Data breach sets off charges of theft in '16 Democratic race

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Bernie Sanders Campaign Accused of Hillary Clinton Data Breach

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic race for president unexpectedly exploded with rancor Friday as Hillary Clinton's campaign accused rival Bernie Sanders of stealing millions of dollars worth of information about potential voters.

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Sanders' team, meanwhile, accused the Democratic Party of holding his White House bid hostage by temporarily barring it from accessing its own voter data. His campaign filed a lawsuit to get it back and aggressively tried to turn the allegations into a political advantage.

See Clinton and Sanders at the first Democratic primary debate:

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Data breach sets off charges of theft in '16 Democratic race
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton interrupt each other during the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College, Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton argues a point as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, listens during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Michigan-Flint, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Flint, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton makes a point as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, reatcs during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.The debate is the final debate before the Nevada caucuses scheduled for February 20. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gestures towards Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, left, speaks at the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C. To the right is Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speak during a break at the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
DURHAM, NH - FEBRUARY 04: Democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during their MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016 in Durham, New Hampshire. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the New Hampshire primaries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, right, speaks to Bernie Sanders during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Bernie Sanders, left, offers an apology to Hillary Clinton during a Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Bernie Sanders, left, speaks to Hillary Clinton after a Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Bernie Sanders, left, makes a point as Hillary Rodham Clinton listens during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, walks by Bernie Sanders during a commercial break at a Democratic presidential primary debate, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2015, file photo, Bernie Sanders makes a point during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa. The Democratic presidential candidates are meeting for their third debate on Dec. 19, with tensions suddenly boiling between Hillary Clinton and her chief rival, Sanders. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley appear before a Democratic presidential primary debate, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, left, and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, participate in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg
Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont,, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton laugh during the CNN Democratic presidential debate, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the end of a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - October 13: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton pictured at the 2015 CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, NV on October 13, 2015. Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ MediaPunch/IPX
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"This information is really key to our campaign and our strategy," said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. "We are particularly disturbed right now that they are using the fact that they stole data as a reason to raise money for their campaign."

The reaction to the data breach, the depth of which was debated by all involved, tore open an ugly fault line between two camps that had so far engaged in a relatively civil White House campaign.

On the eve of the party's next presidential debate, it also thrust into the open longstanding suspicions among Sanders and his supporters that the national party is unfairly working to support Clinton's candidacy.

SEE MORE:Sanders campaign fires data director after breach of Clinton files

"Clearly, in this case, they are trying to help the Clinton campaign," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said of the Democratic National Committee.

At issue is an extensive trove of voter information maintained by the DNC. The campaigns are able to add their own information to the database, information which they use to target voters and anticipate what issues might motivate them to cast ballots.

In Clinton's case, Mook said, the information stored in the database included "fundamental parts of our strategy."

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that on Wednesday the Sanders campaign "inappropriately and systematically" accessed Clinton's data. She rejected Weaver's effort to blame the breach on a software glitch and the actions of a small group of rogue staffers, one of whom was fired.

In response, the DNC temporarily turned off Sanders' access to the database and asked for an accounting of how the information was used and disposed of. Only then will the party make a decision on restoring Sanders' access, she said.

That decision infuriated Weaver, who said the party had cut Sanders' team off from the "lifeblood of any campaign." He added, "It is our information, not the DNC's."

Hours later, the Sanders camp filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington seeking an immediate restoration of access to the database. Without it, the lawsuit said, the campaign would lose approximately $600,000 in donations a day.

SEE MORE:US communications union endorses Sanders' presidential bid

"It's outrageous to suggest that our campaign 'stole' any data," said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs. "What is true is the data we collected and need to run a winning campaign is now being stolen from us by a DNC dominated by Clinton people."

Briggs said the campaign hoped to resolve the dispute late Friday night and was "making progress."

Said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon, "We hope that the court will resolve this matter tonight and the Sanders campaign has access to their voter files right away, with adequate protections of our proprietary information."

The back-and-forth underscored Sanders' attempt to cast himself as an anti-establishment upstart willing to take on Clinton, the unquestioned front-runner for her party's nomination.

Even before the lawsuit was filed, Sanders' campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters that said his "quick rise in the national polls (has) caused the Democratic National Committee to place its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign."

Notably, the email made no mention of the campaign's decision to fire a staffer involved in the breach and Weaver's admission that the staffer's actions were "unacceptable."

Mook responded, "It's not something to be fundraising off of."

Firewalls are put in place to prevent campaigns from looking at data maintained by their rivals. But the vendor that runs the system, NGP VAN, said it ran a software patch Wednesday that allowed all users to access data belonging to other campaigns.

Fallon said the Sanders campaign staff conducted 25 searches from four different accounts, saving the data into the Sanders campaign account.

NGP VAN said the Sanders staff involved were able to "search by and view (but not export or save or act on) some attributes that came from another campaign." The company said the Sanders campaign saved a "one page-style report containing summary data."

Weaver argued the firewall used by the vendor had previously failed, and he railed against the party for not taking the steps required to keep the information secure. He said in an interview with CNN late Friday that "we don't have any Clinton data."

Josh Uretsky, the data director fired by Sanders' campaign, said his team was merely investigating the security problem and trying to figure out how exposed the software patch left their own data.

"I believe that I took appropriate steps to audit and assess the security breach and that nothing I did was done in a way that it would give the Sanders campaign a competitive advantage," Uretsky said in an email to The Associated Press.

Summaries of data logs provided to the AP show the Sanders team spent nearly an hour in the database reviewing information on Clinton's high-priority voters and other data from nearly a dozen states, including first-to-vote Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Some of these voter lists were saved into a folder named "Targets," according to the logs. Uretsky's deputy appeared to focus on pulling data on South Carolina and Iowa voters based on turnout and support — or lack of support — for Clinton.

The Sanders campaign employees who accessed the Clinton voter information without authorization appear to have run afoul of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, said Jason Weinstein, a former supervisor of the Justice Department's computer crimes section.

Those employees "have reason to be concerned about legal exposure," he said, for what appears to fit the definition of illegal hacking.

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Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.

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