“In just the last three years under Vladimir Putin, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, threatened NATO allies, and intervened militarily in Syria, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and broken promises in his wake. And of course, last year, Russia attacked the foundations of American democracy with a cyber and information campaign to interfere in America’s 2016 election … But in the past eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy? Hardly any at all … We must take our own side in this fight—not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans… There is no greater threat to our freedoms than attacks on our ability to choose our own leaders free from foreign interference. And so we must act accordingly, and we must act now.” – Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain Speaking on the Senate Floor Today
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate today in support of the bipartisan amendment to the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 that would impose new, strong, and mandatory sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. This amendment includes important provisions from legislation introduced earlier this year by McCain and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that would impose comprehensive sanctions on Russia for its cyber intrusions, aggression, and destabilizing activities in the United States and around the world. It also incorporates legislation introduced by McCain and a bipartisan group of senators that would require congressional oversight of any decision to ease sanctions on Russia:
“I rise in support of the Countering Russian Aggression and Cyberattacks Act, an amendment to the Iran sanctions bill currently under consideration.
“In just the last three years under Vladimir Putin, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, threatened NATO allies, and intervened militarily in Syria, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and broken promises in his wake. And of course, last year, Russia attacked the foundations of American democracy with a cyber and information campaign to interfere in America’s 2016 election.
“It has been eight months now since the U.S. Intelligence Community publicly concluded that the Russian government had attempted to interfere in our last presidential election. Since then, the Intelligence Community has concluded:
- “It is confident that the Russian government directed a campaign to compromise e-mails American individuals and political organizations.
- “That Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign to undermine public faith in the democratic process.
- “And that Moscow will apply lessons learned from this campaign to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.
“Months of congressional hearings, testimony, and investigative work have reinforced these conclusions: that Russia deliberately interfered in our recent election with cyberattacks and a disinformation campaign designed to weaken America and undermine faith in our democracy and our values. Vladimir Putin’s brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation. This should not just outrage every American, but it should compel us to action.
“But in the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy? Hardly any at all: modest sanctions against a few Russian individuals and entities, some Russian diplomats and spies sent home to Russia, two spy compounds closed, at least for now. And all of this reversible and at the discretion of the president.
“We must take our own side in this fight—not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. It’s time to respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action.
“And so I am proud to support this amendment, which would begin do just that. This legislation incorporates some of the best ideas from different pieces of legislation already introduced in the Senate, ideas which have broad bipartisan support.
“The amendment would impose mandatory sanctions on transactions with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, including the FSB and the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency that was primarily responsible for Russia’s attack on our election.
“The amendment would impose mandatory visa bans and asset freezes on any individual that undermines the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions. And it would impose mandatory sanctions on those to assist or support such activities.
“The amendment would codify existing sanctions on Russia by placing into law five executive orders signed by President Obama in response to both Russian interference in the 2016 election and its illegal actions in Ukraine. And it would take new steps tighten those sanctions.
“The amendment would target the Russian energy sector, which is controlled by Vladimir Putin’s cronies, with sanctions on investments in Russian petroleum and natural gas development as well as Russian energy pipelines.
“We also need to put additional pressure on the ability of Putin and his cronies to move money they have looted from the Russian state. So this amendment would mandate that the Secretary of Treasury establish a high level task force within the Department’s Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network that would focus on tracing, mapping, and prosecuting illicit financial flows linked to Russia if such flows interact with the United States financial system. The task force would also work with liaison officers in key United States embassies, especially in Europe, to work with local authorities to uncover and prosecute the networks responsible for the illicit Russian financial flows.
“Finally, recognizing that Russia seeks to undermine not just American democracy, but Western democracy altogether, this amendment would provide support to the State Department, the Global Engagement Center, and USAID to help build the resilience of democratic institutions in Europe against Russian aggression exerted through corruption, propaganda, and other forms of political interference.
“Importantly, the legislation also mandates congressional oversight of any decision to provide any relief from these sanctions. The administration cannot waive or lift these sanctions without certifying that Russia is making concrete steps toward changing its behavior on the international stage. In particular, Russia needs to begin adhering to the Minsk Protocol, roll back its occupation of Crimea and destabilizing efforts in Ukraine, and cease its cyber operations aimed at undermining democracy in the United States and Europe.
“We need a strong Russia sanctions amendment. We need it now. And we need it on this piece of legislation. We need this amendment because we have no time to waste. The United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on our democracy. There is no greater threat to our freedoms than attacks on our ability to choose our own leaders free from foreign interference. And so we must act accordingly, and we must act now.”