Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 14, 2016. A group of National Security officials today called out Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, outlined why he’s unfit for the job as Commander-in-Chief, and denounced his refusal to condemn Russia’s state-sponsored cybersecurity attacks. On a press conference call, former CIA acting director Mike Morell, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen, and Hillary for America Senior Media Advisor for National Security Affairs Jamie Rubin discussed how Trump’s praise of Putin continues to raise questions. Trump has gone as so far as even invited Russian hackers to locate and publish Clinton’s emails, and continues to promote their efforts.
Just this morning, Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence said there is “more and more evidence” of Russia’s attempt to influence the election and yet Trump and his allies continue to embrace them.
Some highlights from this morning’s call include:
“This is a huge, huge deal. I think that Trump’s motivation here to play into Putin’s hands is driven by one thing for sure and one thing that I’m deeply concerned about. The thing that I’m sure about is that Trump is cozying up to Putin because Putin has played him like a fiddle. Putin has figured out what makes Donald Trump tick and he’s playing to it.” – Mike Morell
“Rather than condemn these efforts, the Republican nominee has actually cheered them on, supported them.” – Matt Olsen
“One of the things that I find fascinating is Donald Trump’s absolute refusal to acknowledge Russia’s role here…He simply refuses to acknowledge the role, even after his running mate this morning, said that the Russians were behind this. It even gets worse than him simply not acknowledging it. In my mind, he’s actually cheering it on. He’s reading from WikiLeaks material at his rally to the point of parroting now-debunked disinformation….He’s encouraging people to read the hacked materials. He is encouraging his attack on our democracy, and I just find that amazing and shocking.” – Mike Morell
“So when somebody running for president, and again aside from — the extent to which the Trump people knew or didn’t know — refuses to acknowledge this kind of threat to the United States of America, not only refusing to acknowledge the threat but refusing to even condemn it, that suggests that Mr. Trump does not understand what it takes to defend the United States and what is involved in defending the United States and the American people.” – Jamie Rubin
“I cannot remember a single time in American history where the American government has accused another government of trying to interfere in our elections. This is really unprecedented and, as a national security person, it shakes me to my core” – Mike Morell
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GLEN CAPLIN: Good morning. It’s Glen Caplin at Hillary for America. We have on the call, former acting CIA director Mike Morell. We have former secretary of national counter terrorism, Senator Matt Olsen. And we are also excited to have Mr. Jamie Rubin. Mike, do you want to take it away?
MICHAEL MORELL: Thank you all for jumping on the call this morning. I had the great honor of serving at CIA for 33 years and — being the Deputy Director for three and a half, and — being the acting director a couple times. And I thought it very important that this morning we talk about some really important issues. So, I’m really happy that you guys jumped on the call.
One issue that I spent a lot of time working on, was trying to understand where Russia was going, what Putin’s motivations were, what his goals and objectives were, what he wants. And one of the conclusions that we came to as analysts were that one of the things he’s about is simply trying to undermine whatever the United States is trying to do in the world. He wants to be seen as an equal of the United States, and he saw getting there as simply trying to undermine the United States of America or others wherever and whatever it was doing in the world. So there was the one big issue that I focused on. And another big issue that I focused on, of course, was cybersecurity. To me, the greatest threat to the country and these moments of international terrorism, but cybersecurity is a very close second and is the fastest growing threat in my view.
So, when you put those two things together, right? Russia and cybersecurity, two things that were at the core of my work at CIA and now they’ve come together in a very, very significant way. Right? Both issues are suddenly thrust into the spotlight. And I’m not saying this, guys, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. I’m saying this as a public servant. I’m not saying this as somebody who has endorsed Hillary Clinton. I’m saying this as somebody who cares deeply about our national security.
One is that there’s just been a major cybersecurity attack on the United States of America by one of our adversaries. And two, we have a major nation-state who is trying to interfere in our election. And both of those are remarkable things. And no American should take either one of these two things lightly. It is absolutely clear to me –it should be clear to everybody, at this point – that the clear conclusion of the US intelligence community, the people that I used to work with every day, is that these hacks are the work of Russian state actors.
