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Floor Speech

Date: May 12, 2022
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I would say to Senator Blumenthal, absolutely, yes, and to Senator Graham, also yes, and thank you.

Let me just give a quick overview of my part of this colloquy as to where we are.

This began with the Munich Security Conference, which Senator Graham and I led this year, the so-called McCain codel. When we heard about the imminent invasion, we both became very ardent that we needed to get after Russia's oligarchs; first, because it was turning the oligarchs against Yanukovych, which freed up Ukraine, and, second, because these oligarchs in Russia are part and parcel of the way in which Putin has manipulated his country and acceded enormous hidden wealth to himself.

So we knew that the oligarchs needed to be a target. We talked about it so relentlessly that whenever Secretary of State Blinken saw us coming, he would say: I know. I know. Oligarchs, I get it.

Afterward, the President came back and he took the Treasury's Asset Forfeiture Section and the State Department's Asset Forfeiture Section and the Department of Justice's Asset Forfeiture Section and pulled them together into what he is calling the Kleptocratic Initiative. That is a good thing the President did.

In this bill, there is money for it. We give $67 million to that enterprise and another $30 million to FinCEN, which is the group within Treasury that tracks dirty money. So that is about $100 million to support the KleptoCapture operation.

What they still need is authorities, and that is what our bill would give them. When we got back, Senator Graham, Senator Wicker, Senator Blumenthal, and I drafted this bill, and a version of it has been passed in the House, thanks to the leadership of Representative Tom Malinowski. And after that bill was filed, the Biden administration got together and they gave technical assistance to us from the Department of Justice as to what it was that they actually need to be more effective at going after these oligarchs to seize, to sell, and to send to Ukraine the proceeds.

So that is where we are right now. And one of the things that we need is to speed up the process; it can take forever to go through the process. We need to couch this process in the national security authorities of the President as much as possible, because this is primarily a national security issue. We need to speed up the process so that, for instance, you don't have to prove who the true beneficial owner is before you seize the yacht.

You can go on intelligence reports. You can go on whistleblowers. And, by the way, we want to reward whistleblowers. You remember the Ukrainian who sunk his boss's yacht and he got arrested because he pulled the plug out of that yacht and sunk it?

I would rather have that guy come to the Department of Justice and say: I can tell you all about who owns this yacht. You don't have to worry about going through the Cypriot bank account, the Cayman Islands shell corporation, the Dakota trust--wherever else this has been hidden. I can tell you that is the guy--and be able to act based on that and have the authority to have the action, what is called ``in rem'' by lawyers. You don't have to find the defendant.

This is United States v. Motor Vessel--whatever it is called-- Scheherazade. And you give public notice, and you invite the world to come and make whoever has a claim to that yacht to show that it is there and it shouldn't be condemned, sold, and the proceeds go to Ukraine, which is an interesting predicament for the oligarch who owns it but has pretended he does not, who has hidden behind all these shells.

He now has to come forward and say: Actually I own that yacht.

Gotcha, game over.

Or he has to put in some phony to come and say: Hey, I actually own that yacht. I may be a cellist, but I am a billionaire cellist who happens to own that yacht.

And we get to say in a court of law: Prove it. Let's have some real discovery. Let's have some testimony under oath. If this is your yacht, God bless you, you can have it. Prove it. We dare you.

I think what is going to happen is a lot of these claims are going to be forfeit, because they are, in fact, crooked. And we have every right and every need to go after these assets because Putin's attack on Ukraine is supported, aided, abetted, and given aid and comfort to by this retinue of slippery oligarchs around him who have protected him.

You saw 29 of them showing up in that big office of his to have the little talk with him about how this was all going. We know who they are. And we know what their role is, and they are aiding and abetting and giving aid and comfort to an enemy of our ally Ukraine--as Senator Graham has pointed out--at the fulcrum in the world of our battle for freedom right now.

If we can't act on this, shame on us. So we are going to continue; we are going to continue in bipartisan fashion. We are going to take our bill, and we are going to add on to it the technical language from the Department of Justice that will specify the authorities that they need. And we are going to find a way to get this passed. If we can't do it by unanimous consent, which I hope we can, then perhaps on the NDA or some other must-pass piece of legislation.

But this must be done. And to Senator Blumenthal's question, will this make a difference? Some of these yachts cost half a billion dollars, and there are dozens of them floating around. This is real money. And that is before you get to the fancy paintings and before you get to the mansions in London and before you get to the villas on the coast of Spain.

We need to make it very expensive to be an oligarch supporting Putin, and we need to take the filthy pelt, the lucre that they stole from their country and put it to the benefit of the Ukrainian people.

So I am delighted that Senator Wicker was an initial cosponsor of this bill. I am delighted that Senator Graham was an initial cosponsor and Senator Blumenthal.

And I will close by saying that, you know, this Munich security delegation that we do every year has made a big difference on several occasions, because we get together in bipartisan fashion, we are presented with real, immediate problems in the world that we face when we go to that conference. And we craft bipartisan solutions in realtime there, and then we come back and deploy them. And that is what was done here. We are going to see this through. We are going to get this right.

Thank you, Senator Graham.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Gladly.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. The oligarchs working with and for Vladimir Putin have stolen almost all of the wealth of Russia. These are extremely wealthy individuals. If you can afford a $500 million yacht, you have got money to burn. And that is not your only asset--that is just your yacht.

And you have got all the other stuff, the villas and the mansions and the artworks and the jets and all of that. The number is obviously in the tens of billions of dollars. When you consider that we are appropriating $40 billion, I think it is a fair bet that we can do half again, just from these oligarchs. And to have that money go to Ukraine's relief, to its victory, and to its rebuilding would be a very, very good use.

And at the same time, it would provide the strategic feature that it would start turning these greedy oligarchs against Putin because we are going to keep coming after them until this is over, and it would disable his apparatus of control over Russia, which is run through being basically a gang of thieves who all allow each other to loot their country.

I am reminded of Senator Graham's great friend, Senator McCain, who used to describe Russia as a gas station run by gangsters with an army.

Well, this turns the gangsters against each other, in addition to taking ill-gotten gains and turning them to a valuable and proper use. And the message it sends is: If you are a crooked oligarch who will support a dictator, a tyrant who will go into another country and shell its schools, send cruise missiles into its apartment buildings, target artillery at its hospitals, you are not going to get away with that easily.

And it sends a signal through that to the entire world of kleptocracy, which extends beyond Russia, that your days of thievery are numbered, we are going to have the resources to put rule of law back in charge.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I can, indeed, Senator Graham. I can, indeed. And I thank him for his persistent effort on this, and I thank our colleagues in the House who have been very persistent on this, none more than Congressman Malinowski of New Jersey.

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