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Sanders, DNC reach deal on voter file access after breach of Clinton data

Story highlights

  • Sanders' campaign filed a lawsuit Friday night over the DNC's blocking of its voter data
  • Clinton is dominating the Democratic race, leading 59%-26% nationally

Washington (CNN)The Democratic National Committee has agreed to allow the Bernie Sanders campaign to regain access to voter files.

The DNC had cut off Sanders from a crucial voter database, saying the campaign wrongly accessed data gathered by Hillary Clinton's team. Sanders filed suit in federal court Friday evening seeking to regain access to its own voter data.
    "Thankfully, after refusing to give us the information we were asking for for nearly two days, last night, we did reach an agreement with the campaign," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CNN's Victor Blackwell Saturday morning. "They finally gave us the information that we had been asking for so that we could begin to assess the depth of the breach where their staff looked inappropriately at unauthorized material that was the proprietary information of the Clinton campaign."
    The campaign also activated its email list to launch a petition against the DNC and went on a media blitz.
    The breach occurred when the vendor, NGP VAN, which supplies access to the database of voter information for both campaigns dropped the firewall, and at least one Sanders campaign staffer accessed Clinton campaign voter data. The accused staffer, Josh Uretsky, Sanders' national data director, was fired from the campaign.
    Uretsky said he and his team downloaded only phone numbers but did so to alert the DNC and NGP VAN that the Sanders campaign was aware that voter info in the DNC database wasn't being properly protected.
    "We knew that what we were doing was being recorded," he told CNN. "We didn't try to be sneaky at all."
    The Sanders campaign said that the breach was not the first one, and that the campaign had reported them in the past.
    But the DNC charged that "multiple staffers" from the Sanders campaign downloaded information that they did not have the right to collect over an extended period.

    Differing explanations

    The party had made demands regarding the breach and the data to the Sanders campaign. Early Saturday, the DNC said the campaign was meeting them.
    "The Sanders campaign has now complied with the DNC's request to provide the information that we have requested of them. Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign's access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign," the DNC said in a statement early Saturday.
    The Sanders campaign had a different interpretation of the decision to restore its access.
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    "The Democratic National Committee on Friday capitulated and agreed to reinstate Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign's access to a critically-important voter database," the campaign said.
    The about-face came late on Friday night as a deadline neared for a hearing on a motion for an emergency injunction which the Sanders campaign sought after he sued the party in U.S. District Court in Washington.
    The Clinton campaign said that the Sanders campaign would be submitting to an independent audit. "We believe this audit should proceed immediately, and, pending its findings, we expect further disciplinary action to be taken as appropriate," her campaign said in a statement.
    Wasserman Schultz confirmed Saturday that the Sanders campaign would submit to an audit. But when Blackwell asked the DNC chief if there would be more consequences for Sanders' campaign, she demurred.
    "That's not the purview of the DNC. We manage the voter file. We have an agreement with each campaign related to access to the voter file," she said. "That's the remedy we have available, the remedy we use."

    Tensions burst

    The incident set off a powder keg of resentment from Bernie Sanders and liberal Democrats toward the party's establishment with a barrage of accusations and insults.
    For months, the Sanders camp has seethed that the Democratic National Committee was already in the bag for Hillary Clinton, purposefully scheduling debates on nights when fewer people are likely to watch -- like the one slated for Saturday night in New Hampshire.
    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) campaign manager Jeff Weaver talks to reporters outside the campaign's headquarters December 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
    The breach was revealed at a time when Sanders' candidacy is fading from its summer highs and Clinton is dominating the Democratic race, leading 59%-26% nationally, according to a Monmouth University poll Wednesday.
    A "democratic socialist," Sanders has effectively become the vehicle for liberals unhappy with their options -- and to some extent, President Barack Obama -- building momentum this summer with huge rallies in liberal enclaves on the coasts and college towns like Madison, Wisconsin.
    Clinton's connections to Wall Street and hawkish foreign policy, as well as her struggles this year, exemplified by the drip-drip-drip news about her private email server while secretary of state, have created an opening for liberals to "Feel the Bern."

    Saturday night debate

    Ironically, the data dustup and resulting lawsuit and anger may fuel more interest in Saturday night's debate, scheduled on the last weekend before Christmas and airing opposite a Dallas Cowboys-New York Jets football game.
    Until now, the debates have been the most visible flashpoint between the DNC and candidates competing against Clinton.
    "Think about it. The Republicans stand before the nation, they malign our President's record of achievements, they denigrate women and immigrant families, they double down on trickle-down, and tell their false story," Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley said in August. "And we respond with crickets, tumbleweeds and a cynical move to delay and limit our own party debates."
    A pair of Democratic Party vice chairs -- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak -- broke rank with other DNC leaders and called for more debates. And in September, protesters supporting O'Malley and Sanders, including a top O'Malley aide, protested outside the Democratic Party headquarters, demanding more debates.