Paul Ryan welcomes Obama’s ‘overdue’ Russia retaliation

House Speaker Paul Ryan, right, said that President Barack Obama's actions against Russia should have come much sooner. (Photos: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, Susan Walsh/AP)
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that President Barack Obama’s actions against Russia should have come much sooner. (Photos: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP; Susan Walsh/AP)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., thinks the Obama administration was justified in retaliating Thursday against Russia with sanctions for interfering with U.S. institutions. But he said it should’ve been done long ago.

Far from a full-throated endorsement of Obama’s actions, Ryan’s statement condemned the commander in chief for eight years of what he considers “ineffective foreign policy” that left the United States more vulnerable than it was when he took office in 2009. Nevertheless, Ryan agreed that Russia is a threat to global security.

“Russia does not share America’s interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world,” Ryan said shortly after the White House announced the punishments. “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Ryan’s evenhanded statement is notable because President-elect Donald Trump, with whom he has had a rocky relationship, has repeatedly dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin interfered in the November election. The U.S. says Russian hackers were behind the cyberattacks that led to massive email leaks from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on,” Trump said Wednesday of the U.S. allegations against Russia.

Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both prominent Republicans, released a joint statement on Obama’s announcement that echoed Ryan’s language, but they did not use the moment as an opportunity to attack the administration as harshly as Ryan had.

“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama administration today are long overdue,” they wrote. “But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

Obama said the Russian government had been warned multiple times in private and in public to stop violating international norms in its pursuit of harming American interests.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process,” Obama said. “These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences. Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.”

Obama issued an executive order that provides “additional authority” for responding to “cyber activity” that aims to disrupt the elections of institutions of the U.S. or its allies. With this new authority, Obama continued, he placed sanctions against nine different Russian institutions and individuals. These include two Russian intelligence services (the GRU and the FSB), four officers with the GRU and three companies that provided support for the GRU.

Furthermore, Obama said, the treasury secretary is “designating” two Russians for misappropriating funds and personal identity information through “cyber-enabled means” and the State Department is shutting down Russian compounds in New York and Maryland.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will release declassified technical information on Russian military and civilian cyber activity to help “network defenders” detect and disrupt a “global campaign of malicious cyber activities” from Russia, according to the White House.

According to Obama, these are not all the actions that the U.S. will take to hold Russia accountable for interfering with democratic governance — some will not be publicized.

“To that end, my administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections,” Obama said.

Russia, which denies the hacking allegations, had previously vowed to respond to U.S. actions. According to Reuters, the Kremlin said Obama’s Thursday announcement hurt the already strained ties between the two countries.

It’s not clear if Trump, who has repeatedly heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin, will seek to soften or reverse Obama’s executive order once he takes office on Jan. 20.