US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has regained access to voter files after taking the Democratic National Committee to court. Hillary Clinton's campaign accused her rival of digital theft of voter data.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) agreed to restore access to the files early Saturday after Sanders sued the party leadership, accusing it of improperly suspending his campaign's access to online voter data.
"We are restoring the Sanders campaign's access to the voter file," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, "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 dispute is centered over a DNC-run online data service that provides a master voter list used by election campaigns to plan their outreach efforts. A software glitch briefly dropped the firewall that keeps sensitive strategy documents stored online by campaigns inaccessible to their competitors within the party.
The left-wing Vermont senator's campaign fired one staffer who looked at the Clinton campaign's information and blamed the vendor, NGP VAN, which maintains the online database, for the glitch.
Josh Uretsky, the fired Sanders campaign staffer, told CNN he did not spy on the Clinton campaign and that his intent was to identify the problem so it could be reported and fixed.
"To the best of my knowledge, nobody took anything that would have given the campaign any benefit," Uretsky told the cable television channel.
But Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters in a conference call that Sanders staff had accessed the "strategic road map" for the campaign.
"The Sanders campaign stole data from our campaign," Mook said. "There is some damage here that cannot be undone."
Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs called the allegation of theft "outrageous" and said the campaign did not keep or use any of the voter data its staffers had inappropriately accessed.
"We are not aware of one piece of data in the possession of our campaign that resulted from the DNC vendor's firewall failure," Briggs said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley accuse the Democratic National Committee of trying to help Hillary Clinton by limiting the number of debates and scheduling them on low-viewership Saturday nights
Clinton rivals complain about debate schedule
The incident comes at a difficult time for Sanders who is trying to slow the momentum of rival Clinton from running away with the party's 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders has been lagging behind Clinton, with 29 percent support to her 60 percent in recent Reuters/Ipsos polling.
Sanders' allies within the Democratic Party have taken to social media to accuse the DNC of a pro-Clinton bias after it locked out the Sanders campaign from being able to access voter outreach data ahead of the televised debate.
"I think the DNC's crossed the line, and it's going to open up a whole new part in the campaign season," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a liberal group that endorsed Sanders. "I think this is a gloves-off moment."
Sanders, Clinton and a third candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, will debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday night.
Both the Sanders and O'Malley campaigns have pointed to the DNC's decision to schedule just four debates ahead of the party primary. In addition, the campaigns said the choice to hold them on Saturday nights, a slot with relatively low television ratings, is further evidence of the party leadership's pro-Clinton bias.
"If you look at a pattern of contact, we've obviously had concern about the Saturday night debate schedule and its impact on the ability of campaigns to get their message out," said Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager.
jar/sms (Reuters, AFP)