Mark Warner: The Full Transcript (POLITICO Magazine)

Mark Warner: The Full Transcript

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Susan Glasser: Great, well, I’m Susan Glasser and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. As I said, our guest, Senator Mark Warner. I can’t think of better timing and more urgent timing than to have the senator as our guest this week. I think probably I join most of our listeners in saying, "Please help us understand what the heck is going on with this Russia investigation." It feels like things are spiraling way out of control here on Capitol Hill, that Republicans, especially on the House side, have just taken a detour into a whole alternate reality.

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What is going on? Are the Republicans engaged in a concerted campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation?

Sen. Mark Warner: Susan, let me first of all step back and kind of put some of this in context. A year and a half ago, I didn’t have the foggiest idea that I would be this consumed with the Russian interference in our elections. A year and a half ago, I wasn’t the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. After the elections in 2016, through the kind of musical chairs of the Senate, I ended up as the vice chair and on intelligence, I had spent most of my previous time while obviously looking at threats abroad, really as a former tech guy, looking at things like cyber security, looking at issues related, for example, to our satellite and overhead coverage. So as I got exposed to initial documents and saw more of the story of how pervasive the Russian intervention had been in the elections, it was like a steep learning curve for me, first of all. And it was not an area I chose. It was kind of, in effect, thrust upon me, but clearly in light of the controversies surrounding the 2016 election, from day one, I said if there’s any way possible, at least on the Senate side, we want to try to keep this bipartisan, down-the-middle, just the facts.

And recognizing that there were going to be extraordinary pressures on both sides and pressures on Chairman Burr from some to say, "Hey, there’s nothing there and let’s shut this thing down right away." The pressure is on my side to say, "Well, of course Trump is guilty," and presume that before you’ve got all the facts. A year into the investigation, let me tell you what we have found and I think you could find virtually every member of our committee, Democrat or Republican would agree on the following facts: one, major systemic intervention by the Russians using traditional spycraft; let’s steal information and then reveal it. In the case of the Clinton emails and the Podesta emails and other information. Traditional spycraft.

Actually tampering or at least letting folks know that they might be able to intervene in our state electoral systems. Twenty-one states were touched, and the vote totals weren’t changed that we know of, but at least the systems were rattled. A whole new use of tools around social media; I’m a big believer, as a former tech guy, that Facebook and Google and Twitter, these are great iconic American companies. They’ve changed all our lives, but what we exposed was a dark underbelly of social media that, honestly, at first the tech companies refused to acknowledge.

Glasser: Right, they refused, and also the intelligence community. That seemed to be an area that surprised even them.

Warner: Well, the intelligence community, I think, is still getting up to speed on how they monitor and keep track of the use and abuse of social media, and let me assure you, that didn’t end with the elections. We’ve seen recently and I’m going to come to the question about what some of the Republicans are doing. It’s curious as some of these House Republicans spin out one yarn after another. The biggest groups supporting these phony theories are actually Russian bots; Russian-activated accounts who are trying to push these stories.

You don’t have to take my word for it; there’s plenty of documentation of that. So we’ve got, I think, consensus about the intervention and we’ve seen this intervention again, not just in America. We saw it in France. We saw it in the Netherlands. We saw it increasingly. Even the Brits are recognizing it took place in Brexit. We’re seeing an upgrading of security systems around our state electoral systems, and we’re at the beginning, I think, still of making sure that we take the advantages of social media in an interconnected world but what are some of the risks.

Now, the ultimate question, which I’m not reaching a final conclusion on until I can see all of the evidence, talk to all of the witnesses, is was there collusion or collaboration. But boy, oh boy, you couldn’t make this stuff up, the fact that a national security advisor would have to be fired in his first few weeks because he didn’t come clean with stories about contacts with the Russians; that the attorney general, Mr. Sessions, had to recuse himself because he didn’t come clean with his contacts with the Russians.

The president’s son-in-law has had to amend his private filings in terms of not disclosing contacts with the Russians. Numerous times he’s had to make amendments. The president’s son has this mysterious meeting with a group of Russians where they come in and offer dirt on Hillary Clinton and then he puts out one story that was drafted by his father and when that’s revealed, he actually has to come out with another story. Many of these are just contacts that are, in effect, after the election.

