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Trump finally acts to boost election security

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Under fire over his handling of Russian election meddling, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday meant to strengthen election security by slapping sanctions on foreign countries or people who try to interfere in the U.S. political process.

The order, coming only eight weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6, drew immediate criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers as too little, too late.

Trump signed the order behind closed doors with no reporters present, a rare departure from what has been his standard practice.

“As I have made clear, the United States will not tolerate any form of foreign meddling in our elections,” Trump said in a statement.

Sanctions could include freezing assets, restricting foreign exchange transactions, limiting access to U.S. financial institutions, and prohibiting U.S. citizens from investing in companies involved, national security adviser John Bolton said.

Bolton said sanctions could be imposed during or after an election, based on the evidence gathered.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that entities backed by the Kremlin sought to boost Republican Trump’s chances of winning the White House in the 2016 election against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But Trump in July publicly accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials at a joint press conference after they met for a summit in Helsinki.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional panels are investigating Russian interference, which Moscow denies. Mueller is also looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Trump dismisses the investigations as a poli- tical witch hunt.

Lawmakers said the executive order, which would give the president decision-making power on imposing sanctions, was insufficient.

“Today’s announcement by the administration recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen in a joint statement, advocating legislation.

The order represents an effort by the administration to look tough on election security before the voting in November, which will determine whether Trump’s Republicans maintain their majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Bolton said criticism of the president’s response to the issue, which has included his controversial comments in Helsinki and numerous tweets, played “zero” role in driving the issuance of the executive order.

The order would direct intelligence agencies to assess whether any people or entities interfered. The information would be provided to the Justice and Homeland Security departments, and then based on their assessment of the validity and impact, trigger automatic sanctions, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said.

Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said, “Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply cannot be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters.”

Coats said the United States had seen signs of election meddling from Russia and China, and potential capabilities for such meddling from Iran and North Korea. “It’s more than Russia here that we’re looking at,” he said.

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