Trump signs order to punish election interference

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed Wednesday an executive order aimed at pushing back on foreign meddling in American elections.

The order, signed ahead of November's midterm elections, allows the president to impose sanctions on any foreign entity which engages in not just attempts to interfere in elections and campaign infrastructure but seeks to distribute propaganda and disinformation.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Advisor John Bolton briefed reporters on the order.

It requires the Director of National Intelligence to conduct regular assessments "about potential foreign interference" in the elections from individuals, countries and entities, Coats said.

Coats' office is then required to hand over the information within 45 days of the elections to the Justice Department and Homeland Security if interference is detected.

The agencies would then assess the information and within an additional 45 days issue their reports on the matter.

The Treasury Department and State Department are tasked under the order with recommending appropriate sanctions.

"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," Bolton said.

Coats emphasized the order is not country specific, saying Washington has detected "signs" that China and Russia having interference capabilities, as well as Iran and North Korea "potentially."

"It's more than Russia here that we're looking at," he said.

The order follows criticism of Trump's response to what U.S. intelligence agencies describe as a wide-ranging influence campaign carried out by Russia to benefit the Trump campaign and undercut Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in the 2016 White House race.

"We have not seen the intensity of what happened in 2016, but as I said back in that press conference, it's only a keyboard click away," Coats said. "And so we are taking nothing for granted here, but we're putting a process in place."

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