March 16, 2017

Graham, Whitehouse Hold Hearing on Russian Interference in Elections

Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hears from experts on the tactics and strategies Russia uses to influence elections

Washington, DC – Today, Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism to examine Russian efforts to undermine democracies, including the United States and its elections.  The hearing included testimony from a panel of experts in the tools employed by the Russian government to disrupt elections and the function of democratic governments, including cyber-attacks, financial crime and economic manipulation, misinformation, and other measures.

At the outset of the hearing, Whitehouse conveyed his views on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s indication today that it may hold a classified briefing for Graham and Whitehouse in response to their request to acknowledge the scope and existence of an investigation of President Donald Trump and Trump campaign ties to Russia.

“I think one of the things that we have tried to do here is to proceed outside of a classified setting,” said Whitehouse at the hearing.  “The intelligence committees are working in a classified setting.  The added value, I think, that this Subcommittee’s work provides, is to be able to have a public discussion. . . .  We are entitled to investigate under the Constitution.  They have executive responsibilities, and if we are only connecting with one another in a classified fashion, I don’t think that serves the public interest.  So we will pursue this further, but that’s my initial reaction to this news.”

Whitehouse and Graham have also requested information from the Bureau and the Department of Justice on possible wiretapping of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower.  They have not received an answer to that request from the Bureau or the Department.

Witnesses at the hearing included:

His Excellency Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Former President of The Republic of Estonia (2006-2016); Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow; Center for International Security and Cooperation; Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies

Ilves’s prepared testimony is available here.

Ms. Heather Conley

Europe Program Director, Center for Strategic & International Studies; Lead Author, “The Kremlin Playbook”;

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State, Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs

Conley’s prepared testimony is available here.

Dr. Ben Buchanan, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Cyber Security Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

Buchanan’s prepared testimony is available here.

The Honorable Kenneth Wainstein

Partner, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP; Former Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush; Former Assistant Attorney General for National Security

Wainstein’s prepared testimony is available here.

The witnesses were unanimous in their concern with the threat Russian meddling poses.  The stakes are enormous as Russia tries to effect “the breakdown of the internal coherence, credibility, and moral authority of Western democracies,” said Conley.  With Russia’s meddling, “we are facing a serious and growing threat to the viability of democratic institutions around the globe,” said Wainstein.  Few issues are more important than this right now, said Buchanan, adding that the “trajectory [of Russian interference] is pretty unnerving.”  “Let’s not mince words:  This is subversion and ultimately warfare against liberal democracies,” said Ilves.

At the close of the hearing, Chairman Graham signaled that the Subcommittee would hold its next hearing on how to protect ongoing investigations from political interference.

Whitehouse’s opening comment and statement are below.  Full video of the hearing is available here.


I think one of the things that we have tried to do here is to proceed outside of a classified setting. The intelligence committees are working in a classified setting. The added value, I think, that this Subcommittee’s work provides, is to be able to have a public discussion. If a small town wakes up one morning to find that all the shop windows on Main Street have been smashed, it is appropriate and indeed it is incumbent on the police chief to reassure the town that law enforcement will be looking into that incident. It’s even legitimate to say, “Here are the people I’ve assigned to it.” And it’s certainly legitimate to say, “And we intend to get to the bottom of this.”

In my mind, the unclassified intelligence community report is smashed windows all up and down Main Street. And it is now not only appropriate but incumbent upon law enforcement to say “we are looking at this, we intend to get to the bottom of this and we have these resources dedicated to accomplishing that purpose.” That is an entirely appropriate act for law enforcement in those circumstances. It has added significance when you are dealing within our constitutional separation of powers.

It is not, in my view, appropriate for the executive branch of government to either tell or suggest to a legislative investigative Subcommittee that they should hold back or not proceed or otherwise restrain themselves in our legitimate investigative function, one which President Wilson years ago said indeed was to be even preferred to our legislative function, in order to not compromise ongoing law enforcement investigations and at the same time not confirm that law enforcement investigations are ongoing. That is a recipe for having the ball plop between the second baseman and the shortstop. We are entitled to investigate under the constitution. They have executive responsibilities, and if we are only connecting with one another in a classified fashion, I don’t think that serves the public interest. So we will pursue this further, but that’s my initial reaction to this news.

Opening Statement

Propaganda.  Espionage.  Blackmail.  Subversion.  The 21st century versions of these are “fake news,” hacking, kompromat, and “political capture.”  The Russians have been at this for a long time.  They’ve adapted old methods to new technologies – making use of social media, malware, and complex financial transactions – but the purposes themselves are timeless.

Over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen Russia manipulate the politics of other countries, undermine faith in Western institutions, and attempt to fracture Euro-Atlantic consensus.  Last month at the Munich Security Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov didn’t mince words about his country’s intentions when he looked forward to the creation of a “post-West world order.”  That is a Russia-influenced order that stands opposed both to democratic ideals and free-market economies.

Senator Graham and I scheduled this hearing to begin a public conversation about the means and methods Russia uses to undermine democratic government.

Their toolbox includes cultivating politicians through corrupt business deals, and then threatening to expose the illicit arrangements.

It includes acquiring control over vital economic sectors like energy to threaten and cajole dependent governments.

It includes “fake news” and social media attacks, often based on network penetrations and the information illegally gathered from them.

The declassified intelligence assessment released in January asserts that Russia, quote, “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”  Senator Graham and I intend to hold public hearings to understand how Russia operates, what objectives it is pursuing, how those objectives may threaten our political system and democracy, and how this may or may not violate U.S. law.  Gaps in our laws make us susceptible to many of the tactics we will discuss today.

I am pleased that President Ilves is here, that Ms. Conley and Dr. Buchanan and Mr. Wainstein are here. I want to particularly recognize the work that the Center for Strategic and International Studies has done; the Kremlin playbook of which Ms. Conley was the principal author is a very significant and telling document. And let me welcome Ken Wainstein back to this committee. We have worked together on many issues. He was an adversary on some, I will say, but a principled and honorable adversary, and I’m delighted to have him back.


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