Almost a month ago, the Washington Post published a story detailing how President Obama responded to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. Contrary to what they reported, Trump and Republicans seized on that report to claim that the former president did nothing because he thought Clinton was going to win.
As I wrote at the time, too many people pulled headlines out of that report and ignored some of the details. For example, the Obama administration waited until intelligence reports were verified to make a public announcement about Russia’s activities. When that was released on October 7th, it was completely overshadowed by the release of the Access Hollywood tape.
Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, has now written an article in the Washington Post summarizing the administration’s response. Here are the steps he identified:
- “last summer, as national security professionals in the government grew increasingly concerned about Russian intentions to interfere in our election.”
- “Obama directed his staff to brief appropriate members of Congress, prepare possible responses, assess the vulnerabilities of the electoral infrastructure, and help state and local election authorities secure their networks.”
- On September 29th sent a joint bipartisan letter to the states from the administration as well as House and Senate majority and minority leaders warning about their concerns.
- “we were simultaneously conducting urgent diplomatic efforts to make sure that the Russians understood that we knew what they were up to, that it would not be allowed to succeed and that it needed to stop. On Sept. 5, Obama delivered this message to President Vladimir Putin with stark clarity about the consequences if the Russians continued their efforts.”
- “On Oct. 7, as part of a painstaking intelligence, homeland security and diplomatic effort to safeguard the integrity of our election infrastructure and the sanctity of each American’s vote, the homeland security secretary and director of national intelligence released an unprecedented joint statement about an unprecedented development.”
- “Because we assumed that Russia might have ambitions to interfere in elections in other democracies, as it appears to have tried to do in France, we set out to capture and make public as much as possible the evidence of what Russia had done.”
- Imposed individual and economic penalties on Russia in December.
Much has been made of the fact that the Obama administration was reluctant to allow this information to be spun as a partisan effort during the campaign. On that topic, McDonough writes this:
During this period we took extraordinary steps to avoid letting our legitimate concern about Russian interference be characterized as partisan…We did this not just because it was the right thing to do in the heat of a campaign, but also because we were extremely concerned that the perception of partisan motives would undermine Americans’ confidence in the vote and make state authorities more reluctant to cooperate.
I would propose that, while Obama hasn’t spoken directly about his thoughts and actions during this time, his chief of staff has captured what was on the president’s mind at the time and identified the actions he took as a result. Whether or not anyone agrees with the choices made at the time, this is a far cry from the idea that “Obama did nothing.” That’s why it is important to call out that lie when it is used by Trump and Republicans.