Trump Officials Pressed State Dept Staffers for Plans to Lift Russia Sanctions

Trump administration officials pressed State Department staffers to develop plans for removing sanctions against Russia almost immediately after President Trump took office in January, Yahoo News reported Thursday.

In turn, according to Yahoo News, State Department employees sought to convince lawmakers to codify the sanctions, which were put in place by former President Barack Obama in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Former Coordinator of Sanctions Policy Dan Fried, who retired from the State Department in February, said that he received phone calls from concerned officials tasked with developing plans to lift the sanctions asking him to intervene and “stop this.”

“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” Fried told Yahoo News, saying he eventually contacted lawmakers, including Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), in an effort to codify the sanctions, which would complicate efforts by Trump to lift them.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, who, at the time, had just left the State Department, also brought the issue up with members of Congress.

The revelation State Department officials had scrambled to prevent the Trump administration from doing away with Obama-era sanctions on Russia comes as the FBI and at least four congressional committees are investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It also follows reports last week that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had discussed setting up a backchannel line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin with the country’s Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Kushner is currently under FBI scrutiny for his meetings with Kislyak and Russian banking executive Sergey Gorkov in December. He did not disclose those meetings.

Also present at the meeting with Kislyak was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign from the White House in February amid revelations that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak in the month before Trump took office.

As a presidential candidate and since taking office, Trump has expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, though he has repeatedly denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow and has called the federal investigations into the matter a “witch hunt.”

[The Hill]

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