Press Releases

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered his report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to U.S. Attorney General William Barr:

"Congress and the American people deserve to judge the facts for themselves. The Special Counsel's report must be provided to Congress immediately, and the Attorney General should swiftly prepare a declassified version of the report for the public. Nothing short of that will suffice.

"It is also critical that all documents related to the Special Counsel's investigation be preserved and made available to the appropriate Congressional committees.

"Any attempt by the Trump Administration to cover up the results of this investigation into Russia's attack on our Democracy would be unacceptable."

 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance, requested ongoing briefings from the Trump Administration regarding the deal it reached to remove sanctions on several companies owned by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Sen. Warner wrote, “I write today to express my concern that the agreement the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) reached with Oleg Deripaska does not remove Deripaska’s ability to control EN+, Rusal, and EuroSibEnergo, and I ask that you timely provide the Senate Intelligence Committee with the same information OFAC requests or receives under the agreement and the results of any audits performed at OFAC’s request under the agreement so that Congress can continue its ongoing oversight of the sanctions imposed on Deripaska and his companies.” 

On Sunday, the Trump Administration formally lifted sanctions on the three firms linked to Deripaska, including a company that is the world’s second-largest aluminum producer.

Added Sen. Warner, “I am deeply concerned by the reports that there were details of the agreement not disclosed in your December 19, 2018 letter to Majority Leader McConnell regarding the agreement with Deripaska. The additional information strengthens my conviction that Deripaska will continue to exert control over EN+, Rusal, and EuroSibEnergo. Based on those reports and the letter, I understand that Deripaska’s equity stake in EN+ will decrease to 44.95 percent.  But when combined with the holdings of the family and close associates of Deripaska—including his personal foundation, his ex-wife, her father, and a firm with links to her family—means that Mr. Deripaska will continue to be closely associated with nearly 57 percent of the equity of EN+ after the restructurings contemplated by the agreement.” 

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 57-42 in favor of a resolution that would stop the lifting of sanctions – short of the 60 votes needed to move the resolution forward. The House of Representatives approved the resolution 362-53, with a majority of members from both parties voting in favor of retaining the sanctions.

“Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate signaled their concern with this agreement. These recent reports strengthen my determination that the agreement Treasury has struck with Deripaska needs to be overseen strictly not only by OFAC but also by Congress,” Sen. Warner added. “Your letter describes the ongoing auditing, certification and reporting and other information rights that OFAC will receive with respect to these companies under the agreement. I ask that you provide the Senate Intelligence Committee with the same information OFAC requests or receives regarding the companies and the results of any audits performed at OFAC’s request under the agreement so that Congress can continue its ongoing oversight of the sanctions imposed on Deripaska and his companies.” 

The full text of the letter appears below. A copy of the letter is available here.

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,

 

I write today to express my concern that the agreement the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) reached with Oleg Deripaska does not remove Deripaska’s ability to control EN+, Rusal, and EuroSibEnergo, and I ask that you timely provide the Senate Intelligence Committee with the same information OFAC requests or receives under the agreement and the results of any audits performed at OFAC’s request under the agreement so that Congress can continue its ongoing oversight of the sanctions imposed on Deripaska and his companies.

I am deeply concerned by the reports that there were details of the agreement not disclosed in your December 19, 2018 letter to Majority Leader McConnell regarding the agreement with Deripaska.  The additional information strengthens my conviction that Deripaska will continue to exert control over EN+, Rusal, and EuroSibEnergo.  Based on those reports and the letter, I understand that Deripaska’s equity stake in EN+ will decrease to 44.95 percent.  But when combined with the holdings of the family and close associates of Deripaska—including his personal foundation, his ex-wife, her father, and a firm with links to her family—means that Mr. Deripaska will continue to be closely associated with nearly 57 percent of the equity of EN+ after the restructurings contemplated by the agreement.  You stated in your letter that Mr. Deripaska himself will not be permitted to vote more than 35 percent of his EN+ shares.  And you also implied that the votes of these individuals close to Deripaska will be assigned to an independent third party.  Nevertheless, the combination of a nearly 57 percent equity stake and the ability to vote 35 percent of EN+ shares suggests that Deripaska and his close associates will continue to have the largest stake—by far—in EN+.  

This nearly 57 percent stake alone is sufficient to determine that Deripaska will continue to have the ability to control EN+, Rusal and EuroSibEnergo.  But additional factors strengthen this conclusion.  For example, Deripaska is the founder of EN+, and was responsible for the hiring of many Rusal employees—another avenue for him to exert controlling influence.  Another sanctioned Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, will continue to have a stake through SUAL Partners Limited, which owns 22.5 percent of Rusal.  And VTB, a Russian government-owned bank that is subject to some U.S. sanctions and that has ties to Deripaska, will own about 24 percent.  Taken together, these additional facts mean that Deripaska and companies and individuals connected to him, will continue to have the ability to exert significant control over EN+, Rusal and EuroSibEnergo after the restructuring. 

Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate signaled their concern with this agreement.  These recent reports strengthen my determination that the agreement Treasury has struck with Deripaska needs to be overseen strictly not only by OFAC but also by Congress. 

Your letter describes the ongoing auditing, certification and reporting and other information rights that OFAC will receive with respect to these companies under the agreement.  I ask that you provide the Senate Intelligence Committee with the same information OFAC requests or receives regarding the companies and the results of any audits performed at OFAC’s request under the agreement so that Congress can continue its ongoing oversight of the sanctions imposed on Deripaska and his companies. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  I would appreciate a response by February 3, 2019.

 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after Trump campaign confidante Roger Stone was arrested following an indictment by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller:

“Roger Stone has been indicted for covering up his engagements with Wikileaks, an organization that U.S. intelligence officials and the Senate Intelligence Committee have publicly designated as a hostile intelligence service, regarding the public release of emails stolen by the Russian government. It is clear from this indictment that those contacts happened at least with the full knowledge of, and appear to have been encouraged by, the highest levels of the Trump campaign.   

“Roger Stone and Donald Trump have known each other for nearly forty years. Mr. Stone played a key role in recruiting Paul Manafort to run the Trump campaign, and he publicly claimed on several occasions to remain in regular contact with then-candidate Trump throughout the 2016 presidential race, even after he formally departed the Trump campaign. It appears Stone also lied to Congress and tampered with witnesses in order to obstruct these investigations into the Trump campaign – yet another example of senior Trump officials concealing the truth about their Russia-related contacts during the 2016 election. 

