By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. lawmakers called on President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday to treat foreign election interference as a national crisis, setting up a single agency to coordinate the response and establishing a new class of sanctions to quickly punish those responsible.
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report on Wednesday detailing what they described as nearly two decades of Russian efforts to influence elections elsewhere in Europe, and criticizing Trump for doing too little to address the issue.
Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, commissioned the report after Trump’s surprise November 2016 election victory. The report was released a year after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign to benefit Trump, the Republican candidate, and undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Moscow has denied any such effort. Trump dismisses such assertions as sour grapes about his victory.
The document consists of eight chapters and several appendices detailing tools the Senate investigators said Russia used to influence elections in Europe and making more than 30 recommendations for how to prevent further interference in elections in Europe, the United States and other countries.
The investigators accused Moscow of trying to undermine democracies by spreading malicious disinformation, threatening countries’ energy security and using “cybercriminals” to steal information.
“President Trump must be clear-eyed about the Russian threat, take action to strengthen our government’s response and our institutions, and … work with an international coalition to counter the threat and assert our values,” Cardin said in a statement.
The report’s recommendations included working to build democratic institutions in countries most vulnerable to election interference, and set up an organization similar to the National Counterterrorism Center to coordinate the U.S. reaction to such meddling.
They also called on Washington, and its allies, to freeze “dirty” Kremlin money and release publicly any intelligence on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assets stored abroad.
“The Russian government’s use of corruption and money laundering also merit additional examination by relevant committees in Congress, as well as the Executive Branch,” the report said.
It called on Washington to specially designate any country that seeks to influence others as a “State Hybrid Threat Actors,” subjected to preemptive sanctions, and called on social media companies to do comprehensive audits on how their platforms might have been used to influence elections.
The report’s release coincides with deepening rifts between Republicans, who control Congress, and Democrats over congressional investigations into Russia and the election. Some Republican lawmakers have been casting doubt on those probes, and one led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool)