Barack Obama
Credit: Pete Souza/Flickr

Charles Krauthammer is one of those conservatives who believes that Russia was the source of hacking organizations and individuals during the 2016 election. But it is interesting to watch him twist and turn in an attempt to find a way to blame President Obama.

In referring to the Obama administration’s sanctions and expulsion of Russian spies last week, Krauthammer says:

They learned about the hacking 18 months before today. They do nothing at a time when it would actually have an effect. And all of a sudden with a month to go, he decides to do this…There’s no better way left for Obama to undermine the legitimacy of Trump than to apply…to imply that Trump won because of this. That’s what all of this is about and that’s why I think that Trump is right in protesting this.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, that same argument was thrown out as a possible explanation by Matt Taibbi.

The outgoing Democrats could just be using an over-interpreted intelligence “assessment” to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration and force Trump into an embarrassing political situation…

Since these kinds of arguments ignore the actual historical record of the last few months, perhaps it is important to review what happened in order to get this story right.

On October 7th (a month before the election), the Obama administration released a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on election security.

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

While they didn’t specifically name the hacking of the DNC or John Podesta’s personal email, it was clear that this is what they were referring to. That statement was released AFTER a briefing of Congressional leaders in September that was leaked to the Washington Post and resulted in a story on December 9th (a month after the election).

As the Washington Post story revealed, unlike FBI Director Comey, members of the Obama administration were reluctant to go public about the specifics due to the potential appearance of an attempt to influence the election.

Instead, officials devised a plan to seek bipartisan support from top lawmakers and set up a secret meeting with the Gang of 12 — a group that includes House and Senate leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security.

Obama dispatched Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to make the pitch for a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against Russian interference in the election, according to a senior administration official.

As has been the case for the last 8 years, Republicans refused to participate in anything bipartisan – even concerns about election interference.

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

Following that threat from McConnell to accuse the administration of partisan politics if they went public, DHS and ODNI released the statement above on October 7th. After the election concluded, President Obama promised a thorough review of what happened and made portions of the U.S. response to Russia public.

The arguments about this from both Krauthammer and Taibbi are examples of the kind of thing we’ve seen pretty regularly over these last eight years…pick and chose the information to share that supports the critique you want to concoct. An actual review of all the facts could very well lead one to suggest that the Obama administration was too timid prior to the election in sounding the alarm. But they knew that in the lead-up to the election, avoiding charges of partisanship would require a bipartisan response – which Republicans refused to provide.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.