WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Friday that he refrained from taking aggressive public action in retaliation for Russian hacking of Democratic Party institutions before the presidential election because he was concerned that such moves might be interpreted as unfair meddling in the campaign.
In a news conference before leaving for a two-week vacation in Hawaii, Mr. Obama said that he told President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in September to “cut it out,” but that the United States government did not retaliate in a public way before the Nov. 8 election.
“We did not,” he told reporters. “And the reason we did not was because in this hyperpartisan atmosphere, at a time when my primary concern was making sure that the integrity of the election process was not in any way damaged,” such a move would “immediately be seen through a partisan lens.”
“We were playing this thing straight. We weren’t trying to advantage one side or the other,” he said, adding: “Imagine if we had done the opposite. It would have become one more political scrum.”
But the president also warned on Friday that the American government would respond to the Russian hacking to “send a clear message to Russia, or others, not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you.”
The president said that some possible responses would be public, but others would not. “Some of it we will do in a way that they will know, but not everybody will,” he said.
The president was responding to increasing pressure from Democrats who are frustrated that the administration did not do more to respond to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee before the election, especially in light of the conclusion by intelligence agencies that Mr. Putin and his government were aiming to help Donald J. Trump win the election.
Mr. Obama rejected arguments that action would have been the best course, saying that “everybody had the information.”
“It was out there,” he said, “and we handled it the way we should have.”