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Politics & Government

The Congressional Role In Russian Interference

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over the course of the week, you've heard a number of Democrats, especially national security figures who served in Democratic administrations, expressing alarm about the Trump-Putin summit. But they were not the only ones. Congressman Will Hurd is a Republican who represents Texas's 23rd District. He's on the line now from Colorado. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a former undercover officer in the Central Intelligence Agency - the CIA. In fact, he's the only former undercover operative currently serving in Congress.

Congressman Hurd, thanks so much for being with us.

WILL HURD: Always a pleasure to talk to you on these important issues.

MARTIN: So, as we just mentioned, you're a former CIA officer. You wrote in a strongly worded New York Times op-ed this past week that you believe that President Trump is being manipulated by Russian intelligence. What makes you so concerned - or convinced, rather - that the president is being manipulated?

HURD: My concern is that Vladimir Putin is a worthy adversary when it comes to disinformation, and he's been perfecting this basically his entire adult life. And this is a tool of statecraft that the Russians have been using. And so, having Vladimir Putin stand up spouting, you know, ridiculous stuff about Ukraine, stuff about Iran, you know, comments about Israel and that the leader of the free world, the U.S. president, was standing next to him nodding - those are things that are going to be propagated throughout the world and that Vladimir Putin is going to use.

Now, Vladimir Putin is claiming that what's happening in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea is a separatist movement, that the Russians are supporting ethnic Russians in those regions. It's not a separatist movement. Russian tanks and the Russian military invaded a sovereign country. And so if Vladimir Putin wants to resolve the issue in Ukraine, he can take his troops and his tanks and leave. But he claimed that the Ukrainians need to be a little bit more reasonable at the negotiating table.

And he said that when the biggest supporter of Ukraine, the United States of America, was standing right there, that's the kind of message that is being sent around the world, and our allies are going to question whether we indeed ultimately have their back.

MARTIN: On another critical issue, the whole question of the cyberattacks in your op-ed, you note the recent warning by the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that, quote, "the warning lights are blinking red." Can you elaborate on that? Can you tell us any more about that?

HURD: Well, yes. The Russians have not stopped their attempts to infiltrate various pieces of critical infrastructure. And critical infrastructure is pretty broad. That's telecommunications, that's utilities, that's energy companies, that's election infrastructure.

You know, I represent South and West Texas. I have the Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin. These are two large oil and natural gas plays. And we know that the Russians are trying to hack into energy companies, understand what they're doing, what their future plans are because the Russians are deathly afraid of U.S. energy dominance in the rest of the world, and that is ultimately impacting our livelihoods. And why do folks in my district care about Russia? Because they know the attempts that they're trying to make.

MARTIN: You know, you write that Americans have, quote, "forgotten that Russia is our adversary, not our ally." A poll by Axios and SurveyMonkey which was done after the Helsinki summit found that 85 percent of Republicans see allegations of Russian interference as a distraction. Why is that?

HURD: The short answer is, I don't know. But the longer answer is to try to understand the geopolitical threat of Russia. And my understanding of this topic comes from, you know, nine and a half years as an undercover officer. And what has kept Vladimir Putin at bay - one of the most important instances of that is NATO. And we forget why Naito was important. We do not remember a Europe that was fractured and at war. There has never...

MARTIN: Excuse me - excuse me, you keep saying we forget these things. I think some people would say it's the president who has forgotten these things, that a lot of other people remember these things. It is the president, who's a member of your party, who has forgotten these things. And the question is, why is that?

HURD: Again, I don't know. You'd have to ask him that question. And - but if you did a poll and ask, you know, people, why is NATO important, are they going to be able to articulate it, right, and articulate the reason why? And whether or not, you know, who knows or who doesn't, it is the responsibility of everyone in all branches of government to support institutions like NATO, support our allies. And so that's why I spend my time and energy and effort trying to talk about these issues. Because, guess what? I have direct experience in these. And this is the kind of perspective I'm trying to bring.

MARTIN: That's Congressman William Hurd of Texas. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HURD: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.