March 17, 2021

Chairman Menendez Discusses Intel Report Confirming Russia Tried to Again Subvert U.S. Democracy in 2020 to Help Donald Trump

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), today took to the Senate Floor to discuss the publication of a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) which confirmed the Russian Federation favored Donald Trump’s re-election and sought to influence the outcome of the 2020 election by amplifying attacks on Joe Biden and his family.

“This is not about party. This is about the durability of our democracy, and everyone in this body has an important role to play in rejecting foreign interference and restoring trust in our election process.  While the contents of the report came as no surprise, its findings were nonetheless breathtaking,” said Chairman Menendez. “Our intelligence community is highly confident in its assessment that Vladimir Putin was involved in the operation whereby Andrei Derkach  and Konstantine Kilimnik successfully manipulated President Trump’s inner circle, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.”

Calling for additional sanctions in response to the report, Menendez added: “We must come to terms with the fact that while Russia has aggressively promoted disinformation in our country, the most pernicious engine of lies in the United States is cast by the former president himself.  Knowing the facts sets a foundation for action. I look forward to engaging with this administration on measures to respond to our intelligence community’s findings. There should be sanctions required in response to this interference, the administration must move quickly to impose them.”

Below are the senators remarks as delivered.

“Madam President, I come to the floor today to discuss yesterday’s report from the intelligence community – public report – which confirmed what we all suspected last year – that the Russian Federation favored Donald Trump’s re-election and sought to influence the outcome by amplifying attacks on Joe Biden and his family.

And while the scale of interference appears to be less than what we saw in 2016, the receptiveness of Trump’s inner circle appears to have been about the same. They were open for business.

I’m not here to re-litigate the 2016 or 2020 elections. I am here to raise my concern with the fact that for two election cycles in a row now, the Republican Party’s nominee for President sought to normalize foreign interference in our elections.

And I want to be clear – It is wrong. It is hostile. It is undemocratic. And it must stop if we want the American people to have confidence in the legitimacy and the credibility of our elections going forward.

This is not about party. This is about the durability of our democracy, and everyone in this body has an important role to play in rejecting foreign interference and restoring trust in our election process.

While the contents of the report came as no surprise, its findings were nonetheless breathtaking. Our intelligence community is highly confident – the highest assessment they have on any given issue – in its assessment that Vladimir Putin was involved in the operation whereby Andrei Derkach and Konstantine Kilimnik successfully manipulated President Trump’s inner circle, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Thankfully, the American people had better sense than Giuliani and rejected the Kremlin-backed lies about Joe Biden and his family. That, however, does not diminish the fact that the Russian government undertook this effort and the former President welcomed it.

The Russian interference detailed in this report occurred at the very same time the Trump administration sought to publicly downplay the role played by Russia.

This report was mandated by Congress and for good reason. Americans deserve to know exactly who is interfering in our democracy, and how.

As I said before, everyone has a role to play, including the American people. We have to encourage Americans to practice better cybersecurity, to scrutinize the information they see on the web, to carefully examining social media posts before sharing them – must become the new hallmarks of a patriotic, active and informed citizenry.

And our social media companies must do a better job stopping the proliferation of foreign disinformation on their platforms. 

The health of our democracy depends on this vigilance.

The Kremlin will continue to attack our elections and seek to sow divisions among us. We have a responsibility to resist this interference and not make their job any easier.

We live in a media environment where Donald Trump and his Republican allies continue to this day to promote unhinged conspiracy theories that the election was stolen.

The intelligence report confirms this is not true.

Some Republican officials have promoted wild conspiracy theories that China supported Democratic campaigns. 

The intelligence report confirms this was not true.

Former President Trump and his allies still assert that Venezuela manipulated voting machines.

A companion report by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security confirmed that this is not true.

We must come to terms with the fact that while Russia has aggressively promoted disinformation in our country, the most pernicious engine of lies in the United States is cast by the former president himself.

Knowing the facts sets a foundation for action. I look forward to engaging with this administration on measures to respond to our intelligence community’s findings. There should be sanctions required in response to this interference, the administration must move quickly to impose them.

I welcome the approach taken thus far by the Biden administration as it crafts a Russia policy that calls out Kremlin aggression when it happens and takes strong measures in response.

The sanctions imposed in response to the Navalny assassination attempt demonstrate that such reckless and dangerous behavior will not be tolerated and our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable will include close coordination with our European allies.

The package of sanctions announced on March 2nd shows how committed the Biden administration is to confronting Kremlin aggression. This type of rigor in the development of sanctions packages is a welcome reminder of how government should work. 

The Navalny sanctions were a good first step, and I look forward to soon seeing the results of the administration’s review of Russia policy. In my view we need a strategy that accomplishes four main goals:

One. Limiting the Kremlin’s ability to interfere in our democracy as well as those of our allies and partners. This includes a comprehensive plan to counter Russian generated propaganda and corruption around the world.

Two. Standing up for our friends in Ukraine who are literally on the frontlines battling Kremlin aggression.

They need our diplomatic support in Europe. They need our security assistance to defend themselves. They need our encouragement to reform democratic institutions. I hope that President Biden will soon speak with President Zelensky to send these important messages.

Three, we have a responsibility to engage with the Russian government when it’s in our national security interests. I supported the extension of the New Start agreement and urge the administration to continue to advance arm control policies that advance stability and our national security.

And finally, our Russia policy must extend a hand to the Russian people, many of whom have courageously turned out by the thousands in opposition to Putin and his government. Their struggle for democracy is theirs, not ours, but we must make clear that our disagreements are not with them, but with Vladimir Putin and his corrupt autocratic regime.

Defending our elections isn’t just about strong cyber measures, protecting the ballot box and promoting better practices on social media.

It’s about having a foreign policy that clearly communicates our values and interests, one that leaves no room for debate over the openness of any American president to foreign interference. 

It’s about a foreign policy that recognizes how the Kremlin’s efforts to weaken democracy in Ukraine or in other European countries ultimately threaten democracy here in the United States.

It is about a foreign policy that works with allies and partners, not one that denigrates them at every turn. 

The intelligence community is getting better at detecting and guarding against interference, but we must remain vigilant.

Russia and other foreign actors will continue to attack our democratic process. Their tactics may evolve, but their intentions remain the same. And we need to stay one step ahead of them.

The Biden administration is off to a good start in defending our democracy. As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I look forward to working together to advance policies that reflect America’s time-honored democratic values both at home and abroad.”

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