“I expect that we will learn more about Mr. Stone’s campaign role, his communications regarding Wikileaks, and who else knew about Stone’s efforts. It remains essential that the Special Counsel be permitted to finish this work without any political interference.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the below statement after the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Russia and other foreign countries used social media and additional means of influence to target Americans during the 2018 midterm elections:

“As the Director of National Intelligence reminds us, the Russians did not go away after the 2016 election. Now that the Russian playbook is out in the open, we’re going to see more and more adversaries trying to take advantage of the openness of our society to sow division and attempt to manipulate Americans. Congress has to step up and enact some much-needed guardrails on social media, and companies need to work with us so that we can update our laws to better protect against attacks on our democracy.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on the Treasury Department’s announcement that it intends to delist companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska amid restructuring and corporate governance changes:

“Today’s announcement, which comes as a result of negotiated changes to the En+ corporate structure, does not change the fact that Mr. Deripaska, his employees, and his companies work at Vladimir Putin’s behest and operate as de facto representatives of the Russian government - a government that has occupied and intimidated its neighbors, sought to disrupt free and fair elections, violated nuclear treaties, and continued to wage influence campaigns to undermine western democracies, including our own.  While the Treasury Department has made great strides in reducing Mr. Deripaska’s ownership state in En+ and making beneficial changes to the corporate governance, this deal will require constant monitoring to ensure that neither Mr. Deripaska nor the Russian government violate the terms of the agreement. The addition of Victor Boyarkin, one of Mr. Deripaska’s key lieutenants, to the sanctions list will help counter some of Russia’s malign influence efforts, and is a welcome step.  We will continue monitoring these sanctions’ effects, and to hold accountable those who would violate them.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, third-party experts released two independent analyses of social media tactics used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) in their attempts to influence U.S. political discourse. The reports are the first comprehensive analyses of their kind conducted by entities other than social media companies themselves, and are based in part on data provided by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).

The reports, titled “The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency” and “The IRA and Political Polarization in the United States, 2015-2017,” were authored by New Knowledge, and University of Oxford and Graphika, respectively. 

Statement from Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC):

“Increasingly, we’ve seen how social media platforms intended to foster open dialogues can be used by hostile foreign actors seeking to manipulate and subvert public opinion. This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions. Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped. As we work to address these threats, these reports are proof positive that one of the most important things we can do is increase information sharing between the social media companies who can identify disinformation campaigns and the third-party experts who can analyze them.”

Statement from Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA):

“These reports demonstrate the extent to which the Russians exploited the fault lines of our society to divide Americans in an attempt to undermine and manipulate our democracy. These attacks against our country were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed. This should stand as a wake up call to us all that none of us are immune from this threat, and it is time to get serious in addressing this challenge.  That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.  I hope these reports will spur legislative action in the Congress and provide additional clarity to the American public about Russia’s assault on our democracy.”

 

Background: 

The third-party reports released today are based in part on data provided by the Committee under its Technical Advisory Group, whose members serve to provide substantive technical and expert advice on topics of importance to ongoing Committee activity and oversight. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions presented within are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Senate Intelligence Committee or its Membership.

Separate from the Technical Advisory Group, the Committee is conducting an ongoing investigation into the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. As part of its investigation, the Committee has held several open hearings on the use of social media by foreign influence campaigns, including recent hearings with third-party experts in August 2018 and social media company officials in September 2018. The Committee will release its own report on social media with its findings as an installment of its investigation. 

 

To read New Knowledge’s report, “The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency,” click here

To read University of Oxford and Graphika’s report, “The IRA and Political Polarization in the United States, 2015-2017,” click here.

 

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WASHINGTON – In a letter to President Donald Trump, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Mark Warner (D-Va.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed their serious concerns regarding the Administration’s expressed intention to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.  

“While we understand the challenges of getting Russia to reverse its violation of the INF Treaty, the Administration’s sudden decision to withdraw unilaterally is a political and geostrategic gift to Russia,” wrote the Senators. “It takes the focus away from Russia’s transgressions and malign behavior and instead feeds a narrative that the United States is willing to shred our commitments unilaterally without any strategic alternative.  Additionally, it allows Russia to expand the production and deployment of its intermediate range missile system, the 9M729, which will further menace Europe.  

The senators’ letter comes on the heels of a scheduled NATO Foreign Ministerial later this week, which presents the Trump administration with an opportunity to consult with European allies on the INF treaty and show the United States will not take unilateral steps to the detriment of European security and stability.  

“Moving forward, before taking steps to withdraw or suspend participation in the INF Treaty, we urge you and your administration to engage with Congress on the implications of this step for strategic stability and our relations with European and Asian allies,”concluded the Senators.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below.

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

We write to you to express our serious concerns regarding your announced intention to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  

 

Withdrawal from the INF Treaty, which has been a cornerstone of the European security architecture for over thirty years, was announced without any notice or consultations with the Senate, much less a path toward Senate advice and consent to the withdrawal.  This was despite multiple opportunities to explain the rationale for this decision, including a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on arms control and Russia held only a few weeks prior to your announcement.  In that hearing, senior officials from the Department of State and the Department of Defense provided no indication that a decision to withdraw was even imminent, nor that U.S. forces envisioned any military operational benefit from near-term withdrawal. 

 

We are concerned about Russia’s ongoing violation of the INF Treaty, and believe Russia must return to compliance and fulfil its obligations.  While we understand the challenges of getting Russia to reverse its violation of the INF Treaty, the Administration’s sudden decision to withdraw unilaterally is a political and geostrategic gift to Russia.  It takes the focus away from Russia’s transgressions and malign behavior and instead feeds a narrative that the United States is willing to shred our commitments unilaterally without any strategic alternative.  Additionally, it allows Russia to expand the production and deployment of its intermediate range missile system, the 9M729, which will further menace Europe.   

 

The United States withdrawal from the INF Treaty also threatens to exacerbate tension in relationships with our European allies, particularly those in NATO.    This decision, taken without coordination with foreign partners, once again shows an eagerness to take unnecessary unilateral actions over the objections of our closest allies to the serious detriment of European security and stability.  A spokesperson for EU High Representative Federica Mogherini condemned the U.S. withdrawal from INF noting “the world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”  Other leaders from major European allies echoed these sentiments, expressing deep concern that in withdrawing from the INF Treaty the United States was moving toward an unconstrained nuclear arms race with Russia.

