Live

Watch CBSN Live

Transcript: David Cohen talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters" podcast

Worst U.S. sanctions against Iran to kick in

CBS NEWS - WASHINGTON BUREAU INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - INTERVIEW WITH DAVID COHEN, FORMER TREASURY UNDER SECRETARY FOR TERRORISM AND FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, thanks for joining us. It is great to have you. Welcome to the show.

DAVID COHEN:

Well, thank you for having me, Michael.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, as you know, I have wanted to have you on the podcast for some time, because sanctions have become a very important tool of American foreign and national security policy, and I think you're the perfect person to explain how all this works.

DAVID COHEN:

Well, I hope so. We'll see.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Perhaps the place to start is to say that for most of my career in government, I watched multiple U.S. administrations impose sanctions, but with very little effect. But starting in the administration of George W. Bush and then into the Obama administration, and now into the Trump administration, sanctions seem to be much more effective. What changed?

DAVID COHEN:

Well, I think a couple of things changed. I think principally what happened is that we moved from an approach to sanctions that was focused on trade and focused on broad-based sanctions, so think about the Cuba embargo, to financial sanctions and much more targeted sanctions.

And that meant that we, instead of trying to interdict what goes traveling around the world, focused on trying to stop money moving around the world. And the U.S. has an asymmetric advantage in trying to interdict financial flows, because of the role of the U.S. dollar, the role of the U.S. financial system, the role of the U.S. economy. We have better insight and we have, frankly, better leverage that we can use to apply sanctions if we use financial sanctions rather than trade sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Was that tool always there and we just didn't see it, and this was just an innovation, or were-- did something happen that made it a tool that it wasn't before?

DAVID COHEN:

So over time, as the role of the U.S. dollar became more important. Post-World War II this tool became more available, but I think it was in part an innovation. And I think you're right to date it back to the Bush administration. I think that's when this innovation really first began in using financial tools as the key element of our sanctions program. And I think we continued through the Obama administration to refine that tool and to expand it.

And I would say, the one other I think important development, and it's, you know, somewhat controversial, frankly, is the movement from what I think of as primary sanctions to secondary sanctions, which are sort of very much in the news these days with respect to Iran. But, you know, the-- a primary sanction is essentially saying that no U.S. person can hold funds for or do a transaction for someone that we've designated. So--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Whether it's trade or moving money or whatever?

DAVID COHEN:

Or anything. Right. So take, for example, an Iranian bank that is providing funds to Hezbollah. If we put a sanction on that bank, a primary sanction on that bank. No U.S. bank, no U.S. person can have anything to do with that Iranian bank. It cuts them off from the U.S. financial system. Freezes their assets. Can't transact.

A secondary sanction sort of expands the reach of our sanctions enormously. And what it says is to a foreign person-- you know, a bank in Germany, it says, "You've got a choice to make. You can either do business with that sanctioned Iranian bank or you can have access to the U.S. market." We don't have any direct jurisdiction over that German bank. We can't fine that bank. We can't, you know, put that bank executive in jail if they do business with the designated Iranian bank. But what we can do is say, "If you choose to do business with the Iranian bank that we've designated, we're going to cut you off from the U.S." And that's an enormously powerful tool because of the importance of the U.S. economy. And so--

MICHAEL MORELL:

There's another innovation?

DAVID COHEN:

That's another innovation. And that substantially enhanced the power of U.S. financial sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Can you talk about the personal role that Stuart Levey played in this transition? For those who don't know who Stuart is, he was the under secretary of Treasury responsible for sanctions--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--the last five years of the Bush administration and the first two years of the Obama administration. One of the few officials who were kept. You actually were his deputy--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--before you took his job. Can you talk about his role in all of this?

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. So Stuart was sort of there at the origin of this strategy. And in thinking through how to use financial sanctions. His principal focus was on counterterrorism and counterterrorist financing. And so you can use these sanctions to stop terrorist groups, Al Qaeda was particularly the focus at the time, from raising, moving, storing and spending money.

We then expanded during Stuart's time, and then into the Obama administration into focusing on people and businesses that were involved in supporting, in particular, Iran's nuclear weapons program. The same technique. Trying to interject the funding that they needed in order to buy the material for Iran's program.

