Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Trump Aide Rick Gates Communicated With Former Russian Spy During the Campaign

A campaign aide to Donald Trump directly communicated a month before the 2016 presidential election with a man he knew was a onetime Russian spy, according to a court filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Rick Gates, the former aide, told an attorney for a U.S. law firm that a Russian they worked with in Ukraine was a former military intelligence officer, according to the filing late Tuesday in Washington.

Both Gates and the lawyer, Alexander van der Zwaan, have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with Mueller in his investigation of Russian meddling in the election. Gates worked for Paul Manafort, the indicted former Trump campaign chairman, as a political consultant in Ukraine for a decade.

The filing identifies the ex-spy only as Person A. The description of him by prosecutors, a person living in Moscow and Kiev who worked with Manafort and Gates in Ukraine, matches that of Konstantin Kilimnik. After van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to false statements on Feb. 20, Kilimnik declined to comment on whether he was Person A.

Van der Zwaan is scheduled to be sentenced on April 3 and faces as many as six months in prison under a plea agreement with Mueller’s office. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors urged the judge to consider a jail term for him. Lawyers for van der Zwaan said he should not be sentenced to jail.

The case is U.S. v. van der Zwaan, 18-cr-00031, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

[Bloomberg]