PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said a Friday report from the Washington Post proved former President Barack Obama’s administration failed to crack down on Russia after learning the eastern nation was trying to interfere with American elections.
“[Friday]’s Washington Post story provides shocking new detail of what many of us have asserted all along: that the Obama administration abjectly failed to deter Russian aggression, including Vladimir Putin’s ultimate attack on our interests and values — the active, purposeful effort to undermine the integrity of American democracy and shift the outcome of last year’s election,” McCain said in a statement.
The extensive Washington Post story detailed how Obama and several other high-ranking officials were made aware of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election — primarily through hacking — in August 2016.
The story said Obama and at least three officials were told not only of a plot backed by Putin, but one designed to defeat or damage the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, in an effort to put President Donald Trump in the White House.
The Obama administration found the information so sensitive that meetings about it were held to the same security standards as those about the eventual killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden.
The report said dozens of retaliatory options were debated, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure.
Eventually, Obama decided on a package of sanctions designed to send a message. McCain said those measures fell far short of the mark — both under Obama and thus far in Trump’s administration.
“As the Post story also makes clear, the Obama administration failed to impose any meaningful costs on Russia for its attack on American democracy last year — a failure, sadly, that has not been rectified yet by the current administration or by the Congress,” he said.
Sources defended the Obama administration’s decision to not pursue more aggressive tactics.
They note that by August it was too late to prevent the transfer to WikiLeaks and other groups of the troves of emails that would spill out in the ensuing months. They believe that a series of warnings — including one that Obama delivered to Putin in September — prompted Moscow to abandon any plans of further aggression, such as sabotage of U.S. voting systems.
McCain said the Post story is the latest sign Congress must get legislation — such as that recently passed by the Senate — creating tougher sanctions into Trump’s hands.
“It is then incumbent on the President and the Congress to work together to develop a strategy to deter Russian aggression, both across its borders and in cyberspace,” he said.
McCain said another American failure to stand up to Russia would set a dangerous precedent.
“If we do not, our continued weakness will be further provocation to Vladimir Putin, and no one should be surprised when he continues to attack our interests, our values, and our allies,” he said.
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