The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Democratic members are demanding that President Donald Trump tell them why his administration has yet to issue guidance on how it will implement new sanctions against Russia.
In a letter to Trump obtained by The Daily Beast before it was sent to the White House, the lawmakers write: “This inaction is baffling and unacceptable. It allows Russia or any other hostile actor to believe they can attack American democracy with impunity. And it sends a terrible message about American leadership on the global stage.”
The administration blew past an Oct. 1 deadline to name the individuals and entities in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors that will be sanctioned. That deadline was specified in legislation that passed nearly unanimously in Congress in July and was reluctantly signed into law by Trump on Aug. 2. To date, the administration has only designated the federal departments and agencies tasked with working on the issue.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said an “interagency review” was holding up the implementation of the sanctions, adding that the guidance “will be announced soon.” Sanders said the administration “remains committed to holding Russia accountable—and has on a variety of fronts,” naming specifically its role in a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this year.
In addition to the delay, members of Congress say they’re being kept in the dark, accusing the administration of stonewalling them as they try to question the administration on the issue. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has joined Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in demanding more information. In their letter, the Democrats asked Trump to explain the delay.
“If the executive branch ignores its responsibility to keep our country safe, we as lawmakers in a coequal branch of government are obligated to take action,” reads the letter, which was signed by all but one Democratic member of the committee. “We strongly encourage you to abide by the law and dole out a tough response to those who sought to undermine our democratic institutions from overseas.”
Trump disparaged the legislation when he signed it into law, and did so in order to avoid a potentially embarrassing veto override that almost certainly would have occurred. The Trump administration’s opposition to the sanctions bill is long-standing. The Daily Beast first reported on efforts by top administration officials to weaken a core mechanism of the bill that allows Congress to review any attempts by the executive branch to unilaterally ramp up or weaken the sanctions. Top officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have argued that that provision unnecessarily ties the hands of the administration.
The delay “deepens concerns over your campaign’s and administration’s ties to Russia,” the Democrats wrote, referring to ongoing investigations into Russia’s election meddling and allegations that Trump associates colluded with Russian operatives. Trump has dismissed those probes as “fake news” and a “hoax.”
Congress is close to powerless to compel the administration to enforce the sanctions law, but McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested to The Daily Beast on Monday that he would continue to block Trump’s nominees until action is taken on the sanctions.