The U.S. will “take action” against Russia for alleged cyberattacks on Democratic officials, President Obama warned Thursday, hours after his spokesman claimed that President-elect Donald Trump “obviously knew” about the breaches and leaks that critics say propelled him to victory in last month’s election.
The tough talk from Obama came in an interview scheduled to air on National Public Radio Friday. It followed complaints of Republican lawmakers that federal authorities refuse to brief them on investigations into Russia’s role in leaking tensof thousands of damaging emails from top Clinton campaign officials.
“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections … we need to take action,” Obama said. “And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.”
Earlier Thursday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during the daily White House briefing that “Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity that was helping him, [and] hurting [Democrat Hillary] Clinton … “These are all facts that are not in dispute.”
Earnest pointed out that Trump had encouraged Moscow during a news conference to find missing emails from Clinton’s private server. Trump has said he was joking.
“I don’t think anybody at the White House thinks it’s funny that an adversary of the United States engaged in malicious cyber activity to destabilize our democracy,” Earnest said. “That’s not a joke.”
Earnest, without mentioning Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, also said “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” repeating the words from an October U.S. intelligence assessment.
Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, connected the dots further, saying it was Putin who was responsible for the Russian government’s actions.
“I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” Rhodes said on MSNBC.
Trump fired back Thursday evening, calling Earnest “foolish” during a “Thank You” rally in Hershey, Pa.