In yet another bow to his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump indicated today at a press conference that he doesn’t want to enforce sanctions against Russia. Instead, Trump said, ““I feel that having Russia in a friendly posture, as opposed to always fighting with them, is an asset to the world and an asset to our country, not a liability,” according to Shareblue Media. This statement follows a day after Trump met with Putin at the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam.
Congress, motivated by Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election, as well as by Russia’s human rights abuses and their military intervention in the Ukraine, passed a sanctions package against Russia that was supported by a large bipartisan majority. The sanctions target Russia’s intelligence, defense, and energy concerns. Knowing the sanctions package had so much Congressional support that an attempted veto would be overridden, President Trump signed the sanctions into law on August 2. Trump had until October 1 to begin implementing the sanctions, but ran past that date without acting on the sanctions and without explaining his inaction. A new enforcement deadline of January, 2018, has been set, but given his willful violation of the original October deadline as well as his comments today, it appears unlikely that President Trump will ever enforce the sanctions. This amounts to a dereliction of President Trump’s duty to enforce the law.
Today President Trump indicated that Russia had already been very heavily sanctioned, so that these new sanctions, if enforced, would be too much. Of course Trump is missing the point of sanctions, that the sanctions go away when the behaviors that motivated the imposition of the sanctions go away. Russia, rather than modifying its behaviors to make sanction relief reasonable, has instead increased its objectionable behavior, particularly by meddling in the 2016 elections. This last charge is something President Trump has repeatedly asserted to be untrue, despite findings by the CIA and Congress that Russia did indeed meddle in the elections in attempts to increase the likelihood of a Trump victory.
Trump does not want to admit that Russia may have helped him or at least tried to help him, with or without his knowledge, to win the election. Since that meddling in the election is a big motivator for the new round of sanctions, the true motivation for Trump’s refusal to impose the sanctions may be his denial of the meddling rather than his sentiment that additional sanctions are excessive and counterproductive. As in so many of his actions, Trump is showing his belief in Trump first, not America first.