Asked Monday whether the Obama administration should have done more to prevent Russian election interference in 2016, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “of course,” but noted that his focus was on the 2020 election.
“The Russians interfered. It happened in the run-up to the election in 2016, of course they should have done everything they could to prevent it,” Pompeo said at The Hill’s Newsmakers Series in Washington.
“I don’t want to go back and revisit and critique. We have the mission now to make sure this doesn’t happen in 2020,” Pompeo continued, adding that he has been working “diligently” to counter not only Russia but a broad range of threats.
President Donald Trump has recently offered a similar take, writing in a tweet earlier this month that Russian election interference occurred while President Barack Obama was in office and that he “was told about it and did nothing!”
Pompeo acknowledged that Russia remains a threat to US elections, but suggested that the nation should not be “shocked” by Russia’s malicious actions.
“It goes without saying – they were a threat to our elections in 1974 too, ” Pompeo said. “The fact that this town seems shocked by the fact that the Russians don’t care for us … I find stunning.”
“We should expect in 2050 Russians will be at it still,” he said.
Last week, a US government official told CNN that getting the White House to pay attention to future Russian interference in US public affairs is “like pulling teeth.” The comment came after The New York Times reported White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney urged former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to not bring up future election interference to Trump.
Pompeo’s comments are also in line with the US intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s cyberhacking activities during the 2016 campaign and the motivations behind that hacking. In early 2017, intelligence leaders said in a report that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the election yielded similar conclusions, although Mueller said in a redacted version of the probe’s report that even though members of Trump’s campaign had meetings with Russians promising dirt on Clinton, the special counsel’s office did not establish collusion between the campaign and Russia.
Pompeo said he “didn’t have anything to say” about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”
“I’ll let the White House and Mr. Giuliani speak for himself,” Pompeo said, adding, “we should all be cognizant of the sources of information we receive.”