TrumpWatch, Day 195: Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill, Then Trashes It


Trump: Legislation is “significantly flawed”

Developments on Day 195 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Signs “Unconstitutional” Russian Sanctions Bill

Donald Trump signs legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but immediately denounces it for “clearly unconstitutional provisions” and indicates he might not enforce the measures.

The sanctions, which also include restrictions on Iran and North Korea, were confirmed by Congress last week. The Senate passed a version which covered Russia and Iran in June. The White House then lobbied for weeks for the House of Representatives to turn down the bill over the Russian provision, only for the lower chamber to join the Senate in near-unanimous approval.

Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated on Sunday by ordering US diplomatic services in Russia to reduce their personnel from 1,210 to 455.

Trump showed his displeasure on Wednesday by not inviting media photographers to the signing. He made no comment to reporters and ignored questions at an unrelated event, Instead he issued two written statements to describe his objections, one for Congress and one for the media.

Trump insisted that “America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process” — a reference to Congress’ passage of the sanctions over Russia’s influence operations in the 2016 US election, including possible collusion with the Trump campaign — and that “we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization”.

But he maintained that the bill “included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” as “it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate”. He declared that the limit on executive flexibility “makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people and will drive China, Russia and North Korea much closer together”.

Trump said he was “signing this bill for the sake of national unity”, but he stopped short of a commitment to the waiting period before any attempt to limit or remove sanctions and he only said that he would “give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress”.

In another attempt to reduce the impact of the legislation, he said, “We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”

The statements concluded with curious self-promotion of Trump’s supposed abilities as Chief Executive and a final swipe at legislators, “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

Russia’s Mocking Response

The Kremlin responded by belittling the measures and mocking Trump.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said “there is nothing new” in the bill and, referring to Putin’s order to reduce US diplomatic staff, said, “Countermeasures have already been taken.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry attributed the sanctions to “Russophobic hysteria” and reserved the right to take further action. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev took to Twitter to sneer:

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration continued to send mixed messages about its approach to Russia. Vice President Mike Pence said in Montenegro, the latest Eastern European nation to join NATO, “The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same.”

But on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson focused on the potential for cooperation with Moscow in fighting the Islamic State and finding a resolution to the Syrian conflict:

The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the President nor I are very happy about that. We were clear that we didn’t think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made.

Acting DEA Head: Trump “Condoned Police Misconduct”

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has told staff that Donald Trump “condoned police misconduct” in remarks last Friday to officers on Long Island, New York.

Trump told the officers that they should not bother protecting suspects’ heads when loading them into police vehicles.

See Police Forces Reject Donald Trump’s Endorsement of Brutality

In an e-mail the day after the event, Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said he was responding “because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong”. He cited the agency’s core values such as integrity, accountability, respect, and compassion.

This is how we conduct ourselves. This is how we treat those whom we encounter in our work: victims, witnesses, subjects, and defendants. This is who we are.

A series of police authorities including the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island, the New York City Police Department, and the International Association of Police Chiefs rejected Trump’s statement.

Trump Administration Redirecting Justice Department to Challenge Affirmative Action by Universities

The Trump Administration is planning to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division towards investigation and suing of universities over affirmative action admissions policies.

An internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions”.

The project will be run from the division’s front office, where political appointees work, rather than the Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles work involving schools and universities.

The document does not explicitly identify who is supposedly at risk of discrimination, but the phrasing is aimed at programs designed to bring more minority students to universities.

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