July 16, 2018

Van Hollen Discusses Trump-Putin Meeting on CNN

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined CNN’s Anderson Cooper to discuss President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Senator Van Hollen urged action on the DETER Act – his bipartisan legislation introduced with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) aimed at preventing future foreign interference in U.S. elections. The DETER Act would impose immediate, harsh sanctions on foreign actors who interfere in future U.S. elections. Video of the interview is available here and a transcript is available below.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Senator – to the point that Jim Sciutto just made, I mean, for all those people who traditionally around the world have looked to the United States as a beacon of hope, who have looked to the United States as a beacon of strength to stand up for human rights, to stand up for democracy, the rule of law – I’m wondering what message do you think President Trump today sent to all those people who still may hold onto some sort of idea about the U.S. as a bulwark against darkness in the world?
SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD: Well, Anderson, just when you think it can’t get any worse, the President of the United States manages to hit a new low. This time, going into a meeting with President Putin and coming out saying that he believes Putin over his own intelligence agencies, overall the evidence that has mounted up with the twelve GRU indictments we saw Friday, the earlier indictments. And the question people around the world are going to ask is, “Where is American credibility?”
We have always stood up for the rule of law, we have stood up for democracy – we have not stood up for catering to dictators and being their right-hand person at a press conference.
So, we already had some very dark days coming out of the NATO summit where the President threw our NATO allies under the bus, where he said that the European community was our top foe. He singled them out first. And now we have this today – the United States’ President throwing our own intelligence agencies under the bus and says that he believes Putin first.
COOPER: It's so interesting, Senator,  when you think of past statements that John Bolton, the now-National Security Advisor, has made about Russia, about Russia’s meddling as an attack, as an act of war against the United States – what must he be thinking? How does he move forward on this – in this White House Administration?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, Anderson, what we worried about John Bolton was that at the end of the day he would be a “yes man” to President Trump. He got rid of his earlier national security advisor who was willing to provide him with independent advice. President Trump doesn't like independent advice. He wants people who will do what he says. And that's what we've seen out of John Bolton. I will say, Anderson, this lends urgency to a piece of legislation that Senator Rubio and I have introduced called the DETER Act, which would establish automatic, very severe sanctions on Russia if they get caught interfering in our 2018 elections or any future elections. It has bipartisan support, and since the President's not willing to defend our democracy, it's really incumbent upon the United States Senate to move on that legislation right now.
COOPER: You know, Senator, let me ask you then on that point – there really haven’t been, as far as I understand, Cabinet-level meetings headed by the President of the United States about the interference, about what happened, and about how to prevent it. We have heard from Chris Wray and others testifying on Capitol Hill about efforts that individual agencies have done to try to combat ongoing cyber-attacks from Russia and other players, state actors and otherwise, and other attempts at interference, even in the upcoming midterm elections. I mean, does--given the President's attitude, which he has voiced now very clearly in front of Vladimir Putin, is there anything you see this White House being able to do – or willing to do – to try to strengthen our defenses for the midterm elections. Or is it just going to be an ad-hoc, agency-by-agency effort?
VAN HOLLEN: No, I don't see this White House doing anything to protect the integrity of our elections. We just heard the President of the United States say he believed President Putin – that they have no reason to attack our democracy or our elections. I don't know how you then turn around and tell your Administration to do something about it – which is why Congress really has to act here. We have, as a Congress, provided additional resources to try to harden our election systems around the country. But in my view, the best defense is to deter Putin from interfering again to begin with – raise the cost so high that if he gets caught, he knows there will be severe punishment. That’s why we call it the DETER Act. And it creates a trip wire – if the Director of National Intelligence finds that the Russians have interfered in the next election or any after that, there would be automatic, very severe penalties on the Russian banking sector, the oil sector. And that would cause Putin to think twice – because the costs of interference would become much higher than the cost of not interfering.
COOPER: All right. Senator, I appreciate your time on this extraordinary day. Thank you very much.