SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — President Barack Obama told Russian diplomats in San Francisco — and elsewhere in the U.S. — to go home.
The U.S. has taken unprecedented steps to punish Moscow for a recent campaign of cyber attacks.
President Obama promised consequences for Russia’s hacking leading up to the U.S. election and on Thursday, he dropped the hammer, giving Russian diplomats 72 hours to get out.
The Obama administration is taking aim at Russian intelligence officials believed to be behind the political computer hacking.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “What the president wanted today is to make sure that Russia knew we weren’t going to accept their interfering in our elections.”
Four individuals and five Russian agencies — including the main intelligence service known as the GRU — received sanctions.
U.S. intelligence officials believe they carried out the cyber attack in an attempt to help President-elect Donald Trump and they did so on President Vladimir Putin’s orders.
The government also shut down two Russian-owned facilities in New York and Maryland which they say were used to collect intelligence.
The State Department is kicking out 35 Russian operatives from the embassy in Washington and the consulate in San Francisco.
Obama administration officials acknowledge President-elect Trump can wipe out these sanctions as soon as he takes office, but they say he should think twice before doing so.
Schultz said that if the next president wants to lift sanctions against senior Russian intelligence units and make it easier for them to interfere in U.S. elections, “then he can go ahead and do so. We just don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”
President-elect Trump issued a statement, again saying it’s time for the country to move on.
But added, “I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”
President Obama says he will provide a report to Congress about Russian attempts to interfere in the election in the coming days.
KPIX 5 security analyst Jeffrey Harp is a former special agent for the FBI and he says he’s not surprised by the expulsion of diplomats after the U.S. intelligence accused Russia of hacking during the election.
“Anytime you have these big sort of investigations happening, a result is usually somebody gets kicked out,” Harp said.
In addition to the diplomats who have to leave the country, the Obama administration announced sanctions against four Russian intelligence officials and five agencies including the main Russian intelligence agency called the GRU.
According to Harp, some of the diplomats in San Francisco being forced to leave may actually be working for a Russian intelligence agency.
“People come here under a diplomatic cover and they are doing things they probably aren’t supposed to be doing,” Harp said.
President-elect Donald Trump could lift the sanctions against Russia but Congress may have other plans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Congress will investigate the Russian involvement in the elections and said he predicts there will be bi-partisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard — particularly Putin as an individual.
Olga Chervyakova was raised in Russia but lives in San Jose. She was at the consulate to get some documents and says she does not want a repeat of the Cold War.
Chervyakova said, “I remember those times when I didn’t have enough food and I wear the same clothes like everybody else. It wasn’t nice. And I don’t want to repeat that for anyone. Not new generation, not old generation. Because it’s bad.”
It’s not the first time President Obama has sent foreign diplomats packing.
Earlier this year, he expelled two Russian diplomats in a tit for tat exchange with the Kremlin.
Other presidents too have had their run-ins with Russia
In 2001 the second President Bush booted 50 Russian diplomats.
And going back to 1986, President Reagan sent home 55 soviet diplomats he accused of spying.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi also weighed in, saying, “The American people deserve to know their leaders will not tolerate Russia’s meddling in our democracy. Congress must move immediately to launch a bipartisan, independent investigation to understand how Russia hacked into our democratic institutions, and to ensure it never happens again.”