Donna Brazile: Congress has duty to halt Trump on Russia sanctions
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The Trump/Russia scandal is STILL playing out before our eyes—and I don’t just mean the continuing investigations, or the fact that Russia successfully hacked into several state election systems. Indeed, Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Klobuchar unveils plan to secure elections as president Trump officials extend deadline to allow companies to work with Huawei MORE (D-Va.) said, “None of these actions by the Russians stopped on Election Day.”

No, I mean that the original Trump/Russia hacking and collusion scandal is still unfolding in plain view! The Trump administration and its allies in Congress are working feverishly to make sure that they remain able to reward, appease, or pay off the Russians by lifting of the sanctions placed on Russia for its meddling in Crimea and Ukraine, as well as its interference in our own elections.

Most recently, the House has blocked a bill that hits Russia with new sanctions and makes it more difficult for the Trump White House to lift current ones. This is a bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2. It gives Congress 30 days to review or possibly block any attempt by the White House to lift or reduce the sanctions. And it codifies the sanctions placed by executive order by the Obama administration.

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While the vast majority of Senators were nervous about indications that Trump planned to lift sanctions, the House has blocked the bill under a parliamentary technicality. House Democrats are rightfully concerned that this is a ploy to delay the bill on behalf of the Trump White House.

 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE (D-N.Y.) said “Responding to Russia’s assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate. The House Republicans need to pass this bill as quickly as possible.”

It needs to get done! The Trump administration has been continuously at work—from the moment they got into office and even before—to lift the sanctions. Usually when someone is seemingly caught in the act, they at least stop performing the act. Not so the Trump administration. Despite the universal consensus by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election to the benefit of Donald Trump, and despite daily revelations of more evidence that at least somebody in the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians, the Trump White House insists on playing out what looks exactly like the final stages of a very dirty deal.

As the Washington Post reported in May, the Trump administration was in talks to lift certain sanctions on the Russians in early May—just as Trump was firing FBI Director James Comey. And they were discussing doing this without getting anything in return! That immediately raises the suspicion that the lifting of these sanctions is payment for something the Russians have already done. Ahem.

The sanctions in question then involved the closure of two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York that the Obama administration said were being used for intelligence gathering. But General Michael Flynn of the Trump campaign spoke with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak on the very day that the Obama administration announced the sanctions. He told them that policies would be different under President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE. Uncharacteristically, the Russians chose not to retaliate. 

By May talks had begun to return the compounds in exchange for Russian concessions regarding a new U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. But within days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Russians we would return the compounds with no concessions at all! Now sources say a decision on whether to return the compounds is on hold.

Also this month, Michael Isikoff reported for Yahoo! News that senior staffers still on the job at the State Department after Trump took office became so alarmed at plans being put in motion to lift the sanctions that chief coordinator for sanctions policy Dan Fried contacted allies on Capitol Hill. He asked them to intervene with legislation to make the sanctions more difficult to lift. Shortly thereafter, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (D-M.D.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the very legislation that the House has now blocked.

In any case, initial Trump efforts at easing the sanctions ran aground when then-national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned over revelations about his conversations with Kislyak. At that point the lifting of sanctions became politically toxic. Still, the Trump administration has demonstrated remarkable tolerance for some very high levels of toxicity.

All this as President Trump has repeatedly and wrongly insisted that the whole “Russian thing” is actually a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats. As late as Tuesday, June 20, press secretary Sean Spicer said he hasn’t even talked to Trump about whether he believes that Russia interfered in the election.

That doesn’t change the facts. And the facts are that the hacking took place, that it was done by the Russians, and that it redounded to the benefit of Trump’s campaign.

The House needs to stop putting up procedural roadblocks and move the Senate bill codifying the measures taken against Russia. Any move by the Trump administration to lift or reduce the sanctions must be rejected until we have a clear and full accounting of what took place between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

At best, it’s a nightmare in optics. At worst it’s a publicly-played-out sleight-of-hand exchange to finalize a nefarious quid pro quo between Trump and the Russians. Either way, with new revelations about Russian interference constantly surfacing, we cannot permit it to happen.

Donna Brazile (@DonnaBrazile) served as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2016-17. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.


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