Senate advances bill to punish Russia for election interference

Washington — On the same day that the House is expected to impeach President Trump for soliciting a foreign country’s help in the 2020 election, the Senate advanced a bill to punish Russia for meddling in America’s 2016 election.

The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Unlike Mr. Trump’s impeachment, the bill has bipartisan support — even though some Republicans charge that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. That claim has been refuted by the U.S. intelligence community, but it’s used by Republicans to defend the president’s actions toward Ukraine.

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Mr. Trump temporarily withheld aid from Ukraine in order to pressure the foreign country to announce investigations that could hurt political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the 2020 presidential race. He sought two investigations: one into 2016 election interference and another into Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Several GOP lawmakers have pointed to their unproven suspicions about Ukrainian 2016 interference to argue the investigations are justified and not motivated by Mr. Trump’s personal political gain.

But the Foreign Relations Committee, which is dominated by Republicans, nonetheless rejects the idea that Ukraine, and not Russia, is to blame for widespread efforts to disrupt the U.S. elections in 2016. The bill earned support from some of the staunchest anti-impeachment senators, including Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who introduced the legislation.

It passed 17-5, with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans, including Chairman Joe Risch, of Idaho.

Senators Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

According to a press release from the committee, “the legislation is designed to bolster the United States’ ability to confront Russian aggression on several fronts — by strengthening our commitment to NATO, establishing an elite State Department cyber unit, and levying wide-ranging sanctions on Russian entities and individuals,” including banks, the cyber sector, state-owned energy projects abroad, and “persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, indirectly or directly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin.”

It would give U.S. prosecutors the ability to shut down botnets, make it more difficult for Russian oligarchs to buy property in America, and includes “new sanctions as well as provisions designed to harden our democratic institutions and make us less vulnerable to another attack,” said Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee.

The concerns about Russia aren’t limited to the past. U.S. national security officials believe the country is trying to influence the 2020 election.

“The Russians will — are continuing to try to destabilize — our form of government and just our way of life, in general,” Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS This Morning last month.

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