Michael Hayden says Obama's Russia response was "too timid"

Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and NSA, said Monday that President Obama was “too timid” in his response to Russian interference in the election, but he partially defended the president’s initial hands-off posture because of a lack of bipartisan support.

“I think the decision he made was made for honorable reasons. He did not want to be or appear to be manipulating our election internally. But I think when you look at this from a broader field of view, we were too timid,” Hayden said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

Hayden suggested it was Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who “refused to join consensus” to act after lawmakers were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings in October.

“And without bipartisan consensus to push back, President Obama in essence, kept his powder dry,” Hayden said. “I think that was an incorrect decision. But I understand it.”

Hayden criticized the reaction from President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team after the intelligence community’s declassified report that came out Friday. The CIA, NSA and FBI concluded in the report that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign involving covert intelligence operations and overt propaganda to undermine faith in the U.S. election, disparage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump’s election chances.

Hayden said that he was “quite stunned” by the report’s findings.

In response, Mr. Trump said that the cyberattacks had “no effect on the outcome of the election,” which the report explicitly said was not part of the assessment and he vowed to focus on improving the government’s cyber infrastructure and policies.

“This was not at its heart a cyber problem. This was a Russia problem,” Hayden said. “What I did not get from the transition team was the seriousness or an acceptance that we do, indeed, have a problem overall with the pattern of Russia behavior.”

The Obama administration late last month announced a new series of sanctions against Russian intelligence agents and entities that the U.S. says were responsible for hacks into the Democratic National Committee and other servers. Part of the move also called for the expulsion of 35 Russian operatives from the U.S.

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.