Trump administration holds off on new Russia sanctions, despite law

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency.

Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election.

But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions.

“From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

The measure, known as the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” or CAATSA, required the administration to list “oligarchs” close to President Vladimir Putin’s government and issue a report detailing possible consequences of penalizing Russia’s sovereign debt.

[Reuters]

Trump’s lawyer wants second special counsel to probe investigators

President Trump‘s legal team said Tuesday it would like a new special counsel to be appointed to probe individuals investigating Russian election meddling.

“The Department of Justice and FBI can not ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement.

Sekulow’s statement calling for a second special counsel, which was first reported by Axios, comes after Fox News published an article on Monday that said the wife of an official in the Justice Department was employed during the campaign by Fusion GPS, the opposition firm behind a controversial dossier of Trump opposition research.

The president’s attorneys, according to Axios, fault the FBI and the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the probe into Russia’s election meddling and any potential ties between Trump campaign staff members and the Kremlin.

Trump has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt,” arguing Democrats are using Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s presidential election as an excuse for their loss.

“As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” Trump said in July.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump’s lawyers display a fundamental misunderstanding of how special councils work. First, there has to be a crime, and Mueller and the FBI haven’t committed one. Second, a Special Council office was created because of the recusals of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Rod Rosenstein. And finally, a President of the United States calling for an investigation into the investigators, who have already secured two indictments and another two pleas, is not what happens in a democracy.

Mueller: Manafort Worked With Russian Operative Last Week

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office filed court papers to the U.S. District Court of D.C. on Monday opposing the release of Paul Manafort on bail later this month due to “newly discovered facts [that] cast doubt on Manafort’s willingness to comply with this Court’s Orders.”

According to Mueller, Manafort ghostwrote an op-ed alongside a “long-time Russian colleague” who is “currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” Manafort worked on the op-ed as late as Nov. 30—nearly a month after he was indicted by Mueller’s team. Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

Mueller noted that even if the op-ed were truthful, it would be a violation of a Nov. 8 court order to “not try the case in the press.”

The editorial, Mueller wrote, “clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication.”

“It compounds the problem that the proposed piece is not a dispassionate recitation of the facts,” Mueller continued.

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates and Manafort are facing a host of charges—including money laundering and failure to register as foreign agents. The two had been under home confinement with GPS monitoring since they were charged on Oct. 30.

Manafort struck an $11 million bail deal just last week. His wife, Kathleen Manafort, would guarantee another $10 million if the former Trump campaign chief fled the country.

Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

From 2004 to 2010, Manafort worked as an adviser to pro-Putin Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after becoming a target in the Euromaidan protests. He returned to Ukraine in 2014 to close Yanukovych associate Serhiy Lyovochkin.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump blasts media for ignoring stories on Russia uranium deal

President Donald Trump complained Thursday that the “fake media doesn’t want to follow” news related to an Obama-era sale of uranium deal involving the Russian government, resurfacing an issue he spoke of often on the campaign trail to attack Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!” the president wrote online Thursday.

The controversy, which centers around a 2010 sale that put the Russian government in control of more than 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply, made its way back into the spotlight this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee opened a fresh investigation on the matter. That probe was triggered by a story published by The Hill reporting that the FBI had uncovered Russian nuclear officials were engaged in an array of illegal activities in the U.S., including bribery, extortion and kickbacks.

Trump often used the uranium deal during last year’s presidential campaign in an effort to paint Clinton as corrupt, pointing to donations made to the Clinton Global Initiative as an indication that she approved the sale to appease donors.

But while the State Department was one of the agencies involved in approving the uranium deal, both the Clinton campaign and officials from the department have said that the former secretary of state was not involved in the approval process because such matters did not rise to her level within the department.

[Politico]

Reality

As Vox points out, the political reason Trump is embracing both of these stories is clear enough: He’s trying to cast Russia-related dirt on both Democrats and the FBI (which he views as part of a “deep state” unfairly persecuting him), to try to discredit the investigation as a whole, and to change the subject from the question of whether any of his associates colluded with the Russian government during the campaign

Trump questions who paid for dossier: ‘Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?’

President Trump on Thursday questioned who paid for a controversial and unverified dossier about his alleged connections to Russia.

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?” Trump asked on Twitter.

The tweet from the president comes after Fox News reported Wednesday that two officials from Fusion GPS, the political research firm behind the dossier, took the Fifth Amendment in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

The House Intelligence Committee last week subpoenaed the political research firm. The dossier was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

“We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations,” Fusion GPS’s counsel, Josh Levy, wrote in a letter to the committee obtained by Business Insider earlier this week.

