After the DNC penalized the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders for improperly accessing data collected by rival Hillary Clinton, campaign officials came out against the DNC decision and threatened to pursue legal action if their access to the database is not restored. (Reuters)

THE MORNING PLUM:

It’s being widely reported that the Democratic National Committee has suspended Bernie Sanders’ access to its voter data after a software snafu allegedly allowed a Sanders staffer to view the Hillary Clinton campaign’s own proprietary data. As many accounts have noted, this represents a serious blow to the Sanders campaign.

We need more detail to understand exactly what happened here. But one point that can be made right now is that the DNC needs to restore Sanders’ access to the data as quickly as possible.

The degree to which the Sanders campaign should bear the blame for what happened remains unclear. The Sanders campaign claims that the data breach was the fault of the vendor that gives campaigns access to the data, which (the Sanders camp argues) erroneously dropped the “firewall” that protects each camp’s data. The Sanders camp also notes that it fired the staffer responsible for accessing the Clinton info. That fired staffer has now told CNN that he did not attempt to take Clinton data and was merely trying to determine how badly the Sanders camp’s data had been compromised by the fallen firewall.

On the other hand, multiple accounts say that as many as four users associated with the Sanders campaign may have accessed the Clinton data. The Sanders campaign does not deny this; it says that those staffers did so at the behest of their boss, the staffer who has been fired. As you can see, our knowledge of what happened is pretty murky right now.

The current state of play is now this:

The DNC has told the Sanders campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data again until it provides an explanation as well as assurances that all Clinton data has been destroyed.

Having his campaign cut off from the national party’s voter data is a strategic setback for Sanders — and could be a devastating blow if it lasts. The episode also raises questions about the DNC’s ability to provide strategic resources to campaigns and state parties.

It is understandable that the DNC is demanding a full accounting from the Sanders campaign, since the DNC should get to the bottom of what happened, so that the campaigns can have confidence in the security of voter data. But, based on what we know at this point about what happened, preventing the Sanders camp from accessing voter data for any meaningful length of time is not tenable.

Making this appear worse, it comes after the Sanders camp had one of its very best days of the campaign, announcing two million contributions and major endorsements from a leading labor union and progressive group. It comes just before the Democrats are set to debate on Saturday night, in a gathering that is expected to attract fewer viewers than this week’s GOP debate did, due to poor debate scheduling that already has Clinton’s rivals asking whether the DNC is gaming the process to benefit her. (I think that charge is largely unfair, but it’s true that the Clinton camp did lobby the DNC early on for a lower-exposure debate schedule, and the DNC was to some degree sensitive to the Clinton camp’s demands.)

Now the lead political story in the Democratic primary is that the Sanders camp is getting dealt a severe punishing blow by the DNC — even though a lot remains unknown about what actually happened. This is no way to maintain confidence in the integrity of the primary process.

To be fair, the DNC appears to recognize this. DNC spokesman Luis Miranda tells me: “We want to get this resolved as quickly as possible.” It’s very possible that the DNC will act promptly to restore the Sanders camp’s access, once it receives an accounting. Let’s hope it does so.

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* TRUMP-MENTUM RAGES ON…AND ON…AND ON: A new Morning Consult poll finds that Donald Trump continues to hold a large lead among GOP primary voters: He has 36 percent; Ben Carson has 12 percent; Ted Cruz has 11 percent; and Marco Rubio has nine percent.

Those findings are almost identical to what they were before Tuesday’s debate, suggesting that the Las Vegas showdown may not have done much to change the basic dynamics giving Trump his large lead.

* REPUBLICANS FOR HILLARY!!! An intriguing tidbit from the new Morning Consult poll:

About one in six Republican respondents said they would support Hillary Clinton in the general election matchup between Trump and Clinton.

General election polling this early means very little, but this bears watching: it’s a hint of what a disaster for the GOP nominating Trump could prove to be.

* HILLARY HOLDS WIDE LEAD OVER SANDERS: A new Post poll finds that Clinton leads Sanders by 59-28 among registered Democratic voters nationally. Note this reference to the Iowa and New Hampshire contests:

Sanders has struggled to make inroads among African American Democrats. He is trailing Clinton by 71-to-19 percent over the two most recent Post-ABC surveys. Sanders’s support among white voters has helped make him competitive in those first two overwhelmingly white states, but his mixed support among African American and Hispanic voters, who make up a larger portion of the electorate in states with later contests, creates a substantial obstacle for him to overcome.

Thus, if Clinton can win Iowa, offsetting a Sanders win in New Hampshire, she’ll be well positioned for the more diverse electorates in the contests that follow.

* HILLARY IS OUT-HUSTLING SANDERS: Politico determines that Bernie Sanders has spent the equivalent of three weeks less time campaigning and fundraising since late September than Hillary Clinton has:

The Vermont senator has visited nine fewer states than Clinton…His schedule from Sept. 28 through Saturday night’s debate — 84 days in total — has included 34 days campaigning or fundraising outside of Washington or his home state, including 10 in New Hampshire and nine in Iowa. Clinton’s meanwhile, has been made up of 55 days outside of her New York home base.

Sanders aides note that he spends a lot of time on his job as a sitting Senator. It isn’t every day that a lawmaker-turned-candidate allows his day job to interfere with his electoral ambitions!

* HILLARY STRUGGLING WITH MILLENNIALS: CNN reports that the Clinton camp is well aware that she faces a big and important challenge in energizing young voters to the degree that Obama was able to do in 2008 and 2012:

Clinton aides are still confident that despite the polling that shows their boss trailing with young voters, she will be able to win them over by speaking directly to issues that they care about, namely college affordability, social issues and women’s rights. They also feel targeted rollouts like the one she made on campus sexual assaults in Iowa earlier this year will help.

As I’ve reported, Democrats should probably be thinking now about the threat Marco Rubio in particular could pose to their edge among young voters — an advantage that Dems are betting the party’s future on, and one they shouldn’t take for granted.

* WAIT, THERE’S A DEM DEBATE ON SATURDAY? Yes, there is: the Democratic presidential candidates are set to debate on Saturday night –a weekend night! — and Alan Rappeport reports that the Sanders and Martin O’Malley campaigns are angry about the debate schedule, because it is likely to result in far fewer viewers than the recent GOP debate attracted.

Here’s your regular reminder: The Hillary campaign privately lobbied for a debate schedule that all but ensured a smaller audience.