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tv   After Words David Corn Michael Isikoff Russian Roulette  CSPAN  April 16, 2018 12:00am-1:01am EDT

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>> david and michael isikoff authors of the book russian roulette thank you for being here. how did you come up with the
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title? >> guest: you're asking the right person. my daughter said russian roulette with a. she negotiated with me on terms. >> host: everyone that reads the book will have their own answers to the questions, so let me ask you. russian roulette is about? is abousaid that help russia ind in a much more sophisticated way
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can anybody realized at the time and the impact it had itself. >> and a part of the back story that led up to that point. it was to wage information warfare on the western liberal democracies to undermine the democracy in the west. >> you came up with something and said i wish i had just read the book but it was very readable.
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the start of the book is the pageant in moscow. >> the moment the story comes together you have donald trump in moscow and secondarily, a part of that is to meet vladimir putin for the relationship. >> because you are describing him on a quest at this point. >> he was obsessed with getting a meeting.
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after the pageant itself he's asking everybody around him have we heard from putin yet and he was obsessed with meeting with putin. why? this is one of the big mysteries throughout the book. he would aspire to the way putin runs the country but in order to get the trump tower bill
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>> getting it passed in moscow you are right for 30 years he had been trying to get a project in moscow and it didn't happen and with ms. universe he hooked up with a russian oligarchs. >> part of it is force and how the british talent manager who is a bit of a character and a pop singer.
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his day job as being the son of an oligarch but he wants to be a pop singer said they are trying to figure out how to do this and hook up with the content that is owned by donald trump at the time and they basically say you can bring the pageant to moscow. they managed to negotiate this deal so the plaintiffs we talkea moment ago about how to build the tower but to do anything
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they had an oligarch he starts sending out immediately will putin be my next bsf and there isn't that much of a question he has come back to power a >> there are human rights abuses and disciplines murdered in that regime. he passed a law making it illegal to talk about rights. this is a few months before the annexation of crimea. all he cares about is whether he
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can get a business deal and it's an entertaining introduction to the world of donald trump and vladimir putin and how they interacted one thing people don't appreciate when they are looking for a motive behind the story trump signed a deal or a letter of intent was signed behind the organization. that's the closest he's gotten. it was a formalized arrangement to do it and donald trump junior is put in charge of the project. to scout potential sites what is happening in february of 2014
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cnx is crimea and the european union respond with sanctions including against a russian majority owned bank that was going to finance the project and the deal collapses. in the book he believes that is what killed the deal is the imposition of sanctions so if you are looking for an explanation why he wasn't just some of the two putin but hostile to the idea of sanctions it killed his deal and it's an important insight to understand and appreciate everything that comes after. >> one of the circles was rob goldstone who worked on michael
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jackson's bad. but he was in the pr and as a ha hand in the book donald trump tells him something about his future plans but is instrumental for what comes later. >> we talk about how well he was in moscow he was obsessed with meeting putin and he was only there for a limited amount of time. one reason he wasn't as bi becae the night before he flew in he attended a celebration of billy graham's 95th birthday of franklin graham who is of the leaders of the religious right these days who also had been a further like donald trump and i don't know if that is the bonding they engaged in but
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anyway got to moscow a day or so later than expected and while he was there he explained to rob goldstone that attending diagram event was something he had to do because of his future plans. >> he is quoted as saying there is something i'm planning down the road and it's important attending this event was important so are you saying basically at that point he was planning to run for president? >> he was certainly thinking about it. we know he talked a lot about running. there's another sort of after story epilogue to this which is even after the deal collapses, goldstone goes to see him in
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trump tower and i talk about it is the first trump tower meeting nobody knew about until the book came out a. and he says maybe next time you will be singing to the white house sees telegraphing his plans to end also just another point on the significance of this is in the intelligence committee and in the press we spent a lot of time on a meeting but who are the people that set it up? the e-mails are pretty clear the cast of characters that are run through the story. >> take us through that first
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meeting in january 15 is sharing his eye is where the notion he might run for president. what do you think he possibly did, told his dad who is tied into putin and power structure of moscow so it's kind of like an early signal to the russians trump is considering running and then it's 15 months or so later the second meeting happened and the author of dirt is presented to the top of campaign and basically says the attorney general has information he wants to pass to the campaign so you have high levels of the government probably first being
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informed of this and then why abouwhyabout the time he's would the time he's securing the nomination now signaling to the trump campaign we want to help you if we wanted to secretly, and it's coming through a channel he trusts, his former business partner with whom he made billions of dollars on ms. universe so it's not just coming out of the blue, these are basically his people in moscow so that's one of the reasons they took it so seriously seriously >> the book is full of great vignettes that give you a sense of his mind so going back to
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that meeting when they walk into his office he's listening to a rap song about himself and they try to explain to him the words don't make you look good and he says who cares it has 50 million hits on youtube, it's the marketing. the talking measures success. >> of the idea that any press is good press. >> people talking about him is what he cares the most. >> as he was contemplating running for president and used her to have these oligarchs and others around him but at the same debate consensynchrony wasy are becoming more aggressive in terms of active measures. >> that's an old cold war term.
