Brad Ashford says his emails were hacked, too, showing how deep Russia meddled in 2016
WASHINGTON — Then-Rep. Brad Ashford got the call in the summer of 2016, shortly before Congress headed home for its August break.
Hackers had broken into the computer network of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and stolen materials — including emails between the group and Ashford’s re-election campaign.
The Omaha congressman could already see the political environment was souring for his side, with Democrats deeply divided over the presidential primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
And now on top of that, the Russians know my strategy, he thought.
Ashford said he wasn’t concerned that his Republican opponent Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, would use any of the material. But he thought some unscrupulous third party might do so.
And Ashford noted that his campaign was one of the tight races across the country that Russian operatives targeted with digital ads, although they were pretty generic.
“I can’t say what impact it had on our election, if any,” Ashford says as he looks back now.
Ashford posted online about the stolen emails Friday after the Justice Department announced charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking offenses during the 2016 presidential election, including the DCCC hacks.
Ashford told The World-Herald that he didn’t make a big deal about the stolen emails at the time because he didn’t want to appear to be implying that Republicans had anything to do with it.
He said his staff reviewed all of their email exchanges with the DCCC and found nothing inappropriate — no bombshell revelation that would have rocked the race.
There was sensitive information about fundraising and strategy, he said, but there’s no concrete evidence it was ever used by anyone against him.
And he stressed that he isn’t speaking about it now because he’s looking to blame Russian activity for his loss to Bacon. (Ashford sought a re-match with Bacon this year but lost in the Democratic primary to Kara Eastman.)
“I’m not suggesting we didn’t win because our emails were hacked,” Ashford said.
Rather, he said he wanted to sound the alarm over just how determined the Russians seem to be in their meddling with American politics.
“They want to disrupt the normal course of elections and the daily activities of the government,” he said. “If they’re going to hack Brad Ashford’s emails, Brad Ashford for Congress, that’s digging fairly deeply into our election process.”
Bacon told The World-Herald on Friday that he certainly didn’t know about the hackers targeting Ashford’s emails but said generally that it’s clear the Russians were up to no good in the 2016 election.
“The Russians were very involved in this stuff in a bad way and I think their overall intent was to sow discord,” Bacon said. “And that’s not just my assessment. That’s the national intelligence assessment, too. They were trying to sow discord and create some havoc with our partisan stuff.”
Asked about efforts to protect the 2018 elections, Bacon said he hears that the country’s election infrastructure itself has good safeguards in place. But there’s no way to secure everyone’s emails.
“I just assume anything I send in an email somebody else is reading it,” Bacon said.
Bacon said many Russian entities are already being punished with U.S. sanctions and he could support additional ones.
He questioned President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Russia but said Trump actually has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor in many ways: providing weapons to Ukraine, expelling Russian diplomats and shuttering consulates.
“He has been more aggressive by action against Russia,” Bacon said. “Sometimes his words create a little bit of confusion when it comes to Putin.”