White House Team Differs on Trump Support for Russia Sanctions

  • Sanders, Scaramucci take to Sunday shows with mixed messages
  • Pardons discussed or not discussed, depending on who’s talking

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The Trump administration supports the current version of a bill to sanction Russia, the new White House press secretary said, although her boss, Anthony Scaramucci, wouldn’t guarantee that President Donald Trump will sign it.

The legislation, which could soon land on Trump’s desk for a signature, wasn’t the only area where Trump’s hand-picked communications director differed from others in the administration on Sunday after taking the job on Friday.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Scaramucci and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also named to her role on Friday, along with Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, were the administration’s collective face on Sunday’s political talk shows. The interviews came days after both teams were shaken up in an effort by Trump to impose order on his White House in the face of a widening Russia probe.

Sanders’s comments on sanctions followed a tentative deal reached by Republican and Democratic leaders in the House to move ahead this week on a measure that, among other things, would prevent the president from acting unilaterally to remove sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the 2016 election and other actions.

“The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate. And the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We support where the legislation is now.”

‘Decision Shortly’

Scaramucci, brought on board to reset the administration’s communication’s strategy as Trump enters his second six months in office with record-low approval ratings, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “I don’t know the answer to whether the president will sign” the sanctions bill. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Scaramucci suggested that Trump is “going to make that decision shortly.”

If the president were to veto the bill, “we will override his veto,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Heading into a week of Congressional action on the investigations into Russian election meddling, including testimony behind closed doors to two committees by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump said on Twitter Saturday that “all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.”

Sekulow, on ABC’s “This Week,” refuted the notion that Trump has been quizzing his advisers about the legality of pardoning members of his administration, family, or even himself to short-circuit the broadening investigation into his team’s connections with Russia. “Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table,” he said.

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Yet Scaramucci said he had spoken with Trump on the topic. “I’m in the Oval Office with the president last week, we’re talking about that,” Scaramucci said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He brought that up, he said, but he doesn’t have to be pardoned. There’s nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of pardons.”

The House is expected to vote on the Russia sanctions legislation in the coming days, after an apparent agreement over the weekend to fix procedural concerns, add measures against North Korea, and modify provisions that would restrict the participation of U.S. energy companies in some international projects.

The White House had argued that it needs flexibility to adjust economic sanctions against Moscow. Administration officials were on Capitol Hill earlier this month asking lawmakers to reconsider the Russia provisions that the Senate added to an Iran sanctions bill and passed 98-2.

Trump has repeatedly shown doubt in the intelligence community’s conclusions on Russia, suggesting hacking of the 2016 election campaign could have been done by China or others.

Scaramucci said Sunday that “somebody” told him recently that “if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would never have seen it.” When pressed about who his informant had been, Scaramucci said, “how ’bout, it was the president.”

— With assistance by Terrence Dopp, Robert Schmidt, Jennifer A Dlouhy, Billy House, and Anna Edgerton

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