September 23, 2019

Menendez Outlines Enhanced Congressional Oversight Following Trump’s Pressuring of Ukraine to Interfere in the 2020 Presidential Elections

“This is behavior that we have never seen from an American president. Unfortunately, it’s behavior that fits into President Trump’s broader pattern of surrender to his patrons in Moscow” “I implore my colleagues to use the Article I powers we have to get to the bottom of these very issues and preserve the critical checks and balances we have in our nation”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor this afternoon in response to reports that President Trump and his Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, withheld hundreds of millions in security assistance to Ukraine until they opened an investigation intended to bolster the President’s 2020 election prospects. Menendez announced a series of Congressional actions to get to the truth behind the allegations of abuse of power by the President during his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

“If President Trump had used money to coerce another person to perform some corrupt action on his behalf, we would call it out for what it is: extortion,” said Menendez, announcing a series of Congressional actions to get to the truth behind the allegations of abuse of power by the President during his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Are we just going to let the President of the United States extort foreign leaders? Are we going to let him reshape American foreign policy to advance his own personal and political goals? Is this not a gross abuse of presidential power? If not, then what is? The Senate as a whole has an obligation to get to the bottom of this. Do my Republican colleagues really think it is okay to ask a foreign power to pursue unfounded allegations against a political opponent?  Is this the new normal? I hope not.” 

Below are his remarks as delivered:

“We have heard some deeply disturbing revelations in recent days regarding President Trump’s efforts to tie congressionally-appropriated security funding for Ukraine hostage to its government’s willingness to investigate his political opponents here at home. The alleged threat by President Trump to withhold vital security funding from Ukraine came out last week in press reports about a whistle-blower complaint from a U.S. intelligence official.

These revelations suggest a gross abuse of power unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 27 years working on U.S. foreign policy. They also show Donald Trump once again welcoming a foreign power to influence our elections, this time using the power of the White House. As of today, the Acting Director of National Intelligence has refused to comply with the law that requires him to share this whistle blower complaint with Congress. Yet that hasn’t stopped multiple members of the President’s inner circle from all but confirming that the President pushed Ukrainian President Zelensky to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

Together, they’ve engaged in a disturbing effort to convince the American people that this sort of behavior is somehow normal. First, we watched the President’s personal lawyer admit on CNN that he had raised this issue of investigating Biden on the president’s behalf. Then yesterday, we saw Secretary Mike Pompeo sink to a new low when he defended this behavior on national TV. 

And then it was the President himself who admitted it to reporters.  The President himself! I’m not sure what more evidence we need, folks. 

And where are my Republican colleagues?  Where are these supposed defenders of democracy and freedom?  Where are the advocates for a strong relationship with Ukraine? They are silent, Mr. President.  Shamefully silent.  

For more than two months, the President held up $391 million in urgently needed security assistance for Ukraine – assistance that was appropriated by the Senate with broad bipartisan support. Congress didn’t pass this funding so that the President could sit on it. We didn’t pass this funding so that the President could use it as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. We passed this funding because Ukraine needs our support against relentless Russian aggression – and because providing that support is in the interest of our own national security goals.

Certainly, many of us were not surprised to see this Administration delay assistance to Ukraine, given the President’s repeated cowering to Moscow on the international stage. And yet for two months we wondered exactly why this money was being withheld from Ukraine. Now we know.

The President withheld this money all in the hopes that the Ukrainian government would open a bogus investigation into Vice President Biden’s son.  How is that not abuse of power?  How is that not abuse of power?  

I welcome efforts in the House to fully investigate the role of the President’s personal lawyer in pressuring a foreign country to investigate the family of a potential political opponent.  I urge the Senate to follow suit, because a legitimate president would never allow his lawyer to override bipartisan support for Ukraine. A legitimate president would not let his personal lawyer compel foreign powers to interfere in our political process.  A legitimate president would not withhold congressionally appropriated funding to Ukraine to advance his re-election prospects. 

