02.08.17

Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy On President Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Senator Sessions

Mr. President, it is ironic that as we consider the nomination of Senator Sessions to be the Attorney General, a position in which he will be responsible for defending the fundamental rights and liberties of the American people, President Trump has continued to praise Russian President Vladmir Putin who has repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for freedom of speech, of association, of due process and of the rule of law. 

In less than a week the President has attacked a federal judge for performing his constitutional duty, called unfavorable polls “fake”, and continued to discredit as “dishonest” any media outlet that criticizes him. 

His spokesman, Sean Spicer, echoes these sentiments, which sound remarkably like what one would expect to hear from Vladamir Putin. 

In fact, President Trump has done this while reiterating his support of torture and his admiration of Putin, whose critics continue to turn up dead, which President Trump seems either unaware of or unconcerned about.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that after repeatedly lauding Putin’s leadership, President Trump is now attempting to emulate Putin’s efforts to spread misinformation, chastise his critics, and intimidate those responsible for upholding the law.

His assaults on anyone he perceives to be standing in his way, including a federal judge nominated by President George W. Bush, is even worse than his routine expressions of contempt for political norms that appear to be straight out of Stephen Bannon’s playbook.  

What is so bizarre and disturbing about this is that not only has the President expressed little if any concern that every U.S. intelligence agency believes that Russia sought to influence, and quite possibly did influence, the presidential election and that Putin himself was involved. 

To make an appalling situation worse, Senator Sessions, who actively campaigned for the President, has refused to recuse himself from decisions related to Russia’s cyberattacks. 

Can anyone imagine what the Republican leadership would be saying if the table was turned?  They would try to shut down the government until a new election was held. 

Failing that, they would demand that an independent commission be established to investigate the Russian hacking, and they would insist that the nominee for Attorney General pledge to recuse himself. 

I, along with Senator Durbin and others, have called for such a commission, but the Republican leaders have summarily rejected it.  It is cynical politics at its worst, putting partisanship over the integrity of our elections. 

President Trump and Senator Sessions both speak about the importance of “law and order”.  President Trump and Vladamir Putin seem to agree about what those words mean. 

Senator Sessions has said nothing to suggest that he disagrees, even though the Republican leadership recognizes Putin as a dangerous thud who tramples on the rule of law. 

We should all care equally about the integrity of our democracy, about due process and the rule of law, and about the constitutional checks and balances that distinguish this country from autocracies like Russia. 

And we should expect a nominee for Attorney General to demonstrate that he will defend these principles, and to not remain silent when they are threatened – including by the President of the United States.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693