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Transcript: Jeh Johnson talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

CBS NEWS - WASHINGTON BUREAU

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - JEH JOHNSON

INTERVIEW WITH JEH JOHNSON

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, welcome to the show. It is great to have you--

JEH JOHNSON:

Thank you, Mike.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And more importantly, it is great to see you again.

JEH JOHNSON:

Thank you. Same here. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Jeh, I read that you were the designated survivor for the inauguration of President Trump. Is that right?

JEH JOHNSON:

I drew that short straw twice, actually. I was the designated survivor, State of the Union 2016 and on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And did they take you somewhere special?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, State of the Union 2016, I went to an undisclosed location. I cannot disclose it because it's undisclosed. The nice thing about that is you get to take the White House chef with you, and watch it on TV. And then when the president's back in the residence, you get to go home.

Inauguration Day, it's a fundamentally different exercise. Because everyone in the cabinet, which is most people in the presidential line of succession, are resigning. So not only do you have to have a designated survivor, but the designated survivor has to be willing to, and the president, the new president has to be willing to see that person stay on into the next administration to serve for some period of minutes or hours as a cabinet officer in the next administration, so that there is somebody in the line of succession. Because the cabinet's gone, and all you have left is the new president, the new vice president, the president pro-tem of the Senate and the speaker. And you need somebody else--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And they're all there.

JEH JOHNSON:

--and they're all there--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And they're all there.

JEH JOHNSON:

So I make a great trivia question. Who was Donald Trump's first cabinet officer? It was me. And at 7:32 that night, John Kelly and Jim Mattis were confirmed by the Senate. And they became his cabinet. And I was relieved. So I was also the first person to resign (LAUGH) from the Trump administration--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's terrific. That's terrific. Jeh, you served the government in a number of legal capacities, assistant U.S. Attorney in the southern district of New York.

JEH JOHNSON:

Hired by Rudy Giuliani.

MICHAEL MORELL:

General counsel to the Air Force.

JEH JOHNSON:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

General counsel to the Department of Defense, the department's top lawyer, and of course, the Secretary of Homeland Security--

JEH JOHNSON:

And that's how we got to know each other when I was at DOD.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The Secretary of Homeland Security job was your first policy job?

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct. Actually my first non-lawyer job as an adult. Correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how did you find that transition from providing legal advice to doing a policy job?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, it was definitely a transition. But I had great role models. When I was general counsel of DOD, I served at the right hand of Robert Gates, and then Leon Panetta, who were both Secretary of Defense. And Gates and Panetta, two very different kinds of people with two very different styles, as I'm sure you know.

And everyone has to be their own person, and go with what best suits. But I found attributes in each of their management styles that I tried to follow. And so Robert Gates was very-- when you're in a big job like D.H.S. secretary, or Secretary of Defense, time is an extremely valuable commodity. And how you allocate your time, and how you use your time in the course of a workday is so critical.

And Gates was very regimented in his schedule. And what I learned from him, and Bob Gates was no big fan of lawyers, by the way, but we managed to build a great relationship. What I learned from him is that legal advice is just one component of a multi-dimensional decision space. And that the best decisions are made after a collaborative decision making process with discussion from people who will be affected, will implement it. And people at least, even if you disagree with them, will feel like they've been heard.

Leon had a different management style, a little less formal, but had excellent relations with the hill, and with the press. And I learned from that as well, and just had a wealth of experience, the White House, the C.I.A., on the Hill. And so when I was asked to step into the cabinet, you have to pull back from playing lawyer.

Lawyers want to roll up their sleeves and really dig into a problem, and read the statute and read all the legal opinions. And when you're the secretary, you don't have the time to do that. And it's not the best use of your time. So it was a learning process. But my decision, my management style, and I think most people who work for me would say this, was to have a collaborative process where people are encouraged to offer their views, their views are solicited. And that is how healthy decisions are made.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, let me ask another, question, which is as a consumer of intelligence, you consume it--

JEH JOHNSON:

Which I was while I was in the cabinet, yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You consumed it at DOD. And then you really consumed it when you were at Homeland Security. How did you think about the intelligence you saw? How valuable was it? How did you think about it?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, let me deconstruct for you my day. First thing I did when I got to my desk at 6:30 in the morning was dig into the daily intelligence, which included the PDB. It was sitting there on my desk. And before I got to the newspapers, I'd go through the intelligence. And those who assembled it for me knew what I was interested in. They knew not to give it to me all at an altitude of 100'. They knew it had to be at a certain altitude, big picture, but with enough granularity that I'd have a realistic assessment --

MICHAEL MORELL:

And different issues, probably different altitudes.

