President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that would allow his administration to target individuals or nations who seek to interfere in US elections, sending a signal to Russian Federation and others following efforts to meddle in his own election.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said the order leaves the president with broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions.
Sanctions such as freezing assets, restricting foreign exchange transactions and blocking access to USA 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. The attorney general and Department of Homeland Security then have another 45 days to assess whether sanctions should be imposed.
The White House has worked to push back against accusations that Trump was not seriously committed to aggressively protecting US elections from interference, especially after his press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. Bolton noted that the scope of the order included not just attacks on election infrastructure but also "the distribution of propaganda" meant to impact the electoral process.
A special counsel has been investigating possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow. "We have several that we are tracking", he explained, "and have seen signs, from not just Russian Federation, but China, Iran, and North Korea".
"This is not a single solution, but it makes a clear statement by the president that this sort of activity will not be tolerated and will be punished", the official said.
It is also not limited to attacks on campaign infrastructure, but also applies to the spread of propaganda and misinformation. When asked how much the Helsinki press conference played into the administration's decision to create this executive order, Bolton gave a definitive "zero" in response and added that the President's actions on election integrity "speak for themselves". It would base decisions on implementing sanctions on any USA intelligence community conclusion that meddling occurred.More news: Five dead in Carolinas as Florence brings ´epic´ floods
He said the executive order is not country-specific because the threats come from a "number of sources".
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a "witch hunt".
"If we are going to actually deter Russian Federation and others from interfering in our elections in the future, we need to spell out strong, clear consequences, without ambiguity", Mr. Warner said.
James Clapper, the former national intelligence director who appeared with Rogers and other former intelligence officials, said he personally believes that the Russian interference did influence the outcome of the 2016 election, but didn't elaborate.
Some lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the new executive order.
Intelligence and Homeland Security officials would have 45 days to evaluate any meddling intel and determine if the actions meet the level of triggering sanctions.
"Basically it's a further effort among several that the administration has made to protect the United States against foreign interference in our elections, and really our political process more broadly", Bolton said. Such "pool sprays" have been held while Trump signed previous orders - or entire public events in Washington and around the country scheduled around them.