Trump campaign won't commit to staying away from hacked material

The campaign's refusal to rule out using hacked information is in contrast to Democratic presidential candidates who have promised not to.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House
President Trump has not pledged to refrain from using hacked or stolen data in the 2020 campaign.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

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By Monica Alba

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has not publicly stated that it will not use hacked materials to its advantage — in glaring contrast with the Democratic National Committee and a long list of the party's 2020 candidates who have pledged not to do so.

The investigation into Russian election meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller found that the Russian government not only interfered in the 2016 race in "sweeping and systematic fashion," but it also made helping Trump win a priority.

Mueller's report, made public last week, said that while investigators had found no criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians, the Trump team expected to "benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."

In February, the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls all declared they would not take advantage of illegally obtained information. Most of those campaigns (including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Kamala Harris of California; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro) have confirmed to NBC News that their positions remain unchanged.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke — who hadn’t formally announced in February — have also committed to not using stolen or hacked information.

In February, the Trump campaign chose not to state their position on using such information and, on Wednesday, neither the campaign nor the Republican National Committee responded to repeated requests for comment.

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This week, DNC Chairman Tom Perez asked his counterpart at the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, to commit to the same cybersecurity platform heading into 2020.

"As the leaders of our country’s two largest political parties, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our democratic process," he wrote. "That’s why I urge you to join me in condemning the weaponization of stolen private data in our electoral process."

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about future use of such material, but when asked about denouncing future Russian interference, spokesman Hogan Gidley pointed to the president’s past statements. Trump has not pledged to stay away from using any kind of hacked or stolen data in the coming cycle.

Notably, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani recently maintained that there was “nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”

Vice President Mike Pence did not directly respond to a question from NBC News Wednesday about whether he regretted the campaign’s use of hacked emails in 2016 and whether he would pledge not to do so again, repeating the administration’s position that the Mueller report found no collusion between the campaign and Russia.

Earlier this week, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner largely dismissed Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election as “buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent.”

"Quite frankly, the whole thing’s just a big distraction for the country," the president’s son-in-law argued. "It’s a terrible thing but I think the investigations and all the speculation that happened for the past two years has had a much harsher impact on democracy than a couple Facebook ads."

Trump and his 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, quickly offered their praise for and agreement with Kushner’s position on Twitter.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is set to join the race on Thursday, has already pledged not to use hacked material. He is the co-chair of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, created to combat election interference domestically and overseas.

In February, at the Munich Security Conference, Biden implored other candidates to vow not to "aid and abet" foreign governments seeking to meddle.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has started her own “Cybersecurity Pledge” and pressed her fellow White House hopefuls to join.

"I pledge not to accept stolen or hacked materials from foreign actors, and I urge all other presidential candidates to do the same," she wrote online. "Join me in calling on the rest of the 2020 field to help defend our elections from foreign interference."

Vaughn Hillyard contributed.