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Senate Panel Chairman John McCain To Hold Russia Cyber Hearing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Despite President-elect Donald Trump's full-throated skepticism, tomorrow Congress launches its investigation into whether Russia hacked Democrats' emails during the election. Senator John McCain's Armed Services Committee will lead things off, followed by two other Senate committees.

Last week, President Obama expelled Russian diplomats based on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence that Russia was behind the hacking. Trump's incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the move was premature.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: The idea that you should be talking about the conclusion or the actions that you're going to take on a conclusion that's not final yet is unbelievably irresponsible.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: Wait a minute, Sean.

SPICER: The report is not - no, no. Hold on. The report's not final. He has not been briefed...

MARTIN: That was Spicer talking on CNN. Joining me now is David Kramer. He served as assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush and is a senior director at the McCain Institute. Thanks so much for coming in.

DAVID KRAMER: Good morning.

MARTIN: We are getting mixed messages from Trump and his aides. On the one hand, Trump himself said he has information no one else has that makes him think Russia didn't do this. At the same time, his aides keep saying the final report from the intelligence community hasn't been completed, so it's too early to come to a conclusion.

What do you make of the incoming administration's reaction to all this?

KRAMER: I - I think we have to recognize that the intelligence community has concluded - it did in October - that the Russians were involved in the hacking. And then after the election, they concluded that the Russians were hacking in order to try to tip the election in favor of Donald Trump.

The final report that is - we're all waiting for was something President Obama ordered before January 20. That is something we are waiting - but at the same time, I don't think there is much debate within the intelligence community that the Russians were behind the hacking and that they did so in order to try to favor Trump.

The president-elect has decided to take on the intelligence community, which I don't find to be the best strategy as he assumes office on January 20.

MARTIN: So if you're saying that the intelligence is solid that Russia was behind this hack, what do you make of the president-elect's rejection of that? Is there - is there some credence to his doubts?

KRAMER: Well, he has indicated he has information that others don't that he plans to release - not clear when that will happen. He had indicated this past weekend he would do so either yesterday or today. He has stated that the intelligence briefing he was hoping to get had been delayed. The intelligence community has responded that it was not delayed. It's scheduled for this Friday.

So there is a lot of confusion. I think these kinds of things would be better sorted out behind the scenes rather than publicly or through tweeting.

MARTIN: You wrote in a piece in Politico the day after the sanctions were announced that the U.S. should be taking more retaliatory actions. Like what?

KRAMER: Well, the reaction among most Republicans on the Hill was that this action was too little too late. It wasn't the sense that President Obama had taken steps that would tie Donald Trump's hands when he became president. And I think the Republican reaction is generally right. I do think the steps that were taken last week were significant steps, kicking out 35 Russian intelligence operatives, closing down two sites - one in Maryland, one in New York - and then sanctioning a number of entities, including the Russian military intelligence service and the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

But I think there are other steps that could be taken, including adding the director of the FSB to the list and looking into possible hacking of our own on Russian ill-gotten gains in their personal accounts. We have said that there are assets that have been acquired by Putin and his circle. If we know that they exist, maybe we should look into going after them and lopping off a few zeros from their accounts and then having them complain that they've lost millions if not billions of dollars and then explaining how they got that money in the first place.

MARTIN: Do you think that's something Donald Trump would pursue in the White House?

KRAMER: I think it's unlikely. He had indicated during the campaign his willingness to look at the possibility of lifting Ukraine-related sanctions, not even talking about Russia-hacking-related sanctions. And he'd even indicated the possibility of recognizing Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea that was taken over in 2014. So I would be surprised if we saw any additional moves that would involve sanctions or any other steps when it comes to Russia.

MARTIN: Just briefly, let's say Trump changes U.S. policy toward Russia, extends a hand, ends sanctions, recognizes the annexation of Crimea. How does any of that undermine America's national security?

KRAMER: I - what I fear is a recognition, perhaps implicit if not explicit, of a Russian sphere of influence. And that would consign many of Russia's neighbors to a Russian area of control that I don't think would serve our interests. These countries aspired 25 years ago to be independent states. Many of them want to join Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the European Union. Several of Russia's neighbors are in fact members of those organizations. They're all very nervous about what may come. And so I hope the president-elect, once he assumes office, will in fact reassure them the United States stands with them.

MARTIN: David Kramer is with the McCain Institute. He served as assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush. Thank you so much.

KRAMER: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.