Politics

Senate Democrats Ask Why Trump Let Russian Spy Chief Into United States

Also question Treasury secretary on Russia sanctions implementation

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, pressed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about Russian sanctions Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Leading Senate Democrats want to know why the Trump administration allowed a top Russian spy onto U.S. soil.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer led other Democrats in raising concerns Tuesday about a reported visit by Sergey Naryshkin, Russia's foreign spy chief and an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

“The Trump administration must immediately come clean and answer questions: Which U.S. officials did he meet with? Did any White House or National Security Council official meet with Naryshkin? What did they discuss?” Schumer said.

“Surely he didn’t come alone, so which other sanctioned Russian intelligence agency figures did the Trump administration let into our country?” the New York Democrat continued. “And most importantly, is his visit why the Trump administration decided to forego sanctions?”

The sanctions Schumer referred to are related to a law that passed the Senate 97-2 last year. Democrats contend the law required the Trump administration to move forward on new sanctions related to Russia by Monday.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disputed that he was delaying sanctions against Russia.

Sen. Sherrod Brown accused Mnuchin of “slow walking” the reports because President Donald Trump likes Putin.

“We did not waive or delay any sanctions,” Mnuchin said at the hearing.

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, is the ranking member on the Banking panel. Appearing with Schumer Tuesday afternoon, Brown said that lawmakers intentionally did not give the president the customary latitude for items like humanitarian assistance in crafting the 2017 sanctions law.

“Frankly, nobody in either party. Nobody in either party trusts this president to represent American national interests when it comes to Russia,” Brown said.

Mnuchin seemed to contend that the Monday deadline was a reporting requirement rather than a sanctions deadline, in an exchange with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who is also a a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“The intent was not to have sanctions by the delivery [of the] report last night. The intent was to do an extremely thorough analysis,” Mnuchin testified. “It was thousands of pages, and there will be sanctions that come out of this report.“ 

Menendez said he thought the law was pretty clear.

“It seemed to me not only did you have to describe these entities, but you also had to pursue sanctions,” Menendez said. 

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, the Foreign Relations chairman and also a senior member of Banking, said in a statement that he was pleased with the Trump administration’s efforts to implement the sanctions law.

“As a lead author of this important legislation, I am particularly invested in its implementation,” said Corker. “Based on the classified briefing our committee staff received yesterday afternoon from the State Department, I am encouraged by the diplomatic steps [Secretary of State Rex Tillerson] has taken in recent months to compel other governments to comply with [the law]. On the whole, it is clear the administration is working in good faith, and I am committed to applying pressure, as needed, to ensure further implementation.”

Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin concurred with Menendez’s reading of the law. The Maryland Democrat said it was hard to believe that no new sanctions have needed to be imposed.

Cardin questioned the amount of effort that the Trump administration put into an unclassified roster of Russian oligarchs and other officials, calling it a “cut and paste” of a list from Forbes magazine.

Doug Sword contributed to this report.

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