“We did not negotiate from a position of strength. We acted from a position of weakness. As a result, one of the world's worst despots walked away today from Helsinki with a win.”

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse spoke on the Senate floor tonight about the President’s comments about Vladimir Putin today in Helsinki. 

 
Video is available here or by clicking on the image above.

A transcript of the Senator’s remarks is found below:

I come to the floor to talk about what happened in Helsinki today. Let's not mince words. Today was a terrible day for the American brand, for the American people, and for all of our allies.

We did not negotiate from a position of strength. We acted from a position of weakness. As a result, one of the world's worst despots walked away today from Helsinki with a win.

Vladimir Putin is leaving Helsinki with an undeserved legitimacy. The United States took a loss today when we backed away from our long-standing commitment to principled American leadership and, frankly, we walked away from basic reality. 

Today the press asked the President of the United States who he believed on the subject of Russian information operations in the U.S. In 2016. Did he believe in the men and women in the U.S. Intelligence community or did he believe in Vladimir Putin, a member of the Russian intelligence community? A thug turned Russian despot. 

The choice here was between people who are risking their lives on behalf of our freedom and people who go around the world taking people's lives to limit freedom. The President of the United States, how did he answer?

He answered that he didn't see "any reason" why Putin would have interfered in the U.S. Election. 

Make no mistake, Putin has a reason. The reason is clear to all those who have been watching growing Russian authoritarianism in recent years. Putin wants to weaken the United States' Government. Putin wants to make the American people believe that our system of government isn't any different than our thugocracy. Putin wants to destroy NATO, which isn't just an alliance, it's arguably the most important military alliance in two millennia. Undermine confidence in self-government not only in this country but around the world. 

That's why Putin, a Soviet-style dictator, who thinks more about American elections than he ever thinks about his sham elections, attacked us in 2016. It's why he's planning to attack America this fall in 2018. It's why there are ongoing information operations against the U.S. and against our public at present as everyone who goes into the SCIF and reads their intelligence briefing knows. It's why Putin is planning to attack the U.S. 2020 election already. And that's why the men and women of the U.S. intelligence community unanimously and without any regard to party understand that Putin waged an information operation against the United States in 2016. And that's why Dan Coats, an esteemed former member of this body, went to the press today -- not six months ago -- went to the press today and reaffirmed with "our assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy," remain the opinion of the U.S. Intelligence community.

This isn't a question of Republican versus Democrats. This is a question of patriotism versus deciding that you want to be on the side of sowing discord and doubt in America. We shouldn't sugar coat this. Vladimir Putin is a despot and he's propped up by a band of oligarchs every bit as corrupt as he is. Putin fakes democracy while preventing free and fair elections.

Putin funnels massive amounts of Russian wealth from his people to himself and to his cronies and he keeps an iron grip on the press. These matters are not matters of dispute. It's not on the one hand and on the other hand -- 'oh, some people are saying.'

The Russian people know who Vladimir Putin is. You can ask the leaders of political opposition in that country who try to get there to be a free or fair election. You can ask the human rights activists or the international observers who try to speak up against what he's done or who show up in my office and give firsthand accounts of certain situations in which Putin has intervened. You can ask the journalists who try to expose corruption in that country. You know who these men and women often end up being?

The men and women who randomly disproportionately happen to fall out of the fifth story windows of office buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They are people who randomly happen to show up in one car accidents that either are never investigated or when they're investigated unfortunately there weren't witnesses and there are never prosecutions. 

Vladimir Putin is working overtime to make the Soviet Union great again. Over the past decade he has carried out an aggressive, often brutal expansionist campaign. In 2008, he invaded next-door Georgia. In 2014, he invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. He provided military support to the Assad regime and Syria. Russian troops are responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Under the guise of attacking the Islamic State, Russia has targeted hospitals and schools and many other civilian locations. Putin is currently flexing his muscle across Europe although his preference there is always for more subtle means than tanks and Kalashnikovs if he can get away from it. One, he has more deniability and two, it's cheaper. 

In 2007, Estonia was hit with cyberwar attacks originating in Russia -- the beginning of a campaign of cyberwarfare that has become one of Mr. Putin's primary tools. Not only in the Ukraine and the Baltics but in Germany and France as recently as last year, Russian hackers attempted to interfere in elections to disrupt parliamentary proceedings and to shut down media operations.

