During a news conference last December, President Obama claimed that Russian interference in the 2016 election ended after he told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “cut it out” in early September. In Obama’s telling, he warned Putin of “serious consequences” if Russian interference continued. As a result the interference ceased.
Here is what Obama told the American public:
What I was concerned about in particular was making sure [the DNC hack] wasn’t compounded by potential hacking that could hamper vote counting, affect the actual election process itself. So 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 serious consequences if he didn’t.
And in fact we did not see further tampering of the election process. But the leaks through WikiLeaks had already occurred.
However, Peter Hasson of the Daily Caller points out that Obama’s self-serving claim is contradicted by leaked documents. These documents indicate that Russia attempted to interfere in the election just days before it occurred: Hasson writes:
NSA documents published by The Intercept on Monday revealed that as late as October 31 or November 1, hackers launched an election-related spearfishing operation “targeting U.S. local government organizations.”
In other words, Russia was still tampering with the American electoral process after Obama said they ceased doing so. The documents’ authenticity has been confirmed by U.S. officials, and the U.S. Department of Justice charged on Monday the woman who leaked the Top Secret documents to The Intercept.
“The NSA assessed that this phase of the spear-fishing operation was likely launched on either October 31 or November 1 and sent spear-fishing emails to 122 email addresses ‘associated with named local government organizations,’ probably to officials ‘involved in the management of voter registration systems,’” The Intercept reported.
And that’s not all:
The leaked documents reveal that two other election-related hacking efforts were launched in October — one month after Putin supposedly “cut it out.”
There’s no reason to believe that the Russian efforts to “hack” the voting process succeeded. But it’s noteworthy that Russia went after the exact target — “actual election process itself — that Obama says he was determined to stopping them, and did stop them, from targeting.
It was always difficult to believe that Putin would take seriously a directive by Obama to “cut it out” (“it” being anything Putin wanted to do). As I reported in 2009, the Russians concluded, based on what they witnessed during Obama’s visit to Moscow, that the president was a lightweight. As one source told me, they felt they could “steal his pants.”
Obama repeatedly confirmed this assessment. He did so most egregiously when he turned to Russia to bail him out after Assad crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons on civilians. But this wasn’t the only example.
Obama’s assertion that he caused Putin to back away from interfering in the 2016 election is best viewed as an attempt to reclaim his trousers, or at least to substitute a fig leaf. But now we know that Obama’s assertion was false.