The attorney said the subpoenas violated “the First Amendment rights” of the firm’s three founders, adding that they would prevent future candidates “from conducting confidential opposition research in an election.”

“Should you compel any of our three clients to appear at the scheduled deposition, they will invoke their constitutional privileges not to testify,” Levy said. “Since that will be the case, we ask that the Committee excuse them from appearing.”

[The Hill]

 

Manafort Offered ‘Private Briefings’ With Putin-Linked Russian Billionaire During Trump’s Presidential Campaign

In the middle of Donald Trump’s presidential run, then-campaign Chairman Paul Manafort said he was willing to provide “private briefings” about the campaign to a Russian billionaire the U.S. government considers close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Manafort’s offer was memorialized in an email exchange with a former employee of his political consulting firm in July 2016. It was first reported by the Washington Post, which said portions of Manafort’s emails were read to reporters.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed to the Associated Press that the email exchanges were legitimate but said no briefings ever occurred. The email involved an offer for Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian who made his money in the aluminum business.

The July 7, 2016, email came a little over a week before the Republican National Convention, while Manafort was leading the Trump campaign’s day-to-day operations. It also occurred about a month after Manafort attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York. That meeting was brokered by Donald Trump Jr., who was told in emails that the meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The Manafort email exchange regarding Deripaska is one of thousands of pages of material turned over to congressional committees by the Trump campaign. It is also in the possession of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating whether there was any coordination between Trump associates and Russians looking to interfere in the presidential campaign. Mueller is also examining Manafort’s taxes and his foreign banking as part of an investigation related to his consulting work in Ukraine.

Manafort has denied any wrongdoing, saying his work in Ukraine was open and appropriate. He has also denied involvement in any efforts to undermine the U.S. election on behalf of Russia. Deripaska has denied any involvement with the Trump campaign and said he is willing to testify before congressional committees investigating Russian election interference to defend his reputation and his name.

According to the Post, Manafort wrote the email to a former employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for years with him on political consulting in Ukraine. Manafort asked Kilimnik to pass the offer to Deripaska.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote — referring to Deripaska — in the email, according to the Post.

In a statement, Maloni dismissed the correspondence as “innocuous.” He said the exchange was part of an effort on Manafort’s part to collect money from clients who owed him money. The Post reported that several email exchanges between Manafort and Kilimnik discussed money that Manafort said he was owed by former clients in Eastern Europe.

“It is no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients after his work ended in 2014,” Maloni said in the statement.

The email is the first to indicate that Manafort was attempting to reach Deripaska while he was working on the Trump campaign, but it’s unclear whether the offer ever reached Deripaska or his representatives. The Post reported that, according to documents detailed to its reporters, there was no evidence Deripaska received the offer.

Attorneys for Deripaska in New York and Washington did not respond to phone messages or emails Wednesday evening. Kilimnik did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday evening. A phone number previously used by him was not accepting calls.

The Post quoted Vera Kurochkina, a spokeswoman for one of Deripaska’s companies, who said inquiries about the emails “veer into manufactured questions so grossly false and insinuating that I am concerned even responding to these fake connotations provides them the patina of reality.” She also dismissed the email exchanges, the Post said, as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘Beltway bandit’ industry.”

The Associated Press reported in March that before signing with Trump’s campaign, Manafort secretly worked for Deripaska and proposed plans for political consulting work in Eastern Europe that he said could “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

In a 2005 memo to Deripaska, Manafort laid out the details of the proposal that were subsequently spelled out the following year as part of a $10-million contract, according to interviews with people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. It’s unclear how much of the work was carried out. The AP previously reported that Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009. The two later had a falling-out, laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands court.

The AP cited U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 describing Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” Deripaska has also sworn in a New York state court document that he has been granted “a diplomatic passport from Russia, and on occasion I have represented the government in countries outside Russia.”

Deripaska sued the AP for defamation over the story in May in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleging the story was inaccurate and hurt his career by falsely accusing him of criminal activity. Deripaska’s lawyers complained to the AP at the time that the article “suggests that Mr. Deripaska has been involved with Mr. Manafort more recently,” and the lawsuit said, “Mr. Deripaska severed relations with Mr. Manafort many years ago.” The AP has said it stands by the accuracy of its story, and has asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Manafort has previously said he worked for Deripaska to advance his business interests but denied his work was meant to advance Russia’s interests.

The Post reported that Kilimnik and Manafort at times referred to Deripaska as “OVD” in the emails. That shorthand is consistent with how Manafort and other employees at his former consulting business referred to the billionaire in other documents obtained by the AP, including the 2005 proposal that referred to a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

According to other emails obtained by the AP that are in the hands of Mueller and congressional committees, Manafort had previously shut down efforts to have Trump meet with Russians during the campaign.

