Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and its supporters got a high-profile boost in their vendetta against the Democratic National Committee on Friday.
David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, tweeted on Friday evening that the DNC’s treatment of Sanders campaign staff’s illicit attempts to access and copy Hillary Clinton’s voter data absent “evidence that [Sanders’] hierarchy knew about data-poaching” was a “harsh penalty” that “looks like DNC is putting finger on scale” for Clinton.
Axelrod later clarified that he was not in any way defending the Sanders campaign's actions, but merely stating that the "initial, clumsy DNC handling gave them [a] PR out."
Axelrod even acknowledged that he could have "worded" his first tweet better.
The DNC blocked the Sanders campaign’s access to its own voter database on Friday morning, after the DNC discovered that four accounts linked to the campaign wrongly tried to save and export the Clinton campaign’s data, which inhabits the same party-run system.
The party restored that access early Saturday morning, but not before the Sanders campaign sued the DNC in federal court on Friday afternoon, seeking an injunction to immediately overturn the DNC’s initial denial of access, and claiming the party’s move would cost the campaign $600,000 a day in donations.
Democracy for America, a 1 million-member online progressive group that endorsed Sanders on Thursday, had gathered 115,000 signatures for a petition to restore the Vermont senator's access to voter files by late Friday night. The petition was authored by Robert Reich, a popular liberal economist and former secretary of labor in the Bill Clinton administration.
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.) said in a statement that the party ended the suspension after the Sanders campaign “complied” with a request to prove it no longer had access to Clinton’s data. The statement also said the Sanders campaign had agreed to “fully cooperate with the continuing DNC investigation of this breach.”
The Sanders campaign had already fired its national data director, Josh Uretsky, before suing the DNC, and has also said it might discipline other staffers linked to the breach.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Sanders campaign told The Huffington Post that the lawsuit would proceed despite the restoration of access to the key data.
The fact that a Democrat as prominent as Axelrod publicly accused the party of overreacting to real wrongdoing by Sanders’ staff in an attempt to help Clinton, however, speaks to a lack of confidence in the DNC under Wasserman-Schultz’s leadership that has been building for some time.
The Democratic Party’s rank-and-file progressive activists -- and their preferred presidential candidates, Sanders, an independent, and Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland -- maintain that Wasserman-Schultz rigged the primary process in favor of Clinton by allowing fewer debates than the party has hosted in the past and scheduling several of them on weekends when they will attract fewer viewers.
The Sanders and O’Malley campaigns argue that they are at pains to compete fairly with Clinton, who has a major name-recognition advantage, without the opportunity to debate her frequently to the largest possible national television audience.
The DNC has sanctioned just six Democratic presidential primary debates for the 2016 race, compared with 25 debates during the 2008 contest between Clinton and Obama.
Three out of the six debates occurred or will occur on a Saturday or Sunday night, including one this Saturday at 8 pm ET in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The Republican Party, by contrast, is hosting 12 presidential primary debates. Two of the debates planned will occur on weekend nights, and a third falls on a Friday.
The GOP has yet to announce the date of one debate in March.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of GOP debates.
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