So just how political was Barack Obama’s response to Russia’s attempt to mess with the November election?
One has to compare the reaction to the event to a similar “cyber-event” to gauge whether or not the White House’s response was partisan.
After it was concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the United States election, spreading “fake news” about Hillary Clinton, leaking scandalous emails and allegations about the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama’s response was to increase sanctions and toss 35 Russian diplomats from the country.
Remember: Russia didn’t “hack” the election, as leftists claim. There was zero evidence that they managed to change a single vote. Whether or not their attempted campaign was successful may never be know.
It’s a big deal, but so was the 2015 Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management. Directed by the Chinese government, the data breach resulted in the stolen personnel records of more than 21 million Americans. So what was Obama’s reaction to that? Nothing.
To wit, The Daily Wire draws our attention to an exchange between ABC’s Jonathan Karl and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest:
KARL: “So when the Chinese hacked OPM in 2015, 21+ million current and former government employees and contractors had their personal records stolen by the Chinese. Why did the White House do nothing publicly in reaction to that hack? Which in some ways, was even more widespread than what we saw here from the Russians?”
EARNEST: “I think that what we’ve seen is that these are two cyber incidents that are malicious in nature, but materially different.”
KARL: “21 million people had their personal data taken–fingerprints, social security numbers, background checks. I mean, this was a far-reaching act–“
EARNEST: “I’m not downplaying the significance of it, I’m just saying that it is different than seeking to interfere in the conduct of a U.S. national election. I can’t speak to the steps that have been taken by the United States in response to that Chinese malicious cyber activity–“
KARL: “But nothing was announced. There was not a single step announced by the White House…”
EARNEST: “It is true that there was no public announcement about our response, but I can’t speak to what response may have been initiated in private.”
KARL: “But no diplomats expelled, no compounds shut down, no sanctions imposed, correct? You don’t do that stuff secretly.”
EARNEST: “Well, certainly when it comes to the diplomats, that’s right. There were no diplomats [ejected]. That’s something that we would announce publicly. But, look, I can’t speak to the response because, as you pointed out, that’s not something that we have announced. It certainly is something that we take seriously…”
KARL: “But do you see how — that there’s just this wildly different response? With the Russians, which, of course, is very politically charged, the White House takes this action, makes it public. With the Chinese, which was not so political charged but was absolutely as far-reaching a hack as we had ever seen in this country, nothing was done publicly…”
EARNEST: “…look, I’m not suggesting that somehow that’s not important. What I’m just saying is that it’s materially different than the kind of hack-and-leak strategy that we saw the Russians engage in to try to influence our democracy. That is significant. That’s serious. And that explains the serious steps that President Obama has imposed against the Russians in response.”
Despite the uncertainty regarding whether or not Russia’s interference had a significant impact on Clinton’s chances, many Democrats believe it was her singular downfall. It behooves President Obama to feed this narrative. His legacy may be undone, but he can still water the seeds of discontent and uncertainty by very publicly slapping Russia. If this uncertainty grows during Trump’s tenure, it may be more difficult for the president-elect to enact policy. Moreover, it will weaken Republicans, and make them more vulnerable in 2018 and 2020.
Earnest and Karl are both correct. The OPM hack is indeed materially different than the Russia hack. However, by retaliating very publicly to Russia, President Obama can, without saying a word, question Donald Trump’s legitimacy as president, and plant the seeds for a 2018 and 2020 comeback for the Democratic Party.