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Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin Discusses Summary Of Mueller Report


The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Those are the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller, which were made public late yesterday in a summary by Attorney General William Barr.

We wanted to see how those findings are being received in the intelligence community. To do that, we've reached out to John McLaughlin. He worked for the CIA for more than three decades, including as acting director during the administration of the second President Bush. Welcome to the program.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, thank you.

CORNISH: So we heard the first of the findings - right? - answering the question about whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Robert Mueller says no, it did not. What questions do you see as unanswered?

MCLAUGHLIN: I think we need to know exactly what motivated people in the Trump campaign to be as open as they were to Russian contacts. I believe there were something like a hundred of them over a period of time. And they were reluctant to acknowledge that they had done this. So I think we need to know more from special counsel Mueller in particular about what was going on there. Why did that happen?

CORNISH: At the same time, you've said that you think congressional Democrats would make a big political mistake if they, quote, "dive down the rabbit hole of trying to relitigate Mueller's report." So how do they walk the line?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think they need to complete their investigations in both of the intelligence committees. They need to see the entire Mueller report. I think they need to call Robert Mueller and Attorney General Barr to testify. We need to have all of that data. My only point is that while opponents of Trump may find some profit in keeping alive the collusion and obstruction issues, they really need, in my view, to focus on his performance as president and on what he's revealed himself to be.

I mean, he's still the man who questioned Barack Obama's birthplace, who failed to deliver on health care, who falsely promised that Mexico would pay for a wall, insults allies and so forth. And the Russians appeared to favor him in the last election. So those are themes that I think are over the long term going to be more helpful to those who oppose him.

CORNISH: For the last two years, the focus has been so intense on the Trump campaign. On the president himself. What about the responsibility for the intelligence community when it comes to the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think the intelligence community has done what it needs to do and insofar as we know publicly what they've done. They, in January of 2017, very clearly, emphatically, publicly stated that Russia had interfered. They went so far as to say that it had done so in support of then-candidate Trump. So it has alerted the American public to that. And I'm confident that it has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and others to try and prevent that from happening again to the extent that it can, given that this is a domestic matter that foreign intelligence agencies are not permitted to be involved in. But I include the FBI in the overall category of the intelligence community, and I'm sure they have been helpful.

CORNISH: Do you have confidence in the U.S. election system and the intelligence community's ability to prevent further interference?

MCLAUGHLIN: I don't have complete confidence in that yet. I'm not placing the blame on the intelligence community. This is more of a responsibility for the Department of Homeland Security supported by the intelligence community. The reason I don't have confidence is that I don't think it has sunk in yet how vulnerable we were.

I would think that in the next election, the only way to be absolutely sure of no interference is to have more paper ballots - some states still do not have a paper ballot system - and everything from election procedures for casting votes to the manufacturer of voting machines. That's all vulnerable to interference by a foreign power. So I don't think we're at the point yet where we can say confidently that we have an ironclad, airtight election system.

CORNISH: What will you be listening for should the attorney general or others be called to testify?

MCLAUGHLIN: I'll be listening to find out what was the reasoning behind the dismissal of a possible obstruction charge? It may be that there is a legal definition here - and I'm not a lawyer. There may be a legal definition of obstruction that is very hard to meet. The bar may be much higher than it appears to those of us who are just watching this process. And I would be listening for that in the case of Robert Mueller because he's someone I worked with. And I have enormous confidence in his judgment. So if he was unable to make this decision, then I think it is really worth hearing his reasoning on that.

CORNISH: That's former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin. He's now at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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