U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States will take action against Russia or any other foreign government that tries to meddle in U.S. elections.
“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections ... we need to take action. And we will,” the president told National Public Radio in an interview to be broadcast Friday morning.
“Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be,” he said.
WATCH: Excerpt from Obama's NPR interview
The president said Friday during a White House news conference that U.S. officials are in agreement about a CIA conclusion that Russian hackers broke into the Democratic Party computers.
The heads of major U.S. intelligence agencies — FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper FBI Director — are said to have concurred that Russian hackers leaked potentially embarrassing emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton to help Republican Donald Trump win last month’s election.
Officials: Putin knew
Top White House officials say such a thing could not have happened without Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement or direct knowledge. Moscow called the allegation “laughable nonsense.”
Obama told NPR there is still a “whole range of assessments” going on among U.S. intelligence agencies, and he is waiting for a final report on exactly who was involved and why they did it.
“But that does not in any way detract from the basic point that everyone during the election perceived accurately that in fact what the Russian hack had done was create more problems for the Clinton campaign than it had for the Trump campaign,” Obama said.
Trump, however, has asked in a Twitter comment, “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
Obama declined to say whether he thought the Russian computer hacking cost Hillary Clinton the election. He said many factors can make the difference in a presidential vote, but there was no doubt it had an impact.
He also would not say whether he believed the Trump campaign played any role in the hacking other than exploiting the leaked emails for political advantage.
Obama said he is mystified by Trump’s insistence that Russia did not hack into Democratic Party computers and by the president-elect’s pro-Russian stance.
“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 ... 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.”
Ben Rhodes, a top foreign affairs adviser to Obama, told MSNBC, “Everything we know about how Russia operates and how Putin controls that government would suggest that, again, when you’re talking about a significant cyber intrusion like this, we’re talking about the highest levels of government. And ultimately, Vladimir Putin is the official responsible for the actions of the Russian government.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking with reporters, pointed to the U.S. intelligence community’s October assessment that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” He said the reference to “senior-most officials” wasn’t supposed to be subtle. “It’s pretty obvious,” he said.
Earnest dismissed concerns about efforts to delegitimize Trump’s presidency, saying Obama has made clear that he is committed to a smooth and effective transition. But he also encouraged Trump to be supportive of a thorough, transparent and non-political investigation into the hack.
One of Trump’s top aides, Kellyanne Conway, in a TV interview rebuked Earnest for suggesting Wednesday that Trump might have known during the campaign of the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential contest and that “their involvement was having a negative impact” on Clinton’s campaign.
“That is just remarkable,” Conway told Fox News. “That is breathtaking. I guess he’s auditioning to be a political pundit after his job is over soon. That is incredibly disappointing to hear from the podium of the White House press secretary. Because he basically — he essentially stated that the president-elect had knowledge of this, maybe even fanned the flames. It’s incredibly irresponsible and I wonder if his boss, President Obama, agrees.”
On Thursday, Earnest also doubled-down on his assertion that Trump not only knew about Russian interference during the campaign but encouraged it.
“It’s just a fact, you all have it on tape, that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed that that would help his campaign,” he told reporters at the White House briefing. “That’s not a controversial statement.”
At his last formal press conference in July, Trump invited Russian hackers to look for emails deleted from Clinton’s private server, then a day later said he meant it as a sarcastic joke.
But Earnest said Trump’s suggestion to hack Clinton’s computer “might be an indication that he was obviously aware and concluded, based on whatever facts or sources he had available to him, that Russia was involved.”
Earnest also said Thursday that no one at the White House, in Congress or in the U.S. intelligence community considered it funny that Russia was trying to “destabilize our democracy.”
No GOP emails
The White House has not suggested Clinton would have won the election absent the Russian hacking. However, the vast array of U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow hacked into computer accounts at the Democratic National Committee that helped oversee Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign and the computer of Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, to help Trump win.
WikiLeaks, without citing its source, released thousands of Podesta’s emails in the last month of the campaign, many of them revealing embarrassing in-fighting among Clinton aides, without any corresponding disclosures about the Trump campaign from accounts allegedly hacked at the Republican National Committee.
Trump has denounced the U.S. intelligence conclusion of Russian involvement, calling it “ridiculous.” He has said that any hacking related to the election might have been carried out by China, Russia or anyone, including “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”