Executive order creates system for ‘automatic’ sanctions on foreigners interfering with U.S. elections

The ODNI would make initial assessments, and then DOJ and DHS would get involved. Some penalties would kick in right away if investigations uncover meddling.

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against any foreign individual, entity or country attempting to interfere in U.S. elections, the White House announced Wednesday.

Some sanctions would be “automatic” in cases where federal investigators identify meddling, White House officials said.

“It’s a further effort among several that the administration has made,” national security adviser John Bolton said. “It includes not just interference against election or campaign infrastructure, but it also covers the distribution of propaganda and disinformation.”

The executive order requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to make regular assessments about potential foreign interference within 45 days of an election. It also asks for reports by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in cases of interference with election campaign-related infrastructure, Bolton said.


The order immediately came under bipartisan criticism. Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen ,D-Maryland, released a statement saying Wednesday’s order “recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it.”

Both senators pointed to the “Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act of 2018,” also known as the DETER Act, which aims to require intelligence community reporting, establishing laws on information campaigns around elections and sets out Russia-specific sanctions in case the U.S. intelligence community determines Moscow is behind any election interference. DETER also places constraints on the president’s ability to end sanctions without cooperation from the intelligence community leaders about Russian activity.

Today’s executive order, on the other hand, is not “country-specific,” Bolton said. American intelligence agencies have long said that Russia aims to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections and that it did indeed meddle in the 2016 elections.

U.S. intelligence agencies “have not seen the intensity of what happened in 2016” during the 2018 election campaign, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, but “it’s only a keyboard click away.”

“This clearly is a process put in place to try to ensure that we are doing every possible thing we can first of all to prevent any interference with our election,” Coats told reporters . “To report on anything we see between now and the election but then to do a full assessment after the election to ensure the American people just exactly of what happened or did not happen.”


After an election, the intelligence community has 45 days to make an assessment on meddling and, if it took place, who was behind it. The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice would then determine if an “automatic response” of sanctions would kick in, Coats said.  The Department of State and the Treasury Department then could recommend other sanctions, Bolton said.

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