White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, seeking to blunt criticism that the Trump administration has not punished Russia over its 2016 election meddling, cryptically hinted Tuesday that an unpublicized action had already been taken.
President Donald Trump “has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and be tough on Russia,” Sanders said at the Tuesday briefing. “Last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.”
She added: “He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.”
Her defense comes days after special counsel Robert Mueller released a detailed indictment against 13 Russian nationals for allegedly interfering in the 2016 US election. Sanders later echoed some recent Trump tweets, claiming Trump has been tougher on Russia than former President Barack Obama ever was. That statement doesn’t seem to reflect reality, however.
While Trump and even some Democrats have criticized the Obama administration as not speaking up enough on Russia’s actions before the election, Obama did take some steps to reprimand the country.
Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China in 2016, something Trump has yet to forcefully do in meetings with the Russian leader. Trump and Putin discussed election interference in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017. Trump later said he thought the Russian leader was earnest when he denied any election meddling.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said in November from Da Nang, Vietnam.
During his last two years in office, Obama imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for election meddling, kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Kremlin compounds in the United States.
Trump has yet to impose sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year and missed deadlines to identify which Russian individuals and entities would be on the sanctions list. Last month, the Trump administration decided against implementing the sanctions against Russia and instead published a list of already prominent Russian oligarchs.
Trump’s Cabinet, however, has forcefully spoken out against Russia.
“It’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,’ ” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster also said this month – in response to the Mueller indictment – that Russia’s election meddling is “‘now really incontrovertible.”
Even Sanders on Tuesday said: “It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election, and it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.”
At the same time, though, Sanders defended Trump’s decision not to impose sanctions earlier this year.
“There’s a process that has to take place, and we’re going through that process,” Sanders said. “That law also says that the countries have to violate something in order for those sanctions to go in place, and that hasn’t necessarily happened.”