U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Missouri, says he was overwhelmed by “an avalanche of mean-spirited phone calls” after a hacker posted the congressman’s cellphone number, home address and other personal information online.
Dozens of callers attacked the former Kansas City mayor using profanity and “the N word,” the congressman said in an interview. Some accused him of being a “baby killer” or insulted his Methodist faith.
Cleaver also received obscene and racist emails, at least one of which appeared to come from a representative of the Ku Klux Klan, he said.
The intensity of the attacks prompted the former Kansas City mayor to change his phone numbers and request additional security around his home in Kansas City.
“When somebody puts your address on the internet, there are people who aren’t as mentally healthy as we hope they should be and they could do something,” Cleaver said.
A hacker using the handle Guccifer 2.0 publicized the names, phone numbers and emails of Cleaver, other House Democrats, and some of their staffers, following an Aug. 12 cyberattack on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee using a spoofed donation website. Guccifer also posted internal DCCC documents.
Guccifer claims to be a Romanian with no ties to Russian intelligence. But cyber security experts at ThreatConnect Research and Fidelis Cybersecurity say they’ve linked him to a Russian internet server.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also received harassing calls and emails, has called the hack “an electronic Watergate break-in.” Capitol Hill Police are investigating.
When the offensive calls and emails started on Aug. 12, Cleaver was out of town at a Congressional Black Caucus conference in Mississippi.
A man from Raytown, Missouri, was the first to call.
“He said, ‘Look, I need to let you know your phone number has been put on the internet along with your email, along with your address and along with your wife’s name,’ ” Cleaver recalled. “I said, ‘How did that happen?’ He said, ‘Whoever hacked your information put it online.’ ”
Cleaver, who admits he’s not very tech savvy, wasn’t sure what to make of the warning. Then, about an hour later, the ugly calls and emails started flooding in.
“It was a lot of cowardly comments,” Cleaver said. “These are people who probably wouldn’t have done it sitting in front of me. They may have been thinking it, but they wouldn’t have said it.”
He stopped answering after the third call, but he was afraid to turn off his cellphone or get rid of it because his wife was home alone in Kansas City, Mo., and he was worried about her.
The congressman’s staff contacted the Capitol Hill and Kansas City police departments, but Cleaver spent an anxious night listening to the phone ring on the bedside table as nasty voice mails piled up.
Cleaver says he’s particularly paranoid about security because of an attempted firebombing of his office in Sept. 2014. Eric King was sentenced in June to 10 years in federal prison for breaking a window at Cleaver’s district office and throwing Molotov cocktails inside. No one was in the office at the time.
Two other incidents of concern also occurred near his home earlier this year, he said, but he declined to go into detail.
Amid the nastiness, Cleaver said, his faith in humanity has been buoyed by the first caller from Raytown, who gave the congressman a heads-up that his information had been compromised.
“Not only did he call to warn me about what was going on, sent me another text to say, ‘Hang in there,’ and ‘I’m willing to talk to law enforcement’ . . . He was a very nice guy,” Cleaver said.
“Whenever I’m talking about how horrible the phone calls were, I have to remind myself that the first phone call was a classy gentleman who was very nice and helpful,” he said.
That tipster, as it turns out, was Sam Dawson, a 57-year-old Republican who first read about the hack that exposed the congressman’s information on the conservative Drudge Report website.
“I didn’t do it expecting anything out of it, just common courtesy,” said Dawson, a stay-at-home dad of three kids. “People’s politics are politics,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean you have to do that kind of thing to people.”