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President Obama ‘made the best decisions he could’ about Russia, former adviser Valerie Jarrett says

On Recode Decode, Jarrett says tech companies should work with the government to safeguard democracy.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and former U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

As a senior White House adviser for all eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Valerie Jarrett says Obama used to ask his staff, “When are you going to bring me the easy decisions?”

“And we’d go, ‘Oh no, we took care of those,’” Jarrett said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “‘You get the tough ones.’”

One of those tough decisions that has fallen under retroactive scrutiny was how Obama reacted to early emerging evidence that Russian-backed actors were attempting to sway the 2016 U.S. elections. Was there more he should have done?

“You make judgment calls every single day,” Jarrett said. “With the benefit of hindsight, we would all maybe do things differently, but I feel confident that based on what he knew, when he knew it, he made the best decisions he could.”

She expressed sympathy for the tech companies that she said weren’t aware that their platforms were “being used as a force for evil.” But she said there’s a more important role they can play in future elections, rather than merely looking back on what could have happened differently in 2016.

“It should be a united front of the private sector and government saying, ‘What could be more key to our democracy than preserving the integrity of our voting?’” Jarrett said. “We should all be really dedicated to that.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, recorded in front of a live audience at South By Southwest 2018, Jarrett reflected on how quickly technology has changed — in politics and everywhere else — in just a decade.

The technology revolution is like no other revolution we’ve seen before in our country,” she said. “I remember, President Obama was in office when he asked me what I knew about Twitter, and I said, ‘You mean, like, all a-twitter?’ That was in 2008, and I had no idea what he was talking about.”

Today, Jarrett is something of a techie herself, serving on the boards of Lyft and 2U, and advising the Los Angeles-based media company ATTN. She said she disagreed with the idea that, since 2016, her fellow Democrats have become more “anti-tech.”

“I think tech is an incredible tool for good,” she said. “I’m not anti-tech at all. I want to figure out how to make tech stay as good of a tool as it can, and do no harm — or, do as little harm as possible.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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