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct. And in a job like Secretary of Homeland Security, your intel, your daily intel briefing is your eyes and ears. And if you don't consume it, you're flying blind. It's like trying to fly an airplane with the windshield fogged up and the instruments are all down. And so I'd read it. And then I would sit with the intelligence briefers, who would go back over the book with me to make sure that I got it in case I wasn't reading it that closely.

That was also my opportunity to ask questions. Occasionally, as you know, there'd be an agency assessment. And there might be a dissent from another agency. And what I was fond of doing over time was I'd say, "All right, bring the analyst up here. I want to talk directly to the analyst that wrote that report. And I want to talk to the analyst who wrote the dissent."

And you'd find out there isn't really such a disagreement. It's just maybe a matter of what assumptions can be drawn from it. But it was very, very valuable to do. And then if I had time, I'd read the newspapers. If I had time, I'd read the newspapers simply to see how they were covering the stuff I knew was reality.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So given how important it was to you, how do you think about the way the president deals with his intelligence community?

JEH JOHNSON:

I don't-- it is not wise to simply disagree with your intelligence community. That's like saying, "I'm going to fly this airplane without my instruments and my windshield, and just on my own instinct of which way is north, which way is south." That is a dangerous position to be in. You-- as I said -- the intelligence community is the eyes and ears of someone who operates in national security.

You're just not in a position to know it all from watching cable news or open source information. And as I said, when I was in office, the intelligence was the reality. The open source public information was simply how the press was covering what I knew to be reality. So it's vitally important.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Absolutely. Jeh, before we jump into the issues of the day, I wanted to ask you about the fall of 2016. We now know where President Obama came out on the question of how much to tell the American people about what you all knew the Russians were doing in terms of interfering with our election. Where were you in that debate? What did you think that we should have done with the full realization that this was an extraordinarily difficult decision?

JEH JOHNSON:

I believed that first and foremost, once we were convinced that the Russian government, at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, was behind the hacking of the DNC, that we had to tell the American people before the election, and that that would have been unforgivable to not disclose that information prior to the election, so that the voters would be aware that there is a foreign effort to put a thumb on the scale of our democracy.

And so as you know from your experience, Mike, the realization of something does not necessarily come overnight with the flick of a switch. It was a rising tide of intelligence that began in the early summer that led to the realization and the conclusion by late summer that the Russian government was behind this. And then there was the debate about what to do about it and who would issue any statement.

That took some time. It was not an easy decision. We were in an unprecedented environment. We had never faced this before. And so eventually on October 7th, as you know, Jim Clapper and I issued the statement. But that was after wrestling with a lot of really difficult issues, because we felt we had to tell the American public what we knew. But we were rightly so, extremely reluctant to inject the national security intelligence apparatus of the U.S. government into an election, into an ongoing political campaign.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Exactly where it shouldn't be.

JEH JOHNSON:

Right. And even the discussion of the campaign in the Situation Room felt very weird, rightfully so. And as you recall, candidate Trump was saying that the election was going to be rigged. And we were, in a way, playing into that conspiracy theory. And there was a school of thought around the table that simply by virtue of making attribution, you're playing into the Russians' hands.

Because that might tend to delegitimize the election. And so we wrestled with all of that. And we wrestled with, and you're fully familiar with this type of thing, we wrestled with the declassification of very sensitive information. Would it compromise sources and methods?

Ultimately we came out where we did. And I am convinced that we made the right decision. A lot of people ask, "Well, shouldn't the president himself have said something?" I still believe, given the political environment then, that we said what we said at the right time at the right level of government.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, just one more question on the fall of 2016. In what you and Director Clapper put out, you didn't talk about the weaponization of social media. You talked about getting into state and local computer systems, or attempts by the Russians to do that. And you talked about the hacking, and the provision of that material to Wikileaks. Was that a conscious decision? Or how did you think about the social media piece?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, there were three facets to what the Russians did. And one was the hacking of the DNC. Second was the scanning and probing around election infrastructure, voter registration databases. And third was the weaponization of social media.