The DNI has said so publicly. The Secretary of Homeland Security has said so publicly. The FBI is investigating these attacks. Absolutely clear that this is the Russian state. 100 percent confidence in that. Absolutely clear to me that the intelligence community has concluded that Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 are working with the Russians on this. Absolutely consistent with what I’ve seen from the Russians in the past, in terms of their working with these kinds of organizations. The US Intelligence community has said that as well.
I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t ever recall seeing our intelligence community go so far in its conclusions about a cyberattack in terms of attribution and intent. And I cannot remember a single time in American history where the American government has accused another government of trying to interfere in our elections. This is really unprecedented and, as a national security person, it shakes me to my core. This is a direct assault on our democracy. It’s a direct assault on how we choose our leaders. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a more serious issue at the moment than Russia trying to interfere in our election.
One of the things that I find fascinating is Donald Trump’s absolute refusal to acknowledge Russia’s role here. What I read in the media is that my colleagues in the national security briefings briefed him on this. He saw the statement last Friday from the DNI and the Secretary of Homeland Security, and yet he continues to say that we don’t know who did this. He continues to say that it could be a 400-pound guy on his bedroom somewhere. He simply refuses to acknowledge the role, even after his running mate this morning, said that the Russians were behind this. It even gets worse than him simply not acknowledging it. In my mind, he’s actually cheering it on. He’s reading from WikiLeaks material at his rally to the point of parroting now-debunked disinformation.
He’s encouraging people to read the hacked materials. He is encouraging his attack on our democracy, and I just find that amazing and shocking. And it’s also terrifying to me that Trump doesn’t get what Putin is trying to do here. I said to the New York Times back in August that Putin’s found an unwitting agent in Donald Trump. Everything that I’ve seen since then simply reinforces that idea in my mind. Trump continues to play to Putin’s hand almost every single day in the support that he gives for what Putin’s doing around the world and at home.
This is a huge, huge deal. I think that Trump’s motivation here to play into Putin’s hands is driven by one thing for sure and one thing that I’m deeply concerned about. The thing that I’m sure about is that Trump is cozying up to Putin because Putin has played him like a fiddle. Putin has figured out what makes Donald Trump tick and he’s playing to it. And Donald Trump is responding. I am absolutely certain of that. The thing that I am deeply concerned about is that the people around Donald Trump – the Paul Manafort’s, the Roger Stone’s, the Carter Page’s – may be into this more deeply, may have relationships with Russia – perhaps financial relationships, other relationships with Russia. And they’re actually working on behalf of the Russians in getting this material out and spreading it around. I don’t want to go overboard here and say I know that for sure. I certainly don’t. But I’m deeply concerned about it. And I think that it requires a full investigation and it requires the American people to know the truth here before Election Day. So let me stop there, and turn this over to Matt.
MATT OLSEN: Thanks very much, Michael. Good morning, everybody. This is Matt Olsen. Let me just say, first of all, I think that Michael laid out a very compelling case based on the intelligence and based on his own experience as to why what we’re seeing is in such an unprecedented and alarming attack on our democratic institutions. Let me – just by way of background – let me say, I come at this fight, Michael, essentially as a career public servant. I served in the Department of Justice under both Democratic and Republican administrations. I was part of the leadership of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, and I served under President Obama as the head of the National Counterterrorism. And also, previous to that, as the general counsel for National Security Agency. So, again, by way of background, I come at these issues essentially as someone who’s spent the bulk of my career as a federal prosecutor, career federal prosecutor, and as a national security lawyer.
So, I’ve had the opportunity to look at these issues for a long time from a number of different vantage points. And I wanted to just join with Michael and obviously many, many others to express my concern about, particularly, what we’ve seen out of Russia, but also in the context of this election, the way it’s being played out by Donald Trump. And why I think this raises serious concerns. So let me just make a couple points in that regard.
