03.23.17

Peters Speaks on Need for Independent Investigations into Russian Interference in U.S. Election

Peters Reiterates Call for Independent Prosecutor, Cosponsors Bill to Create a Special Non-Partisan Commission

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters spoke on the Senate Floor today about the pressing national security threat posed by Russian aggression. He reiterated his call for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in our recent election and announced he is cosponsoring legislation introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), which would create an independent, nonpartisan special commission to provide a comprehensive report on Russian election activity and make recommendations on how we can protect future elections.

Link to video of Senator Peters Speech

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. President,

“Sovereign nations across the globe are brought together by different unifying forces, it can be a shared heritage, language, religion, or outside historical forces that led to borders drawn decades or centuries ago.

“We are, as a nation, unique. We are diverse in every sense of the word. But even in these polarized times, we are overwhelmingly unified. We are unified by our belief in democracy, free enterprise and economic opportunity.

“We are all entrusted with nurturing the idea enshrined in our Constitution, the idea that our system of democratic government enables us to work toward a more perfect Union.

“At a time when the promise of democracy is receding for too many around the world, we must do everything we can to uphold our country’s free and fair elections, the foundation of our democracy.

“Our elections should serve as a global benchmark for the peaceful transfer of power. As President Reagan said we must be the ‘shining city upon a hill,’ and we must lead by example.

“Our elections require a strong and steady commitment from our newly naturalized citizens, from families whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, from volunteers who cover 16-hour shifts to keep polling locations open, from county, city, and township clerks. And the preservation of free and fair elections requires a strong commitment from our highest elected official in the land.

“As Americans, we look to the President of the United States to safeguard our democracy from foreign adversaries.

“When we are presented with clear and mounting evidence that the Russian government, at the personal direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, orchestrated a campaign to undermine this most fundamental institution and interfere in our election, we should expect nothing less than a clear and forceful response from the White House that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

“Unfortunately, what we have seen from President Trump and the White House so far amounts to little more than confusion, evasion, and a whole lot of smoke.

“President Trump has spoken time and again about wanting to build closer ties with Russia. On the campaign trail, he frequently fawned over Putin’s strength as a leader. In 2013, he asked his twitter followers, ‘Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow, if so, will he become my new best friend?’

“While I do not believe that Putin attended the Pageant, the nature of the Putin-Trump relationship remains an open question.

“It confuses me – and quite frankly alarms me – that President Trump speaks so fondly of a man who brutally cracks down on his political opponents and journalists at home while stirring up conflict and aggression abroad.

“Make no mistake - Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States or the American people.

“Our nation’s intelligence agencies agree – with high confidence – that his government orchestrated a campaign to undermine the integrity of our recent election. And Putin has sought – at every turn – to destabilize the international order that has kept the American people and our allies secure for decades.

“Russia’s interference in our election was not an isolated incident. It is part of a broader effort to undermine the NATO alliance and weaken Western democracies.

“I heard from our French and German allies at the Munich Security Conference last month about their concerns that Russia will continue to engage in disinformation campaigns in European elections.

“As we aspire to be the free market-driven democratic ‘city upon a hill,’ Putin’s government works to sow chaos globally in an effort to further consolidate power in his nationalist, self-enriching regime.

“These attempts to destabilize Russia’s neighbors and rivals are not limited to cyberspace and computer code.

“These provocations involve military aircraft, ships, nuclear-capable missiles, heavy artillery, drones and efforts to redraw international borders.

“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I believe that the highest duty of Congress is to keep Americans safe.

“Russia’s dangerous and unprofessional military provocations not only place American servicemembers and NATO allies at risk, they endanger civilian lives and raise the specter of escalating regional conflict.

“Just last month, Russian aircraft flew within a few hundred feet of the deck of the USS Porter in international waters in a dangerous mock attack, an action the ship’s captain called out as, quote  ‘unsafe and unprofessional.’

“Last summer, while on a Congressional Delegation to meet with NATO allies, I heard directly from Estonian leaders about Russia’s blatant disregard for their sovereignty.