Now, the DNC hacks, we were in a position then to know exactly what was going on and who was doing it. The scanning and probing around the voter registration databases, we saw that effort. But we were not then in a position to attribute it to the Russian government, though I felt strongly that we needed to say something about it in that statement. Because it was out in the news. We were just not then in a position to attribute that to the Russian government, with the level of certainty that you'd want.

And then the social media effort was something that then we were only beginning to get our arms around. And I still believe that, to this day in 2019, we still don't fully understand the extent to which the Russian government invaded social media to influence the election. I still think we're trying to get our arms around that. But that was something then that we were just beginning to see. And we were not in a position to formally attribute it to them.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, let's switch gears a little bit to talk about some of the key Homeland Security issues of today. And I think the place to start is the southern border. And as Secretary of Homeland Security, you were responsible for securing that border. So can you give us a primer on how to think about the security of the border, and how that has changed over time? Can you put all of this in perspective for us? Because I think there is just so much information out there and views out there that perhaps aren't consistent with reality? And you're probably best positioned to help us think about this--

JEH JOHNSON:

You're about right about that. There is so much emotion, politics and misinformation about immigration and about our southern border. So here are the facts. The facts are that illegal migration on our southern border is a fraction of what it used to be. We measure illegal migration. We measure total attempts to cross the border illegally by apprehensions.

Apprehensions are an indicator. The high was fiscal year 2000, when there were 1.6 million apprehensions on our southern border. Because of an improved economy in Mexico and because of investments we have made over the last 18 years in border security, the number is much lower. It ranges in the 300,000 to 400,000 annual level.

Now, what border security have we invested in? More technology like surveillance technology, more mobile surveillance, more aerial surveillance, drones, more vehicles, more lights, more roads, more boats, more Border Patrol agents, and more barriers in places where it makes sense to build a wall or a fence, pursuant to something called the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

So there is now some form of wall or fence on 654 miles of the 1,900 mile border. And there are places, frankly, where it doesn't make sense to have any form of barrier, in remote desert areas, or on top of 10,000 foot mountains. It was-- it is simply not a wise investment of taxpayer money to build a wall, just for the sake of building a wall. And so that has led to a significant downturn in illegal migration. But the demographic has totally changed. It's no longer this single adult from Mexico. It is now women, children, families coming from Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, which presents--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because of the economic and political situation in those countries--

JEH JOHNSON:

Because of the violence and poverty in those situations. And that itself presents unique challenges. Because our system is really not equipped to deal with a lot of women and children and families. And this administration is seeing that now, and the numbers are at very high levels because people have simply made the conscious decision it is safer to make the journey and take my chances in the U.S. than it is to stay in Central America.

And so people ask, "Would do we do?" We have to make a long-term investment in addressing the poverty and violence in Central America. This can be done, by the way. It has been done before, like, you know, the so-called Plan Columbia. And that is not a political quick fix. And here in Washington, so often people want political quick fixes. That requires a sustained political commitment to a multi-year investment in that region.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, so there is no crisis at the southern border, in your view, then?

JEH JOHNSON:

There's not a security crisis, as has been referred to from time to time. There's a humanitarian crisis in Central America that leads to the circumstances on our southern border today. And during a spike, you see local communities in, say, McAllen or Laredo or El Paso or in southern California that are flooded with migrants, and to an extent that occurs, that can be considered a humanitarian crisis. But a security crisis per se? No. I would not characterize it that way. The demographic is, as I said before, women and children and families, for the most part.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what, in your view, is driving the administration's policy in this regard? Is it totally domestic politics?

JEH JOHNSON:

Probably yes. I think it's domestic politics. I think there is some fear-mongering going on. And so the immigration issue is-- I've wrestled with a lot of different issues in public office, so a lot of difficult different issues. Guantanamo Bay, drones, drone strikes, gays in the military, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, cyber security, cyber attacks, Russian hacking into our election in 2016. Immigration is the most difficult.

