The Slatest

Trump Appears to Acknowledge Russia Meddled in Election—but Blames Obama

Trump during a signing ceremony for the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 in the East Room of the White House on Friday.

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President Donald Trump has used several phrases to characterize the assessment of 17 intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election, including “witch hunt,” “phony,” a “Democrat excuse,” and “a big Dem HOAX!” to name a few. Now it seems Trump is acknowledging that Moscow did in fact try to influence the election, but only as a way to blame former President Barack Obama for failing to do more to stop it. “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Did nothing about it. WHY?”

Although Trump didn’t specify what had inspired his tweet, it came shortly after the Washington Post published an explosive piece detailing the debate within the Obama administration about how to best respond to the Russian effort to influence the election. Before Friday, Trump had been decidedly vague on whether he agreed that Moscow had tried to meddle in the campaign. In fact, just earlier in the week, press secretary Sean Spicer dodged the question. “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Spicer said on Tuesday. “Obviously we’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today.”

Trump’s tweet came shortly after he also blamed Obama for failing to do more about Russian interference during an interview with Fox News that is scheduled to air on Sunday morning. “Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it,” Trump said in an excerpt of his interview that was released Friday. “The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before the election. … If he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”

Trump continued making the case against his predecessor on Saturday, writing two tweets emphasizing that the focus of any investigation should be Obama’s failure to act. “Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action?” Trump wrote. “Focus on them, not T!”

The president followed that up with a quote from the Post piece, noting that how an Obama administration official “said they ‘choked’ when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election” and wondered: “They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?”

With that tweet Trump cited one of the most explosive portions of the Post story, when a former senior administration official acknowledges the White House should have done more to deal with the Russian election meddling. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” the former senior Obama administration official told the Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

Read more in Slate about Russia’s 2016 election meddling.