On October 18, 2016, Barack Obama dismissed concerns voiced by then-candidate Donald Trump over the possibility of election rigging, less than one month before Election Day 2016. Obama’s dismissiveness at the time does not square with the current focus of the media and Democrats’ erstwhile narrative that Russia somehow skewed the election in Trump’s favor and that Obama was seeking to thwart the effort at the time.
At the October 18 Rose Garden press conference that followed an official meeting with Italian leader Matteo Renzi, Obama went so far as to say that Trump’s claims of a rigged election would actually damage democracy. Obama asked of Trump’s claims, "You start whining before the game's even over?" and added that Trump’s concerns were "not based on facts."
Before the presidential election, Trump and his organization raised concerns that the election system was rigged, and asked supporters to monitor the polls for any potentially ineligible voters. During his press conference, Obama said that "no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America's elections." Moreover, Obama said, "One way of weakening America and making it less great is if you start betraying those basic American traditions that have been bipartisan and have helped to hold together this Democracy now for well over two centuries."
Speaking to Trump’s fitness for the presidency, Obama said "It doesn't really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you'd want out of a president. You start whining before the game's even over? If whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else? Then you don't have what it takes to be in this job." Obama said. Trump’s claims of a "rigged election" are entirely unprecedented in modern American political history, Obama said.
"I'd advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes," Obama said. "And if he got the most votes, then it would be my expectation of Hillary Clinton to offer a gracious concession speech and pledge to work with him in order to make sure that the American people benefit from an effective government, and it would be my job to welcome Mr. Trump, regardless of what he said about me, or my differences with him on my opinions, and escort him over to the Capitol, in which there would about peaceful transfer of power." He added, "That's what Americans do."
Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017
What Obama said to the world from the Rose Garden does not accord with claims coming out of an article published in the Washington Post. On June 23, the Post published an article claiming that in early August 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency sent a highly-classified report to Obama and just three top aides allegedly provided details about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in an effort to disrupt and discredit the presidential race through electronic warfare techniques. The newspaper claimed that Putin’s goal was to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump.
That July, the FBI had begun an investigation into contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians. Among the issues the agency examined were the almost 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and published online by the WikiLeaks transparency organization.
Erstwhile CIA Director John Brennan then warned the director of Russia’s main security agency, Alexander Bortnikov, against interfering in the presidential election. In addition, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sought to strengthen the security of voting systems. According to the Post, the Obama administration from then on debated “dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could ‘crater’ the Russian economy.”
Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough told the Post, “We set out from a first-order principle that required us to defend the integrity of the vote,” and said that Russia was interfering with the “heart of our system.” McDonough said “Importantly, we did that. It’s also important to establish what happened and what they attempted to do so as to ensure that we take the steps necessary to stop it from happening again.”
The Post recalled that Obama ultimately did impose sanctions for Russia’s interference by imposing sanctions on December 29, 2016, by expelling Russian diplomats and shutting down two Russian diplomatic compounds. Members of his administration went on record to say that the sanctions were insufficient. The post quoted former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who said, “The punishment did not fit the crime.” McFaul said that because Russia violated US sovereignty and meddled in its democracy, Russia “should have paid a much higher price for that attack. And U.S. policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions.”
Congressional Democrats have seen that Obama may have been negligent with regard to Russia’s in-roads into the election. Among Obama’s Democrat critics was Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who leads fellow Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. Another critic is Rep. Eric Swalwell of Iowa, who also serves on the House Intelligence Committee. Swalwell said since the publication of the Post’s article, “[The response] was inadequate. I think [the administration] could have done a better job informing the American people of the extent of the attack.”
On the day of the publication, Trump tweeted: “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
The investigations into the matter by former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Congress continue.
Here follows the relevant transcript from Obama's press conference of October 18, 2016:
Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to ask you about the election. Donald Trump is telling his supporters that the election is rigged, and asking them to monitor certain areas on Election Day. How concerned are you about the potential for violence? And what about after Election Day -- are you worried the results of the election may be distrusted?
And for Prime Minister Renzi, the offensive in Mosul has begun. Are you concerned about what happens after liberation? And, Mr. President, if you want to weigh in on that as well, I'd appreciate it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I do.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: One of the great things about America's democracy is we have a vigorous, sometimes bitter, political contest. And when it's done, historically, regardless of party, the person who loses the election congratulates the winner, reaffirms our democracy, and we move forward. That's how democracy survives, because we recognize that there is something more important than any individual campaign -- and that is making sure that the integrity and trust in our institutions sustains itself. Because democracy, by definition, works by consent, not by force.
I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place. It's unprecedented. It happens to be based on no facts. Every expert, regardless of political party, regardless of ideology -- conservative or liberal -- who has ever examined these issues in a serious way will tell you that instances of significant voter fraud are not to be found; that, keep in mind, elections are run by state and local officials, which means that there are places like Florida, for example, where you've got a Republican governor whose Republican appointees are going to be running and monitoring a whole bunch of these election sites. The notion that somehow if Mr. Trump loses Florida it's because of those people that you have to watch out for -- that is both irresponsible, and, by the way, it doesn't really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you'd want out of a President.
If you start whining before the game is even over, if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job. Because there are a lot of times when things don’t go our way, or my way. That’s okay. You fight through it, you work through it. You try to accomplish your goals.
But the larger point that I want to emphasize here is that there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, in part because they’re so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved. There’s no evidence that that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time.
And so I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes. And if he got the most votes, then it would be my expectation of Hillary Clinton to offer a gracious concession speech and pledge to work with him in order to make sure that the American people benefit from an effective government. And it would be my job to welcome Mr. Trump, regardless of what he’s said about me or my differences with him on my opinions, and escort him over to the Capitol, in which there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
That’s what Americans do. That’s why America is already great. One way of weakening America and making it less great is if you start betraying those basic American traditions that have been bipartisan and have helped to hold together this democracy now for well over two centuries.