Press Release

March 2, 2017
Response to the President’s Address to Congress

“Mr. President, on Tuesday night, along with my colleagues, I listened to the President of the United States address the joint session of Congress. As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I was particularly interested to hear what the President would be saying about American foreign policy.

“I heard him say during the speech that American foreign policy would be based on the respect of the sovereign rights of nations, which is something that I strongly believe in. I then thought I would hear the President talk about one of our greatest challenges from a country that is not respecting the sovereign rights of the United States of America, that country being Russia. But the President didn’t mention Russia at all in his State of the Union address, which really surprised me.

“When we look at Russia’s most recent conduct and know what they did in regard to their attack on the U.S. democratic election system, it is beyond dispute that they wanted to interfere with our free elections, they wanted to affect the credibility of our democratic election system, and they wanted to influence the outcome of the election. That is pretty clear from the evidence that we have seen to date. Yet the President did not mention that at all–a country that had attacked us as recently as just a few months ago. There was no mention in the President’s State of the Union address.

“It wasn’t an isolated attack by Russia on the United States. We knew that before that, when we saw Russia’s influence in regard to Montenegro’s elections and how they tried to impact their parliamentary elections to influence Montenegro’s decision to join NATO. We know that Russia is attempting to influence the elections in Western Europe.

“So we have a country that is trying to bring down our democratic system of government by using our democratic system of government, and the way that we conduct open elections, to compromise our system.

“But that is not the only thing Russia has done that is contrary to the U.S. national security and our foreign policy objectives. We know that they have physically incurred into other countries. They have physically incurred into Ukraine. Today, Russia has annexed Crimea–something we will never recognize. Crimea is part of Ukraine. Russia is continuing to support the separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine, compromising Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“The President did not mention that in his State of the Union address.

“We know that Russia is in Georgia, in Moldova, and other sovereign countries; once again, no mention of that.

“And then Russia is very much engaged in the Middle East. We know that Russia’s footprint in the Middle East is growing. They have their military presence in Syria, backing the Assad regime, facilitating Iran’s participation in Syria.

“We also know that the type of conduct that has been conducted under Russian support, where civilians have been targeted, humanitarian convoys have been attacked, amounts to war crimes–a situation where Russia has culpability; yet, we don’t hear anything about that.

“So we have a role. Congress has a role to play in making sure that we protect our national security interests.

“First and foremost, we have to know what is going on. We have to know what Russia was doing. We have to know what Russia’s intentions were when they compromised our cyber security and used that information to try to influence our elections. We have to know what Russia’s intentions are all about regarding the contacts they have made with Americans in their effort to influence this campaign. We have to understand what Russia’s intentions are as they relate to democratic countries.

“We saw in General Flynn’s case that a contact was made, and as a result of not coming forward with that, General Flynn has left the Trump administration. And then we find out yesterday that the Attorney General, as a U.S. Senator, had contact with the Russian Ambassador, and that information was not made available during the confirmation process.

“The timing of that meeting in Senator Sessions’ office is concerning. It is concerning because it was right at the time that Russia was the most active in trying to get information that they could use to influence our elections. So this is an important aspect for us to understand.

“We need to understand why that meeting took place and what was involved in that meeting. There have been calls by Members on both sides of the aisle that we get that type of information.

“But I will add one more dimension to this: Why was the Russian Ambassador interested in meeting with Senator Sessions during the campaign period? Was this part of an overall strategy by Russia to try to influence the election? We need to get the answers to that.

“The only way we are going to be able to get a complete account of what has happened by Russia’s attack on the United States is by setting up an independent commission. Russia may not have used MiGs to attack America. They may have used a mouse. But it was an attack. And when we were attacked on 9/11, Congress did right thing–they set up an independent special commission to understand what happened, how we were so vulnerable to an attack, so that we could take steps to protect ourselves from future attacks and hold those responsible accountable.

“That was a bipartisan effort by the Congress of the United States, setting up an independent commission, a commission where the members could devote their entire full time to the assignment, because that is how serious being attacked is. There was no limit on their jurisdiction. They could go where the facts led. They could give a report to the American people so there would be credibility that we, the policymakers, are going to have independent information in order to act to protect the national security of the people of this country. That is what that independent commission meant. That independent commission met. They made many recommendations on eliminating a lot of the stovepiping of intelligence information and combining agencies together. Congress acted on those recommendations. As a result, we are safer today than we were prior to 9/11.

