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 HaleyNikki HaleyGOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight China's Xi likely to invite Biden to Beijing Olympics: report Nikki Haley calls for cognitive test for older politicians 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) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFive Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownPowell says Fed will consider faster taper amid surging inflation Biden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick Five Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee 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.