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Sen. Rand Paul Pushes For Probe Into Russia's Election Hacking


Nominations for top jobs at the State Department go through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and one of its members is Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. We had a broad conversation with him. We began with the CIA finding that Russia tried to tip the presidential election to Donald Trump. Trump has dismissed that finding, but some Republicans, including Paul, want an investigation. Though Senator Paul says even without the Russians, Trump would have won.

RAND PAUL: I can tell you in my state of Kentucky, 70 percent of eastern Kentucky voted for Donald Trump not because the Russians told them to but because they were upset with the war on coal regulations coming from President Obama and from Hillary Clinton. So we voted our own self-interests. We - it had nothing to do with Russians. And so I think it'd be a mistake to blame the election on the Russians. But at the same time, I think any kind of threat of cyberterrorism we ought to take seriously.

GREENE: So just to be very clear here, I mean, you're suggesting some might be politicizing this and suggesting Donald Trump was elected because of this. That aside, you do believe the CIA's assertion that Russia was trying to influence the outcome of this election.

PAUL: I have actually no evidence other than what I see on the news. I have no extraordinary information that I've gotten through any kind of briefing to say that the Russians did anything. You know, what I've read in the press is that they say there might be Russian fingerprints on this. So, yeah, we should investigate it is all I'm saying.

GREENE: Your colleague John McCain, Republican from Arizona, suggested that if what the CIA is saying is true that this was an act of warfare from Russia. You agree with that?

PAUL: You know, I think that's a little bit oversimplified, to tell you the truth. Foreign countries are always trying to hack into each other, and I'm assuming that we do some of the same. So I don't know that it's extraordinary that Russia might be trying to do this. The reason I think we should investigate it is so we can protect our national security interests. And, you know, some of this should be a warning just to individuals. Apparently, the Hillary Clinton campaign was very sloppy with this. They, you know, one of their - I think their campaign manager sent a password via email, and, you know, every high school student is told not to do things like that, not to...

GREENE: Are you suggesting that the Clinton campaign somehow invited this Russian hack?

PAUL: No. I'm saying that it was sloppy work, and we all need to learn from people who - you know, you're not supposed to send your password by email. So you cause yourself to be vulnerable to anybody, whether it's Russia, China or thieves.

GREENE: You were a candidate in this election in the Republican primary. Do you know if Russia hacked into your systems?


GREENE: They didn't or you don't know the answer to the question?

PAUL: No, nobody's ever made that insinuation, so that's the first I've ever heard anybody ask about. But no, I have no evidence that anybody's ever hacked into my email or anything with our campaign.

GREENE: You've had some pretty tough language over the course of the last few days about John Bolton, who has been talked about as being nominated by Donald Trump for a top job in the State Department. He was George W. Bush's U.N. ambassador. You've said that you will block his nomination in committee. Why are you firmly against him?

PAUL: Well, he's part of promoting the false data that there were WMDs in Iraq. He was a big promoter of the Iraq War but continues to be an apologist for it. So he hasn't learned any of the lessons in the last 15 years. He was a promoter of regime change in Libya, which actually made us less safe, and he's been in favor of regime change in Syria as well. He's not only for regime change in Iran; he actually advocates Israel using nuclear weapons on Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. So no, I think he's way outside the mainstream and really has a naive understanding of the world. I think he's a real danger to the world. So I will be a no vote for him for any position in the State Department.

GREENE: Which we should say on a very tightly - tight committee with almost as many Democrats as Republicans. I mean, you could effectively block his nomination from reaching the floor. I mean, I wonder, you know, as a Republican, you're not alone in wanting the Russian hack investigated. You're not alone in raising some concerns about Trump's potential nominees. President Obama was seen by your party as going beyond his executive authority. Is this a sign that your party is ready to do the same, to try and limit Donald Trump?

PAUL: Well, many of us do believe in the separation of powers. One of my chief complaints up here for any president has been that our founding fathers were very clear that war is not initiated or declared without the authority of Congress. And we still haven't declared war on the Middle East, and they're using the 9/11 proclamation on getting those who attacked us on 9/11, which it's ridiculous to say that has anything to do with what we're doing in the Middle East now.

So yes, I'll continue to advocate for Congress asserting its role, for not letting the president run amok through executive order. Domestically, most of that has been an overreach by President Obama, though, instituting regulations that could have never gotten through Congress. And I am confident that I think in the first hundred days we'll get dozens and dozens, hopefully, of onerous job-killing regulations removed.

GREENE: What's one regulation that would give people an idea of what you're talking about, a single regulation that you can really point to and you think limits jobs?

PAUL: There's a regulation called Waters of the U.S. There was a cattle rancher, Andy Johnson, out in Fort Bridger, Wyo. He was fined $37,000 a day for building a cattle pond that he had a local permit for. You should not have to get a federal permit to build a cattle pond. This is the kind of thing that has kind of run amok in our country is the federal government trying to regulate individual local issues like land use.

GREENE: Do you see the other side of that an effort to protect the environment? I mean, is there some middle ground you might be able to find when some of these debates happen?

PAUL: Yeah. I don't think cattle ponds are really hurting the environment any. And I don't think that people who live in Hollywood care that much about, you know, a cattle pond in Kentucky. I think we care more about it. And you won't find anybody who lives in the mountains of Kentucky that isn't worried about the environment and worried about clean water. They also realize that regulations have to be balanced with the economy, that if you lived in a perfect society and there was no emissions from cars, there'd be no cars. If there were no emissions from power plants, there'd be no power plants.

So it is a trade-off in finding a balancing act. And the pendulum has swung too far such that it's damaged our economy and our way of life in Kentucky. And so we are kind of tired of people who don't live in Kentucky telling us what to do, and we think that our local environmental protection in Kentucky can do a much better job than anybody out of Washington.

GREENE: All right. We'll leave it there. Senator Paul, thanks as always, nice talking to you.

PAUL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.