President Obama sent a warning to Russia and any other countries looking to engage in cyberattacks against the U.S. during his final press conference from of 2016 on Friday.
“Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not do this to us because we can do stuff to you,” he said from the podium in the White House Press Briefing room.
The president also defended the White House’s response to the Russian hacking during the 2016 election, saying he did so to protect the integrity of the election. “I wanted to make sure that every body understood that we were playing this thing straight,” Obama said. “Imagine if we had done the opposite. It would have immediately become one more political scrum.”
He added: “When I look back in terms of how we handled it. I think we handled it the way it should have been handled,” he said. In part, the president blamed the media for jumping on the news of the leaks, saying that soul-searching needed to be done all around. “This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage,” he said.
In an interview with NPR on Thursday, President Obama said he had already spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the incidents of hacking, adding that the U.S. must take action if and when foreign governments interfere with the democratic process in America. “Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it,” he said.
Shortly before the press conference, the Washington Post reported that there is “strong consensus” among the CIA, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence that Russians interfered in the U.S. presidential election in part effort to help President-elect Donald Trump. There had been suggestions that all three did not agree with that assessment. Trump has rejected the intelligence community’s assessment, saying that it could be any number of actors including hackers in New Jersey in repeated interviews. On Friday, Obama denied that there was any “squabbling” between the two camps as a consequence of Trump’s stance.”There hasn’t been a lot of squabbling,” he said. “What we’ve said are the facts.”
“They would be the first to acknowledge that we have done everything we can to make sure they are successful,” Obama said of the Trump team, adding that “cooperation will continue.”
President Obama said the issue of Russian hacking the election should not be partisan, adding that he hopes the ” president elect is going to similarly be concerned that we won’t have potential foreign influence in our election process” going forward.
President Obama spoke during his last press conference at the White House in 2016. Later on Friday, he and the first family will travel to Hawaii for their annual Christmas vacation. President Obama noted that the end of the year press conference usually gives him an opportunity to review the progress the U.S. has made over the past year, but on Friday the president went through the progress he’s said the country has made throughout his two terms in office, noting the unemployment rate, wage growth, and the fact that more than 20 million people have gained insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
“By so many measures our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when I took office,” Obama said, adding that he’ll continue to work on addressing the ongoing issues including poverty and gun violence when he leaves office.
The president also noted that there are ongoing issues including the ongoing crisis in Aleppo. The president called the Syrian civil war one of the “hardest issues that I’ve faced as president,” and said the world is “united in horror” about what’s going on there. He called for a united, international humanitarian response and a cease-fire. “The Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy,” Obama said.