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Politics & Government

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt Responds To Intelligence Testimony On Russia Report

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri is on the intelligence panel. He was at today's hearing. He joins me now. Welcome to the program.

ROY BLUNT: Hey, Audie. Nice to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, as we heard earlier, intelligence officials said that there were attempts to hack Republican organizations, but as many pointed out, Republicans have pointed out, Democrats' security became a problem. So does the fact that Democrats had, as you've described, weak security negate the concern of Russian interference? I mean should it be taken less seriously to your mind because Democrats bore the worst of it?

BLUNT: Well, I think it's pretty hard, actually, to come up with motivations or even in an unclassified setting to explain what we think the Russian motivations are. I think interestingly also, Director Clapper mentioned that there were probably two dozen other previous elections that we think around the world the Russians have interfered in.

So I don't know why we weren't doing a better job of alerting people to the possibility here of interference. I think interference is totally unacceptable. But at the same time pretty predictable. We should do everything we can to not tolerate that kind of interference in the election system or the federal personnel system or the daily financial structure system of the country.

And this is another time that calls attention to how short our efforts appear to be in really protecting all of these critical infrastructure systems in ways that people would hope they would be protected but...

CORNISH: As we heard...

BLUNT: ...Draws attention to it, and maybe that gets us back to where we're going to talk about data breach standards and other things that I've been trying to get done for years in the Congress now.

CORNISH: And to that point, we heard in today's hearings Senator Marco Rubio and others talking about the danger of more hacks. Would you support additional action by Congress like a cyber bill strengthening defenses in the U.S.? I know one example is, for instance, having Secret Service cyber protection for campaign operations, not just for candidates.

BLUNT: Well, I think cyber security generally is a problem and a problem that could on any given day go well beyond politics. You know, our critical infrastructure isn't as secure as it should be. We daily lose money through the financial system to hackers around the world.

We believe, you know, and have for a long time publicly believed that China got into the federal - the data system with thousands of information about thousands of federal employees, even got into the highest level of background checking. And that's a very...

CORNISH: Right.

BLUNT: ...In-depth structure where unlike the voter registration system that there appears to be some effort to have tried to tap into, there's really not much there that's not publicly available and...

CORNISH: So more congressional action to you makes sense, or...

BLUNT: It does. It does and has for a long time. And Senator Carper and I have had a data breach standard that we'd like to set for protecting financial information. We continue to run up against obstacles in getting that bipartisan piece of legislation done.

CORNISH: Now...

BLUNT: So maybe the one thing the Russians have accomplished here is once again growing a broader sense of concern about why we don't protect these systems better. But you know, remember the - largely the leaked information after, say, mid-August was the John Podesta personal email structure where I think his password for access to his information was password1.

CORNISH: Right. That's been discredited because Google doesn't allow the word password to be used as a password. But in the meantime...

BLUNT: Well, it had two different letters used differently in it.

CORNISH: Right.

BLUNT: And I think...

CORNISH: Senator, unfortunately...

BLUNT: ...It may have been discredited, widely reported that was his - what his password was.

CORNISH: Right. We are at the end of our time, and I am sorry to cut you off. That's Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. Thank you for speaking with us.

BLUNT: Hey, Audie, great to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.