Lawmakers press Trump officials on implementing Russia sanctions

Lawmakers press Trump officials on implementing Russia sanctions

Lawmakers pressed Trump administration officials on Thursday to step up enforcement of sanctions against Russia during a heated hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We should be doing more to hold Putin accountable for his aggressive acts, including attacks on our democracy,” said Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference MORE (R-Calif.) in his opening remarks at the hearing on "Oversight of U.S. Sanctions Policy."

At issue was the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers before being signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE into law in August 2017. It imposed new sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. Trump had expressed reservations about the bill despite signing it.

Lawmakers expressed frustration with the administration's response.

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Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanMnuchin expresses concerns about proposed taxes on financial trades On The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity MORE (D-Calif.) grilled officials on whether any sanctions had been implemented under the law in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“What’s the strongest thing you can point to and say but for the interference in the 2016 election, that wouldn’t exist?” Sherman asked.

Marshall Billingslea, the assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, said officials had levied sanctions against an organization that attempted to "spin-up the hate" during the election.

But Sherman dismissed the response, likening it to “responding to Pearl Harbor with a strongly worded statement.”

Billingslea defended the administration's approach to sanctions. He said the sanctions outlined in the law are “prospective” and “forward-looking.” And he said that other sanctions similar to the ones outlined in the law had been implemented, such as through executive orders and under other laws already on the books.

Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh said her department was using sanctions to build up a "pressure campaign."

“We start with certain sanctions and then we ratchet it up,” she said.

Singh says the U.S. will impose a “severe” second round of sanctions on November 5th.

The officials also said they were willing to impose further sanctions on Russia for its use of a nerve-agent to poison an ex-spy in the United Kingdom.

Billingslea also compared Trump administration sanctions to those under the Obama administration. He said that in the Trump's 20 months in office, officials have imposed half as many sanctions on Russia as the previous administration did in eight years

Lawmakers also questioned the administration's handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

Rep. Bill KeatingWilliam (Bill) Richard KeatingLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (D-Mass.) slammed the decision to exit the deal, which he said “created a fracture with our western allies."

"We didn't have to do it," Keating added.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) also questioned whether U.S. ties with European allies were deteriorating.

Singh called such claims a "myth."

But Boyle said that during a recent visit to Europe, a German leader had said "he has never been more alarmed about the state of relations between the U.S. administration and NATO.”