Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is taking his role in investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election very seriously. His opening statement at the Senate Intelligence Committee's first public hearing on Trump and Russia perfectly summarizes the gravity of what we face.
As pressure mounts for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to recuse himself from that committee’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia ties and all House intel public hearings have been cancelled, the Senate Intelligence Committee is attempting to fill the void.
While an independent investigation and special prosecutor are still sorely needed, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), ranking member of Senate Intelligence Committee, is displaying the kind of leadership and clear thinking this investigation requires.
As Warner states, “This is not innuendo or false allegations. This is not ‘fake news.’ This is actually what happened to us.”
To understand what’s at stake and many of the details of what we know so far, watch Warner’s entire opening statement:
As this hearing begins, let’s take just one moment to review what we already know. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.
First, Russia struck at our political institutions by electronically breaking into the headquarters of one of our political parties and stealing vast amounts of information. Russian operatives also hacked e-mails to steal personal messages of individuals ranging from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, to former secretary of state Colin Powell. This stolen information was then weaponized. We know that Russian intelligence used the “Guccifer 2” persona, and others like Wikileaks, and seemingly choreographed times that would cause maximum damage to one candidate. They did this with an unprecedented level of sophistication about American presidential politics that should be a line of inquiry for us on this committee, and candidly, while it helped one candidate this time, they are not favoring one party over another and consequently should be concerned for all of us.
Second, Russia continually sought to diminish and undermine our trust in the American media, like blurring our faith in what is true and what is not. Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik successfully produced and peddled disinformation to American audiences in pursuit of Moscow’s preferred outcome. This Russian propaganda on steroids was designed to poison the national conversation in America. The Russians employed thousands of paid internet trolls and botnets to push out disinformation and fake news at a high volume, focusing this material on to your twitter and Facebook feeds and flooding our social media with misinformation. This fake news and disinformation was then hyped by the American media echo chamber and our own social media networks to reach and potentially influence millions.
This is not innuendo or false allegations. This is not “fake news.” This is actually what happened to us.
Russia continues these sorts of actions as we speak. Some of our close allies in Europe are experiencing exactly the same kind of interference in their political process. Germany has said that its parliament has been hacked. French presidential candidates right now have been the subject of Russian propaganda and disinformation. In the Netherlands, their recent elections, the dutch hand-counted their ballots because they feared Russian interference in their electoral process.
Perhaps most critically for us, there is nothing to stop them from doing this all over again in 2018, for those of you who are up, or in 2020, as Americans again go back to the polls.
In addition to what we already know, any full accounting must also find out what, if any, contacts, communications, or connections occurred between Russia and those associated with the campaigns themselves. I will not prejudge the outcome of our investigation. We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there is clearly a lot of smoke.
For instance, an individual associated with the Trump campaign accurately predicted the release of hacked e-mails weeks before it happened. This same individual also admits to being in contact with Guccifer 2, the Russian intelligence persona responsible for these cyber operations. The platform of one of our two major political parties was mysteriously watered down in a way which promoted the interests of President Putin, he seems to be able to identify who directed that change in the platform.
The campaign manager of one campaign who played such a critical role in electing the president was forced to step down over his alleged ties to Russia and its associates. Since the election, we’ve seen the president’s National Security Adviser resign and his Attorney General recuse himself over previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian government. And of course, the other body on March 20th, the Director of the FBI publicly acknowledged that the Bureau was “Investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”
I want to make clear, at least for me, this information is not about whether you have a “D” or an “R” next to your name. It is not about relitigating last fall’s election. It is about clearly understanding and responding to this very real threat. It’s also, I believe, about holding Russia accountable for this unprecedented attack on our democracy. And it is about arming ourselves so we can identify and stop it when it happens again. And trust me, it will happen again if we don’t take action.
I would hope that the president is as anxious as we are to get to the bottom of what happened, but I have to say editorially that the president’s recent contact with his wild and uncorroborated accusations about wiretapping and his inappropriate and unjustified attacks on America’s hard-working intelligence professionals does give me grave concern.
This committee has a heavyweight of responsibility to prove that we can continue to put our politics aside to get us to the truth. I believe we can get there. I’ve seen firsthand, and I say this to our audience, how serious members on both sides of this dais have worked on this sensitive and critical issue. As the chairman and I have said repeatedly, this investigation will follow the facts where they lead us. Any time I believe we’re not going to be able to get those facts, and we’re working together very cooperatively to get the facts we need from the intelligence community, we will get that done.
This is exactly the kind of openness and transparency our democracy desperately needs.