Senate

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 Cardin (Md.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (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 Shaheen (N.H.) and GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Johnny Isakson (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. 

Tags Ben Cardin Jeanne Shaheen Johnny Isakson Kirsten Gillibrand Marco Rubio

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