First, just taking a step back and looking at the broader context, I think it’s important to remember in this campaign to go back to what Trump’s first reactions were to Russian cyberattacks. This was back last summer in July. He actually invited further interference in our election. And perhaps, at this point, nothing should surprise us about some of the comments that he’s made. It was really hard even then, for me to comprehend how he – somebody who is aspiring to be the president – would encourage these types of attacks, which, again, are so unprecedented in terms of our democracy coming out of Russia.
It’s also important to understand the broader context when it comes to Russia, and Michael touched on this in their efforts to influence elections. This is their playbook. This is what Russia does. Putin himself wants to tip the scales of the power in his favor, and the Kremlin has consistently proven that they’ve been willing to engage in covert operations and information operations in Europe, including hacking. But this is, I think, the first time that they’ve directed this effort against the United States. And again, that’s why it’s so concerning that, rather than condemn these efforts, the Republican nominee has actually cheered them on, supported them. And again, that’s why I think it’s important. That’s why I wanted to join in this call. Most officials, members of Congress regardless of party affiliation, understand the seriousness of this threat. That’s also a concern because to this day, Donald Trump has continued to insist that Russians not be blamed for the attack when he says that it could have been anybody. Again, as Michael said, it could have been a 400-pound person in their bedroom. He doesn’t have credibility on that point, and I think he may be the only person outside of the Kremlin who’s continuing to deploy that particular talking point. This is not new for Trump to use these kind of talking points. He’s done it repeatedly on a number of fronts.
But let me shift my focus a little bit to how I see how these particular comments and this particular issue plays into the terrorism fight, because that’s more specifically my background, at least for the past few years. And I think it’s an important point to make because Trump is consistently saying that only he can take out ISIS. So a couple of points on this. Trump has attributed the existence of ISIS, as you folks know, to President Obama and to Hillary Clinton. He even has said that they were the founders of ISIS. This is obviously to my mind an offensive comment. It goes far beyond just what’s standard fare for campaign rhetoric, and it is in fact a Kremlin talking point that Trump is repeating.
Secondly, for more than a year, Trump has been promoting the notion that Russia is fighting ISIS in Syria, saying that, “Moscow is bombing the hell out of ISIS.” That’s a quote. And that’s exactly, again, what the Kremlin is maintaining, even though it’s abundantly clear to those of us, former government officials, folks in the government, that Russia has really no serious interest in taking out ISIS. They’ve been doing, in fact, whatever they can to prop up Assad in Syria. So they were bombing the very US-backed rebels who were actually fighting ISIS, of course along with countless civilians.
And then the last point I would make on the terrorism front, again with context, is that Trump has shown a disregard for our allies in Europe, calling NATO “obsolete,” cheering Britain’s exit from the EU, when in fact to combat ISIS and the flow of foreign fighters, we need to double down on our alliances with our European allies, and we need to increase cooperation with both our intelligence-sharing. So when Trump and his comments actually stoke European disunity and encourage nationalism, this is exactly what Putin wants. And it’s why I agree with Michael that Putin has found an unwitting ally and an unwitting agent in Trump.
So I’ll actually leave it to others to figure out what is motivating Trump. I can’t tell you why he echoes these Kremlin talking points or why he takes up positions that strengthen Putin’s hand. But it’s a question I think we need to ask. And it’s one, that from my perspective, causes me a great deal of alarm when I consider the possibility of a Trump presidency. So I join Michael in calling on Trump, I think, to admit and condemn Russia’s role in it’s efforts to upend our elections and threaten our democracy.
So with that I’ll turn it over to Jamie.
