Russia attacked our democracy, and now we must make sure it’s not rewarded for having done so.
Our intelligence community concluded months ago that Russia interfered with our free and fair elections last year, and did so to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign. Now the FBI is conducting criminal and counterintelligence investigations into whether the extensive personal, political and financial ties between Russia and the Trump campaign team converged with this attack.
As congressional investigations inch forward – temporarily hamstrung in the House by the Intelligence Committee chairman’s terrible judgment in sharing information with the Trump Administration before his own committee’s members – we continue to call for an independent, bipartisan commission to give the American pubic the full accounting it deserves.
But until those investigations are complete and that accounting is reckoned, we must maintain a firm stance against Russia’s aggression – and not allow Russia to thrive from its attack.
This is why I and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on April 5 proposed our resolution expressing Congress’ sense that the President and his Administration should hold off on any changes to sanctions, treaties, military aid, or diplomatic relations that might benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin or his government.
Russia is not our friend. Its aggression in Ukraine, its saber-rattling in the Baltics, its support of the murderous Assad regime in Syria, its possible support of the Taliban, its suppression of or violence against political opponents and journalists – all of these things and more paint a portrait of a foreign adversary with interests contrary to ours.
Bank on this: Russia will attack us again. It is not a question of “if,” but of “when.” All of our intelligence has led us to understand that Russia is using the lessons learned in its attack in planning for its next interference campaign.
We must ensure that Russian influence – around the globe and within our own government – is kept in check. If the White House won’t do so on its own, Congress must exercise bipartisan pressure.
Russia’s influence on this Administration already is producing a confusing foreign policy. Syrian dictator and Putin ally Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical attack upon his own people cannot go unanswered, nor should it be answered with a unilateral U.S. response. It requires a strategy, congressional authorization, and help from allies, but the Trump team’s ties to Russia have complicated a successful execution of any of these.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley rightfully called out Russia for its support of Assad, while President Trump himself stays mostly mum about Russia’s role as Assad’s lifeline. And U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bewilderingly voiced polar-opposite policies last week – first that the U.S. does not support regime change, and then that Assad can’t stay – before traveling to Moscow this week.
It’s also unclear how the U.S. can successfully prosecute any campaign against Syria while tipping off Russia before strikes occur. Of course, not tipping off Russia risks other grave consequences. But Assad is nothing without Russia’s help, and any warning to Russia is likely passed to Assad.
It’s not reassuring that Tillerson has publicly described his “very close relationship” with Putin and in 2013 was awarded the Order of Friendship, Russia’s highest state honor for a foreigner. Nor is it reassuring that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort proposed more than a decade ago that he would work to influence American politics, business deals, and media to benefit Putin, or that Manafort received $12.7 million between 2007 and 2012 from Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovych.
And it’s unsettling that J.D. Gordon, the Trump campaign’s national security advisor, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – as did Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, reportedly under counterintelligence investigation, and then-Senator Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general – during the Republican National Convention even as Gordon advocated for a change to the GOP national platform to ease its Russia policies.
These and many more dots are connecting in an increasingly pro-Russia picture. Recent months’ cascade of deflections, diversions, evasions and outright lies imply a consciousness of guilt – but implication is no substitute for investigation, and the investigations are only just getting started.
The Syrian situation changes nothing about Russia’s interference in our election. Until Americans know the full facts, the Trump White House should not be changing our nation’s policies to benefit the Russian government.
As our resolution notes, even the appearance of any conflict of interest concerning a well-resourced, committed, and dangerous foreign adversary and the institutions of United States government primarily responsible for national defense and the conduct of foreign policy weakens our national security and erodes confidence between the United States and our allies.
Put more simply: Cheaters should never prosper. America’s policies must be in America’s best interests, not Putin’s.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) is the Ranking Member of the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Follow him on Twitter: @RepSwalwell. He wrote this for the Bay Area News Group.
Article: East Bay Times