WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday grudgingly signed legislation toughening sanctions on Russia over its interference in the 2016 election, but ripped into the law and mocked its authors in Congress as he vowed to pursue better relations with Moscow.
The “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which also imposes punitive measures against Iran and North Korea, had sailed through the House and Senate by near-unanimous, veto-proof margins. At the same time, the legislation had drawn angry criticisms from European allies, notably over concerns it would cripple ongoing energy projects, and from Russia.
In a pair of statements, Trump condemned the law as a “significantly flawed” policy that risks damaging U.S. foreign policy and contains “clearly unconstitutional provisions” that improperly encroach on his presidential powers. He also signaled he might not enforce it as vigorously as its authors intended.
“Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity,” the president said. “It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”
Trump, who has publicly doubted the U.S. intelligence community finding that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, also said he supported “making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.”
The remarks highlighted a slow but steady shift in the Trump administration’s public position on U.S. relations with Russia since taking office six months ago. At the outset, Trump seemed to chiefly consider making concessions to Moscow — like easing sanctions — in order to secure closer cooperation on issues like the war against the so-called Islamic State. But recently, top aides including Vice President Mike Pence have said it’s up to Russia to take steps to improve ties.
The two statements from the White House had broadly similar messages couched in very different styles. The first, a traditional “signing statement,” made essentially a legal argument against individual provisions of the bill and a constitutional argument that the president would enforce it in line with the prerogatives of his office. The second was a blend of…