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Trump Has Yet To Acknowledge Intelligence Reports On Russian Hacking


President-elect Donald Trump really does believe that Russian hackers broke into the Democratic Party's email server. That, at least, is according to Reince Priebus, who will be Trump's chief of staff, although the president-elect's own statements have been a little more ambiguous. To talk about this and other political developments, we're joined by Jonah Goldberg, who's a senior editor at the National Review. Thanks for coming by.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: Are you persuaded that Trump is persuaded about the Russians?

GOLDBERG: No. It seems obvious to me that what Donald Trump can't do is let go of this part - this one aspect of it, which is that he doesn't want to concede that the Russians had anything to do with his victory. This victory was his and his alone. And so he is constantly trying to sort of bend all the arguments to rebut that. And so he says they didn't hack the voting machines...

INSKEEP: Which is true.

GOLDBERG: Which is true, and - which is also not disputed. The problem is, you know, one way to think about this is take the Russians out of it for a moment because the intel report is actually not as conclusive as a lot of people are claiming and just say WikiLeaks. Wherever WikiLeaks got this stuff. Did WikiLeaks affect the campaign? Of course it did. Donald Trump went around saying, I love WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks report - the WikiLeaks leaks, which were all true, which is something that gets - confuses a lot of people.

INSKEEP: The emails were real. Sure.

GOLDBERG: The emails were real. It was all authentic - drove a lot of the narrative of the campaign. They made it very difficult for Hillary Clinton to escape an image that was locked in with the electorate. And I'm not saying that WikiLeaks was the sole determining factor, but it was a major factor in the narrative of the campaign. And if it had all come out from NPR or The New York Times and it all had been true, we would be having a very different conversation about this.

INSKEEP: Why do you find the intelligence report to be less conclusive than many people said?

GOLDBERG: Well, there are a lot of assertions, and part of it is because it's a declassified version and they don't want to...

INSKEEP: We don't have the classified evidence.

GOLDBERG: So they don't want to reveal sources and methods, so maybe there's a lot of there-there (ph). But there's a lot of assertion and a lot of conclusion and not a lot of explanation about where they got this information, what the evidence is for it. It's a little thin. And it basically says we have to trust the intel community. But as Dan Drezner of The Washington Post says, we live in a low-trust time. And the intel community, at least at the leadership level, hasn't earned a lot of trust from the American people.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to Kellyanne Conway's argument about that. Of course, she is an adviser to the president-elect and said this in recent days.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: All of this amounts to a very simple fact, which is that alleged attacks, alleged aspirations to interfere with our democracy failed. And they failed, and we know that because Donald Trump won.

INSKEEP: What do you think of that logic?

GOLDBERG: (Laughter) I think there's a lacuna in it. (Laughter) There's a - you can't get from the - where she began to where she ended without some more evidence of what she means by that. There's reason to believe, I believe, that the Russians preferred Donald Trump. I actually don't think that they actually thought Trump was going to win. I think they just wanted to bloody up and bruise the future President Clinton.

And again, I don't think - this can all be overblown. This is not exactly in a moment of great nuance and distinction in our politics. The Russians did not make Hillary Clinton refuse to campaign in Wisconsin or do any of the sort of nuts and bolts stuff that she should've done if she wanted to win.

But at the same time, it seems to me that if you had to ask Vladimir Putin to pick a favorite, his favorite would've been Donald Trump. And so when Kellyanne, who I've known for 20 years and is a friend of mine, says that there's - the signature evidence that the tampering didn't work is because Donald Trump won doesn't really track.

INSKEEP: Did you touch on what may be the reason that this really is hard for the president-elect to publicly accept? The notion that Russians might have preferred Donald Trump implies that Donald Trump would be some kind of patsy, the easier guy to deal with. Is that what makes this hard for Trump to publicly sign onto the idea that Russians hacked?

GOLDBERG: I don't know because I don't know that that's it. I think that Trump wants to just take credit for his movement and all that on his own. The problem that - what that points to, though, is this problem that's disturbing a lot of people in Washington, is that the one issue that Donald Trump has never wavered on - he's gone - tacked back and forth on a lot of issues from health care to guns to abortion - a lot of issues - to taxes. The one thing he's always stayed constant on is his praise of Russia. And that's just a strange thing. And it's like this one tic that he won't let go of. And it's - I can't really explain it.

INSKEEP: Does the incoming national security team reassure you at all? Because there are some Russian hardliners in there.

GOLDBERG: Oh, sure. I actually - I'm sort of contrarian on a lot of people in Washington. I think Rex Tillerson will be great. I think General Mattis and General Kelly are serious people. Dan Coats is a very serious person. I'm a...

INSKEEP: He's the pick for director of national intelligence.

GOLDBERG: Right. I'm a little more skeptical, wait-and-see about General Flynn, but it's - who's going to be the national security adviser. But it's - we'll wait and see.

INSKEEP: Jonah, thanks very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you. Great to be here.

INSKEEP: That's Jonah Goldberg of National Review with coffee by his side. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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