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Electoral College Members Seek Intel Briefing on Possible Russian Meddling in Election to Aid Trump

StoryDecember 13, 2016
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Christine Pelosi

Democratic California elector. She’s the lead author of a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urging him to release the facts on outside interference in the U.S. presidential election.


In less than one week, on December 19, members of the Electoral College will meet in their respective state capitals to cast ballots to determine who will be the next president. In recent history, the vote of the Electoral College has largely been a formality. But this year electors in states won by Donald Trump are facing mounting pressure to reject his presidency. On Monday, nine Democratic and one Republican member of the Electoral College asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for a briefing before next week on whether Russia interfered with the election to help Trump win. The CIA has concluded Russia intervened to help Trump win, but the agency has not released its findings. Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has yet to endorse the CIA’s assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Hillary Clinton. We speak to Christine Pelosi, a Democratic California elector. She’s the lead author of the letter to Clapper.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In less than a week, on December 19th, members of the Electoral College will meet in their respective state capitals to cast ballots to determine who will be the next president. In recent history, the vote of the Electoral College has largely been a formality. But this year, electors in states won by Donald Trump are facing mounting pressure to reject his presidency. Last week, Christopher Suprun of Texas became the first Republican member of the Electoral College to come out, saying he will not vote for Trump. He appeared on Democracy Now!

CHRISTOPHER SUPRUN: This is what the Electoral College is for, is so that we do not elect a demagogue, somebody who cannot practice the foreign policy and national defense of the country appropriately, and one who has played fast and loose with the rules of conflicts of interest.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Monday, Christopher Suprun made headlines again when he joined with nine Democratic members of the Electoral College to ask the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, for a briefing before next week on whether Russia interfered with the election to help Trump win. The CIA has concluded Russia intervened to help Trump win, but the agency has not released its findings. Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has yet to endorse the CIA’s assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Hillary Clinton. Trump has rejected the CIA’s conclusion, decrying it as "ridiculous." But President Obama ordered a review of Russia’s role in influencing the presidential election. On Monday, the top Republicans in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, also backed the investigation—of course, both Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, has backed the request by the electors for an intelligence briefing. He said, quote, "The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security. Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed."

Well, joining us now from San Francisco is Christine Pelosi, Democratic Senate—Democratic California elector. She’s the lead author of the letter to Intelligence Director James Clapper. Her mother is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Christine. Explain what you are asking for now.

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Good morning, Amy. I am joining with members of the Electoral College to ask Director Clapper to give us a briefing on the newly discovered evidence that the American people first learned about last week, when we read in the paper that the Russians had hacked both Democrats and Republicans but only chose to do a daily drip, drip, drip of information against Democrats in order to try to swing the election to Trump. Our concern is that finding out this information after the election—it’s a very alarming charge, so we would like to see the evidence. We would also like Director Clapper to declassify as much of the information as possible, so that all of the American people can take a look and decide for ourselves. And to the extent that we have to protect our intelligence agents, assets, sources and methods, we would like him to lower the classification to where we, the electors, could get what they call a day pass, go to one of the secure classified information facilities—they refer to them as SCIFs—in our communities. They have them at military bases and FBI offices, where members of the military and members of Congress can go to receive classified briefings without having to go to Washington. We would like to go to the local secure areas in our communities and receive this information before we perform our constitutional duty on December 19th.

AMY GOODMAN: And has James Clapper responded?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: He has not responded. We’re hoping to reinforce our request today. We have—since we released the letter yesterday morning with 10 people, we’ve had—we’ve heard from thousands of people across the country, including dozens more electors, who are interested in what we’re doing and who would like to find out more about how they could get some of the information that somebody in the CIA saw fit to share with the media. We would like them to share it with us directly so that, as Alexander Hamilton said and as the founders had predicted, we can assure that the president was not elected with undue foreign influence.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Donald Trump is denying any Russian involvement in his victory. He tweeted, "Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!" Your response?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Well, this was discussed at one of the presidential debates. The role of Russia was long alleged, so this is not necessarily news to Donald Trump. And the fact that he doesn’t believe it doesn’t make it less true. Unlike him, we would like an intelligence briefing, and we would like to know what the details are. Amy, if you were involved in an election, and somebody said, "Oh, the Russians were the ones that helped Amy win," wouldn’t you want the truth to come out to show that you won fair and square? I know I would. And I know he should. Nevertheless, it’s our constitutional duty as members of the Electoral College to make an assessment that we had a free and fair election without undue foreign influence. And we’d like to see the data that the CIA has.

AMY GOODMAN: In July, then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email.