In mid-May 2016, a Trump campaign aide wrote to Manafort that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time,” noting that representatives from the country had been reaching out to him.

Manafort responded to his deputy, Rick Gates, that the meetings were a nonstarter. “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” he wrote, referring to Trump. The two decided that the communication should come from a person in the campaign who responds to “all mail of non-importance” so as not to send a message.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump Signed ‘Letter of Intent’ for Russian Tower During Campaign

Four months into his campaign for president of the United States, Donald Trump signed a “letter of intent” to pursue a Trump Tower-style building development in Moscow, according to a statement from the then-Trump Organization Chief Counsel Michael Cohen.

The involvement of then-candidate Trump in a proposed Russian development deal contradicts repeated statements Trump made during the campaign, including telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in July 2016 that his business had “no relationship to Russia whatsoever.”

The disclosure from Cohen, who has described himself as Trump’s personal lawyer, came as Cohen’s attorney gave congressional investigators scores of documents and emails from the campaign, including several pertaining to the Moscow development idea.

“Certain documents in the production reference a proposal for ‘Trump Tower Moscow,’ which contemplated a private real estate development in Russia,” Cohen’s statement says. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it, was unrelated to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign.”

In a separate statement texted to ABC News, Cohen added that “the Trump Moscow proposal was simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”

Cohen specifically says in his statement that Trump was told three times about the Moscow proposal.

“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015,” his statement says.

Cohen also makes clear that he himself engaged in communication directly with the Kremlin about the proposal during the ongoing 2016 presidential campaign. His statement says he wrote to the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the request of Felix Sater, a frequent Trump Organization associate who had proposed the Trump Moscow development.

“In mid-January 2016, Mr. Sater suggested that I send an email to Mr. Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued,” Cohen’s statement says. “Those permissions were never provided. I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal.”

The Trump Moscow development proposal, which was first reported Monday by The Washington Post, provides a new look at the relationship between the president’s real estate firm and Sater, a convicted felon who served a year in New York state prison for stabbing a man during a bar fight.

Sater is a controversial figure who served for many years as a federal government cooperating witness on a host of matters involving organized crime and national security. Sater had also traveled in Moscow with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in the mid-2000s and handed out business cards identifying himself as a “senior adviser” to Donald Trump Sr.

Trump had taken pains to distance himself from Sater. In one sworn deposition, regarding a Trump development in Florida on which Sater had worked, Trump said “I don’t know him very well … if he were sitting in the room right now I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

The emails show Sater and Cohen – friends since their teenage years growing up in Brooklyn – sharing their dreams of a Trump presidency.

In one, made public Monday by The Washington Post and New York Times, Sater writes: “I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”

And Sater adds, pointedly: “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”

On Sept. 30, 2015, Trump Organization officials told ABC News that Sater had inflated his connections to the company. Alan Garten, a senior Trump Organization attorney, told ABC News that “there’s really no direct relationship” between Sater and the real estate firm.

“To be honest, I don’t know that he ever brought any deals,” Garten said.

That was the same month Sater brought the company the Trump Moscow development proposal, according to Cohen’s statement. Cohen’s statement notes that he did not share the proposal with others in his firm.

“Mr. Sater, on occasion, made claims about aspects of the proposal, as well as his ability to bring the proposal to fruition. Over the course of my business dealings with Mr. Sater, he has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’” Cohen wrote. “As a result, I did not feel that it was necessary to routinely apprise others within the Trump Organization of communications that Mr. Sater sent only to me.”

Garten and an attorney for Sater did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

For five months, the Trump Organization gave serious consideration to the Moscow development idea. But Cohen told ABC News he scuttled the plan in January 2016, one year before Trump was sworn in as president.

“I abandoned the Moscow proposal because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing, and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition,” Cohen said. “It was a building proposal that did not succeed and nothing more.”

[ABC News]

Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises. Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, was a broker for the Trump Organization at the time, which means he was paid to deliver real estate deals.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’ ” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”

Mr. Sater presented himself as so influential in Russia that he helped arrange a 2006 trip that Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, took to Moscow. “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” he said.

Ms. Trump said she had no involvement in the discussions about the Moscow deal. In a statement, she said she that during the 2006 trip, she took “a brief tour of Red Square and the Kremlin but I have never met President Vladimir Putin.” She did not say whether she sat in his chair.

The Times reported earlier this year on the plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which never materialized. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported the existence of the correspondence between Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen but not its content.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned over emails to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s campaign was involved. Some of the emails were obtained by The Times.

The Trump Organization issued a statement Monday saying: “To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia.”

[New York Times]

Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling U.S. Diplomats to Dismay of State Department

President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among some of the rank-and-file at the State Department.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a pool report.

