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Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump finally acknowledges Russian meddling in presidential election – but blames Barack Obama

A report in The Washington Post claims the CIA had top-level intelligence last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help Donald Trump win the US presidential race

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 9:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 10:11pm

US President Donald Trump has finally acknowledged Russian interference in last year’s presidential election – but immediately blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not taking action.

“Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?” Trump posted on Twitter.

In an interview with Fox News programme Fox and Friends that will air on Sunday, Trump complained that Obama’s response did not get more media coverage.

“The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even – before the election. And I hardly see it. It’s an amazing thing,” Trump said in an excerpt released by the programme on Friday.

“If he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”

The FBI and several congressional committees are running multipronged investigations of possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia and potential obstruction of justice by Trump. The president has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt” and a “phoney story”.

Trump’s latest remarks appeared to be a response to a story in The Washington Post claiming the CIA had top-level intelligence last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help Trump win the US presidential race.

The intelligence shocked the Obama White House and put US security chiefs on a top-secret crisis footing to figure out how to react.

The CIA gave [Obama] information on Russia a long time before they even – before the election. And I hardly see it. It’s an amazing thing
U.S. President Donald Trump

But due to its confidence that Democrat Hillary Clinton still had the election in the bag and worries over president Obama himself being seen as manipulating the election, the administration delivered warnings to Moscow but left countermeasures until after the vote, The Washington Post reported.

After Trump’s shock victory, there was regret among administration officials that they had shied from tough action.

“From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this’,” a former administration official told the newspaper.

The Post said that as soon as the intelligence on Putin came in, the White House viewed it as a deep national security threat. A secret intelligence task force was created to firm up the information and come up with possible responses.

They couldn’t do anything about embarrassing WikiLeaks revelations from hacked Clinton emails. The focus turned to whether Moscow could disrupt the November 8 vote itself by hacking voter registration lists or voting machines, undermining confidence in the vote tally itself.

Worried about making the situation worse, the administration put off retaliating, and instead delivered stiff warnings directly to the Russians not to go farther.

At least four direct warnings – Obama to Putin, spy chief to spy chief, and via top diplomatic channels – appeared to have an impact, officials told the Post. They believe that Moscow pulled back on any possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a senior administration official told the Post.

Options to retaliate were on the table early: more crippling sanctions on the Russian economy, leaking information that would embarrass Putin diplomatically, and launching cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure were high on the list. But Trump’s shock victory dampened the response.

Obama took modest measures at the end of December, expelling 35 Russians and adding to existing sanctions. He also, according to the Post, authorised a plan to place cyberattack implants in the systems of critical Russian infrastructure.

But it remains unclear, the Post said, whether Trump has followed through with that.

Trump admits he has no tapes of conversations with former FBI chief Comey

Meanwhile, Trump’s aides were forced to confirm the president has no intention of firing the special counsel investigating the charges of Russian meddling in the election, after Trump questioned the official’s impartiality in a separate Fox News.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that while Trump “retains the authority” to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, “he has no intention of doing that”.

Trump voiced concern on Friday about what he said was the close relationship between former FBI director James Comey and Mueller, who was named to take over the Russia investigation after Trump fired Comey.

“He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is bothersome,” Trump told Fox News. “Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.”