- Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election were overshadowed by other news.
- Most notably was the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording of President Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals, which came out on the same day as the US intelligence community’s statement accusing the Kremlin of election interference.
- Johnson testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to address issues related to election security.
- The Obama administration has come under fire recently for not adequately addressing the threat posed by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election.
Jeh Johnson, the former Homeland Security secretary, told lawmakers Wednesday that the Obama administration’s warning of Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 US election was overshadowed by the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
“Frankly, it did not get the attention that I thought it should have received,” Johnson testified during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security. “It was below-the-fold news the next day because of the release of the ‘Access Hollywood’ video the same day and a number of other events.”
“I was expecting follow-up from a number of journalists, and we never got that because everyone was focused on the campaign, and the video, and the debate that Sunday,” Johnson added.
On October 7, 2016, the US intelligence community released a statement publicly accusing Russia, for the first time, of hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s email servers and for interfering with the US election process.
The same day, The Washington Post published an 11-year-old, behind-the-scenes video of then-businessman Donald Trump bragging about forcing himself on women while on a bus with the host of “Access Hollywood,” a popular entertainment show on NBC.
The release of the footage triggered an immediate backlash, plunging Trump’s candidacy into crisis mode.
In response to the uproar, Trump issued a rare apology: “I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them.”
Shortly after the release of the humiliating video, the radical pro-transparency organisation Wikileaks published its first tranche of leaked emails from John Podesta, the chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In a matter of a few hours, the news cycle had already moved past the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was actively working to undermine American democracy.
‘Barely a slap on the wrist’
Johnson’s testimony on Wednesday comes as national security officials face mounting pressure over their response to Russian election meddling.
The Obama administration, in particular, has come under fire recently for what some lawmakers say was an inadequate response to Russia’s election interference efforts during the 2016 presidential race.
“I think the Obama administration should have done a lot more when it became clear that not only was Russia intervening, but it was being directed at the highest levels of the Kremlin,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said last year.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, also a Democrat, been critical, as well. She grilled Johnson during the Senate hearing on Wednesday about the nature of his response to the Russia threat.
When Johnson defended his administration’s response by saying that the American people were told about Russia’s involvement, Feinstein replied that it was done so “not sufficiently in any way, shape, or form” for the public to know about it.
Rep. Jim Himes, another Democratic House Intelligence member,called Obama’s response “barely a slap on the wrist.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have failed to pass any significant legislation to shore up election security vulnerabilities ahead of the 2018 midterms. Experts recommend states should replace outdated voting machines and implement tighter cybersecurity standards to thwart possible attempts by hackers to infiltrate US voter systems and manipulate vote counts.
Three bills introduced last year – the Secure Elections Act, the PAPER Act, and the SAVE Act– are currently stalled in Congress. The measures would provide some variation of federal support, including grants, for states to beef up security of their election infrastructures.
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