Will Trump still host Vladimir Putin in the White House?

Developments on Day 442 of the Trump Administration:

Restriction Hit Putin’s Allies

Donald Trump is silent as his Administration imposes sanctions on seven of Russia’s richest men and 17 top Government officials, including over Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election.

The sanctions announced on Friday are directed at the inner circle of President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump recently — against the instructions of his advisors — congratulated over his re-election last month. In the call, Trump also invited Putin to visit him in the White House.

The restrictions prevent the officials and Putin’s cronies from traveling to the US and doing business or opening a bank account with any major institution in the West. They also limit foreign individuals from carrying out transactions on the behalf of those sanctioned.

The US Government has sanctioned a total of 189 Russian individuals since January 2017.

Trump, a long-time admirer of Putin, has tried to hold back any punishment of Russian actors. He lobbied against Congressional sanctions before they were passed in July. Then he declined to implement them, missing a January deadline and only accepting imposition in March.

Trump has also been close to silent about possible Russian involvement in the nerve agent attack, targeting a former spy and his daughter and affecting scores of others — in southern England on March 4. His reticence contrasted with that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, fired hours after he expressed alliance with the UK over the incident, and the Presidential congratulation of Putin came days after the US joined the UK and 26 other countries in the expulsion of Russian staff and intelligence operatives.

This week Trump declared, “Nobody has been tougher on Russia, but getting along with Russia would be a good thing, not a bad thing.” A White House statement on Friday tried to revise the “good thing” reference, giving Trump the words, “We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord and rancor to be successful.”

Trump tweeted on Friday about the “Fake News Media”, “AMERICA IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS”, and his appearance on a New York City radio program, but did not mention the sanctions.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the sanctions do not mean that Trump’s hosting of Putin is off the table.

Sanctions List Has Link to Trump Campaign and Administration

Friday’s sanctions named Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, who was involved in a shipping company venture which also included Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Also named is Vladimir Bogdanov, the director general of Surgutneftegas, a large privately-owned oil company that has long been rumored to have given Putin a stake in ownership. The oil executive Igor Rotenberg, the son of a former judo partner of Putin whose companies have won a host of state contracts, is cited for the construction of a bridge from the Russian mainland to Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014.

The list even has a link to Trump’s 2016 Presidential run with the naming of Oleg Deripaska, a business associate of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry promised a “harsh response”, saying the use of sanctions is economically anti-competitive. The Russian Embassy in the US declared, “Washington has delivered yet another blow on the Russian-US relations. Now, the sanctions cover captains of Russian business who refuse to play to Washington’s scenario.”

A “senior Administration official” told reporters that the sanctions had been in process for some time, responding to Moscow’s increasingly “brazen pattern of malign activity” around the world, especially against Western democracies.

White House Makes False Claim to Defend Trump’s “Caravan Rapes” Remark

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders makes a false claim to defend Donald Trump’s smear that activists are raping women in a caravan moving through Mexico towards the US border.

As part of his anti-immigration campaign, fed by frustration that he has not received full funding for The Wall with Mexico, Trump said on Thursday that women in the annual caravan “are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before”.

Sanders said Friday, “There was a story….I believe it was the LA [Los Angeles] Times, I don’t have it here in front of me, that documented some of that.”

The report referred to attacks on caravans in past years — not assaults within the group, who are highlighting restrictions on immigrants, refugees, and asylum seeking. It said nothing about rapes taking place in record numbers: instead, it quoted one woman who praised the men in the caravan for protecting her, noting that it “has begun to feel a little like a family”.