U.S. President Donald Trump has accused his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, of not doing enough to counter Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump, whose campaign has been scrutinized for alleged ties to the Russian influence plot, appeared to call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open an investigation into his political opponents for their response to the election meddling.
On Feb. 16, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies for orchestrating an influence campaign within the U.S. during the 2016 election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that Mueller’s evidence indicated that the Russian operation began in 2014 and aimed to throw the election into chaos, The New York Times reports.
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rosenstein said.
The special counsel is also investigating whether or not associates of the Trump campaign had any involvement in the Russian operation. On Feb. 18, Trump took to social media to address his repeated denials that Russia attempted to influence the election.
“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer,'” Trump tweeted out. The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”
Trump had repeatedly voiced skepticism that Russians were responsible for election meddling up until Mueller announced his new round of indictments. In November 2017, he told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had denied any involvement and that he believed him.
On Feb. 20, Trump fired off a round of tweets asserting that the influence campaign did not influence the election outcome and that he was tougher on Russia than his predecessor, Time reports.
The president began by quoting Obama stating that U.S. elections could be manipulated, a remark he made after Trump began to assert in the fall of 2016 that the election would be rigged against him. In October 2016, Obama stated that U.S. elections could not be rigged and that Trump should “stop whining and make his case to get votes.”
“When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems,” Trump tweeted out.
Obama’s comments at the time referred to the prospect of vote tampering.
Trump followed up by tweeting “I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!”
The Obama administration has faced both external and internal criticism over its response to the Russian election meddling.
Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes reflected that the administration had viewed the early indications of Russian interference as a cyber threat and did not recognize the full extent of the alleged disinformation campaign.
“We weren’t able to put all of those pieces together in real time, and in many ways that complete picture is still being filled in,” Rhodes told The Washington Post in June 2017.
On Jan. 23, former Vice President Joe Biden said that Obama had sought a bipartisan statement warning the American public of Russian interference in the fall of 2016 but that the Senate Majority Leader, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, refused to back the measure.
Biden added that the administration was worried that they would be accused of attempting to influence the election outcome if they forcefully stated that Russians were interfering.
“Had we known what we knew three weeks later, we may have done something more,” Biden concluded, according to Politico.
In December 2017, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and forcibly closed down two Russian compounds as a punitive response for the election meddling.
Meanwhile, Trump has drawn criticism from Democrats for consistently speaking favorably of Putin and declining to enforce Russian sanctions that were approved by Congress in August 2017.
On Feb. 21, Trump took to Twitter again to suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should investigate Democratic lawmakers.
“Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation?” Trump wrote. “Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!”