WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the House Democrats’ national campaign committee asked her Republican counterpart Wednesday to refrain from using hacked materials to attack candidates ahead of the 2020 elections.
The request from Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, renews a request that Democrats have made for nearly three years, dating back to the first reports of potential foreign hacking of political groups in 2016. Now, with the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller confirming Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hoping to finally reach a bipartisan agreement not to use the fruits of those illicit hacks.
“There is no question that agents of the Russian government and other bad actors will attempt to infiltrate both the DCCC and NRCC to steal information for malicious use again in this upcoming election,” Bustos wrote in a letter to Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. “As the heads of two major party organizations in our nation, we have an obligation to send a clear and unified message that Democrats and Republicans reject foreign interference in our elections.”
Previous attempts to reach an accord between the two groups have foundered. The NRCC brushed off similar DCCC requests in 2016 and 2017. The groups undertook a more serious effort to reach a deal in 2018, but talks fell apart just weeks before Election Day.
Democrats have pointed to an instance where an arm of the NRCC used information hacked by “Guccifer 2.0” — a persona that Mueller and U.S. intelligence officials say was operated by Russian military intelligence — in an ad that ran in a 2016 Florida House race. Republicans said the substance of the ad was already in the public domain and, further, that Democrats are more interested in using the hacking issue as a political cudgel than in actually securing congressional campaigns from foreign meddling.
NRCC officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The pledge that Bustos describes in her letter to Emmer covers several points, including a promise not to “participate, aid or encourage hackers or foreign actors,” not to seek out hacked or stolen materials, not to use or covertly circulate known hacked or stolen materials, not to support any campaign or outside group that uses those kinds of materials, and to contact law enforcement if any related illicit activity is suspected.
Said Bustos in a statement: “Preventing Russia or any other foreign power from interfering in our elections should not be an issue that divides Democrats and Republicans. It’s my most sincere hope that the NRCC will join the DCCC by taking meaningful and decisive action to reject the use of hacked or stolen material in our Congressional races.”
The DCCC joins other Democratic candidates and organizations that have made their own promises not to use hacked materials. Among them are the Democratic National Committee, the Priorities USA super PAC and the presidential campaign of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.