WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge showed leniency Monday to a former congressional staffer whose friend exploited her government access to take political vengeance on Senate supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
As summarized this afternoon by U.S. District Thomas Hogan, 24-year-old Samantha Deforest-Davis was more victim than perpetrator in the “doxing” scheme engineered by her former colleague, Jackson Cosko.
Court papers say Deforest-Davis socialized and had a “close relationship” with Cosko as fellow aides to Senator Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.
After Hassan fired him in May 2018, Cosko lent Deforest-Davis money for her rent but requested a favor in return. That summer, spurred by anger over Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, Cosko repeatedly used Deforest-Davis’ keys to access the senator’s office after hours and hack the congressional computers.
He then released the home addresses and phone numbers of Senators Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee on Wikipedia and Twitter, followed later by publicizing information on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Paul Ryan.
Deforest-Davis initially lied to Capitol Police, claiming she knew nothing about Cosko’s illegal activities, but eventually cooperated with government investigators.
As part of her guilty plea to aiding and abetting, Deforest-Davis admitted that she tried to destroy evidence by wiping Senate computer equipment clean of Cosko’s fingerprints.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tejpal Chawla called for a sentence of six months house arrest and five years probation, arguing that Deforest-Davis was central to Cosko's scheme.
“Without Ms. Deforest-Davis there is no Jackson Cosko,” Chawla said.
Chawla recognized that Cosko manipulated the relationship and preyed upon Deforest-Davis’ financial needs, but he urged Hogan to order a sentence that would deter future congressional staff from carrying out similar offenses. He suggested 600 hours of community service if the judge opted not to order house arrest.
Hogan, a Reagan nominee, instead ordered Deforest-Davis to serve two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Though he also voiced concern over the threat of computer invasions becoming “more and more pervasive,” Hogan said the government’s proposal was excessive.
“Ms. Davis,” the judge said, addressing her in court, “this sentence really is meant to help you.”
Though Hogan said Deforest-Davis bore responsibility for failing to alert authorities outright, he also recognized the steps she’s taken since being fired in December, having started teaching English at a Milwaukee elementary school while taking graduate school courses on evenings and weekends.
Standing at the courtroom lectern, Deforest-Davis apologized for the harm her actions caused others. She said she is now working “to be as honest as possible, as soon as possible.”
A defense attorney said Deforest-Davis is seeking mental health counseling and that it would be unhealthy to sentence Deforest-Davis to house arrest, since that would mean restriction to her apartment during the long Milwaukee winter.
A spokesman for Senator Hassan did not respond to request for comment.
Cosko pleaded guilty to five felonies including making public restricted personal information, computer fraud, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. In June, Hogan handed him a five-year sentence.
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