A Conversation With Representative Michael McCaul

Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. Representative from Texas (R); Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Member, House Committee on Homeland Security


National Security Correspondent, Wall Street Journal; CFR member

Representative McCaul discusses U.S. national security, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the resulting global energy concerns and China’s response, as well as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

GORDON: OK. I’d like to welcome this group to our evening tonight. It’s a Council on Foreign Relations meeting for “A Conversation with Representative Michael McCaul.” And I’m Michael Gordon from the Wall Street Journal and I’m presiding over the discussion.

I think that our speaker is well-known, but he’s a very prominent voice in foreign affairs and national security policy in Washington, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs, the former chairman of Homeland Security. And he’s spoken out a lot on a whole array of issues. He’s very active now on the Ukraine issue, including human rights abuses and war crimes issue, which we’re going to address.

And the way we’re going to proceed is he’s going to speak to us for about five minutes or so, I’m going to join him in a conversation, and then we’re going to open it up. This is a hybrid meeting, so it’s going to be questions from the group here and questions from our virtual members.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to you. (Applause.)

MCCAUL: Well, thank you, Michael. It’s great to be back in front of CFR with—in person. You know, we’ve been doing this kind of virtually for a while, and very much enjoy being back in person talking about the most important issues, I think, facing the nation. I mean, you know, when I chaired Homeland I had ISIS and the caliphate, and now the lead Republican on Foreign Affairs Committee and it’s really all about foreign nation adversary states—Russia, China, Iran, North Korea. Of course, I see Elliot Abrams. Venezuela, you know, it’s still an issue, and Iran’s down there. But these threats are very real, but I want to kind of focus on, really, the topic du jour.

I was on the floor debating my bill on—it’s a war crimes bill to, you know, hold Putin accountable for his crimes against humanity. You know, I can go—kind of you have to go back in time. I went to Poland with Chairman Meeks, a very bipartisan delegation, and we went to the Ukraine border, and we saw just a flood of refugees coming in. And if you put that reel in sort of black-and-white imagery, it would almost look like something out of 1939. It was absolutely chilling to see what’s happening over there.

And the interesting thing politically is that, you know, we had people on the political spectrum far left, far right, and everybody came back unified that we needed to help them. You know, we need to help this—and you know, I was told in my classified briefings—and I think that’s been declassified—these plans that they had, we knew they were going to invade; we didn’t know the extent of the invasion. But it was pretty clear that they told us about four days—it would take about four days, right? Here we are, it’s about a month and a half, and the will of the Ukrainians in my view is far more superior than the will of the Russians on the ground, the Russian soldiers.

And I think what we’ve seen with the images coming out of Bucha and Mariupol and the devastation are things that we thought we’d never see. I didn’t think I’d see my dad’s war in my lifetime again. My dad was a bombardier, B-17, bombed the Nazis, part of Operation Overlord. And then to see, you know, Russians bombing maternal hospitals and the pregnant woman coming out covered in blood—and sadly, she did not make it, nor did her child—but to see—to bomb a building that had “children” in Russia(n) that—our satellites could see it, it was that big—and yet they purposely went after that. And now we’re getting reporting that there are mobile crematoriums to cover up their evidence, you know, to burn the bodies because there are so many dead.

And the—you know, what we saw, you know, Bucha, the mass graves and the executions and, you know, there were buried, you know, families and their just hands coming out of the ground, and the rapes of the young girls in front of their families, and the mothers in front of their children, and—this is unacceptable behavior. In the world, if there are any neutral nations left, shame on them. We all need to stand up against this.

And Americans, we did today in Congress in a very bipartisan fashion. My bill’s going to be on the floor, actually, tonight, and I anticipate it will pass. This man is a war criminal. He thought he was going to be known as this great emperor getting the civilization, I’m the guy that restored the empire. He’s going to be known as a war criminal and a man that committed all these crimes against humanity.

And people like Zelensky have come out, you know, amazingly inspirational. To see Zelensky lead—you know, he was actually advised to leave the country. Thank God he didn’t do that. He stayed in Kyiv, and the moral clarity, just the moral authority of his voice in what’s happening.

You know, if I had any criticisms I would say we should have armed them sooner. We should have done this before the invasion, not wait till after. We’re trying to catch up to that. And I think these antiaircraft, anti-missile systems like the S-300, it would be great if they were there prior. We got to get them in now.

So Zelensky—you know, I had the deputy secretary of state today and I quoted Zelensky. It was an NPR quote saying, you know, but if I had just had these weapons before we could have saved thousands of lives. You know, and he’s right.

And then you turn to—you look at Chairman Xi meeting with Putin in the Beijing Olympics, talking about the invasion by the way, and Xi’s saying, OK, just wait till after the Olympics are over. They have formed—and this is, you know, very much on our radar—sort of an unholy alliance now. It’s deeply troubling, particularly if you look at Taiwan and the—I was with the ambassador of Taiwan, had breakfast, you know, with her. They’re facing what could be a similar situation. And in my judgment, we need to look at arming them.

In my position on Foreign Affairs, the chairman and I sign off on all foreign military weapons sales. And so there’s a laundry list of about 10 different weapons systems that we signed off on a year or two ago that have yet to get into Taiwan. And I—we can speak about this later, Michael. I have my own theories about what Xi is probably thinking. It may be easier to do more deceptive overthrow through the elections without a shot fired.