 

Given the lack of strategic forethought and planning apparent in the hasty decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, we believe it is important for the U.S. government to re-emphasize the integral nature of effective arms control as a part of nuclear deterrence and strategic stability.   In fact, our nuclear defense planning and modernization programs are contingent on the arms control architecture the United States has diligently built over many decades.  The decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty suggests that you may take a similarly dangerous approach and renege on other key arms control agreements, such as New START, which would only serve to diminish international security further and potentially necessitate vast increases in nuclear spending.  We do not believe that the degradation of our arms control agreements that have provided strategic stability for decades serves U.S. security interests or those of our allies and partners.

 

Moving forward, before taking steps to withdraw or suspend participation in the INF Treaty, we urge you and your administration to engage with Congress on the implications of this step for strategic stability and our relations with European and Asian allies.  We also ask you to consider once again the importance of arms control within the context of U.S. and international security.

 

                                                                        Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement on Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea on charges of lying to the Intelligence Committee and other Congressional investigators about his involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 election:

“This is yet another example of the President's closest allies lying about their contacts with Russia. With each indictment and each guilty plea, we learn more about the President’s connections to Russia in the midst of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must continue — free from political interference by the President — until the truth is out, and Congress should pass legislation immediately to make sure that happens.” 

 

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Washington, DC – Top Senate and House Democrats today released a new letter to the Department of Justice’s Chief Ethics Official, Assistant Attorney General Lee J. Lofthus, in which they outline the number of serious ethical considerations that should preclude any involvement by President Trump’s handpicked Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker with the Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal. In the letter, the Democrats also request that the Department of Justice’s chief ethics officer immediately notify them whether he has advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse himself from supervision of the special counsel’s investigation.

The letter, signed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, includes a number of examples of Mr. Whitaker’s many conflicts of interest and hostile statements toward Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. These include Mr. Whitaker’s televised statement suggesting that the investigation be defunded or subjected to strict limitations on its scope, a published online opinion piece referring to the investigation as a witch hunt, and a statement in which he pre-judged the outcome of the investigation.

 

The full text of the Democrats’ letter can be found here and below: 

 

November 11, 2018

 

The Honorable Lee J. Lofthus
Assistant Attorney General for Administration 

  and Designated Agency Ethics Officer

Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20530

 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Lofthus:

We are writing to you in your capacity as the Justice Department’s Designated Agency Ethics Official regarding the supervision of Special Counsel Robert Mueller by Mr. Mark Whitaker, the newly appointed Acting Attorney General.  There are serious ethical considerations that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal from any involvement with the Special Counsel investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  

 

Mr. Whitaker has a history of hostile statements toward Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, including televised statements suggesting that the investigation be defunded or subjected to strict limitations on its scope.  On June 9, 2017—not even a month after the Special Counsel was appointed—Mr. Whitaker stated on a radio show:  “There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here.  The evidence is weak.  No reasonable prosecutor would bring a case.”[1]

 

On July 26, 2017, Mr. Whitaker stated that he “could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”[2]  Mr. Whitaker has also made reference to the Special Counsel investigation as “a mere witch hunt” and published an opinion article entitled “Mueller’s Investigation of Trump Is Going Too Far” in which he argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should place limits on the scope of the investigation.[3]  He has even claimed publicly that “[t]he left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the U.S. election. Which has been proven false. They did not have any impact in the election that is very clear from the Obama Administration.”[4]  This statement demonstrates plainly that Mr. Whitaker has pre-judged the outcome of the Special Counsel investigation.

In addition to his public criticism of the Special Counsel investigation, Mr. Whitaker appears to have troubling conflicts of interest that may also require his recusal from the investigation.  In 2014, Mr. Whitaker served as chairman of the campaign of Sam Clovis to be Iowa State Treasurer, and Mr. Whitaker and Mr. Clovis have reportedly remained in close contact.[5]  Mr. Clovis served as a national co-chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, and in that capacity supervised George Papadopoulos, the Trump foreign policy advisor who sought to set up a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, and who has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI regarding his contacts with agents of the Russian government.[6] As you know, following advice from career Department ethics officials, Attorney General Sessions recused from the Special Counsel investigation given his senior role on the Trump campaign and a series of undisclosed contacts with Russian government officials.[7] 

The official supervising the Special Counsel investigation must be – in both fact and appearance – independent and impartial.  Regrettably, Mr. Whitaker’s statements indicate a clear bias against the investigation that would cause a reasonable person to question his impartiality.  Allowing a vocal opponent of the investigation to oversee it will severely undermine public confidence in the Justice Department’s work on this critically important matter.  Mr. Whitaker’s relationship with Mr. Clovis, who is a grand jury witness in the Special Counsel investigation, as well as Mr. Whitaker’s other entanglements, raise additional concerns about his ability to supervise the investigation independently and impartially.  

For these reasons, we request that you immediately notify us in writing regarding whether you, or any other ethics officials at the Justice Department, have advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation, and the basis for that recommendation.  We also request that you provide us all ethics guidance the Department has provided to Mr. Whitaker to date.

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

Democratic Leader

U.S. Senate

 

Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Dianne Feinstein

Ranking Member

Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. Senate

 

Jerrold Nadler

Ranking Member

Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Mark R. Warner

Vice Chairman

Select Committee on Intelligence

U.S. Senate

 

Adam B. Schiff

Ranking Member

Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Elijah Cummings

Ranking Member

Committee on Oversight &

Government Reform

U.S. House of Representatives

 

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[1] The David Webb Show (June 9, 2017) (online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYQzupQzNOQ).

[2] CNN Tonight, CNN (July 26, 2017) (online at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1707/26/cnnt.01.html).

[3] Matthew Whitaker, Mueller’s Investigation of Trump Is Going Too Far, CNN (Aug. 6, 2017) (online at www.cnn.com/2017/08/06/opinions/rosenstein-should-curb-mueller-whittaker-opinion/index.html).

[4] The Chosen Generation Radio Program (Mar. 3, 2017) (online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCA120DtAhI).

[5] See, e.g.Whitaker’s Friendship with Trump Aide Reignites Recusal Debate, Reuters (Nov. 8, 2018) (online at www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-whitaker/whitakers-friendship-with-trump-aide-reignites-recusal-debate-idUSKCN1ND2SN).

