Jun 23, 2017

Obama knew Putin was interfering in the election. Here’s what he did about it

Susan Walsh, Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Patrick Semansky / AP

In August last year, then-President Barack Obama received a highly classified CIA report with evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in the cyber attacks that were meant to interfere with the U.S. presidential election — to hurt Hilary Clinton and help Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported.

Why it matters: The Obama administration's debate over what to do highlighted the challenge in dealing with such a politically charged issue, which was central to the election and has remained central to the Trump presidency.

Response:

  1. Obama instructed aides to evaluate how the election system could be most vulnerable and to get agencies to back up the CIA's discovery.
  2. CIA Director John Brennan called the head of Russia's security agency and warned him about interfering in the election.
  3. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson attempted to secure the voting system, although some state officials refused.

When the intelligence agency leaders approached Congress with their conclusions, Democrats wanted the information to go public, while Republicans felt that revealing the information would help the Russians' attempt to destroy confidence in the electoral process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even questioned the White House's conclusions based on the intelligence, the Post reports.

The official statement about Russia's interference was released on October 7th. President Obama did not add his signature, and FBI Director James Comey also decided at the last minute to remove his name from the statement as he felt it was too close to the election for the FBI to get involved.

Retaliation: For 5 months, Obama deliberated various plans of action against Russia. It wasn't until December, a month after the unexpected election results, that he approved sanctions against Russia. He also approved a secret plan to plant cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the Post reported for the first time, but it was up to President Trump to oversee that the plan was carried out.

Too little, too late: The Post points out that despite the clear evidence of Russia's crime, "because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences." Although those close to both Obama and Trump defend their leader's actions.

"It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked." — a former senior Obama administration official involved in the deliberations on Russia told the Post.

Irony: The Post published the story only a few hours after Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday, "By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn't they stop them?"

Go deeper with a full timeline and more details with the Washington Post story.

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