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Obama Warns Russia On Hacking: We Can Do This Stuff To You Too

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) -- President Barack Obama on Friday warned against turning Russian hacking in the United States into a "political football" and said he hoped his successor, Republican Donald Trump, will take foreign influence in American elections seriously once he takes office.

In his final news conference of the year, Obama defended his response to the hacks, saying "I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that we were playing this straight."

He said his administration chose not to retaliate during the election because he didn't want to turn the hacks into a partisan issue.

"My principle goal leading up to the election was making sure that the election itself went off without a hitch, that it was not tarnished, and that it did not feed any sense in the public that somehow tampering had taken place with the actual process, and we accomplished that," he said.

He also revealed that when he saw Vladimir Putin in September, he told the Russian president to "cut it out."

"Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia, or others, not to do this to us," he said. "Because we can do stuff to you."

Obama chided the media for what he called its "obsession" with the flood of hacked Democratic emails that were made public during the campaign. However, he stopped short of blaming the hacking for Democrat Hillary Clinton's stunning loss to Trump.

"I'm finding it a little curious that everybody's suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day," he said.

On a major foreign topic, the president called on the world to "not avert its eyes" to the crisis in Syria, saying stopping the civil war there was "one of the hardest issues I've faced as president." He blisteringly blamed Russia and Iran, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, for blocking efforts to stem the bloodshed.

Obama said he has raised the hacking with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has vowed that Washington will retaliate. However, he offered no new details about the extent of any response or when it is expected.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded with "high confidence" that Russia interfered in the election on Trump's behalf. The president-elect has disputed that conclusion, setting up a potential confrontation with lawmakers in both parties.

"Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin," Obama said, citing a poll. "Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave."

Obama said evidence of Russian hacking has been provided by the intelligence community in closed session to members of Congress "on a bipartisan basis" and those who have seen it don't dispute the conclusion.

Obama also cautioned against the proliferation of fake news, saying foreign countries can influence elections in the U.S. by putting out bogus stories that closely resemble real ones from domestic sources that have partisan agendas.

Asked about Trump's phone call with the leader of Taiwan, Obama said that China's "one China" vision of itself goes to the very core of the country's identity, and that thought must be given to the consequences of anything that might disrupt that vision.

Speaking about the future of the Democratic party, Obama said he would urge the leadership to try to find areas of common ground.

"Basically folks care about their families, they care about meaningful work, they care about making sure their kids have more opportunities than they did," Obama said.

Obama said he would not wade into the discussion about whether or not the electoral college should be disposed of, although he called it a "vestige" of the electoral system that also had senators not elected directly but through state legislatures.

"It's the same type of thinking that gives Wyoming two senators with about a half a million people, and California with 33 million get the same two. There are some structures in our political system as envisioned by that founders that sometimes are going to disadvantage the Democrats. But the truth of the matter is that if we have a strong message, if we're speaking to what the American people care about, typically the popular vote and the electoral college vote will align."

Obama also said the country must consider "how can we get to a place where people are focused on working together on at least some common set of facts" and a have a conversation that doesn't demonize the other side.

"In some cases you have voters and elected officials that have more confidence in a foreign adversary than they have in their neighbors," Obama said. "How is it that we have some voters or some elected officials that think Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative and school nutrition program is a greater threat to democracy than, you know, our government going after the press if they're issuing a story they don't like. That's an issue I think we've got to wrestle with."

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)



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