Trump or­ders sanc­tions to de­ter elec­tion med­dling

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Deirdre Sh­es­green USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed a sweep­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­der Wed­nes­day to au­tho­rize U.S. sanc­tions on any for­eign in­di­vid­ual or coun­try that tries to in­ter­fere in U.S. elec­tions.

“This is in­tended to be a very broad ef­fort to pre­vent for­eign ma­nip­u­la­tion of the po­lit­i­cal process,” John Bolton, Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, said dur­ing a brief­ing Wed­nes­day.

The move comes less than two months be­fore the 2018 midterm elec­tions, and just weeks af­ter Dan Coats, Trump’s di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, warned of a “per­va­sive mes­sag­ing cam­paign by Rus­sia to try to weaken and di­vide the United States” be­fore Amer­i­cans go to the polls in Novem­ber.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der could blunt mo­men­tum in Congress for leg­is­la­tion that would im­pose harsher and more di­rect penal­ties on Rus­sia for any fu­ture elec­tion med­dling.

Sev­eral se­na­tors said Wed­nes­day that the White House or­der was a good first step but fell short of what’s needed and could give Trump too much wig­gle room.

“While the ad­min­is­tra­tion has yet to share the full text, an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that in­evitably leaves the Pres­i­dent broad dis­cre­tion to de­cide whether to im­pose tough sanc­tions against those who attack our democ­racy is in­suf­fi­cient,” said Sen Mark Warner, DVa., the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia.

“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,” Warner said.

Coats said the new ex­ec­u­tive or­der is a re­sponse to Rus­sia’s ac­tions in the 2016 elec­tion and “to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen again. But he said the or­der will ap­ply not just to Rus­sia but to oth­ers pos­si­ble bad ac­tors, in­clud­ing China, North Korea and Iran.

“We have seen signs of (med­dling from) not just Rus­sia, but from China ... from Iran and even North Korea,” Coats said. “We’re tak­ing noth­ing for granted here.”

The or­der sets up a high-level process for the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and other law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to in­ves­ti­gate and eval­u­ate pos­si­ble elec­tion med­dling.

First, it re­quires the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence to con­duct reg­u­lar as­sess­ments of pos­si­ble elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. And af­ter each elec­tion, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity will have 45 days to in­ves­ti­gate whether there was an at­tempt at in­ter­fer­ence, fol­lowed by a Jus­tice De­part­ment re­view.

If there is a con­sen­sus that a for­eign coun­try or other en­tity tried to med­dle in the elec­tion, au­to­matic sanc­tions would be trig­gered, Coats said.

Bolton said the sanc­tions would be im­posed not just for di­rect ac­tions, such as hack­ing into elec­tion sys­tems, but also for dis­tri­bu­tion of pro­pa­ganda and dis­in­for­ma­tion.

Rus­sia spent mil­lions of dol­lars try­ing to sow divi­sion and dis­cord in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, us­ing Face­book and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, among other tac­tics.

Warner and oth­ers said Congress should still move for­ward with leg­is­la­tion. One bill that has broad sup­port, crafted by Sens. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., would man­date tough sanc­tions on ma­jor sec­tors of the Rus­sian econ­omy, in­clud­ing fi­nance, en­ergy, and de­fense com­pa­nies.

It would also tar­get se­nior Rus­sian po­lit­i­cal fig­ure and oli­garchs close to Putin, bar­ring them from the United States and freez­ing their as­sets.

“There is no ques­tion that pro­tect­ing our elec­tions from for­eign in­ter­fer­ence is one of the most press­ing is­sues fac­ing our coun­try to­day,” Ru­bio and Van Hollen said in a joint state­ment.

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