The following is an excellent program from the February 27, 2017 PBS News-Hour program reported by Judy Woodruff and William Brangham titled “What We Know About Russian Meddling and Putin’s Playbook” and “Congress Grapples With Investigating Russia Ties” I quote:
“What we know about Russian meddling and Putin’s playbook”
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now more on Russian and U.S. actions that led us to this moment.
That’s the subject of a lengthy article in this week’s New Yorker magazine, and to William Brangham.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, what is known, and not known, about Russia’s involvement in our recent election?
I’m joined now by Evan Osnos. He’s a staff writer at The New Yorker and one of the author’s of “Active Measures,” a deep look into Russia’s actions. That’s in the latest edition of the magazine. And I’m also joined by John Sipher. He spent 28 years in the CIA’s clandestine service, including assignments in Russia and Eastern Europe. He’s now at a consulting company called CrossLead.
Welcome to you both.
So, Evan Osnos, really a wonderful primer in The New Yorker that you wrote and several of your colleagues. Can you just bring us up to speed. What do we know, what don’t we know about Russia’s involvement in the election?
EVAN OSNOS, The New Yorker: Sure. Yes.
This stories, which was a collaboration with David Remnick and Josh Yaffa in Moscow, was an attempt to say, let’s clarify exactly what we have learned, because this is an extraordinary moment.
We now know that three things happened. The first thing is that, as you know, the DNC was hacked. John Podesta’s e-mail was hacked. That’s the one Americans I think know the most about.
The second thing is that we also know that there was an influence campaign, an attempt to really change what it is that people believed about the candidates.
The director of national intelligence has said that this occurred. It’s not a — fake news is a term that’s now become politicized in its own way. But from the intelligence community’s perspective, this is a known fact.
And then the third piece — is this the one that I think we’re at the stage now of trying to learn more about — is whether or not and to what degree there were contacts between Russian representatives and elements perhaps of Trump’s campaign, his advisers or his associates. And that’s really where the center of gravity is moving in the investigation.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: John Sipher, you spent a quarter-century in the CIA.
Do all of those allegations against the Russians and their involvement, does this all ring true to you?
JOHN SIPHER, Former CIA Officer: Oh, absolutely.
Russians have been doing this for decades, if not hundreds of years. This is what they do. What’s interesting about this is what fertile soil it took place on, the fact that these type of things, some of it quite sloppy and open, actually caused the problems they did for us.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you mean fertile soil here in the United States?
JOHN SIPHER: I do. I do.
The fact that they were able to break in and steal DNC e-mails and take advantage of that, I’m surprised at the effect that had. I think it’s unusual that you had a campaign that was able to use that and spin that up and deal with the Russian service here.
What I find interesting is that there is a lot of concern that the Trump campaign was saying they didn’t have improper contact with Russians during the campaign. And my question would be, what is proper contact?
Did they have contacts with Germans, Indians, Japanese? Why with Russians? Why would a campaign in the United States need to have any contact with Russians?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There could be innocent explanations, if members to have the Trump campaign or his entourage were talking with Russians. Couldn’t there be innocent explanations for those?
EVAN OSNOS: Well, I think that’s the reason why we need now a robust, independent and thorough investigation.
We decided as an institution that we needed to understand this as best we could. We interviewed dozens of people. We spent months on this. And I consider it the very beginning of chapter one.
We are now in a position where the legislative branch, the executive branch has the ability to go out and say, well, what was the full universe of contacts, what were the nature of those contacts, and were they serving the American public, and do we know everything we can?
Because, look, we did that for 9/11. We established a bipartisan, independent commission composed of five Republicans and five Democrats. And, as a result, we know a huge amount about what happened. We don’t know that yet about this event.
And I think we are really at the stage where we’re trying to decide, what are the right investigative tools and who is going to do it?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: John, let’s just say that the evidence bears out that the Russians really were trying to put their thumb on the scale here. What were their ambitions, in your sense? What would they be trying to do here?
JOHN SIPHER: This is not much of a surprise. Vladimir Putin’s interests have always been to divide the United States from Europe.
He has a zero sum view of working with the United States. So anything that causes chaos or creates problems here is a win for him. We see the same thing happening now in France, Germany, the Balkans. He’s even working with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
So, this is the kind of thing they do. Their goal is to essentially create fissures in our alliances. Anything that creates chaos and tries to provide some sort of moral equivalence between his regime and the West, he likes to say that, oh, this is no different than you guys messing around~ in Libya and Egypt and Syria and those type of things.
EVAN OSNOS: One of the things, the surprise for me in the course of this work was to discover, in effect, that the United States was susceptible to this kind of operation.
