Duckworth to Mattis: Will President Trump’s Recent Actions Undermine Broader U.S. Strategy Toward Russia?
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) wrote to U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis today questioning whether the chaos coming out of the Trump White House is undermining Secretary Mattis' stated goal of developing a coherent, comprehensive U.S. strategy to confront Russian aggression. Duckworth expressed concern that the President's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, his potentially inappropriate decision to share highly classified information with the Russian government, and his actions contradicting his own national security team are putting U.S. Troops at greater risk. More broadly, she emphasized how the President's actions are undercutting critical foreign alliances with NATO partners and jeopardizing America's standing as a global leader.
Duckworth wrote, "During your confirmation process, you routinely returned to a consistent theme: the need for better integration, unity of effort and the development of comprehensive plans and strategies to better confront the threats we face. I fear the events of the past few days are indicative of a dangerous problem and will prevent us from developing a comprehensive, integrated strategy to deal with the threat posed by an emerging Russia and its Iranian and Syrian allies."
Full text of the letter to Secretary Mattis can be found below.
The Honorable Jim Mattis
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300
Dear Secretary Mattis:
Like many Americans, I have deep concerns about recent events surrounding President Donald Trump's firing of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while he was leading an investigation into potential coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russian entities.
I am also deeply troubled by the President's curious decision to honor Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak with an Oval Office meeting the following day, which was closed to American press, but not to Russian Government-controlled media. And perhaps most alarming of all are the reports that during this meeting with senior officials representing our adversary, the President shared highly classified information that has the potential to threaten critical intelligence gathering, relationships with our allies and to put our nation's safety at risk.
I am deeply concerned that the Commander in Chief's unpredictable behavior and rhetoric is undermining the U.S. Department of Defense's ability to craft and implement a unified and cohesive strategy to combat the significant threat posed by Russia and its authoritarian allies. I believe this incident is yet another in a string of alarming actions by the Administration that raise strategic concerns about our nation's commitment to democracy, our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and our credibility across the globe.
When testifying at your confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, you painted a bleak picture about the challenges Russia poses for our national security: "Challenges posed by Russia include alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons; treaty violations; the use of hybrid warfare tactics to destabilize other countries; and involvement in hacking and information warfare." Just last week, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Daniel Coats, shared a similar threat assessment, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that "Russia is a full-scope cyber actor that will remain a major threat to US Government, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical infrastructure."
It is clear from Russia's behavior - from their overt military actions to their more sophisticated information warfare tactics - that their efforts are part of a larger strategy to erode U.S. global influence and to undermine our traditional centers of power.
However, President Trump's statements and actions demonstrate that our Commander in Chief either does not understand this reality, or has chosen to dismiss the clear and present threat from our adversary: sharing of highly classified information with senior Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office; statements about NATO's obsolescence; refusal to take seriously or appropriately acknowledge Russia's attack on our democracy; statements of respect for Putin; his willingness to draw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia by equating us as "killers".
The frequency with which you and other members of the Trump Administration's national security team have been forced to contradict the Commander in Chief is highly alarming. I am concerned that this bizarre practice may gradually degrade our nation's credibility and standing in the world.
As you know, management of critical foreign alliances is dependent on stable and consistent actors in the global system. In order to develop a unified strategy to combat pressing threats like global terrorism, the world needs, and American citizens deserve, steady leadership and professionalism from the White House.
During your confirmation process, you routinely returned to a consistent theme: the need for better integration, unity of effort and the development of comprehensive plans and strategies to better confront the threats we face. I fear the events of the past few days are indicative of a dangerous problem and will prevent us from developing a comprehensive, integrated strategy to deal with the threat posed by an emerging Russia and its Iranian and Syrian allies. To begin addressing this concern, I am requesting your assessment of the following:
1. Current U.S.-Russia relations and where Russia presents the biggest challenges to the United States and our allies;
2. Your view on the DOD's current resourcing and strategy to confront Russian aggression across the spectrum of conflict;
3. The impact of last week's White House meeting on perceptions held by our NATO allies in regard to our nation's intent with respect to Russia;
4. Given the apparent contradictions - in word and deed - between the White House and the DOD, an assessment of the Department's ability to develop a fully integrated Russian strategy and whether last week's meeting undermined your efforts;
5. In light of the President revealing deeply sensitive information to Russia pertaining to the Islamic State and our counterterror efforts, please provide an impact assessment of this revelation on DOD's current and future combat operations. Included in this assessment should be your analysis on how this disclosure may impact current intelligence sharing arrangements with our allies, whether those agreements may now be threatened and whether you have been contacted directly by any of your counterparts expressing their concerns with these actions. Lastly, please include an assessment of how this may impact our diplomatic efforts and complicate our allied military-to-military engagements.
Given the sensitive and likely classified nature of these requests, my office is ready to help facilitate the logistics of ensuring classified information is properly transmitted in accordance with all applicable guidelines for handling of classified material.
Thank you in advance for reviewing my request and I look forward to your prompt reply.
United States Senator
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