Faced with a veto-proof bill, Trump finally signed off on sanctions against Russia. But in his signing statement, he made clear he doesn't think Russian hacking last year was a big deal.
In a rambling statement released in conjunction with Donald Trump’s signing of a bipartisan sanctions bill to punish Russia for interfering with America’s 2016 election, Trump seemed to go out of his way to downplay Moscow’s historic transgressions.
The veto-proof bill passed the Senate 98-2, and passed the House on 419-3. The bill’s a bit unusual in that it essentially ties the president’s hands when it comes to allowing him to unilaterally ease future sanctions on Russia. But it shows that Congress doesn’t trust Trump to be tough on Moscow.
Faced with rare, overwhelming support from both parties, Trump really had no choice but to sign the bill. In the signing statement though, Trump seized the opportunity to lash out at critics, downplay Russia’s destructive role last year, and brag about his business prowess.
The statement, along with the fact that the White House banned all news media from the actually bill signing, highlighted Trump’s reluctance to embrace the legislation.
"Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on Executive power," he stated. He went on to complain about the bill:
Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together. The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.
Trump's litany of complaints about Congress, controlled by his own party, is unlikely to help his already strained relationship with Republicans in the House and Senate. In fact, his statement contains harsher criticism for Congress than for Russia.
In his odd signing statement, Trump wrote that he supports “making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.”
But that vague language barely begins to describe the severity of the cyber attacks that Russia unleashed last year. It certainly doesn’t reflect how the U.S. intelligence community remains completely steadfast in its conclusion that Russia tampered with the 2016 election, and may have plans to do so again in the future.
Elsewhere, Trump writes the sanctions bill “represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.”
But that’s not what the bill is about. The bill wasn’t drafted to serve as an olive branch. It was specifically drafted to punish Russia for attacking U.S. elections.
The bill also imposes sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and Trump didn’t hesitate in his statement to denounce those nations for their “dangerous and destabilizing behavior.” No such tough talk about Russia, though.
Trump for months has had trouble denouncing Moscow on this front. He’s often dismissed allegations about interference in the election as being a “hoax.
Trump’s bizarre sanctions statement concluded with perhaps the first Oval Office boast to be included in a bill signing.
"I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars," he bragged. "That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."
Asked about his statement during a brief announcement of a new immigration bill, Trump simply fled the room.