Jeh Johnson: Media’s Focus on Access Hollywood Video Trumped Obama Admin’s Warning of Russian Cyber Intrusion

By Melanie Arter | June 21, 2017 | 2:26pm EDT
Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

(CNSNews.com) – Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified Wednesday that DHS’s warning that the Russian government was attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election was overshadowed by the media’s reporting of a 2005 Access Hollywood video of then-civilian Donald Trump’s recorded conversation with host Billy Bush, where he bragged about groping women.

“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. That’s what made our news below the fold news that day,” Johnson said.

During an exchange with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Johnson said in deciding to inform the public about Russia’s hack to the Democratic National Committee, he had to consider whether it would challenge the integrity of the election process itself, especially in light of then-candidate Trump’s prediction that the election would be rigged.



SCHIFF: Mr. Secretary, in the late summer of last year, it became apparent that the Russians were doing more than gathering foreign intelligence, that they were in fact, dumping it in a way designed to potentially influence outcomes – not by affecting the vote machines necessarily, but by affecting American public opinion with the dumping of these emails.

So that’s happening in late summer, mid-to-late summer. Why did it take the administration so long to make a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the American election? The statement didn’t come until October. Why did we wait from July ‘til October to make that statement?

JOHNSON: Well, Congressman, I’m going to disagree with your premise that there was some type of delay. This was a big decision, and there were a lot considerations that went into it. This was an unprecedented step first as you know well. We have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods. Second, there was an ongoing election, and many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides in the election, so that had to be carefully considered. One of the candidates as you’ll recall was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way, and so we were concerned that by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.

This was a very difficult decision, but in my personal view, it’s something that we had to do. It got careful consideration, a lot of discussion. My view is that we needed to do it. We needed to do it well before the election to inform the American voters of what we knew and what we saw and that it would be unforgiveable if we did not pre-election, and I’m glad we did it. Every big national security, homeland security decision I made in my time, somebody always criticizes you for doing it, and then somebody else criticizes you for not doing it sooner, so Jim Clapper and I made the statement on October 7th, and I’m glad we did, frankly. 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. That’s what made our news below the fold news that day.

SCHIFF: Q: There were certain allegations by one of the campaigns – the Trump campaign – that the process was rigged, but the allegation wasn’t that it was being rigged by a foreign power. Why wasn’t it more important to tell the important people the length and breadth of what the Russians were doing to interfere in our election than any risk that it might be seen as putting your hand on a scale? Didn’t the public have a compelling need to know notwithstanding the claims made by a campaign about a different kind of rigging and the need to rebut the idea that this being presented to the public deliberately to influence the outcome.

JOHNSON: Yes, yes, and yes, which is why we did tell the American public everything we were in a position to tell them on that date. You’ll note from my statement that we attributed the hacking directly to the Russian government. We were not then in a position to attribute the scanning and probing to the Russian government. We did say it was coming from a Russian-based platform at that point, but at that point, we told the public everything we believed could tell them, and I’m glad we did, so the priority of informing the American public did override all of those other considerations, which is why we did what we did.

SCHIFF: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned though that the statement you issued didn’t get that much attention because of the timing of Access Hollywood. When it didn’t get that much attention, why didn’t the administration go further? Why didn’t the president, for example, speak about this? It was left to yourself and Director Clapper to issue a written statement without any further elaboration. There were no steps taken, for example, to impose sanctions on Russia. Why weren’t those additional steps taken when the first notice really was essentially overlooked by the public?

JOHNSON: You shouldn’t view the October 7th statement in isolation, sir. First, I’d been engaging state election officials since August, and I’d issued a public statement on August 15th. I issued a public statement on September 16th, informing the public and state officials what we knew at the time. I issued another public statement on October 1st. There’s the October 7th statement, and then I issued another public statement on October 10th, so this was an ongoing effort to inform the public about everything we were in a position then to tell the public. It wasn’t just the October 7th statement.

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