The Obama administration had definitive proof last August that Russian Federation was meddling in the presidential election - but became so mired in secret debates over a response it only ended up expelling 35 diplomats and closing two compounds in the U.S., The Washington Post reported Friday.
Based on interviews with more than three dozen current and former senior U.S. officials, the Post's investigation is likely to renew questions about how Putin's sneak attack on United States democracy was able to happen on Obama's watch.
The Kremlin has voiced regret about the new US sanctions against Russian Federation and warned of possible retaliation.
Evidence of Russian meddling mounted as the election neared. In a recent tweet, Trump asked a question that only the nearly year-long investigation can provide answers to.
"It was inadequate. I think they could have done a better job informing the American people of the extent of the attack", said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who co-chairs the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. "They probably have her 33,000 e-mails that she lost and deleted because you'd see some beauties there". "And U.S. policymakers now - both in the White House and Congress - should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions".
In August, CIA Director John Brennan first alerted the White House of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the USA presidential race", according to the report.
Obama eventually approved sanctions against Russian Federation, but they were "so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic", according to the Post. Another measure, the planting of cyberweapons in Russia's infrastructure, was still in the planning stages when Obama left office.
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US President Donald Trump has consistently called allegations of Russian hacking "fake news".
The White House, the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all declined to comment on the newspaper's findings.
In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began its probe into Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin - and the hacked DNC emails were published by WikiLeaks on July 22. The media's attention focused elsewhere.
The newspaper said the operation, still in its early stages, had been signed off by Mr Obama and authorised USA agencies to carry out the orders, even during the new Trump administration.
Obama and his senior advisers were concerned that any pre-election response could trigger an escalation from Putin, including a cyber-attack on voting systems before and on election day, the Post writes.
Trump had repeatedly claimed that the outcome of the election would be "rigged" against him, alleging widespread voter fraud and inaccurate polling.
"It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend", a former senior Obama administration official told the newspaper. "Importantly, we did that". "Why didn't they stop them?"
But others in the administration suggest that more could have been done.