The Obama administration spent months deliberating whether to blame Russia for a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee, with action delayed in part because President Obama did not want to be blamed for politicizing intelligence, the White House said on Wednesday. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said that “it would’ve been inappropriate for White House figures — including the president of the United States — to be rushing the intelligence community to expedite their analysis of the situation.” In particular, he described White House concerns that any statement by Mr. Obama would be viewed as using intelligence to meddle in the election on behalf of the president’s preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. An F.B.I. agent initially tried in September 2015 to alert officials from the Democratic National Committee that it was the target of a cyberattack by a group of hackers with links to Russian intelligence. But the administration waited until October 2016, more than a year later and after months of damaging leaks, to confirm that intelligence agencies believed the hacks were the product of a Russian intelligence operation.
An examination by The New York Times found that the response to the intrusions, the first significant information-warfare campaign ever conducted by a foreign power to disrupt a presidential campaign, was plagued by a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.
Part of the reason for the delay, Mr. Earnest said, was bureaucratic. “First, they had to confirm across 17 different government agencies that they had high confidence that this is exactly what had transpired,” Mr. Earnest said.
But the administration’s delayed response also resulted because Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, had been making repeated claims about how the election was being rigged, and Mr. Obama did not want to do anything that would feed those charges, Mr. Earnest said.