WASHINGTON — Days after declaring that President Trump would sign legislation imposing tough new sanctions on Russia, the White House said Tuesday that his government lawyers needed to wrap up a “legal review” of the bill first.
Congress approved the bill, which also imposes punitive economic measures on Iran and North Korea, on Friday, sending it to Trump by a veto-proof margin. Later that day, incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a written statement saying the president “has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it.” The statement made no mention of a pending review.
Asked on Monday why Trump had yet to sign the measure, Sanders told reporters at her daily briefing: “There’s nothing holding him back. There’s a review process, a legal process. They’re going through that. And he’ll sign the bill and we’ll let you guys know.”
Sanders added: “As with every very particularly complex piece of legislation — like this is — there’s a legal review.”
Her comments fueled speculation that Trump, who has repeatedly declared his eagerness for better relations with Moscow, could be considering a presidential “signing statement” aimed at watering down the impact of the law. Presidents have regularly used such statements, particularly upon signing measures touching on foreign policy, to reaffirm that they, not Congress, run foreign policy. Doing so in this instance would defy vast bipartisan majorities in both chambers, risking a political backlash.
The sanctions are designed to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its support for Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. *Trump has sharply questioned his intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia sought to influence the election.*
The legislation is notable in part for the way it restricts the president’s ability to waive key provisions unless Congress signs off. The unusual limits reflected lawmakers’ concerns that Trump aims to ease sanctions using his executive authority. The White House had argued that it needed greater diplomatic flexibility, joining up with oil and gas companies and defense contractors looking…