But Congress has responded in a very bipartisan way. We talked about the sanctions. You know, we appropriated the dollars and we talked about, you know, the weapons. And that CODEL I told you about to Poland, even though we were all politically diverse we just all came back unified.

Now, a month ago or two the question was: Why do we care about Ukraine? Why is Ukraine important? We don’t have to answer that question anymore. I think the—you know, we all turned on the television and see the horrific images coming out of Ukraine. We cannot allow this to stand.

I had my criticisms about Nord Stream 2. I don’t think those sanctions should have been waived. Congress and I led the effort to sanction Putin’s pipeline into Europe, and I—for, you know, the life of me I don’t know why that’s in our national interest to waive the sanctions. I think they were trying to appease Germany, but that didn’t work out so well. And I think they gave a bad sign to Putin that, you know, we—this invites aggression. You go back to Chamberlain-Hitler. You talk about Churchill and appeasement and, you know, Reagan, peace through strength. I think from Putin’s eyes it was always I want to invade, just when is the right time to do it. And I think he saw certain things from Afghanistan to Nord Stream to New START and thought, you know what, now is the time. And he didn’t just go small; he went big. He went for everything. I think he miscalculated, quite honestly.

The positive—I’m an eternal optimist—are that, you know, NATO’s never been more unified. They were on life support, you know? And I think—I would attribute that primarily to Putin and to Zelensky, but they are unified now. And the U.N. Security Council (sic; General Assembly) resolution, 141 to five, was impressive. You know, that—but it’s the countries that abstained from the votes that worry me. Those are the countries primarily under China’s influence, which we’ll talk about.

We have the Iran deal. We can talk about that.

And then, lastly, Kim Jong-un is always up to mischief, firing off two ICBMs, you know, this month.

So there’s no shortage of hotspots in the world today. And I think, you know, it’s a very timely discussion with CFR. There’s a lot of, you know, sort of ripe discussions that we can have tonight. And Michael and just CFR, thank you so much for having me. (Applause.)

GORDON: OK. So let’s just jump right into it.

You just came from the Hill. You’ve been briefed by the administration on what’s going on in Ukraine based on, I guess, presumably some closed briefings and things in the unclassified space. What have you learned about human rights violations and—in Ukraine on the part of Russian forces? And to what degree do you think these are cases of unruly soldiers, and to what extent is it directed from on high, and—or do we really know?

MCCAUL: I mean, you know, that’s—the purpose of the bill is to collect and gather all the evidence. We do have a lot of satellite imagery that’s helping. We have a lot of documentation. Zelensky wants journalists to come in to document this, take photos, which sadly we have, and we’ve seen the—you know, the images. But this is all part of making the case for an indictment. Now, I don’t know what forum this will take place in, you know, but he’s certainly violated, you know, the Geneva Convention.

And you know, the question always is, is it coming straight from the top? I would—I would argue that when it didn’t happen after four days—you know, he was told by his advisors four or five days, the country was going to fall, and a puppet government would be put in Kyiv. And when that didn’t happen, Michael, I think he got angry, and then he went to a different strategy. And that strategy was to break the will of the Ukrainian people. And how do you do that? You go after civilians and you just—you bomb and kill women and children, and these are the war crimes that he will have to—he will have to be held accountable for.

GORDON: So you mentioned mobile crematorium. What do you actually—what’s actually known about that? To what extent is this established? To what extent is this rumor? But what does the U.S. government know about that?

MCCAUL: Yeah, it’s being—I mean, it’s being reported out of Ukraine by the Ukrainians, seems to have fidelity to it. You know, I’m not going to confirm it officially, but I really kind of believe our sources on that. And the internment camps, the—you know, what we saw in Bucha. And I think, you know, Michael, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg on this. I think, you know, when the ashes settle, the dust settles in Mariupol and we go in and the journalists can maybe go in—but who knows, it may be controlled by the Russians—but we’re going to—we’re going to see a lot more that—just horrific.

What I also worry about are the Wagner Group are on their way. These are vicious killers. They’re mercenaries. I know you’ve written a paper, you know, on this group. They are—I think their saying is: Our business is death, and business is good. And they rape and they kill, and they’re—Putin is unleashing them in Ukraine, probably up to three thousand of them. They’re going to get redeployed from Mali and, you know, Africa and Libya, redeployed into the Ukraine. But it shows you, you know, their own—you know, they’ve lost probably ten thousand Russian soldiers, if not more. They don’t even bring them home to their mothers because they don’t want their mothers to—he doesn’t want to deal with the internal politics of that. And they lie rotting on the battlefield. This is quite amazing, and it surpasses their death rate in Afghanistan and it surpasses our death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan over twenty years.

GORDON: Is the ten thousand—is that a U.S. government estimate or is that the Ukrainians?

MCCAUL: Well, they’re tell—you know, I mean, the propaganda, Russia will tell you 1,300, but that’s not accurate. It’s between, we think, ten (thousand) to fifteen thousand.

GORDON: So you have legislation with Chairman Meeks on war crimes. Let me ask you this policy question: If there’s going to be an end to this conflict at some point, maybe some months in the future or years in the future or hard to say, presumably the Ukrainians—Zelensky, President Zelensky, is going to be negotiating to some extent with President Putin. How do you balance keeping the door open to a negotiation with the head of the Russian Federation and designating him as a potential war criminal?

