According to US officials, the Obama administration is close to making an announcement on a series of measures that will be used to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including economic sanctions and diplomatic censure. While the details are still being finalized, an announcement on the public elements of the response could come as early as this week.
But officials concluded this fall that the order could not, as written, be used to punish Russia for hacking the Democratic organizations, which targeted state election systems and effectively meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Russia, however, had denied any involvement in the hacking.
Administration officials would also like to make it difficult for the Trump administration to roll back any action they take, and want Obama to use the power before he leaves office to demonstrate its utility.
“Part of the goal here is to make sure that we have as much of the record public or communicated to Congress in a form that would be difficult to simply walk back,” one senior administration official said.
Obama issued the executive order in April 2015, which allows the government to freeze the assets in the US of people overseas who have engaged in cyber-acts that have threatened US financial stability or national security. The sanctions would also block commercial transactions with the respective individuals and prevent them from entering the country.
But US officials confirmed that just one year later, a Russian military spy agency hacked into the Democratic National Committee and steal a trove of emails that were released a few months later on WikiLeaks. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, also had his emails hacked and released. The National Security Council came to the conclusion that it would not be able to use the authority against Russian hackers since their malicious activity did not clearly fit under its terms, which require theft of commercial secrets or harm to critical infrastructure.
“As much as I am concerned about what happened to us in the election, I am also concerned about what will happen to us in the future,” an administration official said. “I am firmly convinced that the Russians and others will say, ‘That worked pretty well in 2016, so let’s keep going.’ We have elections every two years in this country.”
Officials stated that although Russian government hackers are believed to have penetrated at least one state voter-registration database, they did not tamper with the data.