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Biden: McConnell wanted no part in bipartisan warning about Russia

Biden on N. Korea

Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, claimed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was uninterested in a bipartisan statement addressing concern about Russian election meddling ahead of the 2016 election. 

Weeks ahead of Nov. 8. 2016, the intelligence community briefed leaders on Capitol Hill about the threat posed by Russian interference, Biden said. The extent of the threat wasn't known at the time, but it was a known threat, Biden noted, answering a question as to whether the Obama administration should have said or done more in light of believed Russian meddling in the presidential election. 

The Obama administration, Biden said, was in a difficult spot. Any public announcement of meddling could be perceived as political. So, they floated the idea of a joint statement with Republicans. 

"Mr. President, you go out and you unilaterally say well this is what's happening, you're going to be accused of, in this environment, of trying to tip the election," Biden said Tuesday, explaining his rationale to Obama at the time. "And unless you give harder data than we have now, you're going to be in a terrible position, and it's going to play into the delegitimizing of our electoral process, which was initially, what the intelligence community -- correct me if I'm wrong here -- what the intelligence committee thought this was all about."

"So we went up and Mitch McConnell, who I get on with well and is a smart guy, Mitch McConnell wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say, essentially, Russia is doing this — stop. Bipartisan, so it couldn't be used as a weapon against the Democratic nominee of a president trying to use the intelligence community..." Biden continued. 

It was a "constant tight rope" of determining what to do with that information in the weeks leading up to the election, Biden said. The Obama administration learned more about Russian interference after Nov. 8, 2016, Biden said. 

"So the bottom line was, it was tricky as hell," Biden said. "It's easy now to say well maybe we should have said more." 

Four intelligence agencies in a January 2017 report concluded Russians had indeed interfered.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are now investigating Russian meddling and any possible ties to Trump associates, as is special counsel Robert Mueller's team