Democrats Detail Russian Election Interference In Europe
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some senators are trying to take in the big picture of the ambitions of Vladimir Putin. Some Senate Democrats have just released a study of the Russian president. You're hearing about it first here. The Democrats find Putin's goals are to preserve his power and increase his net worth. To do that, the Russian president divides opposition at home and also abroad. And the report finds Russia interfering in many democracies, not just the United States. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland joins us. He was involved in producing this report. Senator, good morning
BEN CARDIN: Steve, it's good to be with you. Thank you.
INSKEEP: How does this change your view of Russia's strategy in the world?
CARDIN: Well, it's clear that Mr. Putin has a plan, and that plan includes not just the use of his military but also cyberattacks, disinformation, support for fringe political groups, the weaponization (ph) of energy resources, organized crime and corruption, all of that to compromise democratic institutions. His primary target is Europe. He's trying to influence countries particularly where there is Russian-speaking populations but also Western Europe. And he's also been interested in the United States, as we saw in the 2016 election.
INSKEEP: Although you also mentioned that Russia has funded the far-right party in the last French presidential elections, supported a coup attempt in Montenegro you allege and also conducted a disinformation campaign during Germany's parliamentary elections. I'd like to ask though, other than the United States, where the intelligence agencies did find Russia with substantial interference, has Russia actually changed the election results in very many places?
CARDIN: Well, that's impossible to tell. We know that they were very active, as you pointed out, in France and Germany. We know in the U.K., they were active in the Brexit referendum. Did they influence the result? I don't think we'll ever know for sure. But we know that they did try to interfere with the democratic institutions of free elections.
INSKEEP: And I guess we should be clear as well, there's no evidence also that Russia specifically changed the result in the United States but that Russia was involved seems pretty clear according to U.S. intelligence agencies. How would you say the president of the United States is doing in confronting this threat?
CARDIN: Well, he's ignoring it. He's basically - has, at times, said that he believes Mr. Putin and that when Mr. Putin said he did not interfere in the U.S. elections, even though that is, I think, beyond any credible dispute today. So the presidential leadership has been missing.
In Europe, we've seen many European leaders' countries take direct action to protect their country and protect their democratic institutions with a game plan and with preparation. In the United States, President Trump has not acknowledged the problem, has not set up the type of interagency fusion cell that's necessary to deal with this type of threat and has not produced a coordinated strategy to protect us against future attacks by Russia.
INSKEEP: Can I mention, Senator Cardin, this is a product of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats? Republicans have not been involved, even though a lot of Republicans have expressed concern over the months and years about Russia. Is this in some way a partisan document that's just designed to embarrass the president?
CARDIN: No, not at all. In fact, during the production of this document, we had a lot of input from Republicans. It was a decision made early in 2017 by the Democrats that this type of report had to be made, that it was important for the American people to understand that the interference in our elections was part of a greater plan by Russia.
We've had Republicans work with us to implement many of the recommendations that we're making. I can mention Senator McCain specifically has been an outspoken partner in trying to bring to the American people this concern. And there are many other Republicans. I work very closely with Senator Corker, the chairman of our committee. I kept him informed throughout the year. This was a priority that the Democrats decided needed to be done in 2017, we decided that early. But the product tier, I believe, is one that is important for our country to pursue.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, why didn't Republicans sign on? It would probably be politically more powerful if they had.
CARDIN: Well, it was not really in that type of a format where you could have gotten - assigned one at the last minute. This has been a year product, and it was done under the auspices of the Democratic staff. I am confident that this report will be embraced by Democrats and Republicans and that we know what we need to protect America's security.
INSKEEP: Senator, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.
CARDIN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Ben Cardin is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.