Lawmaker petitions Pompeo on delayed Russia sanctions

House Oversight panel chairman seeking answers

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

(CNN) - The chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee is seeking answers after it took the Trump administration nearly nine months to impose legally mandated sanctions on Russia for its use of chemical weapons.

Late on August 1, the White House quietly announced that President Donald Trump had signed an executive order to impose a second round of sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter on British soil in March 2018. The new sanctions, required under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, came months after the State Department confirmed that Russia was not in compliance with the terms of the law.

In a pair of letters first obtained by CNN, Rep. Stephen Lynch, chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, has requested information from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the delay and scope of this second round of sanctions.

In the first letter, dated August 5, the Massachusetts Democrat requested information on who authorized the first round of sanctions, who determined Russia was not in compliance with the CBW Act in November 2018, a copy of the sanctions recommendations sent to the White House, a list of White House and State Department officials who approved the second round of sanctions, a transcript of Trump's call with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of July, and several other records.

A State Department official told CNN Tuesday that responses to Lynch's letters were expected to go out that day.

"The Trump administration's failure to impose these sanctions in a timely manner, despite your Department's stated intent to do so and the repeated urging of both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, raises serious questions about President Trump's commitment to hold Russia accountable for its use of chemical weapons," Lynch wrote in the first letter.

"These delays only serve to embolden those responsible, invite future attacks, and weaken the credibility of the United States," he wrote.

Lynch sent a second letter to Pompeo on Monday after the State Department did not provide the requested information by the congressman's August 23 deadline. In that missive, Lynch reiterated his call for information and expressed concern about the reportedly limited scope of the new sanctions.

"According to former officials from the National Security Council, State Department, and Department of Treasury, these sanctions, while long-overdue, are 'insignifcant' and will 'put barely a scratch' on the Russian economy," Lynch wrote. "Your Department has claimed on multiple occasions that 'we condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances.' These words ring hollow if they are not enforced through timely, meaningful sanctions and remedial action."

The imposition of the second round of sanctions came after months of congressional pressure, including a letter from the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Reps. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, warned that a failure to add the sanctions "is unacceptable and would necessitate that Congress take corrective action."

In August 2018, the United States imposed a first round of sanctions on certain technology under the CBW Act in response to Russia's poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the banned Russian-made nerve agent Novichok. The Kremlin has denied involvement in the attack. The US also expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian consulate in response.

Following the initial sanctions, Russia had 90 days to certify to the US that it is no longer using chemical weapons, and allow inspectors in to prove it -- or it would face a much tougher set of sanctions, that could affecting banking, trade or even diplomatic relations.

The State Department announced in early November 2018 that Russia had failed to meet these terms, but rather than announcing the next round of sanctions, the spokesperson at the time said that they were "consulting with Congress regarding next steps as required." A Senate aide said it was widely known among Democrats and Republicans working on sanctions that Trump was angry when the Treasury and State departments made that noncompliance determination. Trump, who has sought to warm relations with Moscow despite its continued misbehaviors, spoke with Putin a day before imposing the second round of sanctions. Neither the American nor the Russian statement about the call mentioned any discussion of the sanctions.

CNN's Nicole Gaouette and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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