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Transcript: Ron Klain on "Face the Nation," December 20, 2020

Biden chief of staff faults administration for mixed messages on hack
Biden chief of staff Ron Klain faults Trump administration for mixed messages on hack 04:50

The following is a transcript of an interview with Ron Klain, incoming White House chief of staff for President-elect Joe Biden, that aired Sunday, December 13, 2020, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the incoming White House chief of staff for President elect Joe Biden, and that is Ron Klain. Good morning to you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you intend to keep Operation Warp Speed intact when you take office? What changes will you make to vaccine distribution?

KLAIN: You know, we are reviewing the progress of Operation Warp Speed and the ways in which we can structure the vaccine distribution most effectively. We'll have something to say about that shortly after the first of the year. We're going to- certainly going to build on the good things about Operation Warp Speed, but also try to be more effective in managing this vaccine distribution program. I agree with something Dr. Adams just said. The program that's before the country to try to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans in a few months is one of unprecedented complexity, unprecedented expense, unprecedented technical challenges. We're going to put in place the right people and the right process to do that. It's great that about 200,000 Americans have been vaccinated in this first week, but 200,000 is a long, long way from hundreds of millions of people. That's where we need to get to, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we will- we will follow up with you on those details when you make those calls. I want to ask you about the near term, and that is Christmas. The president elect says he will have a small family gathering because of COVID. He still attends mass indoors in-person. What is his guidance to Americans who want to worship that way?

KLAIN: MARGARET, I'm sorry I have lost you. I can't hear you anymore.


KLAIN: I'm very sorry. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like we are having some audio problems there.

KLAIN: I just- I can't hear what you're saying. I'm sorry. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll take a commercial break and continue the conversation on the other side.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to pick up where we left off with incoming White House Chief of staff Ron Klain, and thank you for sticking us- sticking with us there. I hope--

KLAIN: Of course.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in the new year, we can have a conversation in person. But- but--

KLAIN: Indeed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in- in the- in the COVID world, I want to ask you to finish your thought. And that was about Christmas. And the vice- the president-elect still attends mass indoors in-person. What is his guidance to Americans who want to worship that way?

KLAIN: Look, I think the guidance is to do it very carefully. I think that the mass he attends is sparsely attended. They control the number of people who go. He wears a mask. I think it's important for people to be careful. I mean, look, the most important thing he can say to everyone right now, while we're waiting for this vaccine to be available, is for people to mask up, to practice social distancing, to be careful, to wash their hands, to do all the things Dr. Adams was talking about. People need to celebrate the holiday. They need to mark these important events, but we need to do it in the most careful way possible, as responsibly as possible. That's what he's been doing and that's what he encourages others to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you been briefed yet on this new strain of COVID?

KLAIN: We have not yet been briefed on it. We're supposed to get briefed next- early next week on this. Obviously, we're going to respond to this with expertise--


KLAIN: --from science and medicine. We're going to take whatever changes we need to take in the- in the approach if there need to be changes based on what the experts, the medical experts advise us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, we're going to take a very quick break and continue our conversation on the other side of it. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We're continuing our conversation with Ron Klain. I want to switch gears to talk about this massive hacking of the federal government and private entities. The transition team has had some level of briefing on this. Is there any doubt that Russia was behind it?

KLAIN: (audio glitch) --to disclose this information in terms of who gets the blame. We should be hearing a clear and unambiguous allocation of responsibility from the White House, from the intelligence community. They're the people in charge. They're the ones who should be making those messages and delivering the ascertainment of responsibility. Instead, what we've heard is one message from the secretary of state, a different message from the White House, a different message from the president's Twitter feed. We have been briefed on this. But again, I think in terms of publicly communicating the position of our government that has to come from the current government and it should be coming in a clear and unambiguous voice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the president-elect was pretty clear when he spoke to my colleague Stephen Colbert on CBS earlier this week, and he was asked about Russia and he said they'll be held accountable. He said they'll face financial re- repercussions for what they did. Is that no longer the case? He no longer believes it's Russia.

KLAIN: No, what I'm saying is that the official statements about who's responsible for this particular attack needs to come from--


KLAIN: --the administration in a clear and unambiguous way. 


KLAIN: What the president elect has also said clearly, MARGARET, is that those who are responsible are going to face consequences for it. And he's going to take steps as president to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to launch these kinds of attacks on our country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Senator Mitt Romney said this morning the Russians potentially have the ability to target U.S. utilities and cripple the US economy. Is that your understanding of what these hackers have the ability to do right now and are sanctions as far as the president-elect is willing to go?

KLAIN: Well, so I think there's a lot of uncertainty still about what the purpose of these attacks were. Were they espionage oriented? Were they designed to inflict damage on us? I agree with Senator Romney about the capacity of foreign actors. I think there's still a lot of unanswered questions about the purpose, nature and extent of these specific attacks. And we're looking- looking forward to learning more about them. I think in terms of the measures that a Biden administration would take in response to an attack like this, I think- I want to be very clear. It's not just sanctions. It's also steps and things we could do to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to repeat this sort of attack or we're still engaged in even more dangerous attacks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Have the two- I'm hoping you can still--

KLAIN: And now, MARGARET, I've lost you again. I'm sorry, but the connection has been--

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. All right.

KLAIN: --severed once again. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just when we were- I was going to ask you a follow up there. But Ron Klain, thank you very much for joining us.

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