SPEAKING OF LOTS OF SMOKE SMOKE BUT NO PROOF/EVIDENCE/FACTS/DATA INDICATING A FIRE
How The Trump Administration’s Secret Efforts To Ease Russia Sanctions Fell Short
By: Michael Isikoff
June 2, 2017
In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.
Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.
These efforts to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election alarmed some State Department officials, who immediately began lobbying congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to block the move, the sources said.
“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several “panicky” calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, “Please, my God, can’t you stop this?”
Fried said he grew so concerned that he contacted Capitol Hill allies — including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to urge them to move quickly to pass legislation that would “codify” the sanctions in place, making it difficult for President Trump to remove them.
Tom Malinowski, who had just stepped down as President Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, told Yahoo News he too joined the effort to lobby Congress after learning from former colleagues that the administration was developing a plan to lift sanctions — and possibly arrange a summit between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin — as part of an effort to achieve a “grand bargain” with Moscow. “It would have been a win-win for Moscow,” said Malinowski, who only days before he left office announced his own round of sanctions against senior Russian officials for human rights abuses under a law known as the Magnitsky Act.
It also potentially takes on new significance for congressional and Justice Department investigators in light of reports that before the administration took office Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his chief foreign policy adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed setting up a private channel of communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — talks that appear to have laid the groundwork for the proposals that began circulating right after the inauguration.
A senior White House official confirmed that the administration began exploring changes in Russia sanctions as part of a broader policy review that is still ongoing. “We’ve been reviewing all the sanctions — and this is not exclusive to Russia,” the official said. “All the sanctions regimes have mechanisms built in to alleviate them. It’s been our hope that the Russians would take advantage of that” by living up to Moscow’s agreement to end the Ukraine conflict, but they did not do so.
To be sure, President Trump’s interest in improving relations with Moscow was hardly a secret during last year’s presidential campaign. “If we can make a great deal for our country and get along with Russia, that would be a tremendous thing,” Trump said in a April 28, 2016, Fox News interview. “I would love to try it.”