The leading Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, has pledged to abstain from the use of stolen emails and data for political gain in the next election, joining the Democratic National Committee in an effort to set new ethical standards across both parties after Republican groups seized on hacked information in campaign ads in at least two 2016 House races.
"We join the DNC in condemning the use of stolen data or materials for political gain and hope our Republican opponents will do the same,” said Priorities USA spokesperson Josh Schwerin.
Tom Perez, the chair of the DNC, made the same pledge on Monday in an open letter to his Republican counterpart, Ronna McDaniel. “As the leaders of our country’s two largest political parties, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our democratic process,” Perez wrote. “That’s why I urge you to join me in condemning the weaponization of stolen private data in our electoral process.”
During the 2016 election, Russian hackers launched massive cyberattacks on Democrats, stealing thousands of emails and internal documents from the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and the group charged with electing House candidates, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, known as the DCCC.
In at least two instances in 2016, prominent Republican groups made use of those materials in political ads.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a well-funded super PAC tied to former House speaker Paul Ryan, used a memo stolen from the DCCC in an ad against Florida Democratic House candidate Joe Garcia. (The fine print on the ad cites a "Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee internal document.”)
In another Florida district, in the race against Democratic candidate Randy Perkins, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran a 30-second digital ad showing an internal DCCC opposition research memo posted online by the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0. “Even Democrat party bosses are questioning his character,” says the narrator in the ad.
In the years since 2016, both parties have sought to adopt new cybersecurity practices in the face of the continuing threat from outside foreign actors. Last year, the NRCC disclosed that an “unknown entity” had accessed emails from several top aides during the midterm elections.
Still, Republicans have been reticent to partner with Democrats on cybersecurity.
Neither the NRCC nor the CLF — groups that have previously used hacked information — responded to questions on Tuesday regarding the DNC’s pledge and whether they would follow suit, or even consider a similar pledge. The Trump campaign and the main pro-Trump outside group, America First, also did not respond for comment.
In a statement, a Republican National Committee spokesperson pointed to Ronna McDaniel’s previous comment on the subject, telling BuzzFeed News that McDaniel has “made it clear where she stands.”
"Any breach of our political organizations — regardless of party — is an affront to all of us, and we should come together as Americans to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s important we do all we can to safeguard our future elections,” McDaniel has previously stated.
But her comment does not specifically address a potential pledge and whether the committee would use stolen data if a breach does occur. The RNC spokesperson did not respond to follow questions.
Asked Tuesday morning if the president would accept help from Russia in the 2020 election, the White House deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, responded: "I don't understand the question."
Gidley then went on to list the Trump administration's actions against Russia. "He's already denounced multiple times Russian involvement."
"We're the ones who have been tough on Russia," Gidley said. "Barack Obama clearly hasn't. This [Mueller] report exposes that."
Over the weekend, Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN that there is “nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” following revelations from the recently released report by special counsel Robert Mueller that the president’s campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”