The White House drafts an executive order authorizing Donald Trump to sanction foreigners who interfere in US elections.

The eight-page draft order is in part an effort to stem criticism of Donald Trump’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Trump’s reluctance to criticize Russia’s intervention on his behalf in the 2016 US Presidential election. Three weeks ago, Trump chose Putin over US intelligence agencies when asked about the issue.

The order also hopes to fend off even stronger action from Congress, amid growing concern that the US is not protected from further interference and evidence that Russians have tried to hack the computers of several legislators running for re-election in November.

“Current and former administration officials” said that Trump’s hesitancy to act is seen as a liability. A “former senior administration official” said, “Everybody knows something has to get done. It has been a touchy subject.”

The proposal sets out a category of offense — election interference, which includes “Internet-based disinformation efforts”, for which biting sanctions can be imposed.

A White House official declared that the draft order shows Trump’s intention to protect US elections.

But the order is still limited in scope. The only mandatory sanctions are against individuals found to have taken part in interference in a US election, a step already taken by the Obama and Trump Administrations.

Trump may impose sanctions on “10 of the 30 largest business entities”, but the provision is discretionary, restricting its potential effect.

Last Thursday, Trump clashed with his top intelligence officials. Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters that Russia is continuing its “pervasive efforts to undermine our fundamental values”.

But Trump, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania, did not mention those concerns. Instead, he denounced Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Trump-Russia investigation, calling it the “Russia hoax”.

He hedged in a Saturday speech in Ohio: “We have to stop meddling and stop everybody from attacking us. But there are a lot. Russia is there, China is there. We are doing well with North Korea, but they’re probably there.”

A “senior White House official” insisted that Trump has told his advisors to talk publicly about election interference, and that he approved last week’s briefing by Coats and Wray.

To placate Trump, the draft order says, “There has been no evidence of a foreign power altering a single vote in a United States election,” including Trump’s victory in 2016.