On Thursday, in retaliation for Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, the Obama administration ejected 35 Russian officials, described by the Associated Press as “diplomats” and by the New York Times as “intelligence operatives.” According to the AP, the diplomats were given 72 hours to leave the embassy in Washington and the consulate in San Francisco after they were found to have acted in a “manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status.”
The Obama administration also announced that it would impose sanctions on two leading Russian intelligence services, including four top officers in the military intelligence unit believed to have ordered the DNC hack. “I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” Obama said in a statement, expanding an executive order that he issued in April 2015, after the Sony hack.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” the statement continued. “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.” The administration is also expected to release more evidence showing Russian involvement in various cyber attacks throughout the election. The Times reports:
The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.
Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton have lamented the impact that the leak of DNC correspondence and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had on the election, not least because the leaks were apparently orchestrated by a foreign power. The FBI had first informed the DNC that there was evidence of a hack in the fall of 2015, and The Intercept reports that the NSA may have been aware of hacking attempts even earlier. Still, months passed before any action was taken.
Asked on Wednesday about the possibility of retaliatory sanctions against Russia, the president-elect told the White House press pool: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind the security we need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I will certainly will be over a period of time.”