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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on Russian interference in the U.S. elections at the full Committee hearing:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  I want to thank our witnesses as well, and welcome you all to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Ambassador Baer, I want to just tell you it’s good to see you again.  Your service at the State Department was exemplary.  Both in the Democracy, Labor, and Human Rights Bureau and as our Ambassador to the OSCE. 

“And I also want to commend your work in promoting diversity among our foreign affairs personnel, speaking out about the importance of getting more LGBT individuals into senior roles in the Department.

“Mr. Chairman, I, thank you.  I am glad our focus today is on Russia.  Disinformation is a problem, no doubt about it. 

“But in my view, as I believe your view as well, a much bigger problem is that a hostile foreign government committed criminal acts in an effort to undermine American democracy. 

“At Vladimir Putin’s orders, Russia’s agents tried to swing last year’s election in favor of President Trump.  Those actions were an attack on our country.  And if we don’t respond effectively, Putin will become an even bigger threat to the United States and our allies. 

“It doesn’t matter who they try to help or not help.  The fact that they had the nerve to interfere in our elections should make all of us pause.  Give, give, give all of us pause for concern.

“So while I’m glad we’re having this hearing today, I hope it will only be the first in a series of hearings and other actions by this Committee to address this problem.

“Before I continue, I, I want to say that when I first came to this Committee in 1989, the Chairman of the Committee was Dante Fascell.  I know Ms. Ros-Lehtinen knew, knew him well.

“Well, today would have been Dante Fascell’s 100th birthday.  As chair of this Committee, he helped establish the Helsinki Commission and the National Endowment for Democracy and he was a true statesman.  And he personified what the Chairman and I have done these past six, five-six, years for this Committee saying that politics stops at the water’s edge.  And he really believed that as well.  And his portrait is right over my left shoulder.

“This Committee has an important role to play and I’m delighted that the, the Chairman scheduled this hearing.  With respect to our witnesses, we will also need to hear from senior Administration officials once they’re in place, because this Committee needs to exercise our oversight role, and we need to legislate.

“For instance, this Committee is the gateway to a full, independent investigation.  The bill to create that commission—the Protect Our Democracy Act—introduced by Mr. Swalwell and Mr. Cummings, is solely within our jurisdiction and waiting for this Committee to mark it up.

“We can’t wait any longer.  Each week, it seems we learn about another person from the Trump campaign who met with a Russian official.  Already, the President’s National Security Advisor, General Flynn, has resigned because of these contacts.

“The Attorney General met with the Russian ambassador as well.  Look, we meet with ambassadors all the time.  They come into my office. 

“But Mr. Sessions hid the truth about those meetings when he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  I find his explanation impossible to be taken seriously.  But I want to know why those meetings were shrouded in secrecy.

“And now we learned that the President himself met with Russian’s ambassador.

“There are just too many unanswered questions.  Shutting this behind the closed doors of the Intelligence Committee isn’t the solution. 

“A 9/11-style commission—along with a special prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department—is the only way to stop the drip, drip, drip of information.

“But an investigation isn’t enough.  We need to respond.  Mr. Connolly and I have offered a bill—the SECURE Our Democracy Act—that would be a real punch in the nose to Putin and his thugs.

“This bill would sanction anyone who interferes in an American election from overseas.  Those responsible for last year’s crimes would be held accountable, and anyone thinking about meddling with our elections in the future would know there will be consequences.  It’s based on sanctions legislation that has worked well in the past and it wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.

“This bill is common sense: you mess, you get, you mess with the bull, you get the horns. 

“Every Democrat, Democrat on this Committee along with dozens of others are cosponsoring this bill.  I would hope that our Republican friends will eventually sign on or offer an alternative bill to impose similar consequences.

“It’s, it’s very remarkable to me that rather than dealing with the very real, very immediate threat of Putin’s aggression, the Administration is instead taking aim at our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and shifted blame onto the last Administration—spinning wild theories about wiretaps and other spy-novel tactics.  These allegations are not true.  There is no evidence.  This is an attempt to muddy the water.  And it won't work.

“Have our politics really gotten to the point where they stop us from confronting an attack on our country?  Ifsh so, if so, shame on us. 

“Russia attacked the United States.  Putin meddled with American democracy.  We need to know exactly what happened and determine the best way to respond.

“So, I’m glad our Committee is taking the first step in dealing with this, that problem.  I hope we stay focused on it.

“We’re the first Committee to do it and this is within our jurisdiction and I am proud of again, the Chairman Royce and myself working together so we can be the first Committee to do this.  But, we must continue, we cannot stop here.

“So, I look forward to our witnesses’ insights on how to confront this problem.  I thank the Chairman again.  And I yield back.”