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Sen. Risch Says Trump Administration Will Be 'Much Stronger' On Russia


Donald Trump has had more than a few choice words for members of the intelligence community, so there is undoubtedly going to be a lot of pressure on his next director of the CIA to try to repair that relationship. He has tapped Congressman Mike Pompeo for the job, and Pompeo had his confirmation hearing yesterday. Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho, was at that hearing, he's a member of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence.

Senator, thank you so much for talking with us.

JIM RISCH: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Congressman Pompeo appears to share the same adversarial view of Russia as the U.S. intelligence community, which is different than what Donald Trump has characterized it as. They clearly disagree, where do you stand? Do you see Russia as a threat?

RISCH: I would say this. Knowing the president-elect and Mike Pompeo and for that matter the new secretary of state, I hope that the Russians get to know them. When he does - when Putin does, he is going to understand that he is not dealing with Barack Obama. He's dealing with a person that is much stronger, and in that part of the world strength is greatly respected. I suspect that that is going to cause some change in the relationship between the United States and Russia.

MARTIN: Congressman Pompeo said he accepts the U.S. intelligence report on Russian hacking and Russia's responsibility in that, do you?


MARTIN: Do you think the United States has done enough to secure the country from similar cyberattacks moving forward?

RISCH: Well, you know, the question, have you done enough? The question is can you ever do enough? All this upheaval that's come over this Russian infiltration with the Democratic Party, this is ubiquitous. I mean, as we're having this conversation, there are thousands of people sitting at computers attempting to enter United States entities. These are people from all over the world, from all different countries attempting to enter each other's portals and that's going to continue. And your best defense against that is creating a defensive posture in cyberspace.

MARTIN: Do you think there should be more repercussions for Russia? Do you think that Donald Trump should impose more sanctions once he comes into office?

RISCH: Well, one has to be very careful about this. I thought James Clapper, who's head of the DNI right now, was...

MARTIN: The director of national intelligence, yeah.

RISCH: Excuse me, yeah. If countries are going to start disciplining other countries for espionage, this is a huge change from the way things have been done in the past and going to cause some real upheaval because everybody is engaged in espionage, as James Clapper said...

MARTIN: Does not mean you think there should not have been repercussions?

RISCH: No, I didn't say that at all. I think that there are going to be repercussions and a lot of them are - obviously I can't talk about in an open setting like this.

MARTIN: Just this week, Donald Trump suggested that the intelligence community might have itself leaked these unverified documents suggesting that Russia had compromising information on him. Do you think it's a problem that the president-elect appears not to trust his own intelligence community?

RISCH: It isn't his intelligence community. On January 20 at noon it will be, and I think there's going to be some changes. You had a mixture of the political system here in America and the intelligence community, that is not a good mixture. When that happens, political matters are handled entirely differently than intelligence matters are. And when you start mixing them and particularly when part of it's in a public setting, part of it's in a classified setting, it becomes very difficult.

MARTIN: Are you indicating that on January 20 when Donald Trump becomes president and he gets his own person inside the intelligence community that somehow he would then own it and would be less likely to criticize it?

RISCH: I wouldn't use the word owned, but certainly it will be part of his administration and he will be responsible for it. And his designee - Mike Pompeo, who I have great confidence in - will be responsible for it, and I think things are going to change.

MARTIN: During the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, a couple of different senators brought up enhanced interrogations. This of course was the highly controversial program that the CIA engaged in that included waterboarding. Donald Trump has said in the past that waterboarding could be something intelligence agencies could use as one of their tools. Are you concerned about the president-elect's position on torture?

RISCH: Well, I suspect that he's going to be operating when you get into these very sensitive areas - and the president has to deal with it on a regular basis. And we have a long history of consultation with legal counsel on how these things are carried out. I have every confidence that the president-elect will follow the same route, and he's not going to be going off on his own and ordering the kinds of things that are prohibited by U.S. law.

MARTIN: Do you think that Mike Pompeo will have the next president's ear? I mean, it came up in the hearing.

RISCH: He already has.

MARTIN: You trust that he would stand up to the president-elect if he wanted to bring those techniques back?

RISCH: OK, now, when you talk about standing up to the president, he works for the president. He works at the direction of the president. I know Mike Pompeo very well. If he's told to do something illegal by the president of the United States, he would resign, and I think that would be true with most people.

MARTIN: Sen. Jim Risch, Republican from Idaho, thank you so much for talking with us.

RISCH: Nice to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.