Ben Rhodes: I Actually Wasn’t in the Room for Obama’s Response to Russia Hacking

• January 15, 2018 9:04 pm


Ben Rhodes, former Obama deputy national security adviser, distanced himself from the Obama administration's response to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election by saying that he wasn't in the room "as much."

In a segment on MSNBC's "Meet the Press Daily" recorded last week, host Chuck Todd said that the Obama administration showed "caution" in their response to the Russian cyber attacks during the 2016 presidential campaign. He then asked Rhodes how often the scenario replayed in his head.

"I actually wasn't as much in the room on that because—and for—but for a specific reason, which actually does point to what I think we might have done differently," Rhodes said. "It was treated as kind of a cybersecurity threat, so the people talking about this from kind—"

"Did you put it in a box over here?" Todd interjected.

"It was in a kind of cyber lane because, rightly, we wanted to defend the election infrastructure," Rhodes said. "Then there is the issue of ‘Do we alert the public to this?' And we did, and I think we thought the October 7th statement was going to be this huge deal, we were saying the foreign power is meddling in the election and it's Russia."

The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement on Oct. 7, 2016, stating that they were "confident" the Russian government-directed sites like and WikiLeaks released compromising "e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations."

After Hillary Clinton lost the election, many Democrats blamed the Obama administration for not drawing more attention to Russian interference. Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) said the administration "choked," and Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) said the delayed response was "a very serious mistake."

Rhodes, one of the architects of the Iran Nuclear Deal, said that people can "overplay the notion" that former President Barack Obama could have done more to make Russia's interference an issue. But he said that he believes that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump would have called the system "rigged," and the government does not have control over "fake news."

"What the U.S. government was just not designed to handle was the fake news because, actually, we don't have a lever to pull to say to someone, ‘Hey, that stuff on your Facebook feed about Hillary's health is fake,'" he said.

"What was really missing is a sense of how does the U.S. government and Silicon Valley and media platforms, how do they adjust to a reality in which Russia is weaponizing information? And there we just frankly didn't have any capacity," Rhodes added.