Schumer Floor Remarks On The President’s Insincere Attempt To Walk Back His Remarks From The Helsinki Summit And Judge Kavanaugh’s Concerning Views Regarding The Independent Counsel Law

July 18, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor [at approx. 10:22 a.m. EST] regarding President Trump’s attempt to walk back his denial of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and on Judge Kavanaugh’s concerning views regarding the constitutionality of the independent counsel law.  Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Yesterday, President Trump went through a “walk back.” President Trump’s “walk back” performance was pathetic, weak, insincere, and thoroughly unconvincing. The president read a scripted “clarification” yesterday like he was in a hostage situation, all you had to do was look at his face. He couldn’t even fully commit to it, adding, off-the-cuff, that “other people” could also be responsible for election interference in 2016.

That’s hardly a “walk back.” And it was only concerning one particular comment. The president did not address his lavish praise for Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Is he going to walk that back?

He blamed “both countries” for the soured relations between the US and Russia. Is he going to walk that back?

He said “US stupidity and foolishness” – not Russian aggression –  was the reason our relationship with Russia was so bad. Is he going to walk that back?

He did not address his brazen attacks on the FBI while on foreign soil. Is he going to walk that back?

And now, late last night and this morning, the president is back to celebrating his meeting with Putin. He’s walking back the walk back, that’s what he did this morning. This is like Charlottesville redux. We all know what the president really thought. We know what he thought on Charlottesville, the walk back was unconvincing, and he went back to his old ways. We know what he thought at Helsinki, the walk back was unconvincing, and now with his tweets this morning he’s back to his old ways.

The only reason there was a walk back was that the president was forced by pressure from many of my Republican friends here, his allies in the media, and his own White House staff, they all pressured him to give that temporary walk back. It is clear from today’s tweets that he doesn’t mean it, he doesn’t believe it. And, frankly, neither does anybody else. It’s clear that he still believes President Putin over the consensus of American intelligence community. And that puts American security gravely at risk.

The president’s reluctant, ham-handed, half-hearted “clarification” yesterday –  almost entirely reversed this morning – is woefully inadequate. His behavior in Helsinki continues to demand a response from Congress, and there are many things we can do, but later this morning if anything is true to form, the president will hold a cabinet meeting and his advisors will shower him with the thanks and praise he craves while he provides perhaps another version of what happened in Helsinki.

So given what happened in Helsinki, and given that the president’s walk back was so weak, there are several things that we as a Congress can do, and we should. Talking the talk is not enough, walking the walk is what’s so important here. We need to act, not simply go “tsk-tsk, bad president” and go back to business as usual because American polity, American security, the view of America in the eyes of the world has taken a severe step back. And it’s up to us in the Congress to try and undo that.

So I’ve mentioned a whole host of actions this body can take: to counter Russia’s malign activity, punish Putin for interfering in our election, prevent him from doing it again, and ensure the president is doing what’s necessary to stand up for American interests. The Senate is not powerless to take action in the wake of President Trump’s indefensible summit with Vladimir Putin. So let me reiterate and suggest some things that we should do, and I believe we should do all of these.

First, our Republican colleagues need to join us in demanding immediate public testimony from the president’s national security team – those that were in Helsinki, and those who would have knowledge of what happened in Helsinki. We need to have an immediate public testimony from Secretary Pompeo, from DNI Director Coats, Ambassador Huntsman, and above all we need the translator who was present for the 1-on-1 meeting with President Putin to testify openly before Congress. That’s not usually done, but there are always some other people in the room so you don’t need the translator, but for some reason, a reason Americans and the world are wondering about, President Trump didn’t want anyone else in the room. So to have the translator come testify and tell what happened there is imperative, it is so important. It is rare for translators to come before Congress; but in this case, it is warranted: a) Because no one else was in the room by the president’s direction, and b) what happened there might have been so important, given what happened in public a few short hours afterwards.

The translator works for the federal government, works for the taxpayers, and may be the only person who can accurately report what President Trump said to President Putin behind closed doors. What concessions were made to Vladimir Putin?  What was agreed to? Congress has a duty to conduct responsible oversight of the executive branch, particularly after what the president did in Helsinki. The president’s summit calls for oversight, and having these people, particularly the translator, come testify is important.

I understand Secretary Pompeo will appear before the Foreign Relations Committee next week, which is good, but we need to hear from others, including the translator. I urge Leader McConnell and his leadership team to immediately request a hearing with the people I mentioned.

Second, the Republican leadership should place on the floor – soon, ASAP –  bipartisan legislation led by Senators Booker, Graham, Coons, and Tillis to protect the special counsel from political interference. This legislation passed out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. It has four sponsors, two Democrat, two Republican. If Leader McConnell is serious about checks and balances, if what he said in the last day or two is not just meaningless words, he would put this legislation on the floor. It’ll pass.

