By Avi Selk and Amy B Wang
President Donald Trump on Saturday called out Obama administration officials for not taking stronger actions against Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, contradicting his past statements and suggesting without proof that they were trying to help Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
His tweets came after The Post revealed Friday that the Obama White House had received reports as early as August 2016 regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in the cyber campaign with instructions to defeat or damage Clinton and help to elect Trump, according to “sourcing deep inside the Russian government.”
The Obama administration would not publicly say Russia was attempting to interfere with the election until Oct. 7, and the news of Putin’s attempts to aid Trump would not surface until after the election.
Trump has long disputed that the Russians interfered with the election, calling it “all a big Dem HOAX” just this week.
But on Friday evening, after the publication of The Post’s article, Trump demanded to know why Obama hadn’t done more to stop the meddling.
His first tweet read: Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?
He followed up with more tweets on Saturday, attempting to put the focus on Obama’s inaction.
One read: Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!
The Post’s article explains in detail why Obama, who reportedly was gravely concerned by an August CIA report about the hacking, managed to approve only “largely symbolic” sanctions before he left office.
Those reasons included partisan squabbling among members of Congress, initial skepticism by other intelligence agencies about the CIA’s findings and an assumption that Clinton would win the election and follow up.
“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a senior administration official said in the article.
Trump, however, raised his own theories, tweeting: Obama Administration official said they “choked” when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?
He provided no explanation or evidence for why this would have helped Clinton.
The Post article recounts how Obama learned about the Russian intrusions and the administration’s attempts to find support to make the information public.
According to the article, less than a month after 20,000 stolen Democratic Party emails were leaked to the public, a CIA memo warned Obama that the hack had been ordered by Putin in an attempt to “defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee.”
Interviews with administration officials revealed that Obama directly confronted Putin over the allegations during a meeting of world leaders in China. He also ordered his deputies to safeguard the election and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders to condemn Russia’s actions.
“The administration encountered obstacles at every turn,” wrote Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous.
Complacency may have also undercut the administration’s efforts to punish Russia. Like many polls suggested, it believed Clinton would win despite the hacks.
By his final weeks, aside from warnings and rhetoric, Obama had approved only narrow sanctions and a plan to plant “cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure” – if the next president so chose.
As one senior Obama official told The Post, “I feel like we sort of choked,” which Trump would quote in his tweet.
As he has with other newsmaking events, Trump used the article to argue that a months-long focus by the media, Congress and federal investigators on his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia has been misdirected.
“Focus on them, not T!” he tweeted Saturday afternoon.
For some Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, the bombshell report affirmed what they said they had long suspected.
“Nothing like the extensive hacking effort and manipulation effort could occur without involvement,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told CNN. “Now we actually know: Yes, Putin directed it. . . . He had a specific goal to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Some Republicans expressed concern about another country threatening democracy in the United States.
Rep. Adam Kinginger tweeted: #Russia is a problem & they attacked our democracy. This is about defending the integrity of our government & our election system.
“The reality is, in two or four years, it will serve Vladimir Putin’s interest to take down the Republican Party,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CNN. “If we weren’t upset about it, we have no right to complain in the future.”