August 21, 2018

Brown Opening Statement at Banking Committee Hearing on Russia Sanctions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement at today’s hearing titled ‘Russia Sanctions: Current Effectiveness and Potential for Next Steps’.


Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for agreeing to this important hearing, the first in the coming weeks on sanctions and other measures to more forcefully counter Russia’s continuing efforts to attack the U.S. and our allies.

While sanctions have had some effect on Russia’s economy, it’s less clear what effect they have had on its malign activities around the world. Russia remains in Crimea, its proxies are still in eastern Ukraine, it serves as the arsenal of Assad, and it continues to attack our elections and other critical infrastructure.

Earlier this morning Microsoft issued a new report outlining Russian attacks on the US Senate, and on conservative think tanks, one of which hosts an important kleptocracy initiative targeting oligarchs close to Putin. And true to form the Kremlin promptly denied involvement. That is nonsense. The President should call it that, and forcefully respond. 

Our government – the President and Congress together -- must right now send a more powerful and direct message to Putin and those within his circles: We know what you’re doing, it must stop, and if you continue, you and your government will pay a dear price. So far, the President has basically been AWOL, undercutting even modest efforts of professionals in Treasury, State, DHS and the Intelligence community to respond. 

Over a year ago, Congress gave the President the authority to use more assertive sanctions against Russia. My colleagues and I have pressed for nearly a year for stronger CAATSA implementation.  After months of waiting, we requested assessments by the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community, State and Treasury Departments.

These hearings, and these IG audits, are not simply a reaction to the President’s startling performance in Helsinki, which was widely panned on both sides of the aisle and the Atlantic. There is a deeper problem. With a few exceptions, the President has refused to forcefully use the new authorities under CAATSA.

Let me give you one example. Administration officials identified Russians responsible for supplying chemical weapons components for use in Syria, the ones that killed and maimed men, women, and children alike.  Our UN Ambassador announced the imminent imposition of sanctions.  The next day they were withdrawn, reportedly on orders from the President.

Instead, the Administration requested that a broader waiver to section 231 be included in the defense bill, basically because the President could not certify the key condition of the existing waiver: that Russia was reducing its cyber-attacks against the U.S.

I think it was a bad idea to use the recent defense bill to relax waiver authorities on Russian defense and intelligence sector sanctions. Instead of strengthening sanctions, we’ve gone in the opposite direction. 

That’s why the administration continues to face fierce bipartisan criticism on its Russia policy, why a new round of oversight hearings is being convened, and why members on both sides are proposing new sanctions.

In addition to urging the administration to use CAATSA more aggressively, I think most of us agree Congress should also do more to increase pressure. Congress crafted tough Russia sanctions, enacted last August by overwhelming majorities in both chambers. We should build on that bipartisan consensus.

We should focus on the facts and broader strategic questions: What is Russia’s government still doing in Syria and Ukraine? What active cyber-attacks are they directing against our elections and critical infrastructure? And what powerful economic, trade, financial, diplomatic and political tools can we deploy now to deter those threats?

Russia’s election interference, confirmed unanimously by U.S. intelligence earlier this year, and reaffirmed again today, poses a problem that goes far beyond foreign policy, and strikes at the core of our democracy.  This is not a partisan issue.

We’re 77 days away from another election, and the Director of National Intelligence, Microsoft and others have been sounding the alarm that the warning lights are flashing red again. And while some efforts are being made to bolster state election security measures, and otherwise contain these threats, it appears little is being done to address their source: Russia’s government.

I know my constituents are clear-eyed about these threats. The Ukrainian community in Ohio and around the world knows firsthand – like our NATO allies Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression.

That’s why we should not only press to more aggressively implement current Russian sanctions, but we must also strengthen our response. New bipartisan sanctions measures have been introduced. These hearings are a critical next step.

Today we’re joined by Treasury Under Secretary Mandelker; Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation Chris Ford; and Christopher Krebs, Homeland Security’s Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate. Thank you for being here. I am interested to hear where we are, what effects if any the current sanctions regime is having on Russia’s economy and behavior, and your ideas on how we will much more forcefully confront these threats in the months to come.