President Donald Trump is under heavy scrutiny this week after reports surfaced that he’s planning to strike a diplomatic deal with the Russians.
The latest controversy relates to two so-called “diplomatic compounds” maintained by the Russians that were emptied last year by former President Barack Obama for punishment following the Russians’ election interference. Now Trump is reportedly preparing to turn those properties back to the Russians.
The Trump administration’s decision to hand over control of the compounds to the Russians sents a strong message that Trump is not taking allegations of Russian election hacking seriously enough.
The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.
Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.
Scandals with Russia have overwhelmed the Trump presidency in its first few months.
One top Trump administrator has been forced out of office for his connections to Russian operatives, and several others are reportedly under investigation.
Read more, from the Washington Post:
Any concessions to Moscow could prove controversial while administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
Changes in the administration’s official posture toward the compounds come as Russian media recently suggested that Kislyak, about to leave Washington after serving as ambassador since 2008, may be proposed by the Kremlin to head a new position as U.N. undersecretary general for counterterrorism.
… Kislyak has repeatedly rejected descriptions of him in the U.S. media as a spy. Asked whether U.S. intelligence considered him to be one, James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, told CNN on Sunday that “given the fact that he oversees a very aggressive intelligence operation in this country — the Russians have more intelligence operatives than any other nation that is represented in this country, still even after we got rid of 35 of them — and so to suggest that he is somehow separate or oblivious to that is a bit much.”
Trump has gone too far and the American people are demanding answers.