I spoke to people who used to work on this in the State Department who said, a couple of years ago, we were worried that Moldova, for instance, would be vulnerable to this kind of interference.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Little, teeny Moldova.
EVAN OSNOS: Exactly.
And so, in a sense, the agents behind this operation — and that’s really what this was — it was an intelligence operation — discovered that our politics were so divided, people were already open to a highly kind of propagandistic form of political communication, that we were a prime target, in effect, a soft target for this kind of influence operation.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the things I was struck by in your article is that you wrote, towards the end of your piece, where you described how some of the intelligence agents think that this was more of an improvisation on behalf of the Russians, not a sort of strategic campaign.
Can you explain the distinction there?
EVAN OSNOS: Well, speaking broadly about sort of the impression that people have who are focused on this issue, is that there’s one way to think of it.
If you look at this dossier of unverified claims that was submitted earlier to the FBI and was then presented to the president, one of the claims in there was that this was a longstanding, five-, six-, seven-year operation to cultivate Donald Trump.
I think, at the moment, what you find is that more people who are focused on this issue are inclined to believe that this was an improvisation that was changing. There were elements that were brought in at different points, meaning it may have started as a hacking operation. It may have started as an intelligence — it may have started as an influence operation.
But the idea that this started six, seven years ago, with a discrete, fully formed plan with a clear objective is hard to defend at this point. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we need to learn more, because we don’t know exactly when and how it started.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Why would the Russians have been interested in Donald Trump back then? Because, then, he was a reality TV star. He had no intention, seemingly, of running for office.
JOHN SIPHER: I don’t know that they did. I don’t think we have that information, if they were particularly interested in him.
They certainly do collect on any American of interest who visits Russia. The notion that they would have videotapes in hotel rooms or follow people around or try to collect compromising information on people, this is what they do.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: John, how does what we’re seeing today compare to what the Soviets used to do back in the USSR?
JOHN SIPHER: What they’re doing now is very similar to what they did before. They just have new tools.
They have Mr. Snowden, who gives them a lot of information about the kind of things we have and where to attack. And they have some really talented computer programmers and hackers there in Russia that…
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And the Internet more broadly.
JOHN SIPHER: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Evan Osnos, John Sipher, thank you both very much.
JOHN SIPHER: Thank you.
EVAN OSNOS: Glad to be here.
“Congress grapples with investigating Trump’s Russia ties”
JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn our focus now to claims that the Trump presidential campaign was in contact with Russian intelligence officials, and new concerns over how they should be investigated.
REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-Calif.: We still have not seen any evidence of anyone that’s from the Trump campaign or any other campaign for that matter that’s communicated with the Russian government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes met reporters this morning, and responded to questions over his committee’s investigation into whether President Trump’s associates had ties to Russia during the presidential campaign or after.
Nunes drew criticism after a Washington Post article revealed that he agreed to talk to a reporter at the White House’s request about a New York Times story that alleged Trump associates spoke with Russian intelligence.
REP. DEVIN NUNES: That story was a little odd, I thought, because if you ask me to contact the White House and said, hey, could you set me up with somebody at DOD or the intelligence agencies, I would say sure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were also reported to have been contacted by the White House press secretary to make calls about the story.
Nunes acknowledged the investigation was ongoing, but said he wanted to be careful not to jump into a witch-hunt, comparing it to the Red Scare of the 1950s.
REP. DEVIN NUNES: We can’t have McCarthyism back in this place. We can’t have the government, the U.S. government or the Congress, legislative branch of government chasing down American citizens, hauling them before the Congress as if they’re some secret Russian agent.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer defended his request to see CIA Director Pompeo and the Congressional Intelligence Committee chairs and, echoing Nunes, declared there was no story.
SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We have heard the same people, the same anecdotes, and we have heard reports over and over again. And as Chairman Nunes very clear today, he has seen nothing that corroborates that. So at what point you got to ask yourself, what are you investigating?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Among those still not convinced, former President George W. Bush, who told NBC’s “Today Show” that the questions about links to Russia need to be answered.
Amid growing calls for an independent investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. election, I spoke earlier with Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
I asked for his reaction to the White House enlisting U.S. intelligence community leaders and congressional Intelligence Committee chairs to help counter news stories about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia’s intelligence officials.
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-Va.: Well, my reaction was grave concern and an awful lot of frustration.
We are at the early stages of our investigation. We have bipartisan Intelligence Committee staff today working over reviewing basic intelligence. We have been at this now for a couple of weeks. We’re making progress.
For anyone to try to interfere at this early stage of an investigation just makes no sense. Let’s take for a moment, even if the White House’s position was correct, by asking these figures to interfere and lobby, they then potentially color the results of this investigation.
