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After Comey Drama, Russia Hearings Expected To Focus Back On Russia


They will be back. They would be the Russians. And there are fears that Russia is not done, that they will keep trying to meddle in American politics. That's at least the consensus of U.S. intelligence officials past and present. Here's former CIA Director John Brennan testifying recently on whether Russia will try to interfere in next year's midterm elections.


JOHN BRENNAN: I have, unfortunately, grudging respect for Russian intelligence capabilities and their aggressiveness, their pervasiveness and their determination to do what they can to undermine this country's democracy and democratic institutions, as well as those certainly in Europe and other areas.

GREENE: What is known about Russia's ongoing efforts will be the focus of not one but two hearings on Capitol Hill today. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly will be covering them. She's here to talk about it. And Mary Louise, to hear the former CIA director say he has grudging respect for Russian intelligence, that's kind of amazing.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Very grudging respect. I think the thing to listen for today - no marquee names like John Brennan, nothing like former FBI Director James Comey, who delivered that riveting testimony a week or two ago.

GREENE: Made a few headlines.

KELLY: Just a few. What we can expect is these hearings about Russia to actually be about Russia after these last several weeks where it's been all about questions of obstruction of justice. So today, before the House Intelligence Committee, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, they are both calling federal officials, state officials, cyber and election experts.

And the goal is to keep exploring what happened in 2016 and the presidential election then but also ask what do we know about what Russia may be up to now at this very moment what's going on?

GREENE: Which was sort of what the focus a lot of people expected it to be from the very beginning. Well, answer that question as best you can, what do we know about what Russia is up to now? And how do intelligence officials know that these cyber-intrusions are happening when they are happening?

KELLY: It's a question that I keep putting to everybody I talk to. One cybersecurity expert with knowledge of Russian cyber operations told me yesterday that there's no specific recent incident that's setting off alarm bells. There's not, you know, another DNC hack or anything along those lines. But he pointed, as you just heard John Brennan pointing to there, to Europe.

And if you look ahead to the next big election unfolding in Europe, Russia is busy hacking the hell out of the Germans. That's the cybersecurity expert's words, not mine. But Germany, as we know, has national elections coming up in September. German intelligence officials are warning that they're seeing a steady stream of cyberattacks already, so watch this space.

And then to circle back to what's happening here in the U.S., it remains the consensus of all 17 U.S. spy agencies that Russia interfered in 2016 and that they are seeing nothing to suggest that Russian interest here in the United States is waning.

GREENE: I'm scratching my head. I mean, you and I are, like, on two different planets. We were in Moscow recently with all of these people in Russia saying...

KELLY: We were.

GREENE: ...That there was no meddling at all. And now, I mean, we're going to have these congressional hearings just detailing specifics of what they think happened. I mean, state officials are testifying today. I mean, what states in the United States and what are they going to be saying?

KELLY: So we will hear, among other officials, from Illinois, from the Illinois Board of Elections director. Illinois, you may remember, last July realized somebody had broken into the voter registration databases there. And as our colleague Pam Fessler has been reporting, no, it doesn't look like any records were altered. But it does look like the hacker had access for three weeks before anybody figured it out.

And we know that Illinois is not alone. Twenty-one states have reported traces of hackers last year. We'll hear today from President Obama's homeland security chief, Jeh Johnson. He's testifying on the House side. He says were any votes changed by all of that? He said, to my current knowledge, no. But that's interesting. He's not categorically ruling it out.

GREENE: Yeah, not at all. NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.