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News Brief: Election Influence, Democrats Focus On Ga. Race, O'Reilly Out At Fox

Apr 20, 2017
Originally published on April 20, 2017 5:31 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep with a guide to this day's news. David, where do we start?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, Steve, I want to start with a new report that seems to be shedding light on just how Russia interfered in the U.S. election. There have been all these questions, as we know, since the campaign about exactly what the Russians did and whether they were trying to benefit Donald Trump, who spoke so often about getting along with them.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you've had a lot of presidents that haven't taken that tact. Look where we are now.

GREENE: That's President Trump back in February. OK, so this new reporting from Reuters suggests that the Russian government had high hopes for working with Trump as well. There are documents from a Russian think tank that was backed by Vladimir Putin describing this plan to use propaganda and Russian-backed news outlets to sway American voters in 2016.

INSKEEP: Domenico Montanaro of NPR's Politics team is with us once again. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And also Ned Parker of Reuters, who broke this story about the Russian think tank. He's in New York. Welcome.

NED PARKER: Morning.

INSKEEP: So would you remind us, Ned, what was known about Russian interference before your report?

PARKER: Well, what was known was that the Russian government had hacked the U.S. Democratic Party's offices and the Clinton campaign. And in January, the U.S. intelligence agencies issued a public report saying that not only had Russia hacked and disseminated information from the Democratic Party, but it had worked through an information campaign using media platforms that it controls and social media to spread a message using some of these hacked, stolen Democratic materials - many of which were embarrassing to the Democrats - to favor Trump and...

INSKEEP: Drive the news agenda, so to speak. So what does your report, the documents that you describe, add to that picture?

PARKER: Well, what's significant about it is that these are Russian documents from an internal Kremlin think tank that answers to Vladimir Putin, a think tank that is run by former Russian foreign intelligence spies. And in writing, it talks about how to influence the U.S. electorate through a media and social media campaign to pick a U.S. administration that will be favorable to Russia and its policies as opposed to the policies that were ongoing under President Obama. And this document, the first one, was written in June 2016, and so...

INSKEEP: I was just wondering what the date was - so just as things were heating up and actually just as - at a point when it was clear that Trump would be the nominee.

PARKER: Exactly. So it - as it was described to me by some of our sources, this was the equivalent of having a NSC policy document or a strategy document from within the State Department's Policy Planning department.

INSKEEP: National Security Council, yeah.

PARKER: Yeah, exactly.

INSKEEP: Let me play a little clip of President Trump here. This is from his news conference in February when he addressed questions of collusion with Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, haven't made a phone call to Russia in years, don't speak to people from Russia - not that I wouldn't. I just have nobody to speak to.

INSKEEP: So he says. Is there strong evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump administration?

PARKER: Well, this issue is under investigation right now by the FBI and two congressional committees looking at the Russian role in the U.S. elections. But in these documents, they do not mention the Trump campaign, nor do they mention the actual hacking by the Russians within the United States. But it talks about a coordinated media and social media campaign to influence the U.S. electorate.

INSKEEP: Domenico, very briefly, are the congressional investigations into all of this back on track?

MONTANARO: Look, the key question is what Ned just laid out there is the coordination, you know, if there was any between Russia and those associated with Trump.

GREENE: You know, I mean, it's such a stark reminder, listening to all of this, there is that question, as you guys just said, of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. We don't know that - a lot of politics involved there. But apart from that, there is clear evidence Russia is meddling in politics, in the United States, across Europe. It doesn't matter your political party. That is pretty worrisome for any democracy.

INSKEEP: OK. Ned Parker of Reuters, thanks very much. Congrats on the story.

PARKER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And, David, Democrats, which we'll talk about next, want to capitalize on a House race in Georgia.

GREENE: Yeah. Tom Perez, the Democratic Party chairman, is going to be speaking in Georgia tonight - a lot of people looking to see what he says. The Democratic candidate for an open House seat there, as we've heard this week, is bound for a runoff after getting more votes than anyone else in a very red district. And Perez is going to Georgia. He's traveling with Bernie Sanders. And they spoke last night in Miami.

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TOM PEREZ: Just yesterday, because of the collective power of we in this room and across America, Jon Ossoff won 48 percent of the vote there.

(APPLAUSE)

PEREZ: And we will continue to win because you know what, folks? When we put our unity and our energy and our values into action, that translates to results.

INSKEEP: Domenico Montanaro of NPR's Politics team is still with us and, Domenico, would it be impolite to note that the Democrats still haven't won in Georgia or anywhere else?

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Well, that's absolutely true. I mean, 48 percent is clearly better than the congressional candidate did there in 2016. So raising the floor is an important thing, even if Ossoff was to lose by a couple of points this year. But I want to say a couple things about Perez and this tour that he's kind of doing with Bernie Sanders right now. You know, really, the one thing that unifies Democrats right now is Donald Trump, and you could hear that from Perez.

