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What we still don’t know after a week dominated by Russia questions

Russia loomed over this week’s congressional hearings. What kind of investigation is needed to look into unverified reports that Russia has information on the president-elect? And why didn’t the White House do more early on to stop Russian hacking? Steve Inskeep speaks with David Ignatius of The Washington Post, who has been compiling unanswered questions about each of the players.

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    Now, as we heard, Russia has loomed over this week of hearings.

    Columnist David Ignatius has been compiling unanswered questions about each of the players. He is at The Washington Post.

    And, David, first the president-elect. What's the question on your mind about Trump?

  • DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post:

    Well, we had a week in which Trump, not surprisingly, pushed back on unsubstantiated allegations that were made.

    What we need to know about Trump and the Russian hacking effort is, was there any connection, what's true and what isn't? Trump is right to say we shouldn't listen to fake news or rumor. We need an investigation in Congress and I think also by the FBI to establish what is true and not.


    What are your questions about contacts between the president or his staff and Russia?


    Well, I wrote something that was, I think, new this morning, saying that Trump's choice for national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, had been in contact with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, around the time, I said on the day of, but I think it was the day before, the announcement of sanctions against Russia, expulsion of 35 diplomats.

    The Trump campaign today confirmed that, yes, indeed, there had been a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak on December 28. That's the day that it was in almost every major news outlet that sanctions were on the way.

    The Washington Post had actually written the day before that they were coming. The question is, was it appropriate to be talking about future policies, future conversations between Trump and Putin on the day that the Obama administration was trying to impose sanctions?


    Because you can't have two presidents at a time, of course, and President Obama is still the president at this moment.




    Now, you also have a question about President Obama.


    So, there is a question.

    And the more we know about Russian hacking, we legitimately ask, why didn't President Obama do more to stop it? Why didn't — in the now we realize months in which the FBI, our intelligence agencies were looking at this threat, why didn't the administration take stronger steps?

    I think the administration is the White House was genuinely worried that if it took steps, it might escalate into much sharper Russian action that could actually disrupt the election, even the process of counting votes on Election Day.


    And what's your question about Russia?


    Well, I tried in my last question to think the way a counterintelligence analyst at the CIA would think, looking at this kind of evidence.

    Is it possible that the Russians wanted this information to come out, wanted the unsubstantiated, salacious information in the dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer to come out?

    Is the real goal that Russia has had all along to destabilize the American political environment, our political system? I think you need to look at every piece of this with the most skeptical eye.


    Who would you trust, David Ignatius, to answer those questions?


    Well, we have institutions. That's what our system is about.

    I would trust the Congress. I would trust a bipartisan select committee of the House and Senate. I would certainly trust our law enforcement agencies. We have experienced U.S. attorneys. We have FBI investigators. We have intelligence officers.

    I think they ought to do this, they ought to do it in their own time, in secret. It's not something to be hashed out in the press every day. But I do think we need answers, we need to know what's true and what isn't.


    David Ignatius at The Washington Post, thanks very much.


    Thank you.


    And just moments ago, the Trump transition team said that incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also spoke with the Russian ambassador on December 29. That's the day the new sanctions were announced.

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