WASHINGTON ― The Obama administration’s top homeland security official warned on Wednesday that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was far more advanced than previously reported.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lamented that there was not enough public awareness and urgency on the issue, while defending the former administration’s reticence to publicly discuss the information in the months leading up to the election.
“In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple,” Johnson said, testifying before the House Intelligence committee, which is conducting one of several investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
Echoing the testimonies of other government officials, Johnson warned that Russian interference would continue, urging congressional leaders and members of President Donald Trump’s administration to prioritize cybersecurity and take steps to prevent further intrusions into U.S. elections.
Yet Trump, whose campaign is under investigation for potentially colluding with Russian officials, has maintained that reports of Russian interference were “fake news.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement official, testified before the Senate last week that he had never received or asked for a briefing on the issue.
Johnson also said during his testimony that the Democratic National Committee refused the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to help them with security precautions, after hackers obtained and released DNC emails last July.
“I recall very clearly that I was not pleased that we were not in there helping them patch this vulnerability,” he said.
Members of the House panel repeatedly pressed Johnson on why the Obama administration was slow to go public with their reports on Russia’s role in the cyberattacks.
Johnson defended the former administration’s cautious approach, for fear of “injecting ourselves into a very heated campaign,” he said.
Without referring to Trump directly, Johnson noted that in particular, “one of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be ‘rigged’ in some way.”