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Trump Continues To Question Evidence That Russia Meddled In U.S. Election


President-elect Donald Trump is expected to sit down with top intelligence officials this week to talk about their findings that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. It might be kind of an awkward conversation considering Donald Trump is still casting doubt on the assessment that Russia hacked into U.S. computers in order to influence the outcome of the vote. Trump keeps praising Vladimir Putin meanwhile and says it's time for everyone to just, quote, "move on." NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about this and more of what's in store as the new year gets underway in Washington. Happy new year, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Happy new year to you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the U.S. intelligence community continues to build its case that Russia is responsible for cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee among other entities. Donald Trump is not convinced, is he?

HORSLEY: That's right. You know, late last week, we got the most detailed report to date on what the U.S. intelligence community is calling GRIZZLY STEPPE. That is malicious cyber activity carried out by Russian intelligence targeting the DNC and other government and private computer networks. You know, back in October, the director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security had fingered Russia as being behind those cyberattacks.

Now we have the FBI joining in that conclusion and detailing a range of cyber activity carried out by Russian operatives as far back as the summer of 2015 and as recently as this November, days after the U.S. election. But Donald Trump remains skeptical. He talked to reporters about this over the weekend while attending a New Year's Eve party at his Florida resort.


DONALD TRUMP: I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove, so it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don't know. And so they cannot be sure of this situation.

HORSLEY: Trump argues that U.S. intelligence agencies have been mistaken in the past. He points to the claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for example. But this is a remarkable thing, Rachel, to have the president-elect questioning the consensus finding of the entire U.S. intelligence community. Trump and his team have described this focus on Russian meddling as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his election.

MARTIN: And Trump went out of his way to praise Vladimir Putin, tweeting that he always knew Putin was, quote, "very smart." How is that going over with Republicans?

HORSLEY: This is likely to be a source of friction. Trump has spoken frequently about wanting to work more closely with Vladimir Putin, but Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement last week saying, quote, "Russia does not share America's interests." In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them. GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell sounded a similar note, saying the Russians are not our friends. Arizona Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to hold hearings later this week on Russian hacking.

To be sure, congressional Republicans have often been critical of the Obama administration for being too soft against Russia. But after the White House ordered new sanctions last week and expelled dozens of suspected Russian agents, you have top GOP lawmakers who sound more closely aligned with the Obama administration than they do with the president-elect of their own party.

MARTIN: OK. So we're going to keep following that no doubt. Let's switch gears a little bit now. President Obama returns to Washington today from Hawaii where he was on vacation with his family. He's going to be up on Capitol Hill this week. What's he up to?

HORSLEY: The president will be meeting with House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday. And sources say they'll be mapping out their defense as Republicans work to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The GOP can repeal some but not all of Obamacare with a simple majority. And Republican lawmakers plan to start that process right away. It's still not clear, of course, what that - when that repeal would take effect or what Republicans plan to replace Obamacare with. So Democrats will be looking to highlight the popular provisions of the law and its success in extending insurance coverage to some 20 million Americans while driving the uninsured rate to an all-time low.

In the run-up to the new year, we actually saw a fairly robust sign of activity on the government-run insurance exchanges as a lot of people signed up for coverage in 2017, even though the long-term future of Obamacare is very much in doubt.

MARTIN: So what can we expect from the president? He just has under three weeks left in his tenure left in the White House. What do you know about how he's going to use that time?

HORSLEY: Well, I don't think he's going to coast into retirement. He often uses the phrase run through the tape, so expect him to be working right up to his last day in office doing what he can to secure his legacy, even if some of those actions could be reversed by the incoming president. In just the last month, we've seen the Obama administration set new limits on offshore oil drilling, declare new national monuments, OK the transfer of more inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison and grant clemency to more nonviolent drug offenders.

Now, in some cases, those measures don't go as far as the president would have liked. Guantanamo's going to still be open most likely when he leaves office. Clemency is no substitute for broader criminal justice reform, but he'll do what he can with the powers and the time he has left.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks as always, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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