WASHINGTON—Led by Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel, 20 Democratic members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today called on Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to confront the threat of Russian election interference and stop allowing Russian propaganda to go unanswered. In a letter to the Secretary, the lawmakers blasted the Department’s refusal to use $120 million provided to counter Russian propaganda and urged the Secretary to act against this threat to American democracy.
“The State Department’s failure to use $120 million that Congress provided to counter and deter Russian propaganda is unacceptable. This is the latest example of the Trump Administration both ignoring the will of Congress and letting Russia off the hook for its attack on American democracy,” wrote the Members. “This baffling inaction has failed to bolster America and our allies at a critical moment.”
The letter was signed by Reps. Engel, Brad Sherman (CA), Gregory W. Meeks (NY), Albio Sires (NJ), Gerald E. Connolly (VA), Theodore E. Deutch (FL), Karen Bass (CA), William R. Keating (MA), David N. Cicilline (RI), Ami Bera (CA), Lois Frankel (FL), Joaquin Castro (TX), Robin L. Kelly (IL), Brendan F. Boyle (PA), Dina Titus (NV), Norma J. Torres (CA), Bradley S. Schneider (IL), Thomas R. Suozzi (NY), Adriano Espaillat (NY), and Ted W. Lieu (CA).
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The State Department’s failure to use $120 million that Congress provided to counter and deter Russian propaganda is unacceptable. This is the latest example of the Trump Administration both ignoring the will of Congress and letting Russia off the hook for its attack on American democracy.
In 2016 Congress provided the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) $60 million for 2017 and 2018, respectively. It was reported this week that the Department has neglected to use of any of these funds, leaving Russian information warfare unanswered by the office Congress charged with pushing back on this aggression.
After months of pressure from the House and Senate—including a letter from the Ranking Member of this Committee which went unanswered—the Department is trying to play catch-up, but the Administration’s dithering has taken $60 million of the funding off the table because it was not used in time. It remains unclear if or when any funding will be put to use. This baffling inaction has failed to bolster America and our allies at a critical moment.
Additionally, the Department’s hiring freeze has prevented the GEC from bringing on the experts needed to counter and deter Russia’s information operations system. Although the GEC’s dedicated staff is working hard on other efforts, it still does not have the specialized personnel required to adequately track and counter Russia’s disinformation and propaganda campaigns. The Administration’s lack of interest and unalloyed failure to use the means Congress provided to protect our country are stunning.
Senior Administration officials have told us all we need to know about this situation. CIA Director Pompeo and DNI Coats have made clear that Russia is continuing to interfere in American elections. Admiral Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency, revealed that President Trump has given no orders to stop that interference. And in the face of this urgency, you told a Fox television personality that it is “very difficult” to stop Russian meddling. It’s unclear how you reached this conclusion considering the Administration hasn’t even tried. The Administration has not imposed the sanctions passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities last summer, and the President has continued to deny Russian interference while attacking our own intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Indeed, the record over the last year suggests this White House is willing to accept another round of Kremlin interference like Putin's intervention that sought to help the President’s 2016 campaign.
When you appear before our Committee later this month, we expect to hear why you have not responded to the Russian cyber threat with the robust tools Congress provided, and we will listen carefully for evidence of substantial State Department progress on implementing a robust campaign to counter and deter Russian propaganda.
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