MCCAUL: That’s an excellent question. I can only answer it the way Zelensky did when he was asked that question. I think it was on Face the Nation. It was that, look, you know, I don’t want to meet with him and he is a war criminal, but I’m president of Ukraine and I owe my people—I owe that to them. I have to—I have to negotiate for my people.

And I—you know, a lot of this is going to end up—you know, we can’t tell him what to do. It’s his country. And it’s a very disturbing one, right? I mean, how do you sit down with a—you know, someone who has killed in this manner so many of your people?

What we’re seeing right now on the military posture frontside also is interesting because, you know, the—you know, the convoy was going to Kyiv. They were going to do the ring of steel, level it, and then go in. Now they’re retreating from Kyiv and what they’re doing is they’re re-fortifying around the Donbas region, the two independent states according to the Duma—they’ve recognized them as independent. Mariupol is part of the Donbas. Mariupol is very important to Putin because it’s the breadbasket port. And that’s face-saving for him to go back to his people and say I got, you know, something out of this. And then a land bridge to Crimea.

So a lot of the issues for negotiation are, are you neutral with respect to NATO? Are you going to demilitarize? Are you going to give a lease on Crimea? Are you going to give any recognition of the two states in the Donbas region? And then what do you do about Mariupol? These are very difficult discussions, particularly in light of the atrocities that we’ve just witnessed this week.

GORDON: So President Zelensky’s made it clear that if—one thing he would like as part of an agreement, if there—if there is one at some point, is security guarantees on the part of a small number of nations, of which the U.S. would be one of them. Do you support giving security guarantees to Ukraine? And what would that mean?

MCCAUL: Well, it would mean—remember, we persuaded them to give up their nuclear weapons and they gave all those weapons to Russia. And then we signed a document that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. This sounds kind of familiar, right? You know, I’m a lawyer, so it didn’t have any enforcement clauses. But we did. We gave them that promise that we would protect them. Just think if they still had those nuclear weapons. They never would have been invaded. Or if they were a NATO country, probably never. And I feel—I think they feel like you know, we turned our backs on them and we didn’t honor that agreement, and now they’re in this situation, you know, that they’re in. So I think we need to do everything we can to help them.

I go back to the weapons issue because this has been the slowest, most painful thing to watch, you know, with the killing going on and the convoys, and it’s taking just so long. I was the 82nd Airborne in Poland, where the—I can’t say where exactly, undisclosed—where the weapons are actually going in. So we do have Stingers and Javelins, but it took after the invasion for the Stingers to go in. I mean, my God.

And you know, these S-300s, that would be their no-fly zone if you will. I agree, we can’t—we can’t put NATO jets against Russians because that will cause an automatic conflict, but we can give him the tools and the weapons systems so that he can create his own no-fly zone.

And you know, when the president went to NATO just, what, last week, what deliverables did we have come out of that? I would have thought they would have had this Slovakia agreement already done, and we’ll give you our Patriot batteries so you can protect yourself but give your S-300s to Ukraine. S-300s are Russian and the Ukrainians really only know how to operate Russian equipment.

GORDON: Well, I want to ask you about the weapons. But just to return to the security guarantee issue, do you think that that’s something that the Congress would actually support, particularly if it was defined in a way that entailed some sort of obligation on the part of the United States to defend Ukraine, which I guess is what a security guarantee mean(s)? I mean, just in recent days there was a vote in the Congress on whether to endorse NATO and some portion of, you know, your Republican comrades didn’t vote for it. So is this—is this an issue that you think Congress would support at this time, I mean, or is it something you’re still turning over in your own mind?

MCCAUL: Well, I think Zelensky’s very smart. What he’s asking for would be security—no, I’m not part of NATO, so Article 5 doesn’t apply. However, I want the security guarantees that almost would be tantamount to that.

But to answer your question, yes. I mean, I think there is broad bipartisan support, particularly in light of these human atrocities, that a treaty—that it would.

Look, we have wings on both sides of the party that are perhaps more isolationist. There are critics of NATO. I will say—and I talk to the ambassadors a lot. They are standing up to the plate now. They are telling me, look, we’ve relied on the United States too much for our security in our own backyard, and that’s, you know, not all the responsibility of the United States of America. We need to—they kind of understand this now.

And that’s—the only—see a positive outcome of all this, they understand. That’s why Germany has ramped up their GDP spending to 2 percent and maybe beyond on military. They’re talking about buying, you know, more military equipment. And they are stepping up to the plate because they know at the end of the day it’s their backyard, not ours.

GORDON: So let me ask you on the weapons. I mean, up till now this administration—actually, the previous administration as well—gave what was sort of called defensive weapons, which is pretty much defined as battlefield systems, short range, didn’t have the capability to touch Russian territory, and that’s by and large what’s been provided so far. If it was up to you, what weapons would you see delivered to Ukraine, either from American weapons or from East European stocks? And where would you draw the line? Would you give them the capability surface-to-surface missiles that could strike Russia? Would you stop short of that? What would you give them that they don’t have now and what wouldn’t you give them?

MCCAUL: Well, I’ll start with what I wouldn’t give them. I wouldn’t give them our Patriot battery system because it’s highly sensitive in terms of national security and you can’t give them something that you know may fall in the hands of the Russians. So we wouldn’t want the Russians to get that kind of capability or technology we have. The Stingers, the problem with those, we had to take a sensitive chip out so that it would be OK if the Russians captured that. But beyond that, I would give them everything.