[6] Statement of the Offense, United States v. Papadopoulos (D.D.C. Oct. 5, 2017) (online at www.justice.gov/file/1007346/download).

[7] Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal, Department of Justice (Mar. 2, 2017) (online at www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-sessions-statement-recusal).

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement on the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

“No one is above the law and any effort to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the President. While the President may have the authority to replace the Attorney General, this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the Mueller investigation.

“Senators from both parties have repeatedly affirmed their support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Every one of them should speak out now and deliver a clear message to the President that the Special Counsel’s investigation must continue without interference.”  

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Elena Khusyaynova, a Russian national, with interfering in the upcoming midterm elections:

“This new indictment by the Justice Department demonstrates the serious nature of these ongoing attacks on our democratic process. I commend the career officials at DOJ who continue to work tirelessly to stop foreign actors from sowing division and spreading distrust in our political system. This is why the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation has been focused on some of the dangers posed on social media platforms.

“But the threat is not over. As the criminal complaints notes, these attacks continue to this day. It is critical for Congress to step up and immediately act to employ much-needed guardrails on social media. And as I've said before, these companies need to work with Congress so we can update our laws to better protect against attacks on our democratic institutions.”

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following joint statement on the Department of Justice’s indictment of seven Russian GRU officers for international hacking and disinformation operations:

“Today’s charges further highlight the illegal and aggressive tactics Russia uses to undermine international institutions and wage disinformation campaigns. In recent years, Russia has reportedly hacked or attempted to hack democratic elections, the Olympics, the power grid in Ukraine, and now the international organization that investigates the illegal use of chemical weapons. As Justice Department officials stated today, these actions are part of a criminal conspiracy and are wholly unacceptable. We commend the Department of Justice and our Dutch and British allies on the steps they’ve taken to hold Russia accountable. Collectively, we will continue to combat Russia’s illegal activities and make clear that this reckless and belligerent behavior will not be tolerated.”

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Washington, D.C. – Today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray expressing serious concerns about the implications of President Trump’s decision to declassify and disclose highly classified information related to the Special Counsel’s investigation and the involvement of the White House Counsel in the process. The Members also requested an immediate “Gang of Eight” briefing from the agency heads prior to any disclosure.

In the letter, the Members write: “The action [President Trump] has taken, to direct your agencies to selectively disclose classified information that he believes he can manipulate publicly to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Special Counsel’s investigation, is a brazen abuse of power. Any decision by your offices to share this material with the President or his lawyers will violate longstanding Department of Justice policies, as well as assurances you have provided to us.”

Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff and Warner previously wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Director Wray on June 5 and June 27, and to Director Coats on July 12. The full letter is below:

 
* * *
 
September 18, 2018
 
The Honorable Daniel Coats
Director
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Washington, D.C.  20511
 
The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein
Deputy Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, D.C.  20530
 
The Honorable Christopher Wray
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, D.C.  20535
 
Dear Director Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and Director Wray:
 
We write to express profound alarm at President Donald Trump’s decision on September 17, 2018 to intervene in an ongoing law enforcement investigation that may implicate the President himself or those around him. The action he has taken, to direct your agencies to selectively disclose classified information that he believes he can manipulate publicly to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Special Counsel’s investigation, is a brazen abuse of power. Any decision by your offices to share this material with the President or his lawyers will violate longstanding Department of Justice policies, as well as assurances you have provided to us. 
 
On June 5, 2018, we first wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Director Wray to express deep concern that the President and his legal team sought to abuse the President’s power to interfere with the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation and undermine the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s lawful and appropriate activities. We underscored that providing the White House and the President’s lawyers access to classified information and investigatory material of the utmost sensitivity – including information related to the Special Counsel’s investigation that implicates the President’s own campaign and associates – would grossly violate our system of checks and balances, fundamental norms, and long-standing, well-founded, and established procedure. Absent an indictment, moreover, the subjects of federal investigation should not be able to access law enforcement or related national security information for any reason. 
 
On June 27, 2018, we wrote again to memorialize the verbal assurance you provided us that DOJ and FBI would not provide the White House or any of the President’s attorneys with access to sensitive information briefed to a small group of designated Members. 
 
On July 12, 2018, we also wrote to Director Coats to express alarm that this information was being made more broadly available within the Congress, in direct contravention of your assurances. In this letter, we noted that during our meetings with all of you on these sensitive matters we discussed at great length the importance of protecting sources and methods and ongoing investigations. As you recall, all of the meetings’ attendees agreed that the information discussed was among the most sensitive type of information and should be protected accordingly. Director Coats’ July 13, 2018 written response to our letter, moreover, underscored his agreement that protecting sources and methods must be a top concern.
 
Pursuant to the President’s order, announced yesterday evening in a White House press statement, DOJ stated publicly that a declassification review process has been triggered, that DOJ and FBI are “already working with the Director of National Intelligence,” and that this review would be “conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel […].” The involvement of the White House Counsel, or any component of the White House, is highly improper and profoundly troubling. President Trump and the White House should not be given access to any sensitive law enforcement or national security information related to an ongoing federal investigation examining conduct by the President, his campaign, or his associates.
 
In light of the assurances you provided, we request an immediate briefing to the Gang of Eight from you  prior to any disclosure of the affected material by your agencies to anyone at the White House. Among other issues of concern, we will need you to clarify in person:
 
  • the exact review process that will be undertaken, including the White House’s role in and visibility into this process and the specific White House officials expected to be involved;
  • your agencies’ proposed redactions and plans to protect investigative equities and sources and methods, including efforts to mitigate harm that may result from these disclosures; and
  • how you intend to comply with statutes binding on the President and executive branch officers and employees, including the Privacy Act.
 
Your agencies’ review, and any communication with the White House on the substance of the material, should not proceed further until you have briefed the Gang of Eight in person.
 
Thank you for your immediate attention and we appreciate meeting as soon as possible.
 
