The Trump administration on Monday evening stopped short of imposing fresh sanctions on Russia as punishment for its election meddling, providing further ammunition for critics who say the White House colluded with the Kremlin.
The announcement came soon after the director of the CIA warned that Russia would interfere in this year’s mid-term elections.
Last year Democrats and Republicans passed a bill authorising the administration to use sanctions to both punish Moscow and to prevent future meddling.
Congress set a January 29 deadline to introduce new measures or explain why it had not done so.
On Monday evening Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, indicated that the mere threat of sanctions had been sufficient and no further action was needed.
"Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defence sales," she said.
"Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defence acquisitions."
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The statement sparked immediate anger that Mr Trump was either hiding something or failing to take the threat seriously.
Trump refuses to enact bipartisan mandated sanctions on Russia and Putin. All you need to know.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) January 29, 2018
Mr Trump has repeatedly played down allegations – backed by his own intelligence agencies – that Russia interfered in the last election to sway the result in his favour.
The deadline was seen as a key test of his willingness to take firm action at a time when his White House and staff remain under intense scrutiny amid allegations that they were aware of Russia’s campaign.
On the same day, Andrew McCabe stepped down as deputy director of the FBI, as Mr Trump and other Republicans keep up pressure on federal agencies they believe are biased against them.
And Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted to release a classified memo they wrote alleging that the FBI and the Justice Department used government surveillance during the investigation into Russian interference.
Taken together, Mr Trump’s critics said the developments amounted to a serious threat to democracy.
Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election, was among those who criticised the failure to introduce fresh sanctions.
.@realDonaldTrump is refusing to implement new bipartisan Kremlin sanctions vital to protecting our democracy. In doing so, he’s chosen Putin’s interests over our own. Trump’s subservience to Moscow is real and a serious national security problem. https://t.co/1qK8Nure1I
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) January 30, 2018
The ongoing danger was spelled out earlier in the day by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. In an interview with the BBC, he said Russia remained an adversary, and was likely planning to target US mid-term elections in November.
"I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity," he said.
The administration did however release a list of Russian politicians and business figures in an attempt to increase pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The list includes 114 individuals deemed by the Treasury Department to be senior Russian political figures and 96 people deemed to be "oligarchs", each with an estimated net worth of $1 billion or more, but the list brings no additional sanctions.