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Not Tough Enough, Say Critics Of Trump Order On Foreign Meddling In U.S. Elections


U.S. President Donald Trump (center) signed an executive order to punish foreign meddling in U.S. elections. (file photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump has issued a new executive order aimed at punishing foreigners who interfere in U.S. elections, although Democrats and some Republicans immediately said the action did not go far enough.

The order, signed on September 12 behind closed doors with no press coverage, came amid continuing criticism of Trump and his administration for downplaying threats to the U.S. elections, particularly from Russia, after allegations of meddling in the 2016 presidential vote that Trump won.

Military and law enforcement agencies have warned that the upcoming November 6 congressional elections could also be at risk from foreign meddling. That vote will determine control of Congress.

National-security adviser John Bolton said the order gave the State and Treasury departments the authority to decide on appropriate sanctions, which would include freezing assets, limiting access to U.S. financial institutions, and travel restrictions.

"The president has said repeatedly that he is determined that there not be foreign interference in our political process," Bolton said. "I think his actions speak for themselves."

The order would nevertheless leave the president the decision-making authority on whether to impose the harshest of the measures.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said the United States was not yet seeing the intensity of Russian interference that was seen in 2016. He also said the order was not specifically aimed at Russia, and he cited China, North Korea, and Iran as other possible threats.

"It's more than Russia here," he told reporters.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the U.S. intelligence findings about alleged Russian interference, even as Congress has moved to impose strict penalties against Russia and others for things that include election meddling.

"There has been no evidence of a foreign power altering the outcome or vote tabulation in any United States election," Trump said in making the latest announcement.

However, U.S. lawmakers said Trump's executive order did not do enough to protect the U.S. electoral system.

"Today's announcement by the administration recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it," Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said in a joint statement that advocated further legislation.

"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," they added.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said, "While the administration has yet to share the full text, 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."

The Democratic National Committee said that Trump's executive order "does nothing to hold Russia accountable" for 2016.

Separately, new legislation currently making its way through Congress would impose even harsher punishment against Russia, including things like cutting Moscow off from sovereign-debt markets.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said the executive order should not take the place of "mandatory sanctions required by law" and should not slow Congress's efforts to approve new legislation.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and The Washington Post
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