We’re going to start the program with the latest on the story about possible Russian interference in last month’s presidential election. Here are the latest twists. The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in last month’s election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. That’s according to a U.S. official. The Trump transition team says that that is wrong. Here to help us understand all this is NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. Mary Louise, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Glad to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: So what is new here? We’ve been hearing about possible Russian interference in the election since last summer, so what’s new?
KELLY: What is new is growing confidence about the why – why Russia might have been meddling. I mean, you’re absolutely right, we’ve been talking since October when U.S. intelligence agencies put out a statement saying they were confident Russia had tried to interfere with the election. They were not confident in October about the motive. And now, according to the U.S. official I spoke with today, the CIA does believe that Russia intervened in order to help Trump win. Now, that CIA assessment is classified, but it’s been briefed to senators on Capitol Hill in closed session. And that is why this is all blowing up again in the last 24 hours or so.
MARTIN: That was exactly going to be my question – why now? And how exactly has the Trump team responded?
KELLY: The Trump transition team put out a very short statement, a very dismissive statement. And it said, and I’ll quote, “these are the same people” – they’re referring to the CIA – “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” And the statement goes on to say the election is over and it’s time we all move on.
MARTIN: Well, doesn’t he have a point though? Don’t they have a point that the CIA has made mistakes in the past?
KELLY: This – they do have a point. I mean, the CIA will be the first to admit that, on Iraq, for example, the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was a total fiasco. U.S. spy agencies thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. They got it wrong.
That said, in this case, what we’re hearing is that they were careful in October not to say Russia’s trying to tip the election toward Trump. New information has come in. They’re now confident that he was. I spoke today with Senator Ron Wyden. He is a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, so he’s been getting briefed regularly on what they actually know and don’t know. He, talking to me, repeatedly used the term strong evidence. Let me let you hear that.
RON WYDEN: When you have strong evidence that a foreign power has interfered with an American election, what you do is you keep digging, you protect sources and methods, but you get the information out.
KELLY: So that’s one of the big concerns you just heard the senator alluding to there, Michel. As Congress is pushing for more investigations of this and President Obama has ordered spy agencies to do a review and get back to him by January 20, when he leaves office, they’re trying to figure out, how do you get information out? How do you let the American public know what they know without revealing how they know it?
MARTIN: So what is the takeaway here? Needless to say, this would be a very big deal, to put it mildly, if a foreign power swung the election in favor of the man assuming the presidency just 41 days from today.
KELLY: I think that is a point everyone can agree on. This would be a very big deal. We, of course, will never be likely to be able to prove one way or the other how all of this might have played out without Russian interference. And the questions raised here, absolutely, they have applications for how President Trump will deal with his spy chiefs going forward. They have big questions for American democracy. I spoke to another senator today. This is Senator Angus King, who also serves on the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He said, look, this isn’t about relitigating the election. It’s about looking forward. Here’s Senator King.
ANGUS KING: What worries me is the extent to which this is an ongoing pattern, which by the way, it is the Russian’s pattern in other parts of the world. And is that going to be the case in our elections? Four years from now, are we going to have the Democrats, the Republicans, the Independents and the Russians? I mean, this is very serious stuff.
KELLY: Very serious stuff, and I think everybody is eager to ensure that the U.S. does not keep going through this every four years, every time there’s a presidential election.
MARTIN: Important to note that Angus King is an Independent, just as…
KELLY: Yes, of Maine.
MARTIN: …Point of clarification. That’s Mary Louise Kelly, NPR’s national security correspondent. Thank you so much.