Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley at last month's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa
The Democratic National Committee reached an agreement with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign early Saturday morning to restore access to a critical voter database.
The détente came hours after the Sanders campaign sued the DNC in federal court, alleging breach of contract for suspending access to its voter file. In its complaint, the Sanders campaign argued that the DNC's "unwarranted, unilateral suspension" was causing the candidate "irreparable injury" and threatened to "cripple" his campaign.
The DNC initially said it would not restore access until the Sanders campaign provided a full explanation of its activities. The Sanders campaign, meanwhile, accused the DNC of taking its data "hostage" and attempting to "sabotage" it.
Without access to its lists, which the Sanders team called “the lifeblood of any campaign,” its canvassing and fundraising efforts were hobbled just six weeks before the Iowa caucuses. In its lawsuit, the Sanders campaign valued the losses it was suffering at more than $600,000 per day.
In a statement released early Saturday, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it had reversed course because the Sanders campaign had provided the information it had requested.
"Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign," Wasserman Schultz said. "The Sanders campaign has agreed to fully cooperate with the continuing DNC investigation of this breach."
She added that the situation was "completely unacceptable."
The Sanders campaign, which sent out a statement at the same time Saturday morning, framed the situation differently. It said the DNC had "capitulated" to its demand and had performed an "about face" ahead of a hearing on a request for an emergency injunction.
“We are extremely pleased that the DNC has reversed its outrageous decision to take Sen. Sanders’ data," campaign manager Jeff Weaver said. "The information we provided tonight is essentially the same information we already sent them by email on Thursday."
He continued: “Clearly, they were very concerned about their prospects in court."
Later Saturday morning, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement that his side was “pleased that the Sanders campaign has agreed to submit to an independent audit to determine the full extent of the intrusion its staff carried out earlier this week, and also to ensure that Sanders' voter file no longer contains any of the proprietary data that was taken from us.”
Fallon said that “further disciplinary action should be taken as appropriate” at the audit’s conclusion.
During a combative press conference Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C., Weaver called the move “an inappropriate overreaction.”
“The leadership of the Democratic National Committee is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign,” he said. “This is unacceptable. Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign — one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in modern history.”
During a conference call with reporters Friday evening, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook returned fire, accusing the Sanders campaign of theft.
“This was a very egregious breach, and our data was stolen,” he said. “This was not an inadvertent glimpse into our data. It was not, as the Sanders campaign has described it, a mistake.”
According to Mook, Sanders staffers conducted “25 intentional and targeted searches of our data” and attempted to save the information. He said the breach was “totally unacceptable and may have been a violation of the law.” The campaign posted online what it characterized as an audit trail of one user’s intrusions into the system over the course more than 90 minutes.
Mook also took issue with an email the Sanders campaign sent its supporters Friday afternoon. In it, Weaver accused the DNC of placing “its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign.”
To that, Mook said, “We are particularly disturbed right now that they are using the fact that they stole data as a reason to raise money for their campaign. And I would certainly hope that they would stop trying to make money off of what they did, stop politicizing and work to make sure that what took place is remedied.”
Even as the campaigns slammed each other over the data breach, many details of the incident remained unclear.
All sides have said that a security vulnerability occurred Wednesday morning as DNC vendor NGP VAN performed a software upgrade. All of the campaigns using the system were temporarily able to view proprietary information each campaign had layered on top of communal voter data.
Weaver acknowledged during Friday’s press conference that at least one staffer had “irresponsibly accessed” Clinton campaign data. He said the campaign had fired that staffer, Josh Uretsky, and was conducting an internal investigation to determine whether others were involved.
In interviews Friday, Uretsky claimed he had not been attempting to steal Clinton data but rather to document the security flaw. Weaver said he did not believe the Sanders campaign had retained the compromised Clinton data in any form.
Friday’s conflagration threatened to change the tone of the Democratic candidates’ third debate. It is scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. in Manchester, N.H. and will be broadcast on ABC.