Can Trump impose sanctions on the US?

US President Donald Trump liked to portray the whole thing as a big hoax, initiated by the Democrats in case of doubt. He is said to have made common cause with the Russians to win the 2016 election? Ridiculous. The Russian government, even President Vladimir Putin, is supposed to be behind the various attempts to influence the election? Can not be.

Maybe it was "some 200-kilo guy from New Jersey from the edge of his bed," Trump speculated during the election campaign. In any case, Putin had assured him that the allegations were not true, Trump said in November. And: "I really think if he says it that way, he means it that way." However, the US secret services came to the conclusion as early as January 2017 that Putin himself had given the order to disrupt Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Which at least didn't turn out to be a disadvantage for Trump.

In December 2016, the outgoing US President Barack Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian secret service employees and imposed sanctions on Russian companies - describing this as a "necessary and appropriate response" to Moscow's influence. Under Trump, the US government has so far hardly acted on this. At first, Trump did not comply with the request of Congress to punish Russia for exerting influence. At the end of January, the White House found that new sanctions were not necessary at the moment.

Then on Thursday the surprising U-turn. Finance Minister Steven Mnuchin has imposed sanctions on 19 Russian citizens and five Russian institutions. They are accused of "malicious Russian cyber activities" and they are suspected of influencing the 2016 election with hacker attacks and as trolls. Of these, 13 people and three companies are also in the complaint filed by special investigator Robert Mueller a few weeks ago. It describes in great detail how the accused worked to divide US society and to move the mood in the country in Trump's favor.

150 million times people in the USA have come into contact with anti-Clinton slogans and pro-Trump messages from the troll factories controlled from Russia on Facebook alone. Just for comparison: For Trump's election victory, a few tens of thousands of votes in his favor in three formerly classified as democratic states in the rust belt of the USA were enough.

This does not prove that the Russian attempts at influence were successful. But the opposite is also difficult to say. But Trump has stayed with it so far: everything is "fake news". And, especially important for him: "None of this had any influence on the outcome of the election." A statement for which there is no evidence.

Trump does not want any doubts about the legitimacy of his election victory

Above all, Trump wants to prevent doubts about the legitimacy of his election victory. He's having trouble admitting that his opponent Hillary Clinton got about three million more votes than him. Trump could only win because in the US electoral system only the victories in the states count.

If you look closely at the sanctions now, you will find that they are not particularly drastic. Above all, those affected are denied access to possible American accounts, cross-border transactions to and from the USA, as well as travel and business relationships in the USA. However, it is unlikely that Russian trolls will have a salary account in the United States. In any case, the Russian economy will not be badly hit by the sanctions.

Finance Minister Mnuchin is clearly reluctant to assign responsibility for the attempted election manipulation to the government in Moscow or even Putin. The Russian secret service and KGB successor FSB and the military secret service GRU are on the list, but that was also the case under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

What the US authorities are still accusing the Russians of

New on the list are sanctions due to the "NotPetya" cyber attack, which caused damage running into billions in the USA, Europe and Asia. The Russian government is also expressly held responsible for cyber attacks on the computer systems of the US electricity grids and US power plants. The IT security company Symantec published a report with technical details in September 2017. Symantec calls the hacker group "Dragonfly".

However, when it comes to the personal responsibility of individual members of the Russian government, the US Treasury Secretary's statement remains vague. There is no word directed directly against Putin.

The timing for such sanctions seems propitious. After the poison attack on former Russian spy Sergej Skripal and his daughter in Great Britain, the United States sided with the British, Germany and France. All of them blame Russia for the attack. Trump has not yet commented publicly on his administration's new sanctions.

Mueller wants information from Trump's company

Perhaps the US president still sees Russia as the good business partner of yore. Special investigator Mueller seems to be very interested in this aspect of the story. According to a report he did New York Times the Trump Organization - transferred from Donald Trump to his children - is required to provide him with business documents that also include the organization's relations with Russia. For the first time it is known how close Mueller is now determined in Trump's private environment.

Trump had warned the special investigator in the summer not to target his family's business activities. With that Mueller would cross a "red line", he said. Before that, Trump had tried to fire Mueller. But he stopped when his legal counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign if Trump tried to do so.

Recently, Trump's lawyers apparently demanded that Mueller could only talk to Trump personally if the investigation was then closed with 60 days' notice. It doesn't look like that, the investigation should now take months.