“We need to be safer tomorrow than we are today from the attacks of Russia. The only way we are going to be able to get that objective information with the credibility so that we can act in the best interests for the people of this Nation is to have a nonpartisan, independent commission take a look at what Russia was doing, get all the facts, find ways and recommendations to make us safer, give the credibility to the American people, and then Congress needs to act in order to protect our national security. I know we have some committees looking at this. I know the Senate Intelligence Committee is doing some very important work. I support that.

“We have our responsibilities in Congress to take steps within the jurisdictions of our committees. I am for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looking into what Russia was doing in order that we can protect the jurisdiction of our committee to do a better job in our bilateral relationship with Russia, or what Russia is doing in Europe or in other parts of the world that affects our national security under the jurisdiction of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We need to do that work. The Intelligence Committee needs to do their work. Armed Services needs to do their work. Judiciary needs do their work.

“But we need one central investigation that includes the broad jurisdiction that can get to answer why the Russian Ambassador may have wanted to see a U.S. Senator who was active in one of the campaigns that close to the elections, that has an opportunity to understand why Russia was so active in their cyber attacks in America, getting so much information, so much political information, why Russia was trying to understand our election system. There is no evidence that they tried to manipulate individual votes. That didn’t happen–at least we don’t believe that happened–but we know they were looking into how we do that. Was that for some future use? We need to understand that to protect our democratic system of government. That is what an independent commission will allow us to be able to receive.

“I urge my colleagues to respond to the national security challenge of Russia, and let’s establish an independent commission.

“There are other things we need to do. There are two bills I filed with my Republican colleagues to make it clear that it is not going to be business as usual with Russia. There are going to be consequences to what they have done to the United States and our national security interests.

“One bill that I filed, of which Senator Graham is the principal sponsor, is to make sure that Congress carries out its responsibility of oversight in regard to our bilateral relationship with Russia. It is the Russia Review Act, which would require the President of the United States to submit to Congress for review any attempt to eliminate or modify the current sanctions against Russia. He would be required to submit that to the Congress of the United States, hopefully working with us and consulting with us before he makes decisions but giving us an opportunity to weigh in before that decision could take effect.

“For my colleagues who remember the Iran nuclear agreement, it sounds very familiar. Senator Corker and I, Senator Menendez, Senator Kaine, and others worked on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. It passed nearly unanimously in the Congress. It required a President to submit that agreement to us before it could take effect. It made the negotiations much more transparent. As a result, I believe we had a stronger agreement, but we also had a more open process, and Congress had a chance to carry out its responsibility. In a similar vein, it is important that we pass the Russia Review Act so that we can carry out our responsibilities, preventing the President from taking unilateral action without consulting with us. This is bipartisan; we have Democrats and Republicans working on this. I hope we will be able to pass this bill in a timely way.

“The third bill I want to bring to my colleagues’ attention as it relates to Russia’s activities in the United States is legislation that I have filed with Senator McCain and many others. We have a large number of Democrats and Republicans who have cosponsored this bill that would increase the sanctions against Russia because of their attack against us. It would expand the options for imposing sanctions to different sectors that could affect Russia’s energy, that could affect the ability of Russia to finance their sovereign debt, that could affect Russia’s ability to privatize their industries by making it clear that we are not going to allow Americans or companies to help finance these activities because in reality they are financing activities against our interests, such as the cyber-attacks, as we saw last fall.

“This legislation is comprehensive. It deals more than just with sanctions; it deals with another major problem that we have found. Through NATO and U.S. leadership, we have made it clear that we will defend the countries of NATO, and we have deployed troops to make it clear to Russia that they better not try to compromise the territorial integrity of the member states.

“This initiative has been well received by Europe and has countered Russia’s attempts to cause a fracture within the European community. We need a similar initiative on democracy, a democracy initiative, because not only is there a threat against Europe from their geographical boundaries, there is a threat against Europe in regard to their democratic institutions. We know that. We saw that here in America. It is being challenged in Europe. So this democratic initiative would allow us to participate in strengthening the democratic institutions in Europe so that we don’t allow Russia to use the democratic institutions to try to bring down the democratic institutions.

