Trump signs order authorizing "automatic" sanctions for election interference

USA intelligence officials have found that in the campaign leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, Russian hackers breached the Democratic National Committee and leaked confidential information. Following those reports, the Treasury and State Departments can decide on appropriate and additional sanctions to impose. But Trump in July publicly accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials at a joint press conference after they met for a summit in Helsinki.

Trump's decision coincides with intelligence agencies, military and law enforcement preparing to defend the November 6 congressional elections from predicted foreign attacks even as Trump derides a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The attorney general and Department of Homeland Security then have another 45 days to assess whether sanctions should be imposed.

Bolton was joined on the call by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who outlined how the process of identifying interference and then imposing sanctions will work.

Amid serious backlash from both sides of the aisle, the Republican president later explained that he "misspoke" and said he had "great confidence" in United States intelligence. The order declares a national emergency, Bolton said, and requires DNI to make regular assessments of activities targeting the United States electoral process, reporting findings to the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. "The President has said repeatedly he is determined there not be foreign interference (in U.S. elections)".

Bolton said the order was necessary to ensure a formal process and authorization for sanctions. Those backing the legislation say that under the bill, a nation would know exactly what it would face if caught.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who is vice-chairman of the intelligence committee, said, "Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply can not be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters". The order, according to administration officials, is broad in terms of who and what can be sanctioned.

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Bolton said the order is not focused on any particular country, because threats to elections come from many different countries and entities.

The White House looks set to toughen up against foreign meddling in USA elections.

Congress already passed a Russian Federation sanctions bill past year, in one of Washington's most aggressive moves to punish Moscow.

US lawmakers have introduced various pieces of Russia-related legislation, including the "Deter Act", to set out punishments for election meddling, and what one lawmaker called a sanctions bill "from hell" to punish Moscow for cyber crime and its activities in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. Some lawmakers have chafed at what they saw as the administration's reluctance to implement it. 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.

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