Sanctions against Russia could set up Trump clash
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.”