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World

Sen. Mark Warner Weighs In On Trump's Remarks On Russian Election Interference

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is walking back some of the remarks he made at that stunning press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The president now says he has full faith and supports American intelligence agencies. And he says he believes that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. At a meeting with Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon, the president also said he misspoke during yesterday's press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

SHAPIRO: We're joined now by Senator Mark Warner, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Welcome to the program.

MARK WARNER: Thank you, Ari. Pretty remarkable last 24 hours.

SHAPIRO: It has been a pretty remarkable last 24 hours. And I wonder whether the president's comments this afternoon walking back some of what he said in Helsinki changes your view of what happened in Finland.

WARNER: The president's comments today don't change my view at all. He was clear in Helsinki. He believed Putin. He appeared very weak, in effect said he would take Putin's word over the word of the American intelligence community, over the word of - and I was meeting with a number of Europeans who've been victims of Russian interference yesterday; they were stunned as well - from other countries who've also had this kind of Russian abuse - over the word of frankly the American companies like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube who've acknowledged their platforms were abused by Russian agents back in 2016. So the president stepped in it. And clearly the rest of the world saw what an embarrassment it was. He now has tried to walk back comments on a scripted remark, appearing very much like what he did a year ago with the incidents in Charlottesville where he expressed his true feelings, walked them back for a day.

SHAPIRO: Charlottesville, where there were neo-Nazi protesters and he said there were good people on both sides.

WARNER: He tried to walk that back for a day. And, you know, 24 hours later, he was back to his true beliefs. So I think this walk-back today will probably have a shelf life until his next tweet or the next indictments.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting that you do compare this to Charlottesville because that was an event that everybody was shocked by at the time that some number of days or weeks later seemed to have receded into the past. Do you think this will be the same way, or is this a really pivotal moment?

WARNER: I believe this is a defining time for the Trump presidency. We live in a world where American democracy, free enterprise has spread throughout most of the world. And our alliances are built - for example, with NATO - not only on defense alliances but common agreement about rule of law, about a free press, about one person, one vote, all things that Russia stands in total opposition to.

SHAPIRO: And so what should the consequence of this be?

WARNER: Well, the consequence should be that the United States Congress needs to do more than talk or tweet. We need to act. There are possible actions in terms of upgrading our election security - putting in place legislation, for example, that would allow automatic sanctions to go into place on Russia should they interfere in future elections. And let that designation be made by the director of National Intelligence. There's other bipartisan legislation around election security.

There's also aspects where I think we as a Congress and at least as a Senate need to say, no, we don't agree with Trump's view of the world that favors authoritarians like Putin. And we absolutely do reaffirm our support for our European allies, our NATO allies because I think if we don't act, then the rest of the world will allow this Trump - new policy, this kind of remaking of the world in a Putinesque-Trump way, stand. And frankly, that is not good for national security, nor is it good for everything that America represents abroad.

SHAPIRO: Midterm elections are happening this fall. How confident are you in the security of the U.S. election system?

WARNER: Well, Congress has acted because our committee in a bipartisan way put out a report on election security. We added $380 million. I sure as heck hope anybody in your listening audience would make sure your state and your voting precinct has machines with paper trails so there is the ability to audit results. What we really need beyond this legislative action is in a normal administration with this kind of ongoing real threat, a White House, particularly in the realm of election security, which touches state, local and federal - the White House would put someone in charge of election security at the White House to use that power to convene.

And even though DNI director - the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, has said the Russians will be back, this president has not chosen to make election security a priority. He has not named anybody in the White House. He has not directed any of our intelligence agencies to raise this to a higher level. Luckily, in a bipartisan way, folks like Marco Rubio, Richard Burr, the chair of the intelligence committee who I work with and others are elevating it. But you can't replace that leadership from the White House.

SHAPIRO: Senator Warner, thanks so much for joining us today.

WARNER: Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: Senator Mark Warner is a Democrat from Virginia and the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.