President Donald Trump expelled 60 Russian spies on Monday, March 26, in response to the nerve-agent attack on a British citizen and as a result of their aggressive intelligence gathering on American soil.
The president also ordered the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle, partly because it was located near an American submarine base and a Boeing plant, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
“The Russian government uses its diplomatic establishments as intelligence platforms from which they collect information to conduct destabilizing activities in the U.S. and around the world,” said a senior administration official.
Out of the expelled spies, 12 worked for the Russian mission to the United Nations and used their positions “as cover to engage in intelligence activities,” according to a senior administration official. Well over 100 Russian intelligence officers are operating in the U.S., American officials say.
One senior official drew a distinction between the Russian people and the Russian government and extended condolences to the friends and families of the victims of the deadly shopping center blaze in Siberia. But none of the officials minced words when it came to the chemical attack in the UK and the intelligence gathering activities on U.S. soil.
“This was a reckless attempt by the government to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent. It cannot go unanswered,” a senior administration official said. “The Russian government has shown malicious contempt for the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide. It has repeatedly sought to subvert and discredit Western institutions. These efforts are ongoing.”
Trump was involved in the decision-making process from the beginning and made the final call. The White House coordinated the expulsions with America’s NATO allies. On Monday, 14 members of the European Union, along with Ukraine, announced the expulsions of 40 Russians.
Germany, France, and Poland expelled four Russians each. Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland also announced expulsions. Ukraine, which is not a member of the EU, expelled 13 Russians. In total, more than 100 Russians were expelled.
Russia has denied all connections to the attack, including that the nerve agent used was Russian-made. Moscow demanded a sample of the chemical as a pre-requisite for cooperation with the investigators, but the UK rejected the request. Chemical warfare experts and American officials agree that Russia doesn’t have a right to examine the sample.
The remaining Russian intelligence officers in the United States will face increased scrutiny from FBI intelligence service agents, which would “allow them to provide more protection of the American people — its data, its information — by having a reduced number of intelligence officers here in the U.S.,” a senior administration official said.
A number of media outlets, including CNN, Time, New York Post, and New York Magazine, referred to the expelled spies as “diplomats” despite statements to the contrary by the White House press secretary and several senior administration officials.