Senate Dems call for probe into why Trump has not issued Russia sanctions

Senate Dems call for probe into why Trump has not issued Russia sanctions
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A trio of key Democratic senators is calling on agency watchdogs to investigate why the Trump administration has not fully implemented mandated sanctions on Russia.

The lawmakers sent a letter Friday asking the inspectors general of the State Department, Treasury Department and the intelligence community to examine the administration's failure to impose the financial penalties on Russia.

The penalties, they say, should fall under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a bipartisan piece of legislation that passed Congress last year with overwhelming support.

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“In light of these apparent violations and the lack of corresponding sanctions, we are concerned about whether the sanctions implementation process within the administration is fulfilling CAATSA’s mandate and intent,” the senators wrote Friday.

“Likewise, it seems clear that several weeks ago the administration had identified specific Russian entities that had played a role in supplying or otherwise supporting the government of Syria’s chemical weapons program, had prepared a list of such entities for sanctions designation, and Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyWall Street firm predicts stock market would rally if Trump resigned Poll shows Michelle Obama would lead in New Hampshire if she entered 2020 Democratic race Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble MORE publicly announced their imminent designation -- but then did not designate them, reportedly at the direction of the President," it stated.

The letter was signed by Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Paul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer Bipartisan lawmakers to introduce bill allowing social media users to transfer data Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillary Clinton has said she'd consider 2020 race if she thought she could win: report Democrats jump into Trump turf war over student loans Critics pounce as Facebook crypto project stumbles MORE (Ohio.), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee.

The Trump administration told Congress in late January that CAATSA was already "serving as a deterrent" and there was no need to actually implement the penalties.

A spokesperson for the State Department said at the time that the mere possibility of facing sanctions through CAATSA had served as an effective countermeasure. 

"Given the long timeframes generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent. From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent," the spokesperson said.

The Democratic lawmakers, however, argue that there has been clear activity that warrants additional sanctions under the wide-ranging law.

“Several mandatory provisions of the law have not been implemented by the administration, despite strong evidence that actions taken by or on behalf of the Russian government are in violation of the CAATSA sanctions law and applicable executive orders codified by CAATSA,” the senators wrote.

The Democrats pointed to an example last month in which the federal government released a joint statement with British authorities accusing Kremlin-linked hackers of carrying out cyberattacks in countries like the U.S., an act that "should trigger sanctions," they argued.

The senators also asked the agency watchdogs to provide information on why CAATSA has not been implemented, as well as if there are any obstacles preventing officials from implementing the measures.

The 2017 legislation allows President Trump to postpone imposing sanctions on people or entities if he determines they are largely scaling back their transactions with Russia's defense or intelligence sectors, as long as he notifies the appropriate congressional committees every 180 days that the administration is seeing such progress.

Trump signed CAATSA into law in August despite his initial protest over the "flawed legislation," which overwhelmingly passed through Congress in response to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
 
The legislation aims to prevent Russia from reaping financial proceeds from its military and intelligence equipment sales by punishing those that make such purchases. The law also limits Trump's ability to lift prior sanctions or return diplomatic compounds seized from Russia under the Obama administration.