I think the most effective weapons we can be sending in right now—I mean, we got Stingers and Javelins, but these lethal drones. And we have, you know, the ones out of Turkey that I can’t really talk a whole lot about. I’ve been working with a lot of our ambassadors, our NATO allies to get more of these weapons in. And then, of course, you see the Switchblade drones, and those can be very effective. There’s the 300 and then the 600. The 600 has a great more firepower to it. Those you have to train them, so there’s a training component because they’re not—again, they’re not Russian. The S-300, they’re like our Patriot battery. If the Russians captured that it wouldn’t compromise our national security, but they’re very effective as well.

You know, when you—when you’re looking at Mariupol being leveled to the ground, if they had had the S-300s in they could have knocked these missiles out of the sky and aircraft. And it’s more artillery—I mean, it’s missiles being shot in, not so much planes, but those are coming. That’s what I would give them, and I’d give it to—I would have given it to them last November. The president sat on a weapons package last November and I urged them to get these weapons in. You know, we knew the battle plans in the classified space. We knew this was going to happen. And they waited till after the invasion, and then Secretary Austin says—you know, secretary of defense—well, it’s a lot more difficult now that the Russians are in there. Well, of course.

GORDON: Actually, I had to dig into this. They did consider it in November but President Biden signed out another arms package. It was December 27th, but it was the case that Stingers from U.S. stocks didn’t arrive till after the invasion.


GORDON: One last big question, then we’ll open it up. But what are the implications of this episode for Taiwan? I mean, I presume the Chinese are thinking, well, if they ever contemplated military action, they better get the logistics right since the Russian exercise just seems to be a case study in how not to do it. But the West has been—certainly, condemned the action and provided arms. On the other hand, the United States and its allies have made it clear that if you’re not a member of the NATO alliance we’re not going to fight for you directly; you have to do it all yourself. So what are the implications, do you think, for Taiwan?

MCCAUL: Well, I—and I call him Chairman Xi. He is studying this very closely, and he’s made his decision to align himself with Putin. And we’re trying to figure out right now to what extent he’s helping Putin. He, obviously, had advance warning about this. And he’s—just like Putin has always wanted Ukraine, Chairman Xi has always wanted Taiwan. And he—just like Putin considers Ukraine part of imperial Russia, Xi considers Taiwan as imperial China.

The weaponry is very disproportionate here. China would be in a very different position. I think they could go in and it would be a matter of days. And so that’s why I think it’s important that we help Taiwan. In fact, I had breakfast this morning with the Taiwanese ambassador. And I asked the deputy secretary of state today, Wendy Sherman, you know, I have a list of about fifteen weapons systems that the chairman and I have signed off to go into Taiwan, signed a year and some of them two years ago, that have still not gone into Taiwan. To me, that’s deterrence. And these are asymmetric weapon warfare systems that they really need.

But they’re—he’s very clever. And our—the difference between China and Iran is the supply chains. We’re so intertwined with China, well, it makes it more difficult when it comes to sanctions, not to mention the fact that they have their own digital yuan and cryptocurrency that they’re forming, too, where they could potentially get off the SWIFT, you know, and have a currency that could evade sanctions. So I think—I think that poses a whole ‘nother set of problems.

But I think our Pacific Command has to have more of a presence. I think the weapons—if I could indulge, 1997—I’ll make this short—I prosecuted this guy, Johnny Chung. Led us to the director of Chinese intelligence, and China Aerospace put money in his Hong Kong bank account to influence the presidential election. At that point, it was Clinton. And because of the—you know, the aerospace, they have always looked at influencing elections.

I think the smart play—not to give them any advice here—(laughs)—they’re very deceptive. They know how to infiltrate. They’re very good at disinformation. And President Tsai is up in two years and she’s term-limited. You know, another calculation here, especially when he looks at how maybe Putin miscalculated in Ukraine, is going the route of deception and the route of trying to, like in Hong Kong, take over Taiwan through an election without one shot fired.


At this point we’re going to open it up for questions from the members. And just a reminder—I don’t think you need it—but we’re on the record here. That includes the speaker and the people who ask the questions. And we’re going to take our first question from Washington and then they’ll have a process where we do Washington and then hybrid. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Congressman, good to see you again.

MCCAUL: You too.

Q: Mark Vlasic. As you know, I teach at Georgetown.

I’m a TV producer in Hollywood, but twenty years ago I was a new Army lieutenant working in The Hague as the youngest prosecutor at the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal. I worked on the Milosevic case and the Srebrenica genocide case, which as you recall was the slaughter of eight thousand Muslim men and boys in Bosnia by the Bosnian Serbs. The key aspect—a key aspect of the evidence was aerial imagery that demonstrated the mass graves of these murdered men and boys, and it strikes me—the first thing I thought of when I heard about the crematoriums you mentioned today is the fact that war criminals have learned from past atrocities, that the fact that Putin may actually be thinking through destroying the evidence of these dead bodies so future prosecutors and investigators can’t dig this evidence up, literally. I’d love for you to explain a bit more about the legislation you have before the floor and how you think it’ll make a difference. Thank you.

MCCAUL: Well, in the—in the bill we lay the case just all the atrocities that have already been committed that, by definition, violates the Geneva Convention and they’re war crimes; and to urge—you know, basically mandate the administration work with Ukraine to acquire all the—you know, and I was a federal prosecutor for many years. And that’s done—and that’s why I think Zelensky wants all the journalists in there. I mean, the journalists are doing a heroic job here. They’re really putting themselves in harm’s way documenting—you know, the photographs that we’re getting. We are getting a lot of satellite imagery that they can’t deny. And quite honestly, they’re sloppy.

