Dem unveils bill to give Congress say in reopening Russian compounds

Dem unveils bill to give Congress say in reopening Russian compounds

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) wants Congress to have input if the Trump administration tries to return diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York to Russia that were closed in response to interference in last year’s presidential election.

Legislation introduced by Pascrell on Wednesday, titled the No Russian DACHA Act, would require a 120-day review period by Congress before President Trump could waive the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration and allow Russians access to the facilities. 

The bill’s full title, No Russian Diplomatic Access to Compounds Here in America, forms an acronym referring to a “dacha,” or Russian vacation home. 

The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump administration is considering returning the two diplomatic compounds to Russia after its officials were forced out of them in late December as retribution for Moscow’s election interference.

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The compounds are located near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Former President Obama stated upon announcing the sanctions punishing Russia that the compounds were being used by Russian officials for “intelligence-related purposes.”

“It makes no sense to give these facilities back without assurances that these properties were not used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes,” Pascrell said in a statement. 

“While investigations trying to answer that very question are still ongoing, returning these compounds to Russia is premature at best and foolish at worst.”

The compounds have been in Russian possession since the Soviet Union era.

The facilities, Russia said, were used for official events and as a place for embassy and U.N. employees to engage in recreation. But U.S. officials have long suspected the Russian government was using the compounds for intelligence purposes.

The Trump administration is considering removing the diplomatic immunity previously granted to the facilities, according to the Washington Post report. A lack of immunity would allow U.S. law enforcement to enter the buildings.

Under Pascrell’s bill, the president would have to submit a report to Congress describing proposed changes to sanctions before granting Russia access to the two compounds and certify that the Russian government has stopped harassing U.S. diplomats in Russia. The president would also have to certify the compounds weren’t used by Russia for intelligence purposes. 

Upon receipt of the report, the House and Senate could pass resolutions to block the sanctions relief. But if Congress hasn’t passed a joint resolution of disapproval within the 120 day review period, the renewed access to the Russian compounds would be granted.