US sanctions on Russia may be too harsh: Trump aide

WASHINGTON • A top aide to President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview aired this week that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia by ordering the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies.

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on ABC's This Week on Sunday that Mr Trump will be asking questions of US intelligence agencies after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions last week on two Russian intelligence agencies over what he said was their involvement in hacking political groups in the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr Obama also ordered Russia to vacate two US facilities as part of the tough sanctions.

Mr Spicer said: "One of the questions that we have is why the magnitude of this? I mean you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken? Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't but you have to think about that."

The Russian diplomats left Washington on Sunday, Russian news agencies reported, citing Russia's embassy.

Mr Trump is to have briefings with intelligence agencies this week. He expressed continued scepticism last Saturday over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacking of Democratic Party officials. "I think it's unfair if we don't know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don't know so we cannot be sure."

He said he would disclose information on the issue today or tomorrow, without elaborating. It is unclear if, upon taking office on Jan 20, he would seek to roll back Mr Obama's actions.

Mr Spicer said that after China in 2015 seized records of US government employees, "no action publicly was taken... Nothing was taken when millions of people had their private information, including information on security clearances, that was shared. Not one thing happened... So there is a question about whether there's a political retribution here, versus a diplomatic response".

US intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organisations before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. US intelligence officials say the Russian hacks aimed to help Mr Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has scheduled a hearing on Thursday on foreign cyber threats and said Russia must be made to pay the price for attacks "on our very fundamentals of democracy".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'US sanctions on Russia may be too harsh: Trump aide'. Print Edition | Subscribe