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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee nominations hearing. Nominees included Margaret Taylor to be legal adviser of the State Department, Erik Woodhouse to be head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination, Robert Forden to be ambassador to Cambodia, B. Bix Aliu to be ambassador to Montenegro, and Michael Sfraga to be ambassador at large for Artic Affairs

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Certainly your description of how we’ve handled these things in the past is absolutely accurate, I take no difficulty with that at all. We are, however, at that point where we have these five nominations which we have objected to and I know the chairman knows and his predecessor knows that we have serious objections to them. Those objections continue today.

“On most of the run-of-the-mill appointments we get, they get cleared pretty quickly, we do have hearings on them, and we move along. On occasion, we have ones that we just can’t clear. So that everyone knows, we take our obligation with the advice and consent in the Constitution very, very seriously.

“We’ve dug on all of these, and we’ve wound up with these five out of all of them that we just can’t agree too. So, it is time that there be a hearing and if they want to continue, the laundry gets put out here in this hearing then we go from there.

“Obviously unless things change dramatically, I’m going to put a hold on these when they do get to the floor. You have the numbers you’ll be able to put them out there and we’ll go from there.

“But again, I stress the time result has been a function of our looking into these and things you’re going to hear today that we have problems with on all five of the nominees. Obviously, they’re going to get a chance to defend themselves. Then I have some witnesses I’d like to call to corroborate the things we’re going to say about these here in the hearing today.

“So, with that, let’s talk first of all about Ms. Taylor. She currently serves as the general counsel at USAID, where she oversees the enforcement of U.S. laws toward its contractors and partners. Sadly, on her watch, some of these partners repeatedly promoted abortion overseas in violation of U.S. law.

“Given the slow response and weak justifications I received when I raised these questions, I have substantial concerns she will not draw a strong line in State’s relationship with organizations that violate U.S. law.

“Now I’ve got a second reason for holding her and I’m going to continue to hold her. She is the highest-ranking nominee and the one the State Department wants the most to be confirmed, and I’m going to continue to hold her until the State Department gives us some basic information that we really want.

“I have been asking for 8 months – 8 months – for information regarding the suspension of special envoy Robert Malley’s security clearance. The Department’s defiance left me no choice but to hold her nomination until State responded.

“State came to brief me and Mr. Chairman. We went in the SCIF, this was supposed to be secret, nobody was supposed to know because it was such a big deal, but I can tell you what happened in that SCIF – nothing. They refused to give us the information as to why Malley’s clearance was suspended.

“This is important to me, it’s important to the chairman, and it’s important to this committee because we all listened to Mr. Malley for a long time. He told us things we acted and thought about, formed beliefs based on it, and they won’t tell us why his clearance was suspended. They have to tell us, but they won’t. They act like we work for them instead of them working for us. So, until that happens, I’m going to continue to hold Ms. Taylor’s nomination.

“I’ve gotten word to the secretary who keeps calling me asking for favors when they won’t do what they’re supposed to do. If I were the chairman of the committee, I would subpoena this, and if they didn’t answer the subpoena, I’d go to try to hold them in contempt of the court. This is not right. We can’t do our oversight work without getting this information. Certainly, it is classified information, but I’m the most senior member of the Intelligence Committee. I hear this stuff every day, the people who came into brief us, my clearance was at least as good, probably better than the guys that came into brief us. So, in any event, that’s going to continue.

“Regarding Mr. Woodhouse to be sanctions coordinator: as the chairman indicated, I was the one who put together the legislation that created this particular position – it’s a great position to have. Mr. Woodhouse played a pivotal role in the administration’s protection of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from mandatory, bipartisan sanctions before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“While Mr. Woodhouse was not the only administration official responsible for this blatant violation of the law, during his confirmation process, it became clear that he intentionally misled the committee and ignored facts that contradicted Biden policy. 

“My legislation created the sanctions coordinator position at State, and his predecessor did a good job. I believe Mr. Woodhouse will not embody the same standards required of this position. I’m going to leave the rest of this to Senator Cruz, who has some very strong thoughts on this matter and will be here today to talk about that.

“Turning to Mr. Aliu – I have concerns regarding his judgement and leadership as deputy chief of mission at Embassy Warsaw.

“Mr. Aliu did not seek approval from Washington when a foreign national with concerning business ties stayed at the official residence, with his permission, for six weeks. This person was a foreign national whose business ties are in Montenegro, the country to which Mr. Aliu is now nominated.

