WASHINGTON, D.C. – A witness in the impeachment inquiry testified before a different set of lawmakers Tuesday.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The congressional hearing, aimed to update members of Congress on US policy towards Russia, couldn’t escape the related issue of American policy in Ukraine.
“Is it currently our policy towards Ukraine to request investigations into the connection between the former Vice President’s family and a company called Burisma?”, asked Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
“Understanding the Russian threat requires our also being clear that there is no evidence of Ukraine having interfered in our 2016 election,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.
“Was the Kremlin’s interference in our 2016 election a hoax?”, asked Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and Ranking Member of the committee.
“No,” answered Hale.
“Are you aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?”, Menendez asked.
“I am not,” said Hale.
Hale the third most powerful person in the State Department. He told lawmakers he has no knowledge of any Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election despite the repeated claims made by President Trump and supported by some Congressional Republicans.
“The intelligence community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at our presidential election,” said Hale.
Senate Republicans were more focused on Russia than Ukraine. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, suggested sanctions as a means of dealing with Russian malign behavior are ineffective.
“Congress decides that we know better than the president. We put sanctions on and then the president can’t take them off. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to negotiate behavioral changes if Congress puts on sanctions that the president doesn’t have the means or the power to remove?,” Paul asked.
“I think it makes it harder in most instances. I think you put your thumb on a very important point, which is the need for reversibility and flexibility. Often the threat can be more effective than the actual imposition of a sanction,” said Hale.
When asked what foreign policy goal Russia is ultimately trying to achieve, Hale said they are working to restore their global image as a super power.