Glasser: Well, that’s right. So have there been genuine revelations? You talked about how we’re now a year into the investigations. So one question I think a lot of people have is what is the Senate Intelligence Committee doing as separate, but certainly parallel to, the Mueller investigation. Do you feel like you know significant new facts that have been placed onto the record of your investigation even if they’re not public yet that we didn’t know six months ago?

Warner: I believe I’ve seen, particularly in the document area, extraordinarily important new documents that I had not seen six months ago. Now, the veracity or truthfulness of those documents are something we’re trying to either corroborate or not. I think there are a whole lot of the original allegations, for example, in the so-called Steele memo, are still sitting out there. In my mind, one of the most amazing things is whether Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded or not, the fact that there is this explosive dossier that’s been in the public realm for a year-plus and whether enormous scrutiny from the press or for that matter, work of the American government, that so little of that dossier has either been fully proven or conversely, disproven. That’s pretty amazing because as long as that sits out there, there’s going to be a cloud that hangs over this administration. And so what I think to kind of get back to your first question, I feel like we’re seeing this coordinated effort to try to impede the investigation.

The first path it went down was, "Let’s go fire Mueller." And they tried to basically smear Mueller’s reputation. I think that didn’t go too far. Even when they continue to come up with a couple of these FBI agents that had strong feelings against Mr. Trump. The fact that Mueller fired those guys from the investigation when he first found that information should actually add to his integrity. But you’ve seen them, in a sense, try to back away a little bit from potentially firing of Mueller. I’m still concerned about a firing of Rosenstein. I’m concerned about a pardon of some of the people that are currently indicted, not even counting who may be indicted.

I’m concerned about the recent reports again that new FBI Director Wray, thank goodness, had the backbone to stand up to the pressure of firing longtime career FBI leader Andy McCabe. So I think what’s happened is since they’ve not been successful at the front end in trying to chop off the head of the investigation; the reckless behavior they’re taking, which is now, "Let’s just bloody up the overall reputation of the FBI and the Department of Justice." That’s extraordinarily dangerous, extraordinarily reckless, and I’ve been disappointed that there’s actually not been more folks on the other side calling that behavior out. Because once you have Americans lose faith in the integrity of our law enforcement agencies, maybe vis-à-vis, Mr. Trump, this time. But it could be vis-à-vis somebody else the next time and that is in uncharted territory.

Glasser: It does appear to be a concerted campaign right now to muddy the waters, to insert this idea of reasonable doubt or that there are questions. I want to unpack some of the details of that, but I was struck this morning, someone quoted a Trump political adviser as saying, “Well, we’re just taking a page from the Bill Clinton impeachment playbook and the strategy here is discredit the investigator. It’s the-everyone-is-dirty scenario.” This is an easy narrative and this was the quote this morning. We’re just exactly 20 years to the day. It’s amazing, right? Twenty years to the day last week since the Lewinsky affair came to light and that the Starr investigation into President Clinton began. Do you think there’s some truth to that?

He showed, first of all, that lying works, right? He didn’t tell the truth about Monica Lewinsky for months, enabling people to come to terms with that. Secondly, he showed that if you turn an investigation on Capitol Hill into a partisan event, it’s much easier to survive. It seems to me that Trump is learning from that playbook.

Warner: There clearly seems to be—some of the Trump supporters are trying to play that strategy out. And you are right. If you’re able to turn this into partisan name-calling, given the level of frustration, rightfully, Americans feel about D.C. and everybody here, that probably helps Trump.

That’s why I think this last bipartisan effort on the Senate Intelligence Committee really has got to keep our heads down and keep working and looking at the facts. I’ve been really proud of the committee. I’m really proud of the chairman, Richard Burr. I’m proud of Susan Collins and Roy Blunt and James Lankford and Marco Rubio, folks who have consistently stood up and said, “No, we have to get the facts out.”

Glasser: So let’s talk about the facts. I mean, on this House Republicans sort of effort to muddy the waters right now. You have the chairman, Devin Nunes, who said he would recuse himself, but now seems to be right back in the middle of this story, threatening to release a memo based on classified information that proports to show that the FBI was involved in actively undermining President Trump. What do you make of that? You’ve already publicly said that you think it’s based on nothing, but that you haven’t read it.

But you have seen the classified information—

Warner: What I have seen, though—Susan the more important thing is I’ve seen the underlying documents. I’ve seen the intelligence. It’s been described to me by people who have also seen the intelligence that it’s fabrications, it’s connecting dots that don’t connect—

Glasser: But “it”, you mean the memo?