JAMES RUBIN: Oh, thank you Matt. And thank you Michael. Just a couple of background points for how I’m going to come at it. I’ve been doing US, well Moscow-Washington issues, first as an arms control person back in the mid 80’s. So for 30 years I’ve been watching the evolution and ups and downs of relations between Moscow and the West. And particular, in the US government working with Madeleine Albright throughout the 90’s, I observed the time in which the US and the Russians were cooperating, when there was a fairly decent level of trust and confidence between Moscow and Washington. And so what’s striking to me, having not been in the government for the last several years, when that has changed, is the depths to which the relationship between the United States and Russia has sunk because of a fundamental change in Moscow’s outlook. As Michael put it, from one looking, as Yeltsin’s people use to say, for “positive sum outcomes,” where both side gain, to looking solely for ways in which to undermine the United States. And so, having observed that, what I feel is that, for the attention on the magnitude of what has transpired through this political cyber sabotage that Russia has engaged in — and that’s a known thing now. The intelligence community doesn’t saying with this level of confidence, and it’s a known fact that the Russians are engaged in political cyber sabotage of the United States.
So that’s taking place in a context where, for 70 years, great powers have not been interfering with each other or risking conflict with each other. And from the time when Yeltsin was in power until Putin’s current set of policies, where he has undermined and rejected the basic international rules based system: the invasion of Ukraine, the massive attacks on civilians in Syria and now this unprecedented step of not only interfering and sabotaging, through various methods, the neighbors — his neighbors, that’s been going on for a long time, as Matt and Michael mentioned. But to take it to the step that the main adversary is being attacked through this cyber sabotage means Putin has taken this danger to a whole other level.
So when somebody running for president, and again aside from — the extent to which the Trump people knew or didn’t know — refuses to acknowledge this kind of threat to the United States of America, not only refusing to acknowledge the threat but refusing to even condemn it, that suggests that Mr. Trump does not understand what it takes to defend the United States and what is involved in defending the United States and the American people. If he cannot condemn this attack, this cyber sabotage attack on our country, if he can’t condemn it, then he’s incapable of defending us from this very real threat, let alone the other threats that Matt mentioned in the terrorism world and all the other issues.
And so there are things we know now. We now the Russians are involved in this cyber sabotage. We know that Mr. Trump has extensive business ties with Russia. We don’t know the details of it. But his son has said money was pouring in from Russia. ABC News has put the level at hundreds of millions of dollars is the relationship between the two.
So, when we think about this, what’s frustrating to me, as someone who’s involved with the media over the years, is I feel that each little detail gets out to the press, but the whole story, all these different pieces of the puzzle, are not put together in a way that educates the American people about the significance of this act of cyber sabotage. There is another thing we know. We know that Trump, on a policy level, has praised Putin’s leadership. He has adopted Putin’s talking points, as Mike mentioned in — I’m sorry, as Matt mentioned with respect to the attacks on ISIS or not in Syria. And when issues have come up of Putin’s crack downs inside Russia, on journalists, on others, he’s defended Putin rather than condemn him. The first understanding of what is the national interest is to know what’s good for the United States, and Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that.
And then you have this much more scary thing. Remember that, as Mike Morell said at the beginning, the basic goal of Russian foreign policy is to undermine the United States, and to do that by undermining the unity and credibility of the western alliance. The stronger –we’re stronger when we’re together, and we’re more credible when we’re together. Trump praises the British departure from Europe. Trump suggests that the Baltic countries are not really allies because they might not be worth defending. So these are arguments that suggest he doesn’t understand the threat we face. He suggests that it might be ok to declare the Crimea part of Ukraine, even though the whole western world has condemned that action and put sanctions on Russia for this cross-border invasion. He’s even said the sanctions should be looked at.
So you have – these are the facts. And again, I don’t know the extent to which Trump’s associates knew about this in advance or coordinated releases with WikiLeaks or Guccifer 2.0. These are new areas for me. I don’t know all the details. But what I know is that Trump’s policies are aligned with Putin, that Trump’s business interests are extensive, and we don’t know the details of them. And if you are Putin and you want to achieve the objective Mike spelled out at the beginning, well you certainly want one candidate to win in this election. You want Donald Trump.