“Russian forces kidnapped a border guard in Estonian territory and sentenced him behind closed doors to 15 years in prison, in what a top European Union official called, quote ‘a clear violation of international law.’

“We have seen the Russians fly reconnaissance and fighter jets in international airspace with their transponders switched off to avoid detection, at one point nearly colliding midair with a passenger airplane. NATO was forced to scramble jets almost 800 times – let me repeat that – 800 times, in 2016 alone just to respond to Russia’s encroachments on NATO airspace.

“As the President speaks glowingly about Putin, Mr. Putin returns the favor by deploying a dangerous new cruise missile in a clear violation of the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Simultaneously, a Russian spy ship has been spotted lurking off the U.S. coast, trying to gather intelligence information near the Navy’s primary East Coast submarine base.

“We are also seeing Russia undertaking the largest military build-up in the Arctic since the end of the Cold War, at a pace faster than we ever saw during Soviet times.

“Russia is reopening defunct military outposts and building new ones all across the polar region, 13 new Russian airfields are scheduled to open by the end of this year. The Russian military recently staged an exercise in the Arctic region with over 12,000 troops.

“As the Russians build up their forces in the Arctic, the United States is falling behind. Our principal maritime force in the Arctic is the United States Coast Guard, but they only have one heavy icebreaker – the Polar Star – capable of keeping Arctic shipping lanes open or conducting search and rescue missions year-round. A new icebreaker to replace the Polar Star is still years away.

“In contrast, Russia has over 40 icebreakers in its fleet, many of them nuclear, with plans for three new breakers underway. At a time when we should be investing in our Arctic capabilities, the Trump Administration has been considering deep cuts to the Coast Guard budget instead.

“Russia’s expansionist activities and military probing are not occurring in a vacuum.

"The numerous threats and provocations I have outlined occur as Russia continues to wage war in eastern Ukraine in the wake of their illegal annexation of Crimea, destabilizing the opportunity for the Ukrainian people to chart their own political and economic destiny. Ten thousand people have lost their lives in this conflict as a direct result of Russian aggression.

“Last year, as I travelled with my Senate colleagues to Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine, I learned firsthand about the efforts in these countries to strengthen their civil institutions, root out corruption, build lasting partnerships and stand up to Russia’s provocations. And while they are doing their part, they continue to look to the U.S. for global leadership.

“This year, U.S. troops deployed to Eastern Europe to demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies, where they were welcomed with open arms. We are working with our partners in Iceland to enhance their capabilities to detect and respond to a recent increase in Russian submarine patrols.

“I’m also proud to stand with the Airmen of the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard, who deployed from my state to build on their long record of successful cooperation with our partners in Latvia. 

“When the Kremlin is threatening our allies, buzzing our Navy war ships and meddling in foreign elections, now is not the time to call into question the commitment or the resolve of the United States.

“Vladimir Putin’s worldview is shaped by his time in the KGB during the Cold War.  He is committed to projecting Russian strength – both at home and abroad – through intimidation and aggression.

“And strength is what he respects. If Putin’s provocations are not met with a strong response, they will continue and likely escalate, putting American interests and the American people at risk.

“Top officials in the Trump Administration have been dispatched to crisscross Europe and reassure the world of our commitments to global security.

“I joined Vice President Pence and Secretary Mattis in Germany last month for the annual Munich Security Conference.

“They spoke of America’s commitment to NATO and the international order that was built from the ashes of World War II, in an apparent attempt to reassure our nervous allies.

“But our allies are not trying to understand the aims of the Mattis Administration or the Pence Administration, they are trying to determine if President Trump will stand behind NATO and the institutions that have served as a counterweight to Russian aggression for decades.

“The American people are also watching the White House, and they deserve to know that those serving at the highest levels of government will always have America’s best interests at heart.

“But every week, we are faced with mounting evidence that the Trump Administration and the Trump campaign have ties to Russia, and are working to cover up their interactions with Russian officials.

“Earlier this week, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Comey announced that the FBI was, and I quote ‘investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.’

