Trump threat­ens sanc­tions for med­dling in U.S. elec­tions

Strikes back at crit­ics of Rus­sia re­sponse

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Pres­i­dent Trump moved to de­ter for­eign coun­tries or peo­ple from med­dling in U.S. elec­tions, creat­ing a mech­a­nism to au­to­mat­i­cally im­pose sanc­tions when in­tel­li­gence agen­cies de­tect cy­ber­at­tacks.

But the ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which co­in­cided with height­ened alerts about po­ten­tial at­tacks on the Nov. 6 elec­tions, didn’t sat­isfy crit­ics who don’t trust Mr. Trump to pu­n­ish Rus­sian hack­ers.

Sanc­tions such as freez­ing as­sets, re­strict­ing for­eign ex­change trans­ac­tions and block­ing ac­cess to U.S. fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions will be trig­gered by in­cur­sions on elec­tion sys­tems, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and can­di­dates, or for cir­cu­lat­ing pro­pa­ganda, said Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John R. Bolton.

“We felt it was im­por­tant to show the pres­i­dent has taken com­mand of this is­sue, that it is some­thing he cares deeply about, that the in­tegrity of our elec­tions [and] our con­sti­tu­tional process are a top pri­or­ity,” said Mr. Bolton, who briefed re­porters on the ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

The or­der served as a warn­ing to for­eign gov­ern­ments con­tem­plat­ing cy­ber­strikes on Amer­ica’s elec­tions and cam­paigns, said Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats, who also briefed re­porters.

“It’s more than Rus­sia,” he said, not­ing po­ten­tial threats from China, North Korea and Iran.

“We have not seen the in­ten­sity of what hap­pened in 2016, but as I have said … it is only a key­board click away,” Mr. Coats said.

The or­der pushes back on crit­i­cism that Mr. Trump has been soft on Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

It also gets in front of leg­is­la­tion in the House and Se­nate that targets elec­tion hacks. Some bills would take the pres­i­dent out of the process for au­to­matic sanc­tions and in­clude more penal­ties on Rus­sia.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ready to work with Congress on a sanc­tions law, Mr. Bolton said, but the White House wants to move fast.

“You never know how long leg­is­la­tion will take,” he said. “The pres­i­dent has acted de­ci­sively to­day.”

Mr. Trump suf­fered harsh crit­i­cism from Repub­li­cans and Democrats for ac­cept­ing Mr. Putin’s de­nials when the two lead­ers met at a July sum­mit in Helsinki.

The pres­i­dent ap­peared to side with Mr. Putin and against U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that said the Krem­lin med­dled in 2016 to sow di­vi­sion, hurt Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and help Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump later said he mis­spoke and vouched for in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ find­ings.

Mr. Bolton said the pres­i­dent made clear his sup­port for U.S. spy agen­cies, im­posed sanc­tions on Rus­sia and took other ac­tions such as the ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

“I think his ac­tions speak for them­selves,” he said.

Christo­pher Swift, a na­tional se­cu­rity pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity and a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in Rus­sian sanc­tions, called the ex­ec­u­tive or­der an “en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ment” from a pres­i­dent he thinks pulls his punches on Rus­sia.

Au­to­matic sanc­tions should act as a de­ter­rent, he said, al­though he added a ma­jor caveat.

“The White House has over­sight. So if the White House doesn’t like some­thing for some rea­son or wants to drag its feet or there’s not enough in­for­ma­tion from the avail­able in­tel­li­gence, the au­to­matic na­ture of this might not be as au­to­matic as the ex­ec­u­tive or­der sug­gests,” he said.

Un­der the or­der, in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, led by the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, would as­sess at­tacks and for­ward find­ings to the Jus­tice and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments.

Jus­tice and Home­land Se­cu­rity would have 45 days to make a de­ter­mi­na­tion and no­tify the pres­i­dent to trig­ger the sanc­tions.

The Trea­sury and State de­part­ments also would be ad­vised of the elec­tion at­tack and would be able to im­pose ad­di­tional sanc­tions.

Sen. Thom Til­lis, North Carolina Repub­li­can, ap­plauded the or­der. He called it a nec­es­sary re­sponse to Rus­sia’s “hos­tile acts against Amer­ica’s democratic sys­tem that were de­signed to cause di­vi­sion and dis­cord within our na­tion.”

“It is im­per­a­tive that Amer­ica re­mains united in pun­ish­ing po­ten­tial elec­tion med­dlers and bad ac­tors and that Repub­li­cans and Democrats work to­gether to pro­tect the in­tegrity of our elec­tions,” he said.

But the or­der re­ceived a luke­warm re­cep­tion from bi­par­ti­san law­mak­ers push­ing for a new sanc­tions law.

“To­day’s an­nounce­ment by the ad­min­is­tra­tion rec­og­nizes the threat but does not go far enough to ad­dress it,” Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Mary­land Demo­crat, said in a joint state­ment.

The sen­a­tors pre­fer their leg­is­la­tion, the De­fend­ing Elec­tions from Threats by Es­tab­lish­ing Red­lines, or DE­TER Act. It would set up au­to­matic sanc­tions that take ef­fect with­out White House over­sight and at the dis­cre­tion of the di­rec­tor of na­tional se­cu­rity.

The bill also would pre­scribe harsher penal­ties for Rus­sia.

“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,” they said.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can and vice chair­man of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, said the or­der gave too much dis­cre­tion to the pres­i­dent.

He said Mr. Trump has demon­strated that he won’t stand up to Mr. Putin.

“If we are go­ing to ac­tu­ally de­ter Rus­sia and oth­ers from in­ter­fer­ing in our elec­tions in the fu­ture, we need to spell out strong, clear con­se­quences, with­out am­bi­gu­ity,” Mr. Warner said. “We re­main woe­fully un­der­pre­pared to se­cure the up­com­ing elec­tions, and an ex­ec­u­tive or­der is sim­ply no sub­sti­tute for con­gres­sional ac­tion.”

Mr. Warner also called for pas­sage of the DE­TER Act, which he co-sponsored.

Mr. Swift cau­tioned against the bill, which he said could in­fringe on the pres­i­dent’s con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers and would put au­thor­ity in the hands of an un­elected of­fi­cial.

While not a fan of Mr. Trump, he said the is­sue was big­ger than the oc­cu­pant of the White House.

“I would veto that bill in or­der to pro­tect pres­i­den­tial power. I’d say the same thing if [Barack] Obama was pres­i­dent,” Mr. Swift said.

Mr. Coats said in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were work­ing around the clock to pro­tect the midterm elec­tions.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats said Pres­i­dent Trump has di­rected a govern­ment-wide ef­fort to pro­tect elec­tions.

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