Trumps Fails To Implement Sanctions Against Russia Passed By Congress
Despite the fact that Congress voted rather overwhelmingly in favor of imposing additional sanctions against Russia related to that nation’s apparent effort to interfere in the 2016 election, President Trump declined to impose any new sanctions, raising more eyebrows about the manner in which he acted toward Russia both as a candidate and since becoming President:
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Monday that it had decided against imposing any sanctions on countries that buy Russian military equipment, saying that a new law was already deterring billions of dollars in such purchases.
The law required that sanctions be imposed against large purchasers of Russian arms, but it granted exceptions for a variety of reasons. The administration explained the exceptions it was citing to members of Congress in a classified briefing on Monday.
“We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions” since the enactment of the law in August, said Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman.
Defense deals are often years in the making, so last year’s law, called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, is only just beginning to have an effect, an administration official said.
Congress overwhelmingly passed the law in response to intelligence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. But the legislation presented the Trump administration, which opposed its passage, with a conundrum because crucial American allies and partners, such as India, Turkey and some Eastern European members of NATO, continue to buy military equipment from Russia.
The administration’s rejection of sanctions on Monday disappointed critics, who worried about continued Russian influence.
Peter Harrell, a former sanctions official in the Obama administration, said that it was “clearly disappointing” that the Trump administration refused to impose sanctions “on the same day that C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo said that Russia will target the 2018 midterm elections.”
“If they want these sanctions to truly have a strong deterrent effect,” Mr. Harrell said, “they needed to release a stronger statement today, and they needed a few scapegoats to sanction to send a message that the administration is serious about enforcement.”
This announcement came on the same day that Mike Pompeo, Trump’s own Director of the Central Intelligence Committee, said that he fully expects that Russia will attempt to interfere in the midterm elections this year:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he fully expects Russia to seek to interfere with the 2018 midterm elections, as it did in 2016.
“I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that,” Pompeo said when asked during an interview with the BBC on Monday whether he anticipates a Russian influence campaign later this year.
Pompeo and other intelligence officials have acknowledged attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, despite rebuttals from the White House. President Donald Trump has called reports of attempts by Russia to interfere with the campaign “fake news” and the federal and congressional probes into potential ties to the Trump campaign a “witch hunt.”
Pressed on whether Trump’s stance on Russian meddling efforts has forced him and other intelligence officials to “walk a fine line” on the subject, Pompeo said he and the CIA have never shied away from spreading the truth.
“I don’t do fine lines. I do the truth. We deliver nearly every day personally to the president the most exquisite truth that we know from the CIA,” Pompeo said. “Whatever the facts may be, we deliver them unvarnished, as accurately and forcefully as we can.”
Pompeo’s statements are consistent with what the heads of America’s other intelligence have said consistently since the issue of Russian attempts to interfere in the election became a matter of public record. Before that, those same agencies had made similar reports to the Obama Administration in the months ahead of the 2016 election, and investigations into the matter were begun at that time. In the end, every single one of America’s twenty-one intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the Federal level were in agreement that Russia had indeed engaged in efforts to influence and interfere with the Presidential election. This effort apparently included everything from engineering the leaking of emails from the Democratic National Committee, and from Anthony Podesta, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton, to using bots and phony pages on Facebook to push out propaganda regarding Clinton and her campaign during the course of the election on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. There have also been reports of efforts to hack into the election databases of more than a dozen states and localities for unknown reasons. While these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, they were indicative of the extent to which Russian intelligence, obviously at the direction and with the knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite all of this evidence, and despite the statements made by his own appointees to head the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, President Trump has remained silent on the matter and has seemingly appeared to be utterly unconcerned about what happened in 2016 and what could happen in the future if Russia or another nation were to seek to interfere in future elections. As a general rule, his only comments about the entire story, and about the investigations it has spawned at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill has been to dismiss the entire story as “Fake News.” This is largely consistent with his reaction to any negative news regarding Russia generally or President Putin specifically. For example, as a candidate, Trump once responded to questions from MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough regarding the fact that Putin had ordered the murder of political rivals, journalists, and other political rivals by dismissing the information as seemingly irrelevant and implying that the United States engages in similar behavior. Trump repeated that response roughly a year ago during an interview that was broadcast prior to Super Bowl LI on Fox, expressing respect for Putin notwithstanding his authoritarian rule and asking Bill O’Reilly, who conducted the interview for Fox, “You think our country’s so innocent?” Additionally, while Trump has seen fit to criticize many of our closest allies and their leaders, he has been exceedingly silent when it comes to Putin and Russia even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing on their part.
Finally, of course, there is the fact that the past year has seen numerous efforts on Trump’s part to undermine the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the election. It was roughly a year ago, for example, that Trump held an Oval Office meeting with F.B.I. Director James Comey during which he asked Comey if he could end the investigation of Flynn. Around the same time, Trump asked Comey for his personal loyalty in a conversation that made Comey uncomfortable enough to begin memorializing his conversations with the President in writing. Later, Trump fired Comey just days after Comey had testified about the bureau’s investigation of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign before a Senate committee. Later, Trump admitted that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump also contacted the heads of the intelligence agencies and pressured them to bring the investigation to an end and to influence their potential testimony to Congress to state that Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia or Russian officials. Additionally, Trump was directly involved in the drafting of a statement released by the White House related to the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign associates and a lawyer with ties to the Russian government that was initially sold to Trump Jr. as being for the purpose of passing along damaging information about Hillary Clinton. That statement, of course, falsely claimed that the meeting was solely about the issue of the adoption of Russian children by American couples. It has also been reported several times in the past that the President was considering firing Robert Mueller, especially after it had been reported that Mueller had started turning his attention to issues surrounding the financial positions of the Trump and Kushner families and their ties, if any, to Russian banking and other interests. Last month we learned that Trump had pressured several Republican Senators to end the investigation and, most recently, that he had ordered White House Counsel Don McGann to direct the Deputy Attorney General overseeing the investigation to fire Mueller only to be stopped when McGann threatened to quit unless Trump withdrew the order.
Now we learn that Trump is declining to impose additional sanctions against Russia despite what seems to be clear evidence of that nation’s culpability in an effort to interfere with the 2016 elections. Legally, it does appear that the law gives Trump the discretion to take this action, but that doesn’t make it any less suspicious. None of these individual facts prove anything, of course, but taken together they do lead one to wonder just what it is about Trump and these allegations against Russia and Putin that causes him to be so dismissive and to actively attempt to undermine the investigation. At the very least, it does make one wonder.