Director Of National Intelligence Says 2018 Midterms Are Potential Target For Russian Influence
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The nation's top spymaster delivered a warning today.
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DAN COATS: There should be no doubt that Russia perceive that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.
KELLY: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats there offering that sobering assessment about threats from Russia and North Korea before the Senate Intelligence Committee. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was listening, and she joins us now. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So this is this annual ritual, the threats hearing. And I want to return to Russia and what all the spy chiefs had to say about that in a moment. But I understand the first words out of Dan Coats' mouth today were about North Korea. What did he say?
JOHNSON: Yeah, the director of national intelligence says the risk of conflicts between states is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War, in part because of threats from weapons of mass destruction. The concern here from Dan Coats is that the leader of North Korea will not want to give up his nuclear weapons program.
In fact, he views it as essential to fulfilling his goals like reuniting the peninsula. And Dan Coats says the decision time for the U.S. is getting closer. In fact, CIA Director Mike Pompeo testified the U.S. isn't sure what Kim Jong Un is thinking or if he's getting good information or not getting the full story from his inner circle of advisers.
And when Pompeo was asked whether the CIA had gamed out what would happen if the U.S. did a preemptive strike on North Korea, the CIA director said he'd have to talk about that in a closed setting.
KELLY: Often the way these hearings unfold, just as it's getting interesting, they say we need to talk about that in a classified setting. OK, meanwhile, the FBI director was also among those testifying. This is Chris Wray, who has tried to keep a low profile - tried, not entirely succeeded in these first six months on the job.
He made some news today, and this is related to a staffer who resigned last week over domestic violence allegations.
JOHNSON: Yeah, so news today from Chris Wray, the FBI director, about what the FBI did and knew. Chris Wray didn't want to talk about the specifics of the domestic violence allegations against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who left. But Wray did describe...
KELLY: Who left the White House, yeah.
JOHNSON: Wray did describe the process. He said that the FBI gave the White House a partial report on Rob Porter back in March, March 2017. The FBI finished the report in July and actually closed this file in January of this year. Now, it's up to the White House security office to act on the FBI's recommendations. At the White House, Sarah Sanders says career officials in the White House were not done.
But there are implications here for others because the director of national intelligence testified today these preliminary security clearances that some of these White House officials are operating under are necessary early on to help the new administration fill jobs. But he says access to information should be restricted and the system needs to be overhauled since the process is broken when so many people are operating under preliminary clearances for a long time.
KELLY: So the question here being whether the timelines between the White House and the FBI over who knew what when about Rob Porter or whether those timelines align.
JOHNSON: Absolutely and ongoing questions today even after the White House briefed on it.
KELLY: OK, back to Russia. We heard that clip earlier. What is the latest on Russia?
JOHNSON: Well, every one of these witnesses from the intelligence community said they agreed with the intelligence assessment from last year. Russia did interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Democrats on the committee point out that's more than the president will say. And they say the government can't really attack this problem without leadership from the top.
Now, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats says the Russians are going to target the midterm elections this year because it's easy, it's cheap and it works. He says, Americans need to be aware and resilient. In fact, both Coats and the NSA Director Mike Rogers testified Russian interference may accelerate both here in the U.S. and across the world.
KELLY: And real quick, Carrie, this committee where all this was unfolding, Senate Intelligence Committee, is doing a probe of Russia. Do we know when we might hear any headlines out of it?
JOHNSON: Well, the chairman of the committee, Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, says he wants to release an overview before the 2018 primaries start. He says that he needs to work towards conclusions about whether there was any cooperation or collusion by individuals, campaigns or companies to interfere in the 2016 election.
KELLY: All right, that's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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