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Rep. Adam Schiff Responds To Jeh Johnson's House Testimony On Russia


We're joined now by Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, ranking member of the House intelligence committee. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ADAM SCHIFF: It's great to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, as we heard, during today's hearing, you question the former homeland security secretary about whether the public had a compelling need to know about Russia's attempted interference. Were you satisfied with his answer?

SCHIFF: Well, I think his answers were accurate, but I disagree with the conclusion that the administration reached last year. At the time in the late summer, Senator Feinstein were deeply concerned about the Russian hacking of our institutions. We urged the administration then to speak out. And in fact in September when they still hadn't, we issued our own statement of attribution. But I think the administration should have spoken out much earlier, much more forcefully. They waited until October to issue only a written statement.

I think the president should have talked about a foreign power attempting to interfere in our political affairs, in our election. It was of that level of seriousness. So there were a number of reasons I think the secretary gave that were quite accurate - a reluctance to be seen as putting their hand on the scales, reluctance to play into the narrative that one of the campaigns was saying that the process was rigged. But I think that was all outweighed or should have been outweighed by the public's need to know.

CORNISH: We also heard from the former DHS secretary that the Democratic National Committee didn't want help addressing the issue. What do you make of that?

SCHIFF: We're still looking at that. The DHS and the FBI were both involved in interacting apparently with the DNC, although it may have been more the FBI than DHS. We're trying to find out how seriously did the FBI take this. Did they make a persistent effort to get information from the DNC?

There are some public reports that we've seen - and we need to get to the bottom of it - that they went to tech people who were contractors of the DNC and that it took quite a long time for it to rise to the level of the chair of the party that a foreign power was within their computers. So there's a lot of work I think we have to do as a committee to find out what was the DNC's reaction but also what was the FBI's response. What was DHS response in the sense...

CORNISH: But Jeh Johnson was saying today that the DNC didn't want our help, and we couldn't just swoop in.

SCHIFF: Well, we're going to be bringing in officials in fact in the very near future from the DNC - some of their tech people - to find out what was the situation. And was there an unwillingness or a reluctance to share their server with the FBI or the DHS? And if so, why? Was it impressed upon them by the government just this - you know, how serious an intrusion this was? So this is I think one of the core parts of our investigation to get to the bottom of just how this was so successful in terms of the hacking of information and also to develop best practices. How do we defeat this in the future, how from both an institutional point of the DNC or the RNC, which was also the subject of a Russian effort, but also from the government point of view?

CORNISH: Finally, Jeh Johnson in his prepared remarks wrote that cyberattacks are going to get worse before they get better. And he ended by actually putting a question to you all asking what the president and Congress are going to do to protect the American people and their democracy from future cyberattacks. What is your answer to that?

SCHIFF: My answer is - and I alluded to this at the hearing today, too - we have to educate ourselves and inoculate ourselves against foreign interference in the future. There isn't going to be a cyber fix to this. There's no software patch that's going to protect the DNC or the RNC. The Russians are capable enough actors. If they want to get into our political institutions, they are likely to get in. The only real protection is to develop a consensus in the United States that no matter who it helps and who it hurts, if a foreign power tries to interfere again, we will all reject it. That's the only real defense.

CORNISH: Congressman Adam Schiff, the California Democrats' ranking member of the House intelligence committee, thank you for speaking with us.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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