WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, led twenty of their Democratic Senate colleagues Tuesday in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, expressing their concern that six months after Congress overwhelmingly passed mandatory sanctions measures to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing activities against our country and nations around the world, the Trump Administration has imposed no new sanctions.
President Trump signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law in August 2017 after both the House and Senate nearly unanimously passed the legislation.
“This is unacceptable,” the Senators wrote. “By imposing no new sanctions under CAATSA mandates, the U.S. remains vulnerable to an emboldened Russian government in advance of this November’s congressional elections.”
Joining Senators Cardin and Brown on the letter to Secretary Tillerson are U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
January 29, 2018 was a date mandated in the law, Section 231, for the Administration to report to Congress on sanctions designations for foreign countries or their entities who do business with certain Russian defense and intelligence sector elements. The Administration announced there would be no sanctions impositions at this time. “While there is deterrent value in Section 231, it is only effective if potential targets believe that the threat of sanctions is genuine. Yesterday’s statement by the State Department unfortunately fell short of sending a strong signal that the U.S. is fully prepared to impose these secondary sanctions in the vent of a violation,” the Senators said.
In their letter, the Senators also point out that beyond the defense and intelligence sectors, the administration has not imposed any new sanctions under the other CAATSA mandatory provisions, such as in the areas of cybersecurity, human rights, crude oil, and foreign financial institutions, among others.
“[T]his magnifies a concern that the Trump administration’s policies on Russia do not fully reflect the clear congressional intent described in the legislation,” the Senators added.
The Senators’ full letter to Secretary Tillerson is below and available at this link:
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
We are writing to express concern that the administration has imposed no new sanctions required under the mandatory provisions in the Counteracting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), though the law was enacted six months ago. This is unacceptable.
This law, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, was developed in response to the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election, its continued aggression in Ukraine and to deter such behavior in the future. By imposing no new sanctions under CAATSA mandates, the U.S. remains vulnerable to an emboldened Russian government in advance of this November’s congressional elections. CIA Director Michael Pompeo was asked in an interview this week if Russia would try to influence the mid-term elections in the United States. He replied, “Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that.” With that in mind, we as a government should be doing everything in our power to deter this behavior, starting with robust implementation of the CAATSA law.
We urge you to renew your efforts to counter this urgent threat to our democratic process. This letter summarizes our current concerns with respect to implementation.
Unimplemented Provisions in CAATSA
We acknowledge and welcome the administration’s efforts to use authorities under Obama-era executive orders to roll out sanctions maintenance packages related to the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine and illegal occupation of Crimea. Last month, we also welcomed the implementation of sanctions packages under the Global and Russia Magnitsky Acts.
Despite these positive developments and having issued guidance on several CAATSA provisions, the administration has not imposed any new sanctions under the CAATSA’s mandatory provisions. Again, this magnifies a concern that the Trump administration’s policies on Russia do not fully reflect the clear congressional intent described in the legislation. During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee briefing next week, we expect the administration to provide a full explanation as to why it has not imposed mandatory sanctions under the following provisions of the law:
Specific Concerns on Section 231 Implementation:
A recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority committee report on Russian interference in democratic institutions in Europe made clear that President Trump has not prioritized countering the growing threat posed by the Russian Federation to the United States and our allies. While there is deterrent value in Section 231, it is only effective if potential targets believe that the threat of sanctions is genuine. Yesterday’s statement by the State Department unfortunately fell short of sending a strong signal that the U.S. is fully prepared to impose these secondary sanctions in the event of a violation. We expect that future statements and actions from your department will make clear the resolve of the United States to act to protect our democratic institutions.
As you know, Section 231 of the law was mandated in order to target the income streams of entities in the defense and intelligence sectors, given the sectors’ responsibility for the attack on our political process in 2016. While we respect the classified nature of some of the information related to your decision making, we urge you to make as much information as possible public so that the American people understand the actions you are taking to implement the sanctions. Moreover, this would act as a public warning to others contemplating working with entities in the Russian defense and intelligence sectors.
We appreciate the Administration’s willingness to engage with the Senate on this issue and we thank you for your letter regarding Section 231, dated January 29th. We understand that senior State Department officials will be made available to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week. To further understand the administration’s actions, we request that you address the following issues with respect to Section 231:
Thank you for your attention to these critical issues. We look forward to your response.