'We Don't Want to be Converted by Russia,' Senator Warns

The senator who got human-rights sanctions passed on Russia after the in-custody death of corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky warned today that "we don't want to be converted by Russia" as President-elect Trump signals new outreach efforts with the Kremlin.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week that Trump needs to "take seriously the assessments from our intelligence community and security professionals regarding Russia’s actions."

"I implore the Trump administration to see Russia for what it is — a global bully and adversary," the senator wrote. "And I encourage the incoming national security leadership to understand who our real friends and true allies are, and that they count on us to provide leadership against Moscow’s aggression."

"...We need to send a resolute message that Russia’s domestic tyranny and international belligerence have consequences. And we must make abundantly clear that there is a cost to attacking the United States, whether accomplished by a MiG or a mouse. We should consider expanded sectoral sanctions and targeted sanctions on individuals found to be complicit in crimes and atrocities, across a range of options to include the Russian energy sector and prohibiting U.S. participation in the purchase of Russian debt bonds."

Cardin emphasized on CNN this morning: "Russia's not our friend. They're not our partner. We ignore them at our own peril."

"Ask the people of Ukraine whether they can trust Russia's statements now that Russia is occupying part of Ukraine. Ask the people of Moldova, or Georgia, where we've seen Russia's aggression take over part of the sovereignty of that country. Ask our allies in the Baltic how they feel about Russia's activities and whether they fear their own borders being compromised," Cardin said. "In the United States, we may not have been attacked by a Mig but we were attacked by a mouse. Russia has attacked America through cyber. We've got to respond to that."

"So, sure, we want to get along with all countries. But right now, Russia is an aggressor. It's a bully. If we start to say what they're doing is okay, we're going to find that their activities will be even more aggressive."

Asked whether Trump can make an argument that President Obama screwed up the reset and a new path forward is needed in U.S.-Russia relations, the senator stressed that "Russia's a corrupt regime."

"You can't deal with them in a sense that we're going to get along. What they've already done, you've seen aggression against U.S. interests. They're determined to compromise democratic institutions. They're spending billions of dollars infiltrating using democratic institutions against itself," Cardin continued.

"We don't want to be converted by Russia. We want preserved democratic institutions and the international for leadership. If we start to make nice with Russia with their activities in Ukraine and their activities in Syria, preventing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, compromising their ability to go against ISIL, what we're doing is playing into Russia, playing into a greater Russia. And that is bad for democracy and bad for freedom around the world."

Cardin vowed that in Congress "there are going to be many of us, Democrats and Republicans" who "will be very active in regards to what we can do against Russia."

After Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke this month, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said "at the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people."

"That is an unacceptable price for a great nation," said McCain, who sponsored the Magnitsky Act with Cardin. "When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side of those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again.”

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who stepped down in August and has strong lobbying ties to pro-Putin Ukrainians, was seen by the traveling press pool entering Trump Tower this morning.

Cardin stressed that it's "critically important" Trump "puts his assets in a blind trust or sells his assets" because "we do not know his business dealings in Russia."

"If he has business dealings in Russia, we don't know how that is used to try to influence U.S. policy decisions," he said. "That's why it's extremely important that the president does not have any potential conflicts in dealing with any country around the world."

Cardin is introducing a resolution next week calling on Trump to not run afoul of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and "convert his assets to simple, conflict-free holdings, adopt blind trusts, or take other equivalent measures," the senator's office said.

The resolution "will note that in the absence of such actions by the President-elect before he assumes office or specific authorization by Congress, Congress will regard dealings by Trump-owned companies with any entity owned by a foreign government as potential violations of the Constitution."