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President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at punishing foreign actors that interfere with USA elections, senior administration officials said Wednesday.

The order comes with mid-term elections just weeks away.

According to national security adviser John Bolton, the sanctions are aimed at targeting anyone who attacks the election infrastructure or distributes propaganda. The order gives the administration broad authority to the government to sanction any foreign entity suspected of interfering in USA elections.

The intelligence agencies will then send their findings to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, which will have another 45 days to decide whether the US should impose sanctions on the foreign entities in question.

"We have seen signs of not just Russian Federation, but from China, of capabilities, potentially from Iran and even North Korea".

"If we see something has happened, there will be an automatic response to that", he said.

It also gets in front of legislation in the House and Senate that targets election hacks.

The harshest sanctions outlined in the order would be up to the president's discretion.

"You never know how long legislation is going to take", he answered. "The president has acted decisively today". Trump stunned the world by accepting Putin's denials over the word of his own intelligence agencies.

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.

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Rogers and the other senior intelligence officials working for both Trump and Obama have routinely affirmed the intelligence community's January 2017 declassified assessment that the senior-most echelons of the Kremlin were behind aggressive attempts to sow chaos and damage trust in elections, with the aim of electing Trump.

"We must make sure Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy".

The White House declined to comment. That legislation is focused against Russian Federation, as compared with the more ecumenical order announced by the White House.

Intelligence and Homeland Security officials would have 45 days to evaluate any meddling intel and determine if the actions meet the level of triggering sanctions.

Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, applauded the order. He just said it's not Russian Federation. The New Jersey Democrat is the co-sponsor of a bipartisan sanctions bill before the Foreign Relations Committee. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said in a joint statement.

If they determine and find anything that reflects an interference with the elections, they then will report that and automatic sanctions will take effect.

The bill also would prescribe harsher penalties for Russian Federation. "The United States can and must do more".

The executive order applies to anyone who authorizes, directs or sponsors such meddling.

The sanctions would block U.S. financial activities by those implicated in the election interference and those individuals would be prohibited from entering this country.

"We remain woefully underprepared to secure the upcoming elections, and an executive order is simply no substitute for congressional action". The White House publicized last moth that the National Security Council examined the issue twice with Trump presiding. "I think his actions speak for themselves". "I'd say the same thing if [Barack] Obama was president", Mr. Coats asserted that the administration had always been working on the issue of election security.