As soon as President Trump took office, his administration began moving to lift sanctions on Russia and return the two diplomatic compounds former President Barack Obama had just seized over Russian espionage and election meddling, Michael Isikoff reports at Yahoo News. This alarmed former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers, who "fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle" to stop the efforts, Isikoff reports, citing "multiple sources familiar with the events."
"There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," said Dan Fried, who resigned from the State Department in late February after serving as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy. After receiving several "panicky" calls from U.S. officials, he said, he and Tom Malinowski, Obama's assistant secretary of state for human rights, separately approached several senators, urging them to enshrine the sanctions in law.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) did introduce such a bill on Feb. 7, Isikoff reports, but it "lost some of its urgency six days later when [Michael] Flynn resigned as White House national security adviser," after it emerged he lied about conversations with Russia's ambassador. After that, "it didn't take too long for it to become clear that if they lifted sanctions, there would be a political firestorm," Malinowski said.
The newly uncovered moves by Flynn and Jared Kushner to set up secret conduits with Moscow "appear to have laid the groundwork for the proposals that began circulating right after the inauguration," Isikoff says. In April, the Trump administration offered to return the two diplomatic compounds to Russia for a zoning permit in St. Petersburg, and then two days later for no concessions, The Washington Post reported this week. A senior White House official tells Isikoff there is no agreement to return the compounds without concessions, but confirmed the ongoing discussions about lifting sanctions.
Flynn is also at the center of a new report by McClatchy. On Nov. 14, right after Trump's victory, Flynn called former CIA Director James Woolsey to see if he wanted his old job back, Woolsey said, but there was a catch: Woolsey "would be expected to report to him," not the president. Woolsey said that arrangement made him uncomfortable and that he would need to "call on the president face to face," and that ended the discussions. A lawyer for Flynn called Woolsey's account "false." You can read more at McClatchy DC.