Politics

Senators From Both Parties Push For Crackdown On Russia

In response to the intelligence report on Russian hacking, senators are pushing new sanctions on Russia to punish cyber-attackers, codify Obama-era sanctions and crack down on fake news.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2016. Sputnik / Reuters

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Senators is pushing for new sanctions against Russia in response last week’s intelligence report confirming the Kremlin was behind cyberattacks targeting the American political system during the 2016 presidential election.

The legislation, co-sponsored by five Democrats and five Republicans, will apply financial and energy sanctions to Russia that would, among others things, go after cyber-attackers, crack down on fake news and prevent US banks from investing in the country’s energy industry.

“When our nation was attacked on 9/11, we took steps in order to deal with those who attacked us and to prevent further attacks against our country,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said Tuesday. “It cannot be business as usual.”

“President Obama responded to the cyber attack and that was what he should have done, but we believe we can go further,” Cardin said.

The bill, titled the Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, contains sanctions to those who “undermine the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure” through “mandatory visa bans and asset freezes.” It also applies sanctions to those who help cyber-attackers, whether financially or materially.

The bill takes on the spread of fake news as well, providing $100 million for a “Europe and Eurasia Democracy and Anti-Corruption Fund” that would include programs to encourage social media companies to crack down on false information.

Moreover, the bill calls for the secretary of state to file a report that would list “media outlets controlled and funded by the Russian government,” as well as their US-based advertisers.

“This bill has a one-two punch against Russia, which I’ve been advocating for a very long time,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “Make them pay a heavy price; they have an economy the size of Spain.”

Joining Graham in co-sponsoring the bill on the GOP side are Sens. John McCain and Ben Sasse, both of whom have been critical of President-elect Donald Trump, particularly his favorable comments toward Putin and Russia.

The bill will, however, include a standard waiver that would allow Trump to overturn the sanctions if the White House determines that Russia has improved, Cardin told reporters.

“None of us know the position of the president-elect,” McCain said. “What we should know and do know is the position of the Congress of the United States and that is to not allow the blatant misbehavior, the gross violations of international treaties, of the slaughter of innocent people that is being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin.”

Graham emphasized that he wasn’t “trying to undermine the legitimacy” of Trump’s election win by going after Russia, which, according to the intelligence report, sought to boost his candidacy.

“What I’m trying to tell him and the country and our colleagues is that if we don’t do something about it, it’s only going to get worse,” Graham said.

The bill also codifies previous sanctions from the Obama administration, and puts new limits investments of more than $20 million in “Russia’s ability to develop its petroleum and natural gas resources,” according to a background document distributed to reporters. The legislation would sanction Russian pipeline development and investment in “civil nuclear projects” as well.

“The sanctions bill, which I hope the Senate will take up promptly, is one critical step for ensuring that there is a robust response to Putin’s unprecedented manipulation of the bedrock mechanisms and infrastructure of our democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Whether the bill passes will depend on whether it is brought to the Senate floor for a vote by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Graham said McConnell has been open to the idea of countering Russia, but that he still needs to discuss timing for putting the bill to a vote.

“This is a must-do for me,” Graham said. “I mean I’m not going to let 2017 go by and not challenge what Russia did.”


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Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Emma Loop at emma.loop@buzzfeed.com.
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