White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest launched a forceful defense Wednesday of intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russian government hacked Democratic political organizations before the election, saying President Barack Obama went to great lengths to ensure the intelligence community’s integrity.
The prime evidence: Obama didn’t rush the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government was responsible despite the damage leaks from that breach were doing to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“It would have been inappropriate for White House figures, including the president of the United States, to be rushing the intelligence community to expedite their analysis of the situation because we were concerned about the negative impact it was having on the president’s preferred candidate in the presidential election,” Earnest said.
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“That would have been all the more damaging in an environment in which you have the Republican nominee, without evidence, suggesting that the election is rigged,” Earnest said, a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s assertion before the election that the vote might be undermined.
Earnest’s statement comes as Trump continues to steadfastly deny Russia was responsible for breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and to assert the agencies reached that conclusion to advantage Democratic nominee Clinton.
It also comes as intelligence agencies are working on a review of election-related hacking dating back to the 2008 campaign Obama has asked to be completed before the end of his presidency.
Obama’s hands-off approach, which included asking the intelligence community to release its findings independently rather than announcing them himself, will ensure the public can trust the integrity of the broader election hacking review, Earnest said.
“It will have that integrity because the president has gone to great lengths to protect the intelligence community from even the appearance of being used as a political weapon,” he said. “That has long-term consequences for the decisions that future presidents … will be able to make.”
Members of Congress have also announced plans to investigate election hacking at the Senate Intelligence Committee and elsewhere.