Obama Says He Told Putin: ‘Cut It Out’ on Hacking WASHINGTON — President Obama said for the first time on Friday that he had held back from retaliating against Russia’s meddling in the presidential race for fear of inciting further hacking “that could hamper vote counting.
” But he said he was weighing a mix of public and covert actions against the Russians in his last 34 days in office, actions that would increase “the costs for them.
Obama said he was committed to sending the Kremlin a message that “we can do stuff to you,” but without setting off an escalating cyberconflict.
“There have been folks out there who suggest somehow if we went out there and made big announcements and thumped our chests about a bunch of stuff, that somehow it would potentially spook the Russians,” he said.
“I think it doesn’t read the thought process in Russia very well.
” The president did not reveal what steps he was considering and suggested that some of the options, if they were carried out, could remain secret.
“Some of it we will do in a way that they will know, but not everybody will,” he said.
Obama made his comments at an annual end-of-year news conference.
His remarks were tinged with melancholy at the impending end of his presidency, with foreboding about the changes that could follow President-elect Donald J.
Trump into office next month and with uneasiness about the role Russia played in the political upheaval that has resulted from his election.
The president spoke hours after Hillary Clinton, addressing campaign donors in New York, bluntly accused President Vladimir V.
Putin of Russia of orchestrating the hacks of her campaign and the Democratic National Committee computers “to undermine our democracy,” as part of a “personal beef against me.
Obama declined to place the blame so squarely on Mr.
Putin, though he noted, “Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.
Obama also sought to diminish the specter of Russian influence over the American political process, saying Russia was a smaller, weaker country that “doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms.
” Still, the president was clearly wrestling with what he said the hacking affair and the reaction to it revealed about the state of American politics.
Citing a recent poll that showed more than a third of Trump voters saying they approved of Mr.
Putin — “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave,” Mr.
Obama said — the president appealed to Americans not to allow partisan hatred and feuds to blind them to manipulation by foreign powers.
“Unless that changes,” Mr.
Obama said, “we’re going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence because we’ve lost track of what it is that we’re about and what we stand for.
Obama offered a long list of accomplishments that he said marked his eight years in office.
But the messy aftermath of Mr.
Trump’s victory has raised questions about Mr.
Obama’s pre-election response to the hacking, ignited a nasty squabble between Mr.
Trump and the nation’s intelligence agencies, and left a residue of suspicion over the vote itself.
The president continued to defend his cautious approach to reports of hacking — an approach that has come under criticism from Democrats after it emerged last week that the intelligence agencies had concluded Russia was trying to help Mr.
Trump win the election.
The Russian government’s motives were hardly a mystery, Mr.
Obama said, “because you guys wrote about it every day, every single leak about every little juicy piece of political gossip, including John Podesta’s risotto recipe.