“There is another part of this legislation which I think is extremely important. We are all getting to better understand the tactics being used by Russia, this fake news–inventing news and then using the social media to make it look like it is the hottest news in town. We know they are good at that. We also know they are very good at propaganda, and they go in directions that we, prior to this election, thought we would never see in our own country. We are now seeing it more frequently. Part of this legislation is for us to develop a capacity to be able to counter this propaganda and fake news so that Russia’s deployment of it will not compromise our national security.

“I think all three bills will be considered shortly and favorably by this body–setting up an independent review commission; requiring the President to submit any changes in the Russian sanctions to the Congress for review before they could take effect; and strengthening our sanctions regime against Russia for its conduct, including strengthening our commitment to democratic institutions and fighting this new cycle of fake news.

“I also listened to the President during the State of the Union Address when he said that our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust, and meaningful engagement with the world. That is another statement I happen to agree with. And then I thought about what I had heard a little earlier that day: that the President’s budget was going to have about a 30- to 35-percent cut–it wasn’t exactly clear, but it was a large number–to the State Department.

“I said: How are you going to have a robust and meaningful engagement in the world if you cut our diplomacy budget, you cut our development assistance budget? This is how we keep the world safe. This is how we get our goals accomplished globally.

“We have had so many hearings in our committee where there is a much greater need. We need to do more in Africa in promoting democracy. We need to do more in the Middle East in promoting good governance and inclusive governance so we don’t have to have as many wars. We need to do things in our own hemisphere. We heard today in a hearing what is happening in Venezuela. There is a lot of work for America to do. A 30-percent cut? Is that a more direct, robust, and meaningful engagement within the world? It didn’t sound that way to me. I was concerned about that and how we are going to be able to gauge.

“It was Secretary Mattis who said: If you don’t give the Secretary of State the resources, you better give me more soldiers.

“And they are more expensive. We have the best fighting force in the world, and we are going to support our fighting force. The way we show respect for our soldiers is to use them only as a matter of last resort. Diplomacy is critically important for America’s national security.

“A strong, credible Office of the President is equally important if we are going to be able to be the type of country that influences our values globally, and the President of the United States has put that at risk. That is why I am reintroducing my resolution to try to avoid a constitutional crisis. I introduced it before President Trump took the oath of office, and I am introducing it again to avoid a constitutional crisis. It deals with the emoluments clause of the Constitution of the United States.

“Every modern President of the United States prior to President Trump, in order to avoid conflict, in order to do what is ethically right and to comply with the Constitution of the United States–the emoluments clause–has either divested their financial holdings or has set up a blind trust. Some have done both. That is the way that the ethics officers tell us you can comply with not just the Constitution but with the highest ethical standards so that there are no real conflicts and you don’t have any perceived conflicts, which can be just as damaging to the credibility of a public office holder.

“President Trump, by not divesting, by not setting up a blind trust, has put the Office of the Presidency, our country, in a compromising position.

“Let me give some specific examples, if I might. I will mention three countries. I could mention more.

“Saudi Arabia. Very interesting country, Saudi Arabia. In August 2015, the Trump organization filed eight separate business companies to do business in Saudi Arabia. As we all know, the President’s Executive order that was originally issued that excluded immigrants from seven Muslim countries from visas did not include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even though, as we all know, many of the participants in the 9/11 attack against the United States originated from the country of Saudi Arabia. President Trump has vast business interests in Saudi Arabia.

“Let me quote President Trump:

“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

“It is not a question, Mr. President, of whether they like you or they don’t like you; under our Constitution, they cannot give you any favor. If they give you a business favor, that is an emolument and violates the Constitution of the United States and violates your oath of office.

“In regard to Turkey, Turkey has two large-scale developments in the country that are under the Trump organization. The Trump organization has a partnership with a luxury furniture company, Dorya International, to build pieces to be sold under the Trump Home Collection brand and a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group– the Dogan Group is run by one of the most politically influential families in Turkey–for a two-tower complex in Istanbul. According to President Trump’s May 2016 financial disclosure, he received as much as $1 million in royalties from the first venture and as much as $5 million from the second venture.

“Because President Trump has not properly divested himself from his business, he will presumably continue to receive royalties from both ventures, and these business arrangements are not unknown to Turkey’s leadership. President Erdogan presided over the opening ceremonies of Trump Towers, Istanbul.