I don’t think—you know, I mean, and these mobile crematoriums, I mean, that kind of takes me back to another time, but that’s, I think, their effort to try to cover it up. But by and large, you know, these—you know, you mentioned the generals. But they’re nineteen-year-old conscripts. They’ve been lied to. They thought they were going to go on a rotation and exercise. Then they were told they were liberating Ukraine from the Nazis, which was a lie. And then they don’t—they have no idea why they’re there. And that’s why I’m worried about the Wagner Group, because they’re more cold-blooded killers.

But if I could take a moment of just personal, I mean, you know, Mark and I were at this amazing Fulbright Award with Bono. And you know, I’ve met with him over, you know, my career, and it’s just—to have a guy speak with such moral clarity and to hear him talk about what is happening in Ukraine, you know, as he accepted that award and we were at that reception with him, was really, really, awesome.

GORDON: OK. We have a virtual question.

OPERATOR: We will take a virtual question from James Gilmore.

Q: Congressman, thank you very much. I think we’re acquainted, and I appreciate very much what you’re doing and the Council on Foreign Relations for having you here today.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Jim.

Q: My question is a Taiwan question. I have been assuming at least for the immediate future that the Chinese can’t get across the Taiwan ocean there, 110 miles, in the face of the American, Japanese, and Australian navy. Is that a misplaced assurance? What do you think about that? Thank you.

MCCAUL: Yeah. I mean, if—when and if—when our Navy’s there. They have invaded Taiwanese airspace. They are—they are—they have a presence in the Taiwan Straits in a very intimidating fashion. And, Governor, I mean, this takes me back to, you know, the point I was trying to make, is that that’s why we need, like, you know, sea mines. They need this asymmetric. They need the Harpoons or the antiship weapons that we could—they’re on that laundry list I talked about, but they can’t—we can’t get it to them. It’s very, very frustrating. And there are things that we could be doing for them, you know, right now to provide that kind of deterrence so when Xi’s making that decision, does he really want that kind of conflict?

Now, the Quad—you know, that being Japan, Australia, India, and the United States—has provided some deterrence. I’ve been, quite honestly, disappointed in India’s position on the U.N. Council resolution because they have so much Russian military equipment. But you know, I think there are things—you know, the AUKUS Caucus, the nuclear submarines, but those won’t be built for probably four, five years. But there are a lot of other things that we can be putting in there.

And I think the more—if China thinks that or Xi thinks that he’s going to have the same resistance that Putin has had worldwide, you know, with respect to Ukraine—if he thinks that’s going to happen with Taiwan—that could potentially change his calculus. And Australia’s very worried about this. You know, I talk to them a lot. And Japan for that matter. I think, you know, Japan should—we should urge them to change their constitution so they can—they can build their own military. I think the more China sees that kind of deterrence, the more likely they’ll back down. They’re not—I mean, they’re always into a long, deceptive campaign. They’re never one to rush into things, necessarily.

GORDON: Over there and then we’ll go over there.

Q: Thank you. Chris Isham. Good to see you again.

Quick follow up on—partly on what Michael was asking you before. President Zelensky’s been very critical of NATO and the West for not providing him with the weapons he’s asked for, some of which you mentioned. There are others that he’s asked for, such as tanks, aircraft. But he’s also been very critical for the sanctions not being tougher. And the fact is, the ruble has recovered its value. It dropped early. Now it’s back up again. By all accounts, life goes on fairly normally in Moscow. There has been—inflation is up. But do you think we could be doing more on the sanctions front?

MCCAUL: Yeah, a hundred percent. You know, I was one of those guys that wanted the sanctions prior to the invasion and say, look, we’ll lift the sanctions if you agree not to do this. Because remember, we knew. We saw the battle plans in the classified space. This was not a surprise. Now, Zelensky didn’t imagine his own—I mean, they’re all related, right? I mean, they didn’t think that they would actually have relatives—you know. But the sanctions, the secondary sanctions first of all, that would impact not just, you know, we sanction the central bank, but then any country doing business, you know, with Russia to alleviate—you know, particularly, perhaps, China. Secondary sanctions would be very effective.

I think mostly what I—what I’ve been talking about are the carveout exceptions for energy. What is Putin’s lifeblood? Energy, right? That’s why he wants Nord Stream 2. He wants a pipeline into Europe that goes around Ukraine. And remember, Poland—I mean, the Eastern Europeans did not like Nord Stream 2. I think the Germany’s the only country that liked it. And you know, this carveout exception still keeps his lifeblood. And that’s Europe. That’s the EU. They’re still—that’s why it was such a bad energy strategy to allow for Europe to be dependent on Russian energy.

And I would talk to the ambassador from Germany: Why do you want to be dependent on Russian energy? Well, we want a better trade relationship. And I—but you’re going to be wholly dependent and they can turn it off. I don’t quite understand this.

And if I could expand on the energy issue, there’s a reason why he wants Mariupol, Crimea, and he wants Odesa. He wants to control the Black Sea. It cuts—it cuts Ukraine off and they can’t—they can’t export their wheat, their products. They also—he also controls the Black Sea, so he controls the energy. And with the pipeline that he was getting ready to cut that deal with, look over at Syria, you know? The warm-water port, why did he want that? Because he wants to build a pipeline from Iran into the Mediterranean for oil for Europe. And then you have the Wagner in Libya. Why is that important? Because a vast energy supply.

