Top officials at the Democratic and Republican House campaign committees privately met to discuss what to do should hacked materials surface regarding the respective committees or their candidates. A source familiar with the talks say that they remain “ongoing.”
The initial meeting took place in early June between Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Ben Ray Luján and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chair Steve Stivers, along with DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena and NRCC Executive Director John Rogers, multiple sources confirmed The Daily Beast.
The two chairs had publicly argued over what the proper protocol was when presented with hacked campaign materials, with Luján insisting that such materials should never be used and Stivers stressing that candidates couldn’t act as if hacked material that ended up in the “public domain” — i.e. a newspaper article—simply didn’t exist. After that spat, the two agreed to get together to further discuss matters. A GOP lawmaker familiar with those talks said that the parties had agreed to not “play those out in the press.”
The lawmaker suggested that a resolution may require larger discussions with press entities to encourage them to also avoid reporting on hacked materials. That could complicate the talks even further, as there is no obvious consensus within the media over how to handle the emergence of such materials.
The absence of some clear-cut policy could have major implications for the course of the midterm elections. The 2016 cycle showed that hacked materials can impact not just presidential contests but House races as well. Last Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 members of the Russian foreign intelligence agency GRU, contending that they used the monikers DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 to disseminate the hacked materials in campaigns across the country.
The targets in 2016 were primarily Democrats. Hackers gained access to the DCCC’s network as part of a broader spear-fishing effort that also ensnared the Democratic National Committee. One of the congressional candidates wrapped up in the breach was Nebraska Democrat Brad Ashford (D-NE), who told The Daily Beast last week that in the summer of 2016 he was informed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that some of his campaign correspondence had been obtained in the broader hack.
While he was unsure as to whether or not anything had been used, other materials in races across the country were utilized by journalists and politicians alike. In one case, hacked matters were even brought up on the debate stage in a Democratic primary in Florida. Annette Taddeo, currently a Florida state senator, lost that Congressional primary to her opponent former Congressman Joe Garcia, whose information was also obtained.
As it played out, Lujan sent a letter to then-NRCC Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) to encourage him to advice candidates not to use material that appeared to be accessed by Russian agents.
“Put simply, if this action continues, the N.R.C.C. will be complicit in aiding the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections,” his 2016 letter read in part.
Walden did not respond, a source said.