Lawmakers Say Executive Order Targeting Election Interference Falls Short

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin
President Donald J. Trump meets with President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, July 16, 2018. Photo credit: The White House / Flickr

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that could lead to sanctions against countries or individuals for interfering in US elections, but lawmakers from both parties say the order does not go far enough.

Apart from Trump himself, there is little doubt among those who have seen the evidence that members of the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US presidential election in various ways and that foreign individuals or governments are increasing their efforts to do the same in 2018. Lawmakers from both parties, but especially Democrats, have criticized Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that meddling occurred and are worried that future elections are vulnerable.

“Although there has been no evidence of a foreign power altering the outcome or vote tabulation in any United States election, foreign powers have historically sought to exploit America’s free and open political system,” the order stated.

Trump has appeared reluctant to acknowledge any part of the evidence of interference, as it could cast doubt on the idea that he won the election fairly and without outside help.

The order the president signed would target anyone who attempts to meddle directly — by targeting voting machines or election software, for example — or indirectly, through propaganda or by fraudulently voting absentee as a US citizen.

“We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it’s something he cares deeply about,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “The integrity of our elections and our constitutional process are a high priority to him.”

The order gives the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) the authority to investigate whether meddling took place and who was behind it. The DNI will share its findings with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, who will jointly determine if and what sanctions are appropriate. Sanctions could include freezing US assets of individuals or groups, removing their access to the American financial system, and banning them from entering the country.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers, however, don’t think the order goes as far as it needs to. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FLA), the authors of legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on countries found to meddle in US elections, issued a joint statement in response to the order.

Marco Rubio, Chris Van Hollen

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Travis AFB / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Today’s announcement by the Administration recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it. The United States can and must do more,” it said. “We must make sure 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.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also criticized the executive order. He has previously blasted Trump’s refusal to respond to the evidence of Russia’s attempts at interfering in the election.

“Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply cannot be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters,” Warner tweeted. “An executive order that inevitably leaves the President broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has warned that Russian efforts to undermine US elections did not stop in 2016.

“We are doing everything we possibly can, first of all to prevent any interference with our election, and then to do a full assessment after the election,” he told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

“It’s more than Russia here that we are looking at,” he added.

China, Iran, and North Korea have also been identified as potential threats to election integrity.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) also wrote a bill that seeks to protect election integrity — the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act — which would prevent foreign individuals that have attempted to interfere in US elections from entering the country. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up the bill on Thursday.

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3 responses to “Lawmakers Say Executive Order Targeting Election Interference Falls Short”

  1. JC says:

    Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, sir…. Review your law, and reconsider apologizing for a foreign power that is quite obviously affecting democracy all over the planet.

  2. Emily Brandt says:

    I am astounded that more journalism isn’t devoted to the real hacking of our elections: Republican legislators. They have closed 868 polls, mostly in communities of color across the country. In addition, gerrymandering and an outdated allocating system of senators are undermining decades of civil rights efforts toward greater equality.

  3. MarkInBoston says:

    The second sentence of this article states, “there is little doubt among those who have seen the “evidence” that members of the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.”

    For those who have merely read the Justice Dept statement linked to the word “evidence” in this sentence, it would appear that Russians attempted to influence the outcome the 2016 elections. Even if it is true, big deal. That’s what campaigns are all about — bolstering your preference and attacking his/her opponent. Nothing new here. Even a cursory examination of US elections, past, reveals a plethora of misinformation and biased interpretations emanating from individual supporters, bloggers, news media, PACS, and candidates themselves. As far as the accusations against Russians, they are just that, accusations, and cannot and should not be construed or represented as “fact” until they are vetted in a court of law, which IMO will never happen. Conveniently absent from the opening assumption is the credible criticism from former NSA technical directer William Binney and the organisation Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, who categorically state they have physical evidence that the “hack” to the DNC servers attributed to Russians was not a hack at all, but a leak from inside the DNC, citing that the metadata in the Guccifer-attributed emails shows an impossible transfer rate via the internet and rather, a transfer rate corresponding to direct download speed of an external drive like a thumb drive. This physical evidence, in conjunction with circumstantial evidence provided by Julian Assange and Kim Doctom, along with claims in the book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” that HRC and John Podesta concocted the narrative blaming the Russians for HRC’s loss, are all serious and credible challenges to “assessments” made by the intelligence community. I’m not sure why WWW is choosing to ignore them.

    It’s also important to make a distinction between the presidential “campaign” and the election, itself. I find it odd that one needs to point out word choices to the WWW staff. A campaign is what happens leading up to an election, which happens on election day. Going back to the founding of this country, we have seen all kinds of misinformation, slander, hyperbole, etc. against political opponents. This is nothing new and IMO pretending it’s something new vis-a-vis uncovering a few Russian trolls points to either a disregard for a tradition of nastiness in American political campaigns in general, or a politically motivated viewpoint.

    As far as real interference and tampering in an election (distinguished from influencing opinion), there is plenty of concern about the vulnerability of electronic voting machines being hacked at polling places by political operatives from this country, evidenced by a Princeton University study of Diebold voting machines readily available online. Or people arbitrarily being removed from eligible voter lists as happened again in NY in the Democrats primary this past Thursday. Or gerrymandering.

    And for this voter, the illegal and unethical undermining of Bernie Sanders by HRC and the DNC is exponentially more egregious to the integrity of our election process than anything a few Russian internet trolls may have done, and far more worrisome because the mainstream left chooses to ignore it, or worse, finds it acceptable.