So those sort of targeted sanctions on-- whether it was terrorist financiers, or those supporting the nuclear program, were sort of the first wave of financial sanction innovation. We then moved from those sort of targeted sanctions on illicit activity, terrorist financing, W.M.D. support, to broader topics, like using financial sanctions--

MICHAEL MORELL:

The geopolitical issues?

DAVID COHEN:

Exactly. So using financial sanctions to impair Iran's ability to sell its oil, for instance. Or, let's say, get access to the revenue from the oil it was selling. You can use financial sanctions in that way. And so not in a targeted against a particular individual, but to try and put broader based pressure on an economy.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Great. Great. So let's talk now about how this process works, right? In practice. So talk about how we go from no sanctions on a country to a set of sanctions. What does that process look like?

DAVID COHEN:

Well, as you noted, sanctions have become something of the go-to tool in U.S. foreign policy and national security. So what happens is, you know, a new issue arises-- Venezuela, or, most recently there was a new sanctions program that was put into effect focused on interference in U.S. elections.

Well my experience is you're called to a meeting at the White House, you go the Situation Room. Then Deputy National Security Advisor, National Security Advisor says, "We've got this problem with X country. What are we gonna do about it?" And the State Department says, "Well, we've got these diplomatic options." Defense Department says, "We've got these military options."

MICHAEL MORELL:

"But we don't wanna use them." (LAUGH)

DAVID COHEN:

"We don't wanna use 'em, and the diplomatic options people think are not going to be ultimately effective. And so people turn to the Treasury Department and say, "Okay, what kind of sanctions can we impose here?" And as a result we have now 28 sanctions programs, ranging from Russia sanctions, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, to topics like cyber activity, human rights violations, trans-national criminal organizations.

A whole host of different national security issues where we have a sanctions program because you have a meeting at the White House and somebody says, "We need something between the sort of persuasive effect over diplomacy and-- you know--"

(MICHAEL MORELL: UNINTEL)

DAVID COHEN:

--"the military hammer--"

MICHAEL MORELL:

Of covert action or military.

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, sanctions are right in that sweet spot.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And in your experience, how high is the decision making on sanctions?

DAVID COHEN:

Well, ultimately it requires an action by the president to establish a new sanctions program.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Executive order?

DAVID COHEN:

An executive order-- under a statute called IEPA. But every sanctions program-- you know, with minor exceptions, comes from a presidential determination in an executive order to implement a new program.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Is it-- has a U.S. company just said-- I just thought of this -- Has a U.S. company ever challenged a sanctions regime in court and said, "You're blocking me from doing commerce? You know, you're violating my Constitutional rights here?"

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the answer is the president has ultimate authority under article two?

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, well, it's a little more complicated than that, but yes, it-- there have been challenges, both to programs as a whole and to specific implementation of sanctions on individuals around businesses. And, you know, because this is in the realm of national security and because it is authorized by a statute that Congress passed about two decades ago now-- courts have upheld the Treasury Department's authority to implement these programs.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. So let me ask you to talk about something that I think most people don't understand. And that's that once sanctions are in place, you don't just sit back and watch.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? The U.S. government in general, and Treasury in particularly, I remember you traveling all over the world--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--are very active in enforcing the sanctions. So how does that work?

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. Well-- it works because sanctions don't work by themselves. And so what you need to do is be active in trying to ensure that you have people complying with them. And I think there are basically four key elements for an effective sanctions program.

One is you need a clearly articulated policy goal that you're trying to achieve. Like, trying to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. You need sanctions to be part of a broader toolset. So sanctions are not a policy unto themselves. They work best if you have diplomatic efforts. You have aid efforts. You have messaging efforts. You may even have military posturing. If it's part of a broader effort, sanctions can work. You need good intelligence. You need to know who it is that you're trying to sanction. You need to know whether your sanctions are working.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you know who's cheating and--

DAVID COHEN:

You know who's cheating. Exactly. And intelligence is critical in figuring that out. And you need international support and assistance. You know, although the United States is-- as I noted before, sort of the center of the world for the financial system, there's only so much you can accomplish just by leveraging the U.S. financial system.

