Kushner tried to "downplay" Russian meddling, but it's "almost certainly coming" for 2020, ex-CIA chief says

Morell: Sri Lanka security services "inept"
Morell: Sri Lanka security services "inept" 05:28

In a rare interview Tuesday, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner characterized Russian interference in the 2016 election as a "couple of Facebook ads" and suggested that the investigation into it was more harmful to American democracy than the meddling itself. Former acting director of the CIA Michael Morell disputed that characterization on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday and said Kushner was attempting to "downplay" Russia's "significant and extensive interference."

"We're talking about ads that reached over 100 million people," Morell said, adding that the attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election included a range of activities from handing over stolen information to WikiLeaks, to trying to get inside voting systems and using overt media to spread disinformation in addition to social media.

Morell also sounded the alarm about Russian attacks that are "almost certainly coming" for the 2020 election on the heels of a troubling New York Times report that the president's chief of staff told former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen not to bring the topic up to the president because it would make him angry.

"It's absolutely clear to me and it's absolutely clear to U.S. intelligence officials – and we know this from public testimony by the director of national intelligence – that it is highly likely that the Russians are going to come back and play a significant role in the 2020 election," Morell said. "We should expect new approaches, new things that they're going to do to try to get around the defenses that we put in place. That means to me there needs to be a very significant effort on the part of the U.S. government to defend ourselves and that really requires the leadership of the president. And if he's not providing that leadership then I really worry about whether our government is going to be ready for the attack that is almost certainly coming."

Morell also addressed this weekend's attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed at least 359 people. ISIS released a video claiming it shows a group of suicide bombers that took part in the attacks, but has offered no other evidence to back up its claim of responsibility. 

Morell said the fact that ISIS took two days to claim responsibility suggests it was "inspired" by the terror group rather than "directed" by it.

Asked if the sheer size and coordination of the attack indicates the group had foreign help, Morell said, "So it does on the surface, but I think one thing we have to be conscious of is that the Sri Lankan security services are not strong. I think it's even fair to say they're inept. So you have to look at the capabilities of the terrorist group relative to the security service that they're running up against."