President Barack Obama held his final year-end press conference as Commander in Chief on December 16. It was scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m. ET, but started a bit later. You can watch the entire press conference, which lasted for an hour and a half, above. It was the longest press conference of his presidency and comes just before he heads to Hawaii to vacation with his family.
Obama, who has seen his approval ratings go up since becoming a lame duck president, was asked repeatedly about Russia’s alleged involvement in influencing the 2016 presidential election. The president already ordered the intelligence community to make a full assessment of Russia’s hacking.
On December 9, The Washington Post reported that a secret CIA assessment concluded that Russia was motivated to see Donald Trump become the next President. A senior U.S. official briefed on the intelligence presentation made to Senators told the Post that this is the “consensus view” in the CIA.
The Washington Post reported just before Obama’s press conference began that the FBI also agrees with the CIA’s assessment that the Russians wanted Trump to win. A source told NPR that there was “no gulf” between what the FBI and CIA concluded about Russia’s motive in the hacks.
During the press conference, Obama said that it was clear that Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Convention and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email accounts.
“What we’ve simply said is the facts which are that based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the [Democratic National Committee]. And that as a consequence it’s important for us to review all elements of that and make sure we are preventing that kind of interference through cyber attacks in the future,” Obama told the press.
Obama said that Russia can only make an impact on the U.S. “if we lose track of who we are,” adding, “Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press or lock up dissidents or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like.”
On December 15, NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence officials have a “high level of confidence” in their belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in Russia’s interference in the election. An official told NBC News that Putin has a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton and that morphed into an attempt to show corruption in U.S. politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore.”
Hours before the press conference, Obama vowed in an interview with NPR that the U.S. needs to take action and will.
“There are still a whole range of assessments taking place among the agencies,” Obama told NPR without endorsing the CIA assessment the Post reported on. “And so when I receive a final report, you know, we’ll be able to, I think, give us a comprehensive and best guess as to those motivations. But that does not in any way, I think, detract from the basic point that everyone during the election perceived accurately — that in fact what the Russian hack had done was create more problems for the Clinton campaign than it had for the Trump campaign.”
Obama also told NPR, “There’s no doubt that it contributed to an atmosphere in which the only focus for weeks at a time, months at a time were Hillary’s emails, the Clinton Foundation, political gossip surrounding the DNC.”
Obama hopes to have the assessment of the cyberattacks during the election completed before Trump is inaugurated on January 20.
At the start of the press conference, Obama outlined what he felt were his achievements, announcing that 670,000 Americans signed up for health care on HealthCare.gov on December 15.
“Since I signed Obamacare into law, our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs, and the economy undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money,” Obama said. “Add it all up, and last year the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top.”
Obama also took Russia to task for not letting the United Nations take stronger actions in Syria. “Regretfully, but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the Security Council from taking action on these issues, so we’re gonna keep pressing the Security Council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who are in such desperate need and ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria,” the president said.
When it came to Donald Trump’s tweets, Obama put the blame on the Trump team being in the middle of a transition period.
“I think he hasn’t gotten his whole team together yet,” Obama explained. “He still has campaign spokespersons sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows. And there is just a whole different attitude and vibe when you’re not in power as when you are in power.”