Trump: Obama "colluded or obstructed" on Russia meddling to help Hillary

On Friday, the Washington Post ran an in-depth story about the Obama administration’s lack of response to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. The story quotes an unnamed, high-ranking former official admitting that Barack Obama and his team “choked” on the issue, failing to act with strength when needed. This morning, Donald Trump tweeted out his own interpretation of events — and scoffed at the notion that Obama “choked.” The lack of response was deliberate, Trump alleged:

The Post’s narrative focused on the highly sensitive and concerning nature of Russia’s disruption. The intel from the CIA was so sensitive, the Post reported, that only Obama and three others at the White House were allowed to see it directly, and it had to be immediately returned to Langley afterward. According to their sources, the intelligence in the August 2016 briefing was so profoundly disturbing that it provided “the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions.”

And yet, right up until the election, Obama scoffed at the notion that a foreign power could distort an American election, even while knowing that Russia was certainly giving it the old college try. The Obama administration did next to nothing until well after the election, when it finally expelled 35 Russian diplomats in late December. Obama approved a response to plant cyber-bombs within Russia’s cyber infrastructure, but it never left the planning stages. Former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the Post that “the punishment did not fit the crime,” and arguably there wasn’t all that much of a punishment at all; Russia didn’t even offer a reciprocal round of expulsions.

In that sense, perhaps one could make a speculative case for deliberate inaction, but that’s hardly “collusion,” or even “obstruction.” Obama may have been convinced that Hillary Clinton would win regardless of any interference, a view that was certainly shared by most media outlets and analysts. The Post story makes clear that Vladimir Putin had a particular animus for Hillary, so a “collusion” would mean that Obama acted to favor Trump, which is clearly not the case. This tweet sounds more like a petulant attempt to turn an accusation back on accusers rather than a well-considered allegation.

Still, it calls attention to the Post’s reporting and underscores the depth of the “choke.” Even if Obama thought in August that Hillary would win, he should have taken more covert action to punish Russia for its interference. And after Trump won, the question of effective retribution becomes even more pronounced. Even with a months-long head start, Obama couldn’t come up with anything more effective than expelling a few dozen expendable diplomats from the Russian embassy? Even if one was inclined to embrace a “collusion” allegation as an explanation of Obama’s silence after August, no matter how nonsensical it might be, that’s a might big post-election choke.