Trump Signs Sanctions Bill, Calls It 'Significantly Flawed'
U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a sanctions bill he declared is “significantly flawed,” with "clearly unconstitutional provisions."
The bill, aimed at penalizing Moscow for its interference in last year's U.S. election, imposes fresh sanctions on Russia as well as Iran and North Korea. It also restricts the president’s authority to lift the sanctions without consulting Congress.
“By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in one of a pair of statements the White House issued Wednesday.
“Despite its problems, I am signing the bill for the sake of national unity,” the president's statement said. “Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on executive power, disadvantages American companies and hurts the interests of our European allies.”
The bill Trump signed was also characterized in one of the White House statements as sending “a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior. America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries’ malignant activities,” the statement said.
There was no immediate reaction from North Korea. A senior government official in Tehran was quoted as saying the new U.S. sanctions violate the nuclear deal Iran reached with the United States and other major world powers two years ago, and that there would be a response from Iran's leaders "in an appropriate and proportional manner.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the new U.S. law is tantamount to a “full-scale trade war,” and the foreign ministry in Moscow said there could be countermeasures against the United States, above and beyond President Vladimir Putin's order three days earlier sharply cutting back the size of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian capital.
Russia's new ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said the new sanctions law is "harming our relations inevitably, but we will be working in conditions that exist in the hope that it will turn one day.”
The bill gained near-unanimous approval in both houses of Congress, which would have allowed lawmakers to easily override any presidential veto of the bill.
Venezuela Denies Misreporting Voter Turnout for Controversial Election
Venezuela's president and election chief on Wednesday denied a report that voter turnout numbers were "manipulated" and inflated by at least one million for the controversial election to choose an assembly to rewrite the national constitution.
The head of the National Election Council, Tibisay Lucena, said the claim by a British election-technology firm was "irresponsible," and she threatened to begin legal action against the company.
"This is an unprecedented opinion from a firm whose only role in the electoral process is to provide certain services and technical support that has no bearing on the results," Lucena said.
The head of British firm Smartmatic, Antonio Mugica, said in London Wednesday there is no question in his mind that the total reported vote was false. He did not, however, say whether vote tampering altered the outcome of Sunday's balloting.
"Based on the robustness of our system, we know without any doubt that the turnout of the recent election for a National Constituent Assembly was manipulated," Mugica said. "We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities was at least one million."
President Nicolas Maduro said in televised remarks that Mugica was pressured by the United States and Britain. He also repeated the government's stance that eight million people voted, adding that the turnout would have been 10 million if others had not been blocked by protesters.
"This election cannot be stained by anyone, because it was a transparent vote," Maduro said.
The opposition, which boycotted the vote, said turnout was less than four million, and that account was reinforced by journalists' reports that dozens of polling places around Caracas were almost deserted on Sunday.
The president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, said Smartmatic's findings are "complete confirmation" of what the opposition and election analysts had suspected.
Pre-election polls showed more than 70 percent of all Venezuelans opposed a body to change the constitution.
The opposition contends the vote was rigged to pack the assembly with supporters of Maduro. Maduro's opponents are demanding early presidential elections. The next scheduled election is October, 2018.
Borges said lawmakers will ask the country's top prosecutor to investigate members of the National Election Council for potential crimes.
Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela's top law enforcement official and a Maduro critic, told CNN in an interview Wednesday that she has opened an investigation into the allegations of vote manipulation.
Despite the controversy surrounding voter turnout and the final results, Maduro plans to swear in the 545 members of the new "constituent assembly" so they can get to work. He originally set Thursday for the assembly's opening session, but late Wednesday announced the new body would begin its inaugural session on Friday instead, for the sake of "peace and calm."
Details on what might be included in a new constitution are unclear. Maduro has said it is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its severe economic crisis and stop the daily protests that have killed more than 120 people since April.
But the opposition says its goal is to dissolve the opposition-controlled national assembly, fire anyone who disagrees with the government, and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship.
The United States, Canada, European Union, and nearly every Latin American nation have said they will not recognize the constituent assembly.
The United States imposed sanctions against Maduro on Monday for what it called his "illegitimate" election of a body to rewrite the constitution. All of Maduro's assets in the United States are frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing any business with him.