Trump administration sanctions Russians over election interference

The Trump administration’s Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals (including the 13 indicted in the Mueller inquiry) and 5 Russian entities over interference in the 2016 US elections.

Fox News: Trump administration sanctions Russians for interfering in 2016 elections

“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions mean all property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. United States people are also prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions are meant to counter Russia’s destabilizing activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its destructive cyber-attacks. The department cited the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack the White House and the British government have attributed to the Russian military.

Last month, 13 Russians and three Russian companies were indicted in Mueller’s probe, accused of a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” against the U.S.

The three entities are Internet Research Agency LLC, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering.

The sanctions also target two entities and six individuals accused of being cyber actors operating on behalf of the Russian government.

Those entities are the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate.

And it goes further than election interference.

The Trump administration also accused Russia on Thursday of a concerted, ongoing operation to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure.

U.S. national security officials said the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and American intelligence agencies determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind the attacks on the energy sector.

The officials said the Russians deliberately chose U.S. energy industry targets, obtaining access to computer systems and then conducting “network reconnaissance” of industrial control systems that run American factories and the electricity grid.

The accusations and accompanying sanctions are some of the strongest actions to date by the administration to punish Russia for hacking and other efforts to sow discord in the American democracy.

I didn’t see this coming. In the past Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay Russian interference in the election.

This is on top of the US joining the UK and Germany over the alleged Russian use of a nerve gas attack in Salisbury, England.

In a joint statement Thursday, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said they “abhor” the attack against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4. A police officer who came to the pair’s aid was also sickened.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” the statement said.

The big question now must be how Russia might react.

It will also be of interest how Trump reacts to the sanctions. He has commented on the nerve gas issue – U.S. hits Russians with sanctions for election meddling, cyber attacks (Reuters):

Trump told reporters during a White House event with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar that “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind” the use of a nerve agent to attack Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent in England. Trump called it “something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”

But Trump has claimed he one the election on his merits and without Russian assistance.

Trump has frequently questioned a January 2017 finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda in an effort eventually aimed at tilting the race in Trump’s favor. Russia denies interfering in the election.

But Mnuchin was unequivocal in saying that Thursday’s Treasury action “counters Russia’s continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks.”

Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, which nearly unanimously passed a new sanctions bill against Russia last summer, had criticized Trump for not punishing Moscow. The Trump administration in January did not announce sanctions against Russia, for now, under the new law.

Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new sanctions as an important step. “But more must be done,” Royce said in a statement, promising that his committee would “keep pushing to counter Russian aggression.”

A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump, who campaigned on warmer ties with Putin, has grown exasperated with Russian activity.

That seems like a major change of direction for Trump.

 

 

Trump versus Putin on Russian hacking

There seems to be a stark difference between Vladimir Putin’s account of his discussion with Donald Trump over Russian interference in the US election, and what Trump staff are saying, but Trump himself is remaining vague.

After his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg Trump said:  I ‘strongly pressed’ Putin on election meddling

“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..” the president tweeted.

“…We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” he added.

Putin earlier in the day said at a press conference that he believes Trump is convinced by his denial that his state interfered.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said at a press conference that Trump accepted the denial.

Trump staff responded:  Priebus: Trump ‘absolutely did not believe’ Putin

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus pushed back Sunday against the Russian account of the meeting President Donald Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Priebus said Trump did not believe Putin’s claim Friday that Russia had not attempted to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

“The President absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin,” Priebus said. “What the President did is he immediately came into the meeting, talked about Russian meddling in the US election, went after that issue at least two separate times.”

Priebus said an “extensive portion” of the first meeting between the two leaders was dedicated to the issue and offered what he said was Trump’s position.

“He’s said they probably meddled in the election. They did meddle in the election,” Priebus said. “The one thing that he also says — which drives the media crazy, but it’s an absolute fact — is that others have as well. And that’s true. China has, North Korea has, and they have consistently over many, many years.”

Priebus said Trump’s tweets did not mean Russia was “off the hook.”

UN Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley…

said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump was forceful in the meeting, and Russia was “trying to save face” in denying any election interference.

The meeting on Friday was between Trump, Putin, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. After the meeting was over, Tillerson and Lavrov offered different descriptions of the meeting on the election meddling issue. Tillerson said when Trump pressed Putin and he denied involvement, Trump moved on to other topics, while Lavrov suggested Trump had accepted Putin’s denial.

Putin said as much Saturday.

“I repeat, he asked a lot of questions on this matter,” Putin said of Trump. “I answered as many as I could answer. I think he took it into consideration and agreed with it. But you should ask him what his opinion is on that.”

It appears that trump doesn’t want to give his opinion on it. He appears to be avoiding challenging Putin publicly.