targeted. And when you ask them about this, what they say is, we're a non-profit organization. We actually -- we have huge responsibilities to run the presidential primaries, but we're actually a pretty scrappy group. I mean, we don't have a corporate budget for huge security.
LIPTONAnd, you know, we have IT guys and we have some spam filters, but we don't have, you know, the equivalent level of cyber security. They should have had it, clearly. In retrospect we know that. And should the government be helping the parties in having better communication to make sure that if they do become hacked that they are immediately alerted and that they do something? Clearly, that should have been the case.
LIPTONYou're -- the second point about the impact on the election itself, the evidence is pretty sparse, that they -- that anyone was able to influence voting machines. They did do scanning of some voting registration data in some states, and that's being investigated. But it does not appear as if they were able to. Because the individual voting machines are quite separated from the internet. It doesn't appear as if they were able to affect voting outcomes.
LEWISYou know, the Russians are the best in the world when it comes to hacking. They broke into DOD's classified system in 2008. And that was a hint. So if they want to get in, you're not gonna keep them out.
REHMOkay. I'd like to understand something. I had learned that the electors themselves have asked for the information from both the CIA and the FBI before they cast their votes on December 19th. Is that going to happen?
ORNSTEINWe don't know. It's the Democratic electors who've asked. So far as we know, we don't have Republican electors who've asked for all of that information. And they've asked for it for all of the electors. That's gonna have to come from the intelligence agencies and so far we haven't had any kind of a response. I want to just address for a minute the question about hacking into elections.
ORNSTEINJames is absolutely right that voting -- and Eric -- that voting machines, individually, the electronic machines, you could get into and change outcomes. You'd have to do it with every individual machine. We are -- they are not connected to the internet. But voter registration data is. And if you change the voter registration data, you can keep people who are actually validly registered from voting. And so if there's a possibility here of changing the outcomes, we would want to look at what they did in some of these critical states and whether people who showed up at the polls were told you're not registered and were turned away.
REHMAll right. To Cindy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. You're on the air.
CINDYHi. Just wanted to make a few counter points. Everybody's hair is on fire over this. We've known about hacking for years and years and years. You just cited that statistic from 2008 DOD. Nobody seems to be concerned about it until Donald Trump wins the election. And then everybody's running around acting crazy. President Obama and Mrs. Clinton both assured us, when they thought Donald Trump was gonna mess with the election or contest it, that this election was above reproach.
CINDYAnd now everybody's hair is on fire. I'm sorry, we're not buying it. And if anything happens with this, and electors, you will have revolution in the streets, trust me. This is pretty serious stuff you're talking about. And to implicate Donald Trump in colluding with Russians I think is really over the top.
LEWISSo we've gone after China, we've gone after Iran, we've gone after North Korea. And with Russia, those four countries are opponents. And the question is why didn't we go after Russia. But to say this is unique because of Trump is wrong. To say there might be a revolution, I don't like foreign powers telling me how my elections turn out. I don't like foreign powers intruding.
ORNSTEINI agree. And certainly we are divided and polarized on this issue. And we're gonna have a large group of people unhappy under any circumstances about what happens. And that is why we need powerfully an utterly independent investigation, conducted by an impeccable figure, perhaps a former director of the FBI or somebody who knows how these systems work, knows the intelligence community and can dig into this and let us know definitively who' was involved and what's taken place. It can't be done by a Congress that has its own biases.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And now to Portland, Maine. Mike, you're on the air.
MIKEHi, Diane, great show.
MIKEYeah, I just wanted to raise an issue of balance in the earlier discussion about, you know, Obama administration's failure to act. I mean, I've read several articles, you know, one in the Washington Post, I think one in The Economist, about how the president approached senators on intelligence committee with this information in September and wanted to release a joint statement.
MIKEAnd basically Mitch McConnell refused and said, you know, this is -- I'm gonna position this as partisan interference in the election if you go ahead with this. So I don't disagree that Obama should have brought it forward, but he did approach Republicans with this and they basically said no, we like the outcome.
LIPTONOne of the things that we discovered when we were working on this story and interviewing the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the extent to which there was back-channel communication with their counterparts in the Republican Party, urging them -- before, you know, as this -- the emails were being released, saying in letters and in private meetings and conversations, we need to come together. We need to publicly condemn this. And, I mean, they showed me the letters that were sent to, you know, to the…
LIPTON…to Reince Priebus and to Paul Ryan and to the National Republican Campaign Committee and they -- I do, I mean, they were feeling under attack and they wanted to say we need to rise above politics. And not only did the Republicans -- and I'm sorry I'm not taking sides on this, but not only did the Republicans not join them in publicly condemning them, but there are situations in the House races in which they took the material that had been stolen by the Russians and then they used it in TV ads. Okay.
LIPTONSo they, I mean, that's pretty extraordinary. I mean, the NRCC and the Congressional -- a PAC associated with Paul Ryan ran -- they actually took the stolen stuff and they feature in a TV ad. So, I mean, imagine that. They then became not only, you know, they became -- they were delivering the Russian material in television ads. And that, I mean, wow. Not only did they not condemn it, but I was pretty startled at that.
REHMEric, one last question for you. I know we found out this just this morning, about the GSA and the Trump Hotel here in Washington.
LIPTONI mean, we've been talking about one part of a debate going on right now. Another huge debate is whether or not Donald Trump, as soon as he's sworn in, is gonna have serious conflicts of interests and may even be violating the Constitution because of, you know, payments he gets from foreign governments. The General Services Administration notified Congress this morning in a letter that as soon as Trump is sworn in, if he does not make a change in his financial relationship with the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a couple blocks from the White House, which is a federal government building that his family leases, that he will be in violation of a lease, that it will be a conflict of interest.
LIPTONAnd they've notified Congress that it will be a breach of a lease because he will be appointing the head of the GSA, as president, and he will be leasing that building from the GSA. And it represents a conflict of interest.
REHMSo what would he have to do to be in…
LIPTONHe either needs to sell the lease or to sublease it to another party.
REHMCouldn't he just turn it over to his children?
LIPTONHe still owns it. I mean, even if you turn over management of it to your children, he is still the owner, personally.
REHMCouldn't he sell it to his children?
LIPTONHe could divest of his, of that property. He could divest of all his properties. And that's, in fact, what the Office of Government Ethics has called for, the Wall Street Journal has called for. I mean, there's been quite a number of voices that have said the only way that you can eliminate your conflicts of interests is actually to divest your real estate holdings, liquidate them, put that money into a blind trust and let someone else manage it.
REHMHow soon is that gonna happen, James?
LEWISWell, this is a remarkable election year and it's just gonna stay remarkable for at least another year or two. And it's gonna be a bumpy ride.
REHMSo you don't see him divesting himself of that hotel or his other holdings?
LEWISIt wouldn't take that much for him to set up a corporation that his children owned and had the hotel. Will he want to do it? Don't know.
REHMWell, then how do you keep a conversation within the family totally free of talking about business?
ORNSTEINOne, you can't. He has to divest and it can't be a family operation. Two, Kurt Eichenwald has an extraordinarily powerful piece in Newsweek about the conflicts that he has and the implications for foreign policy, including with Turkey and Erdogan and all of the different ties. And we should note that apropos of the GSA there are two emoluments clauses in the Constitution he would violate. One involving foreign entities. The other, the fact that you're not allowed to take anything of value, other than your salary from the federal governments or the states.
REHMNorman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Eric Lipton, reporter for The New York Times, and thank you for a job well done.
REHMThank you, all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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