07.18.18

Leahy Floor Statement On President Trump's Helsinki Summit With Russian President Putin

In 2016, the Russian government waged a covert, multifaceted, criminal campaign to interfere in our elections, intended to help then-candidate Donald Trump win the presidency.  We still do not know the full impact of Russia’s interference.  But it is beyond debate that it happened.  Russia used inflammatory propaganda – actual fake news -- attempting to suppress Democratic turnout and boost support for Donald Trump.  They also stole communications belonging to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, which were then strategically released to maximize their impact and counter negative news stories about Donald Trump. 

Just last week 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged with hacking campaign officials’ emails and state election boards.  In just over a year — in what may rank as the most productive special counsel investigation in our nation’s history — 32 people and three companies have been charged or pleaded guilty as part of the Russia investigation.  We will likely not know the full extent of Russia’s interference until the Special Counsel’s investigation is complete.

But what is clear is that our democracy was attacked by a foreign adversary.  And two days ago, on an international stage, standing shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin, our president sided with the attacker.

Instead of forcefully condemning Russia’s attack on our democracy — or condemning its role in annexing Crimea, poisoning individuals with chemical weapons on the soil of one of our closest allies, downing a passenger airliner with nearly 300 civilians on board, or undermining democracies around the world — the President offered only praise for the authoritarian President Putin.  He then repeated his conspiracy theories about the FBI and called the Russia investigation a witch hunt — denigrating our law enforcement institutions while standing beside the foe they work to protect us from.

In my 44 years as a senator, I have never seen anything like it.  And I would never have thought it possible in our country before President Trump took office.  

Yesterday, the president attempted to walk back his decision to side with Russia over our own intelligence agencies.  But, predictably, he immediately walked back his walk back.  He reiterated that the interference “could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”  And this morning on Twitter — where the president does most of his deep thinking — he claimed that “people at the higher ends of intelligence loved [his] press conference performance in Helsinki.”  I do not think anyone here doubts that the President meant what he said and said what he meant in Helsinki.  And, after their two-hour private meeting in Helsinki, I do not think President Putin has any doubt either.

Russia shares neither our values nor our interests.  It is not our friend.  We all want to see improved relations with Russia — on Syria, on nuclear proliferation, on many critical issues.  But for that to happen Russia needs to respect our democracy and our values.  We must not slouch down to theirs.

The United States is the leader of the free world.  The free world is under threat, as it often has been.  But these threats are not supposed to come from within.

Just moments ago, when asked if Russia is still targeting the United States, the President inexplicably said “no.”  This is despite his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, confirming just last week that Russia is indeed still targeting our digital infrastructure and interfering in our democracy.  Director Coats compared it to the warning signs that emerged prior to the 9/11 attacks. Yet the President denies that it is happening.

We simply cannot trust the President’s judgment. When it comes to Russia, the President shows no intent to abide by his oath to protect and defend our nation.  And this Congress will be derelict in its duty if it takes no action.

All of us must speak with a single voice in this moment.  All of us must condemn the President’s actions, which were as dangerous as they were shameful.  And these condemnations are important.  But words are not enough.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government.  We must act like it.

The president cannot be trusted to keep his hands off of the Russia investigation.  By denigrating it at every opportunity — and by dismissing its lead investigator last year — he has repeatedly failed that test.  The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed legislation with a strong bipartisan vote to protect the Special Counsel’s investigation.  Let’s enact it into law, and do that now.

It is often said that the only thing President Putin responds to is strength.  Let’s show him that we stand united in opposition to his ongoing attempts to attack our democracy.  Let’s pass stronger sanctions targeting him and the oligarchs who enable him.

And let’s pass a resolution making it clear that if President Trump chooses to stand with President Putin, he stands alone.  The European Union is not our foe.  And President Putin is not our friend.  Our allies are looking to us in this moment.  They are questioning whether the United States will be a reliable partner in the face of creeping authoritarianism, both at home and abroad.  Let’s show them where we stand. 

This is not about politics.  It is not about Republicans or Democrats.  This is about who we are and what we stand for as Americans.  Whether we stand for democracy.  Whether we stand for freedom — including the freedom of the press.  Whether we stand for the rule of law.  Whether we stand for truth.  Whether we stand for America.  As a Vermonter, and as a United States Senator, I know where I stand.  It’s time we stand together.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693