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Sen. Mark Warner Discusses Latest Report On Russia's Influence On 2016 Election

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A long-awaited report out today traces a direct line from President Trump's 2016 campaign to Russian intelligence and government officials. This bipartisan finding comes courtesy of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And there are details that both confirm and build on the Mueller report. Top line - the Russians wanted Trump in office and did their level best to make it happen, and some of his advisers were all for it.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner is vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator, welcome back.

MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me on.

KELLY: So I remember interviewing you back in early 2017 at the beginning of your investigation. And you told me that you were keeping an open mind but - and I'll quote you - "boy, oh, boy, there's a lot of smoke." So did you find fire?

WARNER: Well, 3 1/2 years in, I'm proud that the Intelligence Committee has now put out five volumes of this report - this one, the most extensive in terms of the contact. And I will let every American who wants to read the report draw their own conclusions. But there was unprecedented level of contacts from Russians and their agents with the Trump campaign and Trump-related officials at a level that was unprecedented. And that is documented in this report in, you know, twice as much detail, arguably, as even what Mueller laid out. And I think what concerns me is here we are...

KELLY: Certainly is the public version of the Mueller report...

WARNER: Right. And here we are, you know, a few months away from another election. The Intelligence Committee has said, Russia will be back. China is back now, Iran. And yet we still, as a nation, have not passed any laws to try to actually make ourselves safer.

KELLY: Well, that prompts my next question, which is what is your hope for the impact of this report? As you mentioned, the findings echo what Robert Mueller found, and those findings have already been picked apart and rejected by the president and his supporters.

WARNER: Well, I think we have made some progress. Social media is better - not as good as it should be - but it's better in terms of not being able to be disrupted and abused. Our election systems - the Department of Homeland Security has actually done a pretty darn good job of tightening the security of our election systems.

I'm still very worried, though, that if a foreign entity - if Russia wanted to advertise on Facebook, they could do so without disclosing who they are. Or if a foreign service - a foreign government wanted to offer dirt on an opposing candidate to a presidential campaign, there's no obligation to tell the FBI as opposed to saying thank you. So I worry that we're not as safe as we should be, knowing that there are foreign governments that want to intervene.

KELLY: I mean, you are dropping this report 77 days before the next election. How worried are you about election security and interference this time around?

WARNER: Well, the American intelligence community came out 10 days ago and indicated Russia, now China, now Iran are all active because it's both effective and cheap. And it's not just interfering in our elections. I mean, the Russians in particular have intervened in many European elections - the French presidential election, the Brexit vote - because, again, it's a lot cheaper than buying a new submarine or airplane. And I think Western democracies have to be on better guard on a going-forward basis. And unfortunately, this White House who refuses to acknowledge this, I think at least indirectly, helps the Russian case of undermining democracy.

KELLY: Just a few seconds left - but after, as you said, more than 3 1/2 years of work, are there still key questions unanswered? What do you still not know?

WARNER: There are still key questions, for example, of what the Russians did with the insider campaign information that Paul Manafort turned over. I'm not sure we'll ever know. But I do know we've made some progress. DHS, as I mentioned, we're getting better. Social media, we're getting better. I just wish this White House would follow the lead of its own intelligence community and acknowledge this is an ongoing threat.

KELLY: That is Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Good to speak to you. Thank you, sir.

WARNER: Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.