Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday said the intelligence community had been wary of making a public statement on Russian interference during the 2016 election in part because of then-candidate Donald Trump’s allegations that the outcome would be “rigged.”
“Why did it take the administration so long to make a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the American election?” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, asked Johnson.
Johnson described the statement as an “unprecedented step” and disputed the notion that the administration delayed in issuing it.
“First, as you know well, we have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods,” he said. “Second, there was an ongoing election and many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides in the election.”
While he did not mention Trump by name, Johnson then cited his allegations that the election was going to be “rigged” against him.
“One of the candidates, as you’ll recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way,” he said. “And so we were concerned that by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”
Nevertheless, Johnson said he was “glad” the administration put out a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the U.S. election.
“My view is that we needed to do it and we needed do it well before the election to inform the American voters of what we knew and what we saw and it would be unforgivable if we did not pre-election,” he said.
Johnson told Schiff that when the Obama administration finally made a public statement about Russian interference, it was buried by the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, which showed Trump bragging about forcibly grabbing and kissing women.
“I think the larger issue is it did not get the public attention that it should have, frankly, because the same day the press was focused on the release of the ‘Access Hollywood’ video,” he said. “That’s what made our news below the fold news that day.”