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Unanimous Consent Request

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 16, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I rise in support of this resolution offered by the Democratic leader. We are 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.

It is especially troubling because 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 Governmental Affairs Committee, led by our colleague from Wisconsin, Chairman Johnson; and our colleague from Iowa, Chairman Grassley, of the Finance Committee, in which I am the ranking Democrat. My staff has joined in 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 inquiry. However, I can discuss public information about the spread of Russian propaganda and the pathway it is following from Russian agents, through the U.S. Senate, to the American people.

The Russian Government is 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 counterintelligence as an active agent for Russian intelligence. This agent, instead of being treated as a foreign enemy, has met personally with the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to further his task of undermining elections in America. I am not sure, colleagues, 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 our election. It identified Derkach as a Kremlin-linked actor involved with attempting to denigrate former Vice President Biden.

On September 3, 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 his 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 counterintelligence has identified as a conduit for Russian attacks on our elections. He has also been a star witness in the Johnson-Grassley investigation

Derkach and Telizhenko have released what appears to be heavily edited 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. Telizhenko also told the Washington Post that he forwarded more than 100 emails to staff on Senator Johnson's committee and answered their questions.

Our colleague from South Carolina, Senator Graham, was involved in the earliest stages of the Johnson-Grassley inquiry in 2019, but in February of 2020, Chairman Graham said: ``I called the attorney general this morning and Richard Burr, [then, of course] chairman of the Intel Committee, and they told me take very cautiously anything coming out of the Ukraine against anybody.''

The disinformation that these two have spread--Derkach and Telizhenko have spread--the disinformation these two have spread, largely a collection of unproven allegations and wild conspiracy theories, has obviously made it into many media outlets in the country all too willing to spread the products of Russian intelligence. It has been circulated by the President's own legal team.

From there, that disinformation became the basis of much of the work of the Johnson-Grassley inquiry. I am going to have more to say on the details of that investigation in the days ahead, but for now, I will say this: Chairman Johnson has repeatedly claimed in the media that he has uncovered new and damaging information about Vice President Biden's activity in Ukraine. This is simply not true. 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 monthlong investigation that still has no legitimate basis, burning through an incredible amount of manpower and taxpayer-funded resources. Neither of these committees, by the way, under the rules of the Senate, have any jurisdiction over our diplomatic ties with Ukraine. It has no legislative purpose.

This investigation, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, also is happening under a clear double standard that has favored Republicans in the Senate and stonewalled oversight by Democrats. In my view, that is a sign that the flimsy accusations made against the Vice President can't stand up to real scrutiny.

The real nature of this inquiry has been clear all along. It began as a counterprogramming during the impeachment trial, and the urgency behind the investigation really almost seemed to die out when the trial ended. It only returned--and again, these are facts. All of these are facts. It only returned when the Vice President established himself as the Democratic frontrunner. The day after the Biden victory in the South Carolina primary, Chairman Johnson sent a letter to the committee announcing his intention to kick-start the investigation with a subpoena.

So now what I am going to do is outline what Senator Johnson said in his own words, because I think that is also very important as Senators consider this resolution. These are Senator Johnson's words specifically.

My colleague said in March: ``[I]f I were a Democrat primary voter, I'd want these questions satisfactorily answered before I cast my final vote.''

The chairman 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, the chairman, in my view, looking again at the public record, cannot credibly take issue with the work the Vice President was doing because he supported it publicly at the time.

In June 2014, at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ukraine, Chairman Johnson stated: ``If we have to tie aid or help to make sure that anti-corruption laws are passed, I think we should do it.''

In 2016, Chairman Johnson 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 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--

And we are talking here about 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.

So these are the words, colleagues, the words of the chairman of the committee. That is why Senator Schumer and I believe this investigation, the Johnson-Grassley investigation, is baseless. We have brought forward a resolution that we believe is important to defending our democracy. It comes down to a question of what we want campaigns and elections to be all about.

In my view--and I have always said this--right at the core of my being, I want elections about our best ideas. That is why I serve on the Finance Committee, to try to come up with the best ideas in healthcare, taxes, trade, and the like. Elections ought to be about our best ideas and having real debates and not attacking the other side with farfetched foreign misinformation, especially at a time when the American people are dealing with the crushing weight of one crisis stacked on another.

There are 200,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. I couldn't disagree more with the President's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. We have seen so much economic hurt. I championed on the floor and, for a while, we had bipartisan support for basically bringing unemployment into the relevant century and getting an extra $600 per week to people and covering gig workers and all kinds of other people. Yet, still, the economy has collapsed, and millions are out of work. My Oregon neighbors--a number of them--have seen their communities reduced to ashes. Thousands and thousands of homes and businesses have been lost. There has been a national outcry against racism and violence against Black Americans.

Our elections are supposed to be about those kinds of issues, and in all of them, what I have tried to do is devote my public service to bringing people together and getting parties to find common ground on the best ideas of how to make changes in these areas. Now, that sure seems to me to be what the Senate should be all about rather than baseless attacks and foreign disinformation.

I urge my colleagues to support the resolution that Senator Schumer and I have championed. It is long past time for this badly flawed investigation by our colleagues to end.

I further ask that the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.


Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I am very disappointed that my colleague has objected.

I just want to make a brief response reflecting on my role as a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Again, as I indicated earlier, I can't get into anything classified or sources and methods, but before we leave this subject, I just want to remind the Senate that the Russian disinformation campaign is going on now. It is not some abstract issue. The Russian disinformation campaign is going on now.

The Russians have attempted to rewrite the history of the 2016 campaign. It is the conclusion of the intelligence community--this is not Democrats; it is not Republicans; it is the intelligence community--that they are trying to interfere again, this time in the 2020 election, including with these attacks on Vice President Biden, and they are saying this now. And active Russian agents, like Mr. Derkach, apparently are having press conferences. I heard a report that he may have had one today.

So Members of the Senate--again, this is a matter of public record-- have been presented with specific warnings about these Kremlin-backed conspiracies and lies again and again, including in classified settings. As I wrap this up, I would only ask that Members of this great institution reflect on that.