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 Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, and the need for a strong Russia sanctions amendment:
“I rise in support of the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017.
“For too long, a myopic focus on the Iran nuclear deal blinded the United States to Iran’s persistent campaign to destabilize the Middle East and undermine America’s national security interests. Iran has been given a free pass to detain U.S. sailors in clear violation of international law, conduct ballistic missiles tests in violation of United Nations resolutions, support terrorist groups across the region, and prop up the murderous Assad regime in Syria.
“It is long past time for the United States and the international community to hold Iran accountable, not just for its commitments under the nuclear deal, but for its destabilizing behavior across the Middle East. This legislation begins to do just that by imposing new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, applying terrorism sanctions to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, imposing sanctions on Iranians engaged in human rights abuses, and tightening enforcement on arms embargoes on the Iranian regime.
“I want to thank the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker and Senator Cardin, for bringing this bill to the floor. They recognize that the United States must not stand idly by when hostile regimes undermine and attack our interests and that of our allies. They recognize that regimes that aid and abet crimes against humanity must be held accountable. They recognize that weakness in the face of aggression is provocative. These are the reasons we must pass this legislation. But these are also the very same reasons this legislation must be amended to strengthen and expand sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“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.
“On October 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated: the ‘U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.’ The statement concluded that ‘only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.’
“On January 6, 2017, the U.S. Intelligence Community went even further, concluding: ‘Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the United States presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the United States democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.’ The intelligence community ‘did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.’ But they did warn that ‘Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. Presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.’
“Since January, 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.
“What has Russia’s reaction been to America’s tepid reaction to its aggressive behavior? More of the same. More aggression. More meddling. Russia attempted to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Montenegro and murder its prime minister. Russia attempted to interfere in France’s election. We’ve already seen attempts to influence German public opinion ahead of elections in September. And there is every expectation Russia will do the same thing in the Czech Republic, Italy, and elsewhere in future elections.
“And sooner or later my friends, there will be another American election that captures Russian attention and interest. The victim may be a Republican or a Democrat. To Putin, it won’t matter, because his targets are not Republicans or Democrats, but Americans and all that we stand for as a people. He seeks to sow dissent among us and divide us from one another, to erode our resolve to resist his dark and dangerous view of the world, and to undermine our confidence in ourselves and our belief in our own values.
“And so, 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.
“Together with Senator Graham and a number of other senators, I am prepared to offer an amendment to this legislation that will begin to do just that. It 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.
“For example, Russia’s ability to issue new sovereign debt essentially allows Russia to borrow money from global capital markets to offset pressure from existing U.S. and European sanctions. So this amendment would impose mandatory sanctions on U.S. and third party investment in sales of Russian sovereign debt as well as in the privatization of Russian state-owned assets.
“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.
“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."