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John Kerry defends Obama administration's warnings about Russian meddling

Former Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration's response to Russian meddling from criticism by President Trump that former President Barack Obama didn't do enough to sound the alarm during the 2016 campaign. 

Kerry, appearing on "Face the Nation" Sunday, said Obama did confront Putin in private, but didn't do so publicly because information about Russian meddling "was just unfolding" ahead of the election. The Obama administration also needed to ensure confidence in the election, and share information in a way that wouldn't give Mr. Trump a platform to claim the election was rigged, Kerry suggested.

"We discovered this in the late summer," Kerry said of Russian meddling. "I remember, as secretary, being in a meeting where it was disclosed to us by our intel community. I think it was August if I recall correctly. And so you're in the last moments of the presidential campaign and the president is already being accused of, you know, engaging in trickery and in addition, Trump, President Trump had been already publicly talking about the election being fixed and the process being phony and so forth."

"So it was essential for the president to put the people with the greatest credibility out front. And he did. The intel community went out; the director of national intelligence, the CIA. They framed the discussion so that ... then-candidate Trump couldn't say, 'It's rigged, it's rigged. Look, this is a game for Hillary.' So we had to stand back a little bit."

Kerry said he was with Obama in China when the former president confronted Putin about the Russian activity.

"I know what he said to him. We had discussions about it before and after. And he confronted him. And the photograph of this -- I think there were a couple photographs of this -- the photograph shows a fairly unhappy President Putin. He made it crystal clear what would happen ... Sanctions were put in place. And those sanctions have been ratcheted up since then."

Former Vice President Joe Biden in January claimed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was uninterested in a bipartisan statement addressing concern about Russian meddling before the 2016 election. 

Weeks before Election Day, 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 told the Council on Foreign Relations when asked whether the Obama administration should have said or done more in light of Russian meddling in the presidential election. 

Kerry called Russian meddling an "ongoing challenge to our country." 

"It's not a Democrat or Republican problem. This has been building for a long period of time, under President Bush, prior to that," Kerry said. "Ever since we've had an internet there has been an escalating series of cyber-attacks against corporations and against government entities. And so this is a problem for all of us as Americans and we've got to deal with this. We've got to get away from this constant effort to destroy a presidency whoever's it is. It's tearing our country apart. And I think it's very, very dangerous for our democracy."

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.