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President-Elect Trump Eyes Rex Tillerson As Possible Secretary Of State


This weekend, reports emerged saying the CIA believes Russian hacking during the U.S. presidential election was intended to sway the election in favor of Donald Trump. The president-elect had this to say on Fox News this morning.


DONALD TRUMP: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. I don't know why. And I think it's just, you know, they talk about all sorts of things. Every week, it's another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.

CHANG: Joining us now to talk more about Russian hacking and Trump's possible pick for secretary of state is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.


CHANG: So what do you make of Trump's reaction to the latest news on the Russian hacking?

LIASSON: Well, it was pretty extraordinary. He rejected the consensus view of the intelligence community, that Russia wasn't just interfering in the elections to sow chaos, actually trying to put its thumb on the scale in favor of Trump. He put out an official statement - not a tweet - where he insulted the intelligence community, said these are the same people who brought us flawed intelligence about the weapons of mass destruction. He also suggested this morning that President Obama might be trying to undercut his win, which, although it was decisive and even stunning, it was certainly not historic landslide, as Trump just described it, because his 306 electoral votes rank him 46th out of 58 Electoral College victories.

The other thing that was really interesting about his comments is they signal a big breach between the incoming administration and the intelligence community. He said in that interview on Fox, he says I'm a very smart person. I don't need briefings every day. I don't need to hear the same things and the same words every day for eight years. And that alarms the national security establishment because what happens when they bring him intelligence about China or North Korea or Iran? Is he going to just reject that if it doesn't fit in with his assumptions?

CHANG: There was also some reaction from Congress this morning. We saw a statement from a bipartisan group of senators. They said this is not a partisan issue. What do you make of that?

LIASSON: Well, what I make of it is there's not only a big breach between Trump and the intelligence community. There's also a breach between Trump and a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill who say there should be hearings. There was the initial reaction from some Republicans where they didn't want to undermine Trump's victory, but other Republicans want to get to the bottom of this. They consider this a cyberattack. They don't think it has anything to do with partisan politics. We also have the report that the Obama administration has asked for to be completed before Obama leaves office. That means it would probably come out right before Trump's inauguration.

CHANG: OK. So now let's talk about the secretary of state nomination. The front-runner now, according to multiple news outlets, is oil executive Rex Tillerson. He's the CEO of ExxonMobil. No confirmation yet, but if Trump chooses Tillerson, what would that say about his foreign policy plans, and what does that signal to the rest of the world?

LIASSON: I think it signals that he might be ready to break with 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy consensus about America's role in the world. Rex Tillerson has been described as the most friendliest-to-Putin American executive. Runs ExxonMobil - ExxonMobil would benefit, of course, if sanctions against Russia for taking Crimea were lifted. Vladimir Putin personally gave Tillerson the Russian Order of Friendship award in 2013. And I think it's raising some alarm bells on the Hill. We have Lindsey Graham and John McCain, two Republican senators, suggesting that Tillerson might have the hardest time of all the Trump national security nominations up in the Senate. They're going to ask him some very tough questions about Russia.

CHANG: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.