Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Sunday that President Donald Trump has a “blind spot” when it comes to dealing with Russia after the President downplayed a massive cyberattack on US federal agencies linked to the country, warning that the aggression “is a big wake-up call for us.”
“The President has a blind spot when it comes to Russia, and so you can expect that that’s the response that he would have,” Romney told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” when asked about a tweet from Trump undercutting his secretary of state’s assessment of the massive hack.
“This is a big wake-up call for us and I think we’re going to have to really rethink our military and national security readiness so when it comes to cyberspace, because this is the warfare of the future and I hope that we get ourselves up to the capacity you would expect the strongest, greatest nation on Earth to have,” the Utah Republican added.
At least half a dozen federal agencies are now known to have been targeted in the breach, including the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber arm and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and State. Investigators are still trying to determine what, if any, government data may have been accessed or stolen in the hack.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said on Friday that the attack was “a very significant effort,” and directly linked it to Russia. But the following day, Trump, in his first public comments on the issue, appeared to undercut those remarks in a pair of tweets, suggesting without evidence “it may be China” that’s responsible. The President also claimed “everything was under control,” though administration officials said last week that the attack “poses a grave risk” to networks across both the public and private sector.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said Sunday he thinks it’s a “mistake” for the President to blame China for the massive cyber hack, without any evidence.
“I have no reason to believe it’s China,” the South Carolina Republican told CNN’s Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav.
Romney said that the cyberattack puts the US in a vulnerable position, and suggested the country should strongly react.
“What Russia has done is put in place a capacity to potentially cripple us in terms of our electricity, our water, our communications,” he told Tapper. “This is the same sort of thing one can do in a wartime setting and so it’s extraordinary dangerous and it’s an outrageous affront on our sovereignty and one that’s going to have to be met with a very strong response, not just rhetorical, important as that is, but also with a cyber response of like magnitude or greater.”
Agencies aren’t ‘optimized for defense’
Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told Tapper later in the program that federal agencies are not currently “optimized for defense” and part of the reason his former agency didn’t detect the hack sooner was a bill giving them certain authorities to aggressively root out adversaries hasn’t yet been signed by Trump.
“There is a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act … that’s sitting on the President’s desk waiting for his signature … that would give CISA, my old agency, the authorities to go out and really aggressively hunt and look for these adversaries and that’s what we’re going to have to do to get certainty to the other side of this,” the ex-cyber chief said.
Trump, who fired Krebs last month after he rejected the President’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, has remained preoccupied with his election loss to Joe Biden in recent weeks, having only commented publicly on the cyber hack days after it was reported.
The President held a contentious Oval Office meeting on Friday in which his lawyer Sidney Powell and her client, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, engaged in a heated back and forth with some of Trump’s aides over Powell and Flynn’s more outrageous suggestions about overturning the election.
Flynn had suggested last week that Trump could invoke martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election, and during the meeting, White House aides pushed back on the idea of naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations Trump’s own administration has dismissed.
Romney, a frequent Trump critic, blasted Trump’s ongoing efforts to invalidate the election results.
“It’s really sad in a lot of respects and embarrassing because the President could, right now, be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine,” Romney said during his CNN interview, referring to new coronavirus vaccines.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi, Kevin Liptak, Jennifer Hansler, Nicky Robertson, Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.