Earlier this week — before the Trump-Russia saga was sidelined by bad news regarding the Paris Climate Accord — the Washington Post reported that Trump aimed to undo Obama’s punishment of Russia. The president was inching toward returning luxury compounds to Russian diplomats after Obama ejected them as part of the retaliation for election meddling. Now, Yahoo News reports that the incoming Trump White House immediately moved to remove Obama’s sanctions on Russia, and a ruckus occurred between administrations.
In the end, Trump White House failed in their effort to supposedly “normalize relations” by removing these sanctions. However, this did not happen without Obama-era holdovers digging in their heels after they were asked to “develop proposals” to remove the sanctions (and return the luxury compounds). The officials were so “alarmed” by the abrupt nature of the demands that they lobbied Congress to block the move, which worked. More than one former U.S. official, including Dan Fried, went on record with Yahoo News:
“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several “panicky” calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, “Please, my God, can’t you stop this?”
Fried said he grew so concerned that he contacted Capitol Hill allies — including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to urge them to move quickly to pass legislation that would “codify” the sanctions in place, making it difficult for President Trump to remove them.
All of this put the State Department, which had just put the sanctions into place, in an awkward position, to say the very least. Fried was joined in his efforts by Tom Malinowski (the newly former Obama assistant secretary of state for human rights), who also spoke with Yahoo News to confirm the Trump White House’s tactics. Malinowski says that Trump also requested the arrangement of a summit with Putin to achieve a “grand bargain” for the lifting of punishments.
Before too long, however, Congress intervened in a bipartisan way. Cardin joined with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to block the White House from removing sanctions without Congressional approval. At the time, Graham stated, “Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief.” All of this occurred around the time that Michael Flynn was about to be fired for discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, and Trump Attorney Michael Cohen had given Flynn a secret proposal from a Ukrainian lawmaker on how to lift these sanctions.
Thanks to Congress, the sanctions are still intact for the time being, but the Russians should soon be able to enjoy their lavish compounds again.