Russia

The US Senate just Trump-proofed its sanctions against Russia

Republican leadership may find the continuing probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia an overblown obstacle, but that didn’t stop a majority of Senate Republicans from joining with Democrats in Trump-proofing the latest round of U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The Senate reached a bipartisan agreement concerning the latest round of sanctions on Russia late Monday night, imposing new economic restrictions on Moscow and bolstering congressional oversight designed to limit Trump’s executive powers in this area.

Thanks to the new amendment, which will be attached to an Iran sanctions bill set for a vote Thursday, if Trump tries to ease or lift sanctions, he’ll have to go through Congress first.

The latest round of sanctions focus on the U.S. intelligence community’s revelations of Russian hackers “conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government” and their “brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections.” Since 2014, the U.S. has leveled sanctions against Russia, citing a laundry list of Moscow’s violations, including its interference in Ukraine and Crimea, its supplying of weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and more recently its attempts to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

The measure also called for a study on the “flow of illicit finance involving Russia and a formal assessment of U.S. economic exposure to Russian state-owned entities” and assistance to Central and Eastern Europe countries who are “vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.”

The new measure comes as accusations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election continue to pile up.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that an anonymous U.S. senior official disclosed Russian hackers had infiltrated systems in 39 states, scores more than previously reported. That report comes on the heels of a classified NSA document leaked to the Intercept last week, which revealed Russian government hackers cyberattacked at least one U.S. voting system before the U.S. presidential election.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said President Trump would be “betraying democracy” if he didn’t sign the proposed measure to expand new sanctions against Russia.

“I think he’ll sign it,” Graham told the panel on “Face the Nation.” “And if he doesn’t sign it, we’re going to override his veto.”

The Senate’s measure is a clear effort at containing a president who has reportedly considered lifting sanctions against Russia since he stepped into the White House.

  • Yahoo News reported that the Trump administration had secretly called for proposals to lift sanctions against Russia and normalize Washington-Moscow relations in the first few weeks of the presidency.
  • In February, CNBC reported that the Treasury Department did modify certain sanctions against Russia to enable American business transactions with Russia’s Federal Security Service to go through.
  • Trump told reporters at the time, “I’m not easing anything,” and Sean Spicer called the change “a regular course of action.”
  • Trump has signaled for stronger ties between U.S. and Russia compared to the relationship under the Obama administration, once telling reporters, “I would love to be able to get along with Russia” and calling Putin “very smart” in a separate instance.
  • Several key officials in the Trump administration are being investigated for their alleged ties to Russian intelligence officials and businessmen.
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