October 30, 2019

Menendez Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for U.S. Ambassador to Russia

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks this morning at a committee hearing for the nomination of the Honorable John Joseph Sullivan to be Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

“Our State Department is on the front lines of our national defense. They are patriots charged with achieving our goals through diplomacy, not conflict.  Never in my 27 years [in Congress] have I seen the Department so mismanaged and so many of our diplomats maligned. And you don’t have to take my word for it, just look to the testimony of two patriots: Ambassador Yovanovitch and Ambassador Taylor. The denigration of these two dedicated public servants is a disgrace. The State Department is in disarray, a casualty of Donald Trump’s decision to use U.S. national security as a political weapon,” said Senator Menendez. “Your position at the State Department would have afforded you the responsibility of overseeing the conduct of policy.  What did you know about the role played by Rudy Giuliani?  Did Kurt Volker’s unique volunteer status lead to conflicts of interests and a confusing policy making process?  Where was the State Department leadership, yourself included, when it came to defending Ambassador Yovanovitch and others?  Now I supported you for your present position but before I vote on your nomination, we will need answers to these and other questions.  So I can’t guarantee you the Chairman’s suggestion that this will be a quick and simple and kind hearing. I do guarantee it will be a fair and honest one.”

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Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered can be found below:

“Mr. Secretary, congratulations on your nomination. You understand the role of Congress as a co-equal branch of government, and you have differentiated yourself from those in the Administration who have sought to break every norm in the conduct of foreign policy.  And that is why we expect continued candidness from you here today. Unfortunately, one person, no matter how skilled and dedicated, cannot counteract the disarray that is the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. I have served 27 years between the House and the Senate, and worked on foreign policy that entire time. Never before have I seen such chaos and U.S. policy incoherence from Syria, to Turkey, to Iran, to Ukraine, and to Russia.

“Our State Department is on the front lines of our national defense. They are patriots charged with achieving our goals through diplomacy, not conflict.  Never in my 27 years have I seen the Department so mismanaged and so many of our diplomats maligned. And you don’t have to take my word for it, just look to the testimony of two patriots: Ambassador Yovanovitch and Ambassador Taylor. The denigration of these two dedicated public servants is a disgrace. The State Department is in disarray, a casualty of Donald Trump’s decision to use U.S. national security as a political weapon.

“And never in my 27 years have I seen a Department, or an Administration, so willing to stick its thumb directly in the eye of Congress, a co-equal branch of government. I don’t think we have to cite the Constitution here today, Mr. Secretary, but I’m certainly prepared to do so. Over the years, there’s been friction and disagreements between the legislative and executive branches, those are normal. But we have entered new territory, dangerous territory for our republic. And I’m not just talking about the House’s current inquiry. I’m talking about asking 20 times to get a basic piece of information. The extreme lengths we have to go through to get a single document. The Department refusing to even discuss certain matters.

“This is not just playing hard ball. It is undermining our democratic system of government.  And unfortunately, Mr. Secretary, this has taken place under your watch and under the direction of Secretary Pompeo. The Secretary has a lot to answer for. But I believe so do you.  We will talk about all of those issues that have been so central to the administration of the State Department over the past two and a half years.  

“We’re also here to talk about your vision for the bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation.  I, for one, do not believe that Russia should be playing role is in Syria.  I don’t believe those that do business with Russian military, like Turkey, should be given a free pass under CAATSA. I don’t believe that Russia belongs in the G7, at least not until they change the course of events. And I don’t believe that it is acceptable to delay security assistance for Ukraine, a move that directly benefits Russia. President Trump, however, is on the record as believing all of those things. He believes every single one. I believe President Trump lost any shred of legitimacy on Russia when he delayed security assistance for Ukraine. Ukrainians died because of this delay and died at the hands of Russian forces. And America was made less safe.

“So Mr. Secretary, I want you to succeed in Moscow, I really do. But I need to hear directly from you as to what constitutes success. Is success fulfilling President Trump’s pro-Kremlin vision for the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship? Or will you actually advocate a policy that protects U.S. national security? It’s a fundamentally important choice. If it is the former, I will have serious reservations about supporting your nomination. If it is the latter, then I am open to the conversation. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this fundamental choice.

“U.S. policy on Russia has been intrinsically wrapped up in our Ukraine policy, given that Russian forces continue their onslaught against Ukrainian troops and civilians in the Donbas.  An onslaught, I will again note, that was made easier by the delay in providing security assistance.  Your position at the State Department would have afforded you the responsibility of overseeing the conduct of policy.  What did you know about the role played by Rudy Giuliani?  Did Kurt Volker’s unique volunteer status lead to conflicts of interests and a confusing policy making process?  Where was the State Department leadership, yourself included, when it came to defending Ambassador Yovanovitch and others?  Now I supported you for your present position, but before I vote on your nomination, we will need answers to these and other questions.  So I can’t guarantee you the Chairman’s suggestion that this will be a quick and simple and kind hearing. I do guarantee it will be a fair and honest one. I look forward to your answers to that we’ll be posing.”

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