In his last press conference of 2016, President Obama did not decry the rag-tag cabinet of bad white men his successor is assembling to run the administration. He did not come down hard on Donald Trump’s endangering U.S. relations with China by taking a call with Taiwan. And Obama certainly didn’t use his last presser of the year to come down on whether Russian state-sponsored hacking of the U.S. election contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss.
Instead, Obama reserved most of his ire for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When repeatedly pressed on whether he believes that Putin himself authorized coordinated cyberattacks to steal documents from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, Obama blamed the attacks on the “highest level of the Russian government” and noted that “not much happens in Russia” without Putin’s knowledge.
Obama also said he personally told Putin to “cut it out” when they met at the G20 Summit in September, saying he wanted to send a clear message that if you mess with America, “we can do stuff do you.” After Obama spoke with Putin, the president said the Russians listened and no further hacking was witnessed.
Asked whether the Russians’ tampering with the election was enough to swing the race for Trump, Obama said, “I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was our concern,” and that he has not seen evidence that voting machines were tampered with. He also said an intelligence report on a full investigation into Russian tampering would be released before he left office.
Then Obama went for the jugular.
“This is part of what I meant when I said we’ve got to think what is happening to happening to our political culture here. The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us,” Obama said. “They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate.”
Obama went on to decry polling that found 37% of Republican voters have a favorable opinion of Putin, saying, “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.”
Twitter was full of calls for Obama to sound more of an alarm about his successor, but he chose not to. Rather, Obama mostly played nice, saying his meetings with Trump have been “cordial” but “in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions.”
But in a room full of reporters, Obama also had a captive audience to air his grievances with the media. He criticized journalists for their collective “obsession” with covering the fruit of the Russian hackers’ efforts, published by Wikileaks, and called coverage of Clinton “troubling.”
He also called out reporters for “suddenly acting surprised” that the Wikileaks dumps of Clinton emails negatively affected her presidential campaign.
“You guys wrote about it every day, every single leak about every little juicy tidbit of political gossip, including John Podesta’s risotto recipe,” Obama deadpanned.