According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration is preparing to announce publicly how they will punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It remains to be seen how much of the total retaliation will be reported; Obama has already said that much of the American response will be quiet and covert – just like Russia’s original actions.
Of course, the announcement will be colored by the fact that this has become a sharply divided partisan issue. President-elect Donald Trump has flat-out said that he does not believe the Kremlin was behind the hacks that targeted the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign CEO John Podesta. American intelligence agencies, meanwhile, agree that Russia was not only behind the hacks, but that they were intended to help Trump win the election.
Part of the retaliation is likely to be centered around additional economic sanctions. To implement these, Obama would call upon an executive order he signed himself last year. The order gave him the authority to impose sanctions on any state that went after the U.S.’s “critical infrastructure,” a category that would naturally include our digital systems.
If there’s a problem there, it’s that there’s a debate to be had over whether or not the Democratic National Committee’s email servers can be considered part of our country’s “critical infrastructure.” The DNC is a private organization. It’s not easy to see how Obama can make the case that the April 2015 order applies to this particular event. And so far, there has been no evidence to prove that Russia actually went after the voting systems.
“Having the sanctions tool is really a big one. It can make a very strong statement in a way that is less drastic than bombing a country and more impactful than sending out a cable from the State Department,” former cybersecurity director Ari Schwartz told The Post.
So Obama needs to be careful here. He’s spent the entirety of his presidency playing footsie with our enemies, so this would be a very bad time for him to put on his cowboy hat and play John Wayne. We’re sure that Trump has made him feel even more emasculated than Michelle, but he’s going to need to deal with that in another way. There’s no reason whatsoever to start pulling out the heavy American artillery in the middle of a presidential transition period.
Be cautious, don’t do anything that conflicts with the incoming administration, and leave Russia to Trump’s discretion. That’s the best way forward right now.