We were in the middle of a constitutional crisis until this morning. President Trump signed a new set of Russian sanctions passed by a 517 to 5 vote in Congress, and he was not faithfully enacting the law he ratified—missing the January 28th deadline to impose them (the second deadline he has missed as it pertains to enacting Russian sanctions). The reason it was constitutional crisis is because we have no mechanism to enforce the executive to do their core job. Congress passes laws and the executive enforces them. Our entire system is based on the executive branch making executive decisions, and today an organ of the executive branch finally did just that. Per Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin:
“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure. These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”
These sanctions are no joke. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets is sanctioning five entities and 19 individuals who are aligned with the Kremlin—including the Federal Security Service (the KGB’s successor) and Main Intelligence Directorate (Russia’s military intelligence unit). This is a strike at the heart of the Kremlin. The Internet Research Agency indicted by Robert Mueller is also named in these sanctions.
This comes on the heels of the United Kingdom expelling 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers (the single biggest expulsion in over 30 years), and Prime Minister Theresa May implored parliament to consider new sanctions and laws to counter Russian espionage. A Putin critic, his daughter and a British detective who discovered their lifeless bodies are all in serious condition after being the victims of chemical warfare on the UK’s soil (this is far from the first time a Kremlin critic has been found dead or near death on British land). May pointed the finger at Russia, saying “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations. It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.”
Novichok nerve agents were manufactured in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s—at minimum, the Kremlin produced and lost control over a very deadly and undetectable murder weapon. Russia is escalating their war on the West, and the West’s big powers are finally beginning to respond. Whatever your thoughts on the Trump-Russia situation, there is no red herring or sleight of hand at play with these new sanctions. This is a law passed by Congress in response to a violation of American sovereignty. Donald Trump may have dragged his feet on this and is clearly beholden to some foreign financial interests (if a porn star has serious dirt on him, then literally everyone can blackmail him), but it’s impossible to tell if those realities are in play here, and Trump’s Treasury Department finally did the job they were empowered to do. It’s not exactly a jubilant cause for celebration, but we should appreciate these fleeting moments in the Trump Era where our government functions like something resembling a normal government.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.