Ben Sasse, GOP senator, asks DOJ to clarify if candidates can campaign using hacked material
Sen. Ben Sasse has asked the Department of Justice to clarify whether political candidates can legally campaign for office using stolen material sourced by hackers.
Mr. Sasse, Nebraska Republican, raised the issue Wednesday with Attorney General William Barr during a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 race, which determined that Russian hackers breached Democratic targets to steal documents subsequently touted by Republican candidates including President Trump.
“I think it would be helpful for us to have a shared understanding as we head toward the 2020 election of what campaign operatives should well understand is beyond the pale,” said Mr. Sasse. “So if the Chinese government decides to start hacking into 2020 campaigns, I would hope there’s clarity from the Department of Justice about whether or not Democratic presidential campaigns and whether or not the Trump re-election campaign are allowed to say, ‘Hey, we’re interested in this hacked material’.”
“I think we need to have clarity about a question like that,” Mr. Sasse continued.
Mr. Barr did not directly respond to the congressman’s concerns but said that he “absolutely” believes nominees in the 2020 race should receive regular counterintelligence briefings about foreign efforts to meddle in U.S. affairs.
“The danger from countries like China, Russia and so forth is far more insidious than it has been in the past because of nontraditional collectors that they have operating in the United States, and I think most people are unaware of how pervasive it is and what the risk level is,” said Mr. Barr. “I think it actually should go far beyond even campaigns where people involved in government have to be educated on this.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a message about the senator’s request for clarity.
The Russian government attacked the 2016 elections in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” that included hacking Democratic targets to obtain material later leaked online, Mr. Mueller wrote in a 488-page report summarizing the special counsel’s probe. Moscow has denied responsibility.
Campaigning for the White House in 2016, Mr. Trump frequently cited stolen Democratic National Committee emails released near the end of the race by the website WikiLeaks. That material and others obtained by breaching the email account of John Podesta, the chairman of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s rivaling campaign, were sourced by hackers acting on behalf of the Russian government, Mr. Mueller’s report concluded.
The chairman of the DNC, Tom Perez, last month urged his Republican counterpart to agree that neither party will “weaponize” stolen data during their 2020 campaigns.
“Although you and I profoundly disagree on how our candidates should campaign and elected leaders should govern, we should at the very least work together to assure the American people that the process will be fair, and send a message to our adversaries that we will not tolerate the theft and dissemination of private data in our electoral process,” Mr. Perez wrote in an open letter.
The Republican National Committee referred to previous remarks made by its chairwoman about election interference when reached then for comment.
“Any breach of our political organizations regardless of party is an affront to all of us, and we should come together as Americans to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s important we do all we can to safeguard our future elections,” Ronna McDaniel said in 2018.