Ex-NSA chief wishes Trump had pressed Putin on Russian election attacks

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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 White House has worked to push back against accusations that Trump was not seriously committed to aggressively protecting USA elections from interference, especially after his press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July.

"The president has said repeatedly that he's determined that there not be foreign interference in our election", national security adviser John Bolton said in a press call Wednesday.

Bolton says the executive order will work to stem disinformation campaigns or any attempt to manipulate the outcome of ballots.

Coats warned last month that Russian efforts to undermine USA elections continue.

Added Coats: 'We have seen signs of not just Russian Federation, but from China, from - capabilities potentially from Iran and even North Korea.

Coats said Trump's order directs intelligence agencies to conduct an assessment within 45 days after an election to report any meddling to the attorney general and Department of Homeland Security.

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

White House Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian individuals and three companies for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The order gives the government 45 days after an election to assess whether there has been any outside influence, and then another 45 days to assess whether sanctions can be imposed.

Sanctions will be calibrated based on the seriousness of the interference, Bolton said.

Punishments could include the blocking of assets in the United States and the State and Treasury departments could also seek more expansive sanctions, such as curtailing access to US financial institutions.

At their summit in Helsinki, Trump downplayed USA intelligence assessments that Russian Federation was responsible for cyberattacks on Democrats ahead of the 2016 election.

Bolton said the order was necessary to ensure a formal process and authorisation for sanctions, but he said he was in talks with lawmakers about legislation as well.

Sanctions authorized in the executive order include blocking of assets, transfer of property, USA investment in sanctioned companies, and restriction of travel.

Lawmakers and independent analysts say that federal and state action has already made USA voting systems more secure against foreign hackers.

"While the administration has yet to share the full text, an executive order that inevitably leaves the president broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient", Warner said. They said Trump's order recognizes the threat, but doesn't go far enough. He has cited US sanctions and the expulsion of alleged Russian spies from the U.S. But these sanctions have apparently not deterred the Russian government and other countries with an adversarial relationship with the United States from maneuvering to affect the outcome of some 2018 congressional races, according to Coates.

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