President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to give federal agencies power to sanction countries, foreign individuals and companies that interfere or spread misinformation in US elections.
Trump has drawn widespread criticism for not taking threats to the USA electoral system seriously enough, particularly Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
One source, a US official, said the order would slap sanctions on any attempt to interfere in national elections.
While Coates said that "we have not seen the intensity of activity from 2016", the intelligence community has seen signs that there are efforts underway by a number of actors to manipulate the political process this year. "We have seen signs. capabilities from Iran and even North Korea".
Sanctions could include freezing assets, restricting foreign exchange transactions, limiting access to USA financial institutions, and prohibiting United States citizens from investing in companies involved, said White House national security adviser John Bolton. The executive order is partly an attempt to preempt those efforts.
Trump's decision coincides with intelligence agencies, military and law enforcement preparing to defend the November 6 congressional elections from predicted foreign attacks even as Trump derides a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
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Lawmakers said the executive order, which would give the president decision-making power on imposing sanctions, was insufficient.
The White House imposed a number of new sanctions against Russia in March for election interference, and the Justice Department filed indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers in July.
Trump has also said he accepts the strong consensus view of USA intelligence agencies that Russian Federation did interfere, including through propaganda and falsehoods spread on social media.
The State and Treasury departments would decide on additional sanctions to recommend and impose.
The White House looks set to toughen up against foreign meddling in USA elections.
"We are doing everything we possibly can, first of all to prevent any interference with our election, and then to do a full assessment after the election", Coats said Wednesday. They said Trump's order recognizes the threat, but doesn't go far enough.
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Bolton said Wednesday that the White House is open to ideas and proposals from lawmakers, but said new legislation might be slow in coming.
In a joint statement, senators Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio - who co-sponsored legislation that would mandate heavy sanctions for election meddling - seconded Warner's assessment.
"Unfortunately, President Trump demonstrated in Helsinki and elsewhere that he simply can not be counted upon to stand up to Putin when it matters", Warner said.
Administration officials said the executive order sets up a framework for assessing interference, reporting it to the president and punishing it with sanctions.
At the same time, outside experts have warned for more than a year that Russian efforts to manipulate USA voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect. "And if we don't do something, they (the Russians) are not going to stop".
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