GORDON: Let’s go over there.

Q: Hello. Jim—(comes on mic)—hello. Jim Freis with Market Integrity Solutions Consulting.

Congressman, I’d like to ask you about something that you’ve not spoken about tonight but that’s been dear to your heart for years, and that’s the issue of cybersecurity. Much of what we’ve talked about from the Russian side, the offense, is not modern technology. You talked about using some of our more modern technology for the defensive side. But we do know that Russia has offensive technology in the cybersecurity area. You have also been a proponent and a supporter for many years with Homeland Security, with DHS, with CISA, therein about building up some of our cybersecurity defenses. You know, that was part of the appropriations bill a couple weeks ago signed into law. That will also, in stages, give more authority in that area. Can you speak a little bit to what you see in terms of the threats but also our focus and our priorities in the defenses there, too?

MCCAUL: Now, thanks for that question. So, you know, I was involved in cyber before cyber was cool. (Laughs.) That was, you know, like eighteen years ago, and Jim Langevin and I formed the caucus. But at that time we had to figure out what’s the role of the federal government, so we had this bubble chart thing. And it was, you know, FBI investigates, NSA/DOD offensive time of war stands up. But who’s going to fulfill that information-sharing piece with the private sector to protect it? Some wanted it to go to NSA, the defense-industrial base. DOD? We thought a civilian agency. And you know, Snowden came around, you know? We didn’t think that NSA may be the best place for that home.

And then that’s when we stood up CISA. And I authorized it into law, worked very closely with Jeh Johnson, you know, secretary under Obama. And you know, the argument then was the capabilities. Well, we’ve built—we have built the capabilities up since then. You know, they did have a lot of space to grow.

You know, Colonial Pipeline hit, that was a Russian attack, destructive. You know, the debate’s always been, you know, at what point is it an act of cyber warfare, espionage? None of these terms are well-defined.

Now, we’ve defined the role of our government in cyber. What is still left is on the international side of things. We don’t have any international norms and standards or treaties. We don’t have any, you know, with NATO or Five Eyes or the international community. What are the norms in terms of cyber, you know, behavior? And so my Cyber Diplomacy Act, we passed that out of the House. Schumer has told us he’s going to pass it out of the Senate. And the State Department is standing up a cyber sort of diplomacy role where you have an ambassador at large that can, you know, go abroad to talk about these issues.

And I think with NATO being as unified as it is, it’s really a ripe time to have that discussion with them about, you know, does Article 5 apply? And that’s a tricky—so what if Poland got hit by a major cyberattack by Russia? Or say they hit some of our assets there, but they hit Russia in a very destructive that—something that you could argue was an act of warfare. The question is, would that trigger Article 5? I don’t see how it’s any different from dropping a bomb if it’s destructive on a critical infrastructure, and that’s how I would, you know, define that. So they’d have to be looking at critical infrastructure, very destructive type of attack that Russia’s very capable.

Now, the interesting thing about Russia is the bark’s been bigger than the bite here. We thought they were going to really go in and just completely wipe out—usually, when you go in the battle plan is you go in cyber and you just wipe out all the infrastructure, shut down the power grids, and then your forces go in. And for some reason, we didn’t really see that happening on a large scale. There have been some allegations that China did some of that and we’re, obviously, investigating that.

But that’s an excellent question. And I think we have to start addressing this, you know—you know, as it pertains to, I think, most importantly NATO, you know, and in our Article 5 responsibilities.

GORDON: OK. Virtual question?

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Stanley Lubman.


Mr. Lubman, please accept the unmute.


We’re having technical difficulties. Mr. Gordon, back to you.

GORDON: OK. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Good afternoon, sir. My name is Bassima Alghussein, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council.

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on how this dynamic between the Ukraine, Russia, and them giving up their nuclear weapons at the United States’ encouragement interplays with the current Iran deal—I know that you met recently with Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, who was, obviously, a huge proponent in the first Iran deal—and the message that this sends to Iran: essentially, if you denuclearize or if you don’t obtain a nuclear weapon, are you essentially just a sitting duck and it doesn’t matter what Russia or the United States say.

MCCAUL: And again, you’re right. I think it sends the exact wrong message to Iran and the ayatollah.

I personally think their intent’s clear, they want to be a nuclear power. But they’re also—their economy, the sanctions have crippled them and they’re very interested in getting those lifted. And you know, this is a very difficult negotiation. I don’t envy the negotiators. They have a very—and I meet with them in a classified setting, and it’s not an easy—how do you—how do you persuade—the fact their enrichment capabilities, their capabilities have moved forward a lot, but the sunsets would be the same. So you basically would be going back to the 2015 deal with the same sunsets, which will start expiring next year and then most of them within two years. That almost guarantees a nuclear Iran.

And there’s no easy answer here, but I think they need to understand that a nuclear Iran is not acceptable. You know, I’ve talked to our—General McKenzie at CENTCOM. We have our plans, but prefer not to execute those. But I think they need to understand that.

The other thing that’s being negotiated is lifting the foreign terrorist designation off the IRGC, which is their terror arm. You know, it’s Soleimani’s organization. This would be a—obviously, my side of the aisle’s not going to be crazy about this. But I have to say a lot of Democrats are very concerned about this, and particularly if you have that poison pill in there that will lift the designation off the IR—you know—GC.