DONALD TRUMP: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

AMY GOODMAN: At the time, retired Navy Rear Admiral John Hutson said Trump’s call to hack Clinton’s email was, quote, "criminal intent." Christine Pelosi, what do you say?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: I think it was an outrageous comment for a presidential candidate to make, for any public servant to make, to invite a foreign power to commit espionage. And it wasn’t the press who thought—who was going to reward Russia mightily; it’s actually been Donald Trump rewarding Russia mightily for the work they did do in skewing the election to him, when you look at his appointments, when you look at the closeness to Russia of some of these appointees—most notably, his potential secretary of state, former head of ExxonMobil. These are deeply concerning allegations. And again, the role of the intelligence community is to collect the information and give it to government officials to make important decisions. Well, we, members of the Electoral College, are about to make the most important decision for our country—the election, formal election, of a president—and we need to get that information. It’s not just the public statements of Donald Trump; it’s whatever private actions may have occurred that the CIA may have unearthed.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Democracy Now! interviewed Christopher Suprun, a Republican presidential elector. He explained why he won’t be casting his vote for Donald Trump.

CHRISTOPHER SUPRUN: I had intended to support the nominee, but, unfortunately, Mr. Trump has proven again and again he is not qualified for the office. He is a complete demagogue, as we’ve seen for the past 18 months, up 'til last night, where he picked on a steelworker who had to say something about his jobs plan for Carrier. That's a scary thought: When you’re a simple steelworker or union boss there at a factory in Indiana, you question the president, and he comes after you 30 minutes later.

I’m not sure what the president is going to do when North Korea says something even worse about him in international relations, which brings up the second reason why he’s not qualified. Fifty of my Republican colleagues, who are national security and foreign policy experts, said Mr. Trump would be a danger if he were president. And we’ve already seen that, where he has exacerbated situations in Taiwan and China with his change on the "one China" policy, or what appears to be a change.

And then, beyond that, part of the issue with Taiwan was it appeared to be a sales call. Mr. Trump cannot profit off the office of the president. It’s expressly forbidden by the Emoluments Clause. And, it appears, every time he calls another country, it’s to sell a Trump property.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Christopher Suprun, who is a Republican elector from Texas, who says he will not be voting for Donald Trump. And he joined your letter, Christine Pelosi, as the one Republican, with nine Democrats, calling for this briefing. Are there other Republicans who have gotten in touch with you, either to join you on the letter or to say they’re not voting for Donald Trump, other electors?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Yes, I’ve heard from Democratic and Republican electors since we put the letter out. Some of them are interested in joining the letter. Others, having seen the politics of personal destruction directed at me, directed at Mr. Suprun, directed at others, have said, "Look, I support what you’re doing. I don’t want to expose myself to that kind of social media attack. But know that you have my support, and I absolutely want to find out if there is a possibility of getting that information at a local briefing at an FBI office or military base. Stay in touch." So, I’m very cognizant, as a Pelosi, what it’s like when you put yourself out there in the public sphere and the kinds of personal attacks that come with it. A lot of my fellow and sister electors are not. They’re living lives of quiet public service, and I don’t—I’m not asking for all of them to sign on to the kind of treatment that I’m getting, that I take as part of the price of leadership. But I am heartened by their support and by their communications, that indicate that, yes—

AMY GOODMAN: Can you say—

CHRISTINE PELOSI: —were Director Clapper to receive our request and respond to our request by declassifying the information for the public and for lowering the classification to give us a day pass, there will be electors, both Democratic and Republican, who will be ready to receive and review that information.

AMY GOODMAN: How many Republicans have gotten in touch with you?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: What’s that?

AMY GOODMAN: How many Republicans have gotten in touch with you, Republican electors?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Well, three directly and then others saying that they have talked to more of them, so I’m not quite sure what those numbers actually look like, in terms of how many people the other people say they’ve spoken to and reflect. But the basic message was: You’ve got bipartisan support for this, and others may be making their own statements soon. They’ve also seen, again, what’s happening to Mr. Suprun, and they’ve said, you know, "Look, if Clapper’s not going to do this, if we’re going to be denied this information, I don’t want to step out there and be completely attacked by my own party by asking for something I didn’t ultimately get." So, I don’t mind, you know, taking the lead and doing that.

