February 12, 2017
The Republican leading Senate efforts to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity says Congress should give President Trump room to decide how to respond to Russia’s hacking in the presidential election.
In an interview with The Hill, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) didn’t explicitly back a proposal for more sanctions on Russia, and repeatedly suggested that Congress shouldn’t box Trump in.
“I wouldn’t take anything off the table. I think the president needs to have all of the options available to him,” said Rounds, who is heading up a Senate Armed Services subpanel with oversight of the Pentagon’s cyber forces, commands and programs.
“I don’t think we should have a timeline and I don’t think we should limit him to just one or two domains,” said Rounds, who argued this could help Trump.
“I think the more leeway we provide to the president to make the decision in terms of how he responds, the more concern Russia should have and the more attention they will pay to what the possible response may be,” Rounds added. “If they’re not sure what our president will do, I think that works in our favor.”
Trump has repeatedly talked of wanting to improve relations with Russia, and he has dismissed talk of Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election — despite conclusions by the intelligence community that the Kremlin ran a sophisticated operation meant to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Some Republicans have pressed Trump to take a firmer stand with Russia over its hacking, and its involvement in other countries — particularly Ukraine. Reports this week suggested that Russia is seeking to sway France’s presidential election.
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Russia, building on penalties already imposed by the Obama administration in December.
Rounds has not backed new sanctions, but he did join seven other Republican senators who sent a letter to Trump on Thursday underscoring the need to “recognize and counter the active cyber and information warfare Russia is conducting against the United State and Western democracies, including attempted interference in our democratic elections process.”
He said he’s not worried about Trump taking a firm stand.
“I want to give the president the opportunity and the benefit of the doubt at this stage. President Trump is a businessman. Where he begins in negotiations is not necessarily where he wants to end up, I’m convinced of that,” Rounds told The Hill.
“I think we all understand that if there is a way to avoid kinetic conflict with the Russians while still maintaining our values and protecting our allies and our interests in the region, we’d like to see that happen, but we also know there are limits to our patience and there are limits to our allies’ patience.”
“As long as our president recognizes that and the need to be seen as negotiating from a position of strength with Mr. Putin, then I think we’re going to be OK,” he added.
Rounds agreed with the characterization that Russia “weaponized” data stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, in the sense that it was used in a grander propaganda scheme to undermine American democracy.
Rounds says his new subcommittee will focus on the Pentagon’s cyber manpower and capabilities and how they “stack up” to other potential adversaries. He also indicated that he will continue to explore policy on how to define cyber war, building on his efforts in the last Congress.
Trump pledged to tackle cybersecurity policy swiftly once inaugurated, though his plan to sign an executive order on cyber last week was abruptly cancelled without explanation from the White House. The draft order directed federal agencies to manage their own cyber risks and tasked various departments with improving cybersecurity of critical infrastructure.