Much of the hearing focused on the US presidential election, and claims that Russian “propaganda” impacted the outcome.
“Russia has pumped tens of millions into disinformation and propaganda targeting the US and Europe,” committee chairman Ed Royce said in a statement. “For too long, the US response to Russian aggression has been weak and ineffective – and that has to change. This hearing will allow us to examine ways to better counter Russia’s weaponization of information and other hostile acts.”
In a bizarre statement, California congressman Brad Sherman specifically asked if the Trump campaign colluded with Russian hackers, or if the President is not responding aggressively due to being grateful that the Kremlin intervened on his behalf.
“The key issue is did the Trump campaign collude with Russian hackers in the cyber burglary of the Democratic National Committee and related entities, and a related question is whether Trump’s gratitude is preventing an appropriate response to Russia’s interference with democracy,” Sherman stated, “or whether his fear of what they might have on him is preventing that appropriate response.”
To dig for proof of his conspiracy theories, Sherman called for a special “9/11 style commission,” sanctions, and a special prosecutor to investigate the campaign.
Sherman then cited the unsubstantiated “golden showers” dossier, compiled by a former officer in Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Christopher Steele, which was paid for by Trump’s Republican and Democratic opponents. Buzzfeed, the organization which published the dossier, has faced massive criticism, backlash, and even a lawsuit for their sloppy handling of the unproven claims contained within it.
The dossier claims that there was a video of a urine party, hosted by Trump, and secretly filmed by Russian intelligence agencies, although there is no evidence to support that any such recording exists.
The former spy is currently being sued by Aleksej Gubarev, the CEO of XBT, who was also named in the dossier. The tech mogul is also suing the publisher BuzzFeed in federal court.
“Nothing in the dossier has been disproved. Parts of it have proved to be true, and I hope to god that parts of it are not true, particularly the salacious parts,” Sherman said with a smile. “The Trump administration has just called the whole report garbage, but they haven’t denied specific parts of it, except in one case that I’m aware of, and that is the report says that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer met with Russian officials in Prague.”
“He responded by tweeting the front of his passport,” Sherman said, dramatically holding up an enlarged color printout of Cohen’s tweet. “Now, obviously the front of the passport doesn’t teach us anything, but it causes us to want to look inside the passport.”
Ambassador Daniel Brooks Baer responded with an anecdote about how he does not think he received a stamp from Prague in his passport when he traveled there.
There were a few adults in the room, however, including Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who did not hold back in his mockery of conspiracy theories about a “sinister plot” from Russia to “look out for their own interests.”
“We keep hearing sinister words after sinister words, especially this last thing — oh how sinister it is that he just showed the top of his passport,” Rohrabacher said with a chuckle. “Give me a break! Come on!”
Rohrabacher then took aim at a comment by Sherman inferring that it is somehow strange or uncommon for representatives of US presidential campaign organizations to meet with foreign diplomats or ambassadors.
“No, it’s not uncommon for people to meet with foreign ambassadors and foreign diplomats, and how sinister is it that people met with the Russian ambassador?! I’m sure that if they were going to plan something really rotten regarding the United States they would go to the ambassador, the Russian ambassador, rather than some political operatives that they have running all over the place,” Rohrabacher stated. “This has reached the absurd level of attacks and let us note that in order to get Russia — what we are doing now is destabilizing our own democracy with that type of nonsense!”
“I don’t know about anyone else, but I was very happy when Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War by reaching out to Russia,” Rohrabacher added.
New Jersey Republican Representative Albio Sires, for his part, nearly let his emotions overtake him, as he demanded to know if anyone in the room had any doubts that Russian President Vladimir Putin was working directly with WikiLeaks, in another claim that has no evidence to back it up.
As the Congressional hearing was underway, Breitbart News suggested that “the fix is in,” as the list of witnesses scheduled to appear at a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing on “Russian Active Measures” features only tech experts hired by the DNC.
The only experts that the committee has scheduled to testify come from CrowdStrike, who has become a primary source of claims that Russia hacked the US election. Many experts not on the DNC payroll have adamantly disputed the company’s claims, but those independent experts, without political skin in the game, have not been not called upon to dispute the CrowdStrike’s claims.