Alongside demanding testimony from the president’s national security team, passing legislation to protect the special counsel is probably the most important thing this body could do to ensure that President Trump’s recklessness does not precipitate a constitutional crisis

Third, we should ratchet up sanctions on Putin and his cronies, not water them down. The sanctions this body passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin –  98-2; I salute Leader McConnell, he helped bring it to the floor even though the president didn’t like it – but these sanctions have not been fully implemented by the Trump administration. On our side, Senators Menendez and Van Hollen have some very good ideas about sanctions, and we should act on them.

Fourth, our Republican colleagues can and should insist that the president finally release his tax returns. We all know that the president broke decades of practice when he didn’t release his returns, so damaging because his economic interests outside of the government are so large, complicated, and varied. It’s so important because he deals with international finance in these situations. So there was no good reason why he didn’t release his tax returns then, but President Trump’s inexplicable behavior has many Americans asking, ‘what does Putin have over him’ that he’s behaving in a way that is basically inexplicable in any rational, logical line of thinking? Well, that’s why his tax returns would be so important. We should pass legislation that requires the president to release his tax returns. That was important before, but it’s so much more important after Helsinki now.

And fifth, Republicans should demand with us that the president insist the 12 Russians indicted for election interference and information warfare are handed over. Putin may not do it, but at least we ought to show how serious we are as a country. The president ought to show how alarmed he is that this happened, and the best way to do that is for our Republican colleagues to join with us – they’ll have more influence than we will – asking him to do so.

And finally, we should have bipartisan legislation on election security. Together in a bipartisan way – with the help from my friend from Tennessee, a senior member of Appropriations – in the last omnibus bill we passed $380 million for election security, and as I understand that money is now being sent out to the states to help them, but we have to do more. There is bipartisan legislation – Senators Klobuchar and Lankford, Senators Van Hollen and Rubio – they have good legislation that can help beef up our election security. We ought to move on it.

Our country – our cyber networks, our election systems – are under constant attack from adversaries like the Russians. There is a bipartisan consensus that we must harden our election infrastructure. The legislation I mentioned from Klobuchar, Lankford, Van Hollen, Rubio, there’s other legislation by Senators Harris and Wyden; I urge the Republican Leader to let us move on one or more of these bills.

Now, we should do all of these things, not just one or two, all of them. I can’t think of a logical reason not to do all of them, other than fear of offending the president, but times like this call for us to do more. We have already heard some Republicans say, ‘let’s move on’ after what the president said yesterday, but as I mentioned his so called walk back is not a walk back at all, and if we care about our nation’s security, we will move forward.

The final thing I would say to my Republican colleagues is this: this is a moment that will be remembered in American history. It’s not going away. This is a moment that will be remembered next week, next month, in November of 2018, in November of 2020, and way beyond. The Helsinki summit is now an unalterable fact in American history: a moment when, unfortunately, an American president humiliated his own country and himself before a foreign dictator. It was a terrible sign of weakness by this president and it, unfortunately, weakened the office he holds.

But, it can be remembered as a moment when a bipartisan majority in Congress – Democrat and Republican, dropping all trappings of party – linked arms and stood up for our country after our president refused to do so. Let’s hope it is. Let’s hope it is.

One final point, Mr. President, and I know my colleagues are waiting, and I appreciate their indulgence. This is on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. I’ve just read that in a very recent interview that Judge Kavanaugh was asked whether, if granted the opportunity, he would overturn precedent in any one case. Judge Kavanaugh initially declined to answer, then paused, and then said, on second thought, he would overturn the precedent in Morrison v. Olson. That’s the case that upheld the constitutionality of the independent counsel law.

I would make two brief points on the subject.

First, Judge Kavanaugh’s response demonstrates that he is willing to answer direct questions about precedent; which precedents he agrees with and which precedents he would overturn. I hope during the hearings that we won’t suffer the tried-and-true verbal gymnastics of nominees who refuse to answer questions on existing precedent. Judge Kavanaugh had no qualms about that in that interview.

Second, and more immediately, considering everything we know about Judge Kavanaugh’s expansive view of executive power and accountability, the fact that Morrison v. Olson of all the cases in the history of the Supreme Court is the first case he could think of overturning is deeply, deeply troubling. We already know he believes that a president shouldn’t be investigated while in office, that a president can’t be indicted while in office, that a president doesn’t have to follow laws that the president “deems”, in his words, are unconstitutional. Clearly, Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy incorporates an almost monarchical view of executive power and accountability, animated by a belief that our chief executive gets to play by a different set of rules.

Judge Kavanaugh, particularly after this interview, needs to pledge to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Mueller probe, given his record and the fact that he was nominated by the subject of the investigation he could very well end up ruling on.

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