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was information warfare, planting disinformation for the purpose of exploiting political divisions in the country, how the cia was behind the aids virus or using the developed biological weapons in vietnam. there was a long history of this that kind of died down after the soviesoviet union but was revivy his top people during this period and one of the most important parts of the book is revealed how the u.s. government had a source inside the kremlin during the period when all of this is developing who is providing insights into what's going on in his court including
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the contempt for which the top people viewed obama and his white house in crude racist terms but the most significant insight was about the plan for information of warfare against the west, cyber attacks, disinformation, developing relationships and friends in the red wings in right-wing xenophod this is all laid out from the u.s. to washington and one of the sad parts of the story is that it didn't get the attention it should have. >> you talk about an article that didn't get much broad
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attention to the. february 2013 the chief of staff of russian armed forces published an article in a journal advocating russia adopted its military strategies to the modern world at peace received little attention in the security establishment but after they published a translation u.s. officials took notice he was a leader proposing a new doctrine that could shape how russia would engage and do battle with the united states what was he proposing? >> he was voting the future of the war wouldn't be battalions were fighter jets.
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you could wage the war from a distance he's talking about the information warfare campaign and cyber attacks which could be on infrastructure and to me what is most chilling about what he's describing and it became known as the doctrine is how he talks about the of exploiting the population of torso that means the divisions and political conflicts and troubles of your enemy and if you look at what happened in the facebook social media campaign and what they did in terms of packing the e-mails those moves were all designed to fuel and increase the intensity
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of. they target gun safety and tried to turn against the party and make that more difficult for the party overall so he kind of nailed it. even if the data point to this source and we write about a story in the spring of 2016 it was a military intelligence officer intercepted saying we have a plan for revenge against hillary clinton and a reporter for "the new york times" writing in june of 2014 about the research agency in st. petersburg and he goes on a
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podcast saying they are out there supporting donald trump so they peddle these points together and i know it's easy to look back in hindsight but there were strong indications they were aiming for this intimate recordings be covered they had no clue they had put all this together and told president obama, the national security staff something big is afoot. but the initial reaction was one of this has been done before and there was something different about this approach similar to
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what north korea did to sony. what was tha it that was differ? >> cyber attacks have become a hallmark of the era including political cyber attacks. remember in 2008 the chinese get into the computer systems of both obama and mccain campaign those political cyber espionage they were trying to get insight into who was going to be the next security advisor, what would they likely do this is what intelligencwith intelligene supposed to do and that's what the nsa does routinely, trying to understand the adversary and how its government works but what was different here is that
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this wasn't just espionage this was a version of warfare because what the russians did after getting into the e-mails that gave them access to the entire communications of the campaign is that they were using it for a fact. the critical moment comes in on the eve of the democratic convention when it starts to dump the entire e-mails that have been collected by the russian intelligence services and cause cause this mass disru. what happens in the early days of the convention you remember the chair has to resign, talk staff has to be signed, the clinton and sanders campaigns are angry at each other's throats all because of the
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russians were doing which is pretty astonishing moment in politics. in your research and interviews did you get a sense for why now? is it because of the advent of social media, why in this period? >> that's a good question and its two components. mike about how we have the return of active measures and i think that is generated by the increasing adversarial position to the west. we've traced this back a little bit in the book he sort of reasserts his control of the government after the middle of the arab spring in the united states has launched a military intervention with allies and he's beginning to think it looks like they are instituting a
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regime change i may be susceptible. he thinks he could be next and at the end of the year there are legislative elections in russia and his party wins no surprise that they don't win by as big of a margin and that counts as massive fraud in favor of his party and there are demonstrations, tens of thousands of russians coming out. hillary clinton comes out and basically criticizes the election and putin immediately blames her for instigating. so the u.s. covertly trying to overthrow it. one of the interesting things is we talk to people who are high up in the obama white house foreign policy apparatus and
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when you look at the action and criticism of the election in 2013 when they try to get to a new government in ukraine, putin is out there saying this is a plot against me and russia and they thought that was him blowing smoke for domestic political consumption. they didn't believe obama was trying to overthrow him but they came to realize the issue that yes he did come he had a paranoid view of the world about what he wanted to do with russia and did believe he had to fight back against the west and undermine the order that he felt was attacking him. >> said i his mind was a defense action. >> may be going on the offense
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against perceived foes and it's not a great country when it comes to economic might and influence around the world and with social media does is create an asymmetry so we are more wired than they are and that means we are more vulnerable and he sold the development of research before these other means that this was a front they could fight t fight 22 leapfrog. >> you also mentioned early on there is a woman that works at the agency that goes forward and described. >> that was a russian whistleblower that helped expose the research agency.