And it’s not an accident, therefore, as the Kremlin used to say, it’s not an accident that all interference, all the cyber sabotage, has helped only one side. That’s pretty important. So when you see one candidate go out of their way to defend what — a leader who is now clearly an adversary to the United States. No matter which party you’re in, when you look at the dangers the United States faces, Vladimir Putin is our adversary. He’s actively undermined this country.
When one candidate goes out of their way to defend that adversary, refuses, is blind to the ways in which the adversary is undermining our country, you have to conclude that he doesn’t understand the basic requirement of defending the American people and our Constitution so all of us could go on for a long time but I think at a minimum, we have to have Donald Trump condemn the cyber sabotage conducted by Russia.
At a minimum, we have to have information about the extent to which his people worked with […] Russian organizations, and we have to have information about the extent to which the Trump organization has business interests in Russia that could be affected. It’s the simple issue of Trump is suggesting we should lift sanctions, well that — if you have hundreds of billions of dollars of business in Russia, that’s self dealing and the public deserves to know. So those would be the three major points I would make, condemning the Russians, knowing the interaction between Trump’s people and the Kremlin operatives, and knowing the extent to which Trump’s organization is, is tied to the investments, the Russian economy. So I’ll just leave it there.
MICHAEL MORELL: This is Michael. Let me just add one, one final point to what Matt and Jamie said, and I think this is kind of the fundamental point. This is not a campaign issue, this is a national security issue, and both candidates, Secretary Clinton has already done this, both candidates need to stand up and tell the Russians that this is unacceptable, and it’s got to stop, and there will be consequences.
And this attack is unprecedented, it’s a huge deal. It’s time to put national security at the top of the list, and Mr. Trump has to do everything that Jamie said for him to have any credibility whatsoever on this issue.
DAVID BLUMENTHAL: Thanks everyone, we’re going to take some questions now. Please press one to ask a question, and thank you for your patience while we compile the queue.
David Sanger, you have a question?
DAVID SANGER: Thanks very much. This is for either Michael or Matt. We see the administration make the attribution that came out last Friday, but we haven’t seen them provide any evidence. They haven’t provided the way that they know whether it’s source code, signatures, intercepts, whatever, and that has enabled Donald Trump and it has enabled the Russians to basically say, “This is fabricated in a campaign environment.” So I’m wondering whether or not, based on your experience, you think there is a way to do the attributions here to solve that problem. I’d also be interested in hearing you discuss what kind of counteraction you think the administration should be considering in order to provide a deterrent for further meddling on Election Day?
MICHAEL MORELL: Matt, want to go first on the attribution piece?
MATT OLSEN: Sure, so David, and this is a challenge for the government and the fundamental issue when it comes to attributions is, in providing additional detail, is the imperative to protect sensitive sources and methods, and particularly, when it comes to cyber attacks, much of the information — speaking generically — much of the information comes from intelligence community sources of collection that are really important to project going forward. And that’s been the challenge when it comes to attributions. What I can say, and this echoes other important points that Jamie and Michael made, that when the government makes a statement, with the degree includes certainty that Director Clapper and Secretary Johnson made on this, the evidence in my experience is compelling and leaves no room for doubt.
When they made a statement like this, it is conclusive. I understand the challenge that you have in not being able to look at the underlying information. But as I think you understand, the challenge is to provide that level of information would compromise the sources.
MICHAEL MORELL: And David, on what we should do about it, I’m on the record with you. Everybody can go read your article, my views haven’t changed on that. There has to be a proportional response, and given the significance of attack that response has to be significant. But we don’t need to go into details of that, it’s in your most recent article.
DAVID BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Jim Sciutto, you have a question?
