President Obama on Sunday said it is “very clear” that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. election and that he might have underestimated Vladimir Putin’s intent to use cyberspace to exert his influence on the world stage.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Mr. Putin wanted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lose the election and clearly preferred Donald Trump, according to its assessment report released Friday.
Mr. Obama, who ordered the report, said the intelligence community has “high confidence” in its findings, even as Mr. Trump and his transition team downplay Russia’s culpability and say Democrats and Mr. Obama invited attacks on America through weak cyber defenses.
Mr. Obama acknowledged he dismissed his 2012 Republican foe — Mitt Romney — for pointing to Russia as the No. 1 geopolitical threat at the time.
“You know, I don’t think I underestimated [Mr. Putin], but I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation for cyber hacking and so forth to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems, to insinuate themselves into our democratic practices in ways that I think are accelerating,” he said in a wide-ranging interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
“And so part of the reason that I ordered this report was not simply to re-litigate what happened over the last several months, but rather to make sure that we understand this is something that Putin has been doing for quite some time in Europe … There are gonna be elections coming up among our NATO allies that we have to pay attention to. I anticipate that this kind of thing can happen again here.”
Mr. Trump, who had questioned the U.S.’ version of events, was briefed on the report Friday and afterward released a statement that seemed to spread blame around, noting that Russia, China and other countries frequently target U.S. systems.
Mr. Obama said Mr. Trump will be sworn as president on Jan. 20, so it is “not necessarily profitable” to untangle what went into his victory.
Instead, he said the private and public sectors must team up to prevent further attacks. He also criticized unnamed Republicans and cable commentators who seemed to place more trust in Mr. Putin than fellow Americans who happened to be Democrats.
“We have to remind ourselves we’re on the same team,” he said. “Vladimir Putin’s not on our team. If we get to a point where people in this country feel more affinity with a leader who is an adversary and view the United States and our way of life as a threat to him, then we’re gonna have bigger problems than just cyber hacking.”