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there was a woman who saw what was going on a inte and how this propaganda has been put off by social media. by the most charismatic leader murdered in the shadows of the kremlin in 2015 and there were widespread suspicions about what happened. the case has never been resolved but she is ordered to put out that this was a ukrainian hit job and she knows it's nonsense and to her that was i've got to go public with this and she reaches out to a russian reporter an in this as i and tht take this anymore, i work for
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them and they have to expose it. coming back to the signals that was in the russian press and american press and people are astonished. the warning signs were all there. >> one of the things we tried to do in the book but failed is find somebody in the community, fbi, cia that was onto this early. i figured there had to be somebody knocking on doors and saying there's something big here we are not paying enough attention. we have indications that there were some analysts and people who saw the threat of al qaeda more clearly than the clinton and the bush cheney white house so we've got to find this person because to be a great story and
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maybe they are still out there but we failed. what about how he tries to kill his former colleagues but it isn't catching on so i think we used the phrase in the book that it came out of the 9/11 commission they said the biggest was the failure of imagination and in this instance they failed to see this and to tell the people who needed to know. often times we don't appreciate the journalism on in other countries we tend to assume. >> especially where the stakes are high. >> they've given their lives in
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opposition to the state policies and i thought it was fascinating to describe how this woman comes forward and then in the russian press they'd pick it up and run with it. who is the hero in this story? >> [inaudible] it's not congress. it's sad because there are no heroes. there were people who sa thought more clearly than others at the time particularly in the summer of 2016 bit the campaign was trying to call attention as much as they could but they were challenged on the narrative when they tried to make the argument. >> of course because what was driving them was the e-mails getting dumped them are quite unflattering for ever 30 clintod
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her circle, the foundation paid to play, the internal machinations and tensions of failure release of speeches which bernie challenged her he would do it and then who does it, the russians. it was hard for the campaign to make the point to the press that they were the victims because it looked like they were trying to deflect. >> they do see this happening and believe and i think early on it to them proves to be true they are attacking them, they are the target. you say they are waiting anxiously day after day.
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>> after the first dump at the democratic convention they have strong reason to believe the e-mails had been hacked and others so every day of the campaign they are waiting for the next store to dump on them and they try to get other people to take it seriously but for good reason people see it as an act of deflection so giving credit for realizing it's a big story but in a political environment it was very tough by default also to the media because the story was out there from the beginning. i understand why political journalists focused on the content i and the political consequences but most was picked to be this way to pick up
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especially after the white house put out a statement saying it is the russians doing this but it came out on the day a certain video was released. >> it also happened to be on the birthday of vladimir putin. >> and we will get to that part in the second. you seem to give a cold assessment and this book is very much a fact-based account when you're sourcing and research on public information that there isn't much of you on a soapbox here and i propose if you speak about the subject very passionately so how hard was it not to get in there and editorializing the book lacks a
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>> it is first and foremost a book we wanted to tell stories and facts. we have our own perspectives but the power and the strength of it is if lays it out and we are not carrying water for anybody in this book. we give a very cold analysis of the ability to respond and defend moxley tied themselves into figuring out what to do. >> even when there were people saying we have to push back. >> they were worried it would
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look like he was trying to tip the election. >> he didn't want to be perceived as political and there's an element of his own self-image there but most i don't want to be out there and be accused by my toes. and paul ryan and mitch mcconnell. >> be told that story how he tried to come up with a bipartisan response. he thought it was an attack and i don't always like the word meddling even though we use it it was an attack and he was hoping he could get paul ryan and mitch mcconnell to join together in a public statement saying these are happening and we describe in the book paul ryan was somewhat sympathetic to try to get together and mitch
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mcconnell is just an adamant know this is politics. he had his nominee of his party donald trump saying this isn't happening or it's a hoax and he was doing this even after he'd been briefed august 17 as the republican nominee. in the book james clapper comes to us at that briefing he's told all this hacking going on is a russian operation. has no impact at all. they continue for weeks
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afterwards. they say it's a hoax, it's not happening. one thing we do say in the book, a little bit of an editorial is if you look at what he is saying in a way he is aiding and abetting the effort to. if you are in front of a bank and you are tol told there is a robbery going on in the bank and people are walking past few saying there is no robbery people go on about collusion i doubt very much he had a meeting with russian asian and figure out what documents to steal everybody's this is kind of a cooperative arrangement he was
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helping them by making the picture confusing. if you are watching this while the campaign is reaching out to you if i'm running this operation i'm getting a signal he's not unhappy with it. >> i want to ask about that now because the country has been quite were not over the question of collusion with your donald trump or his campaign associates looted or conspired with the russians. if somebody was going to make the case what would it be based on what you found? >> to some degree it's been sort of clouded by the use of the word because it's kind of elastic one can define if the way you want to.
