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Obama: Told Russia to 'Cut It Out' on Hacking, Didn't See Further Tampering

By VOA News December 16, 2016

President Barack Obama says after U.S. officials realized Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee email system, he told Russian President Vladimir Putin to "cut it out" during a G-20 meeting in China in September.

During his final year-end news conference on Friday, Obama said officials were alerted earlier this summer to Russian hacking of the DNC. He told reporters at the White House that his main concern was to ensure the cyberattacks did not escalate, compounding the problem, and "affect the actual election process itself."

To make sure that didn't happen, Obama said when he saw Putin in China, "I felt that the most effective way ... was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be serious consequences if he didn't."

"We did not see further tampering of the election process, but the leaks from Wikileaks were already out there," he added.

When asked if he believed the U.S. held a free-and-fair election in November, Obama said: "I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was a concern and will continue to be a concern. That the votes that were cast were counted, they were counted appropriately. We have not seen evidence of machines being tampered with. That assurance I can provide."

Obama defended how his administration handled the DNC hacking.

"We handled it the way it should have been handled," he said, saying they allowed law enforcement to do their jobs.

He said if he had commented more on the hacking, the issue "would have become a political scrum."

Obama said with the "hyperpartisan atmosphere" of the election, his main concern was the integrity of the election process. He says he wanted to make sure Americans understood the White House was trying to "play this thing straight."

He also took the media to task for their role in election coverage, saying, "I'm finding it a little curious that everybody's acting surprised that this would have undermined the election of Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. ... This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

"This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme. They hacked into some Democratic party emails that contained fairly routine stuff. Some of it embarrassing or controversial. ... And then it just took off," Obama said. "But the truth of the matter is that everybody had the information."

He said the hacking of the emails, and the daily leak of the information, raised several issues, including the growing challenges of cybersecurity.

"We are a digital culture," Obama said. "There is not a branch of our government that somebody is not phishing for something ... and this is why for the last eight year (he has struggled) with how to do we continually upgrade our cybersecurity system."

When asked about Syria, Obama said the country is "one of the hardest issues I've faced."

He denounced the "horror" in Aleppo on Friday and called for impartial observers after Syria's government suspended the evacuation of civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held areas.

Obama said President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian backers are solely responsible for the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo.

"This blood and these atrocities are on their hands," he said. "The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian regime on the city of Aleppo."

He said he understands the desire for action to end the conflict, but it would have been impossible to do "on the cheap" without a full U.S. military intervention.

"Unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems," Obama told reporters. He said any U.S. involvement would have required "putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, uninvited, without any international law mandate."

Asked about President-elect Donald Trump, Obama said their conversations have been cordial and have included specific suggestions.

Obama said he would make himself available to Trump, as previous presidents have made themselves available to him.

He said Trump "is still in transition mode."

"As I've said before, I think that the president-elect is still in transition mode, from campaign to governance. ... He still has campaign spokesman sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows. There's just a whole different attitude and vibe when you're not in power as when you're in power," the president added.

When asked what were the risks of Trump ignoring reports of Russian hacking, and denying them. Obama said, "The Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC. ... That should be a bipartisan issue, that shouldn't be a partisan issue.

"My hope is that the president-elect is going to be similarly concerned that we shouldn't have foreign interference in our election process," Obama said. "The transition from election season to governance season is not always smooth. You know it's bumpy. When Donald Trump takes the oath of office and is sworn in, he's got a different set of responsibilities and considerations."

At one point, Obama raised a statistic from a poll that one-third of Republican voters approved of Russian President Putin, the former head of the KGB.

"Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. And how did that happen? ... Because for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that's said, is through the prism of, does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats? Relative to President Obama?" he said. "We've lost track of what we're about and what we stand for."

Obama began the news conference by reviewing his administration's successes and failures of the past eight years.

Obama began the news conference by saying this one was special in that he would be reviewing not only the past year, but efforts over his entire presidency. It will be the president's final year-end news conference -- he leaves office on January 20.

He highlighted low unemployment numbers, millions who now have health care coverage, restoring relations with Cuba, and getting nearly 200 nations to sign on to a climate agreement as advances during his two terms as U.S. president.

"By so many measures, our country is better now than when we started," Obama said.

Shortly after the afternoon news conference, Obama and his family will leave for Hawaii, where they vacation for the holidays.

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