Today, I am calling for a series of measures to get to the bottom of this. First, I call upon the Inspector General of the State Department to review the withholding of security assistance for Ukraine. This review must include the extent to which the Department was aware of, or part of, the decision to withhold these funds and whether our foreign assistance laws were broken. The Inspector General must also examine whether the State Department knew why the Administration was withholding these funds and highlight any communications between the White House and the State Department on this matter.

Second, I call upon the State Department to provide all details and records about any support in any form provided from the department for the President’s personal lawyer’s efforts in Ukraine.  Likewise we need to know about any briefings the President’s personal lawyer provided to department personnel on his interactions with Ukrainian officials.

Third, I call on the Office of Management and Budget to tell Congress why it sat on Ukraine’s security assistance for more than two months. It typically takes the OMB just five days to review notifications from the implementing agencies. To sit on a notification for more than two months is unorthodox, unprecedented and unacceptable.

Fourth, I call upon the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations, Appropriations, Armed Services, and the Select Committee on Intelligence to immediately hold hearings on the President’s purported use of security assistance to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into a political opponent.  I urge Chairman Risch to fulfill his commitments to hold a hearing on Russia and markup on Russia sanctions soon. If President Trump had used money to coerce another person to perform some corrupt action on his behalf, we would call it out for what it is: extortion.

Are we just going to let the President of the United States extort foreign leaders? Are we going to let him reshape American foreign policy to advance his own personal goals and political goals? Is this not a gross abuse of presidential power? If not, then what is? These committees have a responsibility to ask these questions. They have a constitutional responsibility to do their job. The Senate as a whole has an obligation to get to the bottom of this. 

Do my Republican colleagues really think it is okay to ask a foreign power to pursue unfounded allegations against a political opponent? Is this the new normal? I hope not.

This is behavior that we have never seen from an American president.  Unfortunately, it’s behavior that fits into President Trump’s broader pattern of surrender to his patrons in Moscow.  I wish I could say that extorting Ukraine was the only way that Donald Trump corrupted our national security over the course of this summer, but that’s just not the case.

Last month, President Trump also redirected funding for the European Deterrence Initiative to his ridiculous border wall. Funding for the European Deterrence Initiative helps our allies counter the kind of Russian malign influence deployed by Putin against our democracy in 2016. It’s well known by now that President Trump was lying when he said Mexico would pay for wall.  To this day he refuses to own up to this lie – so much so that he is willing to siphon dollars away from our military and abandon our most vital democratic allies in Europe to pursue a medieval vanity project. It’s yet another example of him selling out our national security to curry favor with his political base.

Over the past few weeks, my office has heard from several European embassies who are now stuck holding the bill for Trump’s wall.  And while you won’t hear it from them publicly because they too fear a backlash from this president, they are offended and angry about this decision. It’s simply astounding

We’re talking about the allies that Americans fought and died for in order to defend democracy, worked so hard to rebuild after World War II, and continued to protect during the Cold War. I’m sure the Kremlin couldn’t be happier. To Putin, this must be a stroke of genius.

Trump is killing two birds with one stone by redirecting these funds. He’s dividing us from our European allies in the face of Russian aggression and dividing the American people with his politics of hate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Investing in Donald Trump’s candidacy was the best decision Putin ever made. His patron at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will stop at nothing to repay the debt. Indeed it might be the only debt businessman Donald Trump has ever worked so hard to repay.

My friends, we’ve witnessed a real summer of love between Trump and Putin. Consider the G7 meeting in France last month. So clearly, was the United States not the leading voice at the table. So tragically, have we lost the confidence of our closest allies. And so predictably did our President once again make an appeal on behalf of his patron in Moscow, repeatedly calling for the expansion of the G7 to include Russia. 

Sometimes I wonder, does President Trump actually think that Russia is a democracy? Does he think that the Russian people live in freedom? Does he see Russia as an advanced economy? Does he believe Russia shares America’s interests? I have to say little surprises me these days, but even I was taken aback to see him blame President Obama for Russia’s behavior, on foreign soil no less!