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i agree we found no smoking gun evidence that there was an explicit agreement to work together. i think the aiding and abetting metaphor is a better one to use and a conspiracy to attack the election by the russians and trump and his people aided and abetted it in many different ways and they may not have been acting in coordination but it is kind of strange when you take a step back and look at the various connections people had. leave aside trumped and his interest in doing a business
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deal, start with the campaign chairman when we quote the assistant secretary who was the first victim of the information warfare campaign when she finds out he's the chairman of the russian stooge for 15 years she knew this because he had been a major presence in ukraine as a consultant to the political party and to the pro- russia president and collected millions of dollars and have as the chief assistant who we write about in the book was a known russian intelligence agency in fact we
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just learned in recent days the fbi ss he has ties to the military agency. >> and he ends up sticking a russian oligarchs. that is when we are learning more about as the days go on. he'd been a business partner of a billionaire oligarchs as close to putin as anybody who has been tagged by the fbi because of suspected ties to organized crime. they had a falling out and he was pursuing him for millions of dollars he thought he stiffed him into ukrainian trade deal. he is being hounded by this
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oligarch and he starts e-mailing with his trusted deputy and responds. he tries to limit his position. think about what he's offering it's not just information but also to putin. he would have to expect or assume it's going elsewhere. starting june 15 the day the "washington post" reveals the dnc has been hacked and ride away their news reporting is the russians are behind it so at that point in time from any poinof any kindfrom that point k about getting information to the russianrussians are you are forh the russians were reaching out
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to the russians you are working with or agreeing to help people who there's at least strong evidence if not conclusive yet who are attacking our campaign and our election. so it's not just giving information to a business associate it's information that can go right through to the russian intelligence and to the top. >> all these people i mentioned, michael flynn who flew for the cemetery tenth anniversary sitting next to what amir putin at the dinner and pocketing $45,000, carter page, members of the advisory team go sooner does he get a name he gets invited to speak in moscow and criticizes u.s. policy and has meetings
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with various russian figures and e-mails the campaign saying i've got strong insights to the russian thinking, another foreign policy adviser who then is meeting in london offering dirt on hillary clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails the russians supposedly have so you put all this together and there's quite a bit going on. it's hard to see it as a string of coincidences. as most people will wonder how do you get all these folks with strong russia connections that come into the campaign, do they seek out the campaign or does this then, how does this happen? >> it's a bit of both and part is part of the story is russian intelligence trying to get its
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way -- i think once they become members of the campaign they try to entice them into better relations and it's not that hard a job. the campaign wants not just better relations but they try to create in the case what he calls an off the record communication channel. eventually says he isn't going to do that but continuing on the context he is described as trying to create a backdoor communication with his own
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office so if i'm the russians i'm just saying this is great this 29-year-old guy we are happy to talk to him. >> people forget when the fbi begins its investigation into all of this and july of 2016 the public knows nothing about it at that time and that is the important part. from their perspective they are seeing all this and are not necessarily investigating collusion at that point, they are trying to understand how is it that the russians are making overtures to all these people in the trump campaign they seem to be cultivated relationships with one particular campaign and that is a disturbing thing from a counterintelligence perspective of a foreign government is insinuating itself into the power structure of one of the two political campaigns.
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we talk about this in the end of july shortly after the democratic convention now john glenn in the cia chief has this realization there something big going on it basically puts together a swat team of the nsa and cia to figure out what's going on and about the same time is when the counterintelligence investigation is kicking off. this is after the visit of inactivity for example the top leadership didn't know for the longest time they are the victims and according to your reporting the fbi and the contact thatheycontact them to g very peculiar.
