US Seeks to Impose Cost for Election Meddling

Trump to issue order allowing sanctions on foreigners meddling in U.S. elections

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday meant to punish foreign entities for interfering in United States elections, an attempt to demonstrate muscle on an issue he's been accused of downplaying.

The sanctions would target not just foreign meddling in physical election infrastructure, but propaganda and other tactics, following efforts by a Kremlin-backed outfit use Facebook and other social media to try to create divisions and affect public opinion.

Trump's order comes less than 100 days before American voters head to the polls for the midterm elections, and just two months after Trump was derided by both Democrats and Republicans for declining to press Russian President Vladimir Putin harder on Russia's alleged election meddling, after the pair met in Helsinki.

"I thought there was an opportunity there that I wish we would have taken advantage of", Rogers said at an event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on the relationship between the presidency and the intelligence community.

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. Trump dismisses the investigations as a political witch hunt.

Rubio and Van Hollen said in a joint statement Wednesday that while the executive order acknowledges the threat of foreign election interference, it "does not go far enough to address it".

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

Computer mouse pads with Secure the Vote logo are seen on a vendor's table at a convention of state secretaries of state, July 14, 2018, in Philadelphia.

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Bolton said under the order, the intelligence community would have 45 days to determine whether there was meddling in the election. Those departments would then determine whether to move ahead with sanctions. If they agree with the assessment, it would trigger automatic sanctions. Punishments could include blocking transactions, limiting license exports, limiting access to US financial institutions and barring USA citizens from investing in companies from violating countries.

The order sets up a 90-day time frame for assessing reports of any kind of interference by foreign individuals and companies, and then deciding on the appropriate sanctions, which include freezing assets, banning business dealings with Americans and locking the actors out of the U.S. financial system.

A key State Department official praised the executive order as a good start.

"We're setting up a process or a mechanism where if we see something, we're going to say something", she said.

Some former officials also praised the order as a "step in the right direction".

Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the 2016 Russian cyber-warfare efforts, asserting that the allegations are largely a result of Democrats seeking to shift responsibility for his victory away from their own failings.

Rogers said he would tell Trump: "Mr. President, I understand that, but I'm paid by the citizens of the nation to tell you what we think".

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