I worry about, since you cover the Middle East, the repercussions. And we look at the proxy wars of Iran in Lebanon and in—you know, in Gaza with Hamas, and you got Yemen. And if they break through, what does—what’s going to happen? What’s Saudi going to do? They’re probably going to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan. And then you’re going to have this, like, Middle East—you know, basically a nuclear race in the Middle East. I can’t think of anything that sounds more dangerous, you know, than that.

So, again, not an easy—not an easy thing to negotiate with them. But again, I always think you ought to negotiate out of strength and not out of weakness. And when I talk to our analysts, they feel that, like, after Afghanistan, they feel—they feel more emboldened and more empowered. And I would also say the same with Kim Jong-un and Putin and Chairman Xi.

And the fact that Russia is kind of in the middle of this thing, you know, sort of playing a—I don’t know, involved in the negotiations, I don’t see how they have our best interest at heart when you look at everything that’s going on with Ukraine. And now they’re sort of like a shuttle diplomacy player in this whole deal.

I was in Israel with Leader McCarthy and we met with the prime minister, Bennett, and we met with of course Netanyahu. You can only imagine what his view was on this. (Laughs.) And he says, you know, it’s very simple: Iran is bad, Israel’s good. You know, that’s his very simple view. And then the speaker of the Knesset. The whole Knesset is—they’re very much against this.

GORDON: OK. We have a virtual question.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Hani Findakly.

Q: Thank you very much and thank you, Congressman.

I just wanted to get your sense and your vision of how this conflict ends. Is our objective or your objective to defeat Russia, to liberate the Ukraine? Or is it also the discourage China from doing in Taiwan what the Russians did in the Ukraine?

MCCAUL: No, thanks, Hani. It’s a great question.

I would—it would be—I mean, who would have thought that the Ukrainians would even have a chance here? I mean, nobody even dreamed this. And Zelensky has been, you know, the Churchill of our day, inspiring his nation to stand up and fight, and they’re very resilient and they’ve paid a high price. The idea that they could even turn the tide and defeat what we thought was such a, you know, powerful country, and I think we grossly overestimated the strength of, you know, the Russian military and underestimated the resilience of the Ukrainian people. And so I want to give them everything they can to win this.

But you know, when I was at the 82nd Airborne, they said the goal was to—if there is a strategy, and it may be hard to find one if you ask them what is the strategy, but wear down the Russians to negotiate a political settlement. But the more we see these war crime atrocities coming out, it’s hard to negotiate to that end.

And your second part question, yeah, we want to—we want this to look so painful for Putin through sanctions and the weapons so that when Chairman Xi’s looking at Taiwan he’s going to think really, you know, long and hard about this, and know that it’s not going to be easy, that it’s going to come at a high price. And that would be the deterrent factor that would potentially stop that kind of misbehavior in the South Pacific.

And I—you know, the parallels to, you know, World War II—my dad was a veteran—are kind of astonishing. I mean, we’re—you know, here we are with the largest invasion in Europe and then we’re dealing with the South Pacific. Different players, but two dictators who want back their empires.


Q: Dov Zakheim, CSIS.

Congressman, you—Chairman, I should say, or Ranking Member I guess now.

MCCAUL: (Laughs.) Not quite. Used to be.

Q: I guess in November—(inaudible). Freudian slip on my part, but I’m sure you don’t mind it.

MCCAUL: (Laughs.)

Q: You talked about S-300s going to Ukraine. What about MiG-29s?

MCCAUL: Well, I was in Poland when they were discussing. You know, the plan was Ukrainian pilots were going to go into Poland and fly the MiGs into Ukraine. It seemed like a pretty simple proposition. But the Poles wanted something in return. They wanted force protection, and I don’t blame them for that. They’re a NATO ally. We should be helping them. We moved ten thousand troops from Germany into Poland. They want more troops, and I think they’ve earned it. And they’ve been very generous, by the way, with all these refugees. And my God, if any NATO ally’s earned our support, I didn’t think sending two F-16s in was going to be that difficult.

And it’s an interesting—you know, and we met with Secretary Blinken, you know, in Poland during all this. I have to say I—he was supportive. He was supportive of this. It got bogged down. And I—you know, you got to be careful. I don’t know if it was Jake Sullivan or, you know, all of a sudden the DOD is pulling back on this whole operation and maybe it’s too provocative. I think Putin’s been pretty provocative, I mean, especially now. We should throw everything in. And that’s when they—you know, Germany or Poland changed their plans to say, oh, OK, we’ll send them to Germany, and then that made a very dangerous proposition for them to fly from Germany all the way, you know, into Ukraine.

Now, the utility’s symbolically it would be very strong for Zelensky because that’s what he wanted. I think morale-wise for the country, for Ukraine, it would have been amazing.

I’ve talked to a lot of military experts. They have their own MiGs. These MiGs, when you look at the Russian air defense, they wouldn’t survive. They would get shot down. So if they wanted to take, say, the convoy out in Belarus, they probably would have got shot. There’s a convoy, by the way, in Crimea right now, and we’ve seen the satellite imagery, all these trucks that are going to come up. Again, they would probably get shot down there as well. That’s why these lethal drones are actually quite effective, because they can evade detection and they’re very lethal. And they’re unmanned, so you don’t have human casualty in the process.