“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”

Russia recently announced that it would expel hundreds of American diplomats from Russia in retaliation for new sanctions the U.S. put on the Kremlin. Those sanctions are in response to Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election through a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials.

Trump, whose campaign’s relationship with Russia is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had pushed back against the sanctions bill, but signed it into law after it passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The State Department has not yet released the details of how it will handle the drawdown. But many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers, though the local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments. Cost savings are possible in the long run.

The U.S. diplomats forced to leave Moscow will in most cases be sent to other posts, sources said.

Trump’s remarks did not go down well among the rank-and-file at the State Department, some of whom noted that the people who would be most affected are locally hired staff crucial to American diplomats’ work overseas.

A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump’s remarks “outrageous” and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits.

“This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” the diplomat said.

“I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,” one State Department official told POLITICO shortly after Trump’s comments. “Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.”

“THANK Putin?” another bewildered State Department official responded. “I don’t have words that are printable to describe my reaction.”

The reaction to Trump’s comments on social media was equally as withering, with many suggesting he simply didn’t understand how the U.S. Foreign Service is structured and others shocked by his gesture to Putin.

Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the second Bush administration, called Trump’s statement “shameful.”

“He justifies mistreatment of U.S. diplomats by Putin,” Burns wrote on Twitter.

Ever since Trump won the election, the State Department has felt sidelined by the president and his aides. Trump largely ignored U.S. diplomats who were ready and willing to offer him briefings when he talked to foreign leaders during the transition period. Since taking office, Trump has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by a third, and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is considered isolated and aloof from many of the diplomats he oversees.

[Politico]

Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill, Then Blasts Republicans

President Donald Trump signed into law Wednesday morning legislation that levies new sanctions against Russia and restricts Trump’s own ability to ease sanctions in place against Moscow.

The bill is one of the first major pieces of legislation that was sent to Trump’s desk, and it represents a rebuke of the President by giving Congress new veto power to block him from removing Russia sanctions.

The White House announced the signing shortly after 11 a.m. ET, saying the bill includes “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” that “purport to displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds.”

In a separate statement, Trump said he believed the bill to be “seriously flawed” but signed it anyway.

“Still, the bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” he said in the statement. “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. 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.”

He ended the statement by saying: “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

Even before Trump signed the bill, the measure prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate against the US over the new sanctions, which Congress levied over Russian interference in the 2016 US election, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Syria.

In addition to the new US sanctions on Russia, former President Barack Obama seized two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in December in response to the election meddling. Russia responded by ordering the US to cut staff at its diplomatic mission by 755 employees, as well as seizing two US diplomatic properties.

The new sanctions bill hits Russia’s energy and defense sectors, and also includes fresh sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

The measure was signed into law after it passed with overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate — which made the threat of a presidential veto a non-starter — but it was not an easy road to Trump’s desk.

After the Senate passed the sanctions on Iran and Russia 98-2, the bill languished in the House for more than a month amid a series of procedural fights. Then the House added North Korean sanctions before passing the measure 419-3, effectively forcing the Senate to swallow the new sanctions in order to get the legislation over the finish line before Congress left for its August congressional recess.

The House and Senate struck a deal to make some changes to the bill at the urging of a host of US industries and European countries, but Congress did not consider making the change that the White House wanted: removing the congressional review on Russia sanctions from the bill.

White House officials lobbied to weaken the section giving Congress a veto on the easing of sanctions, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Congress the administration should have “flexibility” to negotiate with Russia and improve relations.

But key Republican and Democratic lawmakers said that weakening congressional review was not on the table when they were finalizing the legislation.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, who initially was hesitant to pass a Russia sanctions bill before he was a key driver to get it done in July, said he has spoken to the President about the review process to try to ease the White House’s concerns.

Corker said that Congress would only veto an attempt to lessen sanctions on Russia if the administration took an “egregious” step to try to remove sanctions.

“I’ve walked the President through the process of how congressional review works,” Corker said. “The administration — knowing that unless it’s way out of bounds — likely they have the flexibility to do what they need to do.”

Corker noted that Trump has refused to believe his intelligence leaders that Russia interfered with the election, and said that may have helped push Congress to get the bill done quickly.

“I do think that the lack of strong statements in that regard probably effected the outcome,” he said.

[CNN]

Reality

In a pointed jab at lawmakers in his own party, he questioned Congress’s ability to negotiate sanctions based on its inability to approve the Republicans’ health-care legislation.

“The bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” Trump said. “Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking.”

According to constitutional law experts, Congress rightfully asserted its own constitutional powers to serve as a check on the executive branch, even on matters of national security.

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