Washington, D.C.– Congressman Michael McCaul, Republican Leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee hearing on the alleged Russian bounty program in Afghanistan. 

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-Remarks as Delivered-

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this important hearing. As I have said time and time again, and I agree with the Chairman that Vladimir Putin is not our friend – not a friend to the United States or our allies. In the past few years, we have witnessed his regime invade and occupy parts of Ukraine and Georgia; unleash devastating cyber-attacks against our allies; use a banned nerve agent to try and kill a former Russian spy in the UK; prop up corrupt regimes in Syria and Venezuela; they meddled in our elections; they undermined American interests around the world.

“He has proven he just cannot be trusted and he certainly is not our friend. And now, we are faced with widely reported allegations that a Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU, has paid Taliban-linked militants to kill Americans and coalition forces in Afghanistan. While it is not news that Moscow has provided the Taliban with weapons and other support, and they’ve been there since 1979, Russia paying bounties for the murder of American service-members would be an unacceptable escalation. If true, the Administration, in my judgment, must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable – and that should include not inviting Russia to rejoin the G7.

“We have passed, Mr. Chairman, as you know, sanctions that the Administration can enact today on these Russian entities. Ultimately, there is nothing more important than protecting our American troops serving overseas. I think we can all agree we must take any threat to their safety very seriously, especially from someone with a track record like Putin. I hope we use our time today to discuss how to more effectively deal with the dangerous autocrat in the Kremlin, rather than descending into a partisan blame game.

“The only person who benefits from American infighting over this issue is Vladimir Putin. He loves chaos. And after last week’s sham nationwide vote in Russia that allows Putin to remain in power through 2036, essentially making him the Emperor of Russia, it is even more critical for Americans to work together with our allies, especially through NATO, to counter Putin’s nefarious activities around the world.

“While the topic of this hearing will certainly center around Russia and Vladimir Putin, the backdrop is Afghanistan. I urge my colleagues to continue supporting our partners in Afghanistan to help bring peace and stability to their country. My friend, Ambassador Rahmani, has devoted herself to helping secure that future for Afghanistan and I want to take this opportunity to thank her for her unwavering dedication to that mission. And I think it’s very commendable that Afghanistan appoint a female Ambassador to the United States and I hope that she will be made a part of the negotiating team when they meet with the Taliban.

“I would also like to note that I appreciate the White House quickly providing briefings on today’s topic on both sides of the aisle including myself, the Chairman and other Members of the committee. And further, I know my colleagues want to get the full story so I would encourage them to read all the classified materials provided on this important matter to get the entire picture. And so finally, I would like to thank you Mr. Chairman, our witnesses for their testimony, and with that I yield back.”