Warner: The memo.

Glasser: The memo is fabrication? And you’ve been briefed on that by people who’ve read it on the House side.

Warner: I have been briefed and I have seen the underlying and when they refer to allegations, I’ve seen the underlying documents. You selectively pick documents out of a huge storyline and you can cook up a case. But let’s remember how this even came about in the first place. Mr. Nunes, who again, was supposedly supposed to recuse himself, who obviously did not and has not, went off, I think with some select group of firebrands and created this product in a way that I don’t even think all of the Republicans were included in, and then the Democrats on the committee didn’t even have any notion this was happening.

This is the ultimate kind of secret star-chamber approach created by a subset of Trump zealots in a way that—I don’t know much about the rules of the House, but boy, oh boy, if you start allowing any group of extremists on any subset of a committee to go out and create their own product, particularly using classified information, and then say, “Aha! I’ve got something that’s classified that’s going to really shock the heck out of you.” That’s, again, not the way the United States government operates and usually, the people on the Intelligence Committee—when you get on the Intelligence Committee, it’s a very sobering proposition.

You know you’re not going to get a lot of press, although this has been the exception. You know you’re going to hear things that you have to keep secret, that you can’t share, and you know if you do reveal classified information, people can die. And the idea that we have built human assets, the idea that we have technology assets. The reason why information is classified and we have a debate about how much classification, whether we should cut back a little bit. In some areas, I think they should be cutting back.

But that ought to be done in that declassification process in a reasonable, rational way. Not some zealot out there cooking up a phony product and then threatening to spring it on the American people. If you told me six or eight months ago, if you told me a year ago that this would be happening, I would say for all the flaws we’ve got, nobody would be that irresponsible.

Glasser: So just to be clear, you’ve seen the underlying information and your belief is that this is a distortion of that, that there’s nothing to it. What is your view?

Warner: I believe that this is a distortion. It is picking select facts out of context. It’s taking a piece of a longer communication. If you take a phrase out of a sentence, out of a paragraph, and I think it would not stand any scrutiny and one of the reasons why, while I’ve not seen the actual document, I don’t know how much it goes into sources and methods that we have to protect. But if not, get it out there because I think it will collapse on itself. And then when you had—

Glasser: Now, the Senate has asked for it, correct? Your colleagues?

Warner: We have asked. And again, in a bipartisan way.

Glasser: And they just said no?

Warner: The majority in the Senate hasn’t seen it either. But if you think again about the genesis of this; in the House, my understanding—you know, Democrats and Republicans doing interviews, reviewing documents, and then you’ve got not even all of the Republicans. You’ve got this group of hardcore zealots going off, and at least based on the press reports, creating some secret cabal where they decided to write their own product, don’t even share it with the other Republicans, and sure as heck don’t say to the Democrats, “Well, what do you think about these allegations?”

Glasser: Do you think that—

Warner: And now, they’re saying, “Ah-ha. We’ve got the definitive document.

Glasser: Is it a little McCarthyite?

Warner: It’s beyond a little.

Glasser: Do you think that the Trump White House is in some way orchestrating this?

Warner: I hope not, but I’m not sure. I know this: that back before the holidays, I was worried enough about the possibilities of firing Mueller or firing Rosenstein or pardoning individuals that I went to the floor of the Senate. And I don’t go and give long speeches on the floor of the Senate that often, but it caught a lot of folks’ attention, because I said, “This should be a red line.” And at that point, it was clear that this was not only coming from conservative news media outlets, but you had the president’s own counselor, Kellyanne Conway, using the exact terminology.

I think it was the term “coup” that had been also broadcast on Fox News and there seemed to be at least a great deal of support coming out of the White House for some of these allegations that were made against Mueller. Luckily, after that speech, you had a whole lot of Republicans senators in particular stand up and say, “That would be absolutely the wrong place for the president to go.” And some of that drumbeat seemed to diminish in terms of Mueller. But what you’ve seen is they’ve moved the emphasis. Well, maybe they can’t get Mueller. Maybe a firing of Rosenstein would be too much. Maybe this effort to get ready to fire McCabe, this long-term career professional, would again, be a bridge too far and kudos to Director Wray for threating to resign, and again, what does it say about the fact that we have all of these FBI directors who have to resign or threaten to resign to maintain their integrity?

