WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned a senior Trump Administration official about interference in the 2016 presidential election. In response to Menendez, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale confirmed that it was Russia that interfered in the election—not Ukraine, as President Trump has frequently, and falsely, claimed. Quoting Fiona Hill’s testimony during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, Menendez got Under Secretary Hale to concede Vladimir Putin benefits by the fictional narrative about Ukrainian interference, which has been embraced by President Trump and his Republican allies.
A portion of Menendez’s questioning can be found below:
Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): Secretary Hale, did Russia interfere in 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump?
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale: Yes, the Intelligence Community assessed that the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016, aimed at our presidential election.
RM: Was the Kremlin’s interference in our 2016 election a hoax?
RM: Are you aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
DH: I am not.
RM: You know, I appreciate Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony before the House—former National Security Council Director for Russia—who said that that theory is “a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” Do you have any reason to disagree with Dr. Hill?
DH: I do not.
RM: In February of 2017, at a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, President Putin himself suggested that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, did he not?
DH: I don’t recall that myself, but I don’t doubt that.
RM: Okay, at a 2017 press conference he said, “As we all know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favor of one candidate. More than that, certain oligarchs certainly with the approval of the political leadership funded this candidate, or female candidate, to be more precise.” Has this been a regular Russian propaganda point since then?
DH: I have not followed that that has been a regular point, but I don’t follow that on a day-to-day-basis.
RM: Would it be in Putin’s interest to push such a narrative?
RM: Possibly? Well, let me ask you—you’re the Under Secretary here. How is it that on something as critical as Russia vis-à-vis the United States and our national security interest you would think that it is only possibly in Putin’s interest to push a narrative. What would be the other possibility?
SH: I’ll say yes to your question, sir.
RM: Did President Putin make this point to President Trump when they met in Helsinki last year or in any of their conversations?
DH: I do not know.
RM: Well, that’s problem: Neither do we. And it’s a big problem especially when the president meets alone with Putin and even confiscates the notes of his interpreter. But it is curious that Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election does not appear to be the position of senior diplomats like yourself or any intelligence official, yet this lie makes it somehow, somehow into the president’s talking points. Is our national security made stronger or weaker members of the Administration or members of Congress insist on repeating debunked Russian lies?
DH: It does not serve our interests.