U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation today to add the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act to the Russia sanctions review section of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Senators McCain and Cardin, the co-authors of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, remain concerned about the administration's posture toward Russia, particularly after the Helsinki Summit between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. The lawmakers want to ensure that, should the administration move to de-sanction Russian officials or stop sanctions designations altogether under the Magnitsky law, that Congress has the option to disapprove of those actions.
"The Magnitsky Act remains the best mechanism to hold the Russian government accountable for its gross human rights abuses and provide justice to the Russian people. Putin knows this and has been fighting against it for years," said Senator McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "He will do anything to see the Magnitsky Act weakened -- even asking President Trump to hand over a courageous human rights advocate and a former American ambassador for questioning by Russian authorities in exchange for "assistance' in the Special Counsel probe. President Trump's failure to repudiate this perverse proposal from the outset at the Helsinki Summit and his troubling posture towards Russia demand Congressional action to protect, implement, and enforce this critical legislation."
"Without substantive, detailed insights into what Presidents Trump and Putin discussed privately in Helsinki, I have growing concerns that Sergei Magnitsky sanctions could have been placed on the table as a negotiating chip. The entire world heard what Vladimir Putin said at that press conference, and I subsequently questioned Secretary of State Pompeo about whether Magnitsky came up in the presidential summit. These are troubling developments," said Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "As we did in CAATSA, Congress needs to assert its expectation that we will have a say in disapproving any Administration changes to this watershed human rights legislation. Congress will continue to hold Russia accountable when the Administration cannot or will not."
The bill, S. 3275, makes the following series of findings and then makes a technical correction to CAATSA in order to insert the Sergei Magnitsky Act:
(1) On December 14, 2012 the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (The Magnitsky Act), which imposes visa bans and asset freezes on those involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case, and other officials responsible for gross human rights abuses in Russia, was signed into law.
(2) On December 28, 2012, in response to the Magnitsky Act, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that banned U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children, effecting the lives of hundreds of Russian orphans and the American families they were slated to join. The bill, which also banned U.S.-funded civic groups from operating in Russia, sparked massive protests in Moscow.
(3) On April 13, 2013, one day after the U.S. issued its first Magnitsky sanctions designations on 18 Russian officials, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a retaliatory list of 18 U.S. officials banned from entering Russia.
(4) On June 13, 2013, in testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, now-slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov called the 2012 Magnitsky Act "the most pro-Russian law in the history of any foreign parliament;"
(5) On July 11 2013, following an unprecedented posthumous trial that many observers noted fell short of international fair trial standards, a Russian court found Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion;
(6) On June 9, 2016, senior members of the Trump presidential campaign met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin to discuss Russia's post- Magnitsky Act adoption policy;
(7) On February 9, 2018, Vladimir Putin said "I think that [the U.S. Congress] will soon get tired of [the Magnitsky Act]";
(8) On July 16, 2018, during a joint press conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki Finland, Vladimir Putin indicated his government's interest in questioning U.S. officials and others involved in the passage and implementation of the Magnitsky Act;
(9) As of July 2018, 49 Russian individuals, including those with close ties to Vladimir Putin, have been sanctioned pursuant to the Magnitsky Act.
(10) As of July 2018, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and other nations in Europe continue to adopt or further efforts to develop their own versions of the Sergei Magnitsky law;
(11) On August 2, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the into law the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which imposes a slate of mandatory sanctions on Russia and requires Congressional review and possible Congressional disapproval of executive branch actions to lift U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia.