Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson Testifies Before House Intel Committee

Jun 21, 2017
Originally published on June 21, 2017 4:39 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today there was a rare development in the ongoing congressional investigations into Russian election interference - a hearing that actually focused on Russia and not on possible collusion with the Trump campaign or questions about obstruction of justice. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified to the House intelligence committee and faced a lot of questions about why the Obama administration didn't do more to stop Russian hacking. NPR's Scott Detrow begins our coverage.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hindsight was a common theme as Johnson testified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEH JOHNSON: In retrospect, it would be easy for me to say that I should have brought a sleeping bag and camped out in front of the DNC in late-summer. With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you for certain that in the late-summer, fall, I was very concerned about what I was seeing.

DETROW: Not just releasing Democratic operatives' private emails but possible Russian attempts to access state election systems. It took until October for Johnson and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to issue a public statement confronting Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: This was a big decision, and there were a lot of considerations that went into it. This was an unprecedented step.

DETROW: Johnson says administration officials were worried about tipping their hands on intelligence methods or looking like they were picking sides in the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I think the larger issue is it did not get the public attention that it should have frankly because the same day, the press was focused on the release of the "Access Hollywood" video.

DETROW: That's the leaked Trump tape that nearly sank his campaign. Johnson's argument seemed to frustrate lawmakers from both parties. Here's Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: Why wasn't it more important to tell the American people the length and breadth of what the Russians were doing to interfere in an election than any risk that it might be seen as putting your hand on the scale?

DETROW: Republican Peter King agreed, pointing out how willing President Obama was to talk about Russian efforts in the weeks after the election. He says the administration should have done more than put out statements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER KING: I think the American people would have been a lot better informed when they went to the polls.

DETROW: Johnson told lawmakers that Russian operatives repeatedly tried to access state databases of voting records. He says to his current knowledge, there's no evidence any votes or results were tampered with. Johnson offered some suggestions for a committee that's charged with trying to prevent this from happening again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I would think about grants to state election officials to help them harden their cybersecurity. I would raise awareness among state election officials as well as, you know, public in general, employees of state governments, raise awareness about the evils and the hazards of spear phishing.

DETROW: Spear phishing is tricking people into turning over their passwords. Johnson also suggested a key point person in the White House kind of like a czar to coordinate anti-hacking efforts. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.