WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate calling for an independent investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections and urging the Senate to take legislative action to combat Russia’s growing aggression and ongoing efforts to undermine western democracies and disrupt the post-World War II international order.

Senator Menendez’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Today, I rise once again to demand answers to the many questions raised about Russia’s interference in our elections. Not so long ago I came to this floor to speak out against a belligerent act from an adversarial nation. An attempt to undermine American democracy and foment chaos and uncertainty on the world stage. An effort that we now know – from our intelligence community’s own assessment – was ordered by President Putin himself.

“A campaign that senior intelligence officials have concluded, and I quote: ‘Blend[ed] covert intelligence operations – such as cyber activity – with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users, or ‘trolls’ to undermine our 2016 elections.

“Mr. President, in recent weeks the American people have been confronted by a daily drumbeat of headlines – regarding Russian interference in our elections and possible ties to President Trump’s campaign. They’ve learned that the President’s National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, was not truthful about the nature of the conversations he had with the Russian ambassador shortly after President Obama sanctioned Russia for meddling in our elections.

“They’ve learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions – the highest law enforcement officer in the land – did not fully disclose at least two meetings he had with the Russian Ambassador during his nomination hearings. They’ve learned, through reporting in the news media, that U.S. law enforcement continues to investigate Russian agents’ contacts with President Trump’s inner circle.

“Yet despite these revelations, the American people now face more questions than answers. Has anyone else on the President’s team been in contact with the Russian government? What were the nature of those conversations? How credible are reports of business dealings between Russian oligarchs and the Trump organization?

“And here’s the reason I came to the floor today. Getting answers to these questions – whether it be through a special prosecutor, an independent commission, or the Senate Intelligence Committee’s own investigation – is NOT about President Trump.

“It’s about the American people. It’s about protecting our free and democratic way of life and our time-tested system of self-governance. And it’s about showing our constituents that when the stakes are this high, when the allegations are this startling, when the implications are this alarming, we are capable of setting politics aside.

“Time and time again, the President has dismissed the significance of Russia’s interference in our elections. And he derides reports about his financial interests and campaign contacts with Russia as ‘fake news.’

“This isn’t fake news. On the contrary, Mr. President, these are real threats. Real threats from a real foreign adversary. Real threats that undermine the integrity of our elections and therefore the security of our country. Real threats from a brutal leader who sees the erosion of western democracy as a strategic imperative for Russia’s future.

“So let’s be clear about why these threats matter. Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in Russia has been marked by the suppression of freedom of the press, the oppression of the Russian people, the murder of political opponents, and the transfer of wealth and assets from the Russian people to a handful of powerful oligarchs.

“President Putin sees the spread of western democratic values – like freedom of speech, and the rule of law, and human rights – as a threat to his power. And so, Russia has embarked on a systematic campaign to undermine the democracies that uphold the international order established after World War II.

“These threats must be taken seriously. Russia’s aggressive behavior reaches back years and extends to this day. We saw it in 2008, when Russia backed illegal separatist forces in Georgia, declaring South Ossetia and Abhkhazia independent states. We saw it in March 2014, when Russia authorized the use of military force to annex Crimea, blatantly violating the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people and the Budapest memorandum.

“Today, Putin continues to break ceasefires, sow discord and incite violence throughout Eastern Ukraine – an effort that to date has claimed 10,000 lives and displaced two million people.

“And unfortunately, Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections is not an isolated incident. According to U.S. intelligence reports, these efforts are only the most recent manifestation of the Kremlin’s ongoing campaign to undermine western democracy. In recent years, we’ve seen Russian oligarchs funnel money to fringe political movements across Europe, and Russian operatives conduct sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

“And after the revelations that Russia interfered in our elections, Putin has shown no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, just weeks ago Russia’s defense minister announced that the Kremlin will begin using troops to enhance their information operations, emphasizing that “propaganda must be smart, competent and efficient.”

“Again, Russia’s end goal here is no mystery. Putin aims to undermine European unity and fracture the transatlantic alliance – an alliance that has served as a bedrock for international security, peace and stability, and economic cooperation between the United States and Europe for the past half century.

“In the Middle East, President Putin continues to disregard international norms, aligning Russia with Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terror – and aiding Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad in his atrocities against innocent civilians. In Aleppo, Russian bombs fall on homes. Russian bombs fall on schools and hospitals and aid convoys that only seek to feed starving, trapped families and rescue children from the rubble.

“Just last month, Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty when they illegally launched a cruise missile – showing no regard for an agreement that has been a hallmark for nuclear security cooperation for nearly four decades.

“The United States cannot ignore such destabilizing behavior. And that’s exactly why Senator Graham and I introduced S. Res. 78 just weeks ago – recognizing three years of Russian military aggression and calling on Russia to respect its obligations to the international community. Our resolution should serve as a reminder to this Administration that the U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia for violating the international order should remain in place until Russia starts respecting the international order.

“Nor can we let Russian efforts to undermine western democracies continue unabated.

That’s why I co-introduced the Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017. This bipartisan bill codifies the sanctions imposed by President Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and interference in the U.S. elections into law. And at the same time, the legislation authorizes $100 million for the State Department and other agencies to counter Putin’s propaganda.

“The time for action – and for answers – is now. We can get to work immediately by holding hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ensure that the United States has a strategy in place to protect the security of our democracy and promote stability abroad.

From the spread of extremist propaganda across Europe and the denial of Ukrainian sovereignty, to the bombing of civilians in Aleppo and the cyber-attacks against the Democratic National Committee, Putin’s intentions are not up for debate.

Russia’s destabilizing behavior should make absolutely clear to the President of the United States that the Russian Federation is not our friend. But when the President hesitates to acknowledge this reality or address such aggressive behavior, it is up to Congress to act. There can be no hesitation when it comes to protecting the security of our elections.

“But to take action, we need answers. That’s why we need an independent investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

“What President Trump fails to realize time and time again is that this investigation is not about whether or not Russia successfully swayed American elections. This investigation is not about him. This investigation is about the American people. It’s about ensuring that our elections are free, fair, and secure – so that our government is responsive and accountable to the people.

“It’s about understanding Russia’s tactics in cyber space – and preparing for future intrusions. It’s about standing with our allies, preserving peace and avoiding war, and preventing the need to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way. And it’s about ensuring that when the President of the United States faces tough decisions, the American people can trust that he puts their interests ahead of any other interests he has abroad.

“It’s time to protect the integrity of our elections, and secure our democracy against the cyber threats of the 21st century – whether they come in the form of election machine tampering, or paid propaganda on social media, or targeted hacks on public officials.

“Mr. President, Russia poses a real strategic threat to the United States, to our core values, and to the international order. I call on the President of the United States to treat these threats with the seriousness they deserve. And I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the integrity of our elections here at home, defend democracy abroad, and ensure the transatlantic alliance so vital to international security and stability remains strong for generations to come.”