One thing I wondered after the inauguration: if Trump & Gang were Putin puppets, why didn’t they instantly reverse the sanctions Obama placed on Russia in retaliation for election meddling, and previous to that, invading the Ukraine, as soon as they were in office?
Well, as Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff ferreted out, they tried. But the plan was foiled by State Department employees with consciences, aided by their friends in Congress.
In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.
Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.
“Diplomatic compounds” refers to the same spy-houses that are in the news now as Trump is now moving to return them to Russia, as the story details further down.
Not all of Isikoff’s sources are anonymous. Having left their jobs, they can speak freely about what happened when Putin snapped his fingers and Trump leapt to obey:
“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.
A second hero was Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights Tom Malinowsky, who also lobbied Congress. The result:
On Feb. 7, Cardin and Sen. Lindsay Graham introduced bipartisan legislation to bar the administration from granting sanctions relief without first submitting a proposal to do so for congressional review. “Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief,” Graham said in a statement at the time. If the U.S. were to lift sanctions without “verifiable progress” by Russia in living up to agreements in Ukraine, “we would lose all credibility in the eyes of our allies in Europe and around the world,” added Cardin in his own statement.
Good thing some people in the government care about the USA’s credibility in the eyes of its allies and the planet.
And who’d have thought that anyone could introduce any bipartisan legislation, or anything else, these days? That’s the most heartening part of this story.
I imagine this topic might have been the sort on which Donald, Jared, Jeff and their dear buddy Sergey were chitchatting around their covfefe samovar at the Mayflower, and needed that private line via the Russian embassy to wheel and deal about as well. Isikoff points out that this story lends significance to the investigation of all this buddy-buddyness.
But the political battles over the issue are far from over. Cardin, McCain and Graham are separately pushing another sanctions bill — imposing tough new measures in response to Russia’s election interference. The measures have so far been blocked for consideration within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by its chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who says he wants to first hear the administration’s position on the issue.
Right, like he doesn’t know it. But—by all means, let’s hear the administration’s position on the issue. Publicly, preferably. I’m sure a certain small group of Congressional committees, a major bureau of investigation and a certain special counsel would like to hear all about it, too.
Fair use constraints keep me from doing the story justice, so read the whole thing.