[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 20 (Tuesday, January 30, 2018)]
[Pages S572-S574]

                          RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

  Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, Senator Blumenthal and I have come to 
the floor with a shared concern that the raiding parties are circling 
the Mueller investigation and preparing for an attack on that 
  We see this with collateral attacks on individual members of law 
enforcement. We see this with efforts to discredit the FBI and the 
Department of Justice in general. We have seen it even with 
Presidential tweets seeking to discredit folks who might be witnesses 
before a grand jury, which would, with the right state of mind, 
actually amount to obstruction of justice itself.
  The first thing I want to say is that the Senate is entitled to a 
full and truthful explanation of why Deputy Director McCabe of the FBI 
left. We do not know the reason behind his sudden, abrupt departure. 
But we do know that Sally Yates was fired; we do know that Jim Comey 
was fired; we do know that Bob Mueller was not fired only because White 
House Counsel threw himself in front of that decision by President 
Trump and said: If you do that, I am out.
  So firings at the top of our Department of Justice are becoming an 
unpleasantly frequent thing, and they tend to relate to matters where 
investigations touch on the White House: Sally Yates and the Flynn 
investigation; Jim Comey and the obstruction of justice, Russia 
collusion investigation; and, of course, Bob Mueller leading that 
investigation. I think we are entitled to answers, and I call for a 
full and truthful explanation.
  The second thing going on is the more general attack on the FBI, the 
latest episode of which is this so-called Nunes memo, which has been 
described by Democratic House Members who have seen that memo and the 
underlying documents out of which it was selectively cherry-picked as 
profoundly misleading. It had the political purpose of spreading a 
false narrative--the political purpose of spreading a false narrative. 
This is like the information operations the Kremlin used to run against 
the free world if they had a political purpose of spreading a false 
  They also said it has the purpose of undermining legitimate 
investigations. Guess which legitimate investigations they mean.
  This business of selectively cherry-picking things out of classified 
information to spread a false narrative has a very unpleasant echo for 
me because this is what the Bush administration was up to when it was 
trying to defend the torture program. They selectively declassified, 
for instance, that Abu Zubaydah had been the subject of what they 
called their enhanced interrogation techniques program and that he had 
produced important, actionable intelligence. What they did not 
declassify was that all the actionable intelligence he gave them had 
been provided before they started on the torture techniques. Then, once 
the pros from Dover came down--who didn't know anything about how to 
interrogate somebody but only knew how to do torture techniques--he 
clammed up, and that was the last actionable intelligence we got out of 
him. So deliberately misleading by selectively declassifying is an 
established technique, and it is one that is both shady and dangerous.
  The process by which this so-called Nunes report or memo came out 
smells. It is the first ever invocation of an obscure House rule 
allowing for the selective declassification of material. It happened on 
a purely partisan vote. Trump's own appointees to the Department of 
Justice have called efforts to release the memo ``extraordinarily 
reckless.'' Yet, on a purely partisan vote, using this previously never 
used rule, they are putting the selectively cherry-picked false 
narrative out into the public debate.
  Why are they steaming ahead with a report that Ranking Member Adam 
Schiff says ``contains significant errors of fact, 
mischaracterizations, and omits critical context and detail''? At the 
same time, they are pulling one more procedural stunt, which is to 
stall for at least a week a Democratic report that would rebut and 
expose the misleading character of the Republicans' document.
  The only conceivable purpose is to take the false narrative and give 
it a headstart of a week so that the poison gets out into our 
information system. Sure enough, they are pounding away at getting that 
information out. FOX News is already whipping it up, talking about how 
it is going to be a bombshell and explosive. The House Freedom Caucus 
has Trump revved up about the memo, urging him to support its release--
against the advice of his own law enforcement and national security 
  Over at Breitbart, FOX News, and throughout the rightwing echo 
chamber, hashtag ``Release the Memo'' became the rallying cry. Not only 
was it the rallying cry of Breitbart and FOX News--guess what. It was 
the rallying cry of our friends, the Russians. Hashtag ``Release the 
Memo'' remains the most used hashtag by social media accounts 
associated with Russian influence operations. Even the President's son, 
Don junior, got involved in the game, tweeting out that ``Democrats & 
deep state govt officials''--I guess by that he means the Trump 
appointees who said that releasing this report would be extraordinarily 
reckless--are behind some mischief and therefore, all caps, ``RELEASE 
  When you see a political steamroller like that happening, when you 
see bizarre, peculiar, and unprecedented procedures, when you see that 
it is entirely partisan and against the advice of our national security 
officials, it is hard to draw a good conclusion about what the heck is 
going on.
  Mr. President, I yield to my distinguished colleague from 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Flake). The Senator from Connecticut.
  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, we are here at a historic moment. The 
President of the United States will come before us for his first State 
of the Union tonight, at a time when there is a credible case of 
obstruction of justice against him and an overwhelming case to show 
that the campaign that elected him was aided and abetted by the 
Russians. But the immediate threat is even more dire.
  Yesterday was a new low for the House Intelligence Committee. The 
House Republicans, in an act of partisan gutter politics, voted to 
release a four-page, misleading, deceptive characterization of warrants 
submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This partisan 
gutter politics brings us to a dark day of character assassination much 
like the McCarthy days, when Members of this Chamber were counted in 
history as to whether they stood up and spoke out against this kind of 
smear campaign.
  Not only is there character assassination at work here but also, 
equally dangerous to our democracy, the potential compromising of 
sources and methods vital to our national intelligence and our national 
security. That is the reason President Trump's own appointee at the 
Department of Justice, Stephen Boyd, stated that the release of this 
memo would be ``extraordinarily reckless.''
  Those words come from a former staffer for a Republican Congresswoman 
and then-Senator Jeff Sessions--hardly a Democratic partisan. 
``Extraordinarily reckless.'' Why? Because this memo, four pages long, 
summarizing a warrant that typically is tens or hundreds of pages, will 
reveal sources and methods vital to the continued operation of our 
intelligence community.

