In an interview with National Public Radio on Thursday, President Obama promised that the United States would retaliate for what intelligence officials describe as a Russia-backed computer hacking operation that caused turmoil during the presidential election. On Friday morning, the Kremlin fired back, telling Obama to show proof of Russian involvement or stop talking about it.
Speaking in Tokyo, where Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting with Japanese leaders, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pushed back against what Russian state-run media was calling “very indecent” and “groundless” accusations.
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“They should either stop talking about that or produce some proof at last. Otherwise it all begins to look unseemly,” Peskov said. His comments came less than a day after U.S. intelligence officials told CNN that Russian attempts to hack into of American political and policy organizations has continued without a break since the election.
Obama’s NPR interview left no question about his intent to retaliate. “I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections ... we need to take action. And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.”
Obama told interviewer Steve Inskeep that there are still multiple assessments of the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and prominent Democrats under way, and said that he would wait until he had the final report to decide on a course of action.
However, he said that he believes it was clear that the Russian efforts, whether intended or not, harmed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helped President-elect Donald Trump.
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“[W]hen 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.”
“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.”
Obama also said that he was surprised by the evident change in heart many Republicans have had about Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Not long ago, many in the GOP were attacking him for not being “tough enough” on Russia, Obama said. Now, Republican complaints about domestic intelligence agencies “makes it appear, at least, that their particular position on Russia on any given day depends on what’s politically expedient.”
He said, “This is somebody, the former head of the KGB, who is responsible for crushing democracy in Russia, muzzling the press, throwing political dissidents in jail, countering American efforts to expand freedom at every turn; is currently making decisions that [are] leading to a slaughter in Syria. And a big hunk of the Republican Party, which prided itself during the Reagan era and for decades that followed as being the bulwark against Russian influence, now suddenly is embracing him.”
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Trump and his surrogates have fought back against claims that Russia somehow helped Trump get elected -- and that Trump was aware that the leaks were helping him. They have characterized the claims as an attempt to “delegitimize” Trump’s election, and Trump continues to say he doesn’t believe Russia was involved.
On Friday, former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway suggested that if top Democrats truly love the United States, they would “shut down” the discussion of Russia’s involvement. Her target, in particular, was White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, whose criticism of Trump’s refusal to accept the intelligence community’s findings has been harsh.
Conway said, “If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have this peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions, one’s named Obama, one’s named Hillary Clinton, since his people are trying to fight over her election still, they can shut this down.”