In July of this year, Congress passed additional sanctions against the Russian Federation for meddling in the 2016 election. The bill, officially known as the H.R.3364 – Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, passed the Senate 98-2 and the House 419-3. The vote was bipartisan and reflected the determination of Congress to punish Russia for its interference. The vote essentially made it veto proof for President Trump to reject the bill. These sanctions were on top of the one’s President Obama rendered upon the Russian Federation in December of 2016. According to the New York Times of Aug 2, 2017 “President Trump signed legislation on Wednesday imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but asserted that the measure included ‘clearly unconstitutional provisions’ and left open the possibility that he might choose not to enforce them as lawmakers intended.” Trump went on to further grouse about Congress’s action. “Unlike other bill signings, Mr. Trump did not invite news media photographers to record the event, nor did he say anything about it to reporters. He ignored questions about the legislation at an unrelated event and instead relegated his comments to two written statements, one meant for Congress to describe caveats in his approval of the bill and the other issued to reporters to explain his grudging decision to sign.” The full story can be read here:
H.R.3364 required specific sanctions be developed by the Trump administration to meet the general sanction objectives of the bill and directed the Trump administration to report to the Congress by October 1st of this year the specific sanctions they were going to impose on Russia. The general sanction objectives are as follows:
Sec. 224. Imposition of sanctions with respect to activities of the Russian Federation undermining cybersecurity.
Sec. 225. Imposition of sanctions relating to special Russian crude oil projects.
Sec. 226. Imposition of sanctions with respect to Russian and other foreign financial institutions.
Sec. 227. Mandatory imposition of sanctions with respect to significant corruption in the Russian Federation.
Sec. 228. Mandatory imposition of sanctions with respect to certain transactions with foreign sanctions evaders and serious human rights abusers in the Russian Federation.
Sec. 229. Notifications to Congress under Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.
Sec. 230. Standards for termination of certain sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.
Sec. 231. Imposition of sanctions with respect to persons engaging in transactions with the intelligence or defense sectors of th Government of the Russian Federation.
Sec. 232. Sanctions with respect to the development of pipelines in the Russian Federation.
Sec. 233. Sanctions with respect to investment in or facilitation of privatization of state-owned assets by the Russian Federation.
Sec. 234. Sanctions with respect to the transfer of arms and related materiel to Syria
October 1st came and went with no response from the Trump administration. Given the reluctance of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to fill hundreds of vacancies in the State Department it may well be that those who should be drafting the specific sanctions can’t. The reason is quite simple. They just aren’t there! Nonetheless, Congress was not too happy with the administration missing the deadline. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed his frustration on October 25th telling reporters he was “going to get on the phone to someone over there”. It didn’t take long for a response. The next day Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman and former Fox News anchor answered Corker’s concerns that State might be dragging its feet on developing sanctions. Everyone knows Trump hated the idea of imposing more sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Besides, Trump, after meeting with Putin several times during the recent Asian grand tour, had been assured by the Russian dictator that Russia never meddled in the election! How can the greatest dealmaker in history continue to seemingly get conned at every turn by Putin? I have followed this story about as far down the rat hole as I can go without having to write a doctoral dissertation. Here is an example of what happens when you want to find out the specifics of the Russian sanctions: https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/10/275229.html
As if to thumb its nose at Congress and the American public, Secretary Tillerson, no doubt with Trump’s approval, announced the closing of the Coordinator of Sanctions Policy office virtually the same day that Nauert was making her announcement. According to the Foreign Policy Magazine website, “The State Department shuttered an office that oversees sanctions policy, even as the Donald Trump administration faced criticism from lawmakers over its handling of new economic penalties against Russia.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson eliminated the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy office, which had been led by a veteran ambassador-rank diplomat with at least five staff, as part of an overhaul of the department, former diplomats and congressional sources told Foreign Policy.
Instead, the role of coordinating U.S. sanctions across the State Department and other government agencies now falls to just one mid-level official — David Tessler, the deputy director of the Policy Planning Office. The Policy Planning Office, which previously operated as a small team providing strategic advice to the secretary but did not manage programs or initiatives, has grown in power under Tillerson’s “redesign” of the department.
Given all the recent revelations concerning the Russian interference and meddling in the 2016 election, one must wonder what compels the Trump administration’s continued denial of the Russian action and their reluctance to do much about it. Surely, Putin must have a really bigly Trump card up his sleeve.