JIM SCIUTTO: Yes, Jamie, Michael, and Matt, thank you very much for doing the call, very helpful. Two questions, to Michael, if I can, you said that it’s clear that WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 are working with the Russians on this. We had some recording out last night saying there has now been evidence of that. I wonder if you can, and I know of course of people talk to these stories, but can you give any more details about what leads you to believe that WikiLeaks is working with the Russians on these releases? And then, my second question, would be on the question of revealing sources and methods or any indication of them as to why you have confidence, why the IC has confidence that Russia’s behind this. I mean, there was precedent here on China when you were able to name and shame Chinese individuals in the buildings outside of Shanghai. That much would similarly risked revealing sources and methods, so my question would be, if you do it then, why not now?
MICHAEL MORELL: So on the first, I’ll take the first one, and then maybe Matt can take the second. On the first one, two things lead me to the conclusion that the Russians are using WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 here as their agent in this information operation as we would call it. One is that the DNI and the secretary of homeland security said exactly that in what they put out the other day. I mean, they couldn’t have been clearer that they believe that WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 are being used by the Russians, and then the second is, I’m not going to put sources or methods at risk here, but the second is, is there’s a history here. It’s completely consistent with Russian behavior in the past, completely consistent with Russian actions in the past, with regard to how they do information operations, so I’ll leave it to that.
MATT OLSEN: So, Jim, this is Matt. on the second question, why in one case but not in the other? I don’t have any particular insights on the facts underlying this case without being present when the decisions that have been made, but in the past, each case is different, and we look at each case on a case-by-case — each case individually. In some instances — and it’s a very difficult decision — I can say, to go forward, with a criminal prosecution because typically, that does mean that the government will be disclosing that information, whether before or sometime during the process of that case and the prosecution itself. So that decision, in the case of the Chinese PLA criminal defendants, that decision was made that it was in our interest and we were able to disclose that 00 those sources of information without doing significant damage to, on intelligence collection. And each case is different, as you know with the North Korea hack on Sony, there was a definitive statement made by the government about North Korea’s responsibility but not a significant amount of information revealed there, as here, about how the government arrived at that conclusion.
DAVID BLUMENTHAL: Thanks everyone, and we’ll take our last question from Alex Seitz-Wald from MSNBC.
ALEX SEITZ-WALD: Hey guys, thanks so much for doing this call. I appreciate it. I’m just wondering if you have any reason to believe that there is more coming out or there have been other vulnerabilities in the Clinton campaign or other campaigns or other political groups, and if we should be expecting more between now and Election Day.
MICHAEL MORELL: So it’s Michael. My view is that Putin is all in on trying to interfere in the election and trying to affect the outcome in a particular way. And he will put as much information out that he has. I think that anything WikiLeaks gets its hands on, they will put out. They’re not going to hold back so it’s really in the hands of the Russians, and I really believe anything they have, they’ll put out. So we may see more, if they have more. We may not see more if they don’t have more, but if they’ve got it, they’ll put it out.
JAMES RUBIN: This is Jamie–
MICHAEL MORELL: –the other thing I would say here is pointing to something in the DNI’s and the note that came out on Friday was, this is not a rouge operation by Russian intelligence. This is not something they cooked up on their own, this goes to the highest level of the Russian government. The DNI said that, and more importantly, the way that Putin manages his intelligence services is hands-on. He is a micro-manager of this intelligence services so I am 100 percent confidence that he is aware of all of this, he approved it, he is directed it. This is Putin, and at the end of the day, this is not some bureaucratic part of the Russian government, this is the Russian president.
JAMES RUBIN: This is Jamie. Just to point, just to add on to that point, President Putin’s comments yesterday, he pretty much opened his cards and put his cards on the table when he said, “It doesn’t matter how this information got there, what matters and what people should focus on is what’s in the leaks, what’s in the documents.” And saying it that way, from the top of the Russian government, it’s pretty clear that is his goal. And I think that again, you heard two professionals in this business for a long time, and as I’ve said, I follow this stuff for a long time too, US-Russia relationships — for a candidate for president of the United States to not see this at a threat, a threat, to not condemn them is in and of itself disqualifying for the role of Commander in Chief of the United States.