Schumer Floor Remarks On The FBI Labeling Russia Developed Apps Such As FaceApp Potential Counterintelligence Threat, Urging Sen. McConnell To Take Action To Secure Elections, Calling On Senate GOP To Reject Russian-Promoted Narrative That Falsely Blames Ukraine For 2016 Election Meddling, And Laying Out Democratic Priorities In The Appropriations Process

December 2, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the FBI letter designating the Russia-based FaceApp as a potential U.S. counterintelligence threat. Senator Schumer also urged Leader McConnell to take action on bipartisan proposals to protect our democracy and election security in NDAA and called on Senate Republicans to reject the unsupported and false narrative promoted by Russia that Ukraine was responsible for 2016 election meddling. Senator Schumer also laid out Democratic priorities in the appropriations process. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Allow me to begin on a topic that doesn’t currently concern legislation or nominees here on the floor, but one that does concern our national security and the privacy of the American people. Over the summer, I requested a review of the potential risks posed by FaceApp, a widely-used, Russian-based mobile application that requires the full and irrevocable access of its user’s photos and data.

 Very recently, the FBI responded to my request in writing, warning that the FBI “considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms-of-use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the Government of Russia that permit access to data within Russia’s borders.” Let me repeat this. These are the FBI’s words in a letter sent to me, that the FBI considers, “any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat.” The letter went on to say that the FBI is prepared to address foreign influence operations involving FaceApp against elected officials, candidates, political campaigns, and political parties.

 In light of the FBI’s warning, I strongly urge all Americans to consider deleting apps like FaceApp immediately and to proceed with extreme caution when downloading apps developed in foreign countries that are known adversaries. The personal data FaceApp collects from a user’s device could end up in the hands of Russian intelligence services. It is simply not worth the risk.

 Americans should be aware of the risks posed by certain mobile apps, particularly those developed in foreign countries that are known adversaries, before they download them. The FBI didn’t name other countries, but I’d certainly name not only Russia but China, Iran, and there are others. So please, Americans, be careful and let us let all of our intelligence agencies pursue this potential danger to America and ensure that it doesn’t endanger our national security.

 Now, the issue of FaceApp is a microcosm of a larger problem about cybersecurity and our foreign adversaries. There is no doubt that Russia and Vladimir Putin continue to meddle in our democracy and interfere in our elections. We should be doing everything in our power to stop it and prevent that from happening, from hardening our election infrastructure to ensuring our military has the cyber authority needed to respond to attacks, to passing tough new sanctions to deter any foreign power from interfering in our elections.

 So it’s incomprehensible to me that, at the moment, Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans are opposing the election security measures that we wish to include in the annual defense bill. It’s amazing. There is bipartisan support for these, but Leader McConnell is once again saying that we’re not going to do all we can to prevent Russia from interfering in our elections.

 That’s right—the annual defense bill, which passed the Senate months ago, remains in conference in part because Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans refuse to include important election security legislation. There is bipartisan legislation on this issue—the DETER Act, DASKA—that would trigger sanctions on any government that tried to interfere with American elections. And I don’t care what your party is—Democrat, Republican, or any other—no good American wants Russia to be able to interfere in our elections, wants any foreign power to be able to interfere in our elections. It’s one of the things the Founding Fathers were most worried about. So how can our Republican Leader slip blithely by as this danger is real, as a bipartisan group wishes to prevent Russia from interfering and do what we can to stop it, and he is holding up the NDAA bill, in part, because of this provision?

 Why the Republican Leader and the Republican Committee Chairs are blocking this legislation is beyond me. Some have said that the Trump Administration is ready to act without these sanctions, even though it has failed to implement these sanctions targeted at Putin’s Russia that are already on the books. Some have expressed concern about the impact of sanctions on our allies and partners while they know full well that these issues can be addressed. When those arguments fail, they hide behind process complaints. No objection they have holds any water.

 The NDAA, the Defense Authorization Act, might be one of the last chances to enact election security legislation before the upcoming presidential election next year. Including Sen. Van Hollen’s proposal and other targeted sanctions authored by Senator Menendez—both of which enjoy bipartisan support—is paramount. 

 But, inexplicably, Leader McConnell has yet again refused to allow these kinds of measures to go forward, refused to allow nearly any election security legislation from being considered in the Senate at all, and has repeatedly downplayed the threat of foreign interference in our elections.

 Our country’s top national security officials have warned repeatedly that our adversaries (North Korea, Iran, China, and of course, Russia) are considering or working on new ways to meddle in our elections and that we have not done enough to prepare ourselves. We need now—not later, now—to take common-sense steps to protect the wellspring, the vital wellspring, of our election—free and fair elections unimpeded by outside interference. I urge Leader McConnell, I urge Senate Republicans to stand down and work with Democrats to secure our democracy, and if there are Republican Senators who agree with us and don’t want to say anything publicly, please go over to Leader McConnell privately and urge him to stand down.

 On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing as a part of the impeachment inquiry, during which the constitutional history of impeachment will be examined and discussed with legal scholars.

 It’s another example of how the House impeachment inquiry is proceeding in a deliberate, studious, and sober-minded manner. And it stands in stark contrast to some of the recent statements by Republicans on this side of the Capitol.

 While the House investigation continues in search of the facts, certain Senate Republicans have made increasingly outlandish claims, including the assertion that Ukraine might have been involved in interfering with the 2016 election.

 Let me be clear: the charge that Ukraine had something to do with election meddling in 2016 is a lie spread by Vladimir Putin to get things off his back. Putin and the Russian intelligence services invented that lie to muddy the waters and distract from the fact that Russia—not Ukraine—interfered in our elections. And now, disgracefully, we have sitting U.S. Senators helping spread that Russian propaganda in an effort to defend the president.

 Republicans must stop claiming that Ukraine had anything to do with election interference in 2016. Repeating these claims, even speculating about them, is doing Putin’s job for him. I urge my Republican colleagues—they know who they are—to stop spreading these lies, which hurts our democracy.

 Finally, on appropriations. While the Senate was away for the Thanksgiving holiday, there was an important bit of progress in the appropriations process. House and Senate appropriators have agreed to the allocations to the various committees, known as the 302(b)s, and are now working to finalize the twelve appropriations bills.

 I want to applaud the appropriators on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol for clearing this major hurdle and potentially paving the way to finish appropriations by the end of this year, 2019.

 Now that we have an agreement on allocations in place, Senate Democrats want to ensure that the final appropriations bills include several of our policies and priorities. So let me say, this is what we Senate Democrats want to make sure is in these bills: significant resources to combat the opioid and gun violence epidemics, significant investment in infrastructure, significant investment in child care; funding for the Violence Against Women Act needs to be maintained, or ideally, increased—that is a Democratic priority—and there must be—must be—funding to secure our elections in advance of next year’s presidential election.

 Of course, there is still the impediment of President Trump’s insistence on funding an expensive and ineffective border wall. Senate Democrats strongly oppose the president stealing money from our military families to pay for this border wall. We have fought for provisions to stop this theft, will continue to do so. I hope my Republican colleagues muster the courage to stand with the military families in their states, whose funds have been robbed to build this vanity project of President Trump.

 So again, I am very pleased we have an agreement on 302(b)s. We must now build on that momentum to make sure the final appropriations bills help the American people as much as possible.

 ###