The Bernie Sanders campaign has regained access to the Democratic Party's crucial voter database after hundreds of thousands of voters protested the party's decision to cut the campaign off for snooping into private files owned by Hillary Clinton's operation.
The party relented close to midnight Friday, as a deadline neared for a federal judge to hear an emergency injunction filed by the Sanders campaign in Washington. The campaign had argued that the loss of access to the database was costing it $600,000 per day in contributions, which it was unable to solicit without the DNC's voter contact information. The database also contains the Sanders campaign's own files, which it could not access as the dispute raged throughout the day Friday.
"We are extremely pleased the DNC has reversed its outrageous decision to take Sanders' data," said a statement from Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Sanders. "Clearly they were very concerned about their prospects in court."
The party's decision to cut off the Sanders campaign from the data came after it discovered the campaign's digital director and three other staffers had accessed the proprietary Clinton files on Wednesday, when a software bug temporarily brought down the system's firewall. The Sanders digital director has since been fired by the campaign.
Advisers to Sanders artfully framed the crisis as one created by the national party, not its renegade staffers. All day Friday and into the night, they argued it was the party's responsibility to maintain a secure database. The fired digital director said no data was stolen, that he had merely been probing the vulnerabilities of the system to ensure his own operation was secure. And the campaign launched a crusade against the DNC, arguing it was using the incident as an excuse to give Clinton a leg up at this critical time in the election, with voting in Iowa and New Hampshire only weeks away.
DNC officials said they restored the campaign's database privileges after satisfactorily answering some of the party's questions about the incident.
"Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign's access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign," said a statement from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
"The fact that data was accessed inappropriately is completely unacceptable, and the DNC expects each campaign to operate with integrity going forward with respect to the voter file."
The Sanders campaign disputes that any new information was provided. The agreement the party made with Sanders on Friday night stipulates that his campaign will cooperate with an independent audit that will probe the breach and whether any proprietary data was stolen during the course of it.
The Clinton campaign says it expects its rival to be held accountable for any transgressions revealed by that examination. "We believe this audit should proceed immediately, and, pending its findings, we expect further disciplinary action to be taken as appropriate," said a statement from Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign press secretary.
Even so, the agreement begins to close an unwelcome chapter for the Democrats in a primary that has been largely drama free at a time the GOP is struggling to manage the bitter tensions that have emerged among its candidates, and the threat that Donald Trump could undermine the party altogether by running as an independent.
"While the trust of grassroots Democrats in the DNC's neutrality in the presidential race can only be restored with time and actions, the reversal of this disturbing decision is a good first step," said a statement from Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group.
It had collected more than 115,000 signatures on a petition demanding the DNC back down. A similar petition circulated by the MoveOn.org on Friday had collected 250,000 signatures, and the Sanders campaign's own petition had 214,000 names on it by the time an agreement was reached.