MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas spent the Fourth of July in Moscow this year. He is one of eight Republican lawmakers who participated in the first congressional delegation to Russia since the annexation of Crimea. You'll remember that was back in 2014. This visit came as Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and President Trump prepare to sit down together at their upcoming summit. Senator Moran, fresh from Moscow, joins me now. Welcome to the program.
JERRY MORAN: Good to be with you. Thanks for the opportunity.
KELLY: I want to ask about this trip to Russia and the central reason for it, I gather, which was discussing Russian meddling in U.S. elections. I wonder - what was your exact message on this?
MORAN: Well, the conversations had a number of topics. But clearly, the issue of meddling in U.S. elections was front and center. The point of the visit was to indicate a willingness to begin dialogue. I think the interest in many of us, particularly as a Republican delegation - my view is that for Russians to hear that Republicans from the United States Senate believe that meddling occurred, that it needs to stop. And that's a component criteria before any kind of relationship change can really occur that needs to come to an end. And the - certainly the pushback from the Russians was denial that there was any meddling in U.S. election.
KELLY: I was going to ask because I've made a number of trips to Russia myself. I have yet to find a Russian official who acknowledges that there was any interference whatsoever in U.S. politics.
MORAN: Closest that they came was, if there was any meddling, it certainly wasn't us, as a Russian government. The basic response was, we didn't do it.
KELLY: Do you feel like your conversations made any difference? U.S. intelligence officials, you know, for a long time now have been on the record saying - unanimous view - this happened. Lawmakers have been saying it needs to stop. Did anything change this week?
MORAN: Well, given the opportunity to make the case to indicate what we believe to be the facts was important. Did it change Russian behavior? I - we don't know the answer to that question. But I would tell you there is no way that a Russian official, the people that we met with, could come away from those meetings without believing that we sincerely believe it happened. We believe we have the proof that it happened, and that if anything is going to improve, it involves stopping what's occurred to date.
KELLY: Was there an or-else component to these conversations? By which I mean, you're saying to Russia, we believe you did this. Knock it off or else. I mean, what are the consequences here?
MORAN: I think the or-else is if you want the sanctions lifted. If these sanctions are - of course, my guess is that they - let me say it this way. They attempted to convey to us that the sanctions were not really harmful to them, and yet they never stopped talking about them. So the or-else is if you want a better relationship, and particularly if you want the sanctions that have been placed against economic activity, banking, you're going to have to stop the meddling in United States elections.
KELLY: Are you optimistic that this fall's upcoming elections will be conducted free of Russian interference?
MORAN: I think it's very difficult to be optimistic about Russian behavior. It's hard to know what will happen, if anything, in Helsinki. But...
KELLY: That doesn't sound optimistic.
MORAN: I'm always an optimist. I believe that things can get better. It's why I get up and go to work every day. But I think our dealings with Russia have indicated that nothing comes easy.
KELLY: Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. Senator Moran, thanks so much for taking the time.
MORAN: My pleasure. Thank you.
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