Barack Obama said he was not surprised by the CIA report concluding Russian hackers tried to intervene in the presidential election to boost up Donald Trump.
“None of this should be a big surprise,” the president said to Trevor Noah on Monday’s episode of The Daily Show. “This was reported on before the election. I don’t think there was any doubt among anybody in the media or among members of Congress as to who was being advantaged or disadvantaged by the political gossip that was being put out in drip-drip-drip fashion leading up to the election.”
Last week, the Washington Post reported the CIA had found in a “secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.” The publication added, “Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.”
Trump’s transition team blasted the report, saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'” (Trump’s electoral college victory ranked 46th out of 58 total presidential elections; he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.7 million votes.)
In the wake of the Washington Post report, however, Obama called for a review of the interference to be completed before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. “Keep in mind that when the DNC got hacked, we immediately assigned our intelligence community — our law enforcement — to investigate what had happened,” Obama told Noah. “And we determined and announced in October that it was the consensus of all the intelligence agencies in law enforcement that organizations affiliated with Russian intelligence were responsible for the hacking of the DNC materials that were being leaked. So that was a month before the election. This was not a secret.”
Obama added, “The reason I have called for a review is really to just gather all the threads of the investigations, the intelligence work, that has been done over many months so that the public and our elected representatives, going forward, can find ways to prevent this kind of interference from having an impact on the elections in the future.”
As for the possibility of Russian interference in the election, Obama said it was nothing new — and noted how he hoped the hack would lead to some introspection for all Americans.
“Russia trying to influence our elections dates back to the Soviet Union. What they did here — hacking some emails and releasing them — is not a particularly fancy brand of espionage or propaganda,” Obama said. “We were frankly more concerned in the run-up to the election to the possibilities of vote tampering, which we did not see evidence of and we’re confident we can guard against. But Trevor, I think what everybody has to reflect on is what is it about our political eco-system, what is it about the state of our democracy where the leaks of what were frankly not-very-interesting emails that didn’t have any explosive information in them, ended up being an obsession. And the fact that the Russians were doing this was not an obsession.”
While Obama didn’t mention Trump by name during the discussion of the Russian hack, he did note the president-elect welcomed Russian interference during the campaign. Back in July, during Trump’s last press conference to date, the former reality television host said, “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” (Trump later claimed he was being “sarcastic.”)
“This was not a secret running up to the election! The president-elect, in some of his political events, specifically said to the Russians, ‘Hack Hillary’s emails so that we can finally find out what’s going on, and confirm our conspiracy theories,'” Obama said, also citing former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Russian relationships.
But, the president added, “The real question that I think we all have to reflect on is this: What’s happened to our political system where some emails that were hacked and released ended up being the overwhelming story, and the constant source of coverage, breathless coverage that was depicted as somehow damning in all sorts of ways, when the truth of the matter was it was fairly routine stuff? And the reason I saw that is, going forward, I worry that we don’t spend enough time on self-reflection about how our democracy’s working, how our campaign’s working, and how all of us have to do a better job at talking about what’s at stake. These emails got a lot more attention than any policy that was being debated during the campaign.”