[[Page S573]]

  My colleague, Senator Whitehouse, has very powerfully and eloquently 
stated why this development is so threatening and so deeply troubling, 
but my Republican colleagues are apparently averse to listening to this 
kind of reasonable and sensible need for caution. They are about to ask 
the President to defy his own Department of Justice and disclose this 
  Now, let's be very clear. I am one of the leading advocates in this 
body for transparency and disclosure. In fact, I believe strongly that 
all of the transcripts of interviews before the Judiciary Committee on 
the obstruction of justice investigation should be disclosed, and all 
of those witnesses should be called before us--in open hearings, under 
oath--to tell their stories so that the American public can understand 
what happened. I am in favor of challenges to warrants in the FISA 
Court--the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court--that may be 
defective or fallible. In fact, I was the leading advocate and drafter 
of a provision in the law now that provides for challenges to those 
warrants. It does so within the bounds of confidentiality that are 
necessary to protect our secrets and our national security.
  What the House Intelligence Committee and potentially the President 
of the United States are about to do is essentially defy the law, an 
end-run so as to avoid the need for secrecy and confidentiality when it 
comes to intelligence gathering vital to our national security.
  There is a procedure for challenging warrants when they are fallible. 
The House Republicans are refusing to follow it, and they are also 
refusing to provide any rebuttal to the distortions and 
mischaracterizations in that four-page memo.
  Here is the reality: The United States was interested in Carter Page, 
who was viewed by the FBI as a Russian agent well before the 2016 
Presidential campaign. In fact, their interest dates back to 2013, well 
before the Steele dossier, well before the election when Russian 
operatives sought to recruit him as a spy.
  I am going to repeat that. The FBI thought Carter Page, who became a 
Trump campaign official, was an agent of the Russian Government. That 
is a stark public truth. That, in and of itself, would have been enough 
to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil him. Remember, he doesn't have to 
be convicted. He doesn't have to be proven a spy beyond a reasonable 
doubt. It is the probable cause standard and sufficient suspicion that 
he is a Russian spy that provide the opportunity, legally, and indeed 
the obligation to do surveillance.
  We also know that European and other intelligence agencies--including 
from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Poland, Estonia, and 
Australia--all discovered interactions between Trump's inner circle and 
Russian intelligence beginning in 2015. In fact, the Australian 
Government told the FBI that George Papadopoulos bragged to an 
Australian diplomat over drinks at a bar that Russia had ``political 
dirt'' on Hillary Clinton while he was working for the Trump campaign. 
We know also that the Dutch Government informed the FBI of Russian 
interference in the 2016 Presidential election through hacking. We know 
that Carter Page openly traveled to Moscow to give a pro-Russian 
speech, and we know he met with Russian officials just as the Kremlin 
was working to undermine the 2016 election.

