Updated at 10:23 a.m. | The Trump administration is shuttering a Russian diplomatic facility in Seattle and kicking 60 Russian diplomatic and intelligence officers out of the United States, senior officials said Monday.
The moves are in response to what the United Kingdom has concluded was likely a Kremlin-backed poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The Trump administration also recently slapped new sanctions on Russian entities and individuals, including two of its top intelligence services, because of 2016 U.S. election meddling and what senior officials described Friday as an “ongoing Russian cyberattack on the American energy sector.”
“This is a response to the attack in Salisbury [in England] but it is also a response to … a steady drumbeat of destabilizing actions” by the Kremlin, a senior administration official said. “It is also intended as a message to the leaders of the Russian Federation.”
Senior White House officials have yet to fully brief all congressional stakeholders and leaders, but one senior official said those notifications should be completed by the end of the day. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called on the administration to be more forceful with Moscow and raised concerns that President Donald Trump rarely criticizes his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in public.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in a statement he was “pleased” with the expulsions.
“The Trump administration is making clear the United States stands with our allies and that there will be consequences for Russia’s recklessness,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “The United States must continue to lead international efforts to isolate Russia so that it understands its behavior will not be tolerated.”
The Putin government fired back with a snarky tweet from the official account of its embassy in Washington, asking its followers which of three U.S. consulates in Russia they would close. The tweet included a poll.
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 26, 2018
The closure of the Washington State consulate will trigger the expulsion of 48 Russian who work there. The administration will also send home 12 Russian intelligence officers from the country’s United Nations delegation.
The Seattle closure is not related to any attempts by the Russian agents there to collect intelligence about a nearby U.S. naval base or arms manufacturer Boeing’s headquarters — even though one senior official mentioned both when describing the location of the consulate.
The New York-based Russians who will soon be heading home, however, were deemed to be involved in collection operations to undermine U.S. national security, the senior officials said.
The moves come just six days after Trump declined in a call with Putin to press him on his government’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election or the poison attack in the U.K. And the Monday announcement comes amid the ongoing Justice Department special counsel and Senate Intelligence Committee probes of Russia’s election meddling, both of which Trump wants closed as soon as possible.
After congratulating Putin on his election win despite warnings from his staff not to do so, Trump last week said he will likely meet with the Russian leader soon to discuss a range of issues. “So I think we’ll probably be seeing President Putin in the not too distant future,” Trump said, again catching his staff off guard.
The two presidents have not spoken since that March 20 phone call and have yet to discuss the moves announced Monday.
The facility closing and the ousted Russian personnel is intended to “make clear to the Russian government that its actions have consequences,” a senior administration official said.
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