GOP Rivals Go For The Jugular Over Alleged Email Hack In Senate Primary

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Allegations of email hacking and impersonation. A defamation lawsuit. New Mexico Republicans don’t have much hope for stealing a U.S. Senate seat away from Democratic incumbent Tom Udall this November, but they sure are having a lot of fun in the meantime.

Allen Weh, a 71-year-old former state party chair and 2010 gubernatorial candidate, should have coasted to the GOP nomination to challenge Udall. But then a virtual unknown, attorney David Clements, surprisingly scored nearly half the delegates at the state party’s preprimary convention earlier this month. There was suddenly a real race, even if Weh still holds every structural advantage.

That might help explain the heightened sniping between the campaigns, which have traded harsh allegations in recent weeks. The first was from Clements, who said that Weh’s campaign manager hacked his campaign email, which resulted in a formal investigation. Then came a counter lawsuit by Weh’s campaign manger, alleging defamation by Clements.

To be clear, the Cook Political Report rates the New Mexico Senate race as solidly Democratic, so these are pretty low-stakes political shenanigans. But still, candidates for a major party Senate nomination are accusing each other of tabloid-worthy and possibly felonious campaign tactics. So let’s dive in, courtesy of the Santa Fe Reporter, which has been covering the story.

It started with the allegations by Clements, a 34-year-old attorney from Las Cruces who has never sought public office. He claimed that Weh campaign manager Diego Espinoza had hacked his email and harassed state Republican delegates by repeatedly forwarding an open letter he had written to Weh. Clements alleged in the letter that Espinoza engineered a fraudulent vote at the Bernalillo County convention that swung delegates in Weh’s favor. But, to be honest, that particular allegation is a footnote at this point.

Clements’s campaign documented the delegate controversy and alleged email hacking on a website, the Bernalillo Coverup, which says it has been paid for by the campaign. It includes original documents and research that TPM could not independently verify.

“Diego Espinoza, the Weh campaign manager, abused the Clements email system and used it to resend the open letter to multiple delegates,” the website alleges. It then offers documentation that an email address belonging to Espinoza forwarded the email more than 600 times and he could have “masked his own email address” when forwarding it to others.

TPM reached out Clements via his campaign website and Facebook page to expand on Espinoza’s alleged “abuse” of the campaign’s email system. A reply from the Facebook account said: “The case has been turned over to the Doña Ana criminal investigation division. We’ve been asked not to comment at this time.”

The Santa Fe Reporter also reported that the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the allegations.

In retaliation to the Clements campaign’s assertion, Espinoza filed a lawsuit against Clements and his campaign, accusing them of defamation for making “false and derogatory” claims. Espinoza asked for a declarative judgment that the Clements campaign acted unlawfully and any financial compensation that a jury deems appropriate.

Espinoza has not actually denied that he forwarded Clements’s letter as many as 600 times. But he did take issue with Clements’s characterization of his actions as “hacking” in comments to the New Mexico Watchdog.

“David Clements is aware, or should be aware that the sort of ‘hacking’ he has alleged is a violation of both federal and New Mexico law,” the lawsuits asserts. “His intentional use of that term is knowingly false and he is acting with malice.”

But elsewhere in the lawsuit, Espinoza did not explicitly rebut the documents posted on Clements’s website. He simply claimed that they did not constitute any “hacking” on his part.

The documentation “does not state that Diego Espinoza hacked into any account,” the lawsuit said. Instead, the documents “state that Diego Espinoza merely forwarded certain emails.”

Espinoza’s reputation has been damaged, the lawsuit said, and the Clements allegations would prevent him from receiving a promotion or any assignment that requires security clearance at his full-time job with an air charter company. That will in turn cause him to earn less income than he otherwise would, it stated.

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