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House Republicans' Campaign Says It Was Victim Of A Cyberattack During 2018 Elections


Congressional Republicans say they have been hit by a cyberattack. Specifically, what was allegedly hacked was the party's campaign operation for House Republicans. We don't know much about what happened, but here to tell us what we do know so far is NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Hey, Ryan.


CHANG: OK, so the organization we're talking about as the alleged target was the National Republican Congressional Committee. What are they saying about all of this?

LUCAS: Well, the NRCC, as it's also known - important to say that it raises money for Republican members of Congress at campaign time. Politico broke the news today about the cyberattack. That prompted the NRCC to release a statement about it. And that statement confirmed that the NRCC was indeed the victim of a hack. It says it doesn't know at this point who was behind it. It only says that it was an unknown entity.


LUCAS: It also says that as soon as it learned about it, it launched an internal investigation. It also informed the FBI. It says that the bureau is now investigating. I contacted the FBI today. It declined to comment. But that is how the bureau generally plays this.

CHANG: Right.

LUCAS: It doesn't confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

CHANG: All right, so that's what the NRCC is saying so far. Is there anything else you individually have been able to find out at this point?

LUCAS: I did manage to pin down a little bit more on this.


LUCAS: So a source familiar with the investigation tells me that the hackers accessed the email accounts of four senior NRCC aides. The breach was detected in April, but I'm told that the hackers appear to have been in the system for at least a couple of months before that. The folks behind this breach were described to me as being very sophisticated. That's based on their tactics and methods. That could point to this being the work of a foreign government. But again, that's not clear at this point. We don't have vision as to who this was.

CHANG: Any word from House Republican leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan? What do they have to say about all of this?

LUCAS: Funny that you ask that question.

CHANG: (Laughter).

LUCAS: They have not commented publicly at all on this at this point. But multiple House leadership sources tell our colleague Kelsey Snell that all of the GOP leadership in the House - that's Paul Ryan and his lieutenants, Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy - were in the dark about this. They found out about it when they were asked by a reporter on Monday night.

CHANG: Of just this week.

LUCAS: That's right.

CHANG: So this is all feeling kind of familiar. I mean, there are real parallels here, at least on the surface, with 2016 - right? - when Russian government hackers attacked Democrats and stole their emails.

LUCAS: There are certainly parallels, yes, but there are also important distinctions to be made, important differences. For one, we don't know at this point who is behind the hack of the NRCC. In the case of the Democratic National Committee hack back in 2016, the U.S. government said publicly that it was the Russians.

CHANG: Right.

LUCAS: A side note there is that the U.S. officials say Russians also targeted the GOP in 2016. They just didn't do anything with whatever material they were able to access. Now, the other important difference today is that there's no indication at this point that the hackers have done anything with the NRCC emails, that they released them. That's very different from the stolen Democratic emails in 2016 which of course were released to great fanfare by WikiLeaks. And those of course became a central talking point in the 2016 campaign, as we all remember.


LUCAS: One concrete thing, though, that we can take away from the NRCC hack that we learned about today is this. Despite all of the attention and all of the focus that has been put on election security since 2016 when this was a big deal, there are still very significant vulnerabilities across the board. So this is not a problem that is going away anytime soon.

CHANG: No, it is not. That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

All Things Considered
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.