SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Tuesday the United States will not tolerate any election interference from foreign countries.
O’Brien said he told his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, to “stay out” of the November election and that there would be severe consequences for any country that violates that directive.
O’Brien spoke to reporters after delivering remarks at a national security summit in Salt Lake City.
“The Russians said that they had no plans to do anything of that nature,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said Russia was hit with sanctions following its interference in the 2016 election that he hopes will be a deterrent to other countries.
However, there has already been evidence of interference by Russia, China and Iran, O’Brien said, as well as other countries that he declined to name.
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of a democracy, and we’re not gonna tolerate any foreign adversary or foreign government getting involved,” he said about his meeting with Patrushev Friday in Geneva. “I think they understood that message, and hopefully they’ll stay out of it.”
Senior Trump administration officials have been eager to focus more on China in discussing election interference, asserting that Beijing is the more potent danger.
Career intelligence officials say China is a major espionage concern. But there is bipartisan consensus, including in a Republican-led Senate intelligence committee report, that Russia directly interfered in 2016 as it tried to help President Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
This year, intelligence officials say, Russia is working to denigrate Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Microsoft released a report last month that found the same Russian military intelligence outfit that hacked the Democrats in 2016 has attempted similar intrusions into the computer systems of more than 200 organizations, including political parties and consultants.
Most of the infiltration attempts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian agents were halted by Microsoft security software, and the targets were notified.
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.