On Friday the Washington Post published a detailed report on former President Obama’s efforts to retaliate against Russian president Vladimir Putin for hacking the 2016 election and warn the country that the election was vulnerable to such hacking.
The report retells how an envelope was delivered to the White House from the CIA in early August 2016 with special instructions that only the then-president Obama, and three of his top aides be allowed to see it. The report then recounts in detail Obama’s actions before November to safeguard the integrity of the election, and retaliate against Russia while he still sat in the Oval Office.
The report is a long, yet fascinating read which plays out like a tragic play as Obama tried to get as much information as possible about Russia’s actions, and contain the damage already done by bringing in Congress and the states. Yet like many of Obama’s efforts during his presidency, he faced obstacles at every turn. US agencies were hesitant to believe the information because of the source. While Democratic lawmakers wanted to inform the public about the threat, Republicans insisted that doing so would play into Russia’s hands by undermining the people’s trust in the system, and state governments, now largely in Republican hands considered it an attack on states’ rights and/or a political move by the now-former president. Obama was worried about inflaming politics even more by going public but congressional Democrats were willing to take that chance.
I read WaPo’s report with one fact in mind: The Guardian reported that the FBI, CIA and other US agencies were warned by our allies back in 2015 that Russia was trying to meddle in our election. A year before the election. Months before Donald Trump secured the GOP nomination. I’d like to know why it took until August for these agencies to tell the White House. Why the FBI took so long is no secret and hint: it’s the same reason James Comey brought up his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and conveniently forgot to mention his simultaneous investigation into the Trump-Russia connection right before the election. But why did the CIA keep quiet? And if the answer is that no one could fathom Trump being a contender for the White House, then that says it all.
Some will say the tragedy is that Obama tried to protect American democracy but was blocked the same way he was blocked during his presidency. I disagree. The tragedy is that the Russians found a way to hack our election and our government either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it.
Our former president is right, had he warned the public it would’ve been seen as a political move in a polarized election in a highly polarized time in our history. But even if Obama went public the reality is the former president tried to prevent a tragedy that had already happened. The time to stop Trump was before he received the nomination. GOP leaders and voters alike were clamoring at a way to stop him. This might have been it.
Once Ted Cruz (the only other viable candidate in the GOP race) dropped out, Russia’s task was done. The fact that the mainstream media assumed Hillary Clinton would win only aided Russia’s cause because Trump was painted as the underdog. Obama’s caution and determination to adhere to the rules of American democracy is typically admirable of him, yet ultimately conciliatory to Russia. Interestingly, key Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, both from California wanted to go public but Obama refused without bipartisan support.
Obama has always been reluctant to rock the boat–a hallmark of his presidency. But if he was trying not to make the situation worse by undermining public trust in the system, it was already done and one could argue he exacerbated it by not going public, in turn forcing the information to come out like this–peace mail when we should’ve been told the whole story months, if not 2 years ago.
Obama’s inaction, Comey, the DNC, state governments, GOP lawmakers, FBI/CIA//NSA, all share the blame for the situation the United States now finds itself in–a politically volatile country with a vulnerable election system, led by a narcissistic president propped by a divided Congress consumed by partisan and personal interests.