June 28, 2017

Senator Harris Underscores Danger of Administration’s Failure to Acknowledge Russian Interference in U.S. Election

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, questioned former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns about the national security implications of President Trump's failure to acknowledge and respond to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Although the U.S. intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election, the White House has failed to respond to Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and undermine public confidence in our democratic institutions.

"I think the American people should have a better sense of how our reputation and standing in the global community has been impacted by our failure to acknowledge that Russia attempted to manipulate an election for the President of the United States," Harris said.

Harris also questioned Director of NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence Janis Sarts on the critical role the media plays in ensuring a better informed electorate and preventing the spread of misinformation, ahead of the 2018 midterm election.

Key exchanges from Harris' questioning below:

HARRIS: Ambassador Burns, can you tell me what you believe has been the impact of our reputation with our allies, in Europe in particular, as a result of this Administration's failure to acknowledge that Russia hacked and attempted to manipulate the election of the President of the United States, and if you believe there has been an impact in terms of our standing with our allies in Europe, do you believe that is going to have an impact on our ability to protect ourselves and guard against what should a predictable attack in our 2018 elections by Russia?

BURNS: Thank you Senator, I think the basic problem is that the Europeans are accustomed to looking for the United States to lead on any big issue. This is a big issue, and the hearing is central to it, because all of us are under attack from a systematic Russian campaign, but they don't see the United states leading. And if you combine, and this is partly in response to Senator Cotton's very good question as well, President Trump has not been strong on the sanctions against Ukraine. He's not been an advocate for the territorial independence of Ukraine. He's not spoken out on interference and he's been very ambivalent, even hostile, to NATO and seems to look at Germany as a strategic economic competitor, not as an ally. If you put all that together, I think it's the first time since 1945 that Europeans might likely see Angela Merkel, right now, as leader of the west, not President Trump. I don't say that lightly and I think it's a sad statement to make, but I think it's a true statement and so we need to recover our leadership role and you do that by actions and on this subject, it's by aligning yourself with Europeans on the sanctions issue. That's why I support what the Senate has done on a bi-partisan basis and it's by trying to raise our defenses, as Janis has talked about here in a very effective way.

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HARRIS: Thank you. Mr. Sarts, you mentioned a couple of points about the French elections and I was curious about, and Senator Collins I think raised this point also, you talked about media as a partner in their cooperation with the French government and that they actually were very active in verifying the factual accuracy of misinformation and you also discussed the importance of assuming that a country will be hacked and then trapping hackers. Arguably then, at some point being able to prosecute them and find them and get some consequence and accountability. How would you propose that that would be applied in the United States? You know that, for example, I won't name the stations but there are two cable networks that if you watch them at the same time on the same subject you will hear two completely different versions of what's happening, and so we have acknowledge that we have a culture around the media in this country, as it relates to politics at least, that may not be as coordinated as some of the media in Europe. How would you purpose, again looking at the 2018 election as a goal for protecting ourselves, how would we work with the media to inoculate or prevent harm or to be resilient once we know we've been hacked?

SARTS: Well, truths and facts matter. Facts matter. We don't build bridges on false facts. We want to get them straight. It is very hard to have functional democracy without facts as the basis for it. We tend to go into different directions because of opinions, and that's ok, that's what the Democratic process is, but at the end of the day all we have to agree is that if we don't value the factual basis of our reality, democracy would not work.

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