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Trump press aides at odds on Russia sanctions bill signing

Anthony Scaramucci, a Port Washington native named Friday

Anthony Scaramucci, a Port Washington native named Friday to lead the White House communications team, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, July 23, 2017. Credit: CNN

Newly appointed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would sign bipartisan legislation expanding sanctions on Russia, though his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, separately said Trump hasn’t yet made a decision.

The compromise legislation would limit the president’s power to roll back or stop sanctions, which are aimed at punishing Russia for attempting to interfere in the 2016 election.

On ABC News’ “This Week,” Sanders said Trump backs congressional measures to further penalize Russia.

“The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” Sanders said. “We support where the legislation is now.”

Scaramucci was less definitive, telling CNN’s “State of the Union”: “He hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

Scaramucci, a Port Washington native named Friday to lead the White House communications team, also said Trump doesn’t necessarily accept the U.S. intelligence community consensus that Moscow meddled in the election.

After Sanders and Scaramucci revealed a split in messaging on the sanctions legislation, Trump denounced in a Sunday afternoon tweet the “phony Russian Witch Hunt” and said it’s helpful to the Democrats and the Russians.

Trump also tweeted a vague shot at members of his own party for doing “little to protect their president.”

Sunday night, Trump returned to Twitter, warning Republican lawmakers there will be consequences for failing to pass a health care bill.

“If Republicans don’t Repeal and Replace the disastrous ObamaCare,” Trump tweeted, “the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand!”

The president also took a Sunday night Twitter jab at two of his favorite targets — The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“It’s hard to read the Failing New York Times or the Amazon Washington Post because every story/opinion, even if should be positive, is bad!”

Sanders and Scaramucci took over the White House press shop after former press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday.

A deal on new penalties on Russia was struck Saturday, and the legislation also would impose more restrictions on North Korea. A House vote is set for Tuesday. An earlier Senate version of the bill had passed in a 98-2 vote.

The Trump White House has touted more diplomacy toward Moscow, but a veto of the bill would be in defiance of both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Contacts between the Trump campaign and those affiliated with the Kremlin are under scrutiny by a Department of Justice special counsel, as well as House and Senate intelligence committees.

Scaramucci said the president continued to question whether Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and top advisers to former Trump rival Hillary Clinton.

“You know, somebody said to me yesterday — I won’t tell you who — that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it,” Scaramucci told CNN. “You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they’re super-confident in their deception skills and hacking.”

Later, he said the “somebody” was the president, who had called him from Air Force One.

“And he basically said to me, ‘Hey, you know, maybe they did it. Maybe they didn’t do it,’ ” Scaramucci recounted.

The communications director, who appeared on three Sunday TV talk shows, also dismissed reports that Trump was exploring his power to pardon campaign staffers, family members and even himself for any crimes.

Scaramucci said no crimes had been committed.

“The president is thinking about pardoning nobody,” Scaramucci said.

He also called the question of whether Trump could pardon himself “one of those stupid hypotheticals. He’s not going to have to pardon himself because he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. So, we don’t even have to worry about it.”

Trump, who spent part of his Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, tweeted a day earlier: “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS.”

Scaramucci said Sunday that he had discussed pardons with the president at the White House.

But Jay Sekulow, an attorney with Trump’s outside legal team, said the president and his lawyers were not talking about the issue.

“I’m in the Oval Office with the president last week and we were talking about that,” Scaramucci said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But he doesn’t have to be pardoned. There’s nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of the pardon.”

Sekulow, on “This Week,” said: “Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table . . . We’re not researching the issue, because the issue of pardons is not on the table. There’s nothing to pardon from.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Trump against ousting Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the FBI’s Russia probe, and issuing pardons.

“If he fired Mueller or pardoned himself or someone close to him under investigation, it would be one of the greatest, greatest breaking of rule of law, of traditional democratic norms of what our democracy is about,” Schumer said on “This Week.”

Scaramucci also promised a crackdown on leaks to the press from White House staff.

“They’re going to get fired. I’m just going to make it very, very clear, OK?” he told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

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