Senate Dems to Trump official: Don't give compounds to Russia in meeting next week
© Greg Nash

Four Senate Democrats are urging a top State Department official not to return a pair of Russian compounds seized by the Obama administration.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenators debate new business deduction, debt in tax law hearing The Hill's 12:30 Report Dems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting MORE (Md.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBudowsky: End the DNC malpractice Overnight Finance: Mulvaney remark on lobbyists stuns Washington | Macron takes swipe at Trump tariffs | Conservatives eye tax cut on capital gains | Gillibrand unveils post office banking bill | GOP chairman pushes banks on gun policies Gillibrand unveils bill to offer banking services at post offices MORE (N.Y.) sent a letter to Thomas Shannon, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, warning that they "strongly oppose" any move to hand the two compounds back to Russia.

Shannon is meeting with a top Russian official next week.

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"Simply put, the Russian government has done nothing to deserve renewed access to these compounds," they wrote. "Since the seizure of these compounds, we are unaware of any evidence or assessment that the treatment of U.S. personnel in the Russian Federation has markedly improved." 

The compounds, in New York and Maryland, were seized last year in response to Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Obama administration also expelled 35 Russian diplomats.

But the Trump administration has flirted with handing the compounds back over to Moscow. 

Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Trump, appeared to acknowledge on Thursday that the administration is considering returning the compounds, telling CNN the administration wants to "give collaboration, cooperation, a chance."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers earlier this year that they were, as part of larger negotiations, trying to figure out if there were "terms and conditions" that would allow Russia to use the compounds for "recreational" purposes. 

But the senators urged Shannon to be "vigilant" during his expected meeting next week with Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, and "deny the Russian government the ability to advance its interests from within our own states." 

Thursday's letter is the latest sign of concern from lawmakers that the Trump administration could reverse course on the compounds. 

Democratic Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators pledge to pursue sanctions against Turkey over imprisoned American pastor Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination Menendez rips characterization of Pompeo as 'nation's top diplomat' MORE (N.H.) and GOP Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLobbying world Former Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator MORE (Fla.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonRepublicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Trump VA pick allegedly gave 'large supply' of Percocet to military staff member Overnight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote MORE (Ga.) issued a similar plea to Trump ahead of his meeting earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

The Senate also passed legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia in a 98-2 vote earlier this year. That included a provision requiring Congress to sign off before Trump could give back the compounds. 

But the bill has stalled in the House amid a spate of procedural and political roadblocks.