“Shortly after the election, President Trump held a phone call with President Erdogan in which he praised his business partners. There are substantial business interests known by the Turkish Government that Mr. Trump has in their country. Mr. Erdogan is not shy about talking about and using the Trump Towers. He has bragged about it. We have a lot of foreign policy decisionmaking that affects Turkey. We need to know that when the President is making those decision, it is America’s interest which is at the front and center, not the Trump Organization’s interests that are affecting those decisions. That is why we have the emoluments clause, that is why we believe in avoiding conflicts, and that is why President Trump needs to divest of his interest or set up a blind trust.

“I will mention one other country, if I might. That country is China. For a decade, the Trump organization has been trying to get a trademark of its brand in China. I am going to quote from Mr. Trump on February 7, 2011, when he wrote to the American Ambassador in China. This is what Mr. Trump said: “I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to secure my own name and globally recognized brand for Chinese individuals who seek to trade off my reputation.”

“For 10 years he was fighting to get that trademark protection. It was granted on February 14, 2017, a few weeks after President Trump took the oath of office, shortly after President Trump stated that he would support the One China policy, something the Government of China strongly wanted him to say.

“We don’t know connections. We can’t draw connections. We don’t know that. That is why the emoluments clause is in the Constitution, so you cannot accept any favors from another country. It is against our Constitution. Yet we have concerns as to whether the President is acting under that interest. That is just wrong and it needs to stop. What the President has done is established a circumstance where there is an appearance of conflict, where it looks like foreign governments are trying to influence his decisions.

“He has affected America’s standing to advance good governance and corruption. I want to underscore that point. He is compromising America’s moral authority on the values we hold so dear. Our Western democratic values are being compromised because leaders of autocratic countries, corrupt leaders, can say: If it is all right for the President of the United States to keep his business holdings while he is President, what is wrong with me having an interest in some of our entities here? It takes away our effective ability to use diplomacy to solve problems or advance our goals. We are being compromised. The current arrangement is simply inadequate.

“President Trump announced he is going to let his two adult sons handle his businesses, but he still maintains his financial interests. He gives a couple of different other things he is going to do. I will just go over one or two of them.

“He says he is going to donate the profits from his foreign hotels to charities. That sounds good.

“Let me just quote from Steve Carvell, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, who said:

“It’s a monumental task to constantly run this down. Even if the company is trying its hardest and making its very best effort, it will be difficult to fulfill that goal.

“Let’s get serious about this. The arrangements he set out will not solve the conflict. It will not comply with the Constitution of the United States. The Office of Government Ethics said on the President’s proposal it is ‘wholly inadequate.’ That is the Office of Government Ethics. They go on to say: ‘The plan the [President] has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every President in the last four decades has met.’

“I am a lawyer but would not claim to be a constitutional expert. Let me quote, if I might, from constitutional experts. Richard Painter, Norm Eisen and Laurence Tribe have written a comprehensive study of the constitutional provisions, concluding that ‘since emoluments are properly defined as including profit from any employment, as well as salary, it is clear that even remuneration fairly earned in commerce can qualify.’

“Richard Painter, the chief ethics officer for President George W. Bush, stated it in a blunter fashion. He said:

“This is a for-profit hotel. [Trump] is making profits over dealing with foreign governments. Same with the loans from foreign government-owned banks. Those are for a for-profit business. That is prohibited under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

“Let me just conclude with this. This is not about any one person. This is about the Office of the President. This is about our constitutional form of government that depends upon the Office of the President being respected. It is bigger than any one person. The Framers of our Constitution went on to say: We recognize it. We know the faults of men. That is why we set up the Constitution, to protect against the frailties of individuals.

“This is about the Office of the President of the United States, not about any one person who may occupy it 4 to 8 years. We need to protect the Office of the President, and that is why we need to act now to avoid this constitutional crisis of the President of the United States, who has put our Nation at risk because of his personal conflicts and because of his violation of the Constitution of the United States.

“I call upon President Trump to live up to the values of the Constitution. Give the American people the transparency they deserve and completely sever his relationship with the Trump Organization before we are embroiled in an ethical and constitutional crisis that will not serve the best interests of the President, Congress or the American people.”