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Fact check: Trump and Pelosi claims over Russia sanctions

US Democrats have accused US president Donald Trump of rewarding "thugs" in the Russian intelligence service by lifting certain sanctions - but the facts do not back this up.

The Trump administration revised sanctions on the FSB to correct an unintended consequence of broader penalties placed on Russia by former president Barack Obama.

This prompted a hair-trigger response from Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, and others.

Ms Pelosi said: "Less than two weeks after walking into the White House, President Trump lifts sanctions on the Russian Security Service.

"Vladimir Putin's thugs meddle with an American election, and President Trump gives them a thank-you present. "

Democratic representative Eric Swalwell said: "Russia attacked our democracy. It should be punished. Instead, President Trump is easing sanctions against its team of hackers, the FSB."

Mr Trump said: "I haven't eased anything," while his press secretary Sean Spicer said the move marked a "regular course of action".

The facts support Mr Trump and his spokesman.

The December 29 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were not intended to ban the US sale of mobile phones, tablets and other consumer electronics to Russia.

But they had that effect, by barring US firms from getting the permits needed from the FSB to sell in Russia. The FSB has regulatory as well as intelligence responsibilities.

Mr Trump's change does not materially benefit the FSB, except in a minuscule way. It allows US firms to pay the FSB a required fee of up to 5,000 dollars (£4,000) per year to export encryption-capable consumer electronics to that country.

It is of more benefit to the US sellers and Russian buyers of those devices. It is not unusual to fine-tune sanctions to permit certain transactions.

Now, the Treasury Department will allow "certain transactions" with the FSB "that are necessary and ordinarily incident to requesting certain licenses and authorisations for the importation, distribution, or use of certain information technology products in the Russian Federation".

Democrats in particular are incensed at alleged Russian hacking of their party's communications in the campaign.

Members of both parties have been watching for a sign that Mr Trump will try to ease Barack Obama's Russian sanctions in a consequential way, given his cosy rhetoric about Mr Putin during and after the campaign. This, however, is not it.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has been notably strong on Russian sanctions, shrugged off the revision as an apparent "technical fix".

The same thought was voiced by Democrat Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, who said in a televised interview that former Obama administration officials viewed Mr Trump's move as "a technical correction".

AP

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