The Bernie Sanders Campaign is having a Watergate moment, but unlike the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, this time there is no cover up. A Sanders campaign staffer accessed restricted Hillary Clinton voter data on the Democratic National Committee database, a security breach that resulted in the DNC blocking Sanders’ campaign from accessing their own DNC voter info database and the staffer being fired. The Washington Post was the first to report the incident on Friday morning, Dec. 18, 2015. Sanders campaign is saying it happened by accident because of a software error. The DNC says the error was an excuse to access the confidential voter information and get advantage in the weeks before the first nominating contest in Iowa.
Sanders’ campaign was quick to do damage control in an effort to regain their access to the DNC database. The Sanders campaign issued a detailed statement, blaming the software vendor for a malfunction dropping the firewall, and swiftly fired the staffer, the campaign’s national data director Josh Uretsky. Still the DNC wants a more detailed explanation for the occurrence.
Sander’s campaign spokesman Michael Briggs issued a statement blaming the vendor, NGP VAN saying that their campaign the DNC about possible breaches and compromised data “months ago.” Briggs explained, “Sadly, the vendor who runs the DNC’s voter file program continues to make serious errors. On more than one occasion, the vendor has dropped the firewall between the data of different Democratic campaigns. Our campaign months ago alerted the DNC to the fact that campaign data was being made available to other campaigns.”
NGP VAN’s chief executive Stu Trevelyan spoke to The New York Times countering that this was a onetime incident “This was an isolated incident, and we’re conducting a full audit to ensure the integrity of the system and reporting the findings to the DNC.”
Briggs also recounted the incident that happened on Thursday, Dec. 17, stating, “Unfortunately, yesterday, the vendor once again dropped the firewall between the campaigns for some data.” Briggs played the Sanders campaign as a possible victim saying they want the error fixed, because their data could also be breached. Briggs expressed, “We are as interested as anyone in making sure that the software flaws are corrected since mistakes by the DNC’s vendor also have made our records vulnerable. We are working with the DNC and the vendor and hope that this kind of lapse will not occur again.”
The Sanders campaign also brought up the staffer who accessed the restricted data, calling it “unacceptable. Briggs announced, “After discussion with the DNC, it became clear that one of our staffers accessed some modeling data from another campaign. That behavior is unacceptable and that staffer was immediately fired.”
The staffer at the center, Joel Uretsky defended himself in an interview to CNN Friday morning, claiming to have not wanted to access intentionally Clinton’s data. Uretsky explained, “We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening,” Uretsky also claimed he did not see any confidential information, “nobody took anything that would have given the (Sanders) campaign any benefit.”
DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda said they found out about the breach when data systems vendor, NGP-VAN contacted them. Miranda explained that the DNC was told “all users on the system across Democratic campaigns were inadvertently able to access some data belonging to other campaigns for a brief window.” The DNC told the vendor “to identify any users who accessed data, the actions they took in the system, and to report their findings to Party and affected campaigns.”
Sanders’ campaign is at a serious disadvantage with being locked out of the DNC databases with crucial voter data just weeks away from the Iowa caucus. The incident also happened just a day before the third Democratic primary debate on Saturday evening, Dec. 19. Sanders is at a disadvantage in the polls being 30 percent behind Clinton in national polls. Clinton is by far the frontrunner with many presuming she will be the nominee. In 2008 however, Clinton was in the same position when then Senator Barack Obama moved up and then overtook Clinton in a heated primary contest to become the eventual Democratic nominee and then win the election.