Tillerson dismisses criticism on Russia sanctions amid growing questions

Congress has mandated new sanctions be imposed.

“We have and we are,” he responded. “We've taken steps that have already prevented a number of Russian military sales as a result of the legislation, and we are evaluating additional individuals for possible sanctioning."

Trump begrudgingly signed the law in August, but warned it was unconstitutional in parts. Since then, there have been questions about whether he would fully enforce the law designed to tie his hands and force him to clamp down on Russia, especially because he's also repeatedly declined to even criticize Russia's actions.

In October, the administration missed a deadline by weeks to publish a list of Russian entities and individuals in the defense and intelligence sectors. Those groups are already under sanctions, but anyone doing business with them would face American sanctions starting January 29.

But when that day came, the State and Treasury departments did not impose any sanctions, instead saying the threat of sanctions had achieved the goal of disrupting and ending billions of dollars worth of such deals.

The administration has not published any evidence or details of the allegedly disrupted deals, citing private diplomatic conversations. Trump administration officials did, however, brief members of Congress about their efforts, which at least satisfied even Democrats initially.

Together, the two underscored the seriousness of the cyber threat from Russia, renewing calls for sanctions — and criticism of Trump for not taking seriously enough the danger, especially after his top administration officials like Tillerson and CIA director Mike Pompeo have warned Russia is looking to interfere again in the 2018 congressional elections.

“He continues to ignore congressional will with respect to the mandatory sanctions passed last year. It has been more than six months since [the sanctions bill] was signed into law, and not one, mandatory sanction has been imposed,” he added. “It’s inexcusable.”

But the administration has deflected, saying new sanctions could be coming. Tillerson’s comments echoed those of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was grilled during congressional testimony last week.

“We are actively working on Russia’s sanctions,” he told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.

“I told him we would be doing sanctions against Russia, and he was pleased to hear that,” he said.

Among those potential new sanctions, the law ordered the administration to impose sanctions for Russians and those who aid Russia in cyberattacks — unless the White House can certify that “the Government of the Russian Federation has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions.”

Four top Democrats urged the imposition of these sanctions in a letter to Trump and Tillerson last month, but the administration has not yet taken any steps to implement those.