You haven’t heard as much about potential pardons, whether it’s for Flynn or Papadopoulos or the people who are under indictment. But you’ve seen it seems to be a switch because I’m not sure what Mueller’s got coming. I do think this, though: you look at General Flynn. He got away with pleading to one count. There have been many, many more infractions or possible infractions that he committed. His son committed—appears, at least, to have committed a number of infractions and the fact that he pled to one count would say to me that he’s probably got a story to tell, and my sense is that Mueller is getting closer and closer to the truth and that closer and closer to the truth is getting closer and closer to the president. So consequently, you’ve now got this broad brush of, “Let’s just try to smirch the reputation of the overall FBI and Justice Department.”

Glasser: It does seem that they are stepping it up at exactly the moment when the investigation is closing in towards the president, who has just said yesterday that he is willing to go and answer questions from the special prosecutor. I want to ask you about that, but just quickly, on this Republicans’ campaign, really, do you think that Congress—do you think the Senate should investigate this campaign and whether it represents an effort to block or to obstruct Mueller’s probe?

Warner: I would wish that the House and the Speaker and his leadership would be invested enough in the long-term reputation of the House that they would try to watch over their own doings. The one thing I’ve learned up here is the Republicans may be the opposition, but the enemy is the House in terms of the Senate.

Glasser: That’s right.

Warner: So the notion that even a bipartisan effort in the Senate of trying to tell the House how to do their business would probably not go too far. I do know that the Democratic leaders have raised serious concerns. I wish the Republican leadership would say, “Hey, we can differ on positions, but having secret groups, creating a cabal that has no authority, that threatens to put out classified information and then purports to represent it in ways that are just plain phony and wrong, that you do damage to our institutions that go well beyond the specifics of this particular memo.”

Glasser: So let’s talk about the Mueller investigation. The president yesterday said that he would be willing to sit for the interview. They appear to be negotiating over the terms of it. You’re a much more informed questioner than I would be. What should Mueller ask Donald Trump?

Warner: Boy, I’d love to give you my list of questions, but that would unfortunately mean—and I won’t do that because it would go to some of the classified information that I’ve read. But boy, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. The president continues to say there’s no there there. I’m not sure I accept that, but if he’s willing to come forward, be forthcoming and answer the claims that are out there in the public, as well as—I know Mueller even has access to more information than even we have.

He ought to have his say and his time. I don’t know at the end of the day whether we can even get to a full conclusion without the president’s testimony or some of the people who are so intimately involved. We don’t know whether it is Mr. Manafort or Mr. Gates or what Papadopoulos is continuing to say or what General Flynn may be saying. But we’ve got to get to the truth and one of the things that’s been, again, kind of remarkable about this investigation is that when we started a year ago, there were a half-dozen different threads; but the number of threads and possible conflicts or possible communications

Glasser: It’s expanded rather than reduced.

Warner: I didn’t know a year ago that there was this secret meeting in Trump Tower that included the president’s son, his son-in-law, his campaign manager and agents of the Russian government where there was offering—

Glasser: Somebody said recently that the Don Jr. testimony if it were released would absolutely blow the top of Washington. Do you think that’s an accurate characterization?

Warner: I don’t want to comment on any particular witness’s testimony, but I would say this: the number of questions in many areas goes up. There are certain areas where there were potentially allegations made that I don’t think are going to pan out and if we can close out some of those, that would be good for everyone who’s been—

Glasser: Have you done that as a committee?

Warner: Well, for every area that’s been closed out, there are new fields that have opened. We talked about the June meeting in Trump Tower, the additional information about Mr. Cohen and others who are involved in these repeated efforts, even through the campaign to build Trump Tower Moscow. The information that has been reported, at least in the press that Mr. Papadopoulos shared with the Australian diplomat about offers that he’d had from the Russians; whether it was offers from the Russians to Mr. Papadopoulos, whether it was offers from the Russians to Mr. Page, who was another kind of shadowy figure in all this

Glasser: Carter Page.

Warner: Yes, whether it was offers made in terms of at least—there were at least text messages from the group that sat down with Donald Trump Jr. It’s awful hard to deny. I don’t think anyone with a straight face would deny that one, the Russians intervened and two, that the Russians were clearly offering dirt on Clinton to help Trump. Now, the question then says, “Okay, well, did they accept what happened?” And those are still things—

Glasser: So you think that’s up in the air?

