Jim Jones

Idaho voters are uniquely positioned to influence congressional passage of a bill to stop Russia from trying to corrupt our elections. The bipartisan Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act would impose serious economic sanctions against Russia for election interference. The sanctions would be substantially stronger than those presently in place.

The DETER Act requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine, within 60 days after a federal election, whether a foreign government interfered. If so, sanctions would be imposed against the offending government.

If Russia was the government responsible for the election attack, tough sanctions would automatically be imposed against a wide array of Russian individuals and entities within 30 days of the DNI’s finding. Several of the largest Russian banks would be cut off from the U.S. financial system.  Russian entities in the energy, defense and government sectors would have any property within U.S. control blocked or frozen so they could not do business with it. The sanctions would remain in place for at least 8 years.

These automatic, long-lasting sanctions would have a strong deterrent effect on the Russians, making them think more than twice before meddling into our elections again. The bill is co-sponsored by six Republican senators and five Democrats.

The bill is currently awaiting action in both Houses of Congress. The Senate version, S. 1060, is in the Senate Banking Committee. Sen. Mike Crapo is chairman of the committee, so Idaho voters can have a strong say in whether the bill moves forward.

Sen. Jim Risch is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Intel Committee released a sobering report on Oct. 8, warning that sweeping new action is necessary to protect our elections. Sen. Risch obviously knows how important S. 1060 is in safeguarding the integrity of our election process.

Sen. Crapo halted Senate consideration of the bill on Dec. 10, asserting it should be reviewed by his committee. That may be fair, but he claimed the bill was “more to attack the Trump administration and Republicans than to attack the Russians.” If that is true, it is odd that the bill has more Republican sponsors than Democrats. Republican Sen. Martha McSally, an Air Force combat veteran, signed on as the latest sponsor on Sept. 23.

Crapo also said, “Economic sanctions legislation is a two-edged sword. It hurts the United States and our allies often as much as it hurts the entities sanctioned.” It is hard to see how stiff sanctions on the Russians for trying to pervert our elections could hurt the U.S. or our allies. We and our allies have already imposed sanctions on Russia for a wide range of aggressive misconduct. It is a significant sore spot for the Russian president because of the adverse impact on Russia’s economy. We just need to squeeze him harder until he stops attacking us.

President Trump has imposed sanctions against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, Syria, Turkey and any number of other countries. He has threatened them against many others, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It is doubtful that sanctions would be his weapon of choice if they harmed our interests.

Idaho voters can and should let our two influential senators know that we expect them to use their best efforts to get S. 1060 to the Senate floor for a vote well before next year’s election. Our intelligence agencies report that the Russians are already interfering and we must have a much stronger deterrent to discourage them.

Our precious representative form of government is under attack and we should employ every means available to defend it. Let’s let Senators Crapo and Risch know we expect them to work hard for passage of this important legislation.

Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at https://JJCommonTater.com.