Tillerson: Russia to face ‘consequences’ if it meddles in elections again

Tillerson: Russia to face ‘consequences’ if it meddles in elections again

‘You need to stop,’ secretary of state says in message to Moscow ahead of midterms; but he warns it is difficult for Washington to prevent interference

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures at a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO RAGGIO)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures at a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO RAGGIO)

Russia will face consequences if it meddles in the US legislative election this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned last month that he does in fact expect Moscow to try to interfere, as US intelligence agencies insist it did in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

Tillerson, speaking to Fox News during a tour of Latin America, said “there’s a lot of ways that the Russians can meddle in the elections, a lot of different tools they can use.

“And we are seeing certain behaviors. There are a number of important elections in this hemisphere this year, and leading up to the US in 2018,” Tillerson said.

“I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia ‘Look, if you think we don’t see what you’re doing, we do see it and you need to stop. If you don’t, you are going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself.'”

He added, though, that if Moscow decides to meddle in an election, “it’s very difficult to preempt it.”

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller and US lawmakers are probing the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, specifically whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort and whether Trump has tried to obstruct justice by hindering the investigations.

Trump met with a top Justice Department official Tuesday to review a classified Democratic memo on the Russia investigation, less than a week after he brushed aside objections from the same agency over releasing a Republican account.

The dueling memos — and Trump’s silence so far on whether he will release the Democratic version — have set up a standoff between Trump and congressional Democrats and deepened partisan fights on the House intelligence panel. The memos have become the recent focus of the committee’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, taking attention away from investigations into whether Trump’s campaign was involved.

This photo taken on January 30, 2018 shows Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, walking away from a meeting with House GOP members, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP/Getty Images North America/Mark Wilson)

The Democratic document is intended to counter the GOP memo, which criticized methods the FBI used to obtain a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate. The president has until the end of the week to decide whether to make it public.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to discuss differences between the two memos, and “we are undergoing the exact same process that we did with the previous memo, in which it will go through a full and thorough legal and national security review.”

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Top intelligence and law enforcement officials have warned that last week’s release of the GOP memo could have wide-ranging repercussions: Spy agencies could start sharing less information with Congress, weakening oversight; lawmakers will try to declassify more intelligence for political gain; and confidential informants will worry about being outed on Capitol Hill.

Critics accuse Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., of abusing his power as chairman of the House intelligence committee to do the president’s bidding and undermine the investigation into whether any Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia. His office rebuts that claim, saying the real abuse of power was using unverified information bought and paid for by one political campaign to justify government surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

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