FBI agents in California and Washington, D.C., have investigated a series of cyberattacks over the past year that targeted a Democratic opponent of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Rohrabacher is a 15-term incumbent who is widely seen as the most pro-Russia and pro-Putin member of Congress and is a staunch supporter of President Trump. The hacking attempts and the FBI’s involvement are described in dozens of emails and forensic records obtained by Rolling Stone. The target of these attacks, Dr. Hans Keirstead, a stem-cell scientist and the CEO of a biomedical research company, finished third in California’s nonpartisan “top-two” primary on June 5th, falling 125 votes short of advancing to the general election in one of the narrowest margins of any congressional primary this year. He has since endorsed Harley Rouda, the Democrat who finished in second place and will face Rohrabacher in the November election.
Cybersecurity experts say that it’s nearly impossible to identify who was behind the hacks without the help of law enforcement or high-priced private cybersecurity firms that collect their own threat data. These experts speculate that the hackers could have been one of many actors: a nation-state (such as Russia), organized crime, so-called e-crime or a hacktivist with a specific agenda. The FBI declined to comment.
Kyle Quinn-Quesada, who was Keirstead’s campaign manager, tells Rolling Stone that the campaign is now going public about the attacks for the sake of voter awareness. “It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique but have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018,” Quinn-Quesada says. He added that the Keirstead campaign did not believe the cyberattacks had an effect on the primary election results.