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Data Breach Creates Tense Context for Tonight's Democratic Debate

The DNC restored the Sanders campaign's access to voter data Saturday after it provided information.

Chris Usher / CBS via Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders meet tonight in a debate that is bound to be more personal and confrontational, following this week’s voter database scandal.

Aides for the Sanders campaign briefly gained unauthorized access to Clinton’s voter files this week, thanks to a glitch in the software for accessing the Democratic National Committee’s voter database. The DNC responded by blocking Sanders’ access to the system, prompting a federal lawsuit.

The DNC restored access in the wee hours of Saturday morning, after the the Vermont senator’s campaign complied with an information request. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement saying the committee would continue its investigation to ensure that Clinton’s proprietary data is “deleted and no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign.”

The Clinton campaign has largely avoided attacking Sanders at campaign events, given her substantial lead in most polls. But her campaign showed no reluctance Friday in bashing the rival camp, repeatedly describing the act as “theft.” Meanwhile, the Sanders camp used the DNC’s shutdown as an opportunity to rile up his base of supporters with the charge that the establishment is actively working to undermine his grass-roots campaign.

In a salvo delivered hours before the start of the debate, the Clinton camp published a statement that lashed out at what it described as a violation of the campaign’s hard work. The campaign outlined four questions for Sanders to answer, including why the Vermont senator’s team claimed not to have stored proprietary Clinton information when activity logs seem to suggest otherwise, and why Sanders spokesman Tad Devine asserted the data breach was “a mistake” when staffers conducted 25 targeted searches of his opponent’s data.

“To most voters, this will all seem pretty arcane. … They certainly don’t spend much time thinking about campaign theft of data,” writes Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director. “With that said, if Sen. Sanders intends to make his campaign’s theft of our data a rallying point, he should have to answer these questions.”

The two candidates meet face to face tonight for the first time since the imbroglio. The debate in Manchester, N.H., begins at 5 pm Pacific and will be televised nationally by ABC News.

There’s no question the data breach and the DNC’s response is on voters’ minds, with conversation surging on social media in the last 48 hours — much of it focused on Sanders.


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