Longtime newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers occasionally erred in her advice and would then sanction the mistake by awarding herself “40 lashes with a wet noodle.”
She would have been right at home last week on Capitol Hill when the Trump administration published its list of Russian businessmen and politicians after Congress last summer ordered up sanctions in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
President Donald Trump signed the bill into law reluctantly and called it seriously flawed.
But, sigh, the Treasury Department was directed to comply with Congress’ order and last week it did, releasing the list of 114 Russian politicians and moneyed oligarchs who would then, presumably, be subject to possible restrictions or business-dealing sanctions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied his country meddled in the elections, called the release a “hostile step” by the United States and warned: “We were waiting for this list to come out, and I’m not going to hide it: We were going to take steps in response, and mind you, serious steps, that could push our relations to the nadir.”
Ah, but wait. Even as the Treasury Department released its list, the Trump administration said it was not a sanctions list and that it had decided not to punish anybody under the new sanctions, at least for now.
Bring out the wet noodles.
Congress may sputter and fume that the president appears to be dodging enforcement of its law, but in reality they have few options to force the issue.
A look at the Treasury Department list itself underscores what was clearly a lackluster approach to the sanctions investigation. The list includes most of Putin’s top government officials — although Putin himself is not on the list — and the rest was cribbed from a Forbes magazine article last year that ranked the 200 richest businessmen in Russia.
It could have come with a disclaimer: No classified documents were used in the compilation of this list — although Congress got a classified report that was not released. Presumably it came with super-secret decoder rings.
As one Russian bureaucrat, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament put it, it looked like the U.S. administration “ended up copying the Kremlin phone book.”
Perhaps Russia will be discouraged from any new — or alleged new — meddling in future U.S. elections by the sanctions-in-waiting list? That’s not the take of CIA director Mike Pompeo who said in London last week he expects Russia will target midterm elections this year.
In an interview with the BBC which aired Tuesday, Pompeo said: “Of course, I have every expectation that they will continue to try to do that. But I am confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election. That we’ll push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”
Ah, yes, the wet noodle threat.
Or perhaps Putin had it right in his comment in the aftermath of the sanction-list dust-up when he said: “Russia should be guided by the old rule: “The dog barks, but the caravan rolls on.’ ”
Now if we could only find an unsubscribe button for Russian bots.