WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing pressed Trump administration nominee for Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen E. Biegun, on his judgements regarding the Ukraine extortion scheme and whether it is proper to withhold access to the White House or security aid as leverage to secure political help for the president. Murphy also pressed Biegun on whether he would support re-staffing the U.S. embassy in Iraq:
On Ukraine, Murphy asked: “Rudy Giuliani was and still does openly advertise himself as representing the political interests of the president. He does not represent that he is helping to effectuate the national security goals of this country. He is unabashed in his representation that he is there to represent the political interests of his client, Donald Trump. And so, do you believe it was proper for Rudy Giuliani to play a role in U.S. Ukraine policy?”
On Iraq, Murphy said: “It is no longer justified based on security threats to have this minimal presence because we had even greater security threats confronting our diplomatic personnel for long portions of our time in Iraq. We need to find a way to get our folks back into Baghdad before we lose everything that we have gained in that country.”
A full transcript of Murphy and Biegun’s exchange can be found below:
MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good to see you, Mr. Biegun and thank you for your interest in continuing to serve.
“The Ranking Member referenced in his opening round of questions the absolutely earth shattering testimony that we're hearing today from Ambassador Sondland, testifying that under the President's orders, he and others were engaged in an effort to try to get the Ukrainian government to investigate—or launch investigations—connected to the president's political rivals in exchange for access to the White House and the release of security aid.
“This is a really, really serious moment, when we're learning that many if not most of the people at the top of America's national security leadership were asked to do things that they knew were wrong, but they did them anyway. And they are now testifying to that in droves before the committee.
“And so, I don't want to dwell on this with you, but I don't think it's sufficient for you to avoid sharing with this committee, your judgments on some of the most egregious events that are being detailed and upon the principles that are at stake. Because you're going to be in a position in which you may have to deal with similar instances, if not identical instances. Especially if there are no consequences handed down for this behavior.
“So, let me just ask you two questions. One is a principle-based question and one is a question based upon at least one fact that has unequivocally emerged. The first is a principle-based question. Is it ever proper to withhold access to the White House or security aid as leverage to secure political help for the president?”
BIEGUN: “Senator, I take my lead from a senator from my home state of many years ago, Arthur Vandenberg, who suggested that politics best stop at the water's edge. I think that goes into the conduct of our foreign policy worldwide. And, that's the dictum that I will abide by.”
MURPHY: “The answer would be that it is not proper.”
BIEGUN: “It's not something I would recommend.”
MURPHY: “Second, a fact-based question. You acknowledge that presidents have relied sometimes on outside advisors, both for domestic policy and foreign policy, and I don't deny that. There is certainly a history of relying on outside individuals to help advance the goals of the President of the United States.
“But Rudy Giuliani was and still does openly advertise himself as representing the political interests of the president. He does not represent that he is helping to effectuate the national security goals of this country. He is unabashed in his representation that he is there to represent the political interests of his client, Donald Trump. And so, do you believe it was proper for Rudy Giuliani to play a role in U.S. Ukraine policy?”
BIEGUN: “Senator, I don't know what qualifications an individual like that would bring to these issues. And as I said earlier to Senator Menendez, I don't have first-hand knowledge of what role he played or of what he was telling the president or what opinions the president formed based upon what he was telling him.
“I will tell you in my experience, and all ultimately I can be judged upon is the record of my own experience and my own reputation. I understand we will be challenged, I will be challenged, both on policy issues as well as issues of propriety and that would happen in any administration, Senator.
“I have a record of not interjecting politics into the foreign policy of the United States. I work with a team of a dozen professionals at the State Department. I don't know their politics, and I don't care.
“Using somebody for any purposes, other than to advance the policy, is not something that I intend to pursue or would recommend pursuing.”
MURPHY: “Listen, and I don't think we have any other choice than to take you at your word. But we've had plenty of other nominees for important posts at the State Department who have sat in that seat and testified the exact same thing to us.
“And then when they were confronted with these requests to put the political interests of the president before the national security interests, they may have complained privately, and now they are complaining publicly, but for the most part, they implemented those requests.”
BIEGUN: “I understand your skepticism and I understand the degree of concern you bring Senator. But I want to say these are more than words, this is also my background and my experience, and the model that I follow. ”
MURPHY: “I appreciate it. Let me just, I won't ask you to give a long answer to this question. But you and I have talked about the really damaging diminishing in US diplomatic presence in Iraq.
“We had 2000 diplomats there in 2012, which was a very dangerous time. Today, reportedly we have 15 State Department officials working directly on core diplomatic functions. And it is not coincidental that Iraq is beginning to unravel, as the United States has pulled out.
“It is no longer justified based on security threats to have this minimal presence because we had even greater security threats confronting our diplomatic personnel for long portions of our time in Iraq. We need to find a way to get our folks back into Baghdad before we lose everything that we have gained in that country.
“Can you at least today just commit to me, I mean, there's news that this is permanent, that the secretary has made a decision that we are just out of Baghdad, and that would be disastrous for U.S. national security interests.
“Can you just make a commitment to give a very hard look at our presence in Baghdad and see if there is a way to get our people back in? ”
BIEGUN: “I do. I will, sir. ”
MURPHY: “Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Biegun.”