President Obama says that the United States will respond in some form to the Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election with cyber attacks.
“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action. And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be,” Obama told NPR in an interview set to air in full on Friday when asked if Russia should pay a price for its hacking attempts.
Obama noted that he has spoken directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the hacks but suggested that U.S. officials are still deliberating the best response.
“We have been working hard to make sure that what we do is proportional, that what we do is meaningful,” he told NPR.
When asked if he believes Donald Trump would finish carrying out a response to Russia when he takes office in January, Obama would not make a prediction. But he accused some Republicans of flip-flopping on Russia.
“My view is that this is not a partisan issue, and part of what we should be doing is to try to take it out of election season and move it into governing season,” Obama told NPR. “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. 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.”
NPR’s Steve Inskeep asked Obama about Russia’s motives — the CIA believes that the Russian government intended to boost Trump to victory over Hillary Clinton — but Obama would not make that connection.
“There are still a whole range of assessments taking place among the agencies,” Obama said. “And so when I receive a final report, you know, we’ll be able to, I think, give us a comprehensive and best guess as to those motivations. But that does not in any way, I think, 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 that he believes that the hacks had an impact on the election, but he also said that it’s impossible to know whether the Russians are to blame for Clinton’s loss.
“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 emails, the Clinton Foundation, political gossip surrounding the DNC,” he told NPR. “Elections can always turn out differently. You never know which factors are going to make a difference. But I have no doubt that it had some impact, just based on the coverage.”