Examining Russia's Role In Leaked Democratic Party Emails

Jul 25, 2016
Originally published on July 25, 2016 7:51 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to start this hour with allegations of a Kremlin conspiracy to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. The FBI says it's investigating the leak of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee, and the Democrats are pointing at Russian spy agencies. Here's Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, on ABC's "This Week."

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ROBBY MOOK: Some experts are now telling us that this was done by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.

MCEVERS: The Trump campaign denies suggestions that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be maneuvering to help Trump win the White House. Here's Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort taking a question from ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT: No, there are not. It's absurd, and you know, there's no base to it.

MCEVERS: To talk about this now, we are joined by NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. How are you doing?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly. I'm well, thanks.

MCEVERS: Good. Let's talk about the timing of this. I mean is it a coincidence that these emails leaked on the night before the Democratic convention?

KELLY: Well, if it is a coincidence, it is an exquisite one. As I was making calls on this today, I spoke with a woman named Fiona Hill. She is now at the Brookings Institution, but she used to be the top Russia expert on the National Intelligence Council. And she was laughing. She said the Russians have a word for this - ne sluchaino, which means not accidental, not by chance.

MCEVERS: I mean there are already has been some fallout from this. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz says she'll resign because of these emails that were made public by the site WikiLeaks. What was so damaging in the emails?

KELLY: Right. It was about 20,000 emails, Kelly, and they are basically records of embarrassing internal exchanges. What they reveal is the extent to which Democratic Party leaders favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. So the DNC has had to come out and apologize to Sanders. I mean, it goes without saying this is not what Democrats hoped we would all be talking about on day one of their convention.

MCEVERS: Right, and what signs at this point point to the fact that Russia could be behind any of this?

KELLY: Forensic evidence - I mean when the DNC learned that their servers had been hacked, they brought in cybersecurity experts, as you would. And those experts say they're looking at the way the hackers were coding, the operational security they practiced. I mean Russian tradecraft is superb, cyber experts will tell you.

And add to that that they've done it before. Russian hackers last year infiltrated the unclassified networks of the White House, the State Department, others. The cyber security firm that the DNC has hired - it's called CrowdStrike - they say they think those same cyber invaders are one of the Russian groups that penetrated the Democratic Committee's files.

MCEVERS: If this was Russian hackers, how high could this go? I mean is it possible that this was ordered by Putin himself?

KELLY: It's certainly possible. We just don't know. Maybe it was commanded by Putin. Maybe this is Russian spy agencies competing to please Putin. Fiona Hill, again, the former Russian intelligence analyst - she said, look; it doesn't have to be run directly by the Kremlin. They can just be encouraged - a little wink, a little nod.

MCEVERS: Why would Putin want to tilt this election to Trump?

KELLY: Well, so the thinking runs along these lines. We know that there is what appears to be deep mutual admiration between Trump and President Putin. Trump has repeatedly praised Putin's strength, his leadership. And on the policy front, Trump has proposed policies that would weaken NATO, and Putin is all for any policy that would weaken NATO.

The interesting question here I think is, you know, is having Putin try to swing an election your way a good thing? Is this an ally you want on the campaign trail?

MCEVERS: Right. What is your sense of what the current White House will do about this?

KELLY: Well, will they come out and say this was Russia the way they blamed North Korea for the Sony hack? There needs to be some kind of response if this is in fact Russia. The challenge here is, how do you do that without looking like the current government is taking sides in the campaign?

One interesting point along those lines - a second former official I spoke with today said, you know, maybe it raises the question that candidates should be getting cyber security protection the same way they get physical protection from the Secret Service, something from a 21st century campaign.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Thank you so much.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.