The Latest: Former Homeland boss outlines Russia threat
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee (all times local):
U.S. officials have outlined the threat Russia posed to the 2016 vote for the White House, describing efforts to hack into election systems in 21 states and to fill the internet with misinformation.
Officials also revealed what appeared to be a breakdown in communications about how severe the threat appeared, and they reported tensions the Obama administration faced in trying to publicly warn of meddling in the face of a skeptical Donald Trump.
Jeh Johnson, the former head of the Homeland Security Department, told members of the House intelligence committee that because Trump “was predicting that the election was going to be rigged,” the Obama administration was concerned that a public warning could end up challenging the election’s integrity.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee say they’ve had a productive meeting with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
A group of lawmakers, including the committee’s chairman and top Democrat, met with Mueller on Wednesday to ensure that their separate investigations would not interfere with each other.
They say “both parties have committed to keeping an open dialogue.”
Separately, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe told the House Appropriations Committee he is confident that Mueller is receiving the resources he needs for the investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has finished his meeting with leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a secure room in the Capitol.
Mueller was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Mueller met for about an hour with the top four Republicans and Democrats on the committee.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said it was an introductory meeting aimed at working to ensure the congressional investigations don’t conflict with the one led by Mueller.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says cyberattacks orchestrated by the Russian government did not alter any ballots, ballot counts or the reporting of election results.
But Johnson tells the House Intelligence committee that he doesn’t know whether the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails and other Moscow-directed interference “did in fact alter public opinion, and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”
Johnson tells the panel that U.S. voting systems remain vulnerable to future cyberattacks. He’s urging lawmakers to grapple with the problem and to shield a pillar of American democracy.
He says, “We have to learn.”
Johnson says “the Russians will be back” and possibly other “bad cyber actors,” too, to meddle in future elections.
Johnson served as DHS secretary from December 2013 to January 2017.
The president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of State says state election officials are only now learning about the scope of the Russian hacking during last year’s election.
Connie Lawson, the current secretary of state for Indiana, says a recently leaked report purportedly from the National Security Agency suggests election-related hacking penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously known. As a result, some 122 local election offices received phishing emails.
She says this runs counter to assurances DHS gave state election officials in phone calls during August, September and October that no credible threat existed in the fall of 2016.
Lawson also told the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday that the government is not sharing classified details about the breach with state officials.
Jeh Johnson, the former Homeland Security chief, says he wasn’t aware that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, asked Johnson if former FBI Director Jim Comey would have opened such an inquiry without an evidence for doing so.
Johnson says Comey would not have made such a move lightly.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy had earlier asked Johnson pointedly whether he knew of any evidence of possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Johnson says he not aware of any information beyond what’s been reported publicly and what the U.S. intelligence community has gathered.
Former Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson says he was not happy that he learned well after the fact that the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems had been hacked.
Johnson, who served in the post until January, says he became aware of the compromise “sometime in 2016.” He says he pressed his staff to know whether the Department of Homeland Security “was sufficiently proactive, and on the scene helping the DNC identify the intruders and patch vulnerabilities.”
But he says the answer wasn’t reassuring. Says Johnson: “The FBI and the DNC had been in contact with each other months before about the intrusion, and the DNC did not feel it needed” Homeland Security’s assistance at that time.
Former Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson says it would have been “unforgiveable” not to alert the American public ahead of the 2016 election that the Russians hacked Democratic email systems.
Johnson is testifying before the House intelligence committee.
Johnson says a lot of internal discussion and consideration preceded an October statement about the hacking from his department and the director of national intelligence. He says they didn’t want to compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection.
He also says one of the presidential candidates was claiming the election was rigged. That was Donald Trump, although Johnson didn’t name him.
Johnson says, “A statement might be seen as challenging the integrity of the process itself.”
Department of Homeland Security officials are still not willing to disclose which state election systems Russian hackers targeted during last year’s presidential election.
Undersecretary for cybersecurity at DHS, Jeanette Manfra, says there is evidence that 21 state election systems were targeted, but she told the Senate intelligence committee she couldn’t disclose the identities of the states because that was up to the states.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia says DHS and the FBI have confirmed intrusions into voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. He says it’s not acceptable for the government to keep the full scope of the attacks secret.
Last September, DHS told The Associated Press that hackers believed to be Russian agents had targeted voter registration systems in more than 20 states.
Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security, says his concerns about a cyberattack against U.S. election systems grew during the summer of 2016.
Johnson told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that his department developed a plan to offer cybersecurity assistance to state election officials.
In early August 2016, he says he even “floated the idea” of designating American election infrastructure as critical. That would mean election officials would get, on a priority basis, cybersecurity help.
But Johnson says secretaries of state and other chief election officials spurned his offer. They considered running elections “a sovereign and exclusive responsibility of the states” and viewed his proposal as a federal takeover.
Johnson says he moved to designate U.S. elections as critical infrastructure on the same day as the release of a declassified U.S. intelligence report that said Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is testifying at a House intelligence committee hearing as the panel presses ahead with its investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Johnson served as former President Barack Obama’s homeland security chief for three years.
In prepared testimony, he described the interactions the Obama administration had with secretaries of state and local election officials about the dangers that Russian hacking posed.
In early January, Johnson designated U.S. election systems such as polling places and voter registration databases as critical infrastructure. The move was aimed at providing more federal cybersecurity assistance to state and local governments.
But election organization officials criticized the decision as an overreach that could make elections less transparent.