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Obama Defends Response To Russian Hacking Of Democratic Party


President Obama is defending his administration's response to Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. In a press conference today, Obama said his primary concern in the lead-up to the election was ensuring that voting systems weren't hacked as well. He said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin in September when they were both in China to, quote, "cut it out." Here's how he described what the consequences might be for Russia.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you. But it is also important for us to do that in a thoughtful, methodical way. Some of it we do publicly. Some of it we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will.

CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now in the studio.

Welcome, Tamara.


CORNISH: And we've been hearing about the latest, the CIA's assessment that Putin directed Russian meddling in the election to help Donald Trump win. What did President Obama have to say about that today?

KEITH: The CIA's assessment remains classified. And the president didn't go so far as to publicly reveal its contents. But he did say that the hacking was directed by the highest levels of the Russian government and that not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin signing off. But, you know, a couple of times he came back to another idea - that the U.S. could be more vulnerable now to foreign interference because of the state of our politics, the heightened partisanship.


OBAMA: Our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is.

KEITH: It is pretty remarkable that is the same man who 12 years ago was talking about there being no red states and no blue states, just the United States of America.

CORNISH: Now this was a wide-ranging press conference. And President Obama was asked about the situation in Syria and whether he feels responsible in any way for the bloodshed that we're currently seeing in Aleppo. What did he have to say about that?

KEITH: Well, he said that he does feel responsible - that he also feels responsible for a lot of things. And he defended his decision not to get the United States more involved in the Syrian civil war, casting blame on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Russia and Iran and insisting that there really was no better option.


OBAMA: I understand the impulse to want to do something. But ultimately, what I've had to do is to think about - what can we sustain? What is realistic? And my first priority has to be, what's the right thing to do for America?

KEITH: He said he tried dealing with it with diplomatic and political means. But he said he couldn't say that he's been successful, and that that's something he has to go to bed with every night.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, the president was also asked repeatedly about the president-elect - his tweeting, his friendliness towards Russia. Did Obama go there?

KEITH: He said that he's been talking to President-elect Trump and that those conversations have been cordial. He really didn't go there in criticizing the president-elect in any way but said that he may have more of a transition mindset right now and that once you're in the Oval Office, the weight of the office really hits you.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.