Rep. Trey Gowdy grills former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson about whether he saw any evidence that President Trump had any ‘connections’ to Russians during the 2016 campaign.
GOWDY: I want to start by thanking you for your service to our country, which includes a very successful stint as an AUSA. So you will recognize some of my questions as being leading questions. They are not leading from the standpoint of I’m trying to trick you. It is more in the interest of time.
So if I say something you disagree with, interrupt me, stop me. It’s just, in the interest of time, I want to see if we can get some things out of the way that we all agree on.
Russia has a history of cyber attacks against our country. That true?
GOWDY: In our — the parlance of our former jobs, Russia would be considered a career offender, as it comes to seeking to undermine the foundations of our republic. They are constantly trying to attack the — the — the foundations and firmament of our republic. Is that fair?
JOHNSON: I think that’s a fair statement.
GOWDY: All right. So they’re a career offender, they have a history of cyber attacks on our country. We suspected before the November…
JOHNSON: As do others, by the way.
GOWDY: … election — sir? JOHNSON: As do others, by the way.
GOWDY: Yes, sir. It is — it — there — it’s not just them, but for purposes of the — this morning, I want to focus on Russia.
We suspected before the November elections that they might attack our voting infrastructure. Is that fair to say?
GOWDY: In fact, you warned that they were going to do so.
JOHNSON: I was very concerned that they would do so, which is why I kept issuing all these public statements. Yes, sir.
GOWDY: All right. At the time you separated from service in January of 2017, you have seen no evidence that the Russians were successful at changing voter tallies or voter totals?
GOWDY: At the time you separated from service in January 2017, had you seen any evidence that Donald Trump or any member of his campaign colluded, conspired or coordinated with the Russians or anyone else to infiltrate or impact our voter infrastructure?
JOHNSON: Not beyond what has been out there open-source, and not beyond anything that I’m sure this committee has already seen and heard before, directly from the intelligence community. So anything I’d have on that is derivative of what the intelligence community has — and the law enforcement community.
GOWDY: Speaking of the intelligence community, it strikes me that most of the information currently available was available in the fall of 2016. Most of the intelligence products that are relied upon to form certain assessments — that underlying data was available in 2016, some of it before the election.
JOHNSON: I’m not in a position to agree or disagree with that, because I don’t have access anymore to intelligence over the last five months.
GOWDY: Well, looking at this a different way, before the election in November of 2016, you had already seen evidence of Russian efforts to impact our election. In fact, you — you testify…
GOWDY: … they had a preference for a candidate, they were aggressive, and I think you used the phrase “plain and simple.”
JOHNSON: Yes, with respect to efforts to hack into the DNC and other political organizations, yes, very clearly.
GOWDY: All right.
GOWDY: Well, this is, I guess, what I’m getting at. They’re a career offender when it comes to attacking the foundations of our republic. They have a history of cyber attacks on our country. You warned before the elections that they may attack our voting infrastructure.
After the election, President Obama took steps to target Russia, and you took steps to consider our voting apparatus to be critical infrastructure.
Given what we knew before the election, what more could we have done and should we have done? We weren’t surprised that Russia was doing this to us. They always do it to us. So what more could we have done, should we have done, before the election?
JOHNSON: Well, hindsight is brilliant. Hindsight is 20/20. I’ll preface my answer by saying I think it was unprecedented, the scale and the scope of what we saw them doing, and, you know (ph), there had very clearly been intrusions before by a number of state actors, as I’m sure you’re aware.JOHNSON: You know. in retrospect, it would be easy for me to say that I should have bought 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, and this was on my front burner all throughout the pre-election period in August, September, October, and early November — to encourage the states to come in and seek our assistance. And I’m glad that most of them, red and blue, did.
Hindsight is — is perfect 20/20. But I’m satisfied that this had my attention. It had the attention of my people, because I pushed them at every step of the way to make sure we were doing everything we could do. But, obviously, there are lessons learned from this experience. And, for the future, there is probably more we can and should do.
GOWDY: For the states, if I — if I remember correctly, you had a conference call, or otherwise communicated with the states to offer them your assistance prior to the election.
GOWDY: And, if I remember your testimony correctly, their response vacillated between neutral and opposed.
JOHNSON: Correct. It was — it was to the issue of designating them as critical infrastructure.
GOWDY: Do you know, without naming the states, whether any of the states most vocally opposed to that designation were in fact impacted by Russian efforts?
JOHNSON: I’d have to look at both lists. If you’re saying impacted, were they — were those states states that had their voter registration databases scanned and perhaps infiltrated, I’d have to look at both lists, sir. I don’t have that information off the top of my head.
GOWDY: What I’m wondering is if any of the states most vocal in rejecting your help actually needed it the most. JOHNSON: Well, again, they didn’t reject our help — 36 of them accepted our help. But they were resisting the idea of a designation to be critical infrastructure, which I went ahead and did anyway.
GOWDY: What would that designation have done in November or — or in October? What would that designation have accomplished, had you done it in the fall of 2016, instead of January?
JOHNSON: Well, as I outlined — I outlined earlier the advantages of that declaration. But in the short term, my assessment was that we needed to get them in. We needed to bring the horses to water to seek our cybersecurity help.
And so making the designation would have, in my assessment, driven them in the opposite direction. And my number-one priority pre-election was to get them to seek our cybersecurity help. And, for the most part, they did.
GOWDY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.