Clapper: Obama's Response to Russian Election Interference Was 'Appropriate'

November 12, 2017

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday the Obama administration's response to Russian election interference during the 2016 election cycle was "appropriate," saying there were reasons for the White House's discretion at the time.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year about President Barack Obama and his administration's behind-the-scenes efforts to combat the Russian interference efforts, which were well-known during the campaign. One administration official lamented the administration "choked" in their response, which was done quietly due in part to Obama's fears that he would be accused of influencing an expected Hillary Clinton victory.

CNN host Jake Tapper asked Clapper if Obama made a mistake to not make a "bigger public deal" of the efforts at the time, but Clapper responded that hindsight fell into the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" department.

"There really wasn't much of a template or rulebook for how to handle a situation like this," Clapper said. "I think ... the concern that the administration had was, if we did make a big public deal of this, would we first be amplifying what the Russians were doing? And I think, frankly, the president was probably sensitive to the accusation that he was putting his hand on the scale and trying to affect the outcome of the election, if he spoke up about it."

Clapper said a joint statement put out last October with then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson about what the Russians were doing was "emasculated" by the publication of the "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump making crude sexual remarks in 2005.

"I think what was done was appropriate. I guess you could go back and say, well, we should have been more aggressive or done something earlier," Clapper said. "I don't know, but there were good reasons why there was caution and discretion here."

Tapper pointed to Clapper saying there was no "template," asking Brennan if the intelligence community was sufficiently prepared given prior Russian efforts to meddle in other countries' democratic processes.

"Well, I think we were prepared," Brennan said, going on to say he believed the pushback against the Russians at the time impressed upon them there would be "very serious consequences."

"I think the intelligence community, law enforcement, have their counterintelligence antennae up all of the time, and i think we did a pretty admirable job," Brennan said.