As revealed yesterday, there is an apparent link between the household of Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier) and email attacks against her chief rival for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in 2017. Emails from an apparently fictitious “Martha McDaniel” were circulated in September and October of last year to spread the rumor that Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) had been having a long-running affair with a campaign aide.
Sen. Reeves wasted no time in filing a defamation lawsuit against “Martha McDaniels,” whose only identifying information was a Gmail address suggesting she lived in Stafford County. Reeves’ initial complaint, in which he vigorously denies the charges, was filed on October 3, 2016 in Stafford County Circuit Court, and is embedded below.
“Martha McDaniels” appears now to be a pseudonym for someone operating from the home of Sen. Vogel, or wishing observers to think they were operating from the Vogels’ home.
Pursuant to Reeves’ lawsuit, his counsel were able to secure discovery on Gmail records indicating (a) the cell phone number associated with the “Martha McDaniel” account; (b) the IP addresses used to access the account; and (c) dates the account was accessed, prior to its owner covering his/her tracks by deleting it.
As the following image shows, the cell phone number associated with the account is (202) 669-XXXX (TBE has redacted this information to protect the privacy of its owner).
That number recently had the following outgoing voicemail message, indicating it belonged to Alex Vogel, husband to Sen. Vogel. This outgoing message was recently removed.
The cell phone is important, as it is the means by which Google verifies ownership of accounts. According to a reputable forensic investigator we consulted on this matter, having a new account associated with an existing account’s phone number is done precisely to avoid the new account (or any existing accounts) being hacked or otherwise compromised, as some verified link beyond the virtual world is required.
The Google information, provided in response to the subpoena from Sen. Reeves’ counsel, also shows two IP addresses as having accessed the account. (Again, TBE has redacted the full addresses to protect the privacy of the owners). Subsequent subpoenas to the internet service providers servicing these IP addresses show them belonging to next door neighbors: one at 10000 Mount Airy Road in Upperville (belonging to Jill and Alex Vogel) and one at 10027 John Mosby Highway in Upperville (belonging to the Vogels’ nearest neighbors, James and Lisa Gable).
As the aerial photo shows, the two properties are near enough that a wi-fi signal from one, particularly if it has an open line of sight, could conceivably be received at the other. According to the Washington Post, the neighbors report sharing an unsecured wireless access system between the two homes, though the record indicates they have separate internet service providers.
It should be reiterated that, in their statement released yesterday, the Vogels vehemently claimed they “have not sent, have not authorized, have not approved, and were not aware of any anonymous communications concerning either of her competitors.” Presumably this also encompasses the pseudonymous emails that are the subject of the Reeves suit. The Vogels also hinted at the possibility of a hack or other compromise of their devices’ security by outsiders may be to blame for the email being traced to their house and Mr. Vogel’s cell phone.
We continue to consult experts on the subject of a potential compromise in the Vogels’ security, and will report on that in a later iteration of this story. So far, the Reeves camp seems eager to test the hacking theory. From the Post:
Reeves’s campaign spokeswoman, Sam Azzarelli, responded to the hacking theory by suggesting that the Vogels agree to have their ‘phones, computers, and electronic devices forensically tested’ by a mutually agreed-upon third party.
‘We will help fund it to find out if they were truly hacked,’ she said.”
As we say, stay tuned…
UPDATE 1: Tom White at VARight has a very interesting technical analysis of the timeline, and when and exactly where the alleged conduct took place. Check it out. White’s analysis shows some potential weaknesses in any civil case that could be brought against the Vogels, and shows a way forward for the hacking defense (And thanks to Tom for pointing out my goof on the redactions. They’ve been fixed now.)
UPDATE 2: Very strong denial from Sen. Vogel herself, published in the Fauquier Times:
‘I am horrified by this and I am as upