After long delay, State Department advances Russia sanctions

Posted at 9:17 PM, Oct 26, 2017

The State Department, facing bipartisan scrutiny from Congress, issued long overdue guidance on which Russian individuals and entities will be subject to sanctions under recently passed legislation -- 25 days after it was due.

The notice, required by the law, was due Oct. 1 and is meant to put potential stakeholders -- including US companies -- on alert in advance of the implementation in January. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent the list to Congress Thursday, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The State Department had come under sharp criticism from lawmakers from both parties who questioned why the Trump administration had missed the deadline and whether the delay reflected reluctance from the White House to further sanction Moscow.

"Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has authorized the department to issue guidance to the public specifying the persons or entities that are part of or operating on behalf of the defense or intelligence sectors of the government of the Russian Federation," Nauert said. "What that means is that Secretary Tillerson has signed off on this and it is now being held on Capitol Hill."

Nauert said that the State Department was also reaching out to "key US industry stakeholders and our allies and partners" to explain the list.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican John McCain of Arizona, critics of the administration's delay, issued a statement that said the administration's announcement was "a step in the right direction toward holding Russia accountable for its attack on our election."

But they cautioned that they'd conduct close oversight "to ensure the administration is following both the letter and the spirit of the law," and raised concerns that the State Department sanctions office has been closed, undermining the agency's ability to implement the sanctions.

The pair had raised their frustrations about the delay in an Oct. 11 statement.

"The delay calls into question the Trump administration's commitment to the sanctions bill which was signed into law more than two months ago, following months of public debate and negotiations in Congress," the senators wrote. "They've had plenty of time to get their act together."

"In the works"

Asked about the criticism, Nauert said the work of assembling the list had just taken time.

"This has been in the works for quite some time," Nauert said. She added that Congress gave the agency two months to put the list together, and argued that this wasn't much time to get the job done. Nauert said that the Russian names and entities will be posted to the State Department website shortly.

The legislation, titled "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act," was signed into law by President Trump in August, and also targets Iran and North Korea. At the time, Trump cast aspersions on the act, calling it "seriously flawed."

Trump has consistently argued in favor of better relations with Russia and cast doubt on the consensus opinion of US intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 elections.

Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Thursday that, "the Senate and House spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly passing this piece of legislation and sent a strong signal to Iran, Russia and North Korea that our country will stand firm and united in the face of destabilizing behavior."

"A good first step"

"The guidance provided today by the State Department is a good first step in responsibly implementing a very complex piece of legislation, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson's attention to this important issue," Corker said. "Congress will expect thorough and timely consultation until full implementation is complete."

The bill was, in part, an attempt by Congress to put some controls in place, given Trump's apparent sympathy for Russia. It requires him to go to Congress before he can waive or terminate certain sanctions against Russia.

The bill allows Congress to sanction specific groups and individuals for cyber activity, evading sanctions, and arms transfers to Syria, among other things.