It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections. The CIA, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have all concluded that the Russians did in fact meddle in the 2016 elections. The findings caused the Obama administration to issue harsh economic sanctions against five entities and four individuals in Russia on January 2, 2017 and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. At the time, the Obama White House issued this statement. “Russia’s cyber activities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government. These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Prior to his inauguration, incoming President Trump remained doubtful that the Russians had interfered with the election. In statement released at the time, Trump said “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” Indeed, that is exactly what the president wanted to do – “move on to bigger and better things.” In hindsight, it is no wonder why he wanted to move on.
However, Congress was not inclined to “move on”. Senate and House hearings commenced to get to the bottom of the Russian hacking and determine what the nation might do to prevent future incursions by Russia or any other foreign adversaries. Bowing to pressure from both Democrat and Republican members of Congress, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller special counsel to investigate the Russian meddling and any collusion that may have occurred between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
Furthermore, Congress was not satisfied with just the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel and an investigation of collusion. They wanted to impose more sanctions on Russia. In July of last 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. You can read the specifics of H.R. 3364 in my blog post of December 5th, 2017 entitled What Does Putin Have On The Trump Administration.
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 the 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 still no action had been taken by the Trump administration to impose the additional sanctions mandated by Congress. To add insult to injury the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, he was eliminating 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. Tillerson obviously can’t act independently on a matter such as this. Without a doubt he needed Trump’s approval. Trump persisted in protecting his buddy Putin from further sanctions. By this time, Congress was beginning to focus on other matters and more inclined to accept the stubbornness and bullying of Trump. A final deadline was given the Trump administration to impose additional Russian sanctions – January 29, 2018.
In the late evening yesterday, the State Department announced that there would be no further sanctions enacted against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Despite mounting evidence that Russian trolls and bots were still actively engaged in cyber activities (#shumer shutdown and #release the memo for example) and are aggressively looking for new ways to disrupt the 2018 mid-term elections, the Trump administration wants us to believe that the mere threat of additional sanctions is enough to dissuade Putin and the Russian intelligence services from any further hacking or meddling. Hopefully most of us are not that gullible or stupid. Trump has chosen once again to ignore the law of the land. Will Congress have the fortitude to call him out? Are there any Republican profiles in courage left in the Congress willing to put the well-being of our nation ahead of their political ambition? How long are these members of Congress going to allow Trump and his cronies to run roughshod over the institutions of our democracy?