“There will be severe consequences with any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair elections,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday in his first interview since recovering from the novel coronavirus.
O’Brien told CBS’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday that he has” recovered fully” from COVID-19.
“I am very, very grateful,” O’Brien said. “I was blessed and had a light case.”
He added that COVID-19 is “a tough thing” and “a nasty virus,” which has “done great damage to our country.”
“My heart goes out to the folks who didn’t make it. I was fortunate, but there are a lot of people who didn’t make it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are suffering greatly as a result of this virus and having been through this. My heart really goes out to them.”
O’Brien returned to work at the White House last week after contracting a “mild” case of coronavirus after two negative COVID-19 tests in a row and a week of being asymptomatic.
On Sunday, host Margaret Brennan noted that “Congress and the White House were unable to come to this agreement on more funding for things,” including “a boost to election security funding that Democrats were asking for,” referencing the stalled negotiations in the Senate on Phase 4 coronavirus relief.
She then pointed out that “this country has never voted in a pandemic” and asked O’Brien, “Don’t you need a boost to election security for states across this country? Don’t you need more money before November?”
“We’re working on that with Congress,” he said in response.
When asked if he expects a bill to pass before November O’Brien said, “I hope so.”
“I want to make it clear there’s been no administration that’s done more for election security than this administration,” he said.
O’Brien then outlined the measure the National Security Council (NSC) has been taking to protect the upcoming election.
“We’ve been putting hundreds of millions of dollars into election security at the NSC. We’ve been running a policy coordination process for months and months and months on election security, we’re working with DHS [Department of Homeland Security], we’re working with secretaries of state across the country,” O’Brien said.
“There’s no higher concern that we have than maintaining the free and fair elections that are the cornerstone of our democracy.”
He acknowledged that “the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians” and others “would like to interfere with our democracy,” saying, “We’re going to fight against that. We’re going to take every step necessary to harden our election infrastructure, harden our cyber infrastructure and protect our elections a hundred percent.”
Late last month the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a press release that said, “Today, we see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets.”
“Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections,” the release continued.
Brennan said that the language in the release “sounds an awful lot like what Russia did back in 2016, but now it’s happening on your watch so what are you doing to stop it?”
“What we’re doing is we’ve got our cyber teams in place,” O’Brien responded. “DHS is working very hard to track down those malign actors.”
He went on to say that “we know it’s China” and Russia are who are trying “to access secretary of state websites and that sort of thing and collect data on Americans and engage and influence operations, whether it’s on TikTok or Twitter and other spaces.”
He acknowledged that “it’s a real concern.”
O’Brien also noted that the Chinese don’t want President Trump to be reelected because “he’s been tougher on China than any president in history and we’re standing up for the first time [to] the Chinese Communist Party and protecting Americans, protecting our IP, protecting our economy, protecting our vaccine data.”
O’Brien said “we’re aware” that “China, like Russia, like Iran, have engaged in cyber-attacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites.”
“We’re taking steps to counter it, whether it’s China or Russia, Iran, we’re not going to put up with it,” he said, adding that “there will be severe consequences” for “any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair elections.”
He said that steps to “harden” election infrastructure in the U.S. include, “pumping money into the states” and DHS’ “massive program,” which is running “to keep our elections free and fair.”
“We’re not going to have foreign countries deciding who our next president is going to be. That’s outrageous,” he went on to say.
O’Brien also noted that “no administration has been tougher on the Russians” and that the U.S. has “sanctioned hundreds of Russian entities.”
“There’s almost nothing we can sanction left of the Russians,” he said. “We put so many sanctions on the Russians that, by the way the prior administration didn’t do.”
“We’ve sanctioned the heck out of the Russians, individuals, companies, the government,” he said, adding that “we’ve kicked out literally scores of Russian spies” and “closed down all their consulates on the West Coast” as well as their “diplomatic facilities.”