There is only one country responsible for Russia’s removal from the G8 in 2014, and that is Russia. The Russian Federation was suspended from the G8 because of its invasion and illegal occupation of Crimea, the territory of the sovereign nation Ukraine. Five years later, more than 10,000 Ukrainian patriots are dead.  That is why Russia does not belong in the G8. 

And what has the Kremlin done since 2014 that could possibly justify an expansion of the G7? Has it suspended its illegal occupation? Has it behaved like a responsible member of the international community? Has it respected the sovereignty of other nations? The answers are no, no, and no.

Let’s review Russia’s behavior since 2014.First, and top of mind for many of us, was Russia’s ‘sweeping and systematic’ interference in our 2016 presidential election on behalf of then-candidate Donald Trump, as documented in the Special Counsel’s sobering report. Mr. President, spreading propaganda, manipulating social media, and spying on American election infrastructure is not the behavior of a G7 country.

Second was the Kremlin’s chemical weapons attack on British soil, a blatant assassination attempt against a Putin opponent and his daughter. One British citizen was killed and others required medical attention.  And this is not an isolated case.  Just last month, a Russian citizen was gunned down in a park in Berlin at the suspected hand of the Russian authorities. Mr. President, this is not the behavior of a G7 country.

Third is the Kremlin’s complicity in Bashar al Assad’s war crimes in Syria. An untold number of Syrian civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes launched in support of Assad. Those responsible should be tried in The Hague on war crimes charges. This is not the behavior of a G7 country. 

Fourth, in recent weeks Russian forces have ramped up their pressure on the country of Georgia.  More than 11 years after Russia’s invasion, the Georgian people suffer under its ongoing aggression. This is not the behavior of a G7 country.

Fifth is the recent Russian crackdown on demonstrators exercising their basic political rights. Throughout the summer, Putin oversaw the brutal beatings of children, women, and men, and subjected everyday Russian citizens to arbitrary arrest and detention. And what was their ask, what was their plea?  That they be able to register their own local candidates for their own local elections. Mr. President, the Kremlin’s ongoing and too often violent oppression of the Russian people is not the behavior of a G7 country.

No country in the G7 acts this way.   This behavior is destabilizing, it is aggressive, it is authoritarian, and it does not belong at this table of democracies. It is truly a disgrace that ANY American president would so easily discount all that I’ve described just to win favor with his patron and pal.

Of course, these aren’t the only gifts bestowed by President Trump during this summer of love. Let’s not forget how the President has delayed sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S400 system. Congress passed these sanctions, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA, in response to Russia’s attack on our elections in 2016.

We have these sanctions for a reason. They advance America’s national security interests. They starve the Russian defense sector of much needed international business. And by not imposing them, this President is both failing to hold Russia accountable and sending a dangerous message to other countries that they can buy Russian weapons systems without consequence. From the moment we passed CAATSA, this Administration has resisted every step of the way.

So Mr. President, let’s imagine for a moment what a legitimate American president – a president who was not a Putin puppet – would do in this situation? How would that person protect our country? First, a legitimate president would not endanger the relationship with a key ally in order to gain political advantage at home. They would show solidarity with our democratic allies, by providing all appropriated security assistance to Ukraine and funding for European efforts to counter Russian aggression.

Second, I’m certain they would not welcome Russia back into the G7. And third, they would impose CAATSA sanctions on Turkey and send a clear message to the world that the U.S. is serious about imposing pressure on the Russian defense industry.

So, let me close. The United States of America must always stand on the side of democracy, human rights, freedom, and the rule of law. That is why we must secure our elections from the threat of foreign interference at home, and defend democracies in the face of Russian aggression abroad. That is why we must demand that security funding appropriated by Congress is actually delivered, and that the sanctions we craft to counter our adversaries are imposed.

That is why we cannot be silent when an American President extorts foreign countries into influencing our elections, or welcomes an authoritarian strongman’s return to the G7. I implore my colleagues to use the Article I powers we have to get to the bottom of these very issues and preserve the critical checks and balances we have in our nation.”

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