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Honorable Richard Burr Honorable Mark Warner

Chairman Vice Chairman


US Senate Select Committee on US Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence Intelligence
211 Hart Senate Office Building 211 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: First Amendment Concerns Posed By Committee's Inquiry into Dr. Jill Stein

Dear Chairman Burr, Vice Chairman Warner:

Defending Rights & Dissent is a national civil liberties organization working to ensure that the
promise of the Bill of Rights is fulfilled for everyone. We put special emphasis on defending the
right to political expression. We are deeply concerned about this committee's investigation of
political activist and former Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein.

We are aware that thus far the committee’s demands for information from Dr. Stein are
voluntary and that Dr. Stein, in the interest of transparency has elected to comply. Dr. Stein has
even indicated that she would be willing to testify in person before the committee. We respect
Dr. Stein’s choices and her commitment to transparency. However, even though not compulsory
in nature, we believe this committee’s decision to look into the activities of Dr. Stein is chilling.

While it is legitimate to be concerned about foreign interference in a US election, the tenor of


discussions concerning this interference has increasingly moved into the direction of chilling
dissent. Policy positions on NATO or lethal aid to Ukraine have been cited as evidence of
collusion. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report on election
interference included an annex titled “Russia--Kremlin TV Seeks To Influence Politics, Fuel
Discontent in the US,” which focused on RT giving airtime to views critical of surveillance, Wall
Street greed, or fracking. Echoes of this were heard in concern about Russian funded social
media ads that promoted causes like activism against police racism and violence. The
implications in both cases is that Russia seeks to undermine the US by promoting discontent
and that dissent does just that. Thus, by raising their voices in political opposition individuals are
not participating in our democratic process, but enabling Russia. This logic becomes further
disturbing given that former intelligence operatives are stating that political activists, journalists,
and civil society groups can be unwitting Russian agents.1

The threat to dissent in the current environment is twofold. First, anyone who holds views
deemed heterodox on US-Russian relations are tarred with the brush of serving the Kremlin.
Second, the narrative that Russia is trying to divide us by fostering political differences
transforms political speech purely on domestic issue into actions advancing Russian interest at
the expense of US interests.

The tone of public discussions about Dr. Stein are no different. While it is true she attended a
gala where Russian President Vladimir Putin was present, public conjecture about her
involvement with Russia oftentimes treats her political views themselves as evidence of
wrongdoing. Comments made by Dr. Stein or her 2016 running mate Ajamu Baraka about
subjects like foreign policy, surveillance, or the role of whistleblowers in promoting transparency
have been cited by detractors as being favorable to Russia or “Kremlin talking points.”2 The
inference and innuendo is clear, if one is speaking in pro-Kremlin talking points, than one is
suspect of actively working on their behalf.

Coupled with the notion that merely holding certain views renders one an unknowing servant of
a foreign power, this dynamic is incredically corrosive to democracy. Americans need to feel
free to criticize their government’s foreign policy or oppose surveillance. Labelling such views as
being automatically in service to a hostile foreign power is to foreclose entire avenues of
discussion and debate on subjects, such as foreign policy, where democracy demands robust
discussion.

While we recognize that the committee is not responsible for the statements of third parties, it is
impossible to separate this committee’s action from the context in which they are occurring.
Given that the exact contours of the committee’s investigation are unclear, and they come on
the heels of calls for this committee to investigate Dr. Stein for her views this inquiry is--rightly or
wrongly--being perceived as an affirmation of them. The problem with this is not just that those
clamoring for an inquisition feel emboldened, but many Americans will fear that if they freely
speak their minds they will be subjected to government scrutiny.

Some committee members have made comments that only bolster these concerns. For
example, Senator Warner observation that Ms. Stein “has very complementary things to say

1
James W. Carden, “Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent,” ​The Nation ​(Dec. 28,
2017). Available at
https://www.thenation.com/article/russiagate-is-devolving-into-an-effort-to-stigmatize-dissent/
2
Others who hold Dr. Stein responsible for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s loss insinuate the very act of
running for office is itself part of a conspiracy.
about Julian Assange, who certainly was being used by the Russians…”3 This remark is
dangerous because it treats praising Assange as a legitimate cause for for investigation.

Finally, based on the public record it seems likely your inquiry will focus on Dr. Stein’s
attendance at a gala and conference celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Russian-funded
news network RT. We are aware that during this gala Dr. Stein was photographed at a table
with both President Vladimir Putin and Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been of interest in his own
right in investigations into alleged Russian involvement in the US election.

This is not a photograph of a clandestine affair. Dr. Stein was attending a gala celebrating the
tenth anniversary of the Russian-funded news network RT. Her invitation to the gala was public
knowledge in advance and Dr. Stein has repeatedly spoken publicly about her attendance at
this event. If anything it is the public nature of the event and Dr. Stein’s forthrightness about it
that has allowed for it to be an issue of controversy.

At the time of Dr. Stein’s visit to Russia, there were no restrictions placed by the US government
on US persons’ freedom to travel there and Dr. Stein’s visit was not in contravention of any US
laws. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has recognized that the First Amendment includes a
right for US persons to receive information from foreign persons and that the right to travel has
important First Amendment implications.4 Dr. Stein was attending a gala and conference
attended by journalists and political activists from around the world (including other US
persons). Such actions illustrate the connection between the First Amendment, the right to
receive information, and freedom of movement.

Defending Rights & Dissent trace our origins as an organization back to the National Committee
to Abolish the House Un-Americans Activity. As an organization that traces its founding to the
movement to abolish HUAC, we are particularly aware of what happens when any body of the
government is authorized to investigate the political views of ordinary individuals who have
dared to utter political heresies. We are also aware that the victims of the HUAC-era include not
just those who were called to testify before the committee or found themselves blacklisted.
Amongst HUAC’s victims are those who dared not speak their conscience for fear of
government reprisal. If any good can come from this shameful epoch in our nation’s history it will
be that we learned that such actions are corrosive to the democratic liberties embodied in our
BIll of Rights. As an organization whose founder, Frank Wilkinson, was called before HUAC we
have a special obligation to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself.

3
Nicholas Fandos, “Senate Investigators Scrutinize Another Presidential Candidate: Jill Stein,” ​New York
Times​. (Dec. 19, 2017). Available at
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/19/us/politics/jill-stein-russian-election-interference-senate-intelligence.
html
4
​See ​Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 766 (1972); Aptheker v. Sec'y of State, 378 U.S. 500, 517
(1964).
The public atmosphere around this committee’s inquiry into Dr. Stein has shades of the HUAC
era. Individuals are tarred with the brush that, because of their views, they must be enemy
agents. While we take no position on issues beyond the scope of the civil liberties, we recognize
that democracy requires dissent, including dissent on issues of foreign policy. If all dissenting
views on such a vital matter of importance are chilled into silence, our democracy as a whole
shall suffer.

Sincerely,

Chip Gibbons
Legislative & Policy Counsel

CC: Honorable Members of US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence