A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former Democratic aide to four years in prison for hacking Senate computers, using spy devices and “doxxing” Republicans.
Jackson Cosko — a former aide to Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Democratic Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee — stole the entire contents of Hassan’s computer systems in October 2018 and published the private information of Republicans, including home addresses and cell phones. He hoped to intimidate them over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
The same day, prosecutors charged a second Democratic aide with computer fraud and tampering with evidence for her role as an accomplice to Cosko.
Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, while Cosko found himself in front of a different judge: Judge Thomas Hogan of federal criminal court.
“It was a rather vicious offense. You were upset politically, perhaps you thought in today’s world it’s OK to lash out because of that but it’s not. There needs to be a deterrent,” Hogan said. “You put those people in harm’s way in a polarized society. You can’t pass this off as simple political extremity that is OK to do.”
Cosko hoped to change the outcome of a Supreme Court nomination proceeding. Instead, he will not be able to so much as cast a ballot in a general election. “You’ve got to live with five felony convictions, you lose your right to vote,” Hogan said.
Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose information was posted to the internet by Cosko, released a “statement about how it caused distress to have his wife upset, when he’d already been attacked” physically in his neighborhood in a different incident, Hogan said.
Hogan noted that Republicans, including Paul, had also been targeted for their political views during a baseball practice during which Republican Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was shot in 2017. “In today’s political world, Republicans at the baseball game in Virginia were shot at,” he said, and Democrats have also been threatened. “It hurts the respect for the law when people do things like this.”
Prosecutor Demian S. Ahn said “The political and social environment we’re in, people think it’s justified to lash out because you disagree politically. … He doxxes senators, laughs, then doxxes more, all because they have different political opinions.”
In a sentencing memo, Ahn added that Cosko had “self-righteous entitlement” and a “belief that he could violate the sanctity of the United States Senate at will and threaten individual Senators as he pleased.”
“The government believes that there appears to have been an increase in similar criminal harassment, particularly through social media channels, by people across the political spectrum,” the memo says.
Sentencing guidelines not set up to punish political cyber-crimes
One might think that hacking a high-profile political entity or governmental entity would come with stiffer penalties than hacking a company, but that’s not necessarily the case because federal sentencing guidelines are based on money, and it’s hard to put a dollar figure on political attacks, Ahn said.
“The guidelines simply do not reflect the severity of this data breach — it’s a high value network. Sentencing is driven by economic harm, and this is not economic — computer hacking that is driven by political goals or revenge,” Ahn said. “This is the largest data breach in Senate history. … What will deter cyber crimes against the US government including the Senate?”
Also on Wednesday, prosecutors charged a second staffer to Hassan, Samantha Deforest Davis, with computer fraud and evidence tampering for acting as Cosko’s accomplice so he could steal Hassan’s data after he was fired. Davis allegedly gave Cosko a key knowing he would use it to break in and also wiped his fingerprints off computers after he was caught in the act.
“SAMANTHA DEFOREST DAVIS, by aiding and abetting JACKSON COSKO, did intentionally and illegally access protected computers without authorization, and thereby obtained information from those computers, said computers belonging to a department or agency of the United States, that is, the United States Senate,” prosecutors said. They added that she tampered with evidence by wiping down keyboards to hide Cosko’s fingerprints.
The Daily Caller News Foundation exclusively reported Davis’ identity in April.
Cosko will also receive three years of probation during which he will be prohibited from using social media that does not use his real name, and his computer will be monitored.
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