It was the Democratic Party’s turn Sunday to sweat over Russian meddling as lawmakers acknowledged that President Barack Obama knew about the foreign election interference but failed to act until after the 2016 presidential race.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the Obama administration should have done more to counter Russian interference, blaming election-year politics for what he described as “a very serious mistake.”
“The American people needed to know, and I didn’t think it was enough to tell them after the election but rather given the seriousness of this, I think the administration needed to call out Russia earlier and needed to act to deter and punish Russia earlier, and I think that was a very serious mistake,” said the California Democrat on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He said the administration was concerned about “being perceived as interfering in the election, trying to tip the scales for Hillary Clinton,” said Mr. Schiff.
“I also think they were concerned about not want to play into the narrative that Donald Trump was telling, that the election was going to be rigged, even though Donald Trump was talking about a completely different kind of rigging than foreign intervention,” Mr. Schiff said.
“But both of those factors did not outweigh in my view, and I argued this at the time, did not outweigh the public’s need to know,” he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended the Obama administration by pointing to the steps taken in December after the election, including shutting down two compounds and throwing out 35 diplomats.
At the same time, he didn’t make excuses for Mr. Obama’s pre-election hesitation.
“Well, what was known back in August and once it was verified and cross-checked should have been made public,” said Mr. Manchin on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It should have been made public, okay? That wasn’t done. I can’t second-guess that.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had little sympathy for the Democrats after months of attacks on President Trump stemming from the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, including unsubstantiated allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia.
“I think the previous administration has a lot of questions to answer given this Russian obsession by everyone,” said Ms. Conway on ABC’s “This Week.”
“But I have no idea why the Obama administration, except that they thought Hillary would win and it didn’t matter, couldn’t take action,” she said. “Why they failed to deliver on such an essential duty, they had the prerogative, the duty, and they failed to act on Russian hacking.”
Mr. Trump also blasted the Obama administration and asked why the Democratic president failed to impose sanctions prior to the election.
“President Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it, but nobody wants to talk about that,” said Mr. Trump in an interview aired Sunday on “Fox & Friends.” “If he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
The president added, “But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”
The back-and-forth followed a Friday report in Washington Post on Mr. Obama’s “secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault”
Mr. Schiff said he and his Senate counterpart, California’s Dianne Feinstein, urged the Obama administration prior to the election to act more forcefully and later called for sanctions against Russia.
He said they took the unprecedented set of issuing a public statement in September “attributing a foreign hack to a foreign party,” using their own intelligence, out of frustration over the lack of action.
“Now we had to vet that with the intelligence community, but we took that step because we weren’t succeeding in getting the administration to do it itself,” Mr. Schiff said.
At the same time, Mr. Schiff said that Mr. Trump was “in no position to complain.”
“I think that was a mistake [by the Obama administration], but I have to contest what President Trump was also saying, because for Donald Trump, who openly egged on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton emails and celebrated every release of these stolen documents to criticize Obama now, is a bit like someone knowingly receiving stolen property blaming the police for not stopping the theft,” he said.