House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused President Trump of lifting sanctions on Russia’s intelligence service. (Ted Eytan & Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)

When news broke Thursday that the Treasury Department had altered sanctions against FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, many top Democrats accused the Trump administration of easing sanctions against Russia.

“Less than two weeks after walking into the White House, President Trump lifts sanctions on the Russian Security Service,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi exclaimed. “Vladimir Putin’s thugs meddle with an American election, and President Trump gives them a thank you present.”

But Trump told reporters that he hadn’t “eased anything,” and The Associated Press lays out how Democrats “didn’t wait to assemble the facts” before criticizing this common sanction modification:

The Dec. 29 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were not intended to ban the U.S. sale of cellphones, tablets and other consumer electronics to Russia. But they had that effect, by barring U.S. firms from getting the permits needed from the FSB to sell in Russia. The FSB has regulatory as well as intelligence responsibilities.

Trump’s change does not materially benefit the FSB, except in a minuscule way. It allows U.S. firms to pay the FSB a required fee of up to $5,000 per year to export encryption-capable consumer electronics to that country. It’s of more benefit to the U.S. sellers and Russian buyers of those devices. It’s 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 authorizations 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. And lawmakers from both parties have been watching for a sign that Trump will try to ease Obama’s Russian sanctions in a consequential way, given his cozy rhetoric about Putin during and after the campaign. This isn’t it.

RT adds

that the “Kremlin appears to share the idea that the supposed easing of sanctions is nothing out of the ordinary.”

“We are not inclined to treat this step as easing of sanctions; it is rather a manifestation of American pragmatism,” said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “In the spheres where it is beneficial for them, Americans are not that enthusiastic with sanctions and tend to make the system more flexible.”

Democrats have been on alert for any change to the Russian sanctions because of Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. The Hill notes that “[m]any Democrats, including Pelosi, suspect Russia might have compromising information about Trump that could sway his foreign policy decisions.”

Still, as AP notes, “[T]he facts don’t support” the Democrats’ “hair-trigger response.” Read the full fact-check here.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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