The Obama administration announced new measures on Thursday in retaliation for what U.S. officials have characterized as Russian interference in American elections, ordering the removal of 35 Russian government officials from the United States and sanctioning agencies and individuals tied to the hacks.
The announcement comes several weeks after President Barack Obama promised to respond to Russian hacking in both public and covert actions,"at a time and place of our own choosing."
The announcement culminates months of vigorous internal debate over whether and how to respond to Russia's unprecedented election-year provocations, ranging from the hacks of the Democratic National Committee to the targeting of state electoral systems.
U.S. officials believe that a military spy agency in Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and stole emails later released by WikiLeaks. Emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, were also made public, and state electoral systems were also targeted. The cyber-intervention was aimed primarily at Democrats.
Prior to the announcement, administration officials had been discussing how to adapt a 2015 executive order allowing the president to respond to foreign cyberattacks. Because the order was intended primarily for attacks against infrastructure or commercial targets, officials have been scrambling to ensure the order can be used to punish Russia for the election hacks.
Russia has denied involvement in attacks related to the election and promised to retaliate against any new sanctions.
President-elect Donald Trump has already suggested that the United States should drop its effort to retaliate against Russia, telling reporters this week that "we ought to get on with our lives." Trump has also cast doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia was behind the hacks.
U.S. officials have also considered criminal indictments of Russian officials, but the FBI appears to have been unable so far to compile sufficient evidence to take that step.