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Bernie Sanders files lawsuit against DNC

By Ann Marie Awad
Bernie Sanders files lawsuit against DNC
Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters Friday that the Sanders campaign is prepared to sue the DNC. Source: CBSNews

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., filed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee after the it remained firm on a disciplinary suspension following a data breach.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington D.C. Friday afternoon. Hours earlier, Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, threatened legal action if the DNC did not reinstate the campaign's access to voter records. The suit accuses the DNC of failing to "implement reasonable data security measures" which resulted in a data breach revealed Friday morning. It says the decision to suspend the campaign's access to Democratic voter data has caused "substantial financial, reputational and political injury."

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At a press conference Friday afternoon, Weaver accused the committee of taking the campaign hostage when it suspended its access to the Democratic voter file.

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"Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign, one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in modern history," Jeff Weaver, campaign director for Sanders, told reporters at a Friday afternoon press conference. Weaver suggested the move was part of a "pattern" of actions that suggest the DNC is helping Clinton.

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Clinton herself has remained quiet about the incident, but Brian Fallon, Clinton's press secretary tweeted: "If you are so proud of your grassroots organization, you should not need to resort to stealing campaign data."

Fallon had put out an earlier statement, saying the campaign was "informed that our proprietary data was breached by Sanders campaign staff in 25 searches by four different accounts and that this data was saved into the Sanders' campaign account."

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He continued: "We are asking that the Sanders campaign and the DNC work expeditiously to ensure that our data is not in the Sanders campaign's account and that the Sanders campaign only have access to their own data."

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Talking Points Memo reported Clinton's campaign is demanding an investigation into the data breach.

The DNC suspended the campaign's access to voter data when it was revealed the Sanders campaign accessed private data from Hillary Clinton's campaign. The Sanders camp reacted by firing the staffer responsible for downloading the data -- data director Josh Uretsky -- saying he was a low-level staffer who made a mistake.

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Earlier Friday morning, the Sanders campaign blamed the breach on the DNC's software vendor NGP VAN.

Weaver doubled down Friday afternoon, calling the DNC's response "heavy-handed" and reiterating an earlier claim that the Sanders campaign was aware of a security problem early on and had taken steps to notify the DNC. Weaver said the staffer responsible did not intentionally access Clinton's data, and that the suspension from the Democratic voter database would undermine the Vermont senator's presidential campaign.

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DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement following Weaver's press conference.

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"I have personally reached out to Senator Sanders to make sure that he is aware of the situation," Schultz's statement said, calling for a report from Sanders' campaign on how the data was used, if at all. "When we receive this report from the Sanders campaign, we will make a determination on re-enabling the campaign's access to the system."

Uretsky, the staffer who discovered the breach and was subsequently fired, appeared by phone on MSNBC Friday afternoon to say he and other staffers saved the data to report the breach to the DNC.

Uretsky maintained the staff did nothing improper, they "wanted to document and understand the scope of the problem so that we could report it accurately." Uretsky told MSNBC's Steve Kornacki that staffers "knew that what we were doing was trackable" and did not "use it for anything valuable."

When the breach was first revealed Friday morning, Sanders' spokesman Michael Briggs said: "On more than one occasion, the vendor has dropped the firewall between the data of different Democratic campaigns. Our campaign months ago alerted the DNC to the fact that campaign data was being made available to other campaigns. At that time our campaign did not run to the media, relying instead on assurances from the vendor."

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The voter file in question is a master list of Democratic voters which the DNC owns and rents to campaigns. Campaigns add their own information gathered by field workers and volunteers. Firewalls between the campaigns are supposed to prevent breaches. Politico reported that firewalls were compromised Wednesday due to a software error.

The incident was revealed just a day before the final Democratic presidential debate of 2015, set to take place Saturday in Manchester, N.H.

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