March 28, 2017
"The Kremlin isn't attempting an influence campaign to make Americans believe that the sky is green or the grass is blue. . . The Kremlin wants us to believe that our society is as corrupt as the thugocracy that Putin and his cronies are trying to advance."
Today, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, discussed Moscow's influence operation aimed at undermining confidence in self-government here and across the West.
Sasse also read into the record an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal written by former Congressman Mike Rogers, the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2011 to 2015. Chairman Rogers' op-ed is available here.
Excerpts of the Senator's remarks are found below.
I rise to comment briefly on Russian interference in the electoral processes of this country, and across the West, and in the governance of many of Russia's own neighbors. We are in the middle of the civilization-warping crisis of public trust in this country. This isn't about the last two months. This isn't just about the last presidential election. This is fundamentally about the last few decades of declining public trust in a broad range of our institutions -- the press, political parties, executive branch agencies, the congress, and beyond.
Russia is not unaware of our own distrust of each other. Russia is not unaware of our own increasing self-doubt about our shared values. Russia is today very self-consciously working to further erode confidence in our self-government by pulling at the threads of our public and civic life.
Moscow's influence campaigns don't start by creating wholly new problems out of thin air, but rather by exploiting fissures that already exist in our civilization. The simplest way for Russia to try to weaken us is by trying to exploit the places where we are already weak and the places where we are already distrustful -- the places where we are failing to pass along a shared understanding of American values to the next generation. The sad state of modern politics and the explosion of digital media are proving to be ripe targets for many of our own internal doubts and our own discord. We, all of us, Republicans and Democrats, the legislature, and the executive branch, are ill-prepared for the challenges that are already on our doorstep, let alone what comes next with the acceleration of these kinds of technologies.
Today, in The Wall Street Journal, we in this body were rebuked, I think rightly rebuked and rebuked in a bipartisan way by former Congressman Mike Rogers. Chairman Rogers, a Republican, served as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2011 to 2015, and I'm going to read his op-ed rebuke into the record today, but I would humbly ask that all 100 members of this body calmly and self-critically consider carefully Chairman Rogers' argument. For his argument is not fundamentally against Republicans alone, it is not against Democrats alone. He's offering double-barreled criticism of all of us in the congress, criticism of both parties.
Why of both parties? Because Russia's influence campaign is a really big deal. Are we Republicans listening? And also because our response to Russia's influence campaign is not primarily about who you supported last November in the presidential election. Listening to the Democrats, it's sometimes hard to understand if that side of the aisle remembers that basic fact about what Russia's influence campaign was up to.
Russia's goals in our most recent election were not initially about one candidate versus another candidate. We need to underscore this. There are particulars that those of us who spend time reading classified intelligence know we can't discuss in this unclassified setting, but the big, broad point is simple and needs to be shouted, and that is that Putin's fundamental goals are about undermining NATO. Putin's fundamental goals are about making us doubt our own values - the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right of protest or redress of grievances.
The Kremlin isn't attempting an influence campaign to make Americans believe that the sky is green or the grass is blue. He's trying to undertake an influence campaign to make us doubt our own First Amendment values. The Kremlin wants us to believe that our society is as corrupt as the thugocracy that Putin and his cronies are trying to advance. That isn't true but, if you listen to us in this body, we do regularly do very little to restore the kind of public trust that Putin is actively trying to undermine. So I would ask that each member of this body would humbly and carefully consider Chairman Rogers' rebuke to the congress this morning. Again from The Wall Street Journal, Chairman Rogers. . . .