Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill Into Law
By Steve Herman August 02, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump has signed a sanctions bill he declared is "significantly flawed" with "clearly unconstitutional provisions."
The bill, with penalties aimed at Moscow for its interference in last year's U.S. election, imposes fresh sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. It also limits the president's authority to lift the punishments.
"By limiting the Executive's flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together," Trump said in one of a pair of statements issued Wednesday by the White House.
"Despite its problems I am signing the bill for the sake of national unity," added the president. "Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies."
The legislation gained near-unanimous approval in both houses of Congress, which would have allowed lawmakers to easily override any presidential veto of the bill.
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi says majority Republicans lawmakers "must not permit the Trump White House to wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia's brazen assault on our democracy."
One Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, told CNN that the signing with no fanfare, absent the typical audience of reporters and cameras, "reinforces the narrative the Trump administration is not really serious about pushing back on Russia. And I think that is a mistake, too, because Putin will see this as a sign of weakness."
Before the president signed the bill the Russian government took retaliatory action, seizing two American diplomat properties and ordering the U.S. embassy and consulates to cut overall staff by 755 people, which would mostly be Russian nationals employed by the U.S. government.
About the law
The law sets new restrictions on U.S. companies working with Russian gas and oil companies and codifies sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama for Russia's election meddling, including the closure of two compounds in the U.S. used by Russian diplomats.
After the signing, Russia's new U.N. Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the bill was passed after a "host of absurd accusations about Russia." He said it is a strange sort of encouragement for Russian cooperation with the United States.
He said Russia "will not relent on finding ways and means to cooperate with our partners, including the United States," not because of the bill but because it "is in the interest of the international community, the U.S. and Russia." He added he believes it is "harming our relations inevitably, but we will be working in conditions that exist in the hope that it will turn one day."
Trump has been largely dismissive of numerous investigations in Washington into the Russian meddling and accusations his aides colluded with Moscow, calling them a "witch hunt" and an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset win over his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton.
Several congressional investigations are underway, as is a probe being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Pence reassures Balkan allies
Trump's approval of the sanctions came as Vice President Mike Pence told Western Balkan leaders their future "is in the West," calling Russia "an unpredictable country" that has worked to destabilize the region.
Pence, in a show of support for U.S. allies alarmed by Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its backing of the separatists' rebellion in eastern Ukraine, said the United States wants "a constructive relationship" with Moscow. But he said the U.S. will only lift sanctions against Russia when it reverses course and ends its "destabilizing activities."
While Pence cited Russian actions in Europe, he did not mention the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to help Trump win the U.S. presidency.
The bill Trump signed Wednesday was also characterized in one of the presidential statements as sending "a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior. America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries' malignant activities."
UN correspondent Margaret Besheer and reporter Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report
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