Obama Administration Reportedly Finalizing Sanctions Against Russia for Hacking Election

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The Obama administration is reportedly finalizing a package of sanctions and diplomatic censure to punish Russia for its attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. officials told The Washington Post that the response is expected to include covert cyber operations. An announcement describing the public elements could come as early as this week, the newspaper reported.

Holding up the announcement is an internal debate over how best to adapt a 2015 executive order that gave the president the authority to levy sanctions against foreign actors who carry out cyberattacks against the U.S.

The order was used as the “stick” in negotiations over a highly publicized 2015 agreement with China that neither nation would hack the other for economic gain.

But officials concluded this past fall that the order does not cover the kind of covert influence operation that the Intelligence Community believes Russia carried out during the election — hacking political organizations and leaking stolen emails with the goal of influencing the outcome.

The April 2015 order allows the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of individuals or entities who used digital means to damage U.S. critical infrastructure or engage in economic espionage.

“You would (a) have to be able to say that the actual electoral infrastructure, such as state databases, was critical infrastructure, and (b) that what the Russians did actually harmed it,” a senior administration official told The Post. “Those are two high bars.”

Officials told the newspaper that the order could be amended to clearly designate that it applies to election interference, or the government could declare the electoral system “critical infrastructure” — a controversial proposal that states have pushed back on in the past.

Obama has been under pressure from some Democrats to issue a response to Russia over the hacking before he cedes the White House to Donald Trump in January. Critics fear that Trump, who has expressed a desire for warmer relations with the Kremlin, will take no action against Russia.

“I have no confidence that President Trump will bring about any sanctions on Russia. I’m more worried that he’s going to repeal the sanctions we already have than impose new ones,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said this week. “So I think the administration ought to do what it’s going to do ASAP.”

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SOURCE: The Hill, Katie Bo Williams