Major US intelligence leaders have expressed support for an assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that Russia intervened in the 8 November election to help Donald Trump win the White House, the media reported on Saturday.
CIA Director John Brennan said he met Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) James Comey and Director of the National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper earlier this week, and "there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election".
"The three of us agree that our organisations, along with others, need to focus on completing the thorough review of the issue directed by President Barack Obama and which is being led by the DNI," Xinhua news agency quoted Brennan as saying. However, the US intelligence community did not think Russia had a "single purpose" for doing so.
Earlier this month, concerned over alleged Russian cyberattacks, Obama ordered a full review of the Russian hacking before he leaves the office, expecting it would provide "a comprehensive and best guess as to those motivations".
Obama told reporters that there was no difference in view that Russia was behind the cyber hacking. "There hasn't been a lot of squabbling. What we've simply said is the facts, which are that based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC and that as a consequence, it is important for us to review all elements of that and make sure that we are preventing that kind of interference through cyber attacks in the future. That should be a bipartisan issue, that shouldn't be a partisan issue," Obama said.
"Part of the challenge is that it gets caught up in the carryover from election season. And I think it is very important for us to distinguish between the politics of the election and the need for us as a country, both from a national security perspective but also in terms of the integrity of our election system and our democracy to make sure that we don't create a political football here," he said.
"Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin," Business Insider quoted the president as saying. "This is pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there's not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States."
"The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us," he said. "They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are."
He also chided Republicans who support Putin.
The outgoing US President hoped that his successor Donald Trump will show equal concern to ensure that the American election process is not under a potential "foreign influence". "My hope is that the president-elect is going to similarly be concerned with making sure that we don't have a potential foreign influence in our election process. I don't think any American wants that. And that shouldn't be a source of an argument," Obama told reporters on Friday.
"I've said this before. I think there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office. I haven't shared previously private conversations I've had with the President-elect. I will say that they have been cordial and in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that regardless of our obvious deep disagreements about policy, maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office, our various democratic institutions, and he has listened. I can't say that he will end up implementing, but the conversations themselves have been cordial as opposed to defensive in any way. And I will always make myself available to him just as previous presidents have made themselves available to me as issues come up. Between now and then, these are decisions that I have to make based on the consultations that I have with our military and the people who have been working this every single day," he said.
Obama said Trump is still in transition mode from campaign to governance.
"I think he hasn't gotten his whole team together yet. He still has campaign spokespersons sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows. And there is just a whole different attitude and vibe when you're not in power as when you are in power. So rather than me sort of characterise the appropriateness or inappropriateness of what he is doing at the moment, I think what we have to see is how will the President-elect operate and how will his team operate when they've been fully briefed on all these issues. They have their hands on all the levers of government. They have got to start making decisions," he asserted.
"The more this can be non-partisan, the better served the American people are going to be, which is why I made the point earlier and I'm going to keep on repeating this point, our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is. That's the thing that makes us vulnerable. If fake news that's being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan news venues, then it's not surprising that that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect. It doesn't seem that far-fetched compared to some of the other stuff that folks are hearing from domestic propagandists. If we want to really reduce foreign influence on our elections, then we had (to) better think about how to make sure that our political process, our political dialogue is stronger than it has been," Obama said.
Watch the outgoing president's full speech here:
However, Trump has consistently dismissed the CIA findings about the Russian hacking, describing them "ridiculous" and hinting the White House only bothered to look into the matter now that he has won the presidency. White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday said the President had known about the hacking prior to the election, but refrained from acting on it to avoid being seen as meddling in the election.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that hacker groups linked to the Russian government have been actively trying to obtain information from the Democratic National Committee of the US since last year.
Trump's rant came as a deep rift between Trump and the establishment widened regarding their stance on Russia. Trump, on Tuesday, nominated Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, who is known to have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as his Secretary of State. The nomination faces potential hurdles in Congress, with members of Republican Party threatening to vote against it.
At a news conference during the presidential campaign in July, Trump encouraged Russia to hack his rival Democrat Hillary Clinton's email system and reveal the contents.
"I will tell you this, Russia: if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," said Trump, referring to half of the emails deleted from Clinton's private email server as she claimed they merely contained personal information. The Trump team later characterised that remark as a joke.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 11:27:23 IST