You know, he'll likely to continue to beat that drum. But, I mean, this unity tour he's on with Bernie Sanders has kind of gotten off to a rocky start. I don't know if you've noticed, but Perez was booed Monday in Maine. He was booed last night in scattered portions in Miami. Sanders refused to identify as a Democrat when he was asked about it on cable in a joint interview with Perez. So right now, to me, it's like Perez is doing something important. He's trying to - he's trying to bring the progressive base together, but he's kind of like someone without any training trying to walk a tiger on a leash, frankly.

INSKEEP: And you said the Democrats are unified by Trump, but when Karen Handel, who's the Republican who also made it into this runoff in Georgia, was asked on CNN if Trump is going to campaign for her now, she said this.

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KAREN HANDEL: I would hope so. I mean, look, we - all Republicans, it's all hands on deck for us.

INSKEEP: Can the president still fire up his base even if he's not so popular?

MONTANARO: He can absolutely fire up his base. Unfortunately for him, and for Republicans, this district isn't exactly Trump country. It's well-educated. It's suburban Republicans who - you know, where Trump underperformed. He's not the most popular in this district. He has a tremendous bullhorn. He's been following this race closely. You can bet he'll weigh in again, whether Republicans want him to or not.

GREENE: You know, Domenico, I want to bring up something that you wrote about. The Republican in this race, Karen Handel, after she lost her bid for governor in 2010, she joined the Komen Foundation. She pushed to eliminate its funding for Planned Parenthood. That caused an uproar. The money was restored. I mean, Planned Parenthood gets voters animated on both sides, and I think I'm watching for that to become an issue in this race.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro this morning. Domenico, thanks very much.

MONTANARO: All right, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTR SONG, "BLEEDING LOVE")

INSKEEP: Hey, it turns out that it is lucky for Stephen Colbert that he got out of that program in which he satirized Bill O'Reilly while he still could.

GREENE: That's right because Bill O'Reilly is now gone from Fox News. There are these accusations of sexual harassment against him and news of millions of dollars in past settlements. All of this prompted Fox to remove really its biggest star. His show had lost many of its advertisers, and now Tucker Carlson is going to take over that slot. O'Reilly departs with a statement that says, quote, "it's tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," end quote.

INSKEEP: Hadas Gold, a media reporter for POLITICO, is with us. Thanks for coming by this morning, really appreciate it.

HADAS GOLD: It's so great to be here.

INSKEEP: Weren't there allegations against Bill O'Reilly for years and years before this?

GOLD: I mean, since 2004. I'm sure you remember that there was a very big case that was settled. Now we know it was settled for $9 million, according to The New York Times. This was the former producer. And, you know what? After that case, if we think if that had happened now, if - the result would have been a little bit different. But in 2004, the case was settled. They both agreed, both sides agreed, to have - to admit no wrongdoing, and that was it.

INSKEEP: OK. So 2004 versus now - what's changed in the country, do you think?

GOLD: I definitely think that the awareness of sexual harassment has changed. You also have to look at Fox News what's changed. Roger Ailes is no longer in charge of Fox News. And Roger Ailes...

INSKEEP: Having gone away after his own awkward situation to say the least.

GOLD: Exactly. And Roger Ailes really kind of inoculated a lot of his loyal hosts from potentially having to depart the network over such allegations.

INSKEEP: OK. Our media correspondent, David Folkenflik, has talked to people inside Fox, as I'm sure you have, and there were a lot of people upset. Is Fox really a different place today?

GOLD: Listen, a lot of people will point to the fact that, yes, Roger Ailes is gone. Yes, there are some other people gone, but for the most part, the rest of the management is in place. The co-presidents right now worked very closely under Roger Ailes. And one thing that some people have pointed out to me inside Fox is that it's not like the entire place is a giant fraternity house. The bad behavior was limited to a certain group of powerful people, it seems. And there is a sense, though, that this was a business decision - 100 percent.

INSKEEP: It's about money because O'Reilly was losing advertisers, and there was this Sky News deal that might have been messed up.

GOLD: Exactly. So over in the U.K., the Fox parent company is trying to purchase a bigger stake in Sky News, which is really their - has been their goal for quite some time now. Ofcom, which is the media regulator in the U.K., has a fit-and-proper test, and they have a decision on this in the next few weeks. And they could decide, based off of how Fox handled these types of allegations, also how Fox paid these settlements, that they are not fit and proper. And that is a big factor in this decision.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Hadas Gold, media reporter for POLITICO, thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it.

GOLD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SING SING PENELOPE'S "LA COUCHETTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.