Sanctions are enormously more effective if you have other countries amplifying what we're doing. And so a lot of what I did when I was at Treasury, my predecessors and my successors are doing, is traveling around the world explaining our policy-- why we're doing what we're doing. Trying to engender support from other countries, and trying to get them to use their own laws and their own ability to persuade the companies and financial institutions and business people in their country to abide by U.S. sanctions, if not the sanctions that that country's imposing.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So without all of this really hard work that you're talking about, is there a natural tendency to an erosion of sanctions over time? 

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--to a sanctioned regime?

DAVID COHEN:

It's just-- they're much less effective in their initiation if you don't have a amplification from partners around the world. And if you have sort of grudging acceptance of U.S. sanctions, rather than embrace of U.S. sanctions, you get evasion. You get both, you know, direct evasion and then a whole bunch of sort of sub-rasa, under the table efforts that weaken the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what do you think are the keys to getting the international support you need?

DAVID COHEN:

Fundamentally what you need is a policy that the sanctions are designed to achieve that others subscribe to. If you don't have policy agreement on the goal that the sanctions are trying to achieve, then it's very difficult to get others to abide by your sanctions, much less implement their own sanctions that are complementary.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. And I think this is a very interesting question. Is there a risk associated with the overuse of this tool?

DAVID COHEN:

Yes. There's no question that there's both a policy risk and there is, I think, potentially, an effect on the role of the U.S. financial system and the role of the U.S. dollar. The policy risk is, if we use sanctions to try to essentially get others to adhere to our policy choices that they are not otherwise supportive of, it weakens the effectiveness of the sanctions and it creates a whole bunch of sort of straight voltage in the relationship.

Because, you know, people don't like it if you put sanctions on their businesses, on their banks, on their people because they're violating U.S. sanctions, when it's inconsistent with what that country is trying to achieve. So there's there's a policy cost. On the economic side, there is a concern that the use of sanctions will accelerate the development of alternatives to the sort of U.S. financial system and to the use of the U.S. dollar.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The German foreign minister just argued for a new--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--mechanism for moving money around the world so it-- that could avoid U.S. sanctions.

DAVID COHEN:

Right. Particularly with respect to Iran, the E.U. has been talking about putting in place this special purpose vehicle that would facilitate, essentially, trade in Iranian oil and German goods that would be outside of the reach of the dollar and outside the reach of the U.S. financial system.

But the Chinese also are very interested in developing a means for international transactions that is outside of the dollar. And, you know, where they're not dependent on the U.S. financial system. They're not dependent on clearing trades through the U.S. dollar. But it operates entirely outside of the U.S. reach. That is, they like that both because it gets them further away from U.S. sanctions exposure, but it also amplifies and enhances their role in the world.

And the use of sanctions-- particularly in situations where you don't have a broad-based support for the policy that sanctions are trying to achieve-- I think runs the risk of accelerating the development of these mechanisms that are outside of the U.S. financial system.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So another argument for why a multilateral approach is better than a bilateral approach?

DAVID COHEN:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, so let's talk about three specific cases, David. The first is Iran. Tell us where we are with regard to the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. Start there.

DAVID COHEN:

So the basic structure of the Iran deal was the Iranians agreed to restrictions on their nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of some very powerful sanctions on Iran's ability to sell its oil and to earn revenue from the oil that it sold.

We didn't eliminate those sanctions. We suspended those sanctions, with the threat of snap back-- the idea being that they would snap back if the Iranians didn't comply. Well, I mean as it turned out, the Iranians were complying--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And they're snapping back--

DAVID COHEN:

--with the nuclear deal, but we're snapping 'em back anyway. And we're snapping them back unilaterally. So it's just the U.S. sanctions are coming back into effect. And in particular, on November 5th the sanctions on the sale-- or really the payment for the sale of Iranian oil will be coming back into effect.

And the way that works is if you are China and you're buying oil from Iran, the bank that is involved in paying Iran for that oil is subject to secondary sanctions, subject to being cut off from the U.S. if it pays Iran for the oil that's being imported, unless you get what's called a significant reduction exemption. Which means that China is significantly reducing the amount of oil that it's purchasing from Iran. The U.S. will say, "Okay, you can pay for this reduced amount of oil." Those sanctions are going back into effect on November 5th.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And how effective do you think those will be in creating pain in the Iranian economy?

