A cau­tious tack on hacks

Obama: U.S. didn’t want to politi­cize al­le­ga­tions against Rus­sians prior to elec­tion

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Sink

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Fri­day said the U.S. govern­ment took a cau­tious ap­proach to al­le­ga­tions the Rus­sians had hacked Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cials be­fore the elec­tion out of con­cern that the is­sue would be politi­cized.

“I wanted to make sure we were play­ing this thing straight,” Obama said at his last an­nual endof-the-year news con­fer­ence at the White House, de­fend­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion against crit­i­cism that it did not more ag­gres­sively com­bat the hack­ing.

“My prin­ci­pal goal lead­ing up to the elec­tion was mak­ing sure the elec­tion it­self went off with­out a hitch, it was not tar­nished and it did not feed any sense in the pub­lic that some­how tam­per­ing had taken place with the ac­tual process of vot­ing,” Obama said. “And we ac­com­plished that.”

Rus­sia backed off af­ter Obama per­son­ally warned the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, against fur­ther hacks dur­ing a visit to China in Septem­ber, the pres­i­dent said. But by then e-mails be­long­ing to the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and its of­fi­cials were in the hands of Wik­ileaks.

Obama de­clined to say if the hacks cost Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton the elec­tion.

“I’m go­ing to let all the po­lit­i­cal pun­dits in this town have a long dis­cus­sion about what hap­pened in this elec­tion,” he said. “I don’t think she was treated fairly dur­ing the elec­tion. The cov­er­age of her, and the is­sues, was trou­bling.”

Ear­lier, Obama vowed the U.S.

would re­spond to Rus­sian elec­tion-re­lated cy­ber­at­tacks in an in­ter­view with NPR News that aired Fri­day. Clin­ton mean­while told donors at a fundraiser on Thurs­day that the hacks were par­tially to blame for her loss to Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump. Clin­ton said the Rus­sians had sought to “un­der­mine our democ­racy” through the cy­ber­at­tacks, which she be­lieved were a re­sult of Putin’s “per­sonal beef ” against her.

“Putin pub­licly blamed me for the out­pour­ing of out­rage by his own peo­ple, and that is the di­rect line be­tween what he said back then and what he did in this elec­tion,” Clin­ton said, ac­cord­ing to a record­ing of the event ob­tained by The New York Times. She also said that FBI di­rec­tor James Comey’s Oct. 28 let­ter dis­clos­ing a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion of e-mails from her time as sec­re­tary of state dam­aged her with swing-state vot­ers days be­fore the elec­tion. The two fac­tors were “un­prece­dented,” Clin­ton said.

Obama, in the NPR in­ter­view, said “we need to take ac­tion” af­ter any at­tempt by a for­eign govern­ment to im­pact the in­tegrity of U.S. elec­tions.

“And we will,” Obama said. “At a time and place of our own choos­ing. Some of it may be ex­plicit and pub­li­cized; some of it may not be.”

The re­newed fo­cus on the Rus­sian hack has prompted com­plaints from the Trump transition team that the White House is at­tempt­ing to un­der­mine the Repub­li­can’s vic­tory. The ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced late last week plans to is­sue a re­port on elec­toral cy­ber­at­tacks be­fore Obama leaves of­fice Jan. 20.

The White House and Trump team have traded es­ca­lat­ing in­sults in re­cent days that threaten the de­tente be­tween Trump and Obama, who has sought a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with his suc­ces­sor par­tially in a bid to pre­serve some of his poli­cies. It has also blurred tra­di­tional party lines in Wash­ing­ton, with some Repub­li­cans ex- press­ing alarm over Rus­sia’s at­tempts to in­flu­ence an elec­tion ul­ti­mately won by their nom­i­nee and some Democrats up­set the White House didn’t more ag­gres­sively con­front the Krem­lin be­fore Elec­tion Day.

In a tweet early Fri­day, Trump tried to re­turn at­ten­tion to rev­e­la­tions in e-mails re­vealed by the al­leged Rus­sian hack.

