President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday imposing sanctions against any election interference, declaring election meddling efforts as a "national emergency".
The executive action came less than two months before the November 6 midterm elections, and two years after US authorities say Russian Federation meddled in the presidential race won by Trump. While Coates said that "we have not seen the intensity of activity from 2016", the intelligence community has seen signs that there are efforts underway by a number of actors to manipulate the political process this year. US, India sign deal on sharing intel Lawmakers introduce resolution to back naming North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters after McCain Obama readies fall campaign push, but some Dems say no thanks MORE (D-Md.) introduced the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act earlier this year, which would penalize Russian Federation or other foreign governments that try to interfere in USA elections.
The sanctions will target anyone attacking election infrastructure or distributing propaganda or misinformation, national security adviser John Bolton claimed.
"This clearly is a process put in place to try to assure that we are doing every possible thing we can, first of all, to prevent any interference with our elections, to report on anything we see between now and the election, but then to do a full assessment after the election to assure the American people just exactly what may have happened or may not have happened", Coats said.
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The order, which comes just weeks ahead of November's midterm elections, will direct USA intelligence agencies to investigate whether the election meddling took place.
The lawmakers said Trump's executive order does not change the need for legislation. Trump did not directly answer the question.
Congressional pressure for tougher federal defenses against foreign election interference grew following Trump's July 16 summit and news conference with Putin, when Trump avoided publicly confronting the Russian leader about Moscow's efforts to influence the election.
Congress has been purposefully left out of the executive order drafting process, the official said, because the administration wants to preempt legislation being considered in the House and Senate that addresses similar issues.
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Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said, "Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply can not be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters".
Trump instead renewed a demand for an investigation of Clinton's email practices as secretary of state and noted that Putin had issued an "extremely strong and powerful" denial.
The sanctions would automatically be triggered against a foreign government if they are found to have interfered or influenced elections. "We must make sure Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy". Russian entities have not targeted those systems to the degree they did in 2016, Coats said Wednesday.
The sanctions themselves range from blocked assets, export licenses, access to banking and lending, credit transfers, or USA investors, according to Bolton.
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Lawmakers and independent analysts say that federal and state action has already made US voting systems more secure against foreign hackers.