I found immigration to be the most difficult, intractable, emotional, politicized issue. And unlike a lot of other issues, there's simply very, very few politicians in Washington willing to occupy the middle ground. When we repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2010, which was a hugely controversial issue, there were at least some in congress in the middle willing to listen to reason on this. It's very, very hard to find anybody that occupies that space in immigration. Everyone's on the political extremes, on the political fringes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And to you, what would be an appropriate approach to immigration over the long term? What does that look like, do you think--

JEH JOHNSON:

Make that investment in eradicating the poverty and violence in Central America. There are always additional smart investments we can make in border security on our southern border. We need to continue to be vigilant at ports of entry where vast amounts of narcotics, contraband, other dangerous stuff can show up in trucks, in vehicles.

And I think we need to reckon with the existing undocumented population in this country. According to some estimates, it's somewhere around 10.7 million. There's some that say it's much more. But I think the most interesting aspect of that statistic is at least half have been here more than ten years. They're not going away.

And they're not going to self deport. So they are-- many of them, like the DACA class, the dreamers, are de facto Americans. They're not going away. So we should, as a facet of overall immigration reform, reckon with that population and give them the opportunity to get on the books, submit to a background check, and be accountable, and perhaps a path to citizenship for them.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, at this year's worldwide threat testimony, the DNI, Dan Coats and other leaders of the IC put a significant emphasis on the cyber threat. And I think they talked about it more than they talked about anything else, how it's growing in terms of numbers of adversaries, the growing sophistication of those adversaries and the breadth of attacks, everything from espionage to influence operations. So I want ask you a couple questions about that. And the first is what was the role of D.H.S. on cyber? And how does it compare to others in government such as N.S.A. and the F.B.I.?

JEH JOHNSON:

So in the prior administration I thought we did a pretty good job of trying to spell out what the respective roles are in something called PPD-41. You may remember it. And basically what it say is that the Department of Homeland Security is and should be responsible for what we call asset response. And law enforcement, specifically the F.B.I., should be responsible for threat response.

So the way I used to describe it in speeches is the F.B.I. director is the cop. You call the cop when there's been a cyber threat. And I was the fireman. You call D.H.S. to help put out the fire, deal with the forensics, deal with the preventive measures for the next attack. And then of course, the intelligence community is responsible for intelligence collection. And our military, our Title X agencies are responsible for helping to secure national security networks and offensive cyber capabilities. So that's how I see it. And I think those roles are relatively clear. Now, what tends to happen is each new administration wants to try to rethink all of that. And so it gets muddled and confused.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you think it's a little muddled and confused now?

JEH JOHNSON:

I do. But the essential role of the Department of Homeland Security is to help government and the private sector root out bad actors, patch vulnerabilities, educate the public on the cyber threat, and increase awareness and minimize risk.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And how did you see your capabilities in that regard with regard to the role that you were asked to play, grow over time? Were you getting the talent that you needed to be able to do that?

JEH JOHNSON:

Good question.

MICHAEL MORELL:

What did that look like?

JEH JOHNSON:

So when I came to D.H.S., I was not steeped in cyber security. I was the lawyer at the Department of Defense. N.S.A. is part of the Department of Defense. And we had, during my entire four years there, really good top lawyers at N.S.A.. And so I did not really immerse myself too much in this.

I found that that was inescapable once I became Secretary of Homeland Security. I just had to learn this subject. I came to D.H.S. saying that counterterrorism was the cornerstone of the Homeland Security mission. And by the end of my three years, I was saying that cyber security should be the other cornerstone of the Homeland Security mission. I was pleased that congress just passed legislation to create a separate agency within D.H.S. responsible for cyber security, the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency, I think it's called. There needs to be an agency for cyber security. And so I saw my role in cyber security greatly expand while I was in office.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Jeh, what do you think we need to do about the cyber threat as a nation? I mean, if you step way back from it? And in particular, what do you think the government's role should be, and what is the roles of the private sector? And how should those two things connect?

JEH JOHNSON:

The government's role is preventive. It's defense. But it's also offense, responding to attacks. Private sector should not be engaging in self help when it comes to-- or responding offensively to attacks, that is. Hack back, that's not the role of the private sector. It's the role of government. It's an essential government activity.

There's a lot we can do in the private sector. Cyber security is essentially a private public partnership. And so what I like to preach is first when it comes to cyber attacks by nation states, the first and foremost line of defense is creating sufficient deterrents on nation states so that it becomes cost prohibitive to engage in this type of bad behavior.

