Trump touts paper ballots as bulwark against Russian election meddling

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday his administration is preparing "strong" measures to prevent Russia from meddling in November midterm elections. Yet, he again suggested others might have been involved in attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump claimed he is not concerned about a repeat of the last national election. "We're counteracting it very strongly," he said of Russia's tactics, some of which were detailed last month in court documents prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller III.

The president -- seemingly out of the blue, as he often does -- also touted a potential alternative to hacks of electronic voting systems: "It's called paper," he said, noting some states have non-electronic backup plans.

Notably, Trump used part of his response to a Swedish reporter on the topic to predict the Republican Party will do "great" in November's congressional election. He touted the GOP-crafted tax overhaul law, regulations his administration has terminated, and the "many, many (conservative) judges going on to the bench" across the country.

Trump again said he believes Russia interfered in the 2016 race, but he again said other countries or individuals also could have tried to interfere. On Capitol Hill earlier in the day, the nation's intelligence chiefs went into detail before the Senate Armed Services Committee about Russia's focus on disrupting U.S. elections.

"We assess that Russia is likely to continue to pursue even more aggressive cyberattacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances. Persistent and disruptive cyber and influence operations will continue against United States and European countries and other allies, urging elections -- using elections, excuse me -- as opportunities to undermine democracy and sow discord and undermine our values," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the committee.

Trump's comments came during a joint news conference with his Swedish counterpart at the White House that also was dominated by questions about his promised 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum tariffs that could be imposed as soon as this week.

The president offered his clearest signal yet that some countries could be exempted, saying if North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation talks are successful "there will be no reason to do the tariffs on Canada and Mexico."

America's oldest allies in Europe, however, should expect much different treatment from the U.S. president.

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Trump criticized the European Union for making it difficult for U.S. companies to do business there, but said any tariffs on European good would be imposed in a "very, very loving way."

But he sent a stern warning, saying the European countries have "taken advantage" of the United States for too long. If EU countries do not alter their trade tactics, Trump said the 25 percent steel tariff will apply to the automobiles they sell in America.

That would directly affect Sweden. Its home-country automaker Volvo sold nearly 83,000 models in the U.S. in fiscal 2016, making it the company's second biggest market behind China.

To that end, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had a message for Trump about the promised tariffs -- though his remarks were highly couched and much more diplomatic than those of the man standing to his left in the East Room.

Lofven called for "fewer obstacles" to free trade "and as few as possible."

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