WASHINGTON – President Obama made the extraordinary decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what he claims were cyber hacking attempts by their government aimed at the U.S. presidential election, even though he has presented no evidence that it happened.
A senior U.S. official said on Thursday afternoon that the Russian diplomats have been given 72 hours to leave the United States.
The official also said the U.S. has closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised to retaliate by expelling 35 American diplomats, saying “we cannot leave such acts unanswered. Reciprocity is part of diplomatic law.”
But Russian President Vladimir Putin shocked the world on Friday morning by essentially shrugging off the incident, issuing a statement that announced he will not respond in kind and will not expel any American diplomats.
The statement explained, “Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”
The statement took aim at the Obama administration: “We regard the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing US administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-US relationship. This runs contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people.”
“We will not create any problems for US diplomats. We will not expel anyone. We will not prevent their families and children from using their traditional leisure sites during the New Year’s holidays. Moreover, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.
“It is regrettable that the Obama Administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family. My season’s greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, part of Russia’s initial response on Thursday displayed an irreverent sense of humor. Referring to Obama’s three weeks left remaining in office, the Russian embassy in Britain tweeted a picture of a duck with the word LAME emblazoned across it.
The accompanying message also tweaked Obama, saying everybody, including the American people, “will be glad to see the last of this hapless” administration.
U.S. officials claimed the series of retaliatory measures were in response to Russia hacking and leaking information to help President-elect Donald Trump.
Julian Assange, whose group WikiLeaks published emails showing the Hillary Clinton campaign in a bad light, has denied he obtained them from Russia.
Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have called on the administration to release any evidence it may have to verify the accusation, but have been rebuffed.
In fact, just before Obama announced the retaliation, The Hill reported that his administration was under “intense pressure to release evidence confirming Russian interference in the presidential election.”
But Obama has ignored seven Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who asked nearly a month ago that the White House declassify any evidence that the Russian Government actually attempted to influence the U.S. election.
The House Intelligence Committee was turned down by intelligence leaders after demanding a briefing.
The administration has claimed revealing any evidence might jeopardize intelligence sources or methods.
Not only has the administration produced no evidence Russia ever tampered with the actual vote, no one in the intelligence community ever even claimed that happened.
As WND reported, the CIA did not allege “that Russia in any way impacted vote counting on Election Day.”
The allegations leaked to the press by anonymous CIA sources were that Russia might have hacked into Democratic emails so that the contents would embarrass the Clinton campaign, once made public.
No one has alleged that Russia hacked the actual voting tallies.
The president ordered the intelligence community to prepare a report on Russian hacking before he leaves office on Jan. 20, but it may not be made public because officials say it will contain classified and sensitive information.
President-elect Trump has said he doubted claims the Russians influenced the election and that the allegation is meant to disparage his legitimacy as the incoming commander-in-chief.
Trump reacted to the news of Obama’s retaliation by issuing a statement that said.It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”
“Nevertheless,” he added, “in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”
Previously, one of Trump’s top aides had demanded the administration should essentially put up or shut up.
“If the CIA Director [John] Brennan and others at the top are serious about turning over evidence … they should do that,” said aide Kellyanne Conway. “They should not be leaking to the media. If there’s evidence, let’s see it.”
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Here is the full text of the notice issued by President Obama at 2:11 p.m. ET on Thursday:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 29, 2016
Statement by the President on Actions in Response to Russian Malicious Cyber Activity and Harassment
Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election. These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.
All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my Administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences. Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.
I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners. Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity, to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.
These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized. In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance. To that end, my Administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.