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John Bolton splits with Trump on retaliation for Russian hacking

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In a departure from President-elect Donald Trump's attempt to downplay and deny Russian cyber-attacks during the election, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Russia deserved much worse retaliation than the sanctions announced by the Obama administration Thursday.

Bolton forcefully derided the sanctions, but unlike Trump, he criticized Obama for going far too easy on Putin.

Here's an excerpt of his comments on Fox News's "Special Report" Thursday night:

What the president announced today was incoherent and inadequate, which is fairly typical of his foreign policy. His first mistake was to muddy two different things: the hacking, the attempt to meddle in our elections on the one hand, with the harassment of American diplomats in Moscow on the other, which, I don't doubt the Russians are doing. And the expulsion of 35 diplomats of their people, undoubtedly intelligence operatives for the most part, is entirely acceptable. But to lump it together now confuses the cyber attack issue.

But specifically on the cyber issue, these sanctions are pitifully inadequate. We have frozen the assets of named individuals in organizations in the United States. How many Russian intelligence officials do you think have assets in the United States to begin with? And they won't be able to shop on Fifth Avenue, that's really gonna break their hearts. Targeted sanctions are almost always inadequate, and these are.

And as for the statement by President Obama that other unspecified actions will be taken in the future — this president has no credibility when it comes to that. Obviously you're not going to reveal in advance some of the things you're gonna do. But it is important not only to retaliate against Russia for this and many other previous cyber attacks, but to do it in such a way that deters them from engaging in this activity in the future. And one critical component in that kind of strategy is not just to harm them, but to shame them. To say in public, "This is what we have done, and we have the capability to more." Because it shows that Russia has suffered a penalty for this action, and it tells everybody else in the world, specifically China and others, that they better not think about it either.

He went on to say that Obama should have been "inflicting sufficient pain" on Russia and China for hostile cyber actions so that they are deterred from continuing them in the future.

Trump, on the other hand, has been flatly denied that there was any hacking by Russia at all, derided U.S. intelligence assessments saying so, and said that the country just "needs to move on."

Bolton also vehemently departed from Trump on Russia in Syria, saying that the most important roadblock to pursue American interests in the region is Russian meddling:

Every extension of Russian influence in the Middle East is negative for American national interests, up to and including their new airbase at Latakia. And I think finding ways to limit and eventually remove Russian influence in the region, which is already trouble enough for all kinds of reasons, should be the highest priority.

Bolton's comments on the Russian hacking are surprising given that just two weeks prior he was suggesting the possibility that the cyber-hacking was a "false flag" operation. Further puzzling is that Bolton continues to be one of Trump's biggest supporters and was being seriously considered for the secretary of state position in Trump's administration.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect comments from Ambassador Bolton’s spokesperson.

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