By now you may have learned that North Dakota’s Senator John Hoeven was one of eight Republican Senators to spend our Independence Day in Russia. July 4th was only one of the multi-day trip Hoeven and his seven colleagues spent in the region. If you hadn’t heard about it until now, that may be because U.S. media was limited in their access. Most of the reporting has come from information lacking statements from the Senators themselves or Russia. Why the secrecy at home?
It is difficult to simply set aside the optics of this trip. For example, Hoeven tweeted a “Happy Independence Day” message from Russia. This tweet was met with outrage from constituents who noted he has neglected to mention his trip. It should be noted that earlier reports stated Hoeven was being considered for the trip. Yet, this is perhaps the weakest of optics.
On the very same day Hoeven was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, his colleagues in the Senate on the Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report agreeing with our independent intelligence agencies that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election. And yes, it was to help candidate Donald Trump who is set to meet with Vladimir Putin on July 16th. How did Hoeven handle this while he was face-to-face with the same individuals who categorically deny they interfered in our election process?
Why take the trip? U.S. Senator Richard Shelby who led the delegation was quoted as saying the point of their visit was to “strive for a better relationship” with Moscow, not “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.” These comments certainly seem to coincide with the lack of accountability and preparedness coming from Washington post 2016. Is Shelby suggesting we simply look past actions like hacking into critical U.S. infrastructure like our power grid?
Because there were limited information provided to U.S. journalists whose access was curtailed, Russia media filled the airwaves. Their take was this delegation’s approach was rather meek compared to the tough talk back home. Note Shelby’s quote above. Keep in mind, this may be spin from the same individuals denying what our intelligence community has reported. This goes to show what happens when our own members provide limited information about their trip in crafted statements that lack substance issued after the fact. We would have been better served with American journalists being present.
Hoeven’s office has remained fairly quiet and evasive about his trip. They shared he went to “gain a better understanding of what’s going on in Russia in regard to U.S. national security interests.” Yes, because as has been noted they’ve been upfront and straightforward about their actions and what they’re capable of. I’m curious what could have been gained in this multi-day trip that wouldn’t have been gained by our own intelligence professionals at home regarding national security?
This trip didn’t sit well for many back home. Perhaps it was the timing in not only that it was over our Independence Day, but also just shortly before the midterm election. If it was to set a tone for when the President meets with Putin, reports suggest it was a conciliatory tone. The bottom line is as it was official business on our behalf, we should have more information readily available about what this trip accomplished.