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Hacked Rep. Ashford: 'Why Was There No Call to Action' from DCCC?

Former Democratic Congressman Brad Ashford is now raising questions about the DCCC’s response to the Russian hacking of his campaign
Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., speaks during the House Democrats' news conference at the Capitol on Thursday, April 14, 2016.
Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., speaks during the House Democrats' news conference at the Capitol on Thursday, April 14, 2016. 

Former Democratic Congressman Brad Ashford (D-Neb.) is now raising questions about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s response to the Russian hacking of his campaign. In conversations with The Rachel Maddow Show, Ashford questioned the DCCC's strategy in the first known case of a congressional candidate informed of compromised campaign material.

Last Friday's indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office of 12 Russian nationals for hacking into national Democrats' campaign operations, including the DCCC and DNC, identified a candidate for U.S. Congress asking the Russian hackers known as Guccifer 2.0 for information from their unauthorized access to DCCC files. Ashford shortly thereafter released a statement on Facebook where he "reveal[ed] that my #Ne02 Congressional emails were hacked by Russian agents in 2016."

Ashford told The Rachel Maddow Show that in July 2016, prior to any other known notification of a candidate’s campaign materials being compromised, the DCCC informed his campaign that materials relating to the Ashford campaign were compromised from the DCCC servers. In a phone conversation, the Ashford campaign was informed that materials shared between the DCCC and the campaign were available via channels associated with Guccifer 2.0.

The DCCC instructed the Ashford campaign not to view or search for compromised material themselves because these items could be laced with harmful malware. Ashford's account of these communications from the DCCC have been confirmed by other members of his campaign, including senior officials who participated in the phone call between the DCCC and the Ashford campaign.

Ashford is now questioning the DCCC's strategy to inform and protect his campaign, asking, "Why was there no call to action?”

He says that none of his servers was hacked -- only those of the DCCC -- but the compromised information specifically related to his campaign. Believing that the DCCC could have done more, he wrote in a text message to TRMS that "all we knew was that there had been a hack by supposedly Russia. We never heard a thing after that even when our race was getting close." 

Ashford remains unaware of exactly which of his campaign materials were compromised, saying that the DCCC failed to inform him of the specific campaign materials they knew to be available on the Guccifer 2.0 website.

However, The Rachel Maddow Show was able to obtain an email from the DCCC's Ian Russell to senior officials on the Ashford campaign. Russell, on Sept. 24, 2016, sent the campaign a "BRL Prep Memo" examining districts in Iowa, Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska. The memo, which was designed to be used by DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan in forming strategy, contained detailed analysis of Nebraska's 2nd district, including relationships with local press, candidate weaknesses, and demographic information.

In this 2016 race, Ashford lost to challenger Don Bacon (R) by approximately 3,400 votes, or less than 2% of the 290,000 cast in the race. Nebraska is also one of only two states (along with Maine) to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, with President Trump winning this district's one Electoral College vote. It was heavily contested, with outside spending of over $1 million each from National Republican Congressional Committee, DCCC, and Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

"I am not the candidate named in the indictment. We found out about the compromising of Ashford's documents at the same time as everyone else, through the media. My supporters and I worked tirelessly in 2016, knocking on over 122,500 doors and speaking to the people of the Second District." '

The Congressional Leadership Fund, in at least two other congressional races -- in Florida's 18th and 26th districts, respectively, according to the DCCC -- used material stolen by Russians in campaign advertisements. However, there is no indication that the Bacon campaign or the Congressional Leadership Fund used Russian materials in Nebraska's 2nd.

Ashford's comments describe the earliest known example of the DCCC informing a candidate of compromised material due to Russian hacking. On Aug. 13, 2016, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent colleagues in the Democratic Caucus a memo advising them of compromised material available to Russian hackers. However, Ashford and his campaign assert that they were informed weeks earlier. The DCCC told The Rachel Maddow Show that they were unable to verify the claims of Ashford and his campaign, citing staff turnover.

Ashford will join The Rachel Maddow Show on Friday, July 20 at 9 p.m. (ET) in his first national television interview since announcing that his 2016 campaign was compromised by Russian hackers.