Sincerely,
 
NANCY PELOSI
House Democratic Leader
CHUCK SCHUMER
Senate Democratic Leader
ADAM SCHIFF
Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee 
MARK WARNER
Vice Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s investigation:

“Today’s admission of criminal guilt by Paul Manafort clearly demonstrates that the President’s 2016 campaign manager conducted illegal activity in conspiracy with Russian-backed entities and was beholden to Kremlin-linked officials. The guilty plea also underscores the seriousness of this investigation. The Special Counsel must be permitted to follow the facts wherever and however high they might lead, because in the United States of America no one is above the law. Any attempt by the President to pardon Mr. Manafort or otherwise interfere in this investigation would be a gross abuse of power and require immediate action by Congress.”

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order “Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election”: 

“In order to deter foreign interference in future elections, we must make it clear to Russia and other adversaries that interference is unacceptable, and will have painful consequences. 

“Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply cannot be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters. While the Administration has yet to share the full text, an executive order that inevitably leaves the President broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient.

“If we are going to actually deter Russia and others from interfering in our elections in the future, we need to spell out strong, clear consequences, without ambiguity. We remain woefully underprepared to secure the upcoming elections, and an executive order is simply no substitute for congressional action, such as the strong measures included in the bipartisan DETER Act.”

Sen. Warner is a co-sponsor of the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act.


###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, was sentenced for lying to the FBI about his interactions with suspected Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign: 

“Despite constant attacks by the President and his allies, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team have once again demonstrated that they are conducting a serious, professional investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians during the 2016 election.  

“As an influential foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, Mr. Papadopoulos was informed that Russia had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails’ at a critical time during the campaign. He also had access to, and communications with, the campaign’s top leaders. That’s not conjecture – that is according to Mr. Papadopoulos himself.

“I still have significant questions about how high that information went, and I know the Senate Intelligence Committee would like to hear directly from Mr. Papadopoulos.”


###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“We have obviously followed today’s reporting about Michael Cohen with great interest. He appears to be pleading guilty to very serious charges, however, we have no insight into any agreements he and his legal team have allegedly reached with prosecutors in New York. 

“What we can say is that we recently re-engaged with Mr. Cohen and his team following press reports that suggested he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyers at Trump Tower. Mr. Cohen had testified before the Committee that he was not aware of the meeting prior to its disclosure in the press last summer. As such, the Committee inquired of Mr. Cohen’s legal team as to whether Mr. Cohen stood by his testimony. They responded that he did stand by his testimony. 

“We hope that today’s developments and Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement will not preclude his appearance before our Committee as needed for our ongoing investigation.”

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today after Facebook announced that it had removed 652 fraudulent Iranian-backed pages, groups, and accounts from Facebook and Instagram — as well as a number of pages, groups, and accounts linked to Russian military intelligence from Facebook. This announcement comes just weeks ahead of the September 5th open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee with the leadership of Facebook, Twitter, and Google on the subject of social media manipulation.

“This is further evidence that foreign adversaries are actively using social media to divide Americans and undermine our democratic institutions. I’ve been saying for months that there’s no way the problem of social media manipulation is limited to a single troll farm in St. Petersburg, and that fact is now beyond a doubt. We also learned today that the Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook from 2016. While I’m encouraged to see Facebook taking steps to rid their platforms of these bad actors, there’s clearly more work to be done. I look forward to questioning the leadership of Facebook, Twitter, and Google about this at the Intelligence Committee’s hearing on September 5th.

 

 

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today after Facebook announced that it removed 32 Pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram that showed connections to and activity consistent with previous Russian disinformation efforts: 

“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity. I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress on updating our laws to better protect our democracy in the future.”  

In October, Sen. Warner – along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) – introduced the Honest Ads Act to help prevent foreign interference in elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.

 

###

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) led 14 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in asking leaders at the Department of Justice to detail the ethical agreements binding the newly confirmed head of the Department’s Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski.  The information would shed light on whether Benczkowski—a nominee noted as uniquely underqualified, who served as an aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and on the Trump transition team, and who represented a Russian bank some suspect may have served as a clandestine back channel between Russia and the Trump Organization—has done enough to insulate himself from potentially serious conflicts of interest, including those involving Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attacks on the 2016 election.

Joining Whitehouse and Durbin in sending the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus are Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Among the senators’ concerns is the potential for Benczkowski, now privy to details of a broad array of Justice Department investigations and prosecutions, to access information on the Special Counsel investigation.  They also raise Benczkowski’s commitment to recuse himself from matters related to the Russian bank linked to the Trump Organization, Alfa Bank—a recusal that does not encompass the bank’s parent company, Alfa Group Consortium.  Events of the past week illustrate several of the issues with Benczkowski’s past employment and current position, the senators point out, suggesting the only remedy is a blanket recusal.

Without recusal,” the senators write, “there is a risk that Mr. Benczkowski would have oversight of investigative steps such as the Special Counsel’s recent request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort.  Likewise, last Tuesday, the Department indicted a Russian national, Mariia Butina, for acting and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.  . . . Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement in these actions could, at a minimum, create the appearance of a conflict or undue influence over these decisions.”

The senators continue, “Given Mr. Benczkowski’s prior relationship with the Attorney General and his representation of Alfa Bank—particularly in connection to the Steele Dossier—we believe Mr. Benczkowski should be recused from all aspects of the Special Counsel investigation, as well as from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium and its principals.  A categorical recusal is the only way for the Department to ensure public confidence in those and any associated investigations.” 

The Criminal Division is responsible for overseeing a stable of over 700 criminal attorneys charged with overseeing and prosecuting high-profile federal cases nationwide.  Benczkowski has no prosecutorial experience and has spent virtually no time in a courtroom. 

Full text of the senators’ letter is below.  A PDF version is available here.    

 

 

July 24, 2018

 

 

The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein

Deputy Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

 

The Honorable Lee J. Lofthus

Assistant Attorney General for Administration

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

 

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Lofthus:

 

On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski to be Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (“Department”).  Today, we write for further information concerning Mr. Benczkowski’s ethics agreement with the Department, the scope of his recusals, any waivers he has been granted, and any other information relevant to the Department’s review of Mr. Benczkowski’s prior work at it relates to his compliance with the Ethics in Government Act, associated regulations, Department policy, and the Trump Ethics Pledge, Executive Order 13770. 

