Trump Blames Obama For Not Doing Enough On Russia Election Meddling
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump unleashed a Twitter storm over the weekend focusing on whether the Obama administration could have done more about Russian election meddling. Trump, for one thing, tweeted, quote, "the Obama administration knew far in advance of November 8 about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. Why?", end quote.
Some Democrats appear to agree. California Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, was on CNN yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ADAM SCHIFF: I think the Obama administration should have done a lot more when it became clear that not only was Russia intervening, but it was being directed at the highest levels of the Kremlin.
GREENE: Now let's talk about this with Ned Price. He spent more than a decade in the CIA and also worked as a spokesman and senior director on President Obama's National Security Council. Welcome to the program.
NED PRICE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Do Congressman Schiff and President Trump have a point here?
PRICE: (Laughter) David, I would certainly dispute that. And let me just say, it is the height of irony, the absolute height of irony, that President Trump is now accusing the Obama administration of purportedly failing to do more vis-a-vis this Russian meddling.
First, it's flat-out false, and I'm happy to talk about all that we did in the face of this. But it's also rich that President Trump is now critiquing us for a purported failure to respond to something he has routinely called a hoax, fake news, a witch-hunt. He can't have it both ways. Either...
PRICE: Go ahead.
GREENE: No, and we should say it's been noted that President Trump - I mean, some have interpreted this as, for the first time, acknowledging definitively that Russia did meddle. But we should also say this comes out of some pretty extensive reporting from The Washington Post in terms of the decisions that President Obama made or didn't make about how to punish Russia.
So I would like to hear you talk about that. I mean, why do you feel that President Obama did everything he could? Because there were some doubts raised in that reporting and by people like Adam Schiff now.
PRICE: Well, David, let me just remind you that throughout this, we had one paramount objective, and that was to ensure the integrity of the most sacred element of our democracy, and that is the voting process. As we noted at the time, and as, frankly, this administration has reaffirmed, we've seen no evidence that the Russians were able to tamper with the votes. And so clearly, that is what we set out to achieve, and we did that.
Let me just remind you of the actions we took. We did that through a series of private and public warnings to the Russians, statements to sensitize state secretaries of state throughout all 50 states to the threat and, of course, warnings to the American public. We started these series of warnings in August. It was, as Director Brennan testified before Congress a few weeks ago - it was Director Brennan who, in early August, issued a warning to his counterpart, Bortnikov, the director of the Russian security service in Moscow.
But we continued that through warnings directly from President Obama to President Putin. There was a letter passed from President Obama to President Putin subsequent to that...
GREENE: So a lot of warnings, but let me just follow up if I can. I mean, you said that the paramount objective was to make sure that there wasn't actual vote tampering. Are you saying that President Obama was concerned that if he did too much to react that he might cause Russia to escalate and actually tamper?
PRICE: Well, what is true, David, is that we didn't want to do Russia's work for them. And unfortunately, we had a presidential candidate, one of the two party nominees, who essentially fell into the trap that Moscow laid out for us. President Trump, by speaking openly of potentially contesting the election results, calling the election process rigged, he actually did just - he fell into this trap, and he sowed the same doubts that the Russians were trying to engender within our country. And so certainly, we didn't want to do anything that would further undermine confidence in our election.
And I think it is true that we wanted to tread carefully so as not to be considered partisan. Can you imagine how President Trump would have responded if we had come out, the administration, just a Democratic White House, saying that the Russians were interfering to elect President Trump? The...
GREENE: But what would you say to critics who say this was, I mean, such an assault on U.S. democracy that, you know, President Obama might have put those concerns about what it would look like aside and done more? What's your response to that?
PRICE: Well, look, again, let me make the point that we did - we issued numerous warnings. We warned the Russians, and they did not, in fact, tamper with the election. We sensitized the Americans to this a full month before the vote took place. On October 7, the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued an extraordinary, unprecedented attribution statement pinning this on Moscow, and the private warnings continued from there.
PRICE: So it's certainly not the case that the Americans weren't sensitized to this.
PRICE: We did all we could in very public fashion to ensure that the Americans knew the magnitude and the scope of the threat we faced from...
PRICE: ...Moscow's meddling.
GREENE: We'll have to leave it there. Ned Price, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
PRICE: Thank you.
GREENE: He served on the National Security Council under President Obama and also spent more than a decade in the CIA.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.