DAVID COHEN:

So they will be effective, but they will be not as effective, I think, as the sanctions were in the 2014-2015 timeframe, because you don't have agreement around the world in the effort. And so what you've got in Europe, essentially, is a coalition of the unwilling.

You've got a bunch of European countries that are-- their companies are backing away from Iran. Not because they want to. They had been investing in Iran after 2015, but on threat of being cut off from the U.S. if they don't back away. So you've got this coalition of the unwilling in Europe.

You've got a couple of countries, China and Russia in particular, who are I think looking for ways to frustrate U.S. policy here. So they will comply to some extent, but I think will also be looking for ways to avoid and evade U.S. sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

We should remind people that they were part--

DAVID COHEN:

And-- absolutely--

MICHAEL MORELL:

They were a part of the coalition the first--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--time around.

DAVID COHEN:

Right. We had the P5 plus one, you know, the-- among the P5 were Russia and China. Right. They were part of the effort back in the Obama administration. They are quite decidedly not part of the effort now. And then you've got some other countries like India and Turkey that are a little bit on the fence right now, but also are not supportive of the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the Iran deal.

So the sanctions will have an impact. There's no question they will have an impact. They noted there are many European companies, particularly the big companies, are backing out of Iran. The Iranian economy itself is quite weak. The value of the rial has been plummeting. I think it's, you know --

MICHAEL MORELL:

Years of economic mismanagement.

DAVID COHEN:

Years of economic mismanagement. They havea financial sector that is not all that attractive to begin with, and so it's a difficult place to do business. And there is now the threat that if you do business with Iran, whether it's purchasing Iranian oil or doing business with other entities in the Iranian economy, that you, you know, European company or you Asian company run the risk of being cut off from the U.S. And that's a powerful threat. So there will be a noticeable impact on the Iranian economy.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And where do you think-- this is a different question than sanctions. But what do you think Iran's strategy will be going forward?

DAVID COHEN:

Well, I think that's the real unknown here. Is what the Iranian strategy will be. I think there are a couple of important variables here. One is I think Iran's trying to figure out what it is that the U.S. is trying to accomplish. You know, what is the U.S. policy goal here?

Is it just to get a better nuclear deal? Is it they get a broader deal that encompasses things like ballistic missile tests. Support for Hezbollah. You know, other misbehavior in the region, whether it's in Syria or Yemen. Is it to bring about so much instability in Iran that it leads to regime change?

I think there's been a lack of clarity on the U.S. side on what the ultimate policy goal is, and so from the Iranian perspective, I think they're looking at that and don't know quite what it is that the U.S. wants here. You know, Secretary Pompeo gave a speech a few months ago where he laid out sort of the 12 demands that the U.S. has for Iran, which are all demands that would be very much in the U.S. national security interests.

Things like stop supporting Hezbollah. Stop malicious cyber activity. Stop supporting the Syrian regime. But from the Iranian perspective, I think they look at that and say, "He essentially wants the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran." And so I think you're not going to see --

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which they're not going to be willing to negotiate on--

DAVID COHEN:

What-- what they're not going to be willing to do. Right. That is not a place where I think the Iranians are prepared to negotiate. So I think they will feel, as I said, a fair amount of pain from these sanctions, but their willingness to engage with the Trump administration I think is very much in doubt. And I suspect what they will do is try to wait out the administration.

MICHAEL MORELL:

See what happens in 2020?

DAVID COHEN:

See what happens in 2020 and see if they can get through this. And they have something now that they didn't have back in 2015, which is both a sort of safety valve of the Chinese in particular, but also the Russians, who are I think prepared to help the Iranians get through this period where, you know, back in 2015 the Russians and the Chinese were telling the Iranians they needed to deal at the table. And they also have a sort of diplomatic support around the world. Sort of a psychological support. They are--

MICHAEL MORELL:

They're the good guys in the story--

DAVID COHEN:

They are the good guys here. Right? And the-- one of the things that was I think quite powerful in the lead up to the Iran deal was that Iran was isolated, not just economically but diplomatically. Today, that diplomatic isolation is frankly ours, not theirs. And they have, you know, some economic support that they can --

MICHAEL MORELL:

As long as they stick to the deal. As long as--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--they continue to do what they're supposed to do under the deal, they're going maintain that.

