Evan Osnos - Uncovering "Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War" - Extended Interview

March 2, 2017 - Evan Osnos 03/02/2017 Views: 62,959

Evan Osnos of The New Yorker talks about President Trump's campaign ties to Russia and weighs in on Jeff Sessions's recusal from election hacking investigations. (9:18)

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Evan Osnos.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Thanks, Trevor.Good to see you. Thank you.

Welcome to the show.

Thank you.

And, uh, what a timefor you to be here.

You just published a big coverstory in The New Yorker, uh,

about Russia's interferencein the election.

What I found particularlyinteresting in the story--

I mean, uh, other than,you know, the little tidbits

that you added--was that Russians themselves,

or Russia, as a whole, weresurprised that Donald Trump won.

Yeah. You know, they...I think the analogy

that somebody said to me--a security analyst said--

was, "This is a little bit like

"guys who went to goblow the door off a safe

and actually ended upblowing the whole safe apart."

-Uh... it went a little betterthan they expected. -So...

But... So-so... so, for-forall intents and purposes,

the Russians were justtrying to mess with America.

-They were justtrying to hurt Hillary. -Right.

But they didn't actuallyintend on helping Trump?

Actually, I think they did,and that's what the American,

-you know, intelligence serviceshave-have concluded. -I see.

17 American agenciesconcluded that, in the end,

the Russians not only wantedto delegitimize our democracy,

put also wanted to put a thumbon the scale for Donald Trump.

And... looking at Donald Trumpnow, you know,

you're-you're reading somestories that come out of Russia

that say the Russians are nownot so sure about that decision.

Like... it's almost like they'rewatching and they're like...

(Russian accent):"Oh, no, maybe not so good."

Like, you know?

Is-is this somethingthat you're coming across

in your journalism as well?

Yeah, buyer's regret.Maybe a little bit.

I-I mean, I think, actually,to be... to be serious about it,

you had seen that,on the evening news in Russia,

for instance, in the veryfirst days after he won,

-it was exuberance.And they were saying, -Yeah.

"This guy is our kind of guy,you know?

He's a... he's a real man," wasthe term they used in Russian.

And then over time, they beganto see that, actually,

this was generating a lot ofblowback in the United States.

Like in our politics,people were starting to say,

-"What's going on here?"And at that point, -Oh, wow.

they began to say,"Let's tone it down."

And we actually have confirmedthat, yes, there was an order

that was given to news anchorson Russian television

to say lay off Donald Trump.

And so you...People charted it on a graph,

that the numbers of mentionsof Donald Trump

-actually dropped sharplyin the last two weeks. -Wow.

Can you imaginean administration

telling the newswhat to do? Wow.

That is insane.


(cheering and applause)

What a world.

You, um...

you are obviously up-to-datewith what has happened

with Jeff Sessions.

I, honestly, at some point go,like, "Is this for real?"

Another Trump personfrom the campaign

who said they had no contactwith the Russians

has now said, "No, I did havecontact with the Russians

"but not as myselfas the campaign guy

-but as myself as the senator."-Right.

What do you make of all of this?

Yeah, it's a bitof an odd situation, right?

I mean, I can tell you that whenwe were reporting this story,

for instance,we learned that Jared Kushner,

-son-in-law of the president,married to Ivanka, -Yes.

as we all know, that he metwith Ambassador Kislyak

at Trump Tower in December.

And I went to the White Houseand I said,

"I gatherthat this is what has happened."

And they said,"We'll get back to you."

And they came back and theysaid, "All right, it happened.

"There was a meetingin December.

"Uh, and what we're gonna tellyou is that they wanted to do it

"to open a lineof communication.

But that's really allwe're gonna say on the subject."

And then I sort of went away.We put it into our story.

But it's an odd situationthat we're now in the position

of trying to sort ofpiece together this...

sort of like an elephantin the dark...

-Yeah. -...where you gotone little piece of it.

You got your handon another piece of it,

but you don't really knowwhat you're looking at.

You don't really know sort of

what the...what the creature is.

-Well, you... -Why is it thatthey're meeting with them?

You feel the tail.

That's how you knowwhere an elephant is.

-(laughter)-Ah, right, right, right.

If you feel it,and then you go, like,

it has a little tuft on the end,and then...

-This is a good... -Oh,you meant, like, a metaphor.

-Oh, sure, yeah, yeah, yeah.-I'm sorry.

Like, I grew up doing that.You can't use that with me.

-It's a good...-That's a weird...

-It's a good tip.-No, but here-here...

-(laughter) -Here's a question.-Tip of the trade.

Here's a questiona lot of people ask.

And they're going,"It seems like there is no story

other than the fact thatit seem like there's a story."

Like, some people go,"There is no proof

"that Trump had any connectionwith the Russians.

"There is no proofthat any discussions were had

"about the actual campaign.

There is no proof."

And yet, it seems likeTrump's people keep on lying

about somethingthat doesn't exist.

Could it be oneof those situations

where the cover-up is worsethan the crime?

Well, when you look backthrough political history,

oftentimesthe cover-up is the problem.

And, in fact, you know,if you look at Watergate,

-as an example of a scandal...-Yeah.

....there were morethan 30 people eventually

who pled guiltyor were convicted for crimes.

Most of them werefor the cover-up.

They were not for the burglary

of the DemocraticNational Committee.

But, also, you know,it's worth laying out,

-just very quickly,sort of concisely... -Yeah.

...what we actually knowabout this case,

'cause I thinkit's really confusing to people.