This is in addition to trying to put his thumb on the scale for pro-Putin parties across Europe, including by spreading misinformation through influential Russian-backed and Russian-originating social media accounts. These questions are not actually gray. Any member of this body who does their homework, any member of the House down the hall that does their homework, and lots and lots of the good and well-meaning that serve around the President who do their homework know these things to be true. These questions are not in dispute.

Putin's most daring performance to date, though, was deciding to take on the most powerful country in the world, an influence operation inside the United States. National political committees in 2016 saw their computer networks breached and their data stolen. Vladimir Putin isn't obsessed with the ups and downs of political life here in the U.S. He isn't an agent of one party or the other, one candidate or the other. Vladimir Putin is an agent of chaos and his objective is to undermine trust. His objective is to make Americans doubt ourselves and doubt whether or not U.S. Leadership over the last 75 years has been a good or a bad thing and to doubt whether or not we should keep our word to our allies. Vladimir Putin's objective is to make us think that there's no difference between countries on the global stage that believe in human rights, that believe in free press, free religion, free assembly and free speech versus those who don't. Vladimir Putin's goal is to preach a moral equivalency that allows his thugocracy to be no less ugly than what happens in our country where people who often disagree decide to argue by means of reason and persuasion, not by violence.

His goals aren't that hard to figure out. His enemy is trust and good faith. 

Vladimir Putin is trying to create mistrust in this country. And today the President of the United States decided to let Vladimir Putin off the hook, and in so doing, he creates an incentive for Putin to ratchet up his campaigns of misinformation.

This should be a time for all Americans to stand together against what Putin's doing. It's a fundamental part of the President's job to articulate basic truths. 

And while we're being clear about who Vladimir Putin is, we should also be clear about who we are. The American people are a people, and we are a nation that believes in human dignity. We believe that this isn't just true of 320 million Americans. It's true of 7.5 billion people across this globe. We believe in free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right of protest not because the government gives us those rights but God created us with dignity.

Government is not the author or source of people's rights. Governments are just tools to secure the rights that people have by virtue of having been created with dignity. In other words, we believe the very stuff that terrifies Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin believes only that might makes right. Americans don't believe that. We never have and may we never devolve to believing only that. We're dedicated to the thesis that the dignity of every person is worth protecting. It is not the job of the United States Government to be the policeman of every nation on Earth, but it is most clearly part of the United States' job to articulate on the global stage things that are true of everyone, everywhere.

We are dedicated to the idea that humans should flourish. Vladimir Putin is dedicated to the opposite. He crushes men, women, and children underfoot for the purposes of keeping his hold on power.

Americans do not stand with Vladimir Putin. Americans stand with the Russian champions of liberty and of free speech and freedom of religion and freedom of press and freedom of assembly and the right of protest against tyrants like Vladimir Putin. 

We believe in peace through strength and we believe in basic moral clarity. And that's why in the face of the world's two most destructive wars, Americans went and created the international order. It is an American-led international order.

The international order embodies America's fundamental values and we push back against the drift to old world authoritarianism in all its forms, the very things that Vladimir Putin lusts after. 

This world isn't made for the elites. But it is made for American interests to be articulated because we are the de facto leader of the free world, and that's why we've always negotiated from a position of strength.

Sadly today we negotiated from a position of weakness. In previous years, many Americans, myself included, have spoken out against the crazy idea that America could somehow lead from behind. Today America decided to simply give in.

On the floor tonight... as I came to the floor tonight, the President tweeted that, "in order to build a brighter future, we cannot remain exclusively focused on the past." 

Fair enough, but let's talk about that future. What do we want from it? And at what cost? Is the cost of the future that President Trump wants the sacrificing of American moral leadership on the global stage? Is it walking away from the idea that 7.5 billion people have been created with dignity? Is it walking away from the idea that America fundamentally announces to the world that we believe that everybody has the rights of free speech, press, religion, assembly, and protest? Not because a government might decide to condescend and grant you this right but because the government's job is to serve the people by preserving these rights which come from nature and nature's God? 

The problem today is not the United States. The problem today is not the Russian people. The problem that needed to be named today was Vladimir Putin. Instead, our President decided to advance a fake moral equivalency that plays right into the hands of Vladimir Putin's bloody hands. Everyone in this body should be disgusted by what happened in Helsinki today. I yield the floor, Mr. President.