DNC data breach: What could it mean for Bernie Sanders?

After a data breach, the Democratic National Committee on Friday suspended the Sanders campaign's access to party voter data. Is DNC after Sanders?

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Communication Workers of America office in Washington Thursday after the union endorsed Senator Sanders in the Democratic presidential race.

Bernie Sanders had a great day yesterday. He landed a big union endorsement from the Communications Workers of America and announced that he’d hit 2 million individual contributions – a huge number.

Today? Not so good. The Democratic National Committee has suspended the Sanders campaign’s access to party voter data due to indications that a Sanders staffer snooped on the Hillary Clinton camp’s confidential information.

Is it a coincidence that this bad news broke shortly after Sanders’s best day in weeks? Hmmm . . . .

“Worth noting DNC suspends Bernie Sanders’ access to voter file less than 12 hours after his biggest endorsement yet . . . ” tweeted Ben Jacobs, political reporter for The Guardian, on Friday.

Actually there are good reasons to think the whole thing is a bureaucratic mix-up more than a conspiracy. Anybody who’s had any exposure to a presidential campaign knows that they don’t exactly move with the sinuous efficiency of Spectre. They’re more like “The Office,” only with yard signs and more swearing. What we may have here is a failure on somebody’s part to understand that they’re overreacting.

Details are still murky, but what’s come out so far appears to back up the Sanders campaign’s claims that the whole thing is a misunderstanding. According to a Sanders statement, the contractor that maintains the DNC’s big voter database made a “serious error.” It dropped the firewall meant to keep the Sanders team from looking at Clinton’s voter information, and vice versa.

That’s when at least one Sanders staffer got into the Clinton stuff. That person already has been fired, according to the statement. It remains unclear whether the intrusion was actually a spy mission, or an attempt to just see what the heck was going on and how vulnerable Sanders was, as the fired staffer maintains.

“We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening,” said the fired staffer in question, Josh Uretsky, in a CNN interview on Friday.

The DNC database in question is a huge file on Democratic national voters. Individual campaigns buy or are given access to this trove, then add their own info, such as which Democrats are their likely supporters. These additions and other campaign customizations are supposed to be proprietary and inaccessible to rivals.

It’s a bad time for Sanders to be shut out of this DNC information. Voting begins in February in Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s only weeks away, leaving little time for end-game mobilization and outreach efforts.

That’s led some liberal commentators to say that, absent further developments, the DNC needs to restore Sanders's access to the database, fast.

“This is no way to maintain confidence in the integrity of the primary process,” writes left-leaning Greg Sargent at the Plum Line blog of The Washington Post.

Of course, in the short term Sanders has perhaps a bigger problem – the next Democratic debate is scheduled for Saturday evening, as the countdown to Christmas dwindles to a few days.

A weekend night in late December for a key televised showdown? You’d think the Democratic Party didn’t really want that many people to watch the show and see the alternatives to front-runner Clinton.

Double hmmm . . .

“We’re playing the hand we were dealt,” Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, told The New York Times. “I guess Christmas Eve was booked.”

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