A senior Obama administration official said that his team “sort of choked” when responding to reports that Russian-linked hackers had tried to influence to the November election.
The Washington Post reported on how, even though Barack Obama learned about the influence of hackers with ties to the Kremlin months before the election, the administration chose not take strong action in part due to assumptions that Hillary Clinton would win.
“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” senior Obama administration official told The Washington Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
Here is how the Obama administration handled reports of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election according to the Washington Post:
- In August, Barack Obama received a highly classified intelligence report outlining that high-level hackers with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin were going through the Democratic Party’s computer networks with the aim of damaging Clinton’s reputation and helping Donald Trump’s candidacy.
- The report was the first to lay out evidence of hacking activity in such detail and was presented only to Obama and three highest aides.
- In the months leading up to the election, Obama’s administration would routinely discuss the hacking situation but tried to keep the intelligence as quiet as possible — even Vice President Joe Biden was not informed until much later.
- In attempts to punish Russia, Obama’s administration considered hacking into Russian infrastructure, implementing tough sanctions or publishing CIA material that would embarrass Putin before the Russian people.
- The administration even debated planting cyber weapons meant not to cause damage but show Russia just how far the US could go. As the project was fully implemented before Obama left office, Trump now has the power to pick it up or let it go.
- Instead, the former administration ejected 35 Russian diplomats from the country, issued a series of warnings and brought in sanctions against Russia that many saw as merely symbolic.
- As the time drew closer to the election, news of hacking activities became more difficult to conceal. Senators released statements on reports of hacking activity but, due in part from fear of Putin’s retaliation, did not implicate Russia in the reports.
- On Oct. 7, the Obama administration released its first statement saying that Russia had taken “active measures” to influence the outcome of the US election. By that time, Wikileaks had already shared thousands of emails from the Democratic Party’s networks with the public.
- By election day, there were no signs of voting infrastructure breakdowns, altered vote counts or any voter-related fraud. That said, considerable damage had been done to the DNC and Clinton’s candidacy.
- Obama’s administration was “mortified and shocked” by the outcome that led to Trump’s election. “Wow, did we mishandle this,” one senior official told The Washington Post.