Sue Gordon On President Trump's Efforts To Fight Election Results

Nov 20, 2020
Originally published on November 23, 2020 12:25 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

It's not just Michigan. President Trump's campaign says it'll continue to fight election losses in other states, too. So far, the campaign has lost more than two dozen of the legal challenges it's filed since Election Day. Now, imagine all this was happening in some other country, how might we describe it? Our co-host, Steve, talked to someone who has some ideas.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Sue Gordon was once the No. 2 official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She was a career intelligence official, appointed to her high position by President Trump and served until last year. Shortly before we spoke yesterday, the president's lawyer was promoting baseless conspiracy theories on TV. At the same time, more of the president's lawsuits were withdrawn. Lawyers cannot lie in court as easily as they can on television. Our discussion with Sue Gordon began with her former boss' effort to overturn a democratic election.

I'm thinking about the fact that you have briefed presidents. If this event were happening in a different country and you were briefing the president about it, what would you call it?

SUE GORDON: We would talk about it as basically - if it were a purported democracy, I think we would say the democracy's teetering on the edge. If I were briefing the president on this at this moment in time, and this White House were doing what this is doing and I happen to be in the Oval, I would say stop it.

INSKEEP: Why?

GORDON: Not that there aren't legitimate ways to ask questions about what's going on. We have laws for that. We have processes for that. But to openly suggest that our election process is illegitimate weakens our stature, opens us up to people using that against us, and lessens our moral authority to be the leader of the world that we have been for so many years and so important to the stability of free and open societies. So pursue what you must pursue within the context, but stop doing our adversaries' bidding.

INSKEEP: I guess we should emphasize here, everybody wants free and fair elections. Anybody would want to pursue fraud. But we're talking in reality where multiple opportunities have been given in court and no significant evidence has come up at all.

GORDON: Yeah, I would implore him to understand how it was being seen by our adversaries and allies and to pursue it differently.

INSKEEP: When you were inside the government, during the Trump administration, the intelligence community was preparing for the possibility of foreign interference in U.S. elections. Did you anticipate the possibility - the danger that foreign actors would try to do things like delegitimize election results?

GORDON: Yes.

INSKEEP: Which we don't need an adversary to do anymore because the president is doing it. Is that your view?

GORDON: I think that's the worry is our adversaries can now sit back, particularly from a Russian perspective, which is to undermine democracy. So it's a worrisome situation that no intelligence professional would want to have happen. And everyone would encourage the president to understand how it would be seen and how it could be used.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that of the many, many agencies that have a role in intelligence gathering and are in one way or another part of the intelligence community, there are elements in the Department of Homeland Security, which was overseeing an effort at election security and also beating down false rumors about the election. Chris Krebs, the guy in charge of that, was fired a few days ago. Did you have any dealings with him or with his office? And what did you think of his dismissal as he called out disinformation, including disinformation by the president?

GORDON: So, one, I know Chris well. Two, I think what Chris and CISA have done over the past certainly two years has been remarkable in terms of unifying disparate activities to try and both strengthen, protect, make more resilient our election infrastructure and produce information that the private sector and the public can use to do that. I mean, just a remarkable leader, and human and did a good job all the way through it - and actually kept doing it even through these last couple of weeks when he knew that it was unpopular and he still did what he believed was his responsibility. I have nothing but respect for him. I worry about when the - independents is what I'm going to call them, the organizations that are typically independent - when those leaders start being removed for what seem to be political reasons, that is a worrisome thing to me.

INSKEEP: There, of course, have been other dismissals in the intelligence community. There was fear that Gina Haspel at the CIA would be removed. That hasn't happened. She seems to have been defended by Republican senators, but there were changes at the Defense Department in recent days, including a top official overseeing intelligence at the Pentagon. Is there anything that we need to worry about there?

GORDON: Intelligence particularly is supposed to be about what is. So what you worry about is when you remove a professional and put in someone who appears to have political - more political legs, that's what you worry about with those positions.

INSKEEP: Do you have an opinion about Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the official who is now in that position - somebody who worked for Michael Flynn, briefly, the national security adviser - the first national security adviser of President Trump. He was also at the National Security Council, the Justice Department. He's been in and out of government a number of times.

GORDON: Yeah, I don't know Ezra personally. I think these positions are one where both knowledge of the craft and experience tend to make you better.

INSKEEP: I feel that you're implying he doesn't have those things.

GORDON: Not as much as some of the others who have carried that position before them.

INSKEEP: You must have been through a good number of presidential transitions during your time in government.

GORDON: Yeah, I have. I think seven, maybe eight. I can't recall.

INSKEEP: How much does it matter whether the incoming administration can coordinate with the intelligence agencies before the inauguration?

GORDON: So the world has changed, right? And it's changing every day. And you want them to be getting a running start on what world conditions are. The second thing is there are operations and activities going on that are consequential and conducted under their authority. And yet, again, you want them to be prepared. Now, there are two ways we can think about the Biden team. No. 1, you can say, well, it's not so important because they're a pretty experienced bunch. But as good as that team is, they've been out of the game for a few years. And so, you know, you want them to not be reacting just on what they used to know. You want them to take all that wisdom and apply it to what the current situation is. There is no reason in the universe that they shouldn't be allowed to begin this transition process. It's in the best interest of the nation.

INSKEEP: Well, Sue Gordon, thanks very much for your insights. I really appreciate it.

GORDON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: She served as deputy director of National Intelligence under President Trump until 2019.

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