WASHINGTON — U.S. officials should verify and publish Russian President Vladimir Putin’s net worth, which could turn the Russian people against the kleptocracy, former Vice President Joe Biden said today.
“Look, folks, we can’t make this about a conflict between Russia and the United States. We’ve got to make this about a conflict between the Russian kleptocracy and oligarchy and the Russian people,” Biden said at the Council on Foreign Relations when asked how to address Putin’s regime. “There is no country in the world that, in fact, is comfortable with wholesale corruption.”
Estimations for Putin’s net worth range anywhere from $40 billion to $200 billion, though a TIME article suggests that the amount is realistically between $40 billion and $70 billion.
Biden said he’s “all for” publishing Putin’s worth, especially given that “no man has ever assumed the office of vice president with fewer assets than Joe Biden.” According to ABC News, Biden is worth anywhere from $39,000 to $800,000.
“We should be the friends of what is left of the underground portion of civil society in Russia,” Biden said. “We should not be silent. And part of that is laying out in stark relief what Russia is doing, how they have turned corruption into a foreign-policy tool and a weapon.”
The former vice president also claimed that months before the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected President Obama’s call for a bipartisan announcement revealing Russia’s campaign influence operation. Biden said the president reached out to Republicans in order to avoid the appearance of using the information as a political weapon against then-candidate Trump.
Biden explained that the White House was made aware in August or September 2016 that Russia was attempting to “delegitimize the electoral process,” but hard data was scant. The vice president was asked to engage key members of both the House and Senate and called a meeting with lawmakers and the intelligence community.
“The president and I would sit there, literally, after the (president’s daily brief), and everybody’d walk out of the room, and say, ‘What the hell are we going to do?’” Biden said.
Biden claims that he warned the president against unilaterally disclosing the information, given that he would be accused of attempting to “tip the election.” That scenario, Biden said, would play into the hands of Russian attempts to delegitimize the electoral process. The intelligence community had said that was Russia’s purpose, he added.
“Mitch McConnell — who I get on with well and who’s a smart guy — Mitch McConnell wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this, stop,’” Biden said.
After CIA Director John Brennan offered more details, Biden said Republicans still remained unmoved.
“They would have no part of it,” the former VP said. “That, to me, hanging around that body up there for longer than any of you were around doing it, meant to me that this—the die had been cast here.”
Biden said that ultimately the president made the right decision in waiting to disclose the information, despite revelations immediately following the election about Russian meddling.
The Washington Post in December 2016 reported that Russia meddled in the election in support of Trump during the presidential campaign. Obama then publicly ordered the intelligence community to review hacking events dating back to 2008, asking for details before leaving office Jan. 20. That same week, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) issued a joint statement calling for a bipartisan effort to safeguard American elections.
“So the bottom line was it was tricky as hell,” Biden said. “It’s easy now to say, ‘Well, maybe we should have said more.’ But I’ll ask you a rhetorical question: Could you imagine if the president of the United States called a press conference in October with this fellow and Bannon and company and said: ‘Tell you what — the Russians are trying to interfere in our elections, and we have to do something about it.’ What do you think would have happened?”
Had the White House known more about the meddling three weeks earlier, Biden said, the decision might have been different.