Foreign interference in the U.S. electoral process represents an assault on the American people and their constitutional right to vote. When foreign states direct hackers, trolls, money launderers, and misinformation to subvert or cast doubt on our elections, they threaten America’s sovereignty, democratic institutions, and national security. They undermine the vote and the voice of every U.S. citizen. They attack our very way of life.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded that the Kremlin’s interference in past elections represented “only the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions of the United States.” Despite the exposure of Russia’s malign activities by the U.S. Intelligence Community, law enforcement agencies, and bipartisan Congressional committees, the Kremlin has not halted its efforts to interfere in our democracy. In Senate testimony on July 23 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that Russia was “absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” And on March 27, 2020, the State Department held a briefing describing how Russia was recklessly spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia is not the only foreign actor seeking to interfere in our democracy. Increasingly, other states have shown an interest in copying Russia’s tactics.
Congress passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017. The Trump administration has thus far failed to make adequate use of these authorities to counter and deter foreign election interference. Instead, President Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered in our elections, most egregiously during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.
In spite of President Trump’s failure to act, America’s adversaries must not misjudge the resolve of the American people to counter every effort by a foreign power to interfere in our democracy, whether by hacking voting systems and databases, laundering money into our political system, systematically spreading disinformation, or trying to sow doubt about the integrity of our elections.
That is why, today, I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice. If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government. I will direct the U.S. Intelligence Community to report publicly and in a timely manner on any efforts by foreign governments that have interfered, or attempted to interfere, with U.S. elections. I will direct my administration to leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators. These costs could include financial-sector sanctions, asset freezes, cyber responses, and the exposure of corruption. A range of other actions could also be taken, depending on the nature of the attack. I will direct our response at a time and in a manner of our choosing.
In addition, I will take action where needed to stop attempts to interfere with U.S. elections before they can impact our democratic processes. In particular, I will direct and resource the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Foreign Interference Task Force to develop plans for disrupting foreign threats to our elections process. This will be done, wherever possible, in coordination with our allies and partners, so that we are isolating the regimes that seek to undermine democracies and civil liberties.
I have no desire to escalate tensions with Russia or any other country. I would prefer to focus the full energies of my administration on bringing the international community together to fight COVID-19 and the economic pain it has caused, and to tackle other pressing issues of international concern. But if any foreign power recklessly chooses to interfere in our democracy, I will not hesitate to respond as president to impose substantial and lasting costs.