Well this is a surprising development. Per Politico:
The House GOP campaign arm suffered a major hack during the 2018 election, exposing thousands of sensitive emails to an outside intruder, according to three senior party officials.
The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months, the party officials said. The intrusion was detected in April by an NRCC vendor, who alerted the committee and its cybersecurity contractor. An internal investigation was initiated and the FBI was alerted to the attack, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the incident.
Here’s how close the NRCC played this to the vest: Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise did not find out about this until Politico reporters reached out to the NRCC for this report. Since 2016, we have been talking nonstop about the Kremlin’s hacking of the DNC, and the entire time, a handful of folks in the GOP’s financial arm knew they had been victims of someone’s hacks too (the report does not say who was behind it, but party officials “believe it was a foreign agent due to the nature of the attack”).
However, the hack of the NRCC is dramatically different from the DNC and DCCC’s in one key detail:
None of the information accessed during the hack — thousands of emails from senior NRCC aides — has appeared in public, party officials said. And they said there were no attempts to threaten the NRCC or its leadership during the campaign with exposure of the information.
So the NRCC detected the hack in April: https://t.co/76f1RcoWF8
And then backed out of a deal with the DCCC not to use hacked materials in September: https://t.co/zslZfuyoJH
Why wouldn’t you agree to the deal, knowing you had already been hacked?— Kevin Robillard (@Robillard) December 4, 2018
We don’t know if this was Russia, but Occam’s Razor leads us to them. We know of one foreign agent who was hacking the highest levels of one half of America’s politics in 2016, and it’s not too big of a jump to suggest that they would hack the other half too (former US Army aviator and national security blogger Crispin Burke said that this “approach” described by Politico was similar to that of the Russian Foreign Intelligence service in 2016). So let’s assume this was the Kremlin for a minute.
Why Would Russia Release DNC E-Mails But Not the NRCC’s?
Blackmail (or more specifically, Kompromat, but the Louise Mensch’s of the world overused and destroyed that incredibly legitimate term that is a focus of longstanding Kremlin policy).
The Kremlin’s allegiance in American politics is to chaos, not Trump. Plus, Putin personally feared that Hillary Clinton would try to remove him from power, and Trump is a uniquely destructive force in American politics, so their support for Trump is simply a consequential alignment of their interests (including longstanding business relationships with Team Trump). However, if Trump were to adopt Hillary’s foreign policy, Putin would sour on him immediately. That’s what the e-mails would be for. They’re effectively insurance.
Last week revealed that Team Trump was almost surely in contact with the transparency organization-turned-Kremlin disinformation outlet, Wikileaks (key Mueller witness Jerome Corsi practically said so on MSNBC), and Michael Cohen testified under oath that Trump was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower as recently as 2016 (Trump tweeted “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next” at one of Putin’s favored oligarchs in November 2013). Last year, Don Jr. released screenshots showing his minimal responses to the litany of Wikileaks solicitations in his Twitter direct messages (he did share a link they asked him to, however). In October 2016, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone tweeted “Wednesday Hillary Clinton is done #Wikileaks.” An e-mail speaking about a “backhannel between the RNC and the Kremlin through the NRA” exists from a U.S. Person in one of Robert Mueller’s indictments of a Kremlin agent.
I think it’s safe to assume that there was some kind of communication between Kremlin-aligned forces in 2016 and Team Trump.
What I’m getting at is if this was Russia, I would bet good money that someone in Trump’s orbit knew about the NRCC hacks even if Paul Ryan didn’t. Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone are likely candidates to have this knowledge given that both admitted they were in communication with Wikileaks and Julian Assange. By releasing damaging DNC e-mails on the eve of the DNC convention while holding on to potentially scandalous NRCC e-mails, the Kremlin can maintain an additional amount of leverage over Team Trump during the election, and give themselves another option to sow chaos if the situation pivots away from their interests. Not only are they being allies by hurting the GOP’s opponent, but they could emerge into a threat given what they stole from the Republican Party. That’s leverage.
This likely isn’t that complicated (unless it was a different state actor than the obvious, then this is almost surely a brand new development in the 2016 election drama). If the Kremlin did hack the NRCC too, it was to gain even more influence over a sympathetic presidential campaign whose chairman worked for one of Putin’s most trusted oligarchs over the last decade, in addition to gaining leverage over the entire 2016 election in general. Being part of some big 4D chess move is far less likely than the simple sentiment of “we could use these someday.” Hillary was a unique threat in Putin’s mind, and the Steele dossier (which many of the revelations about business deals were proven to be pointed in the right direction after last week’s guilty plea by Michael Cohen) painted a picture of a Kremlin increasingly desperate to defeat the Democratic presidential candidate as it became clear that Trump had a real shot to win. Threatening the GOP while boosting Trump is a confusing strategy (although, it wouldn’t be the Kremlin’s first time doing something haphazard and foolish).
The biggest thing that Putin fears is a coup or a revolution, and he thought that Hillary would help to facilitate at least one (he probably isn’t wrong, she did say she would try to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, which means shooting down Russian jets if they don’t agree to it). If Putin did order a hacking of America’s other political party too, it was out of his perceived self-defense. Our chaos is to the Kremlin’s benefit, and our political paralysis allows Russia to further encroach upon its main focus: Europe.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.