Senators’ Bill Aims Swift Sanctions at Election Meddlers

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US senators have introduced bipartisan legislation designed to punish with sanctions any nations found to be interfering in the country’s elections.

The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Readiness Act (DETER) is the work of Mark Rubio and Chris Van Hollen.

It requires the director of national intelligence (DNI) to make an assessment within 60 days of an election day as to whether a foreign power interfered, including whether any senior politicians or oligarch from that country knew of the meddling.

The bill defines “interference” as everything from buying advertising to sway voters, to spreading fake news under false identities online, and hacking or denying service for election infrastructure, such as voter registration databases.

Although the legislation names China, Iran and North Korea as foreign governments which may try to destabilize America during the next election cycle, it is Russia that is singled out for particular attention by Rubio and Van Hollen.

The bill includes a list of Russia-specific sanctions that could be applied if the country is found yet again to have been interfering in US elections.

Within 30 days of a DNI decision, it demands sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy including finance, energy and defense, plus a blacklisting for any political figure or oligarch connected to the scheme.

They will also have assets blocked by the US authorities, who will be required to work with the EU to extend sanctions.

“The one clear message we can all take away from the Mueller Report — along with the consensus of our intelligence chiefs — is that Russia worked to manipulate the American people and undermine our democratic process in 2016. As we head into the 2020 election cycle, we must be vigilant against attacks from the Kremlin or anyone who seeks to follow their example,” said Van Hollen.

“The focus of our legislation is to prevent any future efforts to manipulate our elections. By making it clear in advance that attempts to interfere in our elections will be met with swift, harsh consequences, we can deter hostile foreign powers from taking future interference — but we must act now.”

Although the legislation is an updated version of a bill introduced to the Senate last year, but not voted on, there are signs it may be difficult to push through.

Reports suggest “sanctions fatigue” in Congress, although the forthcoming publication of parts of the Mueller report may strengthen the case for the legislation.

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