In a press conference this afternoon, President Obama all but blamed Vladimir Putin for the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta——and all but said those hacks were intended to boost Trump.
When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz asked if Putin himself was behind the hacks and intended them to damage Clinton, Obama was coy. The intelligence community is putting together an assessment, he said, and he would defer to their report, which will come out before he leaves office.
Then Obama paused.
“Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” he said.
The odds that a rogue faction of the Kremlin stole emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and from the Democratic National Committee and then disbursed them——well, Obama said, that’s far-fetched.
“This is a pretty hierarchical operation,” he said. “Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.”
This runs counter to President-elect Donald Trump’s line; the mogul insists that there’s no consensus in the intelligence community about Russia’s connection to the hacks, and that media coverage of the story is driven by a desire to delegitimize Trump’s win.
Obama’s answers at the press conference run completely counter to that. He said he knew this past summer that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee, he added, and he told them to stop it.
According to “uniform intelligence assessments,” he said, it’s indisputable that Russia was involved in the hacks. But he didn’t discuss their motives during the campaign because he feared any comment would be seen as politically motivated.
“At a time when anything that was said by me or anybody in the White House would immediately be seen through a partisan lens, I wanted to make sure everybody understood we were playing this thing straight,” he said.
Obama added that he discussed the hacks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
“So in early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be serious consequences if he didn’t,” Obama said.
And, he added, it worked.
“And in fact we did not see further tampering of the election process,” he said. “But the leaks through WikiLeaks had already occurred.”
Obama also said it was obvious to him that the hacking hurt Clinton.
“I’m finding it curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day,” he said. “Every single leak, about every little juicy tidbit of political gossip. Including John Podesta’s risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.”
But Russian propagandists had lots of help here at home, he continued. Without naming any specific outlets, he said partisan media outlets operated as “domestic propagandists” by doing reporting that comported with Russia’s preferred messaging. Talk radio had primed the pump for Russia, he suggested——their efforts to undermine people’s faith in American democratic institutions fell on open ears, thanks to media figures who say D.C. is rampant with corruption.
Still, despite his complaints about American media, he criticized Putin’s crackdowns on press freedom.
“Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s ok to intimidate the press or lock up dissidents or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like,” he said.