On July 3, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) talked with a local news station in his district about a topic on which he has often strayed from the pack: the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee. Rohrabacher, who has urged friendlier relations with Russia, said that there were plenty of questions about the hack, and that it might have been an “inside job,” followed by a years-long coverup.
“I went to Julian Assange of course to talk to him personally, the guy who of course disclosed all of these emails, and he adamantly said the Russians weren’t in it,” he told Fox LA reporter Elex Michaelson. “And, by the way, if we could in some way guarantee that he can get out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, he said he told me he has absolute proof, just actual, not just words, but he’s got proof that the Russians did not hack.”
Ten days later, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers, fingering them for the email hacks that roiled and wounded Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. For many people, the indictment put to rest several alternative theories of how the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were hacked.
In a short interview, Rohrabacher said that he wanted to know more.
“The explanation of the indictment is so complicated and technical that it is hard for anyone to judge whether it’s accurate,” he said. “There are experts that will be able to judge whether it’s accurate. I know that there are a number of intelligence agents, people experienced with this area of technically, the VIPS. They’re experts in cyberwarfare. I plan to talk to them to see if the information provided in the indictments is something that they are willing to accept as possible as compared to what they said in the past.”
Rohrabacher was referring to the work of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of “Russiagate” skeptics who argued in 2017 that “an insider copied DNC data onto an external storage device.” They cited “independent cyber investigators” and got a serious airing for their theory, from the pages of the Nation to prime time on Fox News. But not every member of VIPS had signed on to that finding, and Rohrabacher admitted that the indictments raised serious questions about alternate theories.
“Because of the amount of time necessary for a hack from the inside to get all of those emails would have taken out a huge amount of time and instead it was done very quickly. So we know it was an inside job and we know there are several people in, working in the DNC at that time who were disgruntled because they knew that the DNC was breaking its own rules by undermining Bernie Sanders’s campaign,” Rohrabacher said on July 3.
This week, the congressman said that he needed to know more.
“The government said it’s got to be a hack,” said Rohrabacher. “I’ll see if [VIPS] now have changed their minds, because they had a technical explanation of how supposedly people were able to get these emails. This is the first time I’ve been given these details about hacking from the special prosecutor. I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
Rohrbacher, first elected in 1988, has often stood apart from his Republican colleagues. In 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) joked that Rohrabacher and then-candidate Donald Trump were so soft on Russia, they were probably paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this week, the congressman weighed in on the indictment of Maria Butina, a Russian woman charged with acting as a foreign agent in the United States and having ties to Russian intelligence operatives.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid,” Rohrabacher told Politico. “She’s the assistant of some guy who is the head of the bank and is a member of their Parliament. That’s what we call a spy? That shows you how bogus this whole thing is.”
The 2018 election presents his first serious electoral test in years. Trump lost Rohrabacher’s coastal Orange County district in 2016, and Democrats have poured resources behind Harley Rouda, a wealthy businessman and attorney who has made the Russia issue central to his campaign.
“Dana Rohrabacher is unfit to lead,” Rouda said in a statement after seeing Rohrabacher’s comments. “American intelligence agencies all agree that Russia interfered in our elections. Every American, especially 30-year members of Congress, need to be focused on protecting our Democracy from foreign attacks. Yet, Dana is sadly incapable of doing that.”
In the Michaelson interview, Rohrabacher had not said who in particular could have leaked from inside the DNC. This week, he said that he was not referring to Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was killed outside his D.C. home in 2016, and who, ever since, has been the focus of conspiracy theories about the hacked emails.
“I’ve never suggested that Seth Rich was the leaker,” Rohrabacher said. “I’ve never told anybody that Seth Rich was the leaker. But that is something that needs to be thoroughly looked into, and it hasn’t been. It’s disturbing that the DNC’s server was not given to the FBI. It’s disturbing that Seth Rich’s laptop has not been examined. That’s important, the fact they haven’t looked at yet. We need to pull through and see all evidence is looked at.”
Rouda hit back, saying that even broaching the “inside job” question was a step too far.
“His comments on the murder of Seth Rich also show that when not being duped by Borat, Dana would rather peddle the sickest conspiracies of the alt-right than fight for families in the 48th District,” he said. (Sacha Baron Cohen, star of the movie “Borat,” has filmed a show in which he tricked Rohrabacher and others and got them to talk on camera about training young children to use firearms.)