Trump signs order for sanctions against foreigners who meddle in polls

Sergio Conner
September 14, 2018

National Security Adviser John Bolton and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told reporters Wednesday that the executive order was evidence the president has made election security a priority.

"We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it's something he cares deeply about", Bolton said.

Both Democrats and Republicans are looking to redress what they consider Trump's weak stance on accusations of Russian interference in 2016 when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in July.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a "witch hunt".

"The new executive order certainly does not absolve the Senate from passing much-needed legislation and funding to beef up our election security and prevent future attacks on our democracy from foreign adversaries", Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"The president has acted decisively today", Bolton said.

Trump signed the order behind closed doors with no reporters present, a rare departure from what has been his standard practice.

While the intelligence community keeps a close tab on any global interference before the elections, after the elections, the executive order directs the intelligence agencies to assess whether or not whether or not there has been any individual entity, country that has authorised, directed sponsored or otherwise supported an interference in the USA election, Coats said. It would then turn over a report to officials in the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, who would then make their own determination. If they agree with the assessment, it would trigger automatic sanctions.

Potential sanctions include blocking financial transactions, restricting export licenses, limiting access to US financial institutions, restraining foreign exchange transactions and transfers of credit, and prohibiting USA citizens from investing in companies that "may be involved" in meddling. It also lays out how the Treasury and State departments will recommend what sanctions to impose. "And if we see something has happened, then there's going to be an automatic response to that". "The way we have been doing it [until now] is fingernail-pulling".

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

Still, Kanuck said the executive order alone is likely not enough.

"You never know how long legislation will take", he said. "I doubt it will completely change the incentive-cost-benefit analysis of the other side". The order, according to administration officials, is broad in terms of who and what can be sanctioned.

Bolton said criticism that Trump had been too deferential to Russia or blinkered in his view of Russian election interference played "zero" role in the new action.

They said Trump's order recognizes the threat, but doesn't go far enough.

The executive order does not name any particular country.

Coats and Bolton said the president's action was not aimed at short-circuiting congressional action.

And while some of the proposed legislation focuses on Russian Federation, the officials said it was important to take a broader view.

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