Trump Won’t Follow Congressional Directives on Russia and Crimea

Defense authorization signing statement effectively discards restrictions on recognizing Crimea as Russian

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin answer questions about the 2016 U.S election collusion during a joint press conference after their summit in July. Trump now objects to efforts by Congress to prevent his administration from recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump objects to an effort by Congress to prevent his administration from recognizing Crimea as part of Russia.

Crimea is a region in Ukraine that has been occupied by Russia for several years, with the Russian Federation having claimed to have annexed the region in March 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed the territorial matter is settled, but many in Washington disagree.

Language in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization, which Trump signed into law Monday during a ceremony at Fort Drum in upstate New York, purported to impose a funding blockade on the Pentagon acting on recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.

The literal text of the new law states: “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea.”

The defense authorization law does allow for the provision to be waived, provided that the secretaries of Defense and State provide explanations to the relevant House and Senate committees.

Watch: Trump Praises McSally, Criticizes the Media at NDAA Signing Event

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a formal declaration issued last month that the United States continued to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine.

“As we did in the Welles Declaration in 1940, the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law,” Pompeo said in his July 25 statement. “In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.”

But, as is often the case with defense authorization bills regardless of who is in the White House, Trump issued a signing statement Monday night saying that his administration wouldn’t be bound by the will on Congress on provisions that he believes interfere with executive branch powers — including decisions about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The Crimea language was one of several provisions, including one about Taiwanese force readiness, to be met with constitutional skepticism.

“My Administration will treat these provisions consistent with the President’s exclusive constitutional authorities as Commander in Chief and as the sole representative of the Nation in foreign affairs, including the authorities to determine the terms upon which recognition is given to foreign sovereigns, to receive foreign representatives, and to conduct the Nation’s diplomacy,” Trump said in the signing statement.

The president’s statement also addresses language in the new defense authorization law about missile systems and numerous reporting requirements, as well as an annual favorite.

Trump’s statement again dismisses attempts by Congress to restrict activities related to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay.

“I fully intend to keep open that detention facility and to use it, as necessary or appropriate, for detention operations,” Trump wrote. “Consistent with the statement I issued in signing the National Defense Authorization Act last year, I reiterate the longstanding position of the executive branch that, under certain circumstances, restrictions on the President’s authority to transfer detainees violates constitutional separation-of-powers principles, including the President’s constitutional authority as Commander in Chief.”

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