‘Crushing’ Russia Sanctions Sought in Bipartisan Senate Bill

(Bloomberg) -- A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia for interfering in U.S. elections, including penalties affecting Russian sovereign debt and energy projects, and requiring a report on President Vladimir Putin’s assets and net worth.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement Thursday the senators’ goal is to "impose crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process," stops cyberattacks and removes Russia from Ukraine.

The measure comes after reports of Russia’s ongoing efforts to sway U.S. elections, new efforts to hack U.S. senators, and intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Lawmakers from both parties also have been sharply critical of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki last month, saying Trump hasn’t done enough to hold Russia accountable.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and other administration officials defended Trump’s efforts to counter Russian interference in U.S. elections. Trump has taken “decisive action” to heighten election security and confront Russian and other foreign influence, Bolton said at a briefing with reporters Thursday.

In a letter to senators, Bolton cited U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarchs and individuals indicted for election interference and the expulsion of Russian intelligence agents from the U.S. following the nerve-agent poisoning of a Russian exile and three others in the U.K.

The ruble extended its drop, falling as much as 0.9 percent against the dollar and bond yields jumped to the highest level since July last year after the sanctions proposal was announced.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey said the measure is the "next step in tightening the screws on the Kremlin" so Putin understands "that the U.S. will not tolerate his behavior any longer."

The measure also would impose new sanctions on oligarchs and political figures who aid corrupt activities on Putin’s behalf, and require the State Department to determine whether Russia should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The co-sponsors are three Republicans, including Arizona’s John McCain, and three Democrats.

A separate measure proposed by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Chris Van Hollen has been mentioned by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a possible vehicle for retaliating against continued Russian interference in U.S. elections. That bill would impose stiff sanctions including on the energy and financial sectors if Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, determines Russia is continuing to interfere.

The Banking and Foreign Relations Committees are planning hearings in advance of legislation coming to the floor. Some senators have expressed concern new sanctions might go too far or not succeed in getting Putin to change course.

The Treasury Department has warned Congress against legislation that would block transactions and financing for Russian sovereign debt in part because of the pain it would wreak across markets outside Russia’s borders.

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