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US to crack down with ‘severe consequences’ on foreign election meddling, Trump aide says

In this file photo, US National Security advisor Robert O'Brien attends the 14th East Asia Summit in Bangkok on November 4, 2019, on the sidelines of the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. O'Brien has tested positive for COVID-19, making him the highest-ranking member of President Trump's inner circle known to have contracted the disease. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien vowed to protect the 2020 U.S. election from foreign interference, whether they back President Donald Trump or challenger Joe Biden, saying any country that interferes risks “severe consequences.”

“Whether it’s China or Russia or Iran, we’re not going to put up with it,” O’Brien said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

A report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday said Russia would prefer that Trump win reelection while China and Iran would like to see him lose. Asked about the possibility of U.S. adversaries skewing the result, O’Brien said that the Trump administration will be even-handed in ensuring a free and fair election.

He declined to say whether Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a July 23 conversation to refrain from meddling in the U.S. election, saying he doesn’t get involved in the president’s conversations with foreign leaders.

“But nevertheless, we continue to message the Russians,” O’Brien said. “And President Trump continues the message the Russians: don’t get involved in our elections. And by the way, that message is to the Chinese and that message is to Tehran as well. Don’t do it because there will be severe consequences.”

Russia most active

While O’Brien didn’t spell out specific consequences, he cited previous economic and diplomatic sanctions the administration has imposed on Russia. “There’s not a lot left we can do with the Russians” in terms of sanctions, he said.

Last week’s summary by U.S. intelligence agencies attributed the most active role to Russia, which sought to help Trump win election in 2016. This time, it said, Russia is “using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden.”

The report said Iran is likely to focus on “spreading disinformation on social media” as it “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump and to divide the country.” And it said China, which sees Trump as “unpredictable” has grown “increasingly critical” in its “public rhetoric.”

“We’re going to take every step necessary to harden our election infrastructure, harden our cyber infrastructure and protect our elections 100%,” O’Brien said on Sunday.


© 2020 Bloomberg News

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