Trump v. Congress on New Russian Sanctions
Curtis A. Ward
When faced with indisputable facts that the Russian Government interfered with the U.S. presidential elections Congress will be forced to act by imposing new sanctions against Russia. President Barack Obama will have the last laugh as he sets the table for a showdown between a Republican Congress and a Republican President. Lest anyone should forget, Republican leaders plotted from day one of the Obama presidency to ensure he would fail. They didn’t get their wish but it was not for want of trying. Indeed, President Obama will have the last laugh.
President Obama has ordered the intelligence community to prepare a report on the actions taken by the Russian government, or of individuals at the direction of Vladimir Putin to disrupt the U.S. presidential election and to help elect Donald Trump. Interestingly, President Obama did not include the FBI under Director James B. Comey to participate in preparing this report. Not surprisingly, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has called for Comey’s resignation and for investigation of the FBI Director. On that we will just have to wait and see.
I never perceived President Obama as a “lame-duck” president. He doesn’t fit the mold. He will be president of the United States until Trump is inaugurated; and until then he will carry out the duties of President. The report will be completed as ordered by the President and presented to Congress before he leaves office on January 20, 2017. When evidence is presented and an unclassified version made public there will be a public outcry demanding action by the Congress. Bear in mind Secretary Hillary Clinton received close to three million more votes than Donald Trump. Those numbers will not be lost on Congressional representatives.
Many in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike will not need too much prodding when it comes to imposing further sanctions on Russia and on Putin’s inner circle. Current U.S. sanctions against Russia were authorized by legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Obama in response to Russia’s aggression against the people and government of Ukraine. There is no love lost between Republican leaders in Congress and Vladimir Putin. The main issue will be whether Republican Congressional leaders play according to Trump’s rules, or will they give credence to the Separation of Powers clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Moving forward, the evidence is expected to clearly show Russia’s interference in the U.S. democratic process. Republican Senators will slowly line up behind Congressional hearings and Democrats in Congress will be keeping their feet to the fire. The ensuing political dynamic will become uncomfortable for Donald Trump in his relationship with Vladimir Putin. With Democrats already fuming from earlier reports of Russia’s interference, and ostensible cover-up by the FBI, the Congress will be united in efforts to punish Russia. New broader sanctions, not waiver of current sanctions.
Donald Trump’s denial of the U.S. intelligence community will have no credibility whatsoever. Casting doubt on the intelligence community will be viewed by top Congressional leaders, on both sides of the aisle, as a betrayal of U.S. national security. Trump will be treading on dangerous ground. Even Trump’s supporters in Congress will not have the luxury of remaining silence on issues that clearly impact on U.S. national security. Trump will learn sooner rather than later that this is sacrosanct. The report ordered by president Obama will seal the deal for harsher sanctions and Congress will make Putin pay.
Trump will be operating in a league he is not prepared for, or capable of having any impact on. Congress will be enacting veto-proof mandates. Perhaps it is a stretch of imagination to expect Trump to be blind to the writing on the wall and resist the wishes of a bi-partisan Congress acting against Vladimir Putin. However, should Trump pursue an aggressive course contrary to the wishes of Congress, perhaps claiming Executive prerogative on foreign policy, he will be setting the stage for his impeachment. Business conflicts aside, Trump will be accused of subverting U.S. national security.
On the other hand, if as speculated Putin has a hook in Trump through his business relationships with Russian financiers one can expect Putin to yank the line. Putin will press for payback. Putin may even blackmail Trump – who knows what information Putin possesses on Trump; information gathered over a long period of Trump’s business relationships with Russian investors. Numerous telephone calls from the Trump tower or Trump hotels around the world without the benefit of security. It can be expected that Putin possesses a treasure trove of recorded conversations between Trump and his Russian business partners. Putin may even have copies of agreements signed by Trump, which could embarrass the American president, ready to make public should Trump not play by Putin’s rules. Lest we forget, Putin’s roots are in Russian intelligence.
Never before in the history of American politics has a political leader fits the mold of Donald Trump. Never before has a president seems so vulnerable to possible blackmail, or at the least to foreign coercion as president Trump is likely to be.
In a prior blog I suggested the most likely trap for Trump would be the likelihood of him trying to scale back current sanctions against Russia. (“Will Trump Fall on the Sanctions Sword?”) That possibility remains. However, with the new CIA report, the possibility of a showdown with Congress could be even sooner. Trump’s tweets will not save him.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.