 

The context of Mr. Benczkowski’s selection to lead the Criminal Division raises concerns that must be addressed in your review.  With no prosecutorial experience and barely any time in a courtroom of any sort, Mr. Benczkowski appears to have been nominated at least in part as a result of his prior, political relationship with Attorney General Sessions.  With the Attorney General recused from the Department’s Russia investigation, President Trump repeatedly violating rules and norms designed to protect the independence of that investigation, and House Republicans engaged in an active campaign to discredit the Department and FBI and make confidential investigative materials public, the Department and its ethics officials should take the utmost precautions to prevent any backchannel, unauthorized disclosures of the Special Counsel’s work.  

 

The issues with Mr. Benczkowski extend to his experience, as well as his lack of experience.  During the course of his confirmation proceedings, it came to light that as a lawyer in private practice, Mr. Benczkowski recently represented the Russian Alfa Bank in connection with allegations that its servers had maintained a clandestine back channel to the Trump Organization.  Mr. Benczkowski’s representation of Alfa Bank also included a review of the so-called “Steele dossier,” the private intelligence report by Christopher Steele that bears on issues central to the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference and related matters.  

 

Before his confirmation, Mr. Benczkowski committed to recuse himself, if confirmed as AAG, from all matters related to Alfa Bank.[1]  He did not, however, commit to recuse himself from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium, the parent company of Alfa Bank, or individuals related to that entity.  He also did not commit to recuse himself from the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.  Three individuals with ownership interests in Alfa Group Consortium—Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, and German Khan—have been identified to Congress by the United States Department of Treasury as among “senior foreign officials and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”[2]  A son-in-law of Mr. Khan, Alex Van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.[3] 

 

With respect to those matters, Mr. Benczkowski told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

 

Because I do not know the scope of [the Department’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election or Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation], I cannot commit to such a recusal at this time.  If I am confirmed and a matter comes before me in the Criminal Division where I believe recusal might be warranted, I will review the facts, consult with career ethics officials at the Department, and make a decision as warranted by the law and the facts.[4]

 

In prior correspondence with the Senate, the Department has confirmed that the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) may need to “seek approvals from the Criminal Division as required by statute, regulation, or policy[.]”[5]  The Department has also committed that “if Mr. Benczkowski is confirmed as AAG, the Department will require his consultation with appropriate ethics experts within the Department prior to his participation in or supervision of the SCO’s interaction with the Criminal Division.”[6]

 

The significance of these determinations was underscored by two steps taken by the Department just last week.  For example, without recusal, there is a risk that Mr. Benczkowski would have oversight of investigative steps such as the Special Counsel’s recent request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort.  Likewise, last Tuesday, the Department indicted a Russian national, Mariia Butina, for acting and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.  The indictment was handed down by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and signed by the District’s United States Attorney, Jessie Liu.  Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement in these actions could, at a minimum, create the appearance of a conflict or undue influence over these decisions.

 

Given Mr. Benczkowski’s prior relationship with the Attorney General and his representation of Alfa Bank—particularly in connection to the Steele Dossier—we believe Mr. Benczkowski should be recused from all aspects of the Special Counsel investigation, as well as from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium and its principals.  A categorical recusal is the only way for the Department to ensure public confidence in those and any associated investigations.  To further understand the Department’s position and decisions related to Mr. Benczkowski’s conflicts of interest, we request that you provide the following documentation and, as applicable, address the following questions:

 

  • All ethics agreements, recusals, waivers, or other documentation pertaining to the scope of Mr. Benczkowski’s duties at the Department. 
  • All counseling notes, emails, and any other communication between Mr. Benczkowski, the Department’s Ethics Office, and the Office of Government Ethics.  
  • A copy of Mr. Benczkowski’s signed “Ethics Pledge.”
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium, please explain why.
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, and/or German Khan, please explain why.
  • What was Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement, if any, in the Department’s request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort, and in the Department’s decision to charge Mariia Butina?
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, or related investigations and prosecutions conducted by the Department or United States Attorneys’ offices, please explain why.

In Mr. Lofthus’s February 26, 2018, letter to Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol, he stated that Mr. Benczkowski would meet with ethics officials during his first week of service and complete document compliance with his ethics agreement within 90 days of service.  The critical importance and pendency of matters before the Department demand assurances that Mr. Benczkowski will have no role, consultative or otherwise, in them until his ethics arrangements are complete.  Accordingly, we request a response to this letter no later than July 31, 2018.  

 

 

###

 




[1] See Response from Brian Benczkowski to Question for the Record #2 from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, August 1, 2017 (“I have decided to recuse myself from any matter involving Alfa Bank for the duration of my service as the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, if I am confirmed.”).

[2] Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 Regarding Senior Foreign Political Figures and Oligarchs in the Russian Federation and Russian Parastatal Entities, January 29, 2018. 

[3] The Special Counsel referenced Mr. Khan in his sentencing memorandum for Mr. Van der Zwaan: “Van der Zwaan is a person of ample financial means—both personally and through his father-in-law, a prominent Russian oligarch, who has paid substantial sums to the defendant and his wife.  He can pay any fine imposed.”  Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, Crim. No. 18-31 (D.D.C) filed Mar. 27, 2018.  

[4] Response from Brian Benczkowski to Question for the Record #3 from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, August 1, 2017. 

[5] Letter from Hon. Stephen Boyd to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Dec. 11, 2017.

[6] Id.

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced new cosponsors of bipartisan Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act: Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

The legislation sends a powerful message to Russia and any other foreign actor seeking to disrupt our elections:  if you attack American candidates, campaigns, or voting infrastructure, you will face severe consequences. The DETER Act uses the threat of powerful sanctions to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in our elections by ensuring that they know well in advance that the costs will outweigh the benefits.

“In the face of unequivocal evidence that Russia worked to undermine our elections in 2016 and continued aggression from the Kremlin just four months until our next federal elections, we must take action,” said Senator Van Hollen. “The DETER Act would send a clear signal that attacks on our democracy will not be tolerated. We’re proud to announce this new support from our colleagues, and we hope the Senate will take up this bipartisan legislation without delay.” 

“The most meaningful measure that we can take right now to protect our democracy is to pass the bipartisan DETER Act, which imposes specific and serious sanctions against foreign countries that meddle in our future elections. We must make sure Putin understands that we will not overlook his hostilities, and he will face punishing consequences if he tries to interfere in our elections again,” said Senator Rubio. 

“We have to do everything we can to protect our elections from foreign interference. The 2018 midterm elections are just around the corner, and Director National Intelligence Dan Coats just recently cautioned that the ‘warning lights are blinking red again.’ On the heels of the President’s weak performance in Helsinki, it’s critical that we make clear to Putin that interference in our democratic process will not be tolerated. I thank Senator Van Hollen and Senator Rubio for their leadership on this issue,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Warner.