Warner: I’ve got some views, but those are questions that our investigation and the Mueller investigation needs to resolve. Mueller needs to resolve it for criminal purposes. We need to resolve it for counterintelligence purposes to make sure that there’s not senior people in the administration that could be potentially compromised.

Glasser: But you still see that as an open question a year later? You have not reached a conclusion on—

Warner: I’m not saying I have not reached a conclusion; I’m saying that I have access to facts and documents and testimony at this point that the rest of the Senate and the rest of the public doesn’t have and I think it’s my responsibility for us to conclude this process, try to keep it, again, that bipartisan agreement on intervention, on social media, on touching the state electoral systems. We’ve got, I think, pretty broad bipartisan consensus on the notion that the Russians offered the dirt, but that next step is an area where I’ve obviously got views, but I’m going to reserve sharing those with you or anyone else until we do our job.

Glasser: Okay, so let’s talk about what’s needed to finish that job. Somebody said to me this investigation, as you pointed out, has expanded so much, the cast of characters is like a Russian novel it’s so big. You mentioned George Papadopoulos, for example. Recently, his fiancée came out and she said, “Well, the Trump

Organization has characterized him as basically unimportant, like a coffee boy.” She says he’s the “John Dean” of this saga. Is she right? Big smile for the listeners who can’t see this.

Warner: I’m just trying to like—how do I grapple with that? Between coffee boy and John Dean, he’s probably somewhere in between, but—

Glasser: But not coffee boy? He has information you think is important?

Warner: The amount of communications that took place between Mr. Papadopoulos and senior members of the campaign; I don’t know any coffee boy in any campaign that I’ve been involved with that had direct communications with the absolute senior leadership with the campaign.

Glasser: Well, that’s an important point. On what is necessary to resolve, the question, as you neatly framed it that remains at the heart of this investigation around what the Trump campaign and Trump himself did with these Russian efforts to influence them. I want to ask you: it just came out this morning in a memo from John Dowd that the Mueller team has interviewed, I think, 20 significant Trump White House officials and advisers. Who is on your list that you haven’t heard from in the Trump White House? Who have you heard from and how relevant is their testimony?

Warner: We’ve had a different approach than the other committees and there was a lot of pushback and our approach has been, for the most part, let’s have the first round of interviews done in private, with staff, so it’s not—because it’s hard to get an answer if you kind of ping-pong back and forth between senators, asking five-minute rounds of questions. It’s hard to follow a line of questioning to its conclusion and we’ve had a few highlights, obviously, high-profile hearings: Jim Comey’s hearing, Attorney General Sessions’ hearing, a number of other public hearings earlier, and my hope is we’ll have more public hearings.

Glasser: Any timeframe on that?

Warner: More to come. We have a dozen-plus additional witnesses that are in the process of being scheduled now, and I think one of the most critical items that we’ll have to go through and my hope is that there’ll be, again, bipartisan consensus. There are a number of these individuals that are the principals: Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner and Michael Cohen, for example. There’s no way we can reach a conclusion until the senators have a chance to ask them questions and make judgements themselves.

We’ll debate whether that should be public or private. Some will probably be private, some may be public. Some on the majority have said they ought to have Glenn Simpson back in, the head of the GPS Fusion Group that was the group that hired Christopher Steele. And if there are folks that the majority want back in as well, my feeling is let’s do this in a fair and balanced way. And I expect us to reach agreements on those items, but I think it’s also really clear that the more work we can get done, the more documents we can see, the more people we can interview, and frankly, I know probably at this point, Mueller has interviewed more folks than us, but we have interviewed many, many more folks than the House committee or the Judiciary Committee because we’ve tried to do this in a cooperative way with staff, not try to grandstand.

But the more documents we have and witnesses’ testimony banked before we bring in the principals, I think the better.

Glasser: So when you say the “dozen-plus” people on your list that you’re negotiating right now, those are the principals, more—

Warner: No, no. These are actually—

Glasser: Just the next wave?

Warner: These are just kind of in effect, the next wave. Because there are—let me say this the right way. It appears that Mr. Nunes’ claims may be related to some of the documents that were received late last year. Now, obviously, we would have received the same documents so the fact that some of the end-of-the-year document dumps were very significant.

Glasser: From the FBI?

Warner: I’m not going to, again, go into sources. But they opened a lot of new questions.

