September 06, 2018

Van Hollen, Russia Experts Discuss the DETER Act

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) discussed the DETER Act and the need to prevent Russian interference in future U.S. elections with experts during a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee. Senator Van Hollen introduced the bipartisan DETER Act with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to impose immediate, harsh sanctions on foreign actors who interfere in future U.S. elections. The legislation has 14 bipartisan cosponsors. A transcript of the Senator’s discussion with Michael A. McFaul, former U.S Ambassador to the Russian Federation, and Daniel Fried, former Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs, is available below. Video of the exchange is available here.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you and the Ranking Member for having these hearings. I know that he’s not here anymore, but I want to thank Senator Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Senator Menendez. They had hearings that Senator Corker mentioned yesterday with some witnesses, including Ambassador Nick Burns, who worked on a lot of these issues, and President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass. So I think that it is pretty important that both of the Committees – all Committees – be working together, along with the Intelligence Committee, Senator Warner, and others.


And I want to thank all of you for testimony. Ms. Conley, you pointed out that we have a lot of things we want to focus on when it comes to U.S.-Russian relations, but we do have to prioritize. And I do agree that priority number one needs to be defending the integrity of our democracy and our election system as we continue to pursue those other issues. And that is exactly why Senator Rubio and I introduced the DETER Act, because we’ve heard testimony from Secretary Pompeo in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that we’ve clearly not deterred Russian efforts to interfere in our elections. The Trump Administration national security team, everyone other than President Trump himself, have been very clear that the Russians continue to try to interfere. And the idea behind the DETER Act is simply to say, upfront and in advance, to Vladimir Putin, if you cross this threshold, you will face these penalties. Deterrence has been part of our strategy when it comes to our military strategy against the Russians, and that is why we introduced this.


Ambassador McFaul thank you for your service and for your testimony today in support of the DETER Act. Could you just elaborate a little bit more your experience with Putin, and why you believe that if you say upfront here is the price you will pay if you engage in that conduct, that it probably has a better chance of success than if you after the fact take action where for him, there’s no way that he can necessarily change his behavior to get out of it.


MCFAUL: Well, yeah. And I don’t want to exaggerate my interactions with him. I’ve been in summits with him a half a dozen times. I met him first in the spring of 1991, so we go way back. I wouldn’t exactly say we’re exactly Facebook friends right now.


I think that it’s very hard for him to move back from a position. I mean, you just eluded to it. He’s a very stubborn guy that way. He’s going to lose face, and he’ll dig in. And I’m very struck by even in the moment of euphoria -- at least in Russia, there was euphoria about a new beginning with President Trump. He hasn’t done one thing for U.S.-Russian relations to help out President Trump. He’s hasn’t – to my mind – not one single positive thing in U.S.-Russian relations. I could give you a half a dozen he could have done to help that. He has not done that. So that’s not the way he behaves. He expects us to lose interest, us to fade away.


Our European allies – I just want to associate with what everybody else says – nothing we do is any good if it’s not with them. Whereas, the other way around, the prospective – this is what will happen if he does this – that creates tension within his inner circle, within his government, it creates an opportunity for deliberation about cost-benefit analysis behind closed doors that I think gives more prospect of a positive in terms of our interests, deterring him. And I think deter is exactly the right word.


VAN HOLLEN: Ambassador Fried, you and I have talked. We’re in the process of having discussions on Capitol Hill between Republicans, Democrats, others about changes that we can make – obviously, to the DETER Act, no bill is perfect as introduced. And Senator Rubio and I are very open to making those changes. But could you also comment on the overall sort-of structure of the DETER Act – laying out these clear bright lines? As you pointed out, President Putin needs to know that we believe what Trump’s national security advisors have been saying. And that we shouldn’t let President Putin think he can be – I think you said – sweet-talked by President Trump. And the way to do that, as Ambassador McFaul says in his written testimony is for the Congress and President Trump “to sign into law preemptive sanctions that would trigger automatically and response to future malign behavior including election interference.” Do you support that overall structure?


FRIED: I like the notion of – just as Mike McFaul said – I like the notion of hanging out the prospective sanctions. I think that works as a deterrent. Senator Menendez has a point when he said, look the Russians have already done bad things. So then the challenge is to sort out the different tools we have to put pressure on the Russians because of their various tracks of malign behavior. So, where do we want to increase the sanctions now? Where do we want to hold sanctions back for future perspective malign behavior? That needs to be sorted out, and we have to think it through in a disciplined way, so that there is clarity. Easier said than done.


But I like the DETER Act’s focus. I like a lot of the individual sanctions, provisions in DASKA. And I’m cognizant of the fact that for Ukraine, you both want to deter future bad Russian actions, but you also want to increase the pressure on Russia so that they fulfill the terms of Minsk because that’s a decent framework for a solution. Now, that’s complicated stuff.


And it’s made more complicated by the fact that the Administration cannot hold to a consistent line on Russia policy, mainly because of, frankly, the President. Not because of the people in the Administration. But that undercuts what the Congress is trying to do. So, hard but not insolvable. I’m also heartened but the fact that so many of the actors in Congress, in the Administration, outside are basically moving in the same direction – trying to do the right thing.


SENATOR VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. It is complicated. But here’s what’s simple and straightforward. If, as all of you have said, if we don’t take action – and we don’t make it clear what the consequences of action are – they’re going to run all over us. So we better do that sooner rather than later.


FRIED: Yes, I agree.