President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing punitive sanctions on foreigners who interfere in US elections, two years after Russia allegedly meddled in his favour in the presidential campaign.
The order sets up a formal process to attack the business and assets of actors seen trying to hack into voting systems and those spreading disinformation through media and online — both of which took place in the 2016 election.
Fifty-five days before the November 6 midterm congressional elections, officials said they have are seeing some attempts to meddle, from Russia, China and other countries.
“We’re going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process,” Trump said in a statement.
Interfering with election systems of pushing out propaganda and disinformation “constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” he said.
But critics said that Trump’s move is not tough enough, and leaves him too much discretion, after the broad assault on the US electoral process by Moscow two years ago.
In his announcement, indeed, Trump again rejected the idea that his 2016 victory was aided by foreign interference.
“There has been no evidence of a foreign power altering the outcome or vote tabulation in any United States election,” he said.
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that, the government is now treating the 2016 incident as a “warning signal” for the 2018 and 2020 elections.
“We have seen signs of not just Russia, but from China, and capabilities potentially from Iran, and even North Korea,” attempting to interfere so far this year, he said.
US intelligence chiefs declared in January 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over a concerted effort via hacking and social media manipulation to boost Trump’s chances in 2016 to defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
But since becoming president, Trump has repeatedly dismissed the idea that he was helped by Moscow, calling it “fake news,” and has avoided criticising Putin.