I have no idea why they would try to interfere at this point, when this investigation is ongoing. The good news is, Judy, though, that we have heard, over the last couple of days, from a number of the members of the committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, folks like Senator Rubio and Senator Collins, who have all said very strongly they continue to support an investigation that’s bipartisan, that will follow the facts wherever they may lead, that won’t allow outside interference like the White House and others.
And as long as we have got a strong majority of the committee that’s committed to that process, I think we’re the best place and best forum to go forward.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said today, Senator, was, he said, this was simply in response to the request from these reporters. The reporters were asking for the White House version.
The White House said, in order to give you any corroboration, it was the only way they could do that was to send them to these other officials.
SEN. MARK WARNER: One of the things about an Intelligence Committee investigation is that you don’t talk about the ongoing processes before you have a finished product.
We’re really still at the early stages. There are enormous amounts of information that has to be gone through. We have seen massive Russian intervention in the election. We have seen hacking. We have seen a number of indications of individuals affiliated with Mr. Trump who’ve had contacts with Russian officials.
We need to find the extent of those contacts, the content of those contacts. So, somehow, asking folks to interfere on a press story before this investigation is completed, to me, is both inappropriate, improper and, frankly, weakens the White House’s case dramatically.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, that sounds different from what Devin Nunes, who is the House Intelligence Committee chair, said today. He said there is no evidence that he knows of now of any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials.
SEN. MARK WARNER: Judy, there are — the one thing I think that has been made clear is there are ongoing investigations.
Anyone that jumps to a conclusion while there are ongoing investigations and tries to make a definitive fact and definitive statement I think does a great disservice to the American people. There is nothing more important than, when we have got the potential of a foreign nation, not only interfering in our election process, but lord knows what else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, two other quick things.
Chairman Nunes went on to say that this shouldn’t become a witch-hunt. Is that a legitimate concern here?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Listen, what the chairman of the House has done by trying to interfere in the investigation really raises huge concerns.
As somebody who has to go back and continue to make the case to my Democratic colleagues that this investigation is going to be done straight up, in an honest and straightforward way, obviously, Chairman Nunes’ actions don’t help that cause.
And, you know, and if this ends up defaulting into some kind of partisan food fight, at the end of the day, what happens is, the American public don’t get the answers they deserve.
I have said from the outset, Judy, there’s nothing I have done in my Senate career that’s more important than this investigation. It has to be done right, it has to be done bipartisan, and it has to follow the facts wherever they lead.
And when you have got particularly an administration like this one, which has, unfortunately, in the president, disrespected the intelligence community so many times during the campaign, it’s more important than ever that the intelligence community feels that there is somebody that has got their back and that they can do their job in an honest and truthful way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, your Democratic in the Senate Senator Dick Durbin is saying there needs to be an outside independent commission looking into it.
SEN. MARK WARNER: If I find that we can’t get access to the information we need, yes, I will be willing to call for that.
But, let’s remember, if we were to pass an independent commission, it would require passage of the House, passage of the Senate, and a significant by this president.
Who would say that that independent commission would truly be independent? It would also take that commission literally months to get up to speed.
We have people working today in a bipartisan fashion trying to get the facts to get to the bottom of this. I think the American public deserve answers sooner than later. And my fear is the independent commission, one, would it truly be independent? Would it truly get passed and be signed by this president?
And then it would take literally months to get it set up and established. I think, as long as we can continue to do this with the majority of the Intelligence Committee committed to doing this bipartisan, independent, and making sure we get the facts, this is still the way to go.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, we thank you.
SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And for the record, we reached out to every Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They either declined or didn’t respond to our request.”
(PRES DONALD TRUMP AND HIS ATTORNEY GENERAL SHOULD DO NOTHING TO INTERFERE WITH THE BIPARTISAN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION. IT LOOKS LIKE THEY DID ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THE FBI AND THE CIA. AS FOR THEIR PRESS PEOPLE, WHEN THEY WERE INTERVIEWED BY THE MEDIA, THEY SAID THERE WAS NOTHING THERE. HOW WOULD THEY KNOW UNTIL THE INVESTIGATION IS DONE? ALL OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS REMINDED ME OF THE WATERGATE INVESTIGATION WHICH RESULTED IN THE RESIGNATION OF PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON AND WHAT HE DID TO COVER UP ANY EVIDENCE. ONLY THING, THIS INVESTIGATION, CONCERNING A FOREIGN COUNTRY, INVOLVING COMMUNIST RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN WHICH IS MUCH MORE SERIOUS BECAUSE IT CONCERNS HOW OUR OWN GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO BE RUN, AS WELL AS HELPING OUR EUROPEAN ALLIES IN NATO TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM RUSSIAN AGGRESSION SUCH AS THE RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran