In an interview taped in the White House, President Obama had a lengthy, wide-ranging discussion of issues with The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, President-elect Trump’s disinterest in intelligence briefings, and about race.
On the topic of Russia’s hacking of emails, President Obama somewhat underplayed the actual act of espionage, but took issue with the way the “fairly routine” emails were “breathlessly” covered by the media.
“None of this should be a big surprise. This was reported on before the election,” Obama said. “I don’t think there was any doubt among anybody in the media or among members of Congress as to who was being advantaged or disadvantaged by the political gossip that was being put out in drip, drip, drip fashion up to the election.”
The hacking, he said, was not totally unexpected from a country who has been meddling in our affairs for decades, and this wasn’t even “fancy espionage.” The White House was more concerned with potential hacking of voting machines, and that’s where there focus was. The bigger issue, he noted, was our obsession with the stupid emails instead of who was releasing them.
“What is it about the state of our democracy where the leaks of what were frankly not very interesting emails, that didn’t have any explosive information in them, ended up being an obsession? And the fact that the Russians were doing this was not an obsession?”
“The president-elect in some of his political events, specifically said to the Russians, ‘Hack Hillary’s emails so that we can finally find out what’s going on and confirm our conspiracy theories. The real question that I think we all have to reflect on is what’s happened to our political system where some emails that were hacked and released ended up being the overwhelming story and the constant source of coverage, breathless coverage that was depicted as somehow damning in all sorts of ways — when the truth of the matter was it was fairly routine stuff.”
In the interview, Obama also pointed to the many connections between the President-elect and Russia, and raised an eyebrow toward those. The interview came before the choice of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State was official, and that’s not a small thing, when the CEO of Exxon could lift sanctions in Russia that would lead to billions of dollars for his company.
As for the intelligence briefings that Donald Trump has little interest in reading because he’s a “smart person,” Obama did what he’s been doing during the entire transition with Trump. He kindly nudged him in the right direction without calling him out.
“Well, I think the president-elect may say one thing and do another once he’s here, because the truth of the matter is that it’s a big, complicated world. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible.”
Finally, Noah also asked Obama how he navigates the racial divide as someone — like Noah — who has mixed-race parents. There, Obama provided a lengthy and insightful answer that deserves to be seen here.