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Obama Chief of Staff Goes Wobbly On Admin's 2016 Response To Russia

Mike Reed - March 4, 2018

Former Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough didn’t have any good answers for Chuck Todd this morning about the Obama admin’s weak response to Russia meddling in 2016. 

McDonough:

  • Didn’t directly address whether he agreed the Obama admin “choked” in its response.
  • Couldn’t defend President Obama’s laughable “cut it out” conversation with Putin in September 2016.
  • Had a weak answer for why President Obama wasn’t more forward leaning on the issue.
  • Refused to agree with the narrative that the Russians were solely trying to help the Trump campaign as opposed to creating general chaos/discord in our system.

See below for a portion of Mr. McDonough’s very wobbly answers this morning.

Obama COS McDonough Unable To Directly Answer If Obama Admin “Choked” On Russia

CHUCK TODD: But President Trump is trying to turn the tables on the Obama Administration, tweeting two weeks ago, “Obama was president, knew of the threat and did nothing.” In fact even members of the Obama Administration have conceded they could have done more. In June "The Washington Post" ran this quote from a senior administration official; “it is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked.” Denis McDonough was president Obama's Chief of Staff for his entire second term and he joins me now. Mr. McDonough, welcome back to "Meet the Press."

TODD: Ok Let's start with the choke comment. Looking back, did you choke?

MCDONOUGH: Look, we during the course of 2016 became alarmed about what we were seeing and became, it became very clear to us what the Russians' intentions were. So we took a series of pain-staking steps, including the President directly confronting President Putin, us going to congress to press them to work with us to make sure that the states were doing everything they could to protect the sanctity of every Americans' vote and ultimately releasing a very powerful statement from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence calling attention to this threat. So we did exactly what we think we needed to do. And in fact that discussion between President Obama and President Putin, we believe, was very impactful on the Russian actions. Some of the things that we feared they may do, they did not do.                                                                                                                                        

TODD: Let me play for you what president Obama said about, talking about what you just said, this was in December he was recounting his conversation with Putin in September. Here it is.

BARACK OBAMA (CLIP): I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out. And in fact we did not see further tampering of the election process.

TODD: Based on the Mueller indictment of the Internet Research Agency, we now know that that is not true. We know the troll farms were working, particularly there are specific references to October 16th in 2016, November 3rd, at the time the troll farms in Russia were pushing and encouraged U.S. minority groups not to vote, things like that. Were these things you missed? You didn't know they were doing this at the time? Was his comment just about the election systems?

MCDONOUGH: I think it is very important to recognize that there's two issues here, Chuck. One is the sanctity of the vote, the voter roll, the individual going into that ballot box and casting a vote and making sure that that vote is counted. We stand by our position that the things we feared they may do in that spot, they did not.

TODD: I want to know, though, why did Director of National Intelligence Clapper and Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, go out by themselves…

MCDONOUGH: For two reasons.

TODD: Why wasn't it the President flanked by his director of National Intelligence? That would have elevated this to a level that the public might have taken even more seriously.


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