U.S. sen­a­tors join forces on leg­is­la­tion to pun­ish Rus­sia

Bill il­lus­trates Moscow med­dling not par­ti­san is­sue; sees visa bans, en­ergy sanc­tions

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON: Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats joined forces Tues­day to di­rectly chal­lenge Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump over Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in U.S. elec­tions and for on­go­ing ag­gres­sion in other parts of the world.

The 10 law­mak­ers, five from each party, in­tro­duced sweep­ing leg­is­la­tion de­signed to go be­yond the pun­ish­ments against Rus­sia al­ready levied by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and to demon­strate to Trump that force­fully re­spond­ing to Moscow’s med­dling isn’t a par­ti­san is­sue.

“We should all be alarmed by Rus­sian at­tacks on our na­tion,” said Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, the Re­pub­li­can chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. He chided Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for not tak­ing more ag­gres­sive steps against Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tacks that have grown bolder over the years.

“This ap­pear­ance of weak­ness has been provoca­tive to our ad­ver­saries,” McCain said. While Democrats say they ac­cept the vote, many law­mak­ers feel that if Obama and his in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had been more forth­right in the run-up to the elec­tion about putting up red flags and warn­ing signs, the re­sult may have been dif­fer­ent.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials re­leased a de­clas­si­fied re­port Fri­day that said Moscow med­dled in the 2016 elec­tion to help Trump be­come pres­i­dent. The re­port con­cluded Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin or­dered an “in­flu­ence cam­paign” to un­der­cut pub­lic faith in the U.S. po­lit­i­cal process and to dam­age Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton’s can­di­dacy. There was no ev­i­dence the op­er­a­tion af­fected any vote tal­lies, how­ever.

But Trump, who has said he wants bet­ter re­la­tions with Moscow, re­jected the im­pli­ca­tion that Rus­sian hack­ing of Demo­cratic emails tipped the elec­tion his way. He also de­rided U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies on Twit­ter, bring­ing up past fail­ures, specif­i­cally in­tel­li­gence assess­ments about the pres­ence of weapons of mass de­struc­tion in Iraq in the lead-up to the war there.

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per said Tues­day the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s re­port con­clud­ing Rus­sia or­ches­trated hacks dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was based on a mix of hu­man sources, col­lec­tion of tech­ni­cal data and open-source in­for­ma­tion.

Clap­per, speak­ing be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said much of the re­port is clas­si­fied to pro­tect sen­si­tive sources and meth­ods. He said Rus­sia has tried to in­flu­ence elec­tions in at least “a cou­ple dozen” coun­tries and con­tin­ues to be a bold ac­tor in cy­berspace across the globe.

Kellyanne Con­way, a se­nior aide to Trump, has sug­gested Trump may roll back sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

Obama in late De­cem­ber or­dered sanc­tions on Rus­sian spy agen­cies, closed two Rus­sian com­pounds and ex­pelled 35 diplo­mats the U.S. said were re­ally spies.

The new penal­ties add to ex­ist­ing U.S. sanc­tions over Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine, which have dam­aged Rus­sia’s econ­omy but had only lim­ited im­pact on Putin’s be­hav­ior.

To help per­suade Rus­sia to back off, the new bill would im­pose manda­tory visa bans and freeze the fi­nan­cial as­sets of any­one who car­ries out cy­ber­at­tacks against pub­lic or pri­vate com­puter sys­tems and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. The leg­is­la­tion also man­dates sanc­tions in Rus­sia’s all-im­por­tant en­ergy sec­tor and on in­vest­ments in the devel­op­ment of civil nu­clear projects to re­buke Moscow for its provo­ca­tions in east­ern Ukraine and mil­i­tary sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The bi­par­ti­san bill also would form a top-level unit within the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s fi­nan­cial crimes of­fices to tar­get il­licit money trails linked to the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land, the top Demo­crat on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee and one of the bill’s au­thors, said he ex­pects mem­bers to grill the nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of state, Rex Tiller­son, at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Wed­nes­day on whether he be­lieves more and tougher sanc­tions against Rus­sia are needed.

As CEO of ExxonMo­bil, Tiller­son op­posed the sanc­tions levied on Moscow fol­low­ing its an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimean Penin­sula in 2014. The penal­ties cost the en­ergy gi­ant hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

“I think you’re go­ing to find that there’s go­ing to be a great deal of in­ter­est as to whether Mr. Tiller­son un­der­stands that he is no longer go­ing to be CEO of ExxonMo­bil but that he’s go­ing to be sec­re­tary of state, the na­tion’s top diplo­mat,” Cardin told re­porters. –

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