In essence, the letter said that Putin had made specific instructions to “defeat or at least damage” Hillary Clinton’s campaign and elect Donald Trump. The letter was only for the eyes of Obama and three of his senior aides and wasn’t even included in his daily briefing so it could be kept as secret as possible.
A month before the letter arrived, the FBI began investigating any ties between Russia and people associated with Trump. Also in July, WikiLeaks had dumped 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
From August 2016 until December, when the Obama administration confirmed to the nation that Russia had interfered in the election, the Post reports that officials tried to figure out a response to Putin, including possible “cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin, and sanctions that officials said could ‘crater’ the Russian economy.”
Instead, the U.S. expelled a few dozen Russian diplomats and imposed other somewhat minor sanctions. To at least one person in the Obama administration, the response wasn’t enough.
“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” a former senior Obama administration official told the newspaper. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
Said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014: “The punishment did not fit the crime. Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy—electing our president. The Kremlin 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.”
Even so, Trump continues to deny that Russia was involved in the 2016 election, calling it a Democratic “hoax” and “scam” on Twitter on Thursday. Earlier this month, the Senate voted 97-2 to pass new sanctions on Russia in a bill that also prevents Trump from overturning the current sanctions.
In the meantime, there are five investigations into Russia’s election tampering, including the Robert Mueller-led investigation that’s looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or attempted to obstruct justice.
Make sure to read the entire Washington Post report for the details of the interviews conducted with more than three dozen former and current government officials that gives a definitive timeline of when the Obama administration knew that Russia had interfered.