Glasser: And so when you referenced earlier in our conversation, you said you have reviewed documents that have raised new questions to you. Is this the same sort of revelations that you’re referring—

Warner: Well, this is—

Glasser: These are things that we don’t really know anything about on the public record, right?

Warner: There are—

Glasser: It’s not more information about the Trump Tower meeting?

Warner: I’m not going to make any—good try. There is more information coming. I wish some of this information should have come earlier to us but we’ve had new information that raises more questions. That means you’ve got to bring in more people. And I know your listeners are saying, “Hey, when is this going to end?” It needs to end, but we also need to make sure the American public have the facts and I still, perhaps naively, hope that we’re going to have a report that at least 80 percent is going to be absolutely bipartisan and I would still aspire to have a report that would be 100 percent bipartisan because we’d reach the same conclusion about that ultimate question.

The earlier questions — Russian intervention, social media, tampering with our voting systems, Russian efforts to offer dirt on Clinton — I think there’s pretty broad agreement there.

Glasser: So your report that’s unresolved, obviously, is still the question of whether and how the Trump campaign or Trump himself might have acted on that Russian information and those Russian efforts to intervene. Number one, are you also thinking that the question of whether President Trump sought to obstruct the investigation will be part of your final report?

Warner: I really think the obstruction issue, because it falls into criminality, is more going to be the purview of Mueller.

Glasser: Do you believe that the president can be indicted on a criminal charge? Is this a big issue of debate?

Warner: I went to law school but never practiced a day of law, so I’ve managed to dodge trying to weigh in on any legal opinions for the last 40 years and I’m not going to change that at this point. One of the things that we will have, I think in the short run, and the chairman and I have agreed on this and this is an area again, where lots of senators in both parties have been doing really good work is making sure that we have a series of recommendations about election security. Because primaries start as early as March and I know in my state in Virginia, we had elections last year. I’m really glad that we took this seriously. We had to change out a whole lot of voting machines in mid-September of 2017 because there had been evidence that those voting machines were easily hackable.

Glasser: Well, do you think, though, that you’re going to have a final report in time that would include that in order to—

Warner: I think we can have something that will be series of recommendations. I hope within the next 30 days.

Glasser: So that could be separate because the 2018 elections are starting now.

Warner: The 2018 elections are starting in March. I think the first primary is Texas.

Glasser: Well, that’s an important point. but you don’t see your investigation on these underlying questions about Russia in 2016; that’s not going to be done by March. Let’s be real.

Warner: Listen, I think just the folks that we’ve got on the docket and the need to make sure that we resolve on the principals who and what setting they come back in and I want to keep moving this along as quickly as possible because again, I think the American people deserve the truth and also, the president, we can either show this—

Glasser: But realistically, you’re not going to be done by March.

Warner: I don’t see how you get done by then. I also don’t know once you start your process, the reams and reams of documents, how you put something together, how you get some part that’s declassified, some part that will have to be classified, how we’d convey that to other senators as well as the public.

We also have, I think—we’ve got a customer in terms of the whole intelligence community. I think there’s a whole lot of lessons learned from the intelligence community: a standpoint in terms of trying to figure out what’s called in intel talk, Russian “active measures,” how we deal with Russian active measures. Because my fear, again, is if you look at—just look from an investment standpoint. If you add up all of the money Russia spent interfering in our election; if you add on what they spent in the French elections, where Facebook took down 50,000 sites that were connected to Russia because they’d seen the Russian intervention.

If you add up what they spent on the Dutch elections, where the Dutch hand-counted all of their ballots because they were so afraid of Russian intervention. You add all that up and you’re still talking about less money than the cost of one new F-35 airplane.

Glasser: That’s right, it’s a very good investment on the part of President Putin.

Warner: Yeah, the rate of return for Putin and his operation is really good. And the thing is too, my fear not only do we need to find out what happened in 2016, but more importantly, we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and my fear is that other countries or other adversaries will say, “We can disrupt and undermine American institutions a lot cheaper this way than by planes and tanks and rockets.”

Glasser: It’s not just the Russians who have this possibility available to them.

Warner: Right, others can use these same tools and we’ve got to up our game significantly.

