US Is Said to Allow Sanctions on Foreigners Accused of Interfering in ElectionsSeptember 12, 2018
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing a new executive order to allow sanctions of foreign citizens suspected of interference in the American elections, officials who have reviewed the order said.
The new order is aimed broadly at any potential outside interference in American elections, but is meant to give the government an additional tool to punish, and deter, Russian entities suspected of trying to spread disinformation or otherwise influence the midterm and subsequent balloting.
The new sanctioning powers come as the Trump administration has been criticized for not doing enough to try to prevent Russian interference.
The order could be signed as soon as Wednesday, although officials cautioned that the timing could shift because of the threat of Hurricane Florence or because of further White House review.
The order, a concise document of less than two full pages, would give the director of national intelligence, working with other agencies, the power to identify when foreign interference in an election had taken place, the officials said. The Treasury Department would be responsible for administering the sanctions against individuals and foreign entities. The Justice Department, the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies would be involved in investigating allegations of interference.
Democrats in Congress and others have criticized the Trump administration for being too slow to develop new policies and procedures to counter election interference. Some technology executives have also said the government has done too little to share intelligence with social media companies that Russian operatives have sought to use to spread disinformation.
Administration officials have pushed back against that criticism, saying that the government was taking the threat of interference seriously and had been ramping up its response.
The executive order, an official said, will be a demonstration of the seriousness of the effort to counter influence.
After the summit meeting in July with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, criticism of President Trump has intensified. At that news conference, Mr. Trump was dismissive of the conclusion by intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
While Mr. Trump has at times acknowledged that Russia sought to intervene, he has often bristled at any suggestion that he did not win his campaign fairly and played down any role Moscow might have had in the outcome.
Despite Mr. Trump’s ambivalence, intelligence officials have said that Russian entities have continued to try to interfere in American democratic institutions. Facebook and other technology companies have identified what they have said are fake grass-roots campaigns aimed at sowing divisiveness ahead of the November midterm elections.
White House officials have insisted that Mr. Trump is acting against any foreign government or entity that seeks to influence American elections.
“President Trump is committed to protecting our nation’s elections from foreign interference and has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actor,” Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, said Tuesday.
The executive order was first reported by Reuters on Tuesday.
Officials played down how effective sanctions might be against election meddling. Russia is already under heavy sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine, as well as its election interference. The administration also leveled rounds of sanctions in March and June against Russian intelligence agencies and officials in connection with election interference and cyberattacks.
Last year, Congress passed legislation requiring the government to penalize Russia in response to its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. That law prompted the March and June sanctions by the Treasury Department.
The new executive order could give the American government an additional tool with which to highlight individuals or entities involved in continuing interference.
Russia has been accused of seeking both to infiltrate election infrastructure and to spread disinformation to try to influence voting. Senior administration officials are often careful not to simply focus on Russia, but note that a number of countries hostile to the United States may seek to interfere.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has been more public in its discussions about that threat.
In August, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, and other officials appeared at the White House to outline the steps they were taking to prevent foreign interference.
Mr. Coats said at the time that intelligence agencies had learned the lessons of 2016.
“The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority,” he said. “And we have done that, and are doing that, and will continue to do so.”