  The purpose of releasing this memo is to create, very simply, a false 
narrative, a distraction, a red herring--call it whatever you wish. Its 
purpose is to discredit and degrade the Federal Bureau of Investigation 
and the Department of Justice--law enforcement agencies that deserve 
the American people's support no matter who they are investigating as 
long as they are doing it objectively and dispassionately, as they are 
doing here.
  Republicans conveniently ignore the facts--not only the facts that I 
have just recounted, the facts that are declassified, but also facts 
that they know well, facts that may continue to be classified. A 4-page 
memo simply cannot accurately summarize what is typically 100 pages or 
more in a FISA warrant application without cherry-picking facts to suit 
the Republican author's message.
  I want to paraphrase one of our former colleagues, my friend and 
mentor Senator Patrick Moynihan: Everybody is entitled to their own 
opinion but not their own facts.
  The American people should not be selectively presented with the 
facts and deceived by a memo that amounts to character assassination, a 
memo that endangers our national security, compromises the sources and 
methods of our intelligence community, and has only the purpose of 
degrading and discrediting the FBI and our Department of Justice as 
they engage in a valid, necessary investigation, through the special 
counsel, of Russian collusion in the last campaign, with the campaign 
itself, electing Donald Trump, and potential obstruction of justice 
  The hypocrisy and silence of many of my Republican colleagues in both 
Houses is deeply disappointing. Now is the time for people of 
conscience to stand up and speak out in favor of the rule of law and 
know that the fate and future of our democracy depends on it.
  There will be a lot of rhetoric tonight in these Halls, but what 
matters now is action to defend our democracy. I am grateful to my very 
distinguished colleague for calling attention to the continued Russian 
meddling and interference in our democracy. Hashtag ``Release the 
Memo,'' which was retweeted 200,000 percent in a span of 48 hours and 
became the leading hashtag on twitter, was spread by accounts 
associated with the Russian Government or agents.
  House Republicans are playing right into the hands of the Russians. 
The President of the United States, defying the law, declined to impose 
sanctions even after an overwhelming number of our colleagues here--98 
to 2--voted in favor of those sanctions. Why is it that Donald Trump is 
so much enthralled with Vladimir Putin and the Russians? Perhaps it is 
because of the last campaign.
  They are continuing with their interference and meddling, and they 
will do it again in 2018. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said today that they 
will do it again. And indeed they will unless they are made to pay a 
price. The absence of sanctions speaks louder than my words.
  It is time for us to stand up and speak out.
  I thank my colleague from the State of Rhode Island for being here 
today to join me.
  Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, to follow the words of my 
distinguished colleague from Connecticut, not only are House 
Republicans--to use his phrase--playing into the hands of the Russians, 
they are actually playing by the playbook of the Russians. If you 
understand the Russian information warfare, the Gerasimov doctrine, the 
way in which Russians--and before them, Soviets--for years tried to 
poison the factual environment around them, and then you put that up 
against this scheme where you start with the selective release of 
classified material that the public can't get behind because the rest 
is classified, the false narrative that the ranking member has pointed 
out that that creates, the partisan and peculiar process for getting 
there, the ignoring of warnings from their own national security 
officials about how bad this is, the convenient whipping up of all of 
this in far-right media at the same time, the amplification of that 
actually by Russian bots and other sources, and the fact that this is 
all pointed, not coincidentally, at the agency and officials who are 
engaged in investigating the Trump White House and the Trump campaign, 
it is so appallingly obvious what the game is that is being played 
  It is stunning to me, to follow on what Senator Blumenthal said, that 
we have heard nothing--at least I have heard nothing--perhaps the 
Senator from Connecticut can illuminate further, but I have heard 
nothing from our Director of National Intelligence, DNI Coats, and I 
have heard nothing from CIA Director Pompeo for--how long it has been? 
Since the very foundation of the FISA Court in the wake of Watergate, 
it has been an essential defense of our intelligence community that 
they don't want release of the FISA Court records. Now we have a 
partisan release that touches back to FISA applications that the 
Department of Justice has said is reckless. And where are they? It is 
astonishing that the custodians of those secrets appear to have 
absolutely no concern about this

