After many months of mixed signals and outright denials regarding Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its increasing use of cyberwarfare against the United States and around the globe, the Trump administration finally said enough!
The sanctions issued Thursday by the Treasury Department against 19 individuals and five organizations in Russia implicated in the election interference and other cyberattacks were the administration’s strongest action against Russia in the 14 months it has been in office.
It also rightly stood with our allies Britain, France and Germany in a statement that condemned Russia for its apparent role in the nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England. That followed denunciations of Russia by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday.
But amid this sudden wave of protest and pushback, one critical voice still is missing: that of President Donald Trump.
He must be unequivocal in condemning Russia, yet refuses to do it. He has called Russian election meddling a hoax despite the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments last month of 13 Russian individuals and three entities for intervening in the race on Trump’s behalf. As for the despicable attack in Britain, as recently as Tuesday, Trump said that “we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
One possible context for his equivocation, and the contradictory administration’s call to action, emerged a few hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the sanctions. That’s when news broke that Mueller recently subpoenaed the Trump Organization for all documents related to Russia. Is Trump’s reticence related to Russian money tied up in his properties? Is the administration’s move to finally punish Russia, even if just symbolically, a way for Trump to claim he is taking a tough stand?
Mueller’s indictments and the sanctions announcement detail a breathtaking cybersabotage campaign by two Russian spy agencies and others against individuals, businesses and infrastructure in our country and elsewhere, such as a previously unknown attack on America’s energy grid, including a nuclear plant in Kansas.
The sanctions also underscored the shameful partisanship of Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. This week they ended their probe into election meddling, saying it showed that Russia did not act to help Trump — but the individuals and organizations targeted by Thursday’s sanctions included many of those indicted by Mueller for doing just that.
The sanctions are a good step, but more must be done. Trump still hasn’t used strong retaliatory measures passed by Congress despite bipartisan calls for action. Mnuchin says more sanctions targeting Russian officials and oligarchs for “their destabilizing activities” are coming. That’s good. Real damage will be done only by targeting them and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As for Trump, suspicion about his motives won’t subside until he forcefully condemns Russia, and Putin. But even that might not be enough now until Mueller’s investigation is done.