A Democratic family feud over how a Bernie Sanders staffer managed to gain unauthorized access to critical voter data, which belonged to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, spilled into public today with finger-pointing, accusations, and a lawsuit.
And just in time for the holidays.
At a press conference on Friday, Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver lashed out at the Democratic National Committee and accused them of actively working against the Sanders campaign by cutting off their access to a critical voter database after a staffer took advantage of an inactive firewall and went through the Clinton campaign’s files.
“Rather incredible the leadership of the DNC has used this incident to shut down our ability to access our own information, information which is the lifeblood of this campaign,” Weaver said. “This is the information of our supporters, our volunteers the list of people we intend to contact in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.”
Weaver called the DNC’s response an “inappropriate overreaction” and said if access to the voter database was not restored in short order then they would go to federal court.
“Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign,” he said. “We are announcing today if the DNC continues to hold our data hostage, and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief.”
The Clinton and Sanders campaigns both pay for access to the DNC’s massive voter database. The campaigns use the files to properly target their voters, grow their base and to make sure, at the end of the day, that as many of their supporters get to the polls on primary or caucus day as possible. Given the sensitivity and the strategic importance of the information, the campaigns are firewalled off from one another.
That is, until the firewall came down for about 45 minutes and at least one Sanders staffer began to peruse Clinton’s data.
“During this window, over the course of approximately 45 minutes, staffers of the Bernie Sanders campaign inappropriately accessed voter targeting data belonging to the Hillary Clinton campaign,” DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
Upon learning of the breach, the DNC suspended the Sanders campaign from accessing the system—a punishment that has left them with no way of knowing where they are in the outreach process, just weeks before the first primary contests begin.
The Sanders campaign says it immediately fired the staffer, and “made certain that information obtained was not utilized.”
“Clearly while the information was made available to our campaign because of the incompetence of the vendor, it should not have been looked at,” Weaver said.
Brian Fallon, national press secretary for the Clinton campaign, said in a statement that they were told that the Sanders campaign performed 25 searches using four different accounts and that “this data was saved into the Sanders’ campaign account.”
“We are asking that the Sanders campaign and the DNC work expeditiously to ensure that our data is not in the Sanders campaign’s account and that the Sanders campaign only have access to their own data,” Fallon said.
In an interview on CNN, Wasserman Schultz dismissed Weaver’s complaints as “bluster” from a campaign that she says was caught doing the wrong thing.
“The Sanders campaign unfortunately doesn’t have anything other than bluster at the moment that they can put out there,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The only way for us at the moment to make sure that we analyze what amount of information was taken and that we can prevent and make sure the Sanders campaign no longer has access to it, is to suspend their ability to manipulate it.”
Democrats not named “Clinton,” have spent much of the cycle complaining that the DNC was in the tank for Hillary. The most prominent example, according to supporters of Sanders and other Democrats earlier this year, was the debate schedule that features six debates, some held at times when no normal humans care about politics (see: this Saturday at 8 p.m., tune in!).
Wasserman Schultz brushed aside accusations of favoritism.
“What this is an example of is the DNC trying to make sure that we can credibly manage our voter file,” she said, adding that they have asked the Sanders campaign to participate in an independent audit to figure out just what happened.
“We are going to try to make sure that we can get them access to their voter file as quickly as possible,” she said.
Nevertheless, several hours later, the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC.