WASHINGTON — President Trump said today that he would “consider” lifting sanctions against Russia “if they do something that would be good for us,” as Congress is moving toward tightening punitive measures against Moscow.
In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters, Trump said he was specifically looking for action from Russia on issues such as Syria and Ukraine, which he said were among the topics discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit a month ago.
The comments come as the Senate is scheduled to hold two Russia-related hearings on Tuesday: a closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with witnesses Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of State at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department.
Senators are also receiving a classified briefing Tuesday with intelligence agencies to discuss current Russian efforts to interfere with the midterm election.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who visited Moscow earlier this month, golfed with Trump over the weekend and asked him to lift sanctions against some top Russian officials so they could visit the United States. While Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, told Russian state media that he was interested in organizing a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the end of the year, leaders in Washington have said that’s not in the works.
Paul successfully lobbied Trump to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
Two weeks after the Helsinki summit, a bipartisan group of senators introduced deep sanctions on Russia in response to the Kremlin’s continued interference in the 2018 campaign cycle and nefarious activities in Syria and Ukraine.
The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018 is sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
It rolls in another bipartisan bill from Gardner, McCain, and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would require two-thirds of the Senate to approve any presidential effort to withdraw from NATO. It also includes provisions “expediting the transfer of excess defense articles to NATO countries to reduce some NATO countries’ dependence on Russian military equipment.”
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act passed 98-2 in the Senate last year — a veto-proof bill signed by Trump with a statement calling the legislations “seriously flawed” — Trump has to come to Congress in order to kill or waive certain sanctions against Russia. The two “no” votes came from Paul and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in Washington on Tuesday, is expected to call on Trump to expand economic sanctions against Russia specifically related to election cybersecurity.