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Examining What We Know And Don't Know About Trump And Russia

Jan 12, 2017
Originally published on January 12, 2017 7:34 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's sort through what we know and don't know about President-elect Trump and Russia. We start with words he resisted saying for months.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DONALD TRUMP: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia.

INSKEEP: I think it was Russia, he said. Up until that moment in yesterday's news conference, Trump had not agreed with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies on this. He had suggested it could be China - or a 400-pound guy in a bed. He repeatedly took Russia's side, playing up its denials. So his acknowledgement was news, though he took it back 53 minutes later.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Well, Russia - but you know what? - could have been others also.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has been tracking the Russia story for us, and she's here now.

Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So do you conclude from his various statements that he now agrees with the intelligence agencies on this?

KELLY: I would conclude, Steve, that he is coming 'round to that idea. And if you look at another answer that he gave during this press conference - he was asked, what's his message to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president? - and Trump said he shouldn't be doing it - shouldn't be doing the hacks.

INSKEEP: Shouldn't have done it, he even said. So...

KELLY: He said shouldn't have done it, shouldn't be doing it and that he won't be doing it once Trump assumes the office. So that suggests to me that Trump believes, at the moment, Putin is doing it.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's one thing. But then there are these allegations - this dossier, as it was said, a series of memos - that have been circulating, been reported on in recent days in which the president-elect was told about in an intelligence briefing. How forcefully did he deny the allegations there?

KELLY: Very forcefully. There was no wiggle room on this point. These are the allegations, as you say, this 35-page dossier that has been circulating in Washington. It was first actually reported by CNN and BuzzFeed, and it basically says that Russia has got the goods on Donald Trump - embarrassing personal and political material.

And these are allegations I should stress, that NPR and other news organizations have not verified. But we now have the president-elect out there responding to them. And his direct words were - he said, fake news, phony stuff - didn't happen. And reporters did press him on this. One of the other questions he got was - does Russia have any leverage over you? Here's his answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.

KELLY: On a related note, reporters were also pressing Trump for his tax returns because that might shed some light on being able to verify whether this is in fact true that there are no dealings in Russia for the Trump business empire.

INSKEEP: So what kind of relationship does he have at this point with the CIA and the various other intelligence agencies that have been looking at this material?

KELLY: That was one of the most interesting threads, Steve, at this press conference yesterday. I think his relationship with the CIA and other spy agencies is a work in progress. And I say that even as yesterday it sounded as though Trump was moving toward embracing their views on Russia and that Russia has been behind recent hacks. He came out with a new beef with them, and it was he blames U.S. spy agencies for leaking this dossier of allegedly embarrassing material on Trump.

He returned to this point again and again in the press conference and so much so that last night it appears that the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, gave him a call. The two of them spoke. Afterward, Clapper put out a statement saying he had told the president-elect the profound dismay that he feels as the head of U.S. Intelligence that these leaks have been appearing and also assured Donald Trump we didn't do it. It's not U.S. Intelligence. Look to other corners of Washington.

INSKEEP: It is not at all clear that it did happen that way. We do know that Trump was told about this information circulating about him. Just somebody said - we want you to know this is out there. But what is unknown at this point?

KELLY: One of the big unanswered questions to me because Trump sidestepped it at the podium was - has there ever been - was there ever any contact between anyone with links to the Trump campaign and Russia? That question was asked. Trump didn't answer it. A reporter was shouting it at him again as he walked away from the podium. Let me let you listen to a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sir, you did not answer whether any of your associates were in contact with the Russians. Sir?

KELLY: Trump had already moved away from the mic at that point. Reporters followed him. He said no, no contact - unlikely to be the end of questions on that subject.

INSKEEP: Questions on one other thing - what happens when he gets his own CIA director?

KELLY: Which we may get some insight into today. On Capitol Hill today, Mike Pompeo, his pick for director of the CIA, has his confirmation hearing in a very unusual situation, where he is auditioning for a job running an agency that has been criticized by the guy Pompeo would be working for.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise Kelly is NPR's intelligence correspondent - is that your formal job title?

KELLY: National security correspondent...

INSKEEP: National security correspondent.

KELLY: ...But I'll take it.

INSKEEP: I like intelligence correspondent better.

National security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.