WASHINGTON — New York and Maryland lawmakers are trying to stop the Trump administration from returning two compounds in those states that intelligence officials say were used for espionage operations to the Russian government.
Russia, meanwhile, today promised retaliation against Washington if President Trump does not hand over the properties.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Moscow “will have to take reciprocal measures” if the Russians aren’t allowed to move back in.
In response to the intelligence community assessment that Russia conducted an extensive campaign influence operation during the presidential election season and at times violent harassment of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, President Obama in December gave 35 Russian officials 72 hours to leave the country and shut down the Maryland and New York estates. Officials searching the homes afterward reportedly found the remnants of destroyed intelligence materials and related equipment after the Russians quickly cleared out in less than a day.
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the compounds during their lengthy discussion at the G20, and Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon is scheduled to meet with his counterpart in Moscow on Monday. Zakharova said the Kremlin is expecting Shannon to bring a “detailed” plan for resolving the disagreement.
Presidential advisor Sebastian Gorka told CNN on Thursday that the administration is considering giving the compounds back to Russia “because we want to give collaboration, cooperation a chance.”
“I think it’d be a terrible mistake,” countered House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) after Gorka’s comments. “These are facilities that the Russians were using to spy on the American people. Why on earth we’d want to give them back, reward the Russians for their continued denial of their involvement in our election, it makes no sense whatsoever.”
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Shannon on Thursday urging the undersecretary to not strike a deal that returns the compounds to Moscow.
“The Russian government’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election makes abundantly clear the Kremlin’s nefarious intentions toward the United States, which also remain unchanged,” the senators wrote. “As you engage in a July 17 bilateral dialogue with the Russian government, we strongly urge you to consult closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on relevant counterintelligence considerations.”
The Senate passed a Russia sanctions bill 98-2 on June 14 — legislation stalled in the House — that would make any relief or concessions to Moscow subject to congressional review and approval.
“There is clearly very strong support in Congress for vigilance with regards to the Russian government presence in the United States,” the letter continued. “We urge you to be similarly vigilant as you broach negotiations on a range of bilateral issues with the Russians on Monday, and to deny the Russian government the ability to advance its interests from within our own states.”