WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday strongly suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the computer hacks of Democratic Party emails that American intelligence officials say were aimed at helping Republican Donald Trump win the Nov. 8 election.
But with only a month left in office, during a somber press conference before leaving for a family holiday in Hawaii, Obama spoke despairingly about the "nasty" state of U.S. politics, saying the chasm between Democrats and Republicans has made it possible for Russia to cause mischief.
Obama said he has "great confidence" in intelligence reports he has seen showing that Russians hacked into emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and to John Podesta, who was campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Related: Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama, candidate for a Senate seat in Illinois and one of the keynote speakers of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, addresses delegates during the second night of the event at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. More than 4,000 delegates to the convention will nominate John Kerry on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that is essentially a dead heat. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn US ELECTION HB/
Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates. REUTERS/John Gress JG
Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (L), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (2nd L), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) (R) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (2nd R) listen as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 17, 2005. Obama said that Americans are looking for leadership and can do better than what they have gotten from Washington in 2004. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) and Barack Obama (D-IL) hold a news conference on a vote raising the federal minimum wage on Capitol Hill in Washington February 1, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) smiles beside Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) at a rally at American University in Washington January 28, 2008. Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading liberal voice, endorsed Obama on Monday for the party's presidential nomination and called the young lawmaker an inspirational uniter. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), greets entertainer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 8, 2007. Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses for the 2008 presidential election on January 3. REUTERS/Ramin Rahimian (UNITED STATES)
US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) talk during a Martin Luther King Day rally at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (C) reacts as he holds a baby at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) (L) points to the crowd as Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) looks on after his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) embraces his wife Michelle after giving his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with well-wishers at Hradcanske Square in central Prague April 5, 2009. As long as a potential nuclear threat persists from Iran, the United States will continue pushing plans for missile defense, U.S. President Barak Obama said on Sunday. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger (CZECH REPUBLIC POLITICS)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) meets U.S. Senators Richard G. Luger of Indiana (R) and Barrack Obama of Ilinois (L) for talks at the Prime Minister's official residence in Downing Street in London, September 1, 2005. REUTERS/ Alessandro Abbonizo/ Pool TM/JV
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, December 22, 2010. From L-R are (standing): Vice President Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, former USMC StaffSgt. Eric Alva, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) enjoys a beer with Dakota Meyer on the patio outside of the White House Oval Office, in this handout photograph taken on September 14, 2011 and released on September 15. The president on Thursday will present Meyer with the Medal of Honor for courageous actions taken while serving as a then U.S. Marine Corps Corporal, part of a Marine embedded training team in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009, the White House statement said. REUTERS/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance while the band Earth, Wind and Fire performs at the Governors Ball in the State Dining Room of the White House, in this handout photograph taken on February 22, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with Cabinet Secretaries and Members of Congress, watch a shot during a basketball game on the White House court in this handout photo taken in Washington on October 8, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama eats a nectarine following a town hall meeting at Kroger's Supermarket in this handout photo taken in Bristol, Virginia. on July 29, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a briefing on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while aboard Air Force One en route to New Orleans, Louisiana, in this White House handout photo taken on May 2, 2010 and released on June 7, 2010. Picture taken May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ENERGY DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Florida, August 14, 2010. Declaring Gulf Coast beaches "open for business," Obama visited Florida on Saturday and pledged to restore the economy and the environment of the region damaged by the BP Plc oil spill. Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP's deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured on April 20, held talks with local business owners to hear their concerns about the impact of the world's worst offshore oil spill. REUTERS/Pete Souza-The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). In the decade since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled. The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. To match Analysis CONFLICT/COVERTOPS REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama shoots clay targets with a shotgun on the range at Camp David, Maryland, in this White House handout photo taken August 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L to R) , U.S. President Barack Obama, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final in the Laurel Cabin conference room during the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/White House/ Pete Souza/POOL (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT SOCCER)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 23: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The historic bill was passed by the House of Representatives Sunday after a 14-month-long political battle that left the legislation without a single Republican vote. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha, watch on television as first lady Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington September 4, 2012.
REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama walks onstage with daughter Sasha (2R), First lady Michelle Obama (2L) and daughter Malia (L) before giving his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media as he signs into law S. 337: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328: Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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BACK TO SLIDE
The leaked emails revealed details of paid speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street, party infighting and comments from top aides to Clinton who were shocked about the extent of her use of a private server to send emails while secretary of state.
The leaks led to embarrassing media coverage and prompted some party officials to resign. Obama, who campaigned vigorously for Clinton, said she was treated unfairly and found the media coverage of her troubling.
"This happened at the highest levels of the Russian government," Obama said when asked whether Putin was personally involved in the hacks. He added that "not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin."
Obama said he warned Putin in September to stop meddling in American political campaigns, telling his Russian counterpart to "cut it out" during a face-to-face encounter in China at a Group of 20 meeting. Obama said he did not believe that U.S. electronic voting systems were tampered with.
Obama, however, stopped short of directly blaming Putin and said he also wanted to give U.S. intelligence officials more time to produce a report that is due before he leaves office on Jan. 20 and Trump is sworn in as his successor.
RETALIATION FOR CYBER ATTACKS
Obama called Russia a smaller and weaker country than the United States that "does not produce anything that others want to buy, except oil and gas and arms."
The comments underscored what Obama called the "sadly deteriorated" relationship between Washington and Moscow, which are also at odds over Russia's role in Syria's civil war and its aggressive actions in Ukraine.
Russia has denied U.S. accusations that it was behind the hacks. Two senior government officials told Reuters that the Federal Bureau of Investigation backs the CIA's view that Russia indeed intervened to help Trump win the presidential election.
Trump has maintained that he won the election fairly and has bristled at suggestions that Moscow influenced the outcome. But at one point during the heated presidential campaign, he publicly encouraged Russia to hack Clinton's emails.
Trump spoke glowingly in the campaign about Putin, and since winning the election he has named top aides who have ties to Russia, including his nominee for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil Corp Chief Executive Rex Tillerson.
Obama left open the door to U.S. retaliation against Russia to discourage further cyber attacks - countermeasures that may be up to Trump to implement.
Obama said he has had "cordial" discussions with Trump since the election and has stressed that he would do everything he can to ensure a smooth transition. But the outgoing president also criticized Trump's fellow Republicans broadly.
Referencing polls showing that more than one-third of Republicans approve of Putin, who used to lead the KGB spy agency, Obama said that conservative icon "Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave."
"In some cases, you have voters and elected officials who have more confidence and faith in a foreign adversary than they have in their neighbors," Obama said.
CHINA AND SYRIA
Adding to the gloomy tone of Obama's remarks, he addressed two other difficult foreign policy issues that will outlast his time in the White House.
Obama warned about the economic and geopolitical consequences of any breakdown in the U.S.-China relationship, and said Trump should think carefully about the diplomatic repercussions if he decides to "upend" longstanding U.S. diplomatic norms.
Trump angered China earlier this month when he took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen - the first call of its kind since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter acknowledged Taiwan as part of "one China."
Obama also condemned attacks on Syrian civilians trying to flee the city of Aleppo, blaming President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Russia and Iran for "atrocities."
Obama defended his decision to keep U.S. troops out of Syria and avoid military intervention, although he acknowledged the protracted anguish has weighed on him.
"Everything else was tempting because we wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do, but it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap," he said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Julia Harte; Writing by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler)