MURPHY PRESSES SECRETARY POMPEO ON RUSSIAN MISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS, U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM THE WHO DURING A PANDEMIC, AND COUNTERING CHINA

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday pressed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the Russian misinformation campaigns ahead of the 2020 election, the president’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) during a pandemic, and the capabilities the United States needs to counter China.

On Russia ramping up its disinformation efforts ahead of the 2020 campaign, Murphy said: “Russia, in particular, has sought to weave together stories about U.S. persons and Ukrainian persons over the course of the past year. In order to both try to sow chaos and dissent in the United States, but also to try to screw with Ukrainian politics as well. It's kind of a double whammy for the Russians. And you can see those efforts ramping up as we head into the 2020 election."

Murphy continued: "Probably the most active foreign individual pushing narratives about the United States in Ukraine is a Ukrainian legislator by the name of Andriy Derkach. He was the individual that magically came into possession of secret audio recordings of Vice President Biden and then President Poroshenko. He's retained government relations counsel here, and I would expect that he's going to be a pretty active presence in U.S. politics from here to the election. So just a simple question on behalf of my constituents and maybe my colleagues as well. Should we view Andriy Derkach as a credible source of information?”

Pompeo refused to answer whether he thinks Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who has ties to Russian intelligence services, was a reliable source of information. In May, Derkach released recordings of private phone calls from 2016 between Vice President Joe Biden and Petro Poroshenko. Derkach is one of a handful of Ukrainians who have been willing to engage with Rudy Giuliani and is close to former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who has also supplied information to Giuliani.      

On withdrawal from the WHO, Murphy said: “China's clearly seeking to use the United States' failure to control COVID as a means to leapfrog us in our traditional leadership position when it comes to global health...The first was the president's, you know, just remarkable fawning over China's early response to the virus. 47 different times he commended China for their response and their transparency. But I think China also is pretty happy with our withdrawal from the WHO. And I understand that you believe, as I understand it, that our withdrawal from the WHO is a lever to try to seek internal change, and I would disagree. But it also seems to allow for China to step in and occupy that vacuum."

Murphy continued on the importance of the WHO to combat future pandemics: “It won't surprise you that I would dispute your characterization of the WHO. It is an international body. There is no way that there won't be some level of politics infecting the decisions that a body made up of historic adversaries will go through, but it is a science-based organization. And it is one that is indispensable to the continuation of our efforts to try to prevent the next disease, and I really shudder to think about our ability to stop the next COVID if we are not back in the WHO."

A full transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Pompeo can be found below.

MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

“Let me say at the outset: I am very grateful for your proposal to double the budget of the Global Engagement Center. This is, of course, a Center to counteract propaganda outside of the United States that was established through legislation written by myself and Senator Portman.

“And I'm glad that you have recognized the importance and the good work of that Center. Though we've spent a lot of time in this hearing talking about many of our concerns regarding our adversaries' desire to use propaganda, not outside of the United States, but in fact inside of the United States to influence the 2020 election. And so, I want to begin by asking you a question about that.

“Russia, in particular, has sought to weave together stories about U.S. persons and Ukrainian persons over the course of the past year. In order to both try to sow chaos and dissent in the United States, but also to try to screw with Ukrainian politics as well. It's kind of a double whammy for the Russians. And you can see those efforts ramping up as we head into the 2020 election. 

“Probably the most active foreign individual pushing narratives about the United States in Ukraine is a Ukrainian legislator by the name of Andriy Derkach. He was the individual that magically came into possession of secret audio recordings of Vice President Biden and then President Poroshenko. He's retained government relations counsel here, and I would expect that he's going to be a pretty active presence in U.S. politics from here to the election.

“So just a simple question on behalf of my constituents and maybe my colleagues as well. Should we view Andriy Derkach as a credible source of information?”

POMPEO: “I'll answer your question, but let me just say on GEC real quick, because I think that's important, thank you for the compliment.

