US sanctions Russian individuals for interference in 2018 elections

US sanctions Russian individuals for interference in 2018 elections

The Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned multiple Russian individuals for their efforts to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

The individuals included Yevgeny Prigozhin, the main financier behind the Russian Internet Research Agency, a group that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE found to have launched a sustained disinformation campaign “designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States” ahead of the 2016 elections. Prigozhin has been dubbed by the Russian media as Putin's "chef" due to his catering company being used by the Kremlin on multiple occasions, and is considered part of Putin's inner circle, according to CNN.

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The Treasury Department accused the Internet Research Agency on Monday of using “fictitious personas on social media and disseminated false information in an effort to attempt to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and try to undermine faith in U.S. democratic institutions.”

In sanctioning Prigozhin, the Treasury Department targeted his physical assets, including private planes, a yacht and front companies associated with Prigozhin.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned six Russian individuals known to be members of the Internet Research Agency, and who are all accused of having attempted to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Prigozhin, the Internet Research Agency, and four of the other Russian individuals were previously sanctioned for malicious cyber activity by the Treasury Department in March of 2018.

The agency also noted that while Russian actors were their target as part of this round of sanctions, the U.S. government was also working to protect U.S. elections against malicious actors in Iran and China that may attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections.

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of American democracy, and we will use our authorities against anyone seeking to undermine our processes and subversively influence voters,” Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Val Demings calls for a new DOJ Office of Police Standards; Trump, GOP to pull convention from NC Lobbying world MORE said in a statement. “This Administration will work tirelessly to safeguard our electoral process, and will aggressively pursue any other foreign actor that attempts to interfere in the 2020 elections."

The decision by the Treasury Department to sanction the Russian individuals was the first time the sanction authority granted by an executive order signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests MORE in 2018 was used.

The executive order declared a national emergency around the security of U.S. elections, and warned countries that they could face sanctions if they attempted to interfere in U.S. elections. Trump formally extended the national emergency last month.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Ousted watchdog says he told top State aides about Pompeo probe 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports MORE said in a statement on Monday that the sanctions would “serve as a warning” to foreign individuals attempting to interfere in U.S. elections.

“We have been clear: We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” Pompeo said. “The United States will continue to push back against malign actors who seek to subvert our democratic processes and we will not hesitate to impose further costs on Russia for its destabilizing and unacceptable activities.”

The announcement of the sanctions came days after The Washington Post reported that Trump told two Russian officials during a 2017 meeting that he was not concerned about Russian interference in the 2016 elections since he claimed the U.S. did the same to other countries. Trump tweeted that the report was “more fake news.”

Congressional Democrats harshly criticized Trump in the wake of the report, with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-N.Y.) describing Trump’s alleged comments to the Russian officials as “disturbing” and “extremely harmful to both our national security and the security of our elections.”

Schumer also cited the allegations in calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) to allow the Senate to vote on a variety of election security bills that McConnell has blocked citing concerns around federalizing elections. McConnell did recently back an amendment to a 2020 appropriations bill that would give states $250 million to shore up their election security.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Conspiracy theories run rampant online amid Floyd protests | First lawsuit filed against Trump social media order | Snapchat to no longer promote Trump's account Derek Chauvin charge upgraded to second-degree murder; other officers charged Democratic lawmakers push leadership to ensure college students have internet access MORE (Minn.), one of the key Democrats fighting for election security legislation to be passed, said in a statement on Saturday that “our nation’s top law enforcement and national security officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations have made it clear that Russia attacked our democracy.”

“Russia and other adversaries are currently working to undermine our upcoming elections and we should be passing legislation for secure elections, something this administration has repeatedly blocked,” Klobuchar said. “This is just another example of the President’s crossing the line when it comes to our security vs. his own interests.”