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Democratic Sen. Mark Warner Discusses Election Laws And Interference


We're going to bring in Virginia Senator Mark Warner now. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: I want to talk to you about the response to the president's comments. In the House, you had Andy Levin - he's a Democrat from Michigan - saying, look; as a lawyer, someone smack-talking about what they might do in the future - I don't think it's an impeachable offense. It's kind of a no-big-deal response. How did you think about all this?

WARNER: I thought even in the world of Trump, this is outrageous. We all take an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. In 2016, it's been documented by every one of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia massively interfered in our elections with the attempt to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Virtually every member regardless of party said, we need to make sure that doesn't happen again in 2020.

Trump in 2016 - he may have been a naive candidate then, but he welcomed Russia. If they've got dirt on Clinton, lay it out. Well, you would have thought after 2 1/2 years in office he would have learned that that's not appropriate behavior. That is - you know, if this man has so little moral center that he doesn't understand taking help from a foreign government is wrong, then we need to put in place a law that would say if a foreign government tries to intervene in the election, in a presidential campaign, the campaign as an affirmative obligation to report that to the FBI.

CORNISH: And as we've been hearing, the laws surrounding accepting information or money from foreign powers - they're murky and weak and, many argue, poorly written and unenforceable. So what would you do differently? Would you create something that is enforceable?

WARNER: They are murky. They are weak. So I'm not trying to get to what the right penalty ought to be or even who ought to be exactly the right agent of jurisdiction. What my...

CORNISH: But isn't that important? I mean, essentially there is already a law against taking information, right? So but here we are having the conversation.

WARNER: Well, that's why I'm saying there may be ways to improve the law so it's not just reporting to the Federal Elections Commission. But that is a separate question from the obligation that says if a foreign power tries to intervene in our elections, at least tell law enforcement; at least tell the FBI. That's kind of a no-brainer. Now, Donald Trump may not agree with that. And consequently, if we need a law to make sure there is no gray area here, my hope would be that there would be a bipartisan agreement because...

CORNISH: Do you have any indication that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, would have any interest in this?

WARNER: Well, you know, there's been lots of concern voiced by a lot of my Republican partners that they know our election system is not safe in 2020. And I think the least we should do is put this law in place that would say, you've got to report to the FBI if we've got foreign agents intervening. Secondly, let's pass an election security law to make sure there's a paper trail after every vote so people have belief in the integrity of their vote. And third, let's go ahead and put some guardrails around some of these social media companies so you cannot use deepfake technology or create fake personas the way the Russians did on Facebook in 2016.

CORNISH: What does all this mean for 2020? Do you think all of this conversation is going to be meaningful to candidates going forward?

WARNER: Well, I hope all candidates would be on guard. The director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, has said the Russians or others will be back. And clearly the security of our elections is not a priority for Mr. Trump if he's willing to go on national media as he did yesterday and say he would welcome at least reviewing information from places like Russia and China.

CORNISH: That's Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Thank you for speaking with us.

WARNER: Thank you, Audie.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In a conversation with Sen. Mark Warner, we quoted Rep. Andy Levin incompletely from a newspaper report. While the congressman said he did not think that President Trump's comments were impeachable, he did say he found them "disqualifying."] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a conversation with Sen. Mark Warner, we quoted Rep. Andy Levin incompletely from a newspaper report. While the congressman said he did not think that President Trump's comments were impeachable, he did say he found them "disqualifying."