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Ex-DHS chief Jeh Johnson warns of ongoing foreign interference ahead of election

Ex-DHS chief warns of ongoing foreign interference
Ex-DHS chief Jeh Johnson warns of ongoing foreign interference ahead of election 05:59

Washington — Jeh Johnson, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, warned Sunday that foreign actors are currently taking action to interfere in the 2020 election and urged Americans to ensure they are informed and looking past disconfirmation spread in the run-up to Election Day.

"There is, in fact, foreign interference right now in the 2020 election. We know this from our own government," Johnson said in an interview with "Face the Nation." "The Iranians have attempted to intimidate Democratic voters. We know that there was a large-scale targeting exercise by the Russian government, but our government does not know exactly what their plan is. So there is, in fact, foreign interference."

Johnson said he is "encouraged" the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency are taking the efforts by foreign actors seriously, but stressed "it's up to the voters to be informed and look past the disinformation that is out there."

National security and intelligence officials revealed last month Iran was behind an email campaign targeting Democratic voters in several states, including Florida, in which emails that purported to come from The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, threatened recipients to vote for President Trump "or else." The Proud Boys has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also said Russia, as well as Iran, accessed voter registration data, but the intelligence community had not seen Russia take the same actions as Iran. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI issued an advisory last month revealing that Russian hackers targeted dozens of local and state government networks and successfully stole data from at least two servers. 

Johnson said he believes foreign actors are "interested in undermining confidence in our democracy," but added he's "concerned that the president himself has said little to nothing to promote confidence in our democratic process."

"It's really on Americans to have faith in our democratic process," he said. "Roughly one half of the country — and this is a very emotional election — roughly one half of the country after next Tuesday is going to be bitterly disappointed. What I suggest is that it's more important for Americans to think about the long-term preservation of our democracy for themselves, their kids, their grandkids. Preserving our democracy more than any particular political result is what is key here."

Both Joe Biden and President Trump have issued warnings about possible misconduct surrounding the election, with Biden saying last month he expects to win unless there is "chicanery" at polling places and the president frequently raising claims of voter fraud despite no evidence to bolster his allegations.

Johnson said he cannot "discount the possibility" of tension or unrest on and after Election Day, but said that should not discourage Americans from voting.

"I'm encouraged that more than 90 million Americans have already cast their ballots, which, if you do the math, is the equivalent of the entire 1996 presidential election," he said. "And so I remain optimistic, but we cannot discount the possibility of some trouble or unanticipated events, given the tension that exists out there."

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