Ex-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson defends Obama handling of Russian meddling

Jeh Johnson said DHS didn't want to take sides in 2016 election.

ByABC News
June 21, 2017, 2:19 PM

— -- Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson today defended the Obama administration’s decision to delay publicly commenting on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"We have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods," Johnson said under grilling in a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, adding, "There was an ongoing election. Many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides in the election. So that had to be carefully considered."

An intelligence report released in January concluded that "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election" and acted "to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency."

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. pressed Johnson today on why the administration waited to publicly comment on the Russian efforts if the interference first took place during the summer of 2016. The first public statement on the meddling efforts was not made until October.

"One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way," Johnson continued, referring to Donald Trump's campaign claims. "So we were concerned that by making the statement we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”

Johnson further explained that the October release of behind-the-scenes video from "Access Hollywood," in which Trump was recorded making derogatory sexual comments about women, distracted from the eventual statement on the interference.

The former secretary outlined a timeline of steps he took to alert election officials of a threat, saying that state-level officials were notified in August and that public statements were made that month, as well as in September, and twice in October.

"This was an ongoing effort to inform the public about everything we were in a position then to tell the public," said Johnson.

Johnson portrayed the situation as one in which there was bound to be contention, given the two-sided nature of U.S. politics.