Lawmakers preparing Russia sanctions bill
A group of bipartisan senators is preparing a bill that would offer sanctions against Russia, lawmakers confirmed as the Senate convened a new session of Congress on Tuesday.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that he was working on the bill with a “broad group” of bipartisan senators. He said he hoped the bill would be released this week.
“It will be a comprehensive bill that will provide congressional authorization for additional sanctions against Russia,” Cardin said.
The move comes as Russia has been a central focus in Washington. The White House and US intelligence community have said they are confident that Moscow sought to interfere in the US election through the hacking of Democratic political groups and sowing of distrust in the US government.
In response to those actions and what the US government called inappropriate treatment of its diplomats overseas, the White House announced a fresh round of sanctions on Russia and expelled roughly three dozen diplomats last week.
In addition, the intelligence community’s classified comprehensive review of the hackings ordered by President Barack Obama is expected to be ready as early as this week, according to two US officials.
Shortly after the completion of the review, President-elect Donald Trump is expected to be briefed specifically about the findings by intelligence community leaders, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan, according to one of the US officials.
A declassified version of the report will be released publicly and will include newly declassified material that is expected to shed new light on why the administration believes Russia interfered in the election, according to US officials.
Trump has repeatedly said he has doubts about the assertion, citing knowledge he has about the topic that he won’t reveal. Throughout the 2016 campaign, he has spoken favorably about Russian President Vladimir Putin — a position that has put him at odds with many members of his own party.
Cardin said the sanctions legislation would focus in part on Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe, including its annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine, and also for its role in the Middle East, where it has been working to support the Assad regime in Syria.
One of the most vocal critics of Putin in the GOP, Arizona Sen. John McCain, separately confirmed he was working with Cardin on the bill, but said the text was still in development. Asked if he was concerned about the proposal potentially being weakened, he said: “I’ve never been concerned about doing the right thing.”
He and fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, had said they would be looking to implement sanctions against Putin and Russia as Congress returns to session.
Cardin wasn’t clear on whether the bill would force the President-elect’s hand on sanctions or whether it would enshrine the sanctions that the White House announced last week, which Trump could otherwise roll back if he wanted to once in office.
“It will complement and go beyond that,” Cardin said of the White House actions. “It complements, but there’s separation of powers.”
Cardin also didn’t have details as to whether the bill would implement sanctions directly or create a vehicle for sanctions.
Tillerson makes the rounds
In the meantime, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, was making the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opposite Cardin.
Tillerson has faced hesitation from some GOP senators, including McCain, over his cozy relationship with Putin, which he has cultivated through his business interests in Russia.
Corker told CNN he was hopeful that through his meetings, Tillerson could assuage wary Republicans. McCain and Cardin said they expected to sit down with Tillerson in the coming days.