“Are we talk­ing about the same cy­ber­at­tack where it was re­vealed that head of the DNC il­le­gally gave Hil­lary the ques­tions to the de­bate?” Trump wrote. He was re­fer­ring to e-mails stolen from Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta that in­di­cated that a Demo­cratic of­fi­cial and CNN an­a­lyst, Donna Brazile, had ob­tained ques­tions to be asked in de­bates dur­ing the Demo­cratic pri­mary and re­layed them in ad­vance to Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

The pres­i­dent-elect’s lat­est mis­sive fol­lowed a Twit­ter mes­sage Thurs­day that again cast doubt on Rus­sian in­volve­ment in the hack­ing and er­ro­neously said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had waited un­til af­ter the elec­tion to re­spond.

In the NPR in­ter­view, Obama said the al­leged Rus­sian hack­ing had suc­ceeded in roil­ing the elec­tion be­cause it cre­ated “more prob­lems for the Clin­ton cam­paign than it had for the Trump cam­paign.”

“There’s no doubt that it con­trib­uted to an at­mos­phere in which the only fo­cus for weeks at a time, months at a time were Hil­lary’s e-mails, the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, po­lit­i­cal gos­sip sur­round­ing the DNC,” Obama said.

Obama stopped short of say­ing the Rus­sian hack was fully re­spon­si­ble for Clin­ton’s loss, but said he had no doubt it had “some im­pact” on the race. He also in­di­cated that Putin, who the ad­min­is­tra­tion has sug­gested may have per­son­ally di­rected the ef­fort, was “well aware of my feel­ings about this, be­cause I spoke to him di­rectly about that.”

He also said con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans should be sup­port­ive of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to high­light Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence.

“The irony of all this, of course, is that for most of my pres­i­dency, there’s been a pretty siz­able wing of the Repub­li­can Party that has con­sis­tently crit­i­cized me for not be­ing tough enough on Rus­sia,” he said. “Some of those folks dur­ing the cam­paign en­dorsed Don­ald Trump, de­spite the fact that a cen­tral tenet of his for­eign pol­icy was we shouldn’t be so tough on Rus­sia. And that kind of in­con­sis­tency, I think, makes it ap­pear, at least, that their par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion on Rus­sia on any given day de­pends on what’s po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent.”

Sen. Ron John­son, a Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can and vo­cal Trump sup­porter, said Fri­day that Democrats were “cer­tainly play­ing pol­i­tics” with the sit­u­a­tion. He told CNBC that he had been de­nied a re­quest to be briefed by CIA of­fi­cials on Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment, and that he had not seen ev­i­dence Rus­sia was re­spon­si­ble.

Sen. Richard Burr, chair­man of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said Fri­day that his panel will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sian hack­ing of U.S. in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing the breaches of po­lit­i­cal groups be­fore the 2016 elec­tion. In a state­ment, the North Carolina Repub­li­can said that the com­mit­tee would hold hear­ings in the new year, in­ter­view­ing of­fi­cials from both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Burr de­fended “the hard-work­ing, pa­tri­otic Amer­i­cans” work­ing for U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, say­ing “they check pol­i­tics at the of­fice door and fo­cus on their mis­sion.” Trump’s transition team last week ridiculed the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies for their claims of for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, and drew com­par­isons with the er­ro­neous find­ings that Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein had weapons of mass de­struc­tion be­fore the U.S. in­va­sion in 2003.

The Krem­lin has de­nied in­volve­ment in the e-mail leaks, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters in Tokyo on Fri­day the U.S. should prove its ac­cu­sa­tions against Rus­sia.

“Ei­ther stop talk­ing about it or fi­nally pro­vide some ev­i­dence. Oth­er­wise it looks in­de­cent,” Peskov said in Ja­pan, where Putin is meet­ing with Ja­panese lead­ers.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion also faced new crit­i­cism from Podesta, who wrote in a Wash­ing­ton Post com­men­tary pub­lished Fri­day that the FBI had been more scrupu­lous in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Clin­ton’s emails than it was in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the DNC hacks.

“Com­par­ing the FBI’s mas­sive re­sponse to the overblown e-mail scan­dal with the seem­ingly lack­adaisi­cal re­sponse to the very real Rus­sian plot to sub­vert a na­tional elec­tion shows that some­thing is deeply bro­ken at the FBI,” Podesta said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­swers ques­tions dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the White House on Fri­day, prior to leav­ing for his an­nual fam­ily va­ca­tion in Hawaii. Chip So­mod­ev­illa, Getty Im­ages

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