On Wednesday at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing led by chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), Johnson tore into Indiana Democrat Senator Gary Peters, saying he had lied repeatedly that Johnson had spread Russian disinformation.
Before that exchange occurred, Johnson noted numerous instances where Peters and other Democrats had warned well before the 2020 election of danger to the election process. He quoted a letter on March 26, 2019, in which Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Warner (D-VA), John Reed (D-RI), and Peters wrote, “The integrity of our elections remain under serious threat. Our nation’s intelligence agencies continue to raise the alarm that foreign adversaries are actively trying to undermine our system and democracy and will target the 2020 elections as they did in 2016 and 2018 elections. A combination of older legacy machines and newer systems vulnerabilities in each present a problem for the security of our democracy and they must be addressed.”
Another letter Johnson quoted from December 6, 2019, written by Senators Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA) Klobuchar, Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Ron Pocan (D-WI), stated:
We are particularly concerned that secretive and trouble-plagued companies owned by private equity firms and responsible for manufacturing and maintaining voting machines and other election ministration equipment, quote, have long skimped on security in favor of convenience, leading voting systems across the country prone to security problems. …
Moreover, when state and local officials work on replacing antiquated machines, many continued to run on old software that will soon be outdated and more vulnerable to hackers. … In 2018 alone, voters in South Carolina were reporting machines that switched their votes after they’d inputted them. Scanners were rejecting paper ballots in Missouri and busted machines were causing long lines in Indiana. … Researchers recently uncovered previously undisclosed vulnerabilities in nearly three dozen back-end election systems in 10 States.
Later in the hearing, precipitating Johnson’s anger, Peters stated:
During the 2016 Election, we saw foreign disinformation campaigns trying to sow doubt about the integrity of our election. We’ve seen that before and very clearly in 2016, and certainly all the intelligence community in this country back that up. In fact, CySA’s rumor control page was actually created within your agency, you mentioned it in your testimony, to address foreign disinformation having an impact on the election. Yet rather than creating fake news, it seems as if Russia has simply used state-controlled news outlets to basically push President Trump’s own statements and lies about a rigged election. Our adversaries don’t have to be technologically-advanced. Our adversaries don’t have to be creative to sow that doubt, all they have to do is air the words of American-elected officials on their state-owned news networks.
As Clint Watts said, he’s a former FBI agent and a disinformation expert, put it, which I think is very strong, and he said, “Nothing that Russia or Iran or China could say, is anywhere near as wild as what the President is saying.” My question is, how are our foreign adversaries taking advantage of false claims of broad election fraud by the President and his supporters, or hearings, like we’re hearing here, we’re hearing these statements again that are broadly claiming systemic irregularities where none exist. How damaging is that?
After former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs offered some testimony, Johnson addressed Peters directly:
I just have to talk about Russian disinformation because the people pedaling it are not on my side of the aisle. Senior Democrat leaders, including ranking member Peters, were involved in a process of creating a false intelligence product that was mostly classified. They leaked to the media, that accused Senator Grassley, the President pro tem of the Senate, and myself, of accepting and disseminating Russian disinformation from Andrii Derkach, I’d never heard of the person till they brought it up. Senator Peters introduced that false information, Russian disinformation, into our investigation record. 50 people associated with the intelligence community after our Hunter Biden investigation and the revelations of the Hunter Biden computer said, “Oh, this is Russian disinformation.”
Now we find out, no, it’s a real investigation by the Justice Department. So it’s just galling, and I just have to point out, that the purveyors of Russian disinformation, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the DNC, the Steele dossier, the ranking member Peters, accusing Senator Grassley and I of disseminating Russian disinformation, that’s where the disinformation is coming, that’s where the false information, the lies, the false allegations. I can’t sit by here and listen to this and say that this is not disinformation, this hearing today, this is getting information we have to take a look at to restore confidence in our election integrity. We’re not going to be able to just move on without bringing up these irregularities, examining them, and providing an explanation, and see where there really are problems so we can correct it moving forward. Senator Paul.
Peters jumped in, “Mr. Chairman, I got to respond to that. You’re saying I’m putting out information.”
Johnson, bluntly, “Try.” Then this exchange followed:
Peters: Well, one, I had nothing to do with this report you’re talking about.
Johnson: You lied repeatedly.
Peters: I did not …
Johnson: You lied repeatedly in the press that I was spreading Russian disinformation, and that was an outright lie. And I told you to stop lying and you continued to do it.
Peters, as Johnson repeatedly called for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to speak: “Mr. Chairman, this is not about airing your grievances. I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down …This is simply not what we’re dealing with. … But Mr. Chairman, you can’t make these false allegations and then drop it at there. That is why this — needs to return back to a … This is terrible what you’re doing to this committee and all the great work that you talked about.”
Johnson, succinctly, “It is what you have done to this committee.”
Peters, protesting, “It is not the case.”
Johnson, concluding, “Falsely accusing the Chairman of spreading disinformation, nothing could have been further from the truth and you’re spouting it again, which is why I had to respond.”
Peters, complaining, “Oh, come on. Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous, this is outrageous.”