President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Wednesday, signing an executive order that mandates a range of economic sanctions and other penalties against any person, group or country assessed to have meddled with the upcoming midterm elections November 6.
Administration officials said the executive order sets up a framework for assessing interference, reporting it to the president and punishing it with sanctions.
The order defines election interference in broad terms, going beyond direct hacking into election systems to include influence operations on social media-such as distribution of propaganda and disinformation-and the release of hacked political documents.
First the intelligence services will have 45 days to assess whether there has been an attempt to manipulate or influence a U.S. election.
Trump has drawn widespread criticism for not taking threats to the U.S. electoral system seriously enough, particularly Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
In the order, the president declared a national emergency, an action required under sanctions authority, to deal with the threat of foreign meddling in US elections.
"We have seen signs of not just Russian Federation, but from China, of capabilities, potentially from Iran, and even North Korea", U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the intelligence community have seen "signs" of interference from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, but nothing to the level of the 2016 election.
It is understood that Russian Federation is not mentioned by name in the text, but USA officials named that country along with China, North Korea and Iran as most likely to try to sway U.S. elections.
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"If we see something has happened, there will be an automatic response to that", he said.
The order will allow the Director of National Intelligence to identify foreign meddlers and direct the Treasury Department to apply sanctions. The executive order, called "Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election", establishes a mechanism to impose sanctions on any foreign individual or company found interfering. "I think his actions speak for themselves".
Both lawmakers previously proposed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on those who interfere in USA elections, rather than directing various departments and agencies to go through a months-long process.
The administration has also leveled sanctions against Russian Federation on numerous occasions as punishment for the Sergei Skripal nerve agent attack, interference in the 2016 election and other "malign" activity.
Trump administration officials said Wednesday they have not ruled out working with lawmakers on additional measures, but said they did not want to have to wait for legislation to be approved before having a chance to act.
"This is more than Russian Federation and we will continue to look at that", he said.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M Nielsen also said election security is national security and any attempt to interfere in the democratic institutions is unacceptable.
In a statement the Democratic National Committee said Trump's order "does nothing to hold Russian Federation accountable" for 2016.
In the discussion on Tuesday evening, Rogers also recounted his conversations with Trump about Russia's continued attempts to disrupt the USA electoral system through cyber means in 2016 and beyond.