National Security

Schiff Rips Delayed Obama Response to Russian Election Interference: ‘Very Serious Mistake’

Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) ripped the Obama administration's response to Russian meddling efforts in the 2016 presidential election, saying Sunday its inability to act earlier was a "very serious mistake."

The Washington Post reported this week on Obama's knowledge of the Russian interference and the administration's efforts to secretly combat it during the election. Intelligence agencies told Obama in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had authorized an extensive cyber effort to disrupt the race and try to help Donald Trump win.

However, Obama and some members of his team feared that publicly disclosing Putin's efforts to help Trump would undermine the election results of a race they expected Hillary Clinton would win. In the end, Obama did not take punitive measures against Russia until after Trump won the election.

One Obama official quoted in the report said the White House "choked" in its response.

CNN host Dana Bash asked Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, if Obama had failed "in his duty to this nation."

"I think the Obama administration should have done a lot more when it became clear that not only was Russia intervening but it was being directed at the highest levels of the Kremlin," Schiff said, adding that he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) repeatedly tried to get the Obama administration to do so.

Schiff and Feinstein released a statement on Sept. 22 that the Russians were trying to influence the election, the Post reported, although the pair of lawmakers did not say to what end.

"They didn't want to publicly talk about Russia's role … I think that was a mistake," Schiff said.

Bash asked Schiff how much politics came into play and whether it should have been a factor at all.

"It was a factor, and it should not have been the most weighty factor," he said. "I think they were concerned about being perceived as interfering in the election, trying to tip the scales for Hillary Clinton. I think they were also concerned about not wanting to play into the narrative that Donald Trump was telling that the election was going to be rigged, even though Donald Trump was talking about a completely different kind of rigging than foreign intervention."

Schiff said those factors did not outweigh the public's need to know about the Russian campaign.

"Given the seriousness of this, I think the administration needed to call out Russia earlier, needed to act to deter and punish Russia earlier, and I think that was a very serious mistake," he said.