WASHINGTON-In a call with journalists today, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates outlined an executive order just signed by President Donald Trump that would result in automatic sanctions against any foreign entities found to have attempted to interfere in United States elections.
Trump has drawn widespread criticism for not taking threats to the US electoral system seriously enough, particularly Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
The order also is aimed at deterring the kind of election influence allegedly carried out by Russia in the 2016 presidential election, when US intelligence services claim Russian entities spread disinformation in efforts to influence the balloting.
Bolton says the executive order will work to stem disinformation campaigns or any attempt to manipulate the outcome of ballots.
Coats told reporters on Wednesday the intelligence community continues to monitor attempts to influence USA elections, but "we have not seen the intensity of what happened in 2016".
Amid serious backlash from both sides of the aisle, the Republican president later explained that he "misspoke" and said he had "great confidence" in USA intelligence.
"We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it's something that he cares deeply about", national security adviser John Bolton said on a call with reporters.
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.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional panels are investigating Russian interference, which Moscow denies.
The entire process, from detection to imposing sanctions, could take up to 90 days - including two 45-day assessment periods within the intelligence community and the broader administration.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, "We have seen signsnot just Russian Federation, but from China, from - capabilities potentially from Iran and even North Korea".
Bolton said sanctions could be imposed during or after an election, based on the evidence gathered.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russian Federation was behind an effort to tip the scale of the USA election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber-attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.
The State and Treasury departments would decide on additional sanctions to recommend and impose.
USA lawmakers have introduced various pieces of Russia-related legislation urging punishments for election meddling.
Bolton said Wednesday that the White House is open to ideas and proposals from lawmakers, but said new legislation might be slow in coming.
Sanctions authorized in the executive order include blocking of assets, transfer of property, United States investment in sanctioned companies, and restriction of travel. That's according to sources, who exclusively told Reuters an executive order could be signed by President Donald Trump as early as Wednesday (September 12). He said he was in talks with lawmakers about possible legislation. But these sanctions have apparently not deterred the Russian government and other countries with an adversarial relationship with the USA from maneuvering to affect the outcome of some 2018 congressional races, according to Coates. They said Trump's order recognizes the threat, but doesn't go far enough.
In June, the USA slapped sanctions on several Russian companies and individuals for allegedly aiding Russia's intelligence agency in cyber-attacks against the US.