At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Questions Secretary Pompeo on Global Engagement Center, Continuing Aid for Ukraine, and Expanding Sanctions on Russia
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) thanked Secretary Mike Pompeo for his request of $76.5 million for the Global Engagement Center. Portman discussed his bipartisan efforts to fully utilize the Global Engagement Center, which was tasked with leading U.S. government efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries like Russia and China through legislation that Portman and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote and successfully passed in 2016. Portman also highlighted the importance in continuing to provide assistance to Ukraine in order for the country to defend their sovereign territory. Finally, Portman questioned Secretary Pompeo on the need to expand Russia sanctions legislation so that the State and Treasury Departments would have the necessary authorities to sanction any Russian individual that undermines American and allied interests.
Portman: “First of all, thank you Secretary Pompeo for your service, being our diplomat around the world. You mentioned the efforts you have made in returning Americans home and meeting with families last week and one of those families was the parents of Otto Warmbier. I thank you for staying in touch with them, they appreciated it. I’ll be in Korea next week talking, among others, to our ambassador, Admiral Harris, and South Korean officials about what’s going on in North Korea and continuing to hold up their human rights abuses. And expose, for everyone, what happened to Otto and what’s happening to others, including North Koreans. Thank you for staying on top of that issue and of course, tighter sanctions is something we should all want as we begin to see some progress as a result of the sanctions we have put in place.
“I want to talk about the Global Engagement Center quickly and about Ukraine. On the Global Engagement Center, you’ll recall, Senator Murphy and I a few years ago started working on encouraging State to not just establish the Center but to properly fund it. I want to thank you because this year, you have made a request in your budget of $76.5 million which is a 38 percent increase from last year’s request. I know you have a tight budget and you’re being asked to find cuts elsewhere. This is encouraging to me because I think it’s undeniable that the propaganda and disinformation that’s going on around the world, and frequently from state actors. And we’re going to learn a lot more, I think, about Russia even in the next few weeks here in terms of what they are doing. In this session, we can’t talk about some of the details, but the reality is, it’s such a huge threat and I think your former role at the Central Intelligence Agency probably informs you better than other Secretaries of State so I assume having recognized that, this budget increase is reflecting your concern.
“Having said that, one thing we haven’t gotten done yet is this DoD transfer. We authorized this $60 million transfer from DoD for this fiscal year, fiscal year 2019. It’s authorized by law. Can you confirm that you all have requested that full $60 million from DoD?”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “Senator we have requested that.”
Portman: “Thank you. Do you see this process going a lot more smoothly this year? Last year, as you’ll recall, we got it in at the eleventh hour, maybe the eleventh and half hour if that’s possible. Any sense of where we are this year?”
Secretary Pompeo: “Senator, we’re working on it. It did take us a long time last year and I hope it goes more quickly this year. We’ve done it once so I think there’s a mechanism in place and I’m hopeful it’ll move along more quickly.”
Portman: “Interagency cooperation is one reason we put this in place where you’ve got to go to the Defense Department and they have to work with you. Do you feel like the interagency process is working well? We want DoD’s help on this effort.”
Secretary Pompeo: “Do you mean in respect to the GEC?”
Portman: “With respect to the GEC.”
Secretary Pompeo: “Absolutely. I feel like we’ve made strides. Look it took us a little while. We didn’t have someone there that we chose to lead that organization. We now have that person in place and I think it’s improved dramatically, really in over the last two months.”
Portman: “With regard to Ukraine quickly, and thank you for the GEC help, we have finally, as you know, provided help to the Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves and that was a change in this administration. We appreciate that. Lethal and non-lethal security assistance so that they can defend their own sovereign territory. In the National Defense Authorization bill two years ago we authorized naval assistance for the first time and particularly what’s gone on since then on the Kerch Strait means that we need to do all we can to help deal with the naval side of this. The Russians are being increasingly aggressive. Do you know what that status is of transferring these two excess Island class cutters to the Ukrainian navy and are you encouraging of that?”
Secretary Pompeo: “I am encouraging it, I do not know the status, Senator.”
Portman: “I appreciate you guys getting back to me on that. It seems to me that’s one of our pressing capability gaps that we have. Can you speak to other concerns you might have about what’s going on in Ukraine particularly vis a vis Russia?”
Secretary Pompeo: “So we are now years into this and it is frozen at best. Still challenging, still fighting along the line of control. Nearly every day. I think everyone is staring at the Ukrainian election now. A handful more days before the Ukrainians will select their next leader. We will engage closely with whoever that leader is to ensure we continue to provide support for Ukrainian democracy.
Portman: “Well I appreciate that. I do think we’re at a critical time right now. We’ll see what happens in the election. I plan to go over after the election and meet with the new government. It is a frozen conflict. I’ve been on the contact line. On the other hand, I think we have begun to change the dynamic by the support you’ve provided. We’ve got to continue to do it. I have one other question and maybe you can send something in response as a written response, but it has to do with the sanctions regime. I’m hearing from some folks at State that they’re having a tough time sanctioning some Russian individuals because the Treasury Department indicates our legislation here is too restrictive. In other words, legislation as it relates to specific things, like Ukraine and what happened in Crimea might not relate exactly to a particular individual who is otherwise involved in malign efforts that affect the national security of the United States. Would it be helpful for you to have a broader sanctions regime that this body could send you in order to ensure that the individuals you would like to sanction are able to be sanctioned?”
Secretary Pompeo: “I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at. Some of this is on the Treasury side, so the broader scope would need to be for Treasury sanctions but I would love to see that. And we should evaluate and make sure we do it in a thoughtful way so that we actually pick up what we’re looking for.”
Portman: “Okay, if you could provide us some more information on that, that would be helpful as to what you’re looking for.”