I think it’s very interesting, though, that there are Republicans who want to make sure that—though they are presumably there to support their party’s nominee, they want to make sure the party’s nominee, the party—the victor has won fair and square, because that’s their integrity, too. That’s their oath that they’ll take as an elector, to make sure that they’ve discharged their constitutional duty. So, we take this very seriously. And our goal right now is to get as much of that information out to the public as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you become an elector in the Electoral College, Christine?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Well, as you know, there are different rules for different states. In California, we get appointed by our local members of Congress and by our senators. And I chair the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, and I was thoroughly convinced that this would be my opportunity to cast a vote for the first woman president of the United States, so I petitioned my congresswoman and said, "You know, I’ve never asked to be an elector. This is a wonderful honor, but I would like to have this opportunity." So I asked, and I was appointed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re representing California, which voted for Hillary Clinton. So why would this make a difference to you, this briefing?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Well, I would like to know the truth before I cast my vote. I’m a former prosecutor, Amy, and, you know, there used to be a closing argument in San Francisco that went something like "You could go race onto the field at the Giants ballpark and knock over the pitcher in front of 50,000 fans and millions of people watching on TV. And you know what? You still get the right to go to court and say, 'Prosecutor, prove it.' It’s not a formality. It’s the American way, that you get a jury of your peers, and you get a chance to make the prosecutor prove what everybody saw you did." And similarly, when it comes to being a member of the Electoral College, we have agency. And the founders wanted to make sure that we did. That’s why they didn’t just have an election, but also an Electoral College to meet to make sure that we didn’t have a demagogue, to make sure that there was a free and fair election and to make sure that there wasn’t undue foreign influence.

So, we have newly discovered evidence that we would like to see. Frankly, I’m disappointed that we didn’t know this before the general election, Amy, but we’re reading about it now. And rather than just read about it in the paper and have it shape our view of Mr. Trump, we feel it’s incumbent upon us to look at that newly discovered evidence in whatever classified setting the director feels is appropriate to defend and protect the intelligence sources.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2012, Donald Trump incorrectly thought Mitt Romney had won the popular vote over President Obama, and he tweeted, "The electoral college is a disaster for democracy." You also are actually opposed to the Electoral College, is that right?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: That’s right. It’s been a strange political year for me, Amy, in that I’m a Democratic National Committee elected committeewoman, superdelegate, working to end superdelegates, and I’m a member of the Electoral College who would like to see the end of the Electoral College. So, I guess I’m organizing myself out of two jobs.

But my idea is, the more democracy, the better. And I think that, as a longtime supporter of the National Popular Vote, which actually Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law in California—many of us have been moving to try to eliminate the Electoral College for years. I thought Donald Trump was correct in 2012. And I would hope that we move to eliminate the Electoral College or reduce the power that small states have over large states like mine, in California.

But now, this is the system we have. These are the rules of engagement that the founders have set forward. And absent a change to them, we have to take our role seriously and do our job. If we’re just window dressing, then join me and get rid of us. But as long as you charge me to do a job as an elector, I’m going to do it with agency and with attention. And right now, I’d like to pay attention to the evidence.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, on another issue, your thoughts on Keith Ellison as head of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee?

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Well, I’ve had some very good conversations with Congressman Ellison about the kinds of reforms that I’d like to see at the DNC. I’m actually running for Executive Committee on a platform of, among other things, fulfilling the unity commission goal of not allowing superdelegates to trump the will of the voters and eliminating corporate money into the DNC and eliminating the use of at-large appointments to put corporate lobbyists onto the DNC. You just did report on the water protectors. You know, there are only three members of the Native American community who are on the Democratic National Committee, but there’s a whole lot of corporate representation. And if you had, say, 10 members of the Native American community on the Democratic National Committee and seven fewer corporate lobbyists, who knows what the policy might have been and what the engagement might have been at the national party level when it came to protecting the water and ending eminent domain for private gain? So, personnel is policy.

I know that Keith Ellison has a lot of really great ideas. I love Tom Perez, who’s looking at the race. He was a big support to me when I passed the Fight for 15 resolution at the DNC in the summer of 2015. And I’ve worked closely with Ray Buckley and Jaime Harrison, state chairs from New Hampshire and South Carolina, respectively. So, I think we’re going to have a really good debate. I think Keith Ellison is a very good communicator and a very good galvanizer. I respect that he wants to do the job full-time, like we asked, and that he came to that decision. And I look forward to a very spirited debate about this in January. But it’s exciting that grassroots Democrats and progressives want to get involved and want to help refurbish our party and bring back our 50-state strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christine Pelosi, I want to thank you for being with us, a Democratic California elector, the lead author on a letter to Intelligence Director James Clapper urging him to release the facts on outside interference in the U.S. presidential election. So far, the letter has been signed by 10 members of the Electoral College—nine Democrats and a Republican. Thanks, Christine.

CHRISTINE PELOSI: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Greg Palast investigates the recount in Michigan. Stay with us.

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