Obama’s DHS Secretary Slams DNC Obstinance on Hacks
Jeh Johnson says Democratic Party failed to cooperate with officials on Russian meddling
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson hammered the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday for its failure to cooperate with the investigation into Russian hacking of its computer system.
The hack led to the publication by WikiLeaks of a series of embarrassing emails indicating that DNC staffers were tipping the scales toward Hillary Clinton in her primary contest against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Johnson testified before the House Intelligence Committee that DNC officials declined offers from the Department of Homeland Security for help in determining who was responsible for the hack.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) asked what he could have done differently.
"You know, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps I should have camped out at the front door of the headquarters of the DNC," he said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) noted that the DNC did not turn its server over to the FBI.
"In your defense, it wouldn't have made any difference if you had [camped out]," he said. "Because they weren't going to give you the server."
Johnson testified that DNC officials relied on CrowdStrike, a third-party vendor.
"The response I got was [that the] FBI had spoken to them," he said. "They don't want our help. They have CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm. And that was the answer I got after I asked the question a number times over the progression of time."
"I recall very clearly that I was not pleased that we were not in there, helping them patch this vulnerability."
Johnson said the response stands in sharp contrast to the reaction of the Office of Personnel Management, which suffered a massive hack in 2015 involving the records of 21.5 million current and former government employees. He said the agency invited Homeland Security officials to help find the "bad actors" who committed the hack.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) expressed disbelief as to why the DNC would refuse help.
"Maybe it's editorializing on my part. That really is an unusual response by the DNC. I mean, you're talking about a presidential election," he said. "You have an unprecedented amount of cyberhacking by a foreign power, an adversary from my point of view. And they would not accept all the help that could possibly be given … It's not even like it's a Republican administration trying to intrude into the DNC."
Gowdy echoed those comments.
"I'm trying to understand why the victim of a crime would not turn over evidence to you and [then-FBI Director] Jim Comey, who are both apolitical and come from apolitical backgrounds," he said.
Johnson agreed he was frustrated.
"I recall very clearly that I was not pleased that we were not in there, helping them patch this vulnerability," he said.
Johnson added that he did not even become aware of the hack until many weeks after the fact.
"I was not very happy to be hearing about it several months later, very clearly," he said.
The DNC's failure to cooperate is not a new revelation. But it once again highlights that for all of the post-election fury over Russia, some Democratic Party officials at the time had a rather blasé attitude.
That same nonchalance extended to former President Barack Obama, according not just to Republican members of the panel, but to some of the Democrats as well. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the committee, asked why the Obama administration waited three months before alerting the public that Russia was attacking America's democratic system.
"Why didn't the president of the United States at the time you were making your attribution or thereafter speak to the American people and say, 'A foreign power is interfering in our affairs?'" he asked. "This isn't a Democratic thing; this isn't a Republican thing. This is an American thing and they need to be rejected, and they need to stop."
Johnson responded that the administration was concerned that it might be perceived as trying to tip the election to Clinton at a time when President Donald Trump was warning that the election could be rigged against him.
"I disagree with your premise that there was some type of delay," he said. "This was a big decision, and there were a lot of considerations that went into it. This was an unprecedented step."
Johnson said he made a public statement on October 7 about Russian interference in the election but that it was drowned out by coverage of the release that day of an 11-year-old "Access Hollywood" recording showing Trump talking lewdly about women.
Schiff also asked why Obama did not move more forcefully before the election to impose sanctions on Russia.
Johnson said: "We were very concerned that we not be perceived as taking sides in the election."