Sanc­tions against Rus­sia could set up Trump clash

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Karoun Demirjian

wash­ing­ton» A show­down in Congress is loom­ing over ex­pand­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia, pos­si­bly pit­ting law­mak­ers once again against Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and his sec­re­tary of state nom­i­nee, who pre­vi­ously has op­posed them.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., an outspoken Trump critic, is the lat­est law­maker to join the fray, stat­ing that his goal in a se­ries of in­ves­ti­ga­tions next year “is to put on Pres­i­dent Trump’s desk crip­pling sanc­tions against Rus­sia,” he wrote on Twit­ter. “They need to pay a price.”

The list of law­mak­ers who have called for ex­panded Rus­sia sanc­tions in­cludes Repub­li­cans and Democrats, Trump crit­ics and

mem­bers who sup­ported the Repub­li­can’s White House bid. Their rea­sons are many, in­clud­ing anger over Moscow’s al­leged role in a se­ries of elec­tion-re­lated hacks to re­vul­sion at the Krem­lin’s sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad tor­tur­ing his own peo­ple.

But even if Congress cen­sures Rus­sia with its strong­est brand of sanc­tions, there is no guar­an­tee that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will im­ple­ment them.

“It’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble Trump might not im­ple­ment them, but there is over­whelm­ing bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus in Congress that sanc­tions have worked on Rus­sia for other is­sues and will work again in the fu­ture,” said a Se­nate Demo­cratic aide who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly. “We’re hope­ful the Trump team and the pres­i­den­t­elect him­self will come to un­der­stand this.”

The United States has im­posed sanc­tions against Rus­sia since 2014 in re­sponse to the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and Moscow’s sup­port of sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine. The mea­sures, which re­strict Rus­sia’s fi­nan­cial, en­ergy and de­fense sec­tors, de­pend largely on co­op­er­a­tion from the European Union, which voted this week to ex­tend Ukraine sanc­tions against Rus­sia for six months.

Trump’s new pick for sec­re­tary of state, Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son, pub­licly op­posed those sanc­tions, which Exxon es­ti­mates cost them more than $1 bil­lion in lost busi­ness.

“We do not sup­port sanc­tions, gen­er­ally, be­cause we don’t find them to be ef­fec­tive un­less they are very well-im­ple­mented com­pre­hen­si­bly, and that’s a very hard thing to do,” Tiller­son told an an­nual meet­ing of Exxon ex­ec­u­tives in 2014.

It is un­clear if Tiller­son will con­tinue to op­pose sanc­tions if he is con­firmed as sec­re­tary of state.

Sanc­tions have emerged as a pop­u­lar, rel­a­tively blood­less tool for the GOPled Congress to ad­dress in­tractable in­ter­na­tional con­flicts and threat­en­ing for­eign regimes. In the past year alone, law­mak­ers passed con­gres­sional sanc­tions against North Korea and ex­tended a com­pre­hen­sive range of mea­sures against Iran to pre­serve the op­tion to reim­pose sanc­tions if Tehran vi­o­lates last year’s nu­clear deal.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama al­lowed the 10-year ex­ten­sion of the Iran Sanc­tions Act to be­come law last week with­out his sig­na­ture, un­der ap­par­ent pres­sure from Ira­nian lead­ers and oth­ers who ar­gued re­new­ing the en­ergy, trade, de­fense and bank­ing sec­tor re­stric­tions would jeop­ar­dize the nu­clear pact. The ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieved the pres­i­dent al­ready had au­thor­ity to sanc­tion Iran in the event of any nu­clear deal vi­o­la­tions.

All of this oc­curred even be­fore the CIA’s assess­ment that Rus­sia med­dled in the U.S. elec­tions in or­der to boost Trump — a con­clu­sion Trump has called “ridicu­lous.” Se­nior law­mak­ers and for­eign pol­icy lead­ers have vowed to in­ves­ti­gate those claims and oth­ers re­gard­ing Rus­sia in a se­ries of probes in the new Congress.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have in­di­cated a pref­er­ence to con­duct any elec­tion-re­lated probes in their in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, where lead­ers are able to wield in­flu­ence over what in­for­ma­tion ul­ti­mately is re­leased to the pub­lic.

Obama sug­gested Fri­day that he was un­likely to an­swer calls from sev­eral top con­gres­sional Democrats to de­clas­sify all in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to al­leged Rus­sian hacks be­fore he leaves of­fice.

“We will pro­vide ev­i­dence that we can safely pro­vide that does not com­pro­mise sources and meth­ods. But I’ll be hon­est with you: When you’re talk­ing about cy­ber­se­cu­rity, a lot of it is clas­si­fied,” Obama said.

Ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sia’s al­leged elec­tion interference and im­pose ex­panded sanc­tions against the Krem­lin may run into re­sis­tance from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, Trump took a de­cid­edly softer stance to­ward the Krem­lin, en­cour­ag­ing closer re­la­tions with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and hir­ing a team of ad­vis­ers on the same wave­length.

The Trump team even worked be­hind the scenes at the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion to ma­neu­ver the party plat­form away from lan­guage that would have called for main­tain­ing or increasing sanc­tions against Rus­sia over its med­dling in Ukraine.

But the clamor for more puni­tive mea­sures has been ris­ing in Congress from cor­ners of both par­ties.

Law­mak­ers have pointed to the Iran and North Korea mea­sures as a po­ten­tial blueprint for Rus­sia sanc­tions. And they’ve al­ready made open­ing at­tempts to tighten the screws on Moscow.

The House passed one mea­sure this year that would come down on the Krem­lin for its sup­port of As­sad, in a bill sanc­tion­ing en­ti­ties that pro­vide Syria’s govern­ment with fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial or tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port. The ef­fort is to “halt the whole­sale slaugh­ter of the Syr­ian peo­ple.”

Al­though the bill men- tions Rus­sia by name only once, there is lit­tle doubt that pri­mar­ily the Rus­sian and Ira­nian regimes would be im­pacted by it. Prior to the vote, House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce, R-Calif., said there was “una­nim­ity of opin­ion” about the need for the sanc­tions, “re­gard­less of peo­ple’s per­cep­tion about a given regime, or how we ap­proach the co­nun­drum of Syria.”

Also Sun­day, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., de­cried Rus­sia’s al­leged interference in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race and called for a se­lect Se­nate com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the coun­try’s cy­ber­ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the elec­tion.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain said there was “no doubt” Rus­sia in­ter­fered with the elec­tion.

A se­lect, bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee would fo­cus not only on Rus­sia’s al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign but also cy­ber­at­tacks in gen­eral, the sen­a­tor said. He said the is­sue of cy­ber­se­cu­rity is “spread out over about four dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees in the Se­nate.”

McCain, chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, was one of four sen­a­tors, in­clud­ing Schumer, who this month called for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­leged Rus­sian in­flu­ence in the U.S. elec­tion.

“This can­not be­come a par­ti­san is­sue,” the state­ment read in part. “The stakes are too high for our coun­try.”

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