“As the U.S. intelligence services have reported, it is an incontrovertible fact that Russia sought to influence the 2016 elections in the United States – a fact that President Putin openly confirmed during the recent U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki,” Senator Gardner said. “We know Russia will try again, so we must also be forward thinking to prevent this assault on our democracy from ever happening again. As we get closer to our next elections, we should be making it clear to the KGB thug Vladimir Putin, and anyone else who dares meddle in our elections, that this type of behavior will never be tolerated and will be met with severe and immediate consequences.”

“Russia’s interference in our elections cannot be dismissed or ignored. Congress has a responsibility to take action and impose costs on those who would attack American democracy,” said Senator Baldwin. “This bipartisan effort puts country over party, stands up for our democracy and will send a powerful message to bad actors like Putin’s Russia and other adversarial nations that future attacks on our elections will be met with severe consequences.” 

“Our Intelligence Community has made it clear that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections and will do so again -  unless we take actions to prevent it,” said Senator Coons. “The DETER Act will impose penalties on Russia – or any other adversary – that seeks to undermine our democratic processes and traditions.  I commend Senator Rubio and Senator Van Hollen for introducing this bill and I look forward to working with them to pass it into law.”

“Vladimir Putin wants to make the Soviet Union great again and he hates the very stuff that makes America great – our First Amendment freedoms and our free and fair elections,” said Senator Sasse. “Russia is coming back in 2018, 2020, and 2022 to sow chaos and distrust. We cannot fall asleep on the watch. These attacks deserve consequences -- and sanctions send a strong message. 

“The conclusion of American intelligence agencies is crystal clear: Russian interference in our elections is a fact. We must take immediate action to protect and secure our elections from future meddling by Russia or anyone else. Deterring foreign enemies from attacking our election systems and other critical infrastructure is just the first step we must take to protect our national security and democratic institutions,” said Senator Cantwell. 

Senator Grassley said, “While no vote tallies were changed in the 2016 presidential election, Russian cyberattacks and propaganda efforts undermined confidence in our democratic process. Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to continue sowing discord and meddling in Western democracies without consequence. Passing this legislation would help improve Americans’ faith in their system of government and send an unmistakable signal to the Kremlin that it’s not worth trying it again.”

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

Reporting Requirements

·         The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) must issue to Congress a determination on whether any foreign government has interfered in that election within one month after every federal election.

 

Actions That Will Elicit Retaliation

·         A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot purchase advertisements to influence an election, including online ads.

·         A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot use social and traditional media to spread significant amounts of false information to Americans.

·         A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot hack and release or modify election and campaign infrastructure, including voter registration databases and campaign emails

·         A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot block or otherwise hinder access to elections infrastructure, such as websites providing information on polling locations.

 

Russia-Specific Sanctions

·         If the DNI determines that the Kremlin has once again interfered in an American federal election, the bill mandates a set of severe sanctions that must be implement within ten days of the DNI's determination.

·         This includes sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, and metals and mining.

·         Every senior Russian political figure or oligarch, identified in the report required by the Countering America's Adversaries Act of 2017, will be blacklisted from entering the United States and will have their assets blocked.

·         The Administration is also required to work with the European Union to enlist their support in adopting a sanctions regime to broaden the impact.

 

Preparing for Other Potential Attacks

·         The DNI has identified China, Iran, and North Korea as our other major foreign government cyber threats, and they may also seek to exploit American vulnerabilities in the next election cycle.

·         The Administration should present Congress with a plan for preventing interference in our elections for each of these countries, and any other foreign state of significant concern.

 

 

###

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON— Following President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, where he accepted Putin’s election meddling denial, top Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Trump listing a series of questions to clarify what commitments he may have made to Putin during their secretive and lengthy meeting. 

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), and Senate Banking Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) signed the letter to President Trump.

“American citizens and the whole world watched the leader of the free world align with an authoritarian leader who orchestrated an attack on our own democracy. President Putin and his government are wasting no time capitalizing on yesterday’s meeting and using it to advance their national interests. We cannot afford to be blindsided or outmaneuvered,” wrote the Senators before listing 13 questions to be answered by the President. “Your cursory description of what was discussed at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting does little to assuage these concerns. To adequately protect America’s interests, we need to know what commitments you may have made to President Putin.”

The Senators also called on the Trump Administration to allow the U.S. Ambassador to Russia and the Secretary of Defense to testify before Congress about the repercussions of the Helsinki summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is already scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday July 25th.

The text of the letter can be found here and below:

 

Mr. President:

 

Yesterday was a stunning day for American democracy. American citizens and the whole world watched the leader of the free world align with an authoritarian leader who orchestrated an attack on our own democracy. In doing so, you turned your back on our own intelligence community, which unanimously agrees that the Russian government carried out attacks intended to disrupt and interfere with our elections and influence public opinion.

 

We as a nation must now wonder exactly what you discussed and may have promised to President Putin. Congress and the American public have a right to know. President Putin and his government are wasting no time capitalizing on yesterday’s meeting and using it to advance their national interests. We cannot afford to be blindsided or outmaneuvered. Just today the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly stated that it is prepared to start implementing an agreement you apparently struck in Helsinki with President Putin, an agreement that neither Congress nor the American people have been informed about.

 

Your cursory description of what was discussed at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting does little to assuage these concerns. To adequately protect America’s interests, we need to know what commitments you may have made to President Putin. Specifically: 

 

1.       What is the full list of topics you discussed?

 

2.       What were the “suggestions” President Putin made to you?

 

3.       Did you discuss any changes to international security agreements?

 

4.       Did you advocate for the removal to the U.S. of the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted last Friday?

 

5.       Did you make any commitments regarding the future of the U.S. military presence in Syria? 

 

6.       Did you call upon President Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments, agreed to at the Presidential level last year in Da Nang, Vietnam, with respect to the de-escalation zone in southwest Syria, especially the presence of Iran and Iranian-aligned forces?

 

7.       Did you press Russia to return to compliance with the INF treaty and halt its nuclear threats against Europe?

 

8.       Did you discuss relaxing U.S. sanctions on Russia, including CAATSA sanctions? If so, what was said, and what concessions, if any, were made by you and/or President Putin?

