WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke this morning at the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking committees for two separate hearings examining U.S. policy toward Russia. Menendez used the hearings to advance his bipartisan legislation with Senator Lindsey Graham, Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018, which will increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s continued interference in our elections, malign influence in Syria, aggression in Crimea, and other activities and also pressed Administration officials to clearly outline U.S. policy efforts to counter Russian malign influence.
Below are Senator Menendez’s remarks Senate Foreign Relations Committee as delivered:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this important hearing today as part of a series of hearings on U.S. policy towards the Russian Federation. I hope that we can get clarity into our policy and effectively pursue oversight and legislation.
More than month after President Trump’s Helsinki meeting with President Putin, we remain in the dark as to what the two leaders discussed. We continue to hear more information - accurate or not - from the Russian government than from our own.
This is not only embarrassing, but I believe this lack of transparency has implications for our national security. I am not convinced that those who need to know in our own executive branch have a full understanding of what happened. After more than three hours with Secretary Pompeo a few weeks ago, this committee has little more insight than we did before the hearing.
Since the Administration has failed to answer Congressional requests or provide any information, I am today formally requesting Department provide all classified and unclassified cable traffic related to the Helsinki meeting, memorandums and policy directives.
I don’t need to spend today running through Russia’s ongoing transgressions. President Trump’s Cabinet – Secretary Mattis, Director Coats, Secretary Nielsen – and others have warned Russia continues to undermine our democracy.
Russia uses chemical weapons to attack its opponents abroad; It invades its neighbors and illegally annexes territory; Assad’s murderous regime and Iranian proxy fighters inching closer towards Israel rely on the Kremlin; and today we learned from Microsoft that Russian hackers continue their attempts to attack the U.S. Senate and venerable American think tanks and NGOs.
I have been disappointed by the calls by some on the other side of the aisle to ignore these threats and seek accommodation with Moscow. Sending mixed signals to the Kremlin and its allies only serves to undermine our pressure track and sanctions regime. I do not currently see the value in meeting with sanctioned members of the Russian Duma. They are sanctioned because of their support for the illegal annexation of Crimea. And they should remain on our sanctions list until Crimea is returned to Ukraine.
I myself am sanctioned by the Russian government for my authorship of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. I would be happy to meet with the Duma when each of the goals of that law are accomplished. Until then, they can stay in Moscow.
I’d like to use this hearing to look forward.
The administration often points to its record while ignoring the President’s damaging rhetoric on Russia policy. With that said, I was pleased Secretary Pompeo committed to work with us on new sanctions, as outlined in my bill with Senator Graham and many others on this committee.
Well today I want to hear in detail specific provisions of the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018 you will commit to working towards.
I want your views on how these measures could impact the Kremlin’s decision making calculus and how the sanctions the bill imposes would impact the intended targets.
This bill recognizes that our efforts to date have been insufficient. It includes tough measures which we recognize could have implications for U.S. companies and our allies.
However, do we really believe it is acceptable or in our national interest for U.S. companies or those of our allies to be doing business in Russia, particularly supporting the very sectors that have aided and abetted the Kremlin’s aggression and interference? It is utterly ridiculous that President Trump would publicly champion a U.S.-Russia business council rather than condemn the Kremlin’s outright aggressions.
Second, I want to hear how you would support provisions to deepen cooperation with Europe on Russia sanctions implementation. Our sanctions regime is only as effective as our ability to convince Europe to increase the pressure.
Third, I continue to believe that our government is not properly constituted to address the hybrid threat posed by Russia.
Our bill would establish a National Fusion Center to address malign influence and hybrid threats and also calls for the establishment of a sanctions coordinator’s office within State. I look forward to your thoughts on how we can structure our national security institutions to maximize our ability to address complex threats.
Fourth, I want to hear about efforts to implement the current CAATSA sanctions law. The administration has argued that the mandatory new provisions of CAATSA have not been invoked because it is easier to use established executive order authorities. I’d like to hear a clear reasoning for this and assurances that the clear intent of congress is being met. Because as of now, I am not convinced. Specifically, I am interested in Sections 225, 226, 227, 228, 233 and 234.
Additionally, I strongly opposed a waiver provision in the NDAA which allows the administration, under certain circumstances, to waive sanctions in Section 231 on the defense and intelligence sector.
In response, I inserted a strong reporting requirement demanding the State Department be more forthcoming and transparent on how it is implementing Section 231. I remain concerned that the conferees effectively gutted this important provision. So I hope that the State Department can convince me otherwise.
Finally, I want to end with a note of thanks. I do understand that there are many within our government who are dedicated to a more assertive approach with respect to Russia that is clear eyed and well-intentioned.
At the risk of making their jobs more difficult, I would say that the individuals before us today fall into that category. Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling the Committee and to our witnesses for appearing.”
October 16, 2020