Jeh Johnson testifies DNC rejected DHS help on hack, Russia meddling did not alter ballots
Wednesday former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified that the Democratic National Committee last year turned down his agency’s offer to help protect its network despite being warned about a hack.
He also confirmed that while Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, orchestrated cyberattacks on the United States to influence the 2016 presidential election, Moscow was unable to actually alter ballots.
“To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results,” Johnson said during his opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee.
Johnson, was in the Obama administration from December 2013 to January 2017, said his concerns about a cyberattack against the U.S. election systems intensified last summer. He added that he and his counterparts “sounded the alarm but that the press and voters were focused on a lot of other things” during the election season.
In August, he said he “floated the idea” of designating the country’s election infrastructure as critical – which would allow election officials to get cybersecurity help. Johnson testified that multiple secretaries of states turned down his offer and viewed any aid as the federal government trying to Big Brother the election.
Johnson also confirmed he went to the Democratic National Committee about a hack in their system but was told that the DNC “did not feel it needed” DHS assistance.
“Sometime in 2016, I became aware of a hack into systems of the Democratic National Committee,” Johnson said. “…I pressed my staff to know whether DHS was sufficiently proactive, and on the scene helping the DNC identify the intruders and patch vulnerabilities. The answer, to the best of my recollection, was not reassuring: 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 DHS’s assistance at that time.”
The FBI reportedly faced a similar rejection.
During his testimony, Johnson also described steps he took once he learned about the Russian-backed hacking of the Democratic National Committee, his fears about an attack on the election itself as well as his rationale for designating U.S. election systems, including polling places and voter registration databases, as critical infrastructure in early January before President Trump’s inauguration.
Johnson testified that 33 states and 36 cities and counties used his department’s tools to scan for potential vulnerabilities. Johnson said he personally reached out to Gary Pruitt, CEO of The Associated Press, which counts votes.
“Prior to Election Day, I personally reviewed with the CEO of The Associated Press its long-standing election-day reporting process, including the redundancies and safeguards in its systems,” Johnson said.