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Trump Pressured To Acknowledge Russian Election Interference


Something of a bipartisan consensus has emerged about Russian hacking and the U.S. election. Leading senators from both parties say they want to investigate the hacking of political figures and broader concerns about cybersecurity.


We say something of a bipartisan consensus because lawmakers do not necessarily agree exactly how to investigate. And the consensus does not yet include President-elect Trump. He has said he does not believe claims of Russian involvement, although his incoming chief of staff said over the weekend that Trump would be ready to accept that conclusion if intelligence agencies put out a joint report. The president-elect's adviser Kellyanne Conway expressed the Trump team's impatience to John Dickerson of CBS.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: John, where's the evidence? Why, when CIA officials were invited to a House intelligence briefing last week, did they refuse to go? Instead, they're talking to the media. That undermines our national security, our intelligence operations.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this now with Jonah Goldberg of National Review, who has become a regular guest here.

Good morning, sir.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by.

So I just want to mention, Senator John McCain was on NPR the other day said, quote, "I don't think there's any doubt about that, that it was Russian." We could argue about what Russia's motives were in hacking the Democratic National Committee and other targets, but he doesn't doubt it. And there was a joint statement of all the intelligence agencies back in October saying this was Russia. Why is that basic fact a matter of dispute?

GOLDBERG: I think it's a matter of basic dispute because we are in such an unbelievable hothouse of partisanship on both sides, where everyone wants to make maximalist claims. And so Democrats want to say that Vladimir Putin gift-wrapped and handed the election to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump and his subalterns want to say that Russia had absolutely nothing to do with this - say it was all his great populist movement. And it was probably some, apparently, apocryphal fat guy on a bed somewhere in the Midwest who had - who did all of the hacking.

INSKEEP: And we should be clear - President Obama in our interview last week did not necessarily claim that Russia swung the election here. He actually seemed to blame the media for embracing a bunch of things he viewed as distractions. Rather than saying that it was Russia specifically, he wanted to look more broadly at the democratic process and how it's functioning.

GOLDBERG: Right. And I also thought President Obama was fair in that. I think that's the problem when both sides want to make these maximum claims - is that their more humble claims - their more, you know, skeptical claims are actually pretty persuasive. The Democrats have every reason to be ticked off about how Russia, a foreign government, meddled with our elections. Every American actually, I think, should be very angry about that. And we should have investigations. On the flip side, I think the Trump team is perfectly in their rights to say - hey, look, it wasn't Vladimir Putin who told Hillary Clinton not to send anybody to Wisconsin.

So if they could dial it down a little bit...

INSKEEP: And it wasn't Vladimir Putin who actually voted here. Americans voted, and this is how the election turned out.

GREENE: That's right.

GOLDBERG: Fair enough. That's right.

INSKEEP: Now President Obama did raise another thing, though. You mentioned that Democrats seem angrier about this than Republicans. The president said he was shocked to see a survey - and there was one survey saying this - 37 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of President Putin who, as Obama said, crushed democracy in his country and has defied the United States around the world. I think you could find surveys finding even more Republicans supportive of Putin. What is happening in the Republican Party there?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, this is one of my problems I have with the way we do these things in Washington. Whenever you have one party being hypocritical, odds are the other one is, too.


GOLDBERG: So the Democrats who've been against - who've been for sort of detente or better or peace with Russia for a gazillion years...

INSKEEP: Tried for the reset at one time.



GOLDBERG: And Republicans who've been hard-liners towards Russia for a gazillion years, there's - because the Republicans are now becoming sort of soft on Russia, Democrats are sounding harder on Russia. I think what's happening is that we're seeing a flocking towards whatever position Donald Trump takes. And we've seen this time after time on things like Obamacare, health care, industrial policy, imminent domain, if you go down a very long list.

If Donald Trump is for it, a significant portion of the Republican Party is going to be for it, too. And I think one of the reasons why you see people like John McCain and Senator Lindsey, or Lindsey Graham as lagging indicators in that movement is that elites are in some - have always sort of been the last to flip on these various issues when Trump went a new way.

INSKEEP: Should Americans be concerned about Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO, who's the president-elect's choice for secretary of state and who does seem to have done a lot of close business deals with Russia?

GOLDBERG: I think Rex Tillerson is getting a bad rap here. At the same time, if life - if the worst thing to happen to this multimillionaire CEO of a global giant is that he's used as a political pawn, I mean, I have to get a smaller violin. The problem is is I think he's an honorable, decent man from the people I've talked to. At the same time, the pick was so clearly symbolic as a rapprochement, as a move towards friendlier relations with Russia. And in the context of all of this other stuff, it is completely understandable that politicians would see this as a symbolic move towards Russia.

INSKEEP: Meaning that Russia might get the wrong impression from this this choice?

GOLDBERG: I think once Rex Tillerson is sworn in, he will actually be a remarkably patriotic guy who puts American national interests first.

INSKEEP: Just got a few seconds here, Jonah Goldberg, but I read this conservative writer from time to time named Jonah Goldberg who...

GOLDBERG: I've heard of him.

INSKEEP: ...Who wrote something over the weekend called "Never Trump No More." What did you mean by that very briefly?

GOLDBERG: Very briefly, all I meant was that the Never Trump movement, such as it was, was about the primaries and the general election. It said I'm never going to endorse or vote for the guy.

INSKEEP: Which you didn't.

GOLDBERG: I didn't. It doesn't mean that I have to dispute the legitimacy of a democratic election. My position has always been, I'm going to tell the truth as I see it. I'm very skeptical about Trump's chances for a brilliant, successful presidency. But he also deserves his shot. We only have one president at a time.

INSKEEP: He's your president.

GOLDBERG: He's everybody's president.

INSKEEP: OK. Jonah, thanks very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg of National Review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.