Miami Gardens Congresswoman Frederica Wilson criticized Donald Trump's handling of congressionally ordered Russia sanctions Tuesday night during a boycott of his state of the union speech, suggesting the president has taken it easy on Russia because "they have something on him."
"The House and Senate voted on all kinds of sanctions against Russia. Now, the president yesterday announced he wasn't going to impose those sanctions," she said just before a press conference with the Miami media inside an Overtown church. "They have something on him. And if he imposes sanctions against Russia, they're going to tell what they have on him."
Congress over the summer passed a bipartisan law ordering up sanctions against Russia after determining that the foreign country had meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections. That law gave Trump's administration some wiggle room on timing, but pegged Monday as a date to begin implementing new penalties against companies that do significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors. The State Department, however, announced it would not immediately rush to levy sanctions, saying that the law was already acting as a deterrent.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday did comply with a different aspect of the law, releasing a new list of Russian political figures and billionaires who could be subject to future sanctions. But they later acknowledged the list was essentially ripped from "Forbes" magazine.
Trump's ties with Russia, and the possibility that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election, are currently the subject of a special investigation. Trump has strongly denied any wrongdoing, and has blasted special counsel Robert Mueller's probe as a "witch hunt."
A White House spokesperson has not responded to a request for comment.
As for Trump's handling of Russia sanctions, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who along with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., recently introduced a bill that would enact swift sanctions on Russia if the Russian government engages in future election meddling in the United States, panned the administration's decisions Tuesday.
"I don't agree with it. I'm not happy about it, obviously," Rubio said.
Neither was Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin blasted the Trump administration's new oligarchs list in an address with supporters in Moscow and accused Congress of targeting Trump.
"This is of course an unfriendly act," Putin said.
But Wilson is skeptical of Trump's willingness to go after Russia, and she was less diplomatic than other lawmakers Tuesday night in Miami, when she spoke somewhat off-the-cuff with reporters and offered no evidence to support her assertion. Asked if she wanted to elaborate Wednesday, Wilson sent a statement that stepped back a little from her initial comments and said the president's actions — dating back to when he fired former FBI Director James Comey — have been cause for concern.
"While it is not clear that President Trump and his team of political neophytes were sophisticated enough to collude with Russian intelligence operatives during his campaign, his administration's seeming unwillingness to impose sanctions on Russia in response to its interference in the 2016 election — as required by law — raises a lot of questions," she said.
"Mr. Trump also is the only president in recent history to refuse to release his tax returns. Is it because he is not as fabulously wealthy as he wants the world to believe or because they will reveal deep financial connections to Russian banks and oligarchs?"
"If in fact the president and his team are completely innocent, they should not fear what Mueller's investigation may uncover and let him do his job unfettered. Given recent remarks both he and several GOP lawmakers have made maligning the investigation and the hardworking men and women of the FBI tells me that there may indeed be a lot of there there."