A group of Senate Democrats are pushing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to sanction Russian officials who are meddling in the 2020 US elections after the intelligence community said that Russia is working to “denigrate” the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Nearly a dozen Democrats led by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Mnuchin Thursday urging the Treasury Department to impose sanctions based on the intelligence community’s public statement last month detailing concerns about election interference from Russia, China and Iran.
“Congress has mandated a broad range of sanctions tools, and it is long past time for the administration to send a direct message to President Putin: the US will respond immediately and forcefully to continuing election interference by the government of the Russian Federation and its surrogates, to punish, deter and substantially increase the economic and political costs of such interference,” the Democrats wrote.
The intelligence community’s top election security official William Evanina issued a statement on August 7 saying that China “prefers” an outcome where President Donald Trump is not reelected, while stating Russia was actively working to “denigrate” Biden. In the statement, Evanina accused pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach of “spreading claims about corruption” to undermine Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.
Ten days after the intelligence community’s statement, Trump retweeted Russian propaganda that contained material released earlier this year by Derkach. Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help his campaign, an assessment long confirmed by both the intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senior members of the Trump administration have been largely silent on Russian election interference and have been criticized for failing to speak out strongly and call for answers from the Kremlin over a range issues from the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian opposition leader to intelligence indicating Moscow was paying bounties for attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.
In recent days, Trump administration officials like Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and Attorney General William Barr have focused on China’s potential to interfere even though the intelligence community said Russia was actively meddling. Barr claimed in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that China, not Russia, was most aggressive in its efforts to interfere.
Last week, Ratcliffe informed Congress the intelligence community would no longer brief lawmakers in person on election security issues, which Democrats charged was a “betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy.”