President Donald Trump’s talking point blaming Democrats for cyberattacks against them during the 2016 presidential election suddenly became awkward after Politico broke news on Tuesday that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has also been victimized by a major hack believed to be the work of a foreign entity.
In July, when Trump was asked about hacks of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign cycle in a Face the Nation interview, he tried to pin blame on Democrats themselves.
“I heard that they were trying, or people were trying, to hack into the RNC too — the Republican National Committee — but we had much better defenses,” Trump said. “I’ve been told that by a number of people; we had much better defenses, so they couldn’t.”
“I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked,” he added. “They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked.”
TRUMP blames DNC for getting hacked: "They were doing whatever it was during the Obama admin, & I heard people were trying to hack into RNC too, but we had much better defenses so they couldn't."— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 15, 2018
"I think DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked." pic.twitter.com/mqtItbSa8i
Of course, nobody “allows” themselves to be the victims of cyberattacks, any more than anyone “allows” themselves to be the victim of any sort of assault. Both the DNC and NRCC took precautions to try to keep hackers out of their networks.
But one notable difference between the cases is that none of the “thousands of sensitive emails” that were exposed from emails accounts of four senior NRCC aides over several months until an NRCC vendor detected the hacks in April ever emerged publicly.
By contrast, emails hacked from the DNC during the 2016 cycle were published by WikiLeaks, as part of an apparent effort to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the months leading up to the election. The talking point Trump offered in July seemed to be an effort to deflect attention from the role hackers played in the election.
Despite what the president says, it’s doubtful whether the RNC’s “better defenses” actually had anything to do with the fact Republicans weren’t victimized like Democrats were during the 2016 cycle. In January 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey told a Senate panel that while there was “penetration on the Republican side of the aisle,” no information that was obtained from Republicans was leaked.
Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained during the same hearing that the difference between how hackers treated Democrats and Republicans contributed to the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that Russian hackers were trying to help Trump — a finding Trump has spent years trying to call into question.
Politico reports that the FBI is investigating the NRCC hack. While hackers accessed potentially sensitive emails, NRCC officials claim no donor information was compromised.