Bipartisan bill tells Russia hands off U.S. elections, Sen. Van Hollen says

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — One week after Senate Democrats warned that U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020 could still be vulnerable to meddling by Moscow, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Wednesday detailed how a new bipartisan bill aims to deter Moscow by imposing punishing sanctions in retaliation for future mischief.

“If you’re Vladimir Putin, and you’re thinking about interfering once again in the U.S. elections, you’re going to have to think long and hard,” Van Hollen said in an interview with Yahoo News on the SiriusXM show “Politics of the United States.”

Van Hollen and Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., co-authored the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines, or DETER Act, which requires the director of national intelligence to inform Congress, within 30 days after an election, of any foreign meddling. In the event of interference from Moscow, the administration would be required to impose new sanctions on Russian banks and the Russian oil industry.

“The bill would automatically trigger very harsh economic sanctions” to avoid the possibility that the White House, which has sought better relations with the Kremlin, might delay implementation of new sanctions, the Maryland Democrat said. “This proposal would give no discretion to the administration in that area.”

The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Russia tried to help President Trump in the 2016 election, by stealing and releasing Democratic emails and by flooding social media with propaganda designed to divide America and hurt Hillary Clinton. Trump has repeatedly called into question these findings, and condemned special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president’s campaign worked with Moscow as a “witch hunt” or a “hoax.” Putin has denied Washington’s accusations.

Asked how the legislation defines “interference,” Van Hollen laid out three main varieties: “outright hacking” of states’ elections systems to muck around with voter registration or results; “paid advertising” that targets U.S. voters; and efforts to flood social media with “false information intended to influence the outcome of elections.”

Earlier this month, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Russia aimed to undermine future U.S. elections, including the November 2018 midterms, in which Republican congressional majorities are at risk. Pompeo also said Moscow had tried to undermine American democracy “for decades,” without spelling out how.

Van Hollen said he was not aware of such a years-long effort, “and certainly not to the degree that we just saw.”

Pompeo’s comment “is a really blatant effort to minimize what happened in the last election,” Van Hollen said. And, he added, whatever Moscow was doing was “nothing on the scale of what we saw in 2016.”

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