Russia riles Congress with dismissal in probe of whistleblower Magnitsky's death

Lawmakers behind last year's human rights sanctions against Russia called on President Obama to enforce the law to the fullest after Russian investigators dismissed the death case that sparked their response.

Russia's Investigative Committee, the nation's top law-enforcement body, ruled Tuesday that lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky died of heart failure while in police custody four years ago. The committee concluded there was “no objective information that a crime against Mr. Magnitsky was committed.”

“It's outrageous. But it's typical of the way they deal with human rights. They either ignore them, or they blame the victim,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the House sponsor of travel and financial sanctions named after Magnitsky. 

“And I hope that in response to this, the administration, in implementing the Magnitsky Act, will actually live up to the spirit of the law.”

The Obama administration objected to the act and demanded that Congress water it down before it was passed, out of concern that it could make it difficult to work with Russia on Iran, denuclearization and other issues. Russia responded by banning American couples from adopting Russian children.

“I've had conversations with the administration,” McGovern told The Hill. “And I'm going to continue to have conversations because there are those out there who have suggested that they may take a more narrow view of the law. If they do, I think it will result in bipartisan disapproval.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the Russian response only validates the need for the law.

“I think the way Russia has reacted to our legislation points out part of the problem with Russia today,” Cardin said. “I've pointed out issues with many countries around the world – including the United States. Countries respond different ways. And the way they respond in many cases reflects what kind of country it is, as far as basic rights and rule of law. So I think the reaction in Russia indicates part of the problem.”