U.S. President Barack Obama says the U.S. must and will take action against Russia in response to alleged cyber interference with the election.
“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,” Obama told NPR, adding the U.S. will respond at a “time and place of our choosing.”
The president said some of the response may be explicit and publicized and some of it may not. He said he’s spoken directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the hacking of Democratic officials’ email accounts, which U.S. officials have blamed on the Kremlin.
Earlier Thursday, the Obama administration suggested Putin personally authorized the hacking in the run-up to the presidential election and said it was “fact” that hacking had helped president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
Trump must have known: White House
The White House also levelled an attack on Trump himself, saying that it appears he must have known of Russia’s interference.
No proof was offered for any of the accusations, the latest to unsettle the U.S.’s uneasy transition from eight years under Democratic President Barack Obama to a new Republican administration led by Trump. The claims of Russian meddling in the election also have heightened already debilitating tensions between Washington and Moscow over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other disagreements.
After an NBC News report quoted U.S. intelligence officials pointing the finger specifically at Putin, White House press secretary Josh Earnest referred to an October assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that said “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
Earnest said the reference to “senior-most officials” wasn’t supposed to be subtle. “It’s pretty obvious,” he told reporters.
The explosive accusation paints the leader of perhaps the nation’s greatest geopolitical foe as having directly undermined U.S. democracy.
No U.S. officials have claimed, however, that Trump would have been defeated by Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8 if not for Russia’s assistance. Nor has there has been any indication of tampering with the vote-counting.
Allegations ‘laughable,’ Kremlin says
The Kremlin flatly rejected the claim of Putin’s involvement, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dismissing it as “laughable nonsense.”
The White House on Thursday also was harshly critical of Trump, who has dismissed the allegations of Russian interference as the partisan anger of Democrats over losing the election. Trump’s criticism has opened up a deep rift between the intelligence community and its incoming commander-in-chief.
“There’s ample evidence that was known long before the election and in most cases long before October about the Trump campaign and Russia — everything from the Republican nominee himself calling on Russia to hack his opponent,” Earnest said.
“It 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 and their involvement was having a negative impact on his opponent’s campaign.”
Earnest also disputed Trump’s claim that he was joking when he encouraged Russia to find emails that Clinton had deleted from her private email server.
No one in the White House, Congress or the intelligence community found it “funny” that a U.S. adversary was trying to “destabilize our democracy,” he said.
U.S. intelligence officials have linked the hacking to Russia’s intelligence agency and its military intelligence division. Moscow has denied all accusations that it orchestrated the hacking of email accounts of Democratic Party officials and Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, and then leaked them to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Democrats pounced on the latest suggestions of Putin being connected to the daily drip of emails during the presidential race from some of Clinton’s closest advisers.
Putin ‘clearly’ involved: Harry Reid
Putin was “clearly” involved, said outgoing Senate minority leader Harry Reid.
“[Putin] having been the former head of the KGB, does that surprise you?” Reid said. “And does it surprise anybody today when he denied it?”
On Wednesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said it is hard to think that Putin didn’t know about the operation. She called suggestions that he was aware of the hacking “very credible.”
There has been no specific, persuasive evidence shared publicly about the extent of Putin’s role or knowledge of the hacking.
But Democrats theorize that no such wide-scale espionage operation could have been launched without Putin’s approval.
The NBC report said that the evidence is “nearly incontrovertible,” and that the intelligence comes from “diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies.” It didn’t identify the countries involved or how they might have such sensitive information from Putin’s inner sanctum.