July 19, 2018

Menendez Announces New Comprehensive Sanctions Legislation Against Russia

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WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced he would introduce comprehensive legislation in the coming days to strengthen and impose new sanctions on Russia. Today’s announcement comes over eleven months after Congress overwhelmingly passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), legislation requiring wide-ranging mandatory sanctions to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing activities against our country and nations around the world. The Trump Administration has refused to fully implement several of CAATSA’s mandatory provisions. 

“I don’t see another way forward other than further Congressional action to call out the Administration’s willful paralysis to Putin’s abhorrent behavior,” said Senator Menendez, while discussing the repercussions of President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Co-authored by Menendez, CAATSA requires the administration to impose a host of costs on the Government of the Russian Federation for its interference in democratic processes around the world, its support for the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and its active role in destabilizing Ukraine. 

“Our efforts to date have been transformative, but just as the Administration has been prepared to find ways that allow them to circumvent the law and avoid implementing mandatory provisions of CAATSA, we must be equally prepared to adjust and adapt by closing those loopholes. That is why I will soon introduce comprehensive legislation to increase pressure on this Administration to actually implement the law and increase pressure on Russia for its aggression against the U.S. and our allies,” Menendez added. 

Menendez announced his legislation will:

·        Increase sanctions on Russia’s energy and cyber sectors;

·        Increase pressure on Russia’s oligarchs and those closest to Putin; 

·        Target Russia’s sovereign debt.

“We do not need to wait and see whether Russia attacks the 2018 election. We know it is happening and we need to ramp up the pressure now. No waiting. Based on this president’s behavior, we need to protect our institutions here at home. That is why I also want to include protections for the Office of the Special Counsel. The President has done more to target Bob Mueller than he has to go after Vladimir Putin. And this must stop” continued Menendez. “This effort must be bipartisan, and that is why I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues – nearly all of whom voted to increase sanctions on Russia last year and place more authority for sanctions alleviation in the hands of Congress. They were right to support such measures in July 2017, and they would be right to step up now”.

Menendez made the announcement while speaking on the Senate Floor with his Democratic colleagues to call for the immediate Senate-passage of a resolution he co-authored affirming the Congress’ opposition to making available former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and other current and former U.S. officials to questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin.

Below are Senator Menendez’s comments as delivered.

“I am very pleased to join with distinguished democratic leader.

Before I speak to the resolution, I would like to speak to Flake and Coon’s resolution—while I certainly would’ve supported it, I believe it is the minimum of what this body should be expressing after what we saw in Helsinki.

This is a moment for bipartisanship and patriotism, because what I saw in Helsinki speaks to the opposite of standing up to serve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

I find it interesting that in the majority whip’s objection to the resolution that, among other things, he’s saying that we should have more sanctions against Russia—which I will speak to shortly.

We are in the midst of developing a new strong package of sanctions as it relates to Russia. I embrace and welcome him to that effort if he seeks to actually see real sanctions against Russia.

But we have sanctions—there are sanctions that passed 98-2 in this institution—passed overwhelming in the House of Representatives and forced the president to sign due to the overwhelming votes, but have not yet been fulfilled. Sanctions that were largely mandatory, but have not been fulfilled.

We can start off with a robust engagement of the existing sanctions, but I’m not quite sure how we start being tough on Russia. One of the elements of those sanctions was to go after Russia’s sales of defense weapons, and here we are already looking for waivers.

There’s a difference between a country that has a long history of buying Russian military equipment. But the S400—a new anti-defense system—that’s a new version, not a legacy issue. How do we tell one country they can buy the S400, but tell another country they can’t? That doesn’t work—that’s how sanctions start to crumble at the end of the day.

As it relates to this resolution, it’s outrageous that the White House would not instantaneously and firmly dismiss a proposition that Russian prosecutors come question a former U.S. ambassador.

Again and again, we’ve seen President Trump take Vladimir Putin at his word. It’s unconscionable this White House would give anything less than full-throated defense of America’s Foreign Service like Ambassador Mike McFaul who have served our country with honor and distinction.

The reason Putin doesn’t like Mike McFaul because as our US ambassador he stood up for democracy, and human rights in Russia. He stood up to the Russian regime and promoted American values and ideals.

Congress shouldn’t have to tell America’s President to stand up for America’s public servants and its diplomatic core, but apparently we have to.

President Trump has repeatedly dismissed Russia’s attack in 2016 and he shrugs off the threat it poses today despite all of its intelligence agencies and the director of national intelligence just days ago saying there are red blinking lights about Russia’s continued engagement and interference in the elections that will take place 110 days from now.

This week, he’s continuously and directly contradicted his own national security advisors and instead embraced the line of Putin and Russian intelligence.

I know they’ve been trying to clean it up, but he’s said it so many times the same way he said it in Helsinki, and that’s what he really believes.

He’s spouted talking points that read like they’re straight from the Kremlin.

He’s shown a willingness to accede to Putin’s requests to interrogate Americans. A willingness to accept Putin’s denials about Russian interference. A willingness to attack NATO allies like Montenegro. And a willingness to be a supplicant to Putin’s views.

The President keeps claiming he’s been tough on Russia, but no—it’s Congress that’s been tough on Russia.

Last year, we passed the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, CAATSA, 98-2, with broad and deep bipartisan support. But the White House has not taken this seriously. They have ignored the mandates in the law. The clear tone and intent coming from the Helsinki Summit was one of accommodation, not of pressure. 

M. President, I don’t see another way forward other than further Congressional action to forcefully call out and address the Administration’s willful paralysis to Putin’s abhorrent behavior.

Our efforts to date have been transformative, but just as the Administration has been prepared to find ways that allow them to circumvent the law and avoid implementing mandatory provisions of CAATSA, we must be equally prepared to adjust and adapt by closing those loopholes.

That is why I will soon introduce comprehensive legislation to increase pressure on this Administration to actually implement the law and increase pressure on Russia for its aggression against the U.S. and our allies.

This legislation will increase sanctions on Russia’s energy sector. It will increase sanctions on its cyber sector. It will increase pressure on Russia’s oligarchs and those closest to Putin. It will consider Russia’s sovereign debt as a target. We cannot wait to see if Russia attacks the 2018 election. We know it is a reality and we need to ramp up the pressure now. No waiting.

Based on this president’s behavior, we need to protect our institutions here at home. That is why we want to include protections for the Office of the Special Counsel. The President has done more to target Bob Mueller than he has to go after Vladimir Putin. And this must stop.

This effort must be bipartisan, and that is why I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues who truly want to see us fight back on Russia– nearly all of whom voted to increase sanctions on Russia last year and place more authority for sanctions alleviation in the hands of Congress. They were right to support such measures in July 2017, and God knows they would be right to step up now.

It's time to show the American people that we can be patriots and not just partisans. It’s time to show the world we can put country over party. And it’s time that we defend America’s democratic institutions against Russia’s continued aggression. I look forward to the resolution and the vote.”

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