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Meddlers beware: Trump acts on U.S. election meddling

By Sheetal Sukhija, Cairo News
13 Sep 2018, 07:32 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - After facing intense criticism over his failure to take bold measures on election meddling for nearly two years now - the U.S. President Donald Trump has now dealt with the issue that continues to be at the heart of his persistent legal woes.

On Wednesday, Trump signed a sweeping executive order imposing sanctions on any foreign individual or nation that authorizes, directs or sponsors an operation to interfere in U.S. elections. 

However, Trump's order immediately caused anger amongst many lawmakers, who argued that the order falls short and gives Trump a lot of wiggle room.

However, stressing on how the new order showed that Trump was prioritizing American election security - Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented the new order to reporters on Wednesday. 

Bolton said, “This is intended to be a very broad effort to prevent foreign manipulation of the political process."

He added, "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."

Trump's executive order also came weeks after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of "pervasive messaging campaign:  by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States" before Americans go to the polls in November. 

Speaking alongside Bolton on Wednesday, Coats warned that foreign election meddling could possibly take place before November's vote. 

He further warned that signs of Russian interference were visible, though not on the scale of the 2016 presidential election. 

The National Intelligence head further highlighted potential meddling from China, Iran and North Korea.
However, some senators argued that Trump's executive order - which comes less than two months before the 2018 midterm elections - could blunt momentum for a legislation being sought by the Congress over punishing Russia.  

The legislation in Congress is seeking to impose harsher and more direct penalties on Russia for any future election meddling.

Both Coats and Bolton argued that Trump's executive order was not aimed at short-circuiting congressional action.

Coats said in response to the criticism that the order will help ensure the administration is "doing every possible thing we can" to prevent and assess election meddling.

He added, "And if we see something has happened, then there's going to be an automatic response to that."

Meanwhile, some lawmakers said that despite being a good first step by the President, the move falls short of what's needed and could give Trump too much wiggle room.

In a statement, Sen Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate investigation into Russia, said, "The executive order inevitably leaves the President broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient."

He dded, “If we are going to actually deter Russia and others from interfering in our elections in the future, we need to spell out strong, clear consequences, without ambiguity."

Meanwhile, Trump's critics pointed out that his decision contradicted an opinion he has long held over election meddling and comes even though the U.S President has kept up his attacks deriding the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Assess and punish

Bolton pointed out that the sanctions would be imposed for direct actions including hacking into election systems, and also for distribution of propaganda and disinformation. 

Further, Coats explained that the executive order puts a process for the U.S. intelligence community and other law enforcement officials in place - to carry out an investigation and evaluate possible election meddling.

According to the order, the Director of National Intelligence will conduct regular assessments of possible election interference. 

Further, after each election, the intelligence community will have 45 days to investigate whether there was an attempt at interference.

This will be followed by a Justice Department review.

Coats said explaining the process that "if there is a consensus that a foreign country or other entity tried to meddle in the election, automatic sanctions would be triggered."

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