Key members of Congress were warned in 2015 about Vladimir Putin’s aggressive propaganda machine, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said last week. The possibility he used it to influence last year’s presidential elections is an important part of current investigations, she added.
Although she generally backs President Donald Trump on his policies and efforts “to challenge the status quo,” the Spokane Republican made it clear in a recent interview with The Spokesman-Review she does not share his favorable views of Putin.
She described the Russian president as a man who controls an aggressive propaganda machine trying to undermine the United States.
McMorris Rodgers was part of a congressional delegation that went to Europe nearly two years ago to study energy issues. Russia is the continent’s major source of energy supplies, but the previous winter, Putin had threatened to cut natural gas supplies because of the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and they were studying what he might do in the upcoming winter.
One of the stops on the trip was Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, where the delegation met with the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxer and outspoken critic of Putin.
“He impressed on us that Putin controls the media in Ukraine … and how powerful that is,” she said. “Putin has an aggressive propaganda machine, and it is attempting to influence in a whole host of ways.”
When she returned home, she saw evidence of that propaganda machine in the United States, including broadcasts on Russia Television, or RT, which is carried by many cable companies in major U.S. cities.
“I think it’s a subtle undermining of American institutions and American values and American goals,” she said.
Asked if she thought that propaganda machine affected the 2016 presidential election, McMorris Rodgers replied: “We are investigating that. Both the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate are investigating the question as to Russia’s influence over the elections.”
In December, congressional leaders received a briefing from representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which led to the investigations, she said.
McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, wouldn’t speculate on what actions should be taken against Russia if those investigations turn up evidence that Putin did try to influence the election.
“They will issue their findings, and from there we will determine what the appropriate action is,” she said.
In the interview, McMorris Rodgers defended the policy behind Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries, although not its initial execution. She also warned the federal government may no longer turn “a blind eye” to recreational marijuana that’s been legalized in Washington and several other states.
Security officials raised questions about the vetting process for refugees and some visa waivers after the Paris attacks, she said, and the House approved legislation calling for a pause, although the Senate didn’t follow suit. The executive order that Trump signed called for that pause.
“The goal is that we have some assurances that these people who are coming to America do not pose a security risk,” she said. “I think it is up to the security agencies, those that are tasked with keeping the nation secure, to make some recommendations.”
The executive order was issued without warning to immigration agencies, caused significant confusion at many of the nation’s airports, and was the subject of several court challenges. The lawsuit filed by Washington state resulted in a federal court order that put it on hold as unconstitutional, and that was later upheld by an appeals court. The administration announced last week it would rewrite the order.
“Clearly the way that it was rolled out caused some confusion and some unfortunate situations where people that had legal visas were denied entry,” she said. “I hope they learned the importance of rolling out the executive order and the guidelines so that (the replacement) is smooth.”
The confirmation of Jeff Sessions, an outspoken opponent of legalized marijuana, as U.S. attorney general has some in Washington worrying about a federal crackdown on the state’s licensed businesses. McMorris Rodgers said she doesn’t agree with those who call marijuana a states’ rights issue.
“The laws regarding marijuana, federally, have not changed. I believe in the rule of law,” she said. “Up until this point, the feds have been turning a blind eye. That’s not the best way to do business. Congress needs to take action.”
She’s sure proposals to do that are coming but she’s not ready yet to say if she’ll support any.