- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

President Trump appeared to concede Monday that Russia tried to help him win the 2016 election, and he blamed former President Barack Obama for not only failing to stop the foreign meddling but for obstructing an investigation into the hacking.

In a series of tweets, Mr. Trump sought to turn the tables on Democrats by accusing Mr. Obama of having “colluded” with Moscow or having “obstructed” the U.S. investigation into Russian interference by failing to retaliate against the Kremlin until after the election. Democrats have been leveling similar charges of collusion and obstruction against Mr. Trump for months.

“The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win ” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good.”

The president was referring to a Washington Post report that said the CIA told Mr. Obama about alleged Russian meddling in the election as early as August 2016, although the Obama administration waited until October to publicly disclose the cyberattacks. The report quoted one former White House official as saying the Obama administration “kind of choked” in its response to Moscow’s attempted sabotage.

Mr. Trump said Monday that Mr. Obama sat on his hands because he “did not want to ‘rock the boat’” on the way to a presumed victory by Mrs. Clinton. And the president reiterated his position that he is the victim of a ‘witch hunt’ in ongoing investigations about possible collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

“The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T[rump] people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”

In those comments, Mr. Trump went further than he has previously in seeming to acknowledge an organized effort by Moscow to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and, consequently, to help get him elected. Later Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer walked back the president’s tweets about Russia to what Mr. Trump had said about the issue five months ago.

“He believes that Russia probably was involved” in interfering with the election, Mr. Spicer told reporters, and that other countries “possibly” were involved as well.

“He stands by the statements that he made in January,” Mr. Spicer said.

Reaction from Team Obama was swift and heated. Former Obama officials accused Mr. Trump of trying to distract the public from Republicans’ “terrible” health-care bill, and argued that Republicans prevented the Obama administration last year from responding more aggressively to Moscow’s interference in the election.

“President Trump — by accusing others of collusion and obstruction, the very crimes for which he’s being investigated by federal authorities — is now resorting to a defense best articulated by Pee-Wee Herman,” said Ned Price, former spokesman of the National Security Council under Mr. Obama. “He’s essentially saying, ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ And he’s resorting to this playground tactic because his own actions are indefensible.”

In response to Russia’s meddling, Mr. Price said, the Obama administration “had one paramount objective: to ensure the integrity of the most sacred element of our democracy, the vote.”

“We did that through a series of private and public warnings to the Russians, actions to sensitize election administration officials in all 50 states, and, of course, warnings to the American public starting a full month before the election about Russia’s meddling,” he said.

He said Obama officials “achieved this outcome without much support from the Republican Congress,” noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky refused in September to sign on to a statement attributing the meddling to the Russians.

Another former Obama White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Obama were “a transparent effort to distract from the terrible impact of their [Obamacare] repeal bill.”

The former Obama aide said Mr. Obama mustered a “robust” response to Moscow’s hacking of Democratic Party emails and other records.

“This situation was taken extremely seriously, as is evident by President Obama raising this issue directly with President Putin; 17 intelligence agencies issuing an extraordinary public statement; our homeland security officials working relentlessly to bolster the cyber defenses of voting infrastructure around the country; the president directing a comprehensive intelligence review, and ultimately issuing a robust response including shutting down two Russian compounds, sanctioning nine Russian entities and individuals, and ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the country,” the official said.

Mr. Obama’s actions to close the Russian compounds, including one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and to eject the diplomats came in late December, after Mrs. Clinton lost the election.

Mr. Spicer said the Obama administration’s actions on Russia raise questions about Mr. Obama’s motives.

“They have been very clear, they’ve been playing this card about blaming Trump and Russia,” Mr. Spicer said. “And yet at the same time, they were the ones who, according to this report, knew about it and didn’t take any action.”

• S.A. Miller and Sally Persons contributed to this report.

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