Former NATO Ambassador Shoots Down Republican Attempts to Blame Obama for the Russian Election Hack

“President Trump has taken no action whatsoever. I think’s that irresponsible.”

Obama and Putin

Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via ZUMA Press

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Two Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee tried Wednesday to pick up on President Donald Trump’s recent claim that former President Barack Obama failed to act against Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Nicholas Burns, a former top State Department official testifying at the committee’s hearing on Russian meddling in European elections, was having none of it.

Trump has tried to seize on a recent Washington Post report detailing a struggle by top Obama administration officials to respond to Russian efforts to support Trump against Hillary Clinton. Despite previously dismissing reports of Russian interference as a hoax, Trump said the report showed that Obama knew of Russian election meddling and “did nothing.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) endeavored to back Trump’s assertion. Cotton surrendered most of his time for questioning witnesses to instead deliver a statement arguing that Trump’s policies on Syria and Afghanistan, along with the president’s proposal to sharply increase the defense budget, makes him tougher on Russia than Obama—despite Trump’s flirtation with rolling back the Russia sanctions that Obama imposed.

In his prepared testimony, Burns, who served as ambassador to NATO and held other posts at the State Department under President George W. Bush, ripped Trump for denying “the undeniable fact that Russia interfered in our elections.”

“Given President Trump’s weak and ill-advised views toward Russia,” Burns said, “it is prudent for the Senate and House to insist on a process of congressional review of Russia sanctions so that President Trump cannot relax them.”

Despite that, Risch attempted to hone in on Burns’ more modest earlier statement, that “the Obama administration should have reacted more quickly and vigorously” to Russian hacking. Risch asked the former ambassador to confirm that Obama was president when Russian hacking efforts occurred and “was aware that this was going on.”

Burns responded that while Obama could have done more, “he did take action.” That included informing the eight top members of Congress about the interference efforts, Burns noted—an apparent reminder that resistance from top congressional Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was reportedly a key reason Obama avoided earlier action against Russian efforts.

“President Trump has taken no action whatsoever,” Burns said. “I think’s that irresponsible.”

Still, Risch persisted, inviting Burns to agree that “the Obama administration did not take the significant action that was necessary.”

“The Obama administration should have taken greater action,” Burns said, as Risch’s time expired, “but the more pertinent question today is what our current Commander-in-Chief is not doing.” 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.