“In any event, several current Foreign Service officers have described the toxic work environment under Mr. Aliu’s leadership. One of these individuals wrote a formal letter regarding complaints against Mr. Aliu, a redacted copy of which I am submitting for the record today.

“The posting was classified as ‘difficult to staff’ while Mr. Aliu was running it. Immediately upon him leaving, the difficulty was removed. So, I can’t support his nomination.

“Regarding the nomination of Michael Sfraga – this is a difficult one – to be ambassador for the Arctic. Certainly, I support the need for a nominee in the Arctic and I have great respect for Senator Murkowski, but this is another example of the administration’s failure to vet nominees.

“Mr. Sfraga traveled extensively to Russia and China, negotiated multiple MOUs with Chinese institutions tied to government defense and intelligence services, and appeared on a panel with Russians sanctioned by the United States government. One of the MOUs he negotiated was going to allow China to access the computers at the university where he worked. That was stopped fortunately – certainly a bad judgement. In addition to that, while our staff was going through that, he failed to disclose any of this and had to update his file three times when confronted with information about his record.

“My staff asked him about trips he took and said ‘hey, you didn’t disclose this trip.’ He responded ‘oh, I forgot’ and then proceeded to disclose the trip. That happened multiple times, not just once.

“Finally, he wrote an op-ed extolling the importance of the U.S.-Russia relationship, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I continue to strongly oppose this nomination and it’s unfortunate we have him here today.

“Finally, there is Mr. Forden. The Department says the health and safety of U.S. diplomats is its highest priority. Indeed, we should always guarantee our diplomats their basic privileges and immunities. Sadly, Mr. Forden failed to ensure these protections during his tenure at Embassy Beijing during COVID.

“In our staff investigation of his nomination, they found that from 2020 to 2023, Department leadership in Washington and at embassy Beijing subjected our diplomats and families to severe, unsafe, and degrading treatment by the Chinese government – our greatest adversary and a major counterintelligence threat.

“Specifically, State granted a limited waiver of inviolability in September 2020, which waived certain diplomatic privileges and immunities to allow the Chinese government to test and quarantine U.S. diplomats upon arrival in China. That’s not allowed, unless there is the waiver. The Chinese violated this waiver constantly, yet Mr. Forden encouraged compliance and never imposed any real costs on the Chinese for these violations. 

“I am submitting a letter for the record from multiple courageous whistleblowers – some of whom are with us today – as well as the numerous documents I have obtained.

“These documents show that under Mr. Forden, career diplomats had to comply with draconian quarantine protocols – often against their will and in deplorable conditions.

“Some examples include: not being allowed to quarantine at home and instead be put in a Chinese quarantine hotel; quarantines enforced for weeks on end with little-to-no ability to communicate with embassy staff or loved ones; dilapidated quarantine hotels with no cleaning services and still filthy from previous occupants; minor children separated from their families; and the inability to get basic medical care – in one case, a toddler was denied treatment for food poisoning.

“In December 2020, Embassy Beijing began to allow the Chinese government to require incoming arrivals to submit to a blood test in the United States – a major change in protocol – and only from U.S. labs handpicked by the Chinese embassy and consulates.

“Let this sink in. The U.S. government facilitated Chinese collection of DNA from dozens of U.S. diplomats inside the United States. This is appalling.

“When asked, Mr. Forden’s defense was he was on leave and not involved in the creation or implementation of these policies. But this is not true. Mr. Fordon returned to post in July 2020 – two months before the initial waiver was issued.

“Mr. Forden will tell you that no diplomats were forced into fever hospitals or similar institutions. This is also not true. A mother and her infant went into a fever hospital on his watch. Just days after he left post, two American families were detained in make-shift fever clinics for at least 60 days each. That shows how bad things got, and there are photos of these conditions which we’re going to submit into the record.

“State will also say our diplomats voluntarily submitted to these protocols and conditions. But that is not true either. The information was never disclosed to them. And the list goes.

“An unwillingness to stand up for our diplomats and deference to an authoritarian government are not qualities we should promote. These are not people we want running our embassies.

“I want to thank the whistleblowers and their families for their difficult service in China, and for their bravery. For those of you that are here today, I’m sorry the State Department failed you. If I hear of reprisals against these whistleblowers who have come forward – all career employees at the State Department – there’s going to be serious consequences.

“Look, I don’t like this anymore than anybody else does. It’s unfortunate we have these, but we take these matters seriously. I understand majority has the power to run over us. They can sure do that.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on