Russia sanctions still not implemented, despite White House promises

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to the media prior to departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, Oct. 25, 2017.PlaySaul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
WATCH Trump signs Russia sanctions bill

Close to a month after the due date, the Trump administration has still not implemented the Russia sanctions that Congress passed nearly unanimously and Trump signed begrudgingly in August.

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The law, which also targets Iran and North Korea, called on the Trump administration to identify which Russian intelligence and defense officials would be targeted before Oct. 1.

Despite the delay, the White House said today it will implement the penalties.

"The Trump administration remains committed to holding Russia accountable -- and has on a variety of fronts," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, citing in particular a "strongly worded statement" by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

"Treasury updated sanctions last month. The State Department's portion is undergoing an interagency review and will be announced soon. I'd refer you to the State Department for additional information," Sanders added.

That update from the Treasury Department was a formal first step to give the proper agencies the authority to designate individuals. But the agencies have yet to use that authority.

Since then, the State and Treasury Departments have been working on identifying the Russian individuals and entities to list under the new sanctions.

In particular, the two agencies are still working together to develop guidance for partner countries and private companies to help them avoid violating the new sanctions, State Department officials told ABC News. That's what's holding up implementation of sanctions, they say.

"We are being very careful to develop a guidance that companies need because there are business entities that need guidance," Secretary of State Tillerson said on CNN Oct. 15, adding, "We have every intention of implementing Congress's intent."

The former CEO of Exxon is keenly aware of the necessity of such guidance. In July, Exxon was slapped with fines by the Treasury Department for violating other Russia sanctions, while he was CEO.

The delays have engendered lots of questions and anger from members of Congress. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. -- top Republican and Democratic senators on foreign policy -- called out the administration in a letter earlier this month, demanding answers for the delay.

“They’ve had plenty of time to get their act together,” they wrote Oct. 11.

The House Democrats on the Foreign Affairs Committee issued their own scathing letter to Trump Wednesday night, calling the delay "baffling and unacceptable" and saying it "deepens concerns over your campaign's and Administration's ties to Russia."

"If the executive branch ignores its responsibility to keep our country safe, we as lawmakers in a coequal branch of government are obligated to take action," the group, led by the committee's ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, warned.

Sanction guidance doesn't normally take this long to develop, either. The Iran portion of the law, which has an Oct. 31 date for implementation, is ready to take effect, a U.S. official told ABC News.

ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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