Speaking to Fox News from Colombia on Tuesday, Tillerson said the U.S. has seen “certain behaviors” from Russia that could imply meddling ahead of multiple international elections, including the U.S. midterms.
“Really, I think it’s just important to 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’re just going to continue to invite consequences for yourself,’” Tillerson said.
He said the U.S. is no more prepared now than it was before the 2016 presidential election to prevent Russian interference.
“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson said. “The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.
Tillerson’s comments come on the heels of a January report by Senate Democrats detailing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts ― spanning decades ― to undermine democracy in the U.S. and Europe.
The report, released by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the Kremlin will likely attempt to interfere in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections, and urged President Donald Trump and his administration to take immediate action to counter these efforts.
“It is imperative that the American people better understand the true scope and scale of Putin’s pattern of undermining democracy in Russia and across Europe,” said the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), in a statement. “This threat existed long before President Trump took office, and unless he takes action now, it will continue long after his administration.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo also warned last month that Russia will almost certainly attempt to influence the 2018 midterm elections. “I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that,” Pompeo told the BBC.
He added, however, that he was “confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”
U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, said in a report last year that they had “high confidence” that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The Kremlin used “an influence campaign” to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate [Democratic nominee Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report said.
Trump, however, asserted in November that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered in the election ― because Putin said so.
“Every time [Putin] sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said.