Obama says US will take action against Russia for interfering in election

US President Barack Obama delivering remarks during a a My Brother's Keeper summit on Dec 14, 2016, in Washington, DC.
US President Barack Obama delivering remarks during a a My Brother's Keeper summit on Dec 14, 2016, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON  - President Barack Obama said the United States will take action against Russia for interfering in the US election. 

In an interview with NPR public radio, which will be aired on Friday morning US time (Friday night Dec 16, Singapore time), Mr Obama said: "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 publicised, some of it may not be." 

US intelligence officials have concluded that hackers working for Russia hacked into Democratic National Committee's (DNC) computer network and the private e-mail account of Mr John Podesta, a top advisor to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The White House on Thursday also pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in the cyber attacks, dramatically upping the stakes in a dispute between the world’s leading nuclear powers, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. 

During the interview with NPR, Mr Obama was careful not to endorse a CIA assessment reported by NPR and other news outlets, which asserts that Russia's goal was to elect Republican Donald Trump.

"There are still a whole range of assessments taking place among the agencies," the NPR website quoted Mr Obama as saying. "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," he was quoted as saying during the interview.

"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 added.

Mr Obama, however, did not blame the hacking for Mrs Clinton's election loss, saying: "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."

He had ordered the US intelligence community to conduct a full review of the cyber-attacks before Mr Trump's inauguration as US president on Jan 20.  

Mr Obama will hold a news conference on Friday local time (3.15 am Saturday Singapore time) before leaving for a vacation in Hawaii. He is expected to be peppered with questions about the hacking dispute.

On Thursday, his adviser Ben Rhodes told MSNBC television: "I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.”

"Everything we know about how Russia operates and how Putin controls that government would suggest that, again, when you’re talking about a significant cyber intrusion like this, we’re talking about the highest levels of government,” he said. 

His comments were echoed by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said that the decision by US intelligence agencies in October to publicly blame "Russia’s senior-most officials” was not meant to be “particularly subtle,” AFP reported. 

But blaming Mr Putin now also puts the White House on a collision course with Mr Trump himself, who continues to question Russian involvement in hacks of Democratic Party emails that were unflattering to Mrs Clinton.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” he tweeted on Thursday.

Last weekend, the Washington Post reported a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) evaluation that Russia had hacked the e-mails of US persons and institutions as a way to sway the election in favour of Mr Trump. 

Mr Putin is said never to have forgiven Mrs Clinton – then secretary of state – for publicly questioning the integrity of parliamentary elections in 2011 in Russia, and accused her of encouraging street protests.