President Obama on Friday defended his response to Russia interfering in the 2016 election with cyber attacks by telling reporters that he "directly" warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in September to "cut it out."
Obama held a press conference at the White House and was asked repeatedly about the Kremlin interfering in the American political process. Hackers supported by the Russian government penetrated several American political networks throughout the election, including the Democratic National Committee in the summer and the email account of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.
When asked about his response to the DNC hacks, Obama said he did not want his administration to attribute motives or interpretations for the Russian hacking because he did not want voters to think that the White House was favoring one political party over another.
"Imagine if we had done the opposite. It would become immediately one more political scrum, and part of the goal here was to make sure that we did not do the work of the leakers for them by raising more and more questions about the integrity of the election right before the election was taking place at a time when the president-elect himself [Donald Trump] was raising questions about the integrity of the election," Obama said.
The Obama administration has promised to retaliate against Russia for interfering in the election but has not said if it has yet initiated a response. When asked about specific actions the president can take, Obama said he gave his Russian counterpart a warning on the cyber breaches.
"In early September when I saw President Putin in China, 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. There were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't," Obama said.
The president also said that Podesta's hacked emails, which were released by WikiLeaks, were going to come out regardless of what he did because they were already compromised. Obama said he was more concerned about potential hacking that could hamper vote counting and affect the actual electoral process.
Obama's press secretary, Josh Earnest, insinuated earlier this week that President-elect Donald Trump intentionally told Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential run through cyber activity.
"The Republican nominee himself calling on Russia to hack his opponent. It might be an indication that he was obviously aware and concluded based on whatever facts or sources he was–he had available to him that Russia was involved," Earnest said this week.
Trump has called such accusations "ridiculous."