That’s why I always argued his no-fly zone, if he had a combination, you know, or lethal—the lethal drones, not only the ones Turkey’s supplying, the ones that we are, but in combination, you know, with the S-300s, which would be the antiaircraft/anti-missile system, that’s what he needs right now. And it’s taken so long, and it’s brutal for me just knowing what I know to watch the images on television or the—you know, the videos people send me and the pictures knowing that maybe, as Zelensky said, could have saved thousands if not, you know, tens of thousands, hundred thousands of lives if we could get them in sooner. And that’s my criticism, is they just seem to be dragging their feet on this.

GORDON: Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Elliot Abrams. Good to see you.

You noted that troops have been moved east from Germany into Poland. I guess my question is, what are they doing in Germany? World War II was a long time ago. Shouldn’t we actually station those troops further east, even if it makes Putin angry?

MCCAUL: Right. I mean, so what is the point of NATO? It was to protect against the Soviet Union. And it seems to me—and you know the utility of the base we have in Germany from a—you know, being able to fly in and out of there. Of course, you know, when we had our wars in the Middle East, it was—you know, that was at Ramstein, and sent many troops there in Landstuhl hospital. But, yeah, I mean, far more effective and valuable if we put them on the eastern flank, you know, of Europe and the eastern NATO countries.

You know, that’s where we ought to be repositioning all of this to send to Putin, you know, who’s been the aggressor here—he’s been the provocative one—you know, everything we can in terms of troops and planes and battery systems, Patriots, to that eastern NATO flank. It changes the dynamic completely, and it’s very intimidating to Putin. You know, and that’s always been his paranoia—always been his paranoia.

I think us, by labeling him now as a war criminal, is getting into his psyche. That’s not how he wants to be remembered. He wants to be known as a liberator and the leader, almost like a czar who reclaimed the glory of the old maybe Soviet or Russian, you know, empire. But he’s turning into more of a Stalin, who killed, you know, millions of Ukrainians.

GORDON: I think we’ve got time for one last question if anybody has one. Go ahead, please.

Q: Nice to see you again. I’m Celina Realuyo at the National Defense University at the Latin America Center.

So we have a brewing kind of migration crisis on our southern border, which you used to cover in Homeland. As you know, Title 42 is going to be probably lifted at the end of May. I’ve just come from Panama, Guatemala, and Colombia, where we’re seeing a lot of third-country nationals that we call the extracontinentales, or the formerly known as special-interest aliens. And the flow of fentanyl, I just testified before the Senate on we’re at 136 Americans dying per day for fentanyl overdose. How is the Hill, and particularly in your capacity—we’re having a lot of problems with Mexico, as you know—what measures can the Hill take in order to stem the flow of what’s about to come across our southern border in terms of drugs and migrants?

MCCAUL: Well, I—you know, I was a federal prosecutor down there, chairman of Homeland, tried to fix this thing. (Laughs.) It’s never easy. I thought the prior administration with the Migrant Protection Protocols and Remain in Mexico creatively dealt with the asylum cases. So only—you know, 85 percent of the asylum claims are not legitimate. They’re not. Like, the Ukrainians are clearly running for political asylum. As you know, in Latin America it’s more economic. So I thought we had actually got some of this under control, and I think only because it had the former president’s name on it that he rescinds it on the first day, probably not realizing what that was going to entail. We’ve had almost 3 million people come in now.

With the Title 42 being waived, that means we’ll probably have five hundred thousand in the next five weeks coming in. And how do we absorb this as a nation? And that’s the problem. I mean, how do you, you know, absorb this problem? And it’s beyond—you know, and I go down there and you see these young girls being trafficked by the cartels, exploited. They’re getting taken—this is a big human trafficking operation now in the United States. The males go into MS-13. They don’t have any legal legitimacy here, so what are they going to do? And this is—it’s a crisis.

But the fentanyl is perhaps the worst. We’ve apprehended enough fentanyls in the last year to kill the American population seven times over. You know, and it’s a young generation, like my children. You know, my twenty-five-year-old’s been to four funerals already from her high school friends that took what they thought was a Xanax and then they just didn’t wake up. This is becoming more and more of an issue, and I think people need to wake up to this.

And you know, we’re talking about appropriating billions of dollars for more COVID—a COVID aid package in the United States, but we’re lifting Title 42 allowing COVID—potentially COVID-infected people who we know nothing about to come into this country. I don’t think that’s a very good policy. Not to mention, you know, the prior criminal records to terrorist watch lists. And I try not to overexaggerate that one, the last one, but that’s always a threat in my judgment, is that—the national security risk that that poses. And I don’t—I mean, they’re just—you know, we talked about all of tonight there’s so many hotspots right now it’s sometimes hard for the American people to focus on that—on this crisis, you know, on the southern border, particularly in my state.

GORDON: So we hit the magic 6:00 hour, and so thank you for joining the hybrid meeting and thank you to Representative McCaul.

MCCAUL: Please, Michael.

GORDON: And he’s not chairman yet, but we’ll stay tuned—(laughter)—and see how trends develop. And the video and the transcript of the—of this meeting is going to be posted on the CFR website for—if you want to consult that in the future. And thank you again. I think we covered a lot of ground in a short period of time and it was helpful, and we’re going to keep an eye on that war-crimes legislation and—

MCCAUL: Thank you.

GORDON: —how it’s implemented and what its consequences are.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Michael. Thanks for having me.

GORDON: Thank you.

MCCAUL: Appreciate it. (Applause.)


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