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Report: Sen. Mike Lee discussed loosening sanctions against Russia during Moscow visit

(Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call via AP) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, attends a markup of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Dirksen Building, Sept. 13, 2018. Lee in recent days traveled to Russia for meetings with several officials there after two of his Senate colleagues were denied visas. The two senators denied visas both had voted for sanctions against Russia in the wake of its 2016 meddling in the U.S. election. Lee was one of two senators who voted against sanctions.

Washington • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, discussed loosening sanctions against Russia with a top official in Moscow, a Russian-run news outlet reported Friday.

Lee, who is on an official visit to the country, talked with the chairman of the Russian Federation’s International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachyov, about a quid pro quo of the United States dropping sanctions against Russian officials in return for Russia dropping sanctions against some U.S. officials.

Kosachyov has officially been sanctioned by the State Department for his role in Russia's interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

"The ultimate goal is to abandon sanctions against legislators altogether,” Kosachyov told Lee at a meeting at the Federation Council, according to Tass, a state-run media outlet, which said the meeting came at Lee's request. “At least an agreement should be achieved to reciprocally lift sanctions from those legislators who go to the other country on an official visit. I would like to use this meeting to confirm that our proposals remain in force.”

The news outlet did not say what Lee said in response to Kosachyov’s pitch but it underscored the dynamic involved in the Utah senator’s trip to Moscow where two other senators, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, were denied visas by Russian authorities to join.

Johnson and Murphy had voted to support sanctions against Russia, as did 96 other senators, while Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., opposed the move.

Lee's office would not confirm the details of the senator's conversation and instead gave a brief, one-sentence read-out of the meeting.

“Sen. Lee did meet with Konstantin Kosachyov and they discussed trade, security, and religious liberty issues,” said spokesman Conn Carroll.

The United States has sanctioned scores of Russians and special counsel Robert Mueller charged dozens in his investigation into the country’s attempt to upend the U.S. election in favor of President Donald Trump and in hopes to hinder Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s bid.

In retaliation for Russia’s meddling, the State Department ordered several Russian diplomats to leave the United States and Russia responded by kicking out U.S. diplomats. The tit-for-tat has left U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman with an embassy severely understaffed at a time of challenging bilateral relations between the two countries.

Lee’s wife, Sharon, also joined the trip and the couple met with Huntsman, former Utah governor, according to an Instagram photo posted by Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye. Lee served as general counsel to Huntsman when he was governor.

Huntsman will soon leave his post and return to Utah, where he is reportedly considering another gubernatorial bid.

Editor’s note: Paul Huntsman, a brother of Ambassador Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.

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