Trump Campaigner On Russia Indictment NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Susie Wiles, former senior strategist of the Trump campaign in Florida, about the recent indictment of 13 Russians for interference in the 2016 election.

Trump Campaigner On Russia Indictment

Trump Campaigner On Russia Indictment

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Susie Wiles, former senior strategist of the Trump campaign in Florida, about the recent indictment of 13 Russians for interference in the 2016 election.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, we learned more about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three companies for an extensive effort to influence the election and support the Trump campaign. Susie Wiles was senior strategist for the Trump campaign in Florida, one of the states that Mueller's investigation determined were targeted by the Russians. And she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

SUSIE WILES: Hi. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the indictment alleges that the Russians pretended to be Americans and impersonated political activists. Looking back, can you remember anyone that fits that description or something that feels suspect to you now?

WILES: In hindsight, there are things that I think maybe should've been at least an Amber flag, if not a red flag. But at the time, the Trump campaign in Florida had 70,000-plus volunteers. They were active in person and on social media. And it came fast and furious. And I just don't think we were sensitive to the fact that this might be happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say looking back, there was something that raised flags to you, can you describe an incident?

WILES: No, I can't. There's nothing specific - just that I've been doing this for many, many years. And the level of groups that were outside of the recognized traditional campaign - it was more than usual. So as I look back, I wonder if I should've noticed or we should've noticed that that activity was unusual. We were grateful for it. The organic excitement was helpful. I wonder now if some of those external groups were not these people that were impersonating Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In fact, you had a process for evaluating offers to help the campaign. What did you look for?

WILES: It was very informal. We had staff in all 67 counties. And, you know, we would just call and say, have you heard of this person or this group? And if they hadn't, we would be a little wary and probably not take anybody up on their offer to join us. If they were known to our campaign, then we typically did accept them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump has expressed skepticism that the Russians interfered in this election. What do you think now?

WILES: It seems that they did. It seems that at least at some level, there was an attempt to get involved. And I don't remember it happening - wasn't aware that it was happening at the time. But when people begin to be indicted, you have to take it seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been warnings that this is going to happen in the midterms, that this is part of a concerted campaign that continues to interfere in our democratic process. As someone who's done this job now, what measures would you suggest to ensure that it doesn't happen again?

WILES: You know, as social media grows, as more people get involved, I think it becomes increasingly more difficult to filter through what's real and what's not. I think for everybody involved in a campaign, you know, you'd look for things that seem suspicious like odd email addresses, like poor grammar, like syntax that doesn't make sense. But it is fast and furious, particularly as you get closer to Election Day. I hope somebody puts a process in place whereby we can potentially identify these people. But I don't know how to stop it other than to heighten our alert systems just as managers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Susie Wiles was Florida's senior strategist for the Trump campaign and currently works for Ballard Partners, a lobbying group in Washington and Florida. Thanks so much.

WILES: Thank you for having me.

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