But on defense, first and foremost, raising awareness among those who use systems. So if you're in an educational institution, raising the awareness of those who have access to the emails. Or in a political party or a law firm, or financial institution, raising the awareness of those who use the systems about the evils of spear phishing and what to do if you get a suspicious email can go a long way to preventing attacks. Because the most devastating attacks start as a simple act of spear phishing. Continued investments in technology, and you touched on this a minute ago, within government, we need to do a better job of recruitment and retention of cyber talent.

When I was at D.H.S., my best people were getting lured away to the financial services sector, because they simply pay more. And so I like to think that hopefully young cyber talent is willing to serve in government for a period of time, and then go into the private sector after having the experience of serving the country.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Maybe there needs to be a new culture in the government, right, where there's not an expectation that you come from a career. But there is--

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--growing expectation that people move both ways, right--

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's the way to stay on the cutting edge.

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, that's certainly been my own career.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. So Jeh, we talked about the Russian influence efforts in 2016. And at the worldwide threat testimony, the DNI pointed out that there's now other countries doing this. It is growing. It is growing as a tool. And it's going to be a problem that's going to be with us for a long time. One way to deal with that is deterrents. But how do you think we can protect ourselves as a nation from these kind of influence efforts? What should we be doing?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, you cannot have a 100% fool proof defense. There are cyber attacks that occur daily, hourly, minute by minute. There have been cyber attacks somewhere in the homeland since you and I started this interview. And so you cannot have a fool proof-- it's a little like trying to stop rain, and preventing rain drops from hitting the pavement.

So raising awareness, continued investments in technology, and a better partnership between the government and the private sector, raising the levels of trust, lowering the barriers of suspicion between the public and private sectors, so that there's more cooperation, more information sharing about threat streams, about the best tools, the best technology can go a long way. I think we've yet to turn the corner. I think the cyber threat to our nation is going to get worse before it gets better. Because those on offense are getting better and better all the time.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So on the influence question, right, on people using social media and other methods to try to influence us, deterrence is an important piece of that, right--

JEH JOHNSON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--convincing Putin and others that they --

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--can't get away with this. But are there things that we should be doing as a government that perhaps we're not? Ukrainian government, for example, has a weekly program where they come out and they say, "Here's what the Russians are trying to get you to believe," right? Are there different tools we should be using here to try to deal with the influence problem?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, certainly outing the bad actor, exposing the bad actor is important. Second, I think we have to be very careful when we're talking about influence campaigns, fake news, the promulgation of extremist views, for the government not to get into the business of regulating, editing or filtering speech in a free and open society.

They do that in other countries. We should not do that here. So we have to be very careful not to go down the road of having our security agencies in particular, in some way blocking content that they deem to have a foreign origin to it, or blocking content that is deemed fake news. Just think what some government officials would do with that power if they were given it.

So to a large extent, I think it's up to those who are social media providers, internet service providers, to self-regulate. I also am a big believer in a new product out there created by a pioneering journalist Steven Brill called NewsGuard. NewsGuard is like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on a piece of information.

And so green, yellow, red. Green means this is something that is reliable, trustworthy. Yellow means caution. It's not always the best. And red means this is total fake news. It's unreliable and untrustworthy. And it's up to the social media provider to place that emblem on the information that we receive so that the public is more scrutinizing of the information they receive.

MICHAEL MORELL:

A couple of final questions. Homegrown violent extremism, which is the biggest terrorist threat that we face in America today -- what is D.H.S.'s role with regard to that issue? And what do you see as the key to mitigating that threat?

JEH JOHNSON:

It's a very interesting question. Just in my time in the Obama administration, I saw the terrorist threat to our nation evolve from what you and I would refer to as terrorist directed attacks to terrorist inspired attacks, where the terrorist is not someone who is part of an armed group, in military terms. Not someone who trained with a terrorist organization, who comes from overseas, but someone who is right here at home, who is the so-called lone wolf, inspired by something they see or read on the internet.

And that is a much harder threat to detect. And it is very unpredictable. And it's hard to know when such an actor will strike next. So the answer, in addition to our traditional approaches in military, in the intelligence community, is traditional law enforcement, but also countering violent extremism here at home by engaging communities in which terrorist organizations seek to recruit.

