WASHINGTON — House Republicans withdrew on Thursday from negotiations with Democrats over a pact that would have effectively barred both parties from using hacked or stolen material on the campaign trail this fall.
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Leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, and their counterparts at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had labored for much of the summer over rules that would have governed the way the congressionally run committees and their candidates treated material like the thousands of pages of damaging Democratic documents stolen and leaked by Russian hackers in 2016.
Instead, the two parties were left on Thursday exchanging shots just two months before Election Day; Republicans claimed that Democrats had negotiated in bad faith and violated an agreement not to speak about the negotiations publicly, and Democrats said that Republicans were merely searching for an excuse to pull out. It only fed the complaint by Democrats that Republican lawmakers have resisted bridging partisan divisions in the two years since Russia began its brazen attack on the American political system.
“Negotiations are about trust. Once that trust is breached, there is simply no way to reach an agreement,” said Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the Republican committee. “We don’t need a pledge to do what we planned to do already. And we’re certainly not going to be a pawn in someone’s publicity stunt.”
House Republicans “are not seeking hacked materials,” Mr. Gorman said. “We don’t want hacked materials. We have no intention of using hacked materials.”
Democrats strongly rebutted that claim, accusing Republicans of slow-walking negotiations before pulling the plug based on a benign press interview.
“We have been clear from Day 1 that the D.C.C.C. will not use stolen hacked materials for political gain, and have been negotiating in good faith for three months to get the N.R.C.C. on the same page,” said Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the Democratic committee. “The N.R.C.C. has needlessly delayed and made one excuse after another, and I’m incredibly disappointed that they have backed out of this commitment not to use stolen hacked materials. This is a sad day for our democracy.”
The two sides had been close to reaching an agreement as recently as the past week or so, according to officials involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the talks. But a key difference of opinion remained over how to deal with hacked or stolen material that entered the public domain through news or other sources. Republicans argued that such material had to be fair game and that to ask candidates not to seize on news reports was unnecessarily prohibitive. Democrats countered that any agreement would be toothless without such a provision.
As recently as Tuesday evening, Democrats proposed a draft of the agreement that would have required the two committees to pledge that they would not “use known stolen or hacked information, or promote or disseminate hacked materials to the press, regardless of the source,” according to an official familiar with the latest version.