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White House Signals Support For New Russia Sanctions Bill


White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (file photo)

The White House says it is open to new legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia and limit U.S. President Donald Trump's ability to ease or lift them by himself.

The comments by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a July 23 television interview came a day after Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington said they had reached agreement on the legislation, which Trump administration officials had originally objected to.

"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved," Sanders told ABC's "This Week" program.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, triggering bipartisan concern in Congress that he could lift or ease sanctions punishing Russia for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

So far the Trump administration has shown no indication it intends to lift Ukraine-related sanctions targeting Russia, which denies providing weapons and personnel to separatists in eastern Ukraine despite evidence of such support.

The bill, which also includes sanctions against Iran and North Korea, is set to be considered in the House of Representatives as early as July 25.

The Senate will also have to vote on the new bill, which would require Trump to send a report to Congress outlining why the administration wants to suspend or terminate any sanctions. Lawmakers would then have one month to decide whether to allow such a move.

Trump's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said the president had not yet decided whether he would sign the bill.

"My guess is...that he's going to make that decision shortly," Scaramucci told CNN in an interview.

A refusal by Trump to sign the bill would likely trigger political backlash in Washington given the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.

But two senior U.S. senators -- John Thune (Republican-South Dakota) and Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) -- said on July 23 that the legislation would like pass in the Senate with enough support to override a possible veto by Trump.

The U.S. president took to Twitter on July 23 to again decry what he called a "phony Russian witch hunt," referencing his defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the Kremlin ordered a hacking and propaganda campaign aimed at hurting Clinton's campaign.

"As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” Trump wrote on his Twitter feed.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and The New York Times
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