RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When he talks about the Russia investigation and Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, President Trump is consistent. Here's what he told a crowd in Pennsylvania last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We got along really well. By the way, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. That's a really good thing. Now, we're being hindered by the Russian hoax - it's a hoax, OK?
MARTIN: Now, just hours before that rally, the president's national security team gathered in front of the podium in the White House briefing room. And to a person, they each articulated what they see as a dangerous and pervasive threat to our upcoming elections - a threat coming from Russia.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DAN COATS: We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States.
MARTIN: That was Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, speaking there. This week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to impose yet another set of sanctions on Russia for interfering in U.S. elections. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin is among the lawmakers who backed this bill, and he joins me now. Senator, thanks for being here.
BEN CARDIN: Rachel, it's good to be with you. Thanks.
MARTIN: You think more sanctions is going to change Russia's behavior?
CARDIN: I think we have to send a very strong message to Mr. Putin that this conduct must end. And what we heard yesterday - he's extremely active here in the United States. The president's language gives him a green light to move forward, giving him the impression that he can get away with these types of invasions in America. So we've got to send a clear message. The legislation we filed are strong, new sanctions against Russia if they continue to interfere in our elections.
MARTIN: One of the cosponsors of this bill, Lindsey Graham, Republican, admitted that the last round of sanctions failed to change Russia's behavior - to deter it in any way. What is one thing in this current legislation that you think will actually move the needle here?
CARDIN: Well, one of the areas that we can really move a lot more aggressively is the deal with the oligarchs that support the corruption of Mr. Putin. This legislation reinforces that we will have sanctions against the oligarchs, stopping them from using our banking system. We also have Magnitsky sanctions, so they could not come here to America. Cutting off Mr. Putin's finances is one of the key areas that we can help prevent what he's doing - more transparency and more sanctions.
MARTIN: Your Republican cosponsors are some of the only Republicans on the Hill who are willing to challenge the president on any issue. Can you get the rest of the GOP in Congress to sign on for what amounts to sort of a challenge to the president who continues to talk about how high esteem he holds Vladimir Putin in and does not talk about election security with any urgency?
CARDIN: I think we can. We saw that last year when the Russia sanction bill passed by 98-2 vote in the United States Senate and a similar margin in the House of Representatives. I think there is strong, unified support in the Congress to stand up to Mr. Putin. And we were reinforced by Mr. Trump's national security team. To a person, they reaffirmed the fact that Mr. Putin has been engaged in our country, in our elections to try to influence our elections, that that conduct is continuing, and that it's likely to be involved in the 2018 elections.
So I think we have the information from the Trump administration. Admittedly, we don't have the president of the United States, and that is very disheartening. We need the president to stand up to Mr. Putin. He failed in Helsinki, and Congress needs to step in.
MARTIN: The last time there were sanctions placed against Russia, the President and the White House sort of slow rolled that and didn't sign them for a long time - delayed the implementation. Is that a risk here?
CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. They have not implemented - these are mandatory sanctions. And a lot of these sanctions have yet to be imposed. The new bill also spells to - out the energy sector. There's things that we can do that can really affect the Russian economy. The president has not exercised that power, and we think we can even be clearer as to the need to impose those types of actions against Russia.
MARTIN: As you noted, the national security team stood up yesterday. We described it in the intro and articulated this threat to our midterms from Russia. Do you think the federal government is doing enough?
CARDIN: Well, the answer is no. I think we've got to do more. We're not doing enough when the president of the United States is not part of the team. He is our key person in this, and he has not been vocal. He should have been there yesterday to introduce his security team - to support them. Instead, he was giving a speech calling the Russian involvement a hoax.
So we can do more, but, clearly, the four agencies that were - gave their briefing yesterday are taking the appropriate steps. They're getting the intelligence information, they're sharing it. Our - the head of the NSA - National Security Agency - said that this is an attack on our country, and we'll - we have all the tools available to respond. That's the right thing to say.
So we're getting the right message from our agencies - they're doing the right thing. Homeland Security's working with our states to protect our infrastructure in the elections itself. So I think the agencies are taking this step. What's missing is the captain, the president.
MARTIN: Senator Ben Cardin, thank you so much for your time, we appreciate it.
CARDIN: Rachel, it's good to be with you this morning.
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