DAVID COHEN:

Right. Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, North Korea. Your assessment of the sanctions regime that the Trump administration put in place?

DAVID COHEN:

So I think it has been quite effective. The Trump administration early on did something which I think was long overdue, and the right thing to do, which was to apply secondary sanctions in the North Korea context. The difficult issue with North Korea has always been that there's not enough economic activity in North Korea to sanction directly.

The only way to really put significant pressure on North Korea is to put pressure on Chinese entities. And the way to do that is to threaten secondary sanctions against Chinese entities if they continue to do business with designated North Korean entities. And early on, the Trump administration embraced that, and applied those sanctions, and did a bunch of work to ensure that those sanctions were being adhered to.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why didn't we do that?

DAVID COHEN:

We didn't do that I think principally because we made a choice about where we wanted to apply pressure on China. There were a number of areas of concern, whether it was the South China Sea, Chinese cyber activity, Chinese economic activity. And I think the judgment was we needed to choose among those all quite serious threats to U.S. national security interests.

And if we leaned in hard on Chinese business activity with North Korea-- harder. I mean which is not to say we didn't do anything. We were working this issue. But if we leaned in very hard on Chinese activity with North Korea it would come at the expense of trying to get progress on some other issues, which we did get progress on. And I think that was the policy judgment. To emphasize some issues over the others. I think the Trump administration-- I-- frankly, I think what they decided to do was just do everything. Sort of the kitchen sink approach to China--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Well, they also have what the North Koreans were doing, right? Test after test and missile launch after--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--missile launch, so--

DAVID COHEN:

Right. So there was more-- 

MICHAEL MORELL:

The threat was becoming more real.

DAVID COHEN:

The threat was becoming more real, and I think the Chinese were prepared to work with us more on North Korea. Didn't see it as much as a threat to China. They saw it more as something that was beneficial to China, to try to tamp down this North Korean behavior. And so the-- the playing field was a little bit-- more favorable.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So it seems to me-- and get your sense on this. It seems to me that because of Kim Jong-un's charm offensive, that the sanctions have eroded and there's some holes there.

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Is that your sense?

DAVID COHEN:

That is my sense. And I think-- I also think the administration made a serious misstep in the Singapore summit. My view is that the sanctions were starting to really have some serious effect. We had the Chinese working with us. And the president took this offer of a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un-- an offer that had been on the table for a long time. This was not the first time that the North Koreans had said, "What we need here--"

MICHAEL MORELL:

North Korean leaders forever have wanted to meet --

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, forever--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--with the president.

DAVID COHEN:

--have wanted to meet with the president. And they have never previously been accorded that opportunity, because it was important leverage that we had over the North Koreans. You know, get them to do something before you give them a meeting with the president.

Here, we had, you know, President Trump, I think quite prematurely, jump into this summit with Kim Jong-un-- which-- and then on the way out of Singapore, declare that the problem has been solved. The effect of that was to weaken the resolve of the international community to apply pressure on North Korea.

Didn't turn it off, but it weakened the sanctions. It weakened the willingness of the Chinese to continue to work with us. It weakened, others around the world, although the Chinese are by far the most important actor here. And I think the effect has been that the sanctions are not nearly as powerful today as they were nine months ago.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And if we get to the point where Secretary Pompeo decides that the North Koreans aren't willing to negotiate here seriously--

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--how difficult will it be to ratchet those sanctions back up?

DAVID COHEN:

I think it'll be difficult. I think it'll be more difficult than it was to ratchet them up at the beginning of the administration, because, first of all, you won't have the provocation that you cited earlier, of all these missile tests and the nuclear tests to point to.

