Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections

Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpIllinois governor says state has gotten 10 percent of medical equipments it's requested Biden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll Tesla offers ventilators free of cost to hospitals, Musk says MORE signed an executive order on Wednesday allowing sanctions on foreign companies, organizations or individuals the government determines to have interfered in U.S. elections.

The order is the latest effort by the Trump administration to address fears that Russia is looking to meddle in the November midterm elections, much like it did during the 2016 presidential race.

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“This clearly is a process put in place to try and ensure we are doing every possible thing we can to prevent any interference in our election,” Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Experts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks MORE told reporters.

Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on whether Moscow interfered in the 2016 election, triggering criticism from lawmakers in both parties that his administration has not done enough to deter Russia and other state actors from running online disinformation campaigns or hacking into state voting systems.

Wednesday’s order is designed to address those concerns by showing the president and his team are taking the threat seriously.

“I think his actions speak for themselves,” national security adviser John Bolton said of Trump, adding that the president “cares deeply” about preventing foreign election interference.

The executive order says agencies are required to refer any malicious behavior to the director of national intelligence for investigation; the director will then determine whether any interference took place and who was responsible for it.

After a 45-day review period, an assessment will be passed to the departments of Justice and of Homeland Security, which will have an additional 45 days to determine if punishments are warranted.

Possible sanctions include freezing any U.S. assets of individuals or groups found to have interfered in the election, cutting off their access to the American financial system and banning them from entering the country.

Bolton said the American public will learn of any determination of election interference only when sanctions are announced, saying investigations must be kept private because they involve highly classified intelligence.

Officials said the order was not directed at any one country — Russia has regularly been the target of sanctions for election interference — over fears that others such as Iran, China and North Korea could also attempt to meddle in U.S. elections.

“It’s more than Russia here that we are looking at,” said Coats.

There is growing evidence that foreign actors are ramping up efforts to interfere in the 2018 midterm contests. Facebook, Google and Twitter recently shut down hundreds of accounts believed to be tied to influence campaigns backed by Iran and Russia.

Trump signed the executive order at the same time Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are weighing legislation meant to deter foreign election interference.

Bolton said the president is open to considering those measures, but that the administration wanted to put a process in place for him to respond on his own.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBefore this pandemic ends, intel agencies should prepare for a world of threats DOJ probing stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of coronavirus crisis: report GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the executive order “strengthens our ability to quickly and appropriately hold responsible anyone who interferes in our elections.”

“It also sends a clear message that America can and will respond swiftly and decisively to Russia, Iran and any others who seek to undermine our free, fair and open elections,” he said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State — the state officials who administer elections — said the directive is a “positive step in ensuring that secretaries of state, election officials and our federal partners are all on the same page when it comes to safeguarding our democracy.”

Still, some lawmakers said Congress needed to pass its own sanctions-related legislation.

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPompeo: Countries must 'step up,' provide 'transparent' coronavirus information to save lives China did not count coronavirus positives if patient had no symptoms: report Trump seeks to sell public on his coronavirus response MORE (R-Fla.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE (D-Md.), who jointly introduced legislation earlier this year that would impose penalties for election interference, said in a statement Wednesday the order “does not go far enough to address” malicious activity by foreign entities.

“Mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks our electoral systems serve as the best deterrent,” the senators said. “We must make sure Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy.”

Their legislation, known as the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, would require penalties on Russia or other foreign governments that try to interfere in U.S. elections.

The White House was in touch with Rubio’s office in the days before the order was signed and administration officials told the senator’s team that the legislation had influenced the language in the order, according to a person familiar with the process.

A Van Hollen aide told The Hill that the Maryland senator’s office also had extensive conversations with the administration regarding the order.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHackers target health care AI amid coronavirus pandemic Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus deal includes funds for mail-in voting | Twitter pulled into fight over virus disinformation | State AGs target price gouging | Apple to donate 10M masks Senator sounds alarm on cyber threats to internet connectivity during coronavirus crisis MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged lawmakers to continue work on Rubio and Van Hollen’s legislation, characterizing Wednesday's order as a move by other administration officials to force Trump to take action against Russia.

"In effect, what the executive order does and what this legislation does, it takes that decision away and says if there's a finding made then our country will take the following actions ... because this commander in chief, at least in the case of Russian intervention, has not acted responsibly," Warner said.

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, called the order "a good step," while adding that the committee would still likely take up legislation on Russian sanctions.

"There are consequences of imposing sanctions and they have to be done well," he said. "And so as we put together these types of responses, we have to make sure we use all of the tools including economic sanctions, but other tools as well. And make sure they are able to be utilized in a flexible and in an effective way."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up a bill on Thursday authored by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump reviews Pelosi on morning TV: 'She wasn't bad' Encryption helps America work safely – and that goes for Congress, too Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children Legal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic MORE (D-Ill.) — also known as the DETER Act — that would block foreign nationals who have sought to interfere in U.S. elections from entering the country.

Graham and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.) also introduced a bill last month that would slap massive financial sanctions against Russia, citing election interference.

Menendez said Wednesday that he had not yet reviewed the language in the executive order, but called it “outrageous” that Trump had not previously taken direct action to counter election interference.

“If the Trump administration is serious about protecting our nation from foreign interference, they should endorse this bipartisan proposal,” Menendez said in a statement, referring to his and Graham’s bill.

Other Democrats were more dismissive of the president’s order.

"The best that can be said is that Donald Trump is sending mixed signals about interference in the U.S. election," Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Biden faces pesky enthusiasm challenge despite big primary numbers MORE (D-Mass.), a potential 2020 contender, told reporters.

Updated at 6:20 p.m.