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Sen. James Lankford Reacts To Justice Department Charges Against Russian Cyberspies


President Trump sipped tea with the queen this afternoon at Windsor Castle. Even as the president and the first lady traded pleasantries with Britain's longest-reigning monarch, a very different story involving the administration was unfolding back in Washington.


ROD ROSENSTEIN: Indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

CHANG: That was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announcing more indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The 12 Russian intelligence officers are accused of carrying out sustained attacks on the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign and numerous state election systems. The charges include aggravated identity theft, also conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.

We're going to bring in Senator James Lankford now, a Republican from Oklahoma who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He joins me now. Welcome.

JAMES LANKFORD: Thank you very much.

CHANG: So some Senate Democrats as well as Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona are calling on President Trump to cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin in light of this indictment. Do you agree that that's appropriate here, that the meeting should be canceled?

LANKFORD: No, I don't agree actually. There are a lot of big issues that we should address.

CHANG: Do you think that this indictment will change the tenor of the meeting? Would it give the president more leverage? What do you think?

LANKFORD: I would hope it does give him more leverage because he can walk in and say our Justice Department has this clear evidence. Quite frankly, for those of us in the intelligence committee, we've looked at this evidence for a long time now and have seen it very, very clearly, what is there and very aware of what the Russians were attempting to do and how they were engaged and how methodical they were in the process.

CHANG: Do you trust the president, though, to use that leverage? I mean, this is going to be a one-on-one private meeting. There will be no witnesses to confirm what was said, what was agreed to, how it was expressed. Does it concern you that no one will really know what was said except those two men?

LANKFORD: Yeah, know no one will really know, but quite frankly, he's the president of the United States. He's the only one that can make those statements. My job is to be able to say, this is the evidence that you have; make sure that you're using that. Robert Mueller I think has given the president a gift to be able to walk in to this summit to say, here is something that's essential to be able to bring up with the Russians. And I would hope that he would.

CHANG: Should there be consequences for Russia that go beyond these indictments that have been coming down?

LANKFORD: Oh, absolutely there should be.

CHANG: Like what?

LANKFORD: If you go back to earlier this year when Mueller did the indictments on the Internet Research Agency and the Russians that were doing the social media work, American sanctions came down pretty quickly announced by the Trump administration on those individuals - the Internet Research Agency, on the entity itself, on the oligarchs that were actually supporting it financially. So we did pretty rapid sanctions there.

CHANG: Do you want to expand sanctions?

LANKFORD: I think we absolutely should expand sanctions. I would hope that this administration would do that. And I would hope they would continue to press what they have done so far already on this trip - to be able to press Germany not to form an energy alliance with Russia and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. All of Europe is telling Germany, don't do it. We don't want to be dependent on Russia for energy. The president's been pretty vocal on that to Germany to say, this does nothing but help Russia. If the president can talk Germany out of doing that, that's an enormous hit on Russia's economy in the days ahead to not be able to sell that much gas.

CHANG: I want to turn now to election security. Today's indictment put that into real focus. It alleges that Russian military intelligence targeted state election systems and stole information from about 500,000 American voters during the 2016 election cycle. How can we ensure that the midterm elections won't turn into a similar debacle? Can we ensure that the midterms are going to be secure?

LANKFORD: We can, actually.

CHANG: We can?

LANKFORD: This is an area that we've worked on for months already. Myself and Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris have a bipartisan bill called the Election Securities Act. That bill itself already had multiple hearings. In fact, it had another hearing this last week in the rules committee to be able to try to get that to the floor and get that done. We added $380 million to the states to be able to update their election equipment earlier this year. That money is already going out the door to the states to be able to increase their own security. Elections are a state responsibility. They're not federal responsibility. Constitutionally, that applies to the states.

CHANG: But you're saying that you would be surprised if there was any hacking reported.

LANKFORD: Oh, no, I wouldn't be surprised. I would be surprised if there wasn't hacking reported the next time. What the Russians have done this time, I would assume either the Russians will try again or the North Koreans or the Iranians or some domestic activist group will try to do it. What - the Russians set a model of here's how it could be done, and I'd be shocked if someone doesn't try it again. Our main thing is not to prevent that no one will ever attack us. It's to be able to respond quickly when they do and to be able to shut it down and isolate it.

CHANG: All right, that's Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Thank you very much for joining us.

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