And I think even more so, you will have others, and the Chinese in particular, saying, "Look, you made this bed. You know, this was-- we played along with you, we worked with you to impose these sanctions. You said this problem was solved. Now you're declaring that it's not solved." I think that the diplomatic underpinnings of a good sanctions program will be harder to stitch back together.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. Okay. Really quickly, Russia. And I don't want to ask about Ukraine-related sanctions or 2016-reated sanctions. I want to ask you about the sanctions related to the use of C.W. against the former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in London. There's a set of sanctions that we put into place. There's another set coming. President's got a tough decision to make.

DAVID COHEN:

Right. The way these sanctions work is there is a relatively mild set of sanctions that go into effect upon the initial determination that a chemical weapon has been used. And then there's a period of time where the administration is told by a statute to get essentially assurances from the country that used the chemical weapons that-- that they're never going to do it again. And it-- you need to have an inspection. You need to have various assurances given.

That's not going to happen. The Russians are not going to allow this inspection. I suspect they won't provide the assurances and they won't-- take the other steps that are necessary for the president to certify that the second phase of these sanctions don't need to go into effect.

He can waive the second set of sanctions-- and they're due to go into effect I think right after Thanksgiving. What I suspect is going to happen is we will look and see what happens in the election. Look and see whether the Russians interfere in the midterm elections.

And, frankly, the administration's going to look at the outcome of the election and is going to make a political judgment on how much pain they're willing to endure by waiving the second set of sanctions on Russia.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And so will be taken in a political context here in the United States--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--even if it's a sound national security decision?

DAVID COHEN:

Exactly. And if they don't waive these sanctions, there are some very powerful economic impacts that will result, including, you know-- potentially cutting off the ability of Russian airlines to land in the United States. You know, access to the U.S. financial system.

A whole host of things that would be-- I think the Russians would regard as quite undesirable. And can only be avoided if you don't have the certification that the Russians-- you know, would need to come up with under the CBW statute, or the president just waives these sanctions and is willing to take the political heat domestically for doing so.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, David, let me switch gears and ask a couple questions about your time as the deputy director of C.I.A. You served there the last two years of the Obama administration, an incredibly important time. Pretty good job, right?

DAVID COHEN:

It's a great job. (LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL MORELL:

It's a great job.

DAVID COHEN:

As you know--

MICHAEL MORELL:

We should do a whole podcast on what it's like to be deputy director of C.I.A.

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

But more seriously, you were there when C.I.A. and the I.C. came to the conclusions it did about Russian interference in the election.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Was there any doubt in your mind at that time about the I.C.'s conclusions?

DAVID COHEN:

None.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And have you seen anything since you left government that has changed your mind in any way?

DAVID COHEN:

Not at all. I mean I think the only, all that I've seen since I've been out -- and I left at noon on inauguration day-- has reinforced that high confidence judgment that the Russians interfered in our election. At-- one of the points that I make when I talk to people about that judgment is that the first aspect of the judgment that the intelligence community made was that the Russians were looking to interfere in our democracy.

It had nothing to do with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It was about the Russians' desire to cause turmoil in the United States. The second judgment was that they preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, and were trying to undermine what they thought was going to be a Clinton administration.

But what sometimes gets lost in all of this discussion is that the intelligence community came to a high confidence judgment that President Putin directed an effort against the United States, principally to create turmoil and sow division. It doesn't have to do with Democrats or Republicans. It has to do with undermining one of the foundations of our democracy. And that was a judgment that we reached, and I have, you know, no reason to doubt--

MICHAEL MORELL:

From a policy perspective-- and I know as the deputy director of C.I.A. you were not in a policy job. But from a policy perspective, do you believe we should have hit back harder on Russia?

DAVID COHEN:

I think we should have, and I-- and this was, I think, a misjudgment in a sense. I think we should have in December, but there was also a sense that there was a new president coming in, and the part of the policy consideration was to leave some headroom, essentially, for the new president and his administration to demonstrate that this isn't a partisan issue. That this is an issue about attacking American democracy. And to sort of leave some-- some powder that was dry that the new administration could then fire off.

And I than it was obviously a misjudgment, because that's not where the Trump administration went. But I think we, in the Obama administration, at the tail end of the Obama administration, held back a little bit on what we could have done so that there would be room for the new administration to take action.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, thank you very much for sharing your time with us.

DAVID COHEN:

Thank you.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

View CBS News In