In a very rare event, the post-Devin Nunes-craziness House Intelligence Committee was back in business on Wednesday morning, talking with former Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson.
The subject of the hearing was the increasing evidence that Russia did far more than hack into DNC and private emails to feed Trump material through WikiLeaks, and did more than put an army of propagandists to work in social media creating fake news stories to bolster Trump and plant doubts about Hillary Clinton. More recent reporting has revealed that Russia attacked election infrastructure in at least 39 states. This included attempts to “alter or delete” voter data.
The following quotes were transcribed from C-SPAN. From Johnson’s opening statement:
In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. Plain and simple.
The first effort by Republican Trey Gowdy was to very narrowly frame questions to get the response he wanted.
Gowdy: At the time you separated from service in January of 2017, you had seen no evidence that the Russians were successful at changing voter tallies or voter totals?
But as Democratic co-chair Adam Schiff pointed out, that answer … wasn’t the real answer.
Schiff: You’ve been asked, Mr. Secretary, about whether the vote tallies were impacted. Some have suggested that since the actual counting of the votes by the machines wasn’t impacted, that therefore you’re testifying and others have testified that there was no effect on the election. These are two quite different things.
At other times, all the framing in the world couldn’t check the box Gowdy was after.
Gowdy: At the time you separated from service in January of 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 alter our voter infrastructure?
Johnson: Umm. (pause) Not beyond what has been out there, open source, and not beyond anything I’m sure this committee has already seen and heard before directly from the intelligence community. So anything I have on that is derivative of what the intelligence community has … and the law enforcement community.
Gowdy next tried to get Johnson to agree that the intelligence information on Russian meddling was available before the election. When Johnson demurred, he settled for an agreement that Johnson had seen evidence of Russian intention to interfere in the election previous to Election Day—not exactly shocking, since Obama had already gone public with Russian hacking months earlier and Johnson himself had made public warnings about the vulnerability of election infrastructure.
Gowdy stayed on the idea that 1) Russia always tries things like this, and 2) we should have taken action before the election.
Johnson: I think it was unprecedented. The scale and the scope of what we saw them doing. … I’m satisfied that this had my attention, and 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.
Johnson testified that he held a conference call with state officials to offer help before the election, but some states were opposed to designating election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure,” which limited the assistance that could be provided.
Schiff followed up on Gowdy’s questioning, going straight after the implication that Johnson—or any other intelligence official—could answer the question of whether or not the outcome of the election was affected.
Schiff: In your written statement, you state “I’m not in a position to know whether the DNC and other Russian government directed hacks did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”
Schiff: You stand by that?
Johnson: Yes, and thank you for that clarification.
Schiff: It’s not really the job of the intelligence community to determine whether the information that was dumped had a determinative effect on the outcome. Only whether machines were impacted, not people.
Johnson: Correct. You’d need a social scientist or a pollster to do that.
Meanwhile over on the Senate side of the hill, acting Department of Homeland Security official Jeanette Manfra testified that infrastructure had been breached by Russian hacks in 21 states, but refused to say publicly in how many states data had actually been altered or erased.