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>> they go to this low-level it guy, call the help desk. [laughter] it gets referred to an outside contractor who is the guy you call when you're havin: you're r e-mail system to get restored or something. >> did you figure out why they did that? >> from their perspective they have a lot of people to have to notify. this didn't leave out as the biggest one on their to-do list. >> and the perspective from
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2008. it didn't leap to the top of the to do list but also the communications were rather pathetic as well. nobody informs and thi if this s on for months. >> they hire a third party that is excellent at what they do that even their advice early on ias to not alert them. >> it's one of the tough dilemma is so as mentioned, the first: september 2015 and it's not until april of 2016 that they figure out what they were alerting them to even though there'd been multiple phone calls and then crawled to strike
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comes in and immediately they say you can't tell anybody or change your behavior because it is going to take us a while to figure out how to figure out the russian hackers. they would burrow in a way to block them out and it takes them six weeks to figure out how to shut down the system and make sure that the russians are gone and this is part of the tragic story in the six-week period they are still coming and going and grabbing material and as it turns out much of the material that caused the problem in the democratic convention that has officials complaining about
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bernie sanders and his campaign is because by then he lost the race that wasn't getting out theritwas a typical political conflict. the party wants him out, wants them to rally and he isn't ready to do that so there's a lot of moaning and his stupid ideas maybe we can push him out this way or that way. but all that material is what is grabbed in the six weeks after the discovery and causes the biggest problem because some people later on tell us for the buck they were so frustrated they didn't shut it down right away and cybersecurity people alike we can't. >> when people talk of collusion they ask whether there was collusion and it comes back to a few things, the trump tower meeting for example, the
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christopher steel dossier. tell us about those. >> we discussed the meeting earlier and the damning stuff is public, the offer coming from goldstone that did send a sign signal. the report judgment is a mixed bag that had a role. he did have a track record with the fbi and state department. he was a reputable british intelligence officer. >> it was also paid for by the clinton campaign and i don't think that was understood by the
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fbi and you can fault them for not asking more aggressive questions at the time how does christopher steel came to do what he did, but clearly the most sensational allegation, the one that got all the attention we played out in the book he doesn't stand by that at this point and says that the best it's 5050, but golden showers with posters to send a hotel room, but in broad strokes he was onto something real which is that there was a concerted russian effort to influence the election and forge ties and work with the trump campaign. some of the details are yet to be corroborated and it may never be that -- >> he came to that conclusion
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that predates even the fbi's own investigation so he had caught wind of something and one thing we haven't talked about yet is in the first report submitted he talked about how they were trying to cultivate trump over the years to dangle business opportunities and we didn't know this at the time of the campaign but just in time for us to get it in the bug the first few months while he was campaigning, the president leading the republican pack were trying to negotiate yet another business deal in moscow. it had been brought to them by a guy that trump worked with in the past. you just step back and think about that for a second.
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while he's running for president saying he cares about america first and is refusing again and again to criticize putin but bizarre positive statements he at that time is trying to negotiate a deal that can only go forward. he never told the public that come it's in our book i still think the implication of that is collusion and he kept saying later i had nothing to do with russia. he was negotiating a deal. >> october 7, 2016. i read that as the kind of emblematic of his whole campai campaign. >> it all comes together the intelligence community is after this for weeks to put out a
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public statement that yes they are interfering into this could only happen with approval from the highest levels of the kremlin. they think in the white house this is going to be a bombshell, unprecedented statement dominating the news and the rest of the campaign. what happens within an hour cane access hollywood tape suddenly cable nonstop trump talking about women and all that and then within an hour or so carthy podesta e-mails were dumped. it's one of the most extraordinary days in politics and talking together on that day, vladimir putin's birthday and donald trump ends up winning in november. the investigations still continue.
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let me ask you this important question was this the last time we will see russia involved or was it the beginning? >> before we have the next presidential election we have the midterm and one thing we write about in the book that didn'didn't get a lot of attentt the time as the russian operations not just focusing on the presidential campaign the extract of the democratic campaign that is the group that supports democratic house candidates and dumped information that was injurious to the democratic candidates and very key races and worked to great effect to be influenced the outcome in florida and elsewhere but it didn't get a lot of attention because we were focused on the presidential suite that is a strong sign that
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they know what to do this again and house elections in some way may be more prone and susceptible especially last-minute outside interference security systems it's very easy to dump or create ads at the end based on the information that was happened there is a lot of ways to screw around with a house race and that's where the money is in this political season and until we see a concerted effort and it snowed at the government and state level to stop this i think everybody should worry about some sort of repeat before we get to 2020. >> we will remain vigilant. congratulations on a great book. >> thank you.
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