- A former Senate IT aide to Sen. Maggie Hassan, Samantha Deforest-Davis, was sentenced to probation Monday for her role a congressional data heist used to “doxx” Republican senators during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
- Jackson Cosko admitted he stole tens of thousands of documents, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and the contents of the entire network drive from the New Hampshire Democrat.
- Deforest-Davis sold him her office key, wiped his finger prints off keyboards and lied to police. She is now a teacher through Teach For America.
Federal judge Thomas F. Hogan sentenced a former Democratic Senate aide to only probation Monday for her role in what prosecutors called the largest computer hack in Senate history.
Samantha G. DeForest-Davis sold her office key to fired IT aide Jackson Cosko, who used it to repeatedly break in to the office and install spy devices on computers, prosecutors said. After another staffer caught Cosko in the act in October 2018, DeForest-Davis wiped down his fingerprints.
“Hey So I was able to wipe down the keys and mouse but [witness] was coming so I could [not] do the other thing … sorry I couldn’t do everything,” she texted him.
Cosko pleaded guilty on April 5 to masterminding what prosecutors said was “an extraordinarily extensive data-theft scheme, copying entire network drives, sorting and organizing sensitive data, and exploring ways to use that data to his benefit.” He admitted to stealing tens of thousands of documents and emails from Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan’s office, in addition to credit card information and Social Security numbers belonging to Senate employees.
The data also included senators’ private information that Cosko posted to Wikipedia out of “anger” at Republicans during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, prosecutors said. The senators included Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mike Lee of Utah, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and — after he called for finding and punishing the suspect — Rand Paul of Kentucky.
DeForest-Davis allegedly “provided [Cosko] the keys knowing that [he] intended to unlawfully enter the Senator’s office,” court papers say.
DeForest-Davis pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting computer fraud, and “as part of her plea, DeForest Davis acknowledged that she lied to her employer and the U.S. Capitol Police on several occasions during the investigation,” prosecutors said in a statement.
DeForest-Davis, of Wisconsin, began working for Hassan in August 2017 after graduating from Augustana College in Illinois and serving a short stint as a fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), according to her LinkedIn profile.
She wrote on LULAC’s website in 2015: “Identifying as a half African-American and half Caucasian woman, many people questioned why I wanted to intern at LULAC for the summer. … They thought I should be spending my time within my own demographic, serving my own people, and representing my own culture.”
DeForest-Davis is now a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher through Teach For America, which did not respond to a question about whether it did any reference checks, and if so, who gave her a reference.
Repeated IT failures in Congress
The lenient sentence comes despite DeForest-Davis lying to police about her role. Instead of DeForest-Davis initially helping prosecutors build a case against Cosko, Cosko appears to have implicated her.
In the early days of the probe, police nearly bungled the probe, missing the spy devices that remained installed in Senate office computers until he told them about it. They also missed hard drives full of pilfered Senate data that were stashed in his oven.
Hassan hired Cosko as her IT aide — giving him access to all her data — despite a prior felony record for drugs. She fired him for reasons she has refused to say, leading him to plot revenge, including a plot to extort a positive job reference. Somehow, without a reference, he wound up working for Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in an unpaid role, giving him continued access to congressional computers.
Authorities caught and arrested Cosko during the Kavanaugh hearings, and Hassan’s office learned of DeForest’s role and fired her.
A case called USA vs. DeForest-Davis was opened in Washington, D.C., federal court on Jan. 18. She was not charged, but the records signaled that she was seeking a public defender. The court case was one of the first results to come up when her name was searched on Google. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, hired Deforest-Davis eight days later.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki did not respond to a request to explain why it did not alert Spanberger that the House’s newest pending hire was a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation.
Spanberger is a member of the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which deals with information of interest to America’s adversaries.
DeForest-Davis abruptly departed her payroll after working from Jan. 30 to Feb. 11, according to pay records.
All of those events happened not long after a family of Pakistani IT aides, the Awan brothers, committed security violations on the computers of at least 40 congressmen, according to the House Sergeant at Arms. Those IT aides were hired with no background checks, and a congressional chairman said, “We just can’t have this ever happen again.”
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