Mr. President, as I and many of my colleagues feared, the Trump-Putin summit was disastrous, and their press conference amounted to a disinformation operation in which President Trump played the willing participant. The propaganda, dissembling, and denials are part of Russia’s hybrid operations against our country, our allies, and our partners that are an ongoing and persistent threat to our national security.
By failing to challenge Putin’s fabrications on Russia’s interference with U.S. democracy, its annexation of Crimea, its role in Syria, its use of chemical agents against civilians, or its violations of its armed control obligations, President Trump acquiesced in Russia’s lies and alternative facts and undermined our security in the process.
A low point was President Trump siding with Putin, over our own intelligence community’s assessment, on Russian election interference. It was the unanimous judgment of the intelligence community that Putin directed an attack on our 2016 elections with the intent of undermining public faith in our democratic process. That assessment was just reaffirmed unanimously by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Furthermore, last Friday, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers on charges of ‘‘large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.’’ Despite being briefed on these developments, President Trump chose to side with Putin on election interference. It is unconscionable that an American President, standing on foreign soil, chose to play Putin’s press secretary rather than take the word of his own intelligence officials—career professionals who put their lives on the line for the safety and security of all Americans.
President Trump’s words hurt our national security. Nations or potential sources may no longer trust the United States. They may hold back in fear that their highly classified secrets could be revealed to Russia, a foreign adversary, as Trump has done in the past. Yesterday, President Trump also made a moral equivalency between the United States and Russia. This is an unfathomable and dangerous break from the actions of past Presidents of both parties. President Trump’s actions this week and throughout his Presidency have undermined the once bedrock belief around the globe that the United States is a beacon of hope and reliability.
Further, moral equivalency is a longtime Russian narrative used by Putin to justify his continued oppression of his people and suppression of democratic impulses within Russia. On a more basic level, President Trump is undermining that which makes us strong. The world order that the United States created after World War II is something we have benefited from for decades. We draw strength from our allies and from participation in international institutions. The United States is not weakened by them; we are strengthened by them. The mere act of the two Presidents sitting down together was a victory for Putin. Instead of taking this opportunity to talk tough and call Putin out for his misdeeds, President Trump delivered rewards without gaining any changes in Russia’s behavior. This adds up to weakness, acquiescence, and more.
Nothing about Russia’s behavior has changed. Putin is still in Crimea. He is still propping up Assad’s murderous actions in Syria. He is still interfering in the domestic politics of the West and undermining people’s faith in the democratic process. This is not theoretical. Director of National Intelligence Coats warned that Russian cyber attacks are threatening our government and our financial institutions. He used very explicit language to say that, akin to before 9/ 11, the warning signs of Russian aggression are ‘‘blinking red again.’’ Yet, instead of recognizing that threat, denouncing attacks from Russia, and developing a whole-of-government solution to counter the threat, Trump is cozying up to Putin.
In light of President Trump’s dereliction of his responsibilities, I urge my Republican colleagues to stand up for the security and integrity of our democracy. Some of my colleagues have condemned President Trump’s performance yesterday, but clearer and more concrete steps must be taken. Republicans must reject President Trump’s weak and damaging views on foreign policy. What we saw this week and throughout this Presidency is an aberration that is unsustainable, and this course must be corrected soon. Words of regret or sadness for a missed opportunity are not sufficient in the wake of yesterday’s display of weakness and narcissism. Republicans should join with Democrats to pass legislation to protect the Mueller investigation and to ensure that the investigation is permitted to follow the evidence wherever it leads and bring this matter to a conclusion. Republicans should join with Democrats to hold hearings and get testimony about the President’s trip and particularly what he promised Putin during their private meeting. Republicans should join with Democrats in calling on the President to fully implement the sanctions act against Russia for its numerous nefarious activities. Republicans should join with Democrats and demand that President Trump be interviewed by Special Counsel Mueller under oath.
Finally, I urge the Trump administration to at long last issue a comprehensive strategy coordinating our military, diplomatic, law enforcement, financial, and all other instruments of U.S. national power to counter Russian malign influence, as called for in last year’s NDAA. We are waiting a year for a legislative mandate of this Congress to provide such a report. Time is running out. This is not a partisan issue. It is long past time for the President to denounce the Kremlin’s behavior and take steps to mount a whole-of-government response to deter it in the future. With that, I yield the floor.<