And so when I was in office, I visited just about every major metropolitan area that had a significant American Muslim community of one type or another. And I thought we made some good progress. We also got the congress to agree to fund local efforts at countering violent extremism. That effort, unfortunately, has largely atrophied in the current administration. But I think it is vitally important as a centerpiece to thwarting terrorist organizations' efforts at recruiting those who are here at home.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why do you think it's atrophied? Just not a priority?

JEH JOHNSON:

Not a priority. I think unfortunately the CVE effort has been politicized. So I was the first cabinet level official to speak at the annual conversation of the Islamic Society of North America. It's an annual gathering of something like 10,000 American Muslims in Chicago. And I knew it would be controversial. And I knew it would be criticized.

And some groups said it was-- that convention is a front for terrorist organizations, and how dare the secretary go there? But I thought it was vitally important. And I hate to see our CVE efforts become demagogued or politicized in this way. And I worry that the current administration has bought into that, and as have many in congress.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And then what's the impact of the president's rhetoric about Muslims, or something like the Muslim Ban on being able to have those ties to the Muslim communities?

JEH JOHNSON:

I think it directly affects it and compromises it. So the day President Trump, who was then candidate Trump announced that he wanted to ban all Muslims from immigrating to this country, I was at a mosque in northern Virginia on one of my CVE engagements. And of course it was a huge setback, when even a candidate for president suggests such a thing. And that in and of itself required a certain bridge building and repair effort.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, last question, but maybe the most difficult one. Politics in America. You've mentioned it a couple times as getting in the way of good policy. I know you're not a politician. I know you don't study politics. But you've--

JEH JOHNSON:

I'll admit that I study politics.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--worked in this town. You've worked with a bunch of politicians. How do you think we got ourselves here? And more importantly, how do we get out of this?

JEH JOHNSON:

I am depressed about the state of our politics right now. Politics has become the ends and not the means. Politics should be the instrument for getting stuff done. Getting stuff done in Washington inevitably involves compromise. But politics itself has become the ends. And people occupy the political extremes, and deem it not to be in their political interest to reach across the aisle and reach agreement on stuff.

And that is deeply disconcerting. The shutdown we just went through for 35 days because of the political environment, did a level of damage to our federal government and our security efforts that will last months if not years in terms of morale, recruitment, retention, reenlistment.

And politics is paralyzing our government. Politics is paralyzing our democracy. I believe, however-- I believe in the pendulum theory of American politics. That Americans, American voters every four to eight years want something very different from what they had. And as my former law partner Ted Sorenson, who was JFK's speech writer used to say, democracies have the ability to self-correct so long as they function as democracies. And so my hope is that we are going through a period right now that is not permanent. And I hope we should have to have a crisis to bring us all together. That shouldn't have to happen. I remain an optimist.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I guess the thing that concerns me at the end of the day is, you know, democracy requires two things. It requires that piece of paper, right, that constitution. But it requires a set of norms by which people behave, and by which they operate. And those norms are getting shredded day by day.

And once shredded, it's really hard to put them back. And so you actually see some members of the other party starting to behave in similar ways, which is worrisome. And once Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, it's tough to put him together again.

JEH JOHNSON:

When I was in college, I worked in Washington for a great man, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once gave a speech on defining deviancy down. What was once intolerable behavior becomes tolerable and acceptable. I hope that we have not seen a permanent degradation of our civility, of our political rhetoric in this country.

And I do remain an optimist. I think that there are enough good people who want to be in government for the right reasons. And voters have to incentivize our elected leaders to reach compromise, and not be afraid to leave their comfort zone. Voters should be rewarding political courage, and not punishing it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, what would you look for in a president? What qualities would you like to see in a president?

JEH JOHNSON:

Now you're straying into politics. But I'll--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, I know I am. I know I am. (LAUGH)

JEH JOHNSON:

--try and answer. Having observed a president, having observed really great American leaders, it's not-- there's no litmus test, in my judgment for what it takes to become a good president. I believe that, of course, communication skills are important, certain basic leadership skills, knowing what you don't know, and the ability to learn is vitally important.

Having a good solid set of values, having a moral compass is important. But, you know, we've had presidents who did not come into office expert in all facets of being president. You know, Reagan, Clinton did not know a whole lot about foreign policy. But they had good people around them. And they knew when to listen and learn. And they knew that they did not know it all. And in my view, those are the attributes of a great president. And it doesn't require a specific kind of resume.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Jeh, thanks for being with us today.

JEH JOHNSON:

Thank you.

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