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US Senators Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Boost Sanctions Against Russia

By Wayne Lee January 10, 2017

Legislation with bipartisan support that would increase sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in November's U.S. presidential election was introduced Tuesday in the Senate.

"When our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor and when our nation was attacked on 9/11, we took steps in order to deal with those who attacked us and to prevent further attacks against our country in the interest of national security," said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the bill's chief sponsor. "It cannot be business as usual. We need to take steps to make it clear that this type of activity will have consequences and our legislation does that," Cardin added.

Among the bill's co-sponsors are Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both critics of President-elect Donald Trump, and former Republican presidential hopeful and Senator Marco Rubio.

The legislation - called the "Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 - is designed to show that key Republicans are intent on punishing Russia despite Trump's desire to strengthen bilateral ties.

The measure was introduced four days after the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of a report accusing Russia of meddling in the election.

Frozen assets, bans

The bill would impose visa bans and freeze assets of those who undermine the cybersecurity of democratic institutions, possibly making it more difficult for banks to conduct business with Russian military and intelligence agencies.

It also would codify sanctions imposed on Russia by President Barack Obama's administration in response to Russia's alleged meddling in the election and its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

In addition, the measure would authorize $100 million for the State Department and other U.S. agencies to counter Russian propaganda.

If the bill becomes law, the Trump administration would not be required to implement the sanctions. Senator Cardin said a waiver probably would be included in the bill to allow the president to waive the sanctions if it is in the best interests of the U.S.

Clapper questioning

Also on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the top spy chief said the intelligence community's recently released report that concluded Russia orchestrated computer hacks during the 2016 presidential campaign was based on a mix of human resources and the collection of technical and open source information.

"Moscow's influence campaign blended covert intelligence operations with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users," National Intelligence Director James Clapper said during questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In the report released Friday, the intelligence community said it had "high confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a campaign to undermine the democratic presidential electoral process in the U.S.

U.S. officials said Russian efforts were intended to undercut the election chances of Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump, the Republican candidate.

Russia has rejected U.S. claims that it interfered in the presidential election, and a spokesman said the legislation threatening U.S. sanctions are an attempt to further harm relations between the two countries.

Russia refutes

The allegations against Russia are "substantiated with nothing" and "amateurish," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

Russia also criticized the new U.S. sanctions against Russian officials, saying they will further degrade relations between the two countries.

On Monday, the U.S. announced the sanctions against Russia's top investigator and four other officials for what the State Department called "notorious human rights violations."

Kremlin spokesman Peskov told reporters Tuesday that Russia regrets the decline in relations during President Barack Obama's second term and hopes for positive developments in the future.

The five Russians, along with two other men with alleged ties to Hezbollah, were sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.

U.S. officials did not say exactly for which transgressions the seven are being sanctioned. But State Department spokesman John Kirby said, "Each of the most recently added names was considered after extensive research."

Human rights

Kirby said the five Russians played "roles in the repressive machinery of Russia's law enforcement systems, as well as individuals involved in notorious human rights violations."

They include Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, Russia's main investigative agency, which has led criminal probes of leading Kremlin opponents.

Two others on the list are Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, whom Britain has named as the two top suspects in the poisoning death of Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

The 44 people now on the list are barred from entering the United States and their U.S. assets are frozen. U.S. citizens are forbidden from carrying out any financial transactions with them.

The Magnitsky Act was named for Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 after spending a year in prison and in poor health.

Russian investigators ruled there was nothing criminal in Magnitsky's death.

The State Department alleges there is plenty of evidence, though, to show Magnitsky was beaten in his jail cell, and his illnesses went untreated.

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