“I want to make sure, the only thing I'm worried about with asking for a doubling of the money is to make sure that we can deploy it in a way that – we've been pretty successful as its grown, but when you expand something at 100% year on year, I have a team driving to make sure we don't misuse or waste those resources. 

“Look, I don't want to comment on any particular individual like Mr. Derkach. I will say this; we're taking seriously the threats that Russia will try to engage in misinformation campaigns, that there may be oligarchs that try and engage in this, that may be foreign actors, not just Russian. We were pretty successful at this in the 2018 election, I say we, not the State Department alone, but all the United States government. I'm confident we will be in this one as well.”

MURPHY: “Why wouldn't you be willing to opine on a specific individual if you had information to suggest that the source was not credible? It seems as if that is in fact a core function of the U.S. government. If it has information that would suggest malign influence, to let Congress and the American people know.”

POMPEO: “Yeah, so if, when it's appropriate, I will. When there's still work ongoing, and there's still unsettled intelligence around these things, I'm going to try to be just a little bit more careful, senator.”

MURPHY: “Let me turn to China for a moment.

“China's clearly seeking to use the United States' failure to control COVID as a means to leapfrog us in our traditional leadership position when it comes to global health. Senator Romney referred to this earlier. I think we've given two big gifts to the Chinese since the beginning of this outbreak. 

“The first was the president's, you know, just remarkable fawning over China's early response to the virus. 47 different times he commended China for their response and their transparency. But I think China also is pretty happy with our withdrawal from the WHO.

“And I understand that you believe, as I understand it, that our withdrawal from the WHO is a lever to try to seek internal change, and I would disagree. But it also seems to allow for China to step in and occupy that vacuum.

“And so, as you step back and try to articulate this sort of broad strategy to counteract China's growing influence in the world, how does withdrawal from the WHO counteract the growing influence of China?”

POMPEO: “Senator, it's a good question. These are close calls sometimes, right? We left the UN Human Rights Council. The same argument was made: better to fight from within than to try and reform from outside. I think there are reasonable arguments that can be made on either side.

“The decision that the president made – and I concur with this decision – we went through multiple rounds of reforms at the World Health Organization. Our team in Geneva fought for years, and previous administrations too, and each time we got reforms there was no capacity to make that a science-based organization and not a political one. And there comes a point where you're spending half a billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money year on year that goes to benefit political actors inside the World Health Organization. And we ultimately made the conclusion that we were more likely to achieve the global health security issues that the United States cares about deeply if we did not participate any further in the World Health Organization. 

“I am not at all convinced that it will be China that benefits from that. I'm convinced that the world will benefit. We saw it with PEPFAR, we've seen it with GAVI, we’ve seen it other places. When the United States leads, and we will absolutely lead, good things can happen in the international health realm.”

MURPHY: “It won't surprise you that I would dispute your characterization of the WHO. It is an international body. There is no way that there won't be some level of politics infecting the decisions that a body made up of historic adversaries will go through, but it is a science based organization. And it is one that is indispensable to the continuation of our efforts to try to prevent the next disease, and I really shudder to think about our ability to stop the next COVID if we are not back in the WHO.

“Finally, in the remaining time I have, and this is a complicated question, but, again back to Senator Romney's line of questioning about the capabilities that we should be developing with our allies to try to counteract China.

“I just don't think it's sustainable for this administration or any other administration to try to go around the world bullying and shaming our friends and sort of half friends into not doing business with China. We've got to have an answer for the things that China is offering.

“And on the technology front, we don't have a great answer for 5G, and we may not have a great answer for whatever China is going to put out there on AI or advanced battery technology. Isn't this essential to our counter China strategy, not just to shame other countries into forsaking Chinese technology, but actually to work with our allies to develop our own alternatives?”

POMPEO: “1,000%. Absolutely, Senator Murphy.”

MURPHY: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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