National security adviser warns countries of "severe consequences" for election interference

O'Brien warns of "severe consequences" for election interference
O'Brien warns of "severe consequences" for el... 09:32

Washington — In the wake of an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community detailing influence efforts by foreign actors ahead of the November election, White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien warned Sunday that any foreign power that seeks to meddle in the upcoming contest faces "severe consequences."

"Whether it's China, Russia or Iran, we're not going to put up with it, and there will be severe consequences with any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair election," O'Brien said in an interview with "Face the Nation," his first since recovering from the coronavirus. "Whether their leaders prefer Joe Biden or prefer Donald Trump, it doesn't matter. We're Americans. We're not going to have foreign countries deciding who our next president is going to be. That's outrageous."

O'Brien said the Trump administration is taking steps to counter foreign influence in the 2020 election, including by hardening election and cyber infrastructure and working with states, but acknowledged that Russia, China and Iran have engaged in cyberattacks and phishing attempts.

Malign actors have also attempted to access secretary of state websites and collect data on Americans, the national security adviser said.

"There's no higher concern that we have than maintaining the free and fair elections that are the cornerstone of our democracy," O'Brien said. "And look, we know that there are people overseas, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians, others who would like to interfere with our democracy. And we're going to fight against that."

The warning from the national security adviser to foreign governments less than 100 days before the November election comes after the intelligence community issued its first public assessment Friday on the candidate preferences of some foreign actors. 

According to the assessment, Russia is working to "denigrate" presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and China prefers that President Trump loses his reelection bid. Iran may attempt to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and the president through online and social media content, the intelligence community warned.

Russia's influence campaign marks its second attempt to interfere in a U.S. presidential election, prompting questions as to whether Mr. Trump has told Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop meddling and whether he has sanctioned the country hard enough.

But O'Brien said that when it comes to Russia specifically, there isn't much left to impose sanctions on.

"We've sanctioned the heck out of the Russians — individuals, companies, the government," he said. "We've kicked out literally scores of Russian spies. We've closed down all their consulates on the West Coast. We closed down diplomatic facilities. There's not a lot left we can do with the Russians."

Still, O'Brien said the message to the Russians, Chinese and Iranians the same: "Don't get involved in our elections."

"Don't do it because there will be severe consequences," he said.