Senior White House officials say the Trump administration is looking at additional sanctions against Russia and is on guard for possible meddling in November’s congressional elections.
Republicans and Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump for not imposing Congress-approved sanctions over 2016 election interference.
The officials said Wednesday the sanctions process moves slowly for legal reasons and cannot react to bad headlines and criticism.
“The process on sanctions is long. It’s arduous. It’s not pretty. But when the evidence is there and we’re ready, we go ahead with the sanctions,” the official said.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers last week that Russia plans to target the November elections, believing its activities in the 2016 presidential election were a success.
Trump blames Obama
Also Wednesday, President Trump again questioned why the former Obama administration is not under investigation for not stopping Russian election interference in 2016.
Trump stopped just short of demanding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions start a probe of the former Obama White House.
Trump has also tried to shift attention from a criminal probe into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians to the Obama administration, which was in power during the 2016 campaign.
Trump is also angry that Sessions removed himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s probe because of his own 2016 contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Trump’s comments came after special counsel Robert Mueller filed charges last week against 13 Russian individuals and three entities for allegedly conducting an “information warfare” campaign against the U.S. in order to help Trump win the election.
Mueller’s indictment includes allegations the Russians planted fake stories and commentary about divisive U.S. issues on social media and, posing as Americans, organized pro-Trump rallies. Their aim was to make Trump’s primary challengers and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton look like bad choices for president.
Trump has given only lukewarm support to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community and Mueller’s contention that Russia carried out a campaign to help him win the White House.
The president has yet to outright condemn Moscow for its election interference.
But it was Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who reportedly rebuffed then-President Barack Obama’s desire for Congress to issue a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference just before the 2016 election.
In the last weeks of his presidency, Obama issued sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities for election meddling.
Obama also expelled 35 Russian government officials and ordered two waterfront compounds closed that the U.S. said the Russians were using for intelligence-gathering operations.
Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin when he subsequently ordered the dismissal of 755 workers at U.S. outposts in Russia, many of them Russians. Trump said it would help the U.S. save money with a diminished payroll in Russia.
Trump said earlier this week that Obama failed to act against Russian meddling because Obama thought Clinton would win the election and “didn’t want to ‘rock the boat.’”
“When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems (Democrats),” he added in his tweet.
In another tweet, Trump said, "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!" He praised his favorite television show, Fox and Friends for laying out a timeline he said showed "all of the failures of the Obama Administration" in combating Russian military involvement in Syria and its takeover of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Meanwhile, federal court records show special counsel Mueller has filed at least one new charge against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
The new charge is sealed and neither the court nor Mueller’s office nor a Manafort spokesman would comment.
Manafort, and deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, have been indicted for alleged money laundering, fraud and failing to file as foreign agents for work they did for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Both pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors said last week they found what they call “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort surrounding a mortgage on a property he owns outside Washington.