[[Page S574]]

partisan and peculiar, selective release of classified information.
  I will echo another point Senator Blumenthal made. This just happens 
to be happening at a time when the sanctions we voted on by massive 
bipartisan majorities--I can stack the votes together, House and 
Senate. It was something like 515 to 5. It was an enormous, bipartisan 
vote to sanction the Russians for what they have been doing, and that 
just went live. The President could impose those sanctions now. Yet he 
has not. What is the explanation?
  The only people this President seems incapable of being tough on are 
Russians. It is a very unpleasant set of coincidences. At the same 
time, here we are with the Republican leadership in the House and the 
Republican leadership in the Senate and virtually every law enforcement 
and national security official who has come before us is saying: Hey, 
yeah, they did attack our last election in 2016, and they are going to 
attack our next election in 2018.
  We are warned that a hostile foreign power is going to attack our 
2018 election. Where is the legislation to defend against that? Where 
is the markup of the legislation? Where is the effort to do what needs 
to be done to defend our democracy? Here we are just a few months out 
from the election. We are 9 months out. Do I have the math right? It is 
9 months between here and there. Nothing.
  Why is it that whenever the Russians come up, it seems that the 
Republican Party has to go into complete stasis, just roll right over.
  I offer those thoughts to the distinguished Senator from Connecticut.
  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. I want to very quickly and simply emphasize a couple 
of those very important points, and maybe the overriding one is the 
need for action.
  The Presiding Officer has demonstrated repeatedly his convictions and 
conscience, and I want to say how much I have admired much of what he 
has done during his Senate career. My hope is that others in this body 
will step forward and say: Enough is enough.
  The FISA Court--Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court--is a 
carefully crafted bipartisan institution meant to protect our country 
against foreign threats that would destroy our democracy--the very 
kinds of threats that Russia has repeatedly mounted against us. Its 
function is balanced by a concern about civil rights and civil 
liberties, which is why it is a court that must approve warrants for 
surveillance and searches. Its secrecy goes to the core of what it does 
so that the agents, operatives, and informants who are the sources of 
intelligence are protected.
  The House Intelligence Committee is about to trash that carefully 
crafted structure. They are about to release a memo that says, in 
effect: That court--that carefully crafted balance as a result of 
bipartisan work over many years, involving many in this Chamber--means 
nothing. We will use it for the most gross partisan purposes, partisan 
gutter politics, and character assassination.
  It is a reminder of the darkest days of the McCarthy era when 
similarly there was a contempt for basic fairness which persisted until 
Senator McCarthy was asked: Have you no sense of decency?
  We are at that moment now, but it is a moment that is dark for all of 
us in this democracy. It is a moment that should elicit our strongest 
impulses for decency and democracy.
  We know that the special counsel is proceeding with his 
investigation. We know there is a need to protect that special counsel 
against firing and political interference. We know there is a need for 
legislation that is bipartisan, and the need is now. This use of the 
most gross partisan politics and tactics is proof-positive that there 
is a need for this legislation.
  My hope against hope is that the President will, in fact, impose 
sanctions; that there will be a bipartisan outcry against this defiance 
of a 517-to-5 vote, and in this body, a 98-to-2 vote; that there should 
be sanctions when there is this defiance of our interests by the 
Russian Government; and, rather than simply listing oligarchs from a 
Forbes magazine account, that there be real action and 
accountability. Certainly, the President has avoided the finding of 
significant transactions, which is his duty under the law.

  We need people of conscience and conviction now to step forward at 
this historic moment. In speeches going forward, I hope that, again, 
the Senator from Rhode Island--my friend and a leader in this body--
will come to the floor and talk further about this issue.
  For now, my hope is that the President will heed the advice he has 
received from his Department of Justice. Yet it is not really his; it 
is the Nation's Department of Justice. It is his appointee who has said 
that the release of this memo would be extraordinarily reckless, that 
it would be reckless, reprehensible, irresponsible, and in defiance of 
the President's duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.