Glasser: Well, there’s so much more that we could cover, but I know we’re going to run out of time and I know our listeners, this is an invaluable really briefing on the state-of-play here. You mentioned establishing the facts; one of the issues that I do want to circle back to you on, because it’s persistently debated over is the basic fact of whether and how the investigation of the Trump campaign was triggered in the first place and the Steele dossier keeps coming up and Republicans keep claiming, well, A, that it’s discredited, and B, that it was used as the trigger to get the FBI investigation going. Is that the case? My understanding is that, in fact, the investigation was already underway before the Steele dossier was given to the FBI. Is that correct?

Warner: I believe there was more evidence than the Steele dossier that generated some of this investigation.

Glasser: Senator Burr and the Senate Republicans haven’t used the same language as some of the House Republicans in saying it’s false or it’s discredited. Would they agree with you on that?

Warner: I believe Senator Burr and my Republican colleagues, they’ve looked at the same facts I’ve looked at and we may have areas where we disagree on conclusions, but we don’t disagree on facts.

Glasser: A number of months ago, you and other Senate Democrats said, “Well, we hadn’t seen any definitive evidence yet of collusion between the Trump team and the Russians.” Has that changed?

Warner: I’m not going to be able to comment on that.

Glasser: But you can’t say no right now? You’re not saying, “No, I haven’t seen”—

Warner: I said a year ago when I started this that I thought it was maybe the most important thing I might ever work on. A year later, a lot more informed and somewhat frustrated at the slow pace, I still believe it will probably end up being the most important thing I ever work on.

Glasser: We recently had long-time CIA veteran Mike Morell on this podcast. We talked about the Russia investigation, not from the narrow question of President Trump in 2016, but from the bigger picture question of our intelligence community and whether we’ve misread fundamentally Russia over a period of some time. He called it an “intelligence failure;” in some ways, at least, a “failure of imagination akin to 9/11.” Those comments got a lot of attention at the time. Based on what you’ve seen, is that correct?

Warner: I believe that the intelligence community, and for that matter, the whole of government has underestimated how conflict in the 21st century has changed. I sometimes feel like we’re still investing in the world’s best 20th-century military with lots and lots of dollars and resources. And in the 21st century, conflict is more and more going to take the form of misinformation and disinformation using social media, using other information, ways to undermine institutions. You layer that on with levels of cyber conflict and cyber warfare and stealing intellectual property or stealing personal information, as we’ve seen with Equifax or OPM breaches, and you have a whole new arena.

We’ve thought about conflict on land, air, and sea; cyber and the misinformation-disinformation are a whole new domain and I believe both parties in the last three administrations–Bush, Obama, and Trump–that we’ve got to pick up our game and what is probably one of the single most frustrating things is that every one of Mr. Trump’s appointees that are in this field will acknowledge the truth about the Russian intervention. But the failure of this president to fully come clean and say he understands what a threat Russia posed and what they did to try to undermine our institutions means that we have no whole-of-government approach.

We don’t have a single individual in the White House who is in charge of making sure all of our state elections are going to be safe going forward. We don’t have a designated person monitoring all of the Russian bots and fake pages who are trying to not just go back to 2016, but disrupt our life in a variety of ways. We don’t, frankly, have a clear, articulated doctrine. These are the near-peer states like Russia and China on cyber. And I think that makes us more vulnerable as a nation.

Glasser: A final question to you: 20 years from now, we’re going to definitely be reading about this Trump presidency in the way that we’re reading about President Clinton and his affair with a White House intern, in the way that people are reading about Watergate. What are we going to read about this chapter in history? Are they going to say, “Wow, the Democrats went crazy. They wanted to get Donald Trump out of office and they made this Russia story into something it wasn’t”? Are they going to say, conversely, that this was one of the most significant foreign attacks on our democracy in our lifetime?

Warner: I think we’ll look back and say 2016 was a moment when the nature of conflict between nations changed; when tools of technology, misinformation, disinformation, cyber were used in aggressive, offensive ways, and hopefully coming out of this, we will rethink how we protect ourselves in a much more sophisticated 21st-century way.

Glasser: They’re also going to be saying, “And Donald Trump was president? Really? How did that happen, mom?”

Warner: And there’s still days I have to wrap my head around that.

Glasser: Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Thank you on behalf of all of the listeners of The Global POLITICO.

Warner: Thank you, Susan.

Susan B. Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist. Her new podcast, The Global Politico, comes out Mondays. Subscribe here. Follow her on Twitter @sbg1.

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January 29, 2018 at 09:48AM

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