"This is meant to be a very broad effort to prevent foreign manipulation of the political process", John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, told reporters during a briefing Wednesday. It will impose sanctions on any foreign entities found trying to meddle in US elections, and would be "another tool in the tool kit" to protect the USA election system, an administration official told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
And that's led some to suspect that the order is motivated less by the president's earnest opposition to foreign interference in American elections, than his desire to head off legislation that would have restricted his discretion on how such interference should be punished. "We're looking at having evidence that interference has occurred", Bolton explained, "and that happens after the election but doesn't preclude there would be evidence in the course of the election".
Coats and Bolton said the president's action was not aimed at short-circuiting congressional action.
The 2018 US midterms are less than two months away and authorities are pre-empting foreign attacks on the elections based on USA intelligence. He just said it's not Russian Federation.
At that same press conference, Trump blamed tensions between the United States and Russian Federation on special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation into Moscow's interference in the 2016 election is routinely slammed as a "witch hunt" by the president.
It also comes as the White House is trying to take a tougher line against Moscow after Trump publicly accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials of his country's involvement in any interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, contrary to the findings of the USA intelligence community.
Trump has also said he accepts the strong consensus view of US intelligence agencies that Russian Federation did interfere, including through propaganda and falsehoods spread on social media. "I think his actions speak for themselves". "So if the White House doesn't like something for some reason or wants to drag its feet or there's not enough information from the available intelligence, the automatic nature of this might not be as automatic as the executive order suggests", he said. But he said the order will apply not just to Russian Federation but to others possible bad actors, including China, North Korea, and Iran.
"We have seen signs of [meddling from] not just Russian Federation, but from China ... from Iran and even North Korea", he said.
"We're taking nothing for granted here", Mr Coats said.
Congress is also considering several pieces of legislation that would punish foreign countries for interfering in US elections.
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Wednesday that the government is now treating the 2016 incident as a "warning signal" for the 2018 and 2020 elections.
The sanctions would automatically be triggered against a foreign government if they are found to have interfered or influenced elections.
With "lessons learned" from the 2016 presidential election, Coats emphasized that the administration and intelligence community's focus moving forward would be on the upcoming midterms and the 2020 presidential election.
Sanctions could include freezing assets, restricting foreign exchange transactions, limiting access to US financial institutions, and prohibiting USA citizens from investing in companies involved, national security adviser John Bolton told reporters.