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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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says 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 TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster 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 PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? 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 SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill Harris to preside over Senate for voting rights debate 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 GOP blocks voting rights bill Schumer, McConnell spar as GOP prepares to block voting bill Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says 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 KlobucharSchumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster Senate GOP blocks voting rights bill The antitrust package is a Trojan horse conservatives must reject 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.”