By Jason Schreiber
HOOKSETT — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Friday repeated calls for an independent nonpartisan investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election during an address to the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire.
Speaking to an audience at Southern New Hampshire University, the Democratic senator said outrage over intelligence reports that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, tried to influence the election in favor of President Donald Trump isn’t about partisanship, but about patriotism and defending America’s democracy.
She said the United States needs a bold, aggressive strategy to punish Russia and counter further efforts to undermine democratic institutions.
“We should all be angered by Putin’s interference in our elections, and frankly, if you’re not outraged you haven’t been paying attention,” she said.
Shaheen spent much of the 30-minute address followed by a brief question and answer session focused on threats posed by Russia, Putin and fallout from the election.
She said Putin’s goal is to restore Russia as a dominant power using a strategy that aims to disrupt, divide and weaken NATO.
“The audacity of Russia’s challenge in recent years has been truly shocking, but Putin dramatically raised the stakes in our 2016 elections by interfering in our general election last year,” said Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.
Shaheen read portions of a declassified report released in January by the director of national intelligence on Russia’s activities during the election that found that Putin had a preference for Trump and ordered an influence campaign to undermine public faith in the democratic process, denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these are not opinions, conjecture or fake news. They are the facts,” she said.
Shaheen also spoke about Monday’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee from F.B.I. Director James Comey, who revealed publicly that it was investigating possible links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.
Trump has denied reports of possible collusion, tweeting that the story is “fake news” and was “made up” by Democrats “as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”
Shaheen said she’s joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
The audience erupted in applause when Shaheen insisted that an independent investigation into Russian intervention in the election was needed.
“The American public needs to know what happened here,” she said.
If any links are found between the Trump campaign and Russia it should be made public, Shaheen said, and if no connections are found that should also be released to the public.
Milford High School student Meagan McLean, who was one of several other students from the school in attendance, asked Shaheen to share her opinion on what, if any, “disciplinary action” should be taken if evidence is found showing coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
Shaheen responded by saying that any “penalty” would have to be addressed by Congress. She added that if an independent investigation were done it would involve recommendations based on the findings.
Shaheen referenced the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
She recalled that “when the first news story broke about Watergate people didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until more allegations came out and that’s when Congress acted so my hope is that as we find more information we are going to get Congress to act.”
Her response prompted one man in the crowd to shout “Lock him up!”