US unveils plan to punish Russians for election hack

The Obama administration imposed sanctions against two Russian intelligence agencies and several high-ranking intelligence officers in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The actions were outlined in an executive order announced by the Treasury Department on Thursday afternoon.

The sanctions essentially put a freeze on any assets the targets have in the United States, which would be limited. There were no new economic sanctions imposed on Russia itself or its political leadership.

There was no immediate response from Moscow. In anticipation of the announcement, Russia on Wednesday called the hacking allegations "misinformation" and "lies" and vowed to respond to any retribution.

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What Putin and Trump have said about each other
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What Putin and Trump have said about each other
At the end of 2015, Vladimir Putin lauded Trump's presidential campaign, calling him "an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it." 
In response to Putin's compliments Trump said: "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."
Putin has called Trump a "very outstanding man" and "unquestionably talented."
When Russia continued its military buildup in Syria and Putin backed the country's President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, Trump declared the Russian leader earned an "A" in leadership. 
Trump not only gave the Russian leader an "A," he also said Putin has been a better leader than US President Barack Obama. "He is really very much of a leader," Trump said of Putin. "The man has very strong control over his country. Now, it's a very different system, and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader." 
At a national security forum in September, Trump explained his friendly relationship with Putin saying: "If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him." 
When asked about allegations that Putin orchestrated the deaths of his political opponents and journalists, Trump defended Putin: "I haven't seen any evidence that he killed anybody."
After Trump won the election November 8, Putin sent the president-elect a telegram congratulating him on his victory. 
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"We can only add that if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.

"This applies to any actions against Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, which will immediately backfire at U.S. diplomats in Russia. The Obama administration probably does not care at all about the future of bilateral relations, but history will hardly forgive it for this après-nous-le-deluge attitude."

As NBC News first reported two weeks ago, U.S. intelligence officials believeRussian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the alleged hacking campaign, and the CIA concluded the goal was to help elect Donald Trump by leaking emails that were embarrassing to Democrats.

Publicly, President Obama has blamed "the highest level" of the Russian government for the hacks, noting that "not much happens in Russia" without Putin giving the green light.

Trump has expressed doubt as to whether Russia tried to meddle in the election. Asked on Wednesday about possible sanctions against Russia in the wake of the cyber-attacks, the president-elect said, "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said this week that there is broad support for sanctions against Russian and even the Russian president.

"I predict there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual," Graham told reporters in Riga, Latvia.

Russia has repeatedly denied involvement, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied that his site was being used by the Russian government when it published emails stolen from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The Obama administration has indicated actions against Russia may go beyond the steps announced Thursday and include covert operations or cyber options.

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