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Russia’s efforts to intervene in and influence the November 2016 election are deeply troubling. Even more troubling are allegations of contact between senior officials on President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. These issues are currently being investigated by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and its House counterpart, as well as special counsel Robert Mueller III, a former FBI director who was appointed to conduct an independent investigation into the Russia matter by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The Russian Federation’s long history of destabilizing and aggressive actions, including most recently in Ukraine and Syria, coupled with its record of meddling in other countries’ democratic elections, make it clear that Russia is a significant threat to our national security interests. We must take steps, on a bipartisan basis, to ensure that there are consequences for Russia’s aggression and that we are protecting against future such interference in the cornerstone of our democratic systems: our election process. Such attacks on our democracy are unacceptable. In March 2017, I delivered on the Senate floor laying out my concerns about Russia and the Trump Administration’s failure to adequately answer questions about reports of communication and cooperation between its senior leadership and Russian officials.
The Intelligence Community’s unclassified published on January 6, 2017, on Russia’s activities during the election demonstrates multiple instances of hacking and manipulation aimed at attacking our democracy. One of the key judgements of this report asserts that “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’”
The work done by our intelligence professionals indicates that Russia meddled in our election with the intent of aiding President Trump. The Intelligence Community’s unclassified report concluded, “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
In addition, the President has, by his own admission, taken actions intended to influence the probe into Russia and possible coordination with his associates. I raised concerns with these issues when I delivered on the Senate floor in May 2017. In June, former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that as he was leading the FBI’s investigation into Russia and contacts with Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the President said in a private meeting, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Director Comey testified that he interpreted this statement as a request to drop the Flynn investigation, a request he did not fulfill. Director Comey was fired by President Trump on May 9. The President initially claimed he dismissed Director Comey at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but later stated that he acted on his own, with the Russia probe in mind.
On January 23, I cosponsored S. 27, a bill introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) to establish an independent commission regarding Russian cyber operations against the U.S. elections. This bill would direct the independent commission to examine attempts by the Russian government or related actors to “access, alter, or tamper with voting systems, voter roll information, the Donald J. Trump and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign organizations, and the Democratic and the Republican national committees, congressional campaign committees, and governors associations.”
Following reports that Attorney General Sessions, then acting as a Trump campaign surrogate, met with Russian officials during the campaign, on March 2, I sent a to him urging him to recuse himself completely from the investigation into the Russian cyberattacks on the 2016 election, an action he took later that day. Further, I called for the appointment of a special counsel to probe President Trump’s ties to Russia and any contacts between Russian officials and his campaign.
On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller III, a former FBI director, as special counsel in the Russia matter. As such, Mr. Mueller has broad authority to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” On October 30, Mr. Mueller announced charges against Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, a business associate of Mr. Manafort and an adviser to the Trump campaign. The charges include counts of conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy against the United States, among others. Also on October 30, it was announced that George Papadopoulos, another former Trump campaign adviser, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was cooperating with federal investigators. According to the court documents, Mr. Papadopoulos was told by an individual with substantial connections to Russian government officials that the Russians had “‘dirt’ on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails.’” On December 1, 2017, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI relating to conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.
It is not yet clear how far the investigation might go or how long it might take. It is also unclear whether President Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice. Mr. Mueller is a seasoned professional, and I have confidence that he will conduct a thorough investigation that will give the American people the answers they deserve with respect to the 2016 election and the ensuing events. It is critically important that we get a clear picture of what specific actions Russia took to aid President Trump, whether U.S. persons had knowledge of or were involved in these actions and whether President Trump has financial entanglements with Russians associated with the Putin regime.
While I have deep concerns about Russian efforts to influence our elections and our democracy, and have acted to investigate these matters, I also believe that we must allow the special counsel to do his investigative work. In the meantime, please be assured that I will continue to monitor this situation, including the investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate and House intelligence committees, and take necessary actions.
Bob Casey, Jr, a Democrat, represents the state of Pennsylvania in the United States Senate. Since 2011, he has been a member of the National Security Working Group, a bi-partisan forum that conducts oversight on the Executive Branch on issues of military and foreign policy.