Takeaways from Obama's last news conference of the year

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," December 16, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was a concern in early September when I saw President Putin in China. I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out or there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't.

Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.

I'm finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day.

I don't think she was treated fairly during the election.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama today in his last news conference of the year saying that the Russians did hack into the DNC and into John Podesta's e- mails to try to tilt the election toward Donald Trump. As you heard, he said it didn't affect the actual voting process, but it did try to interfere with the election.

The Trump team has not responded to the news conference since then but earlier in the day Donald Trump tweeted out, "Are we talking about the same cyber-attack where it was revealed that the head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?" Also tweeting, "Well, we all did it together. I hope the movement fans will go to D.C. on January 20th for the swearing in. Let's set the all-time record," talking of course about the inauguration.

Let's bring in our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, Matt Schlapp, contributor with The Hill. George, the news conference, what you took from it? It was rather lengthy.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: His long opening statement was quite interesting because he raised this question of the danger of a cyber-war arms race and the need for international norms. And he made a threat. He really said that we're -- to use the cold war analogy, we're in now a period of mutual assured destruction because what they did to us we can do to them.

Earlier in the show tonight we had that woman in the Pentagon talking about the gray space between war and peace. The United States using a Stuxnet virus damaged the physical infrastructure, the centrifuges, of the Iranian nuclear group. That is a grey area that looks an awful lot like an act of war. Now, in the president's statement he said we are going to try and publicize what happened but we have to protect sources and methods by keeping some things secret. I hope it's not a lot to be kept secret because as Pat Moynihan said in an excellent book on the subject of secrecy, secrecy is government regulation. Most regulations regulate what we can do. This regulates what we can know. And it seems to me very important that we know what happened here.

BAIER: A.B., what did you take away from it? Obviously, spent most of the news conference talking about the hacking and Russia.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I was really struck by his comments on Syria and how the blood and atrocities in Syria, the butchering by Assad of his own people, are on the hands of the Russians and Iranians.

BAIER: Let me play a piece of that and we will come back.


OBAMA: There are places around the world where horrible things are happening, and because of my office, because I'm president of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference? With respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States.



STODDARD: I just thought it was very poignant to hear President Obama use phrases like we were not successful and I feel responsible. Regardless of what you think of when he didn't intervene and how he didn't intervene, there are no easy choices. And he essentially said without invading Syria and leaving that country with our own blood and treasure to a moderate opposition that isn't even, he said, cohesive enough to govern afterwards in place of the regime, we couldn't do it. It would ask too much of Americans to go and rescue Syria.

And when he talked about Donald Trump's supposed policy on safe zones, it was a very painful discussion of how there are no options, even for Donald Trump. A safe zone is not possible. There won't be the permission of the Russians or the Iranians or the Syrians. You would have to go in and protect territory.

BAIER: But his inaction at the beginning, his choice not to make a choice created the spiraling lack of choices later on.

STODDARD: Right. I just want struck that he was so heavy with responsibility and it was very painful for him. And it set up for all of us going forward the lack of choices there are at this point and how much Donald Trump will be boxed in in trying to get out of the mess in Syria.

BAIER: What about -- back to the Russia part. What about the whole thing that the transition was going smoothly, they talk all the time? This has been a different sounding White House on this issue.

MATT SCHLAPP, THE HILL: Yes, for sure. I am struck by that. It's strange to see a White House press secretary taking on the incoming president. Usually that type of talk might happen behind the scenes. But you don't see it so up front, so front and center.

And look, this is a country that is -- we're kind of at each other's throats politically. There's no question about it. And when you can't agree on basics like this and when people like myself who voted for Donald Trump look at this and say, OK, why does this seem like we're politicizing very basic questions? And why are we talking about this, about the fact that Hillary Clinton only lost because of something like this? It just seems -- it seems like a mistake for them to go down that path. And I don't think it gets us to a better place as a country and it doesn't build bipartisanship around the questions of Russia and China and those threats that we have around the globe.

BAIER: Speaking of that, the different views, Hillary Clinton out on a thank you tour last night, and Kellyanne Conway speaking.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRARIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber-attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me. He is determined not only to, you know, score a point against me, which he did, but also to undermine our democracy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Vladimir Putin didn't tell Hillary Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan. So all of this lack of self-awareness now is seeping into an argument about our intelligence, and that we don't appreciate.


BAIER: George?

WILL: Well, Putin is having a very good December, because simultaneously he picked Assad and Syria and he won. His side has won and the war is over. And here at home, leave aside the question of what the intent of the Russians was in getting into this and leave aside the question, which is unanswerable at this point anyway, did it have an effect? The fact is it has had one affect that Putin must be pleased about, and that is it has Americans, as you say, at one another's throat even more than usual. So by sowing discord and sowing doubts in the minds of 30 percent or 40 percent of Americans about some taint of illegitimacy and the result of this election, it's a huge victory for Putin.

BAIER: I want to play one more sound bite, and that President Obama on the state of the Democratic Party.


OBAMA: It is not something I've been able to transfer to candidates in midterms and sort of build a sustaining organization around. That's something that I would have liked to have done more of. But it's kind of hard to do when you are also dealing with a whole bunch of issues here in the White House.


BAIER: So A.B., shortened, I could do it, but I couldn't give it to anybody else.

STODDARD: I was really struck by President Obama's comments on what he did for the country and the world, everything is great. It made me think of when Trump leaves office and his last press conference is everything will be great. He basically said he could prove it to the American people everything is better. That's what Obama said.

And when it came to the Democrats, he didn't really take any blame. There was an implicit criticism aimed at Hillary Clinton in his comments about how he built a more galvanized, a broader coalition, brought our low propensity voters who usually don't get into the system. And he had actually been in touch more with the working class Americans. And obviously, he did. He won them and Trump them and she lost them. But it was really interesting -- it was an interesting way of trying to hit her and say it's not my fault that she lost.

BAIER: There has been this evolution, Matt, about how he perceives this election and why it happened. He says that by every measure our country is stronger, more prosperous, more respected today around the world. I don't know. Do the people in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and those states think that way?

SCHLAPP: We talk about the bubble. And I think today's press conference really demonstrated the bubble, which is presidents tend to live in bubbles. And I think presidents get told great things in the Oval Office. It's hard to tell the president the straight dope in the Oval Office. I don't think he is hearing very much.

But talk about a lonely victory. He has had great victories, this president. But the Democratic Party and the donkey has never lost so much in the history of that party. They have lost from the top to the bottom of the ballot all over the country.

BAIER: Two-thirds state legislatures, the Senate, the house, 34 governors.

WILL: Outside of Washington and soon inside Washington, but outside of Washington, the Democratic Party will be weaker than it has been since the 1920s or arguably since Reconstruction in the 1870s.

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