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President Trump posed a question Monday after a weekend of frequent tweeting about the Russia probe: Why didn't President Obama take action over Russian interference in the 2016 election?

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

The backdrop: The Obama administration knew about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election months before Election Day, and Obama was briefed in August 2016 on intelligence that Putin himself was involved, the Washington Post reports. Still, there were limitations to what they could do, former administration officials say.

Timeline
  • May 2016: James Clapper, then-director of national intelligence, issues a warning about cyber threats against the campaigns. He doesn't cite Russia.
  • July 2016:
    • The DNC announces it has been breached by Russian hackers. Trump says the DNC hacked itself to distract from controversies. He later invites Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton's emails.
    • The FBI opens an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
    • Obama, in an interview with NBC, says experts attribute the DNC hack to the Russians.
  • August 2016: Obama receives top secret intelligence file detailing Putin's direct involvement in Russian election meddling.
  • September 2016: U.S. intelligence agencies reach unanimous agreement regarding Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
    • At a G20 meeting in Huangzhou, China, Obama pulls Putin aside and warns him directly “to cut it out."
    • Clapper confirms that Russia was behind the DNC hack. Trump has by now been briefed on the matter but continues to publicly call it a hoax.
  • October 2016: At Obama's direction, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issue a public statement saying, “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
    • Obama also attributes the hack of John Podesta's emails to Russia.
  • December 2016: Obama approves a set of relatively modest — and primarily symbolic — sanctions, including expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two compounds in Maryland. The administration had considered several steeper measures including "cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could 'crater' the Russian economy," per the Post.
What they're saying
  • "It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view [on election meddling]. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump," the Post reports.
  • Officials close to Obama told the Post that by August it was too late to prevent emails from being leaked, and that they believed Obama's direct warning to Putin would deter the Kremlin from taking bigger steps, such as tampering with voting systems.
  • And they were concerned that any response from the U.S. would either provoke Russia to ramp up its own efforts or appear as though the administration was attempting to tip the scales for Clinton.
  • But Obama was “deeply concerned and wanted as much information as fast as possible ... He wanted the entire intelligence community all over this," a former administration official told the Post.
“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," a senior Obama official said to the Post. "I feel like we sort of choked.”

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.