Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that both he and President Barack Obama personally complained to Russian leaders about efforts to interfere with the American election.
Asked why the White House had not accused the Kremlin of hacking US political targets before the November vote, Kerry said it had not wanted to be accused of influencing the result.
Obama said last month he had confronted President Vladimir Putin over the hacking allegations when they met ahead of the US election, telling him to “cut it out” and promising a firm response.
“Both the president and I personally raised this issue with the Russians,” Kerry told reporters, shortly after US spy chief briefed Congress on the hacking operation.
The winner of November’s election, President-elect Donald Trump, has called into question the US intelligence finding that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party targets.
Trump has pledged to mend ties with President Vladimir Putin’s government, and is angered by suggestions that his victory was aided by illegal Russian interference.
Kerry said he did not wish to be drawn into a political row, but paid tribute to the US intelligence agencies behind the investigation and said he accepted their findings.
These agencies, he said, assessed “that the government of Russia engaged in a concerted effort to influence and interfere with the integrity of our electoral process.”
Asked whether Putin himself had directed the hacking, Kerry said: “I accept the judgment of the US intelligence community that this went to the highest level.”
Asked if he agreed with Senator John McCain’s claim that the cyber attack was an “act of war”, Kerry said: “You can call it what you want… it’s obviously a very serious matter.”
And asked why the White House had not made its suspicions public before the vote, Kerry said there had been an intense discussion within the administration.
“It was very carefully done,” he said, “so that it wouldn’t allow people to be alleging that the president and the White House and intel community were somehow trying to effect the outcome of the election.”
The United States has expelled 35 Russian diplomats since the allegations became public, and Kerry dropped a hint that the US may have also launched a more covert retaliation.
“You don’t know, and I can’t say, what the president may have chosen to do or not to do,” he told reporters.