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Lawmakers Continue Push to Review Any Russia Sanctions Changes as Investigations Take Shape

WASHINGTON — Amid debate on Capitol Hill over what a congressional investigation into possible ties between Russian and the Trump camp should look like, a bipartisan group of House members introduced legislation today requiring lawmakers to sign off on any easing of sanctions.

The Russia Sanctions Review Act is a companion bill to legislation introduced in the upper chamber by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). President Trump invited Rubio, who has called for former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, to the White House for dinner tonight.

Graham said on Good Morning America that if, as first reported by the New York Times, contacts occurred between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials and they’re determined to be “outside the norm, that’s not only big league bad, that’s a game changer.”

“Because if it is true, it is very very disturbing to me, and Russia needs to pay a price when it comes to interfering in our democracy and other democracies, and any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price,” said the senator.

The House sanctions review bill was introduced by Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Intelligence Subcommittee on the NSA and Cybersecurity Chairman Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

It’s modeled after the legislation that required a congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal.

“Each day, we learn more about secret dealings that President Trump’s confidants have had with the Russian government,” Smith said. “We don’t yet know the full extent of these interactions, but it would raise serious questions if the administration attempted to ease the sanctions on Russia right now.”

Kinzinger told MSNBC that he doesn’t know if Trump would sign the legislation — “probably pretty low” chances, the Illinois Republican predicted — but “it’s important as much as anything, though, to say that we’re basically reaffirming that Congress has a role in deciding this.”

“Congress is committed to working with the president to say, OK, you know, if this is part of a broader negotiation, that’s one thing. But you’re not going to unilaterally lift these sanctions,” he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told MSNBC that as far as investigations go, “the base issue is getting to the bottom of what the Russian interference was and what the relationship was with associates of the Trump effort.”

“And so that is the big elephant in the room that has got to be dealt with in the most appropriate way. The American people need to understand, we need to understand and it needs to be dealt with quickly and we need to get it behind us,” Corker said. “…This relationship that seems to exist and seems to be preeminent and seems to be driving so much of the conversation within the White House, to me, has still not righted itself.”

“I think there are people who know better. And hopefully it will change. But, no, it’s a problem and, look, people are concerned that he is going to, you know, strip away sanctions that are in place. I think that is almost impossible now with everything that has happened.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) reiterated his call for an investigation independent of Congress, calling the Intelligence Committee “a graveyard for investigations.”

“Their hearings are largely in secret. The public will not have access to the testimony. When it came to Benghazi, the Republicans couldn’t wait for public hearing after public hearing, investigating Benghazi over and over again,” Durbin told MSNBC. “And, second, any report from this Intelligence Committee is likely to be highly redacted, censored. And the way to remove the censorship so the public can read it is to ask the permission of the White House.”

“That is just incredible, to think that that’s where the investigation takes place and the president will have the final word on what the American people will learn.”

Durbin has suggested retired Gen. Colin Powell and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as co-chairs of an independent commission so there’s “no question about partisanship.”

“It would have the subpoena power necessary to complete the investigation if it’s a meaningful, independent commission,” he added. “We would create it by law and, frankly, we need to work together in both parties to get that done.”