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Sen. Angus King On Russia Election Investigations


And the House Intelligence Committee sounded so bipartisan when it began investigating Russian election meddling.


Didn't stay that way. Democrats are angry the Republican chairman didn't give them a heads up when he reviewed classified documents at the White House. Now, lots of political bickering.

GREENE: So now it is the Senate's turn. The Intelligence Committee holds its first public hearing today. Yesterday, the Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said he was hoping to avoid even talking about that other chamber.


RICHARD BURR: Let me set the ground rules real quick. We'll answer anything about the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation. We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee. We would refer those to the House Intelligence Committee.

GREENE: The ranking Democrat, Senator Mark Warner, joined him at the press conference in a show of bipartisanship.


MARK WARNER: If we don't come to some joint conclusion with the manipulation that took place in the election and with the spirit of kind of the American people saying, what's going on here, I think we would not fulfill our duty.

GREENE: In our studio this morning, another member of the committee, Senator Angus King of Maine. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Senator, welcome back.

ANGUS KING: Good morning.

GREENE: So what do you hope to get out of today's hearing?

KING: Well, today is I think a really important sort of scene-setting hearing because it's about what the Russians are up to not only here but around the world. The important thing for the American people to understand is that what happened in our election in November was not a one-off. This is a pattern. This is something. This is part of the Russian playbook of how they're trying to influence and undermine Western democracies.

GREENE: They've been doing this in other European countries it seems...

KING: They've been doing it in - yeah, they've been doing it in Eastern Europe for years. They're doing it right at this very moment in France and in Germany, who have elections this year. And so I think it's important for people to understand that this is part of what they do so we can start to figure out, how do we defend ourselves?

GREENE: Why is that important? Why will it help Americans understand this better if they say this is going on in a country in Eastern Europe?

KING: Well, that's a great question. I spent some time - I've spent time in Eastern Europe in Poland and Ukraine and then met last fall with some people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And I asked them, I said, what's the best defense against this, the Russians' hacking and disinformation and propaganda and all of that? I said you can't shut down your internet or your TV stations. What do you do?

They said the best defense is for the public to understand what's going on so they say, oh, it's just the Russians again. So that is what - part of what our mission here is to make the American people understand so they can say, oh, yeah, that's the Russians because it's not going to stop, David. This is - you know, it doesn't end in November of 2016.

GREENE: If the best defense is just to say, oh, it's the Russians, I mean, that's sort of alarming if we're just - if we just have to come to a point where we expect that, right?

KING: Well, we've got to do all the other things. We've got to have information. And we've got to be able to defend our networks and all of those kinds of things. But we also have to have people understand that this is just part of life. And they are - this is part of their strategy. They do it, as I say, they were doing it in Eastern Europe for years. They're now doing it in Europe itself. They did it with us 2016. And yes, we, you know, but we can't shut down the Internet and shut off TV. I mean, that's not who we are, so...

GREENE: I suppose one of the key things would be if - not to let Russians actually change the results of an election.

KING: Well, that's a whole separate issue. And that's one part of our investigation that frankly I don't think has gotten enough attention. In addition to hacking the Democratic National Committee and leaking things through WikiLeaks, they also pushed and probed into state election systems around our country - registration rolls, voting machines. Everything we've learned so far is it didn't work. They didn't change any votes. But weren't doing it for fun. They're trying to figure out how to monkey around - change outcomes.

GREENE: Well, this sounds like very serious stuff. I mean, what should give Americans any faith that your committee will stay bipartisan here and really come to a joint solution?

KING: Well, it's not going to be easy. I mean, this is a fraught political situation as you can - as everyone knows. On the other hand, I can tell you we're really determined to do that. I thought yesterday's press conference with Chairman Burr, Republican - Mark Warner, Democrat - was was very reassuring. If you had watched that interview, that press conference and didn't know who was who, you couldn't have told which was the Republican and which was the Democrat.

GREENE: But didn't the House investigation started that way and then now we have - where that's gone?

KING: Well, I think they did, but it obviously has fallen apart. But on our side - and I can't guarantee it. I mean, there's no guarantee. What I can guarantee is that there are a lot of members other than the chair and the ranking member who really want to make this work on a bipartisan basis. If it doesn't work that way, I'm out. I'm going to step aside and say this isn't working, we've got to follow some other path.

But I think this is the best shot we've got. It's a good committee. It's got solid members. It's worked with the intelligence community for years. People have security clearances on the staff. We're well on our way. And there will be moments, I'm sure, of partisan tension. But a lot of this like the probing of the election systems in the states, what the Russians did with WikiLeaks, that's not really partisan. And the Republican members - Marco Rubio, for example...

GREENE: Of Florida, yeah.

KING: ...Has been very clear this - Putin is not a Republican or a Democrat. He's an opportunist. What happened to Hillary Clinton this time could be happening to a Republican next time.

GREENE: OK. Senator Angus King, independent of Maine joining us in the studio this morning. Senator, thank you so much as always.

KING: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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