Obama Warns Russia Will Face Consequences for Election Hacking

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama said Friday he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in September that Russia would face “serious consequences” if it continued trying to influence the U.S. election.

Speaking to reporters at an end of year press briefing, Obama defended his response to revelations that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails in an attempt to influence the election.

Obama said his main goal upon learning of the hacks was to make sure the Russians were not able to continue their attacks in a way that would have compromised vote counts in the election.

“In early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn’t,” Obama said at a press briefing Friday.

The longest press conference Obama has held to date, Friday’s briefing comes as President-elect Donald Trump has not held a press conference since July. Ironically, Trump called on Russia in that press conference to hack Clinton’s emails.

Ignoring the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump has insisted in recent weeks that there is no evidence the hacks came from Russia. Trump was supposed to hold his first press conference since the election this week – promising to explain how he will avoid a conflict of interest by letting his children run his business empire – but canceled it without explanation.

Obama’s conference Friday came shortly after the Washington Post and other outlets reported the FBI had joined the CIA in concluding that Russia had conducted hacks not just to reduce public confidence in American elections but in an effort to help Trump win.

The president said he had been hesitant in September to make any allegations that would have called into question the integrity of the election, given that Trump was already complaining at the time that the contest was “rigged.”

Though Obama promised that the United States would respond to Russia in a “thoughtful, methodical way,” he said it would not necessarily all happen openly in a way most people are able to see. Obama noted the United States has already taken punitive measures, such as putting in place sanctions, against Russia for other missteps.

“Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia, or others, not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you,” Obama said.

The first question from reporters at Obama’s year-end press conference concerned the Russian hacking and garnered a lengthy, detailed response from the president. He outlined the thinking behind how the White House investigated the hacks as well as the reasons behind releasing the findings from the intelligence agencies.

Obama emphasized that any conclusion from the White House during the election was likely to be brushed off as a partisan attack on Trump’s legitimacy, a claim that has been borne out in recent weeks.

Obama stopped short of saying the Russian hacking directly caused Clinton’s loss, instead laying blame partially at the feet of a frenzied press that reported on the steady drip of salacious emails and other small details. He said Clinton was not “treated fairly” during the election, calling the coverage of her “troubling.”

“I do think it’s worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks,” Obama said. “What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations.”