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Amid reported Russian meddling, a ‘deeply damaging’ politicization of U.S. intelligence

Multiple news outlets report that U.S. intelligence officials told House lawmakers recently that Russia is actively trying to help President Trump be reelected. In response, Trump has lashed out at Democrats, saying they are starting a “rumor” about Russian election interference. Yamiche Alcindor talks to Laura Rosenberger of the Alliance for Securing Democracy about what’s at stake.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, Senator Bernie Sanders confirmed that his campaign was told by U.S. intelligence officials that Russia plans to disrupt the Democratic primary.

    But President Trump pushed back on the intelligence community's assessment of Russian interference in his campaign, and he accused Democrats of starting rumors.

    The president's remarks come on the heels of multiple reports that U.S. intelligence officials told congressional lawmakers last week that Russia is actively trying to help the president get reelected.

    Yamiche Alcindor takes it from there.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For more, I'm joined by Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a program that tracks Russian influence operations. She was also a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, and she served in the State Department during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Thanks so much, Laura, for being here.

    What more do we know about the efforts against the United States, and what's changed since 2016?

  • Laura Rosenberger:

    Yes, so the efforts that we see in the reports about, you know, trying to help President Trump in his reelection bid and interfering in the Democratic primary are actually very consistent with the same things we saw in 2016.

    The intelligence community assessed at that time that Russia had three goals. And what we see now is very consistent with that, trying to divide Americans from one another, trying the weaken their faith in our institutions and particularly our democratic processes, and to boost President Trump, who, again, in the 2016 election, the intelligence community assessed that Russia had developed a preference for.

    And so I think that what we really see is very much a continuation of the same intentions. We see a little bit of a difference in tactics. Some of the big, broad-scale kind of automated bot-driven manipulation is something we don't see as much anymore.

    But we still see a lot of effort to use social media to divide Americans from one another, to drive particular conspiratorial narratives, and in particular to undermine Americans' trust and faith in our institutions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You mentioned that social media companies are trying to better protect themselves.

    How ready is the United States with Russia's evolving tactics?

  • Laura Rosenberger:

    Well, I think we have certainly seen steps by the social media companies since 2016. We have seen steps by the government since 2016.

    The problem is, it all falls short. These are the kinds of issues where coordination is actually completely essential to carrying out the kinds of sophisticated efforts to systematically detect these operations.

    And that requires very clear coordination mechanisms within the government, between the government and the private sector, and within the private sector. And while we have seen progress on each of those, they remain largely informal. They remain largely ad hoc.

    And, frankly, as we have seen with the president's actions to fire that acting DNI, you know, in light of these reports, that — his role is really to coordinate the intelligence community's work. And, you know, that is exactly a move in the wrong direction from what we actually need to be having more of.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, the Washington Post is reporting that there are intelligence officials who believe that Russia is trying to interfere in the election by trying to get Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic primary.

    He released a statement. I want to read part of it.

    He said, in part: "I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear. Stay out of American election, and, as president, I will make sure you do."

    How do you think Bernie Sanders and the Democratic primary is factoring into Russia's larger plans?

  • Laura Rosenberger:

    Well, first of all, I just want to say, I think that's a really important statement from Senator Sanders, I mean, very clear message to Vladimir Putin that weighing in on American elections is not something that will be tolerated by him and by the American people.

    And so I think that's a really important statement.

    For me, it's about dividing Democrats from one another, potentially suppressing ultimate turnout for the nominee, and really actually, again, just making us doubt the very processes that elections are meant to be about.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And the president has called reports that the intelligence community believes Russia is meddling in the 2020 election as rumors spread by Democrats.

    What impact could it have if the president is seen as politicizing the intelligence community, and not — and also undermining the intelligence community? What impact could that have?

  • Laura Rosenberger:

    When we look back at sort of what's been done over the past few years on these issues, my own view is that one of the greatest hindrances to doing more to actually counter foreign interference has been the politicization of this issue.

    And so I think it's deeply damaging and leaves our country vulnerable to attack.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you so much for joining us, Laura Rosenberger.

  • Laura Rosenberger:

    Thank you so much, Yamiche.

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