Keith Chu/Ashley Schapitl (202) 224-4515
Wyden Takes to Senate Floor to Address Russian Disinformation in Flawed Congressional Investigation, 2020 Election
As Prepared for Delivery
Mr. President, Leader Schumer and I have come to the floor with a resolution calling for an end to a horribly flawed congressional investigation. The foreign threats to our democracy – attempts to poison it with disinformation and to sow distrust – are an established matter of fact. Ignoring or overlooking those threats when it’s politically convenient would be harmful enough. Wielding that disinformation as a political cudgel is something far worse.
For periods over the last year, two Senate committees have conducted an investigation involving Ukraine, former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter: the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Johnson, and the Finance Committee, led by Chairman Grassley. I am the Ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. My staff have joined interviews and received documents pertinent to the investigation.
Given my Finance Committee role, and my position on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am unable to discuss classified information or details of an ongoing investigation. However, I can discuss public information about the spread of Russian propaganda, and the pathway it’s following from Russian agents through the United States Senate to the American public.
The Russian government is once again interfering in our election. This has been confirmed by our intelligence community. Its interference campaign includes disinformation about Vice President Biden and the work he was doing to fight corruption in Ukraine.
To spread this disinformation, Russia enlists the help of characters like Andriy Derkach and Andriy Telizhenko. Derkach has been identified by American counter-intelligence as an active agent for Russian intelligence. This agent, instead of being treated as a foreign enemy, has met personally with president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to further his task of undermining American elections. I’m not sure what you should call an American who aids a Russian agent – but counselor to the president is certainly not it.
In August, the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center issued a threat assessment on foreign threats to the election. It identified Derkach as one “Kremlin-linked actor” involved in the attempt to “denigrate former Vice President Biden.”
On September 3rd, Senator Schumer and I wrote a letter, along with several of our Democratic colleagues, urging the Treasury Department to issue sanctions against Derkach. It did so the following week, describing Derkach’s role in what it called, “a covert influence campaign centered on cultivating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election…”
Telizhenko is yet another Giuliani associate who, according to press accounts, American counter-intelligence has identified as a conduit for Russian attacks on our elections. He is also the star witness in the Johnson-Grassley investigation.
Derkach and Telizhenko have released unverified portions of phone calls Vice President Biden held with Ukrainian officials in the course of his anti-corruption work. Some were released on the very same day. Telizhenko is promising further releases.
He also recently told the Washington Post that he has forwarded more than 100 emails to staff on Senator Johnson’s committee and answered their questions.
Senator Graham was involved in the earliest stages of the Johnson-Grassley investigation in 2019, but in February of 2020, he said, “I called the attorney general this morning and Richard Burr, the chairman of the Intel Committee, and they told me, ‘take very cautiously anything coming out of the Ukraine against anybody.’”
The disinformation that Derkach and Telizhenko have spread – largely a collection of disproven allegations and wild conspiracy theories – has made it into certain media outlets in this country all too willing to spread the products of Russian intelligence. It’s also been circulated by the president’s own legal team. We used to have a word for that.
From there, that disinformation became the basis of the Johnson-Grassley investigation.
I’ll have much more to say on the details of that investigation in the days ahead, but for now I’ll say this. Senator Johnson has leaked a number of mischaracterizations about this investigation. He has repeatedly claimed he has uncovered new and damaging information about Vice President Biden’s activity in Ukraine. This is flatly untrue. Nothing I have seen – not one bit of evidence – could lead to the conclusion that Vice President Biden did anything wrong in Ukraine.
What I have seen is a months-long investigation that still has no legitimate basis burning through immense manpower and taxpayer-funded resources. Neither of these committees has any jurisdiction over our diplomatic ties with Ukraine. It has no legislative purpose.
This investigation is also happening under a clear double standard that favors Republicans and stonewalls Democratic oversight. In my view that’s a sign that these fabricated accusations against Vice President Biden cannot stand up to any real scrutiny.
The political nature of this investigation has been clear all along. It began as counterprogramming during the impeachment trial, and the urgency behind this investigation seemed to die out when the trial ended. It only returned when Vice President Biden established himself as the Democratic front-runner.
The day after the Biden victory in the South Carolina primary, Chairman Johnson sent a letter to his committee announcing his intention to kick-start the investigation with a subpoena.
When I say this investigation has political motivations, you do not have to take my word for it. Senator Johnson describes his investigation in clearly political terms.
He said in March, “...If I were a Democrat primary voter, I’d want these questions satisfactorily answered before I cast my final vote.”
He said in August, “...I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden."
He said in September, “Stay tuned. In about a week we’re going to learn a whole lot more of Vice President Biden’s unfitness for office.”
Furthermore, Senator Johnson cannot credibly take issue with the work Vice President Biden was doing to fight corruption in Ukraine because he supported it publicly at the time.
In June 2014 at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ukraine, Senator Johnson stated, “If we have to tie aid or help to make sure that anti-corruption laws are passed, I think we should do that.”
In 2016, he wrote a letter with a bipartisan group of members of the Senate Ukraine Caucus to former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The letter reads:
"Succeeding in these reforms will show Russian President Vladimir Putin that an independent, transparent and democratic Ukraine can and will succeed. It also offers a stark alternative to the authoritarianism and oligarchic cronyism prevalent in Russia. As such, we respectfully ask that you address the serious concerns raised by [the Minister of Economic Development and Trade]. We similarly urge you to press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General's Office and judiciary.”
Bottom line, the Johnson-Grassley investigation is baseless.
The resolution Senator Schumer and I have brought forward comes down to defending our democracy. It comes down to a question of what our campaigns and our elections ought to be all about.
In my judgement, they ought to be about bringing our best ideas forward and having a real debate, not attacking the other side with deceitful foreign propaganda.
What kind of leadership is that, especially at a time when the American people are dealing with the crushing weight of one crisis stacked up on another?
200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. The Trump administration’s handling of this pandemic is beyond incompetent. The economy has collapsed and millions are out of work. The American West is burning to ash. Thousands and thousands of homes and businesses have been lost. There has been a national outcry against racism and violence against Black Americans.
Too many people believe that the government no longer tries to help them get ahead in life. Our election ought to be about the parties bringing forward their best ideas of how to change that. When you lack those ideas is when you turn to baseless attacks and propaganda.
So again, I urge my colleagues to support our resolution. It’s long past time for the Johnson-Grassley investigation to end.
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