Democratic senators are urging the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on Russian organizations and individuals for interfering in the 2020 presidential election, saying such a "direct message" to Russian President Vladimir Putin is long overdue.
Eleven senators sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on September 3, asking him to "immediately" place sanctions on a range of Russians.
The letter says the Treasury Department should identify those to be targeted by the sanctions and include people within the government of Russia if they are found to be responsible for election interference.
They say U.S. intelligence reports show Moscow is seeking to damage former Vice President Joe Biden's candidacy.
Led by Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon), the senators asked Mnuchin to work with U.S. intelligence to identify Russians involved in election meddling.
"There is virtually no national security threat more serious than that posed by those who would undermine confidence in, and the effective operation of, our democratic elections," the letter says.
The letter cites a U.S. counterintelligence statement on August 7 describing the activities of "Kremlin-linked" actors who are using a "range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment.'"
The August 7 statement provides “ample basis for imposing sanctions,” the Senators said in their letter.
The call for sanctions came the same day that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent a memo to election officials warning that “Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.”
ABC News, which obtained the memo, reported DHS’s intelligence arm concluded Russian state media and proxies will likely "promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in democratic institutions and election outcomes."
As in 2016, the Russians are often amplifying sentiments already present in U.S. politics.
Ahead of the November 3 election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting as prone to fraud.
Multiple studies have debunked the notion of pervasive voter fraud and in the vote-by-mail process.
Political scientists say greater voter turnout and extensive use of mail-in voting could hurt Trump at the polls.
Democrats have expressed frustration that the Trump administration has taken little action to address intelligence reports, which have also indicated China and Iran would prefer to undermine Trump.
They are alarmed in part because previous assessments by U.S. intelligence organizations showed that Russian interference benefited Trump's presidential campaign in 2016.
Democrats also have expressed outrage over a decision by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe not to provide briefings to members of the House Intelligence Committee on election meddling. Ratcliffe, who cited leaks as the reason, said written summaries would replace the briefings.
Democrats also were angered to learn that the DHS decided in July to withhold the circulation of an intelligence report warning that Russia was trying to portray candidate Biden as mentally unstable.
DHS spokesman Alexei Woltornist defended the decision on September 2, saying the agency held up the memo because it lacked necessary context and evidence.
The draft bulletin dated July 7 and obtained by ABC News said Russian state media RT, Sputnik, and a Russian proxy website between September 2019 and May 2020 posted allegations about what they described as Biden’s "poor mental health.”