Mr. President, as we consider the appropriations minibus this week, I rise to emphasize once again the importance of acknowledging and addressing the threat of interference in our election systems. In particular, Congress must address the continuing threat of Russian hybrid attacks against our democratic institutions. It is difficult to overstate the need to shore up support for democratic institutions here, and around the world, in light of President Trump’s recent foreign policy failures. In the last week or so, the President has attempted to derail the NATO summit by insulting our allies and demanding that they immediately double their contributions, thrown a wrench into Brexit negotiations and seemingly endorsed a new Prime Minister for the United Kingdom, and then embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. President Trump stood shoulder to shoulder with President Putin, while the world looked on, and chose to take the word of an autocrat and KGB agent over the assessments of the American Intelligence Community on Russia’s interference in our elections. By indulging President Putin’s fabrications, he also gave credence to Putin’s propaganda on Crimea and Syria, Russia’s use of chemical agents against civilians, and its violations of its arms control obligations. This failure to stand up for America’s interests and those of our allies and partners was a dereliction of the President’s responsibilities that will continue to undermine our national security. President Trump’s erratic and divisive actions are undermining that which makes us strong. Our Nation, our allies, and our partners around the world benefit from the world order that the United States created after World War II. We draw strength from our allies and from participation in international institutions. We are not weakened by them; we are strengthened by them. While the President later took lowenergy steps to walk back and obfuscate his words on Russian interference, he soon took to Twitter again to aggressively attempt to discredit the investigations into Russian election interference and into his own campaign.
Regardless of what President Trump may say or tweet, we must be absolutely clear: The threat of Russian interference in our democracy is not a ‘‘hoax’’ or a ‘‘witch hunt,’’ and Congress and the States must act now to address the real threat of another foreign intrusion into our elections. Indeed, the findings of the intelligence community’s assessment were clear, and I quote: We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. This problem is not behind us. Indeed, President Trump should listen to the national security officials whom he appointed and a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed. The Director of National Intelligence, former Republican Senator Dan Coats, issued multiple public warnings this month, including stating that the warning signs about Russian cyber attacks ahead of our midterm elections are, in his words, ‘‘blinking red again,’’ akin to before 9/ 11. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated: ‘‘Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.’’ When asked last week whether Russia is still targeting the United States, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said: that the United States ‘‘would be foolish to think [the Russians] are not. They have the capability. They have the will. We’ve got to be prepared.’’ The private sector also validates these concerns. At last week’s Aspen Security Forum panel, Tom Burt, Microsoft’s Vice President of Customer Security and Trust, told an audience that Microsoft already has detected cyber attacks against three candidates running for Congress this fall. These attacks looked very much like those phishing attacks that Russian agents used against Democrats in 2016.
This Chamber faces a stark choice: We can listen to the American Intelligence Community and nonpartisan experts, acknowledge the indictments and guilty pleas of 32 people and 3 companies by the special counsel, and heed the ongoing warnings of Republican national security official—all of whom agree that our democracy is under attack. Or we can trust the words of Vladimir Putin, online trolls and conspiracy theorists, and President Trump—who insist in the face of evidence that Russia is not attacking our democracy. For my part, I don’t think that is a very difficult choice. Securing our elections should not be a partisan issue. Election security is national security, and the States need our help to defend our elections against these attacks. The fiscal year 2018 omnibus included $380 million in State election security grants, and all 55 eligible States and territories requested funding. To date, 100 percent of the funds have been requested and 90 percent of the funds have been disbursed. Yet concerns remain. On Monday, 21 state attorneys general, including the Attorney General of my home State of Rhode Island, wrote to the House and Senate to ask for additional assistance to secure the 2018 midterm elections against cyber attacks. I understand Senator LEAHY intends to offer an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government title of the minibus legislation this week that would provide $250 million in additional State election security grants. These grants could provide States additional and much needed resources to update voting equipment and secure election systems. I am a cosponsor of this amendment and believe that Congress should pass it and continue to listen to the States and take further steps to ensure that our foundational democratic institutions are secure against foreign actors. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.