Sep 13, 2018

The red flags on Trump's new election security order

Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order mandating automatic sanctions against countries that interfere in U.S. elections.

The big picture: The order covers fewer scenarios than you’d think, guarantees less in sanctions than a pending bipartisan Senate bill and has left critics wondering exactly how seriously the president can be taken on the issue, when he has repeatedly claimed that the jury is out on well-documented foreign interference.

Laura Galante, who heads a geopolitical cybersecurity strategy firm, weighed in at an Atlantic Council panel discussion Wednesday evening: "His words in Helsinki are louder than the executive action."

What the executive order covers:

  • Tampering with voting infrastructure.
  • Hacking political parties or candidates.

What it doesn't cover:

  • Social media campaigns and other illicit propaganda campaigns, which are increasingly what people think of when they hear "election interference."
  • Tertiary attacks that impact elections — like, for instance, a coordinated traffic jam near a polling station that could reduce the number of voters.

The automatic penalties are limited to freezing financial accounts that travel through the U.S. banking system. That’s significant, and the president would receive a report of other sanctions to consider.

  • "I applaud the attempt to not let [election interference] fall away," said Michele Markoff, deputy coordinator for cyber issues at the State Department, at the same Atlantic Council panel.

But the president retains much more leeway than he would have had if Senate stakeholders had their way.

  • The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, spearheaded by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is muscular in ways that the executive order is not.

Details: Here is what would happen under that bill within 10 days if the director of national intelligence reported election interference of any kind — including social media campaigns — from Russia:

  • The U.S. would freeze the accounts of 6 major Russian banks; 3 major energy companies; entities involved in the defense and intelligence sector; state-backed aerospace, rail and mining concerns; any company at least half owned by Russia; and high-ranking Russian politicians and oligarchs.
  • American entities would be prohibited from purchasing Russian bonds.

The executive order has fewer automatic sanctions, but they apply to any actor — from Russia to, say, Luxembourg, on the off chance it is feeling feisty.

Rubio and Van Hollen released a joint statement excoriating the executive order as a half-measure: "The United States can and must do more."

  • In a call with reporters, national security adviser John Bolton said the administration was not opposed to hearing lawmakers' ideas on how to improve the executive order. "We're happy to discuss ... with the members of the House and the Senate ideas and thoughts that they have."

The bottom line: The move is certainly a step up from doing nothing, but it's hard — particularly for his critics — not to interpret the executive order in terms of the measures it's missing and the record of his past struggles with the issue of election security.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,500

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 8,500 in the U.S. early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest week, between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. should expect to see deaths continue to rise in this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 24 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 1,203,485 — Total deaths: 64,784 — Total recoveries: 247,001Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 312,237 — Total deaths: 8,501 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

In photos: Life in the era of coronavirus across the U.S.

Lauryn Morley, a lower school substitute teacher for the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, Maryland, works from her home in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. has grown from one on Jan. 21 to over 312,000 by early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins.

The big picture: Roughly 3/4 of the American population is on lockdown, with social distancing measures and other orders in place across the country. Here's how Americans are coping with the massive upheaval the outbreak has brought, in photos.

See photosArrow2 hours ago - Health