Sean Spicer: Was Expulsion of 35 Russian Diplomats 'Political Retribution' or 'Diplomatic Response'?

By Susan Jones | January 3, 2017 | 8:25am EST
Sean Spicer will serve as White House communications director and press secretary under President Donald J. Trump. (AP File Photo)

( - Sean Spicer, the incoming White House communications director and press secretary for Donald Trump, says Trump will get a "full" intelligence briefing this week regarding the Obama administration's expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds in retaliation for alleged Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. election.

"I think one of the questions that we have is, why the magnitude of this? I mean you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken? Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't but you have to think about that," Spicer told ABC's "This Week."

Spicer noted that in 2015, the Obama administration discovered that China had hacked the Office of Personnel Management, stealing personal information of 21.5 million current and former federal employees, and "a White House statement wasn't even issued," Spicer said. "No action publicly was taken. Nothing -- nothing was taken when millions of people had their private information, including information on security clearances that was shared. Not one thing happened.

"So there is a question about whether there's a political retribution here versus a diplomatic response."

Spicer said President-elect Trump "needs to sit down with the heads of the intelligence communities this week and get a full briefing on what they knew, why they knew it, whether or not the Obama administration's response was in proportion to the actions taken. Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't. We need to have that briefing first," he said.

"But I would argue that if you look at our history, you haven't seen a response like that in modern history for any action, and when you look at the fact that China did something so egregious in 2015 and the White House did nothing publicly, not even issue a statement, except they sent everyone who had worked in the government a letter saying that you get free monitoring of your credit. That's all they did. They took action by sending a letter to us, not even taking an action against China. So what Russia did, we have to wait and see, but it will be interesting."

In response to the Obama administration's sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to retaliate immediately, saying he would wait to see what policies the Trump administration plans to follow. (And in a dig at Obama, Putin invited the children of U.S. diplomats to the Kremlin's holiday parties.)

Trump tweeted on Dec. 30: "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!"

Trump has not yet agreed with the Obama administration's conclusion that Russia hacked certain Democrats' emails in an attempt to interfere with the presidential election. The hacking was not a major controversy until Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Spicer said Trump will wait to hear what the intelligence community has to say: "Everyone in the media wants to jump forward and make a conclusion based off other sourced information, you know, anonymous sources that are coming out of the intelligence community. He's going to do this right," Spicer said.

Spicer also wondered why the media is focusing on alleged Russian hacking, rather than what that hacking revealed: "Why aren't we talking about Hillary Clinton getting debate questions ahead of time?"  he asked. "That's a pretty valid attempt to influence an election."

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