Democrats are going on the offensive on Russia.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday ramped up pressure on the Trump administration to slap new sanctions on Russia, releasing a massive report — written without GOP involvement — that details President Vladimir Putin’s alleged electoral meddling around the world.
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That came one day after another senior Democratic senator abruptly released the transcript of an interview with a key player in the investigation looking into any ties between President Donald Trump and Russia's interference.
And across the Capitol, a half-dozen House Democrats banded together to push Republicans for a more comprehensive response to Russian disruption of the 2016 election, warning that Moscow will again meddle with the democratic process.
Democrats, frustrated by conservative attempts to undercut the investigation into Trump’s ties to Moscow and growing convinced that Republicans aren’t taking electoral security seriously, are increasingly tired of waiting on their colleagues in the majority to act and are taking their concerns public.
“We must counter Russia’s well-established election interference playbook,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a floor speech billed as puncturing “partisan efforts to deflect attention and distract from critical inquiries” into Moscow’s attempts to upend the 2016 election.
“Russia will hack. Russia will bully. Russia will propagandize,” he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin’s staff on the Foreign Relations Committee extensively detailed that alleged behavior by Putin’s network in the report Wednesday, which does not address special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe but repeatedly slams Trump for a laggard response that it says puts U.S. security at risk.
“President Trump is squandering an opportunity to lead America’s allies and partners to build a collective defense against the Kremlin’s global assault on democratic institutions and values,” the report states. “But it is not too late.”
Among the report's two dozen-plus recommendations is a call for the Trump administration to implement a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill. Lawmakers in both parties raised alarms after the administration missed an October deadline to designate potential targets for new sanctions, and belated compliance came only after a nudge from Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
The next critical deadline is Jan. 29, the earliest date that companies could face penalties for engaging in "significant transactions" with targets in the Russian defense or intelligence sectors. The sanctions bill also asks the Treasury Department to give Congress a series of reports by the end of this month, including one on Russian oligarchs who could face future sanctions and their connections to Putin, and another on the effect of expanding sanctions to Moscow's sovereign debt.
One Democratic aide on the Foreign Relations Committee said the minority would be "waiting and seeing" how the administration treats the required Russian oligarch list as a test of its commitment to sanctions implementation.
"If there’s, like, two names on it, then they’re probably not taking it very seriously," the aide told reporters.
Other Democratic proposals to safeguard against future electoral disruption by Putin include placing FBI investigators in embassies and disclosing intelligence about the Russian leader’s “personal corruption and wealth stored abroad.”
Democratic staffers on the Foreign Relations panel were optimistic that the report would win some Republican buy-in after its Wednesday release, much as the package of Russia sanctions drew widespread GOP support even as Trump continued to publicly deny that Moscow intervened in the 2016 election.
“A lot of Republicans have been publicly critical of how Trump has handled the Russia issue specifically,” one aide told reporters.
Corker said Tuesday that he would "look at the whole" Russia report, adding that he and Cardin (D-Md.) "have a very good relationship. He knew it was probably not something that I’d want to be a part of, but he made me aware of it."
A spokeswoman for Corker, a lead author of last year's Russia sanctions legislation, said in a statement that Corker "appreciates the fact that Senator Cardin previously notified him" of the Democratic report, which he received a copy of late Monday. "While we will review the report in its entirety, including the recommendations, no further full committee activity is planned at this time.”
Republicans say they are working on election security ahead of the midterms, and the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are expected to provide recommendations on the matter before the primary season begins.
Eight House Republicans and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) already have signed on to legislation that would codify one recommendation in the Cardin report, which proposes that social media companies require disclosure of the funding sources behind political ads on their platforms to prevent Russian attempts at manipulation. Still, the prospects for movement on that measure appear grim at present given the scant number of GOP backers.
If Republicans did get on board with Cardin's report, that would mark a stark contrast with the partisan conflagration that erupted Tuesday on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Top Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California released the transcript of the panel's August interview with Glenn Simpson, whose company was behind an explosive dossier tying Trump to the Kremlin. A spokesman for the Judiciary panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (D-Iowa), slammed Feinstein's decision to unilaterally release the document, but she seemed unconcerned Tuesday.
"The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public," she said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee's Russia investigation, "to be very blunt, has been painfully slow."
"If there is no price, it will be done with impunity again," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed skepticism that Republican leaders would heed her call to ramp up the pace of investigative and oversight work against Russian meddling as the 2018 midterms approach.
"On a score of what to what?" she quipped to reporters.
"I have no doubt that if the Democrats were in power, we would have taken action to protect our electoral system," Pelosi said. "I have no doubt if the Democrats were in power, the Republicans would be urging that action, but that’s not what they’re doing."
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