 

9.       Did you call upon President Putin to withdraw from Crimea and eastern Ukraine so that both areas are returned to Ukrainian Government control?

 

10.   Did you discuss NATO military exercises scheduled for this fall?  Did you agree to roll back or change the nature of those exercises?

 

11.   Did you discuss U.S. security assistance to Ukraine or make any concessions regarding its continuation?

 

12.   Did you raise the issue of political prisoners with President Putin, including that of Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker who has been detained for 4 years and is on hunger strike?

 

13.   What, if anything, did you commit to?

 

Mr. President, the answers to these questions are of critical importance to U.S. national security. Answering them in full, without hesitation, will demonstrate that you do still hold America’s interests first. Some of us will press Secretary Pompeo on these issues next week. In addition, we urge you to immediately send the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, an appropriately high-ranking Intelligence Community official, and the Secretary of Defense to testify before Congress and explain how they will continue to advance America’s interests in light of yesterday’s summit.

 

We look forward to your response.

 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today following President Trump’s comments during a joint press conference at the Trump-Putin summit:

“For the President of the United States to stand next to Vladimir Putin — who personally ordered one of the largest state-sponsored cyber-attacks in our history — and side with Putin over America’s military and intelligence leaders is a breach of his duty to defend our country against its adversaries.

“If the President cannot defend the United States and its interests in public, how can we trust him to stand up for our country in private?” 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, a group of top Senate Democrats wrote to President Trump, urging him in the strongest possible terms to avoid meeting alone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a letter to the White House, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) all encouraged the President to cancel the summit if he is not prepared to press Putin on Russia’s attack on the 2016 election and demand that Russian intelligence officials indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice be handed over to stand trial. 

“If you insist on meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, we write to urge that you include senior members of your team and not meet one-on-one with Mr. Putin, as reportedly planned. Mr. Putin is a trained KGB intelligence veteran who will come to this meeting well-prepared. As the Kremlin said last week, a one-on-one meeting with you ‘absolutely suits’ him. There must be other Americans in the room,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators also urged Trump to make Russia’s attack on the U.S. elections the top issue of the meeting, and pressed him to follow up on yesterday’s indictment of 12 Russians for hacking Democratic campaign officials and state elections boards. 

“If you are not prepared to make Russia’s attack on our election the top issue you will discuss, then you should cancel the Helsinki summit. Mr. Putin is not a friend of the United States. The unanimous judgment of the professional men and women of the United States intelligence community is that Russia, at Mr. Putin’s direction, undertook a sophisticated campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a judgment that was just last week upheld in a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee,” said the Senators. “Just yesterday, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence agents with hacking the computer networks of U.S. political organizations. These follow previous indictments of 13 Russians associated with the St. Petersburg ‘troll factory.’ These individuals must be brought to the United States so that they can stand trial, and you should demand that Mr. Putin hand them over.”

Added the Senators, “We hope that you will use the opportunity of a meeting with Mr. Putin to advance a well-coordinated U.S. message, supported by senior leaders in your own administration, to hold Russia accountable for its unacceptable behavior. To do so, you must rely on the expertise and the experts of the State Department, Defense Department, CIA and other U.S. government agencies – not wing it on your own.”

The summit is part of a foreign trip planned by the White House which included visits to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels and London. During this trip, President Trump threatened to pull out of the military alliance. Undermining the U.S.- NATO relationship has been a longtime goal of Putin. 

“Our intelligence leaders unanimously assess that Mr. Putin will continue to try to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections. Russia continues its aggressive policy to undermine NATO, European solidarity, and Western institutions and norms. It continues to support a murderous regime in Syria, and to destabilize and occupy parts of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin wants to see the West divided and weakened. You must not play into his aims,” the Senators counseled.

The letter was sent a day after the U.S. Justice Department announced new charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Clinton campaign. The indictments are part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

 

July 14, 2018

 

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Trump:

 If you insist on meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, we write to urge that you include senior members of your team and not meet one-on-one with Mr. Putin, as reportedly planned. Mr. Putin is a trained KGB intelligence veteran who will come to this meeting well-prepared. As the Kremlin said last week, a one-on-one meeting with you “absolutely suits” him. There must be other Americans in the room.

If you are not prepared to make Russia’s attack on our election the top issue you will discuss, then you should cancel the Helsinki summit. Mr. Putin is not a friend of the United States. The unanimous judgment of the professional men and women of the United States intelligence community is that Russia, at Mr. Putin’s direction, undertook a sophisticated campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a judgment that was just last week upheld in a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Just yesterday, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence agents with hacking the computer networks of U.S. political organizations. These follow previous indictments of 13 Russians associated with the St. Petersburg “troll factory.” These individuals must be brought to the United States so that they can stand trial, and you should demand that Mr. Putin hand them over.

Our intelligence leaders unanimously assess that Mr. Putin will continue to try to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections. Russia continues its aggressive policy to undermine NATO, European solidarity, and Western institutions and norms. It continues to support a murderous regime in Syria, and to destabilize and occupy parts of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin wants to see the West divided and weakened. You must not play into his aims.

We hope that you will use the opportunity of a meeting with Mr. Putin to advance a well-coordinated U.S. message, supported by senior leaders in your own administration, to hold Russia accountable for its unacceptable behavior. To do so, you must rely on the expertise and the experts of the State Department, Defense Department, CIA and other U.S. government agencies – not wing it on your own.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today after the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for criminally interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election:

“Today’s indictment by the Department of Justice of 12 Russian spies for hacking our election is another testament to the quality and professionalism of the investigation being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The President and his allies must cease and desist their baseless, inflammatory attacks on an investigation that, even before today, had already produced multiple indictments and secured guilty pleas from two Trump campaign aides as well as the President’s former national security adviser.    

“Just this morning in the United Kingdom, President Trump blamed the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations on ‘the rigged witch hunt,’ claiming that it ‘really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia.’ The President is wrong. As today’s indictment makes crystal clear, tensions between our two nations exist because Russia attacked our democracy. 

“That’s all the more reason why he must not meet one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, who, in the absence of U.S. experts or advisers, will undoubtedly take full advantage of an ill-prepared President. And if the Administration is unwilling to make the facts laid out in today’s indictment a top priority for that discussion, then that meeting shouldn’t happen.”

 

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