“This bears repeating, the FBI Director has confirmed that there is an active investigation into coordination between a presidential campaign and a foreign adversary.

“This is just the latest development in a long string of disturbing revelations about President Trump’s associates.

“Ousted campaign chairman Paul Manafort has a deep web of business and political connections to Russian interests. Other campaign advisors have backed off previous claims that they never spoke with Russian officials.

“In fact, the cover up of these interactions has already resulted in the first resignation of the Trump Administration.

“Not long after President Obama imposed sanctions on the Russian officials and military intelligence agencies responsible for interfering in our election, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had a secret, off-the-record discussion with Russian Ambassador Kislyak where he discussed lifting these sanctions under the incoming Trump Administration.

“Top officials at the Justice Department clearly warned the White House that Mr. Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. He resigned only after it became clear that he misled the public and the Vice President about the substance of these off-the-record conversations.

“But it doesn’t end there. The Attorney General at best misled the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing about his record of contact with Russian officials. He testified under oath that he, quote ‘did not have communications with the Russians’ during the campaign.

“When it became clear that he actually met with the Russian Ambassador at least twice last year, including a one-on-one meeting in final weeks of the campaign, he was forced to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into this very serious issue.

“It has been my experience that when people are caught covering up their meetings and contacts with someone, they have something to hide. If you have nothing to hide, there is no reason for a cover up.

“The serious national security implications of the Trump Administration’s potential ties with Russia cannot be overstated.

“This is a time when we need to make clear that Russian aggression will not stand, but instead, the President has attempted to distract the public through unsubstantiated allegations about the wiretapping of Trump Tower, an allegation that has been refuted by FBI Director Comey and others.

“President Trump continues to double down by calling into question the motives of those who want assurances about the integrity of our elections.

“Let me be clear, this is not about partisan politics. When there is this much smoke, there’s probably a fire somewhere.

“If another country is infiltrating our government and political institutions, or if Vladimir Putin has favors to cash in from officials at the highest levels of our government, that’s a serious problem.

“Russia has endangered our servicemembers, threatened our allies, illegally annexed Crimea, engaged in war crimes in their bombing of Aleppo, and actively worked to undermine our democracy. These revelations are only adding more smoke to the Russia fire, and it’s clear we need a special prosecutor to investigate.

“The American people expect this investigation to be free from any political influence or bias. We need someone to cut through the smoke and clear the air.

“An independent special prosecutor should be appointed to examine Russia’s campaign to interfere in our election, as well as any association or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“I also believe that the time has come to create an independent, nonpartisan commission to fully investigate Russian interference. Earlier today, I cosponsored legislation introduced by Senator Cardin that would create such a commission and provide it with the necessary subpoena power to get the answers the American people deserve.

“This is not about Democrats or Republicans or re-litigating the 2016 election– this is about our national security.

“This commission, modeled on the 9/11 Commission, would provide a comprehensive report on what occurred last year and make recommendations on how we can best defend the integrity of future elections.

“This is about how we move forward, together. This is about how we maintain the independence of our government from foreign influence and instill faith in all Americans that the White House is truly working for them.

“This is about moving past months of cover-ups and finally extinguishing this smoldering Russian fire, or proving that all this smoke is truly just a series of misunderstandings.

“This issue shakes the foundations of our democracy, but our union has survived harder challenges than this.

“At a time when the public’s trust in government is called into question, we must do everything we can to restore faith in the integrity and impartiality of our institutions.

“Just as we, as Americans, are unified by our faith in democracy and economic opportunity, we are unified by our belief in the rule of law.

“Just as we must show strength abroad through our military and our alliances – we must show strength at home by rooting out corruption and protecting our democratic process.

“All of us, Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the White House, our diplomats and our military, must send a clear, unified message to authoritarian leaders in Moscow and everywhere else.  Threats levied against the United States will never be tolerated and there will be a price to be paid for making them.”

“The American people expect us to keep them safe while strengthening our republic against enemies both foreign and domestic. It is our duty to prove that we are up to the job.”