-We know the Russians didthree things. -Mm-hmm.

Number one--they hacked the DNC,

and they hacked John Podesta'se-mail, we all know.

Number two-- they were involved

in generating social mediaand fake news,

what we now call "fake news,"but basically propaganda.

-Yes.-And they're

very good at that. They've beendoing it a long time.

And the third piece--and this is the one

that's the hardest for usto understand,

the one we're all trying to sortof deal with now in real time--

is to what degreedid they seek to...

cultivate peoplein the Trump campaign.

And what we know is--because people

in the intelligenceand law enforcement community

have told us and othernews organizations--

is that there wasa lot of evidence of contact,

but it's not clear whetherthere was evidence of collusion.

That's the pointwhere we are now.

So that's the questionthat we're trying really hard

to get the White Houseto explain to us.

Why was there contact?

What were you talkingto the Russians about?

Why does it matter?'Cause there would be a way

-to put this to bed.-When you go to the White House

and you ask themthese questions,

what do they say,what is their response?

They're not that interestedin talking about it.

-(laughter)-Um... may not shock you.

But I'll give you an example.I mean, I came to them

with a questiona couple of weeks ago,

and I said, "Look, I've gota piece of information.

I'm interested. Can youtell me if this is right?"

And they said, "Look, youdon't have enough information

"for us to tell youif it's right or wrong.

Come back to us."

-(laughter)-Wait, so...

in effect, what they're sayingis, keep digging.

-(laughter) -Yeah. Yeah.-They could just say yes or no,

but they're like,"Go dig some more.

-No, it was like they...-You may find something."

Right. They assigned me a story.

This is like an Easter egg huntof journalism for you.

This is...You're getting warmer.

You're getting warmer.


-Yeah.-You've almost caught me.

-(applause)-You're getting warmer.

Yeah, it was a bitof an odd situation.

With regardsto Jeff Sessions now.

We're in a situation whereyou have the attorney general,

who lied under oath.

Some people are going to sayhe "misremembered."

And obviously,perjury has to show intent,

so it's unlikelythat he'll be fired.

But... he has recused himself.

A lot of people are askingthe question, though:

Who now investigatesany possible collusion

or manipulationor interfering by the Russians?

Wouldn't Jeff Sessionshave to choose

the person who investigates it?

I don't know, honestly.

This is the kind of thingthat we'll find out.

It may, you know, it may evenby the day's end we may know.

But we're into a weird moment

where the chieflaw enforcement officer

of the federal government

is incapable of being involvedin what is, obviously,

the biggest story in Washingtonright now.

Is our governmentworking for us,

or is it in some wayscompromised?

So we don't know,we don't yet know exactly

who's gonna be runningthe investigation,

though I do think it's progress.

I think it's a good signthat he stepped away today,

under pressure,not only from Democrats,

-but also from Republicans.-Yeah.

And that's one of the thingsI think we're all

sort of looking to seein the next few days.

Will Republicansin Congress say,

we need to really getto the bottom of this?

We need to do seriousinvestigations of the kind--

You know, frankly, Trevor,

-we did a big investigationafter 9/11. -Mm-hmm.

That was the last time theUnited States was attacked

on this kind of level.

Obviously, there was tremendousloss of life back then.

There was no loss of lifein the attack

on the United Statesduring this election,

but it was an attack onfundamental institutions,

our democracy.

And if we really want to getto the bottom of it,

we may need to dowhat we did then.

It's interesting that you sayit was an attack,

because in this piece you write

about the new waveof the cold war,

the cold war 2.0,which has become digital.

You know, people are alwayslooking at the nukes.

People are always going,where are the ships?

Where are the planes?

But the Russians have beenbuilding over time,

an offensive built aroundcyber crime.

That's right.

I mean, in some ways, theRussians were not logical--

They weren't, weren't guaranteedto be good at cyber.

They only got the Internetin 1990.

-And initially...-(laughter)

-Sorry, that sounds like...-Yeah, I know.

-It sounds like an insult.-I figured.

-"You got the Internet in 1990."-Yeah.

-Sorry, carry on. -Yeah. How'syour Internet? Yeah.

But actually, then they gotreally good really fast.

And they became known as sort of

some of the best practitionersof this stuff.

And let's be honest,we're not innocents here.

The United States does a lot ofcyber hacking as well.

But, uh, it also meansthat we can't allow it

-to go unaddressed.-Yeah.

This was a situationin which we were,

we were challengedin a basic way,

and if we don't do somethingin order to show that we care,

and that we wantsome transparency,

it's gonna be, as onesecurity analyst put it to me,

open season in 2020 at our nextpresidential election.

So this is not a partisan issue.

This isn't about being aRepublican or Democrat.

This is about saying, look,you know, we took a hit.

Let's get to the bottom of it.

Let's set up a commission,

maybe equal number ofRepublicans and Democrats.

-Let's interview a bunchof people. -Mm-hmm.

For 9/11, they interviewed1,200 people,

and they produced a report,

-which is why we knowwhat happened. -Yeah.

It's why we know theintelligence failures

that contributed to it.

-And I think that's where we'reheaded on this. -Wow.

It sounds likean exciting story.

I feel like I'm ina spy thriller.

-Thank you very much, my friend.-My pleasure.

-Thank you so muchfor being here. -My pleasure.

-Appreciate it. -I appreciateit. Nice to be here.

The current issueof The New Yorker

is on newsstands now and onlineat newyorker.com.

Evan Osnos, everybody.