Donald Trump is being called a “traitor” and accused of conspiring with Russia after the president refused to enact sanctions that had been passed with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.
Last year, Trump had reluctantly signed the bill creating new sanctions on Russia for the country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Reports from the intelligence community found that Russia purposely meddled in the election in the hope of helping Trump get elected, and a salacious dossier compiled by a former British spy claimed that Trump’s campaign actively colluded with Russia.
That led to quite a bit of attention around the new sanctions, which many feared Trump would not put into place.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department said exactly that — despite the measures passing with overwhelming bipartisan support by Congress and being signed into law by Donald Trump, the department would not be putting them into place. An announcement from the department claimed that the sanctions were not needed as the sanctions currently in place already act as a deterrent to Russia.
“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said (via the New York Post). “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”
The announcement was met with harsh criticism and strong opposition from both sides of the aisle.
“When the Congress voted for this, the whole point of it was to slap sanctions on these Russian companies that interfered with our election and are doing all kinds of other things,” said Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (via the Daily Beast). “The legislation itself is not a deterrent if you don’t put teeth behind it. And the teeth behind it are the sanctions.”
Some had even more harsh words for Donald Trump’s refusal to enact Russian sanctions. Democratic fundraiser and strategist Scott Dworkin, a frequent critic of Trump online, said that the decision amounted to treason and hinted that Trump must be being blackmailed by Russia.
.@realDonaldTrump-America wants to know why you didn't implement Russian sanctions yet. Oh, because you're the biggest traitor in the history of this country. And you are still conspiring with the Russians to undermine the United States of America. That piss tape must be good...— Scott Dworkin (@funder) January 30, 2018
There were already signs that Donald Trump was backing away from the Russian sanctions. As the Daily Beast noted, the State Department and Treasury Department missed an October 1 deadline to issue guidance on how the sanctions would be implemented, and then lawmakers asking about the delay were met with only silence.
As a Member of the Foreign Affairs Cmte, I find the weakness shown by @realDonaldTrump towards Russia to be deeply troubling. Sanctions law was not just to deter Russia, but to hold it accountable for hacking our democracy. Russia shouldn't get a mulligan. https://t.co/x2Ig2ZAoHC— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 30, 2018
The decision not to enact Russian sanctions also comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation appears to be circling closer to Donald Trump. Reports indicate that Mueller is focusing on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice and has requested an interview. As CNN reported, Trump initially indicated that he would sit for an interview, but Trump’s lawyer later backed off the claim.