Obama: Russians hacking our election 'not fancy brand of espionage'

Obama: Russians hacking our election 'not fancy brand of espionage'
Outgoing US President Barack Obama reiterated allegations that Russia helped Donald Trump by hacking Democrat emails, but downplayed its importance. He also lamented that the hack story received so much media coverage during the US election season.

“Russia trying to influence our elections dates back to the Soviet Union. What they did here, hacking some emails and releasing them, is not a particularly fancy brand of espionage or propaganda,” Obama said in an interview with the host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah. “We were frankly more concerned in the run-up to the election to the possibilities of vote tampering, which we did not see evidence of.”

He said his administration accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) a month before the election took place, and that “it was no secret.”

“I don’t think there was any doubt among anybody in the media or among members of Congress as to who was being advantaged or disadvantaged by the political gossip that was being put out in drip-drip-drip fashion leading up to the election,” Obama explained.

An October statement on the issue did not provide any concrete evidence of Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack, and said the confidence expressed was based on the attack being “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

In the interview, Obama lamented that the leaked emails – which he described as “fairly routine stuff” – received so much coverage, while the alleged Russian connection did not.

“The leaks of what frankly not very interesting emails that didn’t have any explosive information in them ended up being an obsession. And the fact that the Russians were doing this was not an obsession,” he said. “These emails got a lot more attention than any policy that was being debated during the campaign.”

Obama did not explain how he would compare the attention US media paid to these two parts of the story.

His assessment was directly the opposite of that of his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, who said the American media were more interested in the allegations against Russia than in the contents of the leaked emails.

READ MORE: Putin on DNC hack: Let’s talk content, not hackers’ identity

Most political observers agree, however, that the 2016 campaign was more about the characters of the candidates than about their policies. This was not unique to either side though, and, for example, Trump’s alleged secret ties with Russia were a talking point for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, just as the Clinton Foundation’s financial ties to the Qatari government was for the Republican candidate’s campaign.

Obama reiterated the accusations against Trump.

“The president-elect in some of his political events specifically said to the Russians: ‘Hack Hillary’s emails so that we can finally find out what is going on and confirm our conspiracy theories.’ You had what was a very clear relationship between members of the president-elect campaign team and Russians, and a professed shared view on a bunch of issues,” he said.

Trump did rhetorically call on Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, but he was referring to emails from her days as secretary of state, which were routed through her personal server and were never released to the public during an investigation into the controversial practice. Some commenters accused Trump of treason over the call.

The interview also focused on Obama’s presidential legacy, particularly the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare), his attitude to issues of race and racism, and the state in which he leaves the American intelligence community.