Trump to Sign Russia Sanctions Bill -- Update

By Natalie Andrews Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump plans to sign a sanctions bill aimed at punishing Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, the White House said Friday.

Continue Reading Below

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sent a statement to reporters late Friday saying the president has reviewed the final version of the bill "and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it."

The measure, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, passed the Senate on Thursday on a 98-2 vote. The same bill passed the House on Tuesday, 419-3. The overwhelming majority showed the president that there was enough strength in Congress to override a veto should he choose to block the legislation.

While the measure was debated in Congress, White House officials wouldn't commit to whether the president would sign the bill, saying it may infringe on presidential authority. The bill included a provision that would require the president to consult Congress before relaxing any sanctions against Moscow or restoring Russia's control over diplomatic compounds in the U.S. that had been seized by the Obama administration as part of U.S. reprisals for the alleged election interference.

Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism about U.S. intelligence findings that Russia meddled in the election. Russia has denied the allegations.

Should the bill become law, the president would have to notify Congress if he wants to lift sanctions on Moscow. Congress then would have 30 days to pass a resolution of disapproval to stop the president. Should Mr. Trump veto that resolution, Congress would have 10 days to override the veto.

Continue Reading Below

The legislation represents a political challenge for the president, coming as congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Russia's actions last year in a probe that also is seeking to determine whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. Mr. Trump and Russian officials have denied any collusion.

A U.S. intelligence assessment in January concluded that the alleged Russian interference was directed from the highest levels of its government. Its tactics allegedly included hacking state election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees and political strategists; and using social media and other outlets to disseminate negative stories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and positive messages about Mr. Trump.

Russia didn't wait for the White House to announce whether Mr. Trump would sign the bill to retaliate. Moscow struck back Friday, forcing Washington to cut its diplomatic presence in the country to 455 and close a U.S. diplomatic retreat outside Moscow. If the limit applies to overall staff, the result would be a dramatic reduction in the U.S. government's operation in the country, which includes the embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg.

The bill would tighten restrictions on the extension of credit to Russian entities and mandate sanctions on those deemed to be undermining cybersecurity as well as those engaging in significant transactions involving the Russian defense and intelligence sectors.

It would allow some joint energy ventures to go ahead but would sanction new projects and joint ventures in which a sanctioned Russian person or entity holds a stake of 33% or more.

The bill maintains a provision that says the president may impose penalties on firms backing a high-profile Russian pipeline project but stops short of mandating penalties. That provision has upset Europeans because it poses a potential risk to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Gazprom project backed by a consortium of five European companies, to transport gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic Sea.

After European countries, including Germany and Austria, protested, lawmakers added a stipulation that the president may impose sanctions, but "in coordination with allies of the United States."

U.S. energy companies had lobbied Congress against the bill, citing their concern over an earlier version that included measures to block partnerships with Russian individuals or companies, which they said could scuttle any U.S. business partnership that involved Russian entities.

The U.S. Treasury Department recently imposed a $2 million fine on Exxon Mobil Corp. for signing eight documents relating to oil and gas projects in Russia that were also signed by Igor Sechin, who was under U.S. sanctions at the time.

The legislation also imposes new sanctions on Iran's ballistic-missile program and the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, and attempts to squeeze the cash available to North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 28, 2017 23:15 ET (03:15 GMT)