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Trump Facing Criticism For Not Doing Enough To Punish Russia For Election Meddling

Jan 30, 2018
Originally published on January 30, 2018 7:20 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.S. Treasury Department has issued a long-awaited list of wealthy Russians who are connected to the Kremlin, and that has led to some anxiety in Moscow. The people named on the list are not facing sanctions, but that could change. At the same time, the Trump administration is being criticized for not doing enough to punish Russia for meddling in U.S. politics. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Things got heated at a hearing with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin today when Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown accused the Trump administration of slow walking sanctions that passed overwhelmingly last year. Brown said the long-awaited oligarchs list required by that law looks like it was copied from Forbes magazine, which ranks Russian billionaires. Mnuchin insisted that was just the declassified version.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN: There is a substantial amount of work that was done. I look forward to you reviewing the classified report...

SHERROD BROWN: No, it's...

MNUCHIN: ...And we will - we will be doing - based upon that, we will be looking at taking appropriate action.

BROWN: Time is ticking - 98 to 2 in the Senate, three no votes in the House. There's a lot of belief in both sides of the aisle - I hear senators talking privately about this - that this Congress and the American people don't trust the president on Russia.

KELEMEN: And Senator Brown says the Treasury Department's actions to date reinforce that view. Mnuchin brushed off that criticism and the many questions about why the administration did not impose new sanctions under the law.

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MNUCHIN: The intent was not to have sanctions by the delivery report last night. The intent was to do an extremely thorough analysis. It's hundreds of pages.

KELEMEN: So far, the administration argues there's no need for new sanctions. They argue that the threat alone has disrupted some Russian defense deals. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, says he is satisfied with this approach, though he called the oligarchs list milk toast. Russian President Vladimir Putin joked that he was disappointed not to be on it.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: "Look at this stupidity," Putin said, pointing out that the U.S. is blacklisting Russia alongside North Korea and Iran, at the same time, asking Russia to help solve those issues. Meanwhile, Russia's embassy here confirmed that the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service was invited to counter-terrorism talks in Washington. That had Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer fuming because Sergei Naryshkin is on a U.S. sanctions list.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: This is a serious national security issue. Russia hacked our elections. We sanctioned the head of their foreign intelligence, and then the Trump administration invites him to waltz through our front door.

KELEMEN: Schumer says the Trump administration has some explaining to do. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.