WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at placing sanctions on countries or entities caught interfering in U.S. elections, the latest step the White House has taken to tamper down concerns before November’s midterms.
“We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it’s something he cares deeply about, that the integrity of our elections and our constitutional process are a high priority to him,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters during a conference call. “This order … is a further demonstration of that.”
Under the executive order, the intelligence community would have 45 days to determine whether an attempt to interfere — including the use of propaganda or disinformation — took place before passing along their findings to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Once received, the two departments would then have 45 days to review whether the infraction warrants sanctions and to what extent.
Potential sanctions laid out in the order include blocking assets, restricting access to U.S. financial institutions, putting limitation on export licenses and prohibiting U.S. citizens from investing in companies tied to any interference.
The intelligence community determined in the waning days of the Obama administration that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election with the aim of swaying the race toward Trump.
Wednesday’s order does not name any specific countries as potential targets, but National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, who joined Bolton in the call, listed Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as potential bad actors.
“It’s more than Russia here that we’re looking at,” Coats said.
The order has been criticized by some in Congress for failing to go far enough.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) issued a joint statement urging the administration to support the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, legislation they co-sponsored that includes mandatory and Russia-specific sanctions.
“The United States can and must do more. Mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks our electoral systems serve as the best deterrent,” the Senators said. “We must make sure that Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was more blunt, suggesting that Trump can not be trusted to ensure sanctions are put in place.
“Given what the president did in Helsinki, giving himself the option of levying tough sanctions is hardly reassuring,” Schumer said, referencing a joint press conference between Trump and Vladimir Putin in which Trump appeared to defer to the Russian president on election meddling. “The new executive order certainly does not absolve the Senate from passing much-needed legislation and funding to beef up our election security and prevent future attacks on our democracy from foreign adversaries.”