GOP-Backed Sanctions May Hamper Trump's Aim to Repair Russian-American Ties

The president-elect pledged to meet with intelligence officials next week

The Obama administration's decision to impose a new round of sanctions against Russia could restrict Donald Trump's efforts to repair U.S. relations with Moscow and puts the president-elect on a collision course with Republican lawmakers.

The White House on Thursday rolled out a set of economic sanctions and other penalties intended to squeeze Russian leaders for interfering in the 2016 election.

Obama's move to punish the Russian government puts Trump in a tough position of having to decide whether to undermine retaliatory sanctions or abandon his calls for better relations with Moscow.

Kellyanne Conway, who served as Trump's campaign manager, accused President Barack Obama in an interview with CNN's Kate Bolduon of issuing the sanctions with just weeks left in his presidency to deliberately "box-in President-elect Trump."  

U.S. officials have acknowledged that Trump could use his executive authorities to reverse the sanctions, but that may cause issue with his own party. 

Congressional leaders appear to be unified in the conclusion that Russia's government was responsible for hacking its way into tipping the election in favor of the GOP candidate despite Trump's refusal to accept the assessment of the intelligence community. 

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said the sanctions are a "small price" to pay for interfering with U.S. elections, adding that they'll lead efforts in Congress to impose stronger penalties.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the sanctions "a good initial step" but criticized Obama's overall foreign policy and said the U.S. must work to ensure that attacks against the nation are met with "overwhelming response." 

Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to introduce bills next month to create an independent commission to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and hit the country with "comprehensive enhanced sanctions." 

In a statement following the announcement from the Obama administration, Trump reiterated his call for the U.S. to "move on," but said he'd be briefed next week about the issue.

"It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," Trump said in a statement. "Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

On Wednesday, Trump suggested that the U.S. and Russia lay to rest the controversy over Moscow's computer hacking of Democratic Party officials, saying, "We ought to get on with our lives."

The Intelligence Community has publicly stated Russia was behind hacks of political organizations in the U.S. But the president-elect has held firm to his skepticism of the intel apparatus he's about to inherit.

The president-elect has also belittled the intelligence agencies that he will assume command over on Jan. 20, insinuating in a tweet that they couldn't be trusted.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

Russia, which has repeatedly denied the hacking allegations, called the penalties a clumsy yet aggressive attempt to "harm Russian-American ties." Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take into account the fact that Trump will soon replace Obama as it drafts retaliatory measures.

Trump has long had a cozy relationship with Putin, going out of his way to praise the Russian leader during the campaign and resisting joining the chorus of criticism over Russia’s alleged involvement in the elections. He has said the idea that Russia tried to help him win was “ridiculous.”

“I think it’s just another excuse,” Trump said in December. “I don’t believe it. No, I don’t believe it at all.”

Trump said in July that he would consider lifting previously imposed sanctions against Russia, including those against Russian state banks and corporations following its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. While the U.S. has thus far refused to recognize the legitimacy of Russian referendums in Crimea, Trump has hinted in the past that he may be prepared to do so.

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