Obama urges Trump to take Russian hacking seriously
FBI announces it backs CIA's conclusion that Russia influenced U.S. election to help Trump
U.S. President Barack Obama suggested on Friday that Russia's Vladimir Putin knew about the email hackings that roiled the U.S. presidential race, and he urged his successor, Republican Donald Trump, to back a bipartisan investigation into the matter.
"Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin," Obama said at his last year-end news conference.
The president said he had warned Putin there would be serious consequences if he did not "cut it out," though Obama did not specify the extent or timing of any U.S. retaliation for the hacking, which many Democrats believe contributed to Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton.
Obama also expressed bewilderment over Republican lawmakers and voters alike who now say they approve of Putin, declaring, "Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave."
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The comments come the same day the FBI confirmed that Russia interfered in the presidential election with the goal of supporting the president-elect.
Trump has dismissed recent talk about hacking and the election as "ridiculous."
Clinton has even more directly cited Russian interference with the U.S. election. She said Thursday night, "Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me."
Obama did not publicly support that theory Friday. He did, however, chide the media for what he called an "obsession" with the flood of hacked Democratic emails that were made public during the election's final stretch.
U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump have heightened the already tense relationship between Washington and Moscow.
Obama on Trump: 'He has listened'
The president is ending his eighth year in office with his own popularity on the rise, though Trump's election is expected to unwind many of Obama's policies. He's leaving his successor a stronger economy than he inherited, but also the intractable conflict in Syria and troubling issue of whether Russia was meddling in the U.S. election to back Trump.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded with "high confidence" that Russia interfered in the election on Trump's behalf. The president-elect has disputed that conclusion, setting up a potential confrontation with lawmakers in both parties.
The president rejected any notion that the dispute over the origin of the hacking was disrupting efforts to smoothly transfer power to Trump. Despite fiercely criticizing each other during the election, Obama and Trump have spoken multiple times since the campaign ended.
"He has listened," Obama said of Trump. "I can't say he will end up implementing. But the conversations themselves have been cordial."
The president did weigh in on Trump's decision to speak with the leader of Taiwan, a phone call that broke decades of U.S. diplomatic protocol. Obama advised Trump to "think it through" before making changes to the "one-China" policy.
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Trump has openly questioned why the U.S. upholds that policy, particularly given that Washington has other contacts with Taiwan. Offering his own take, Obama noted that Taiwan is of utmost importance to the Chinese and Beijing could have a significant response to any change in U.S. policy.
Democratic Party woes
Trump's election has upended the Democratic Party, which expected to not only win the White House but also carry the Senate. Instead, the party finds itself out of power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
In a moment of self-reflection, Obama acknowledged that he had not been able to transfer his own popularity and electoral success to others in his party.
"It is not something that I've been able to transfer to candidates in midterms or build a sustaining organization around," Obama said. "That's something I would have liked to have done more of, but it's kind of hard to do when you're dealing with a whole bunch of issues here in the White House."
As he leaves office, the president has said shaping the future of the Democratic Party now falls to others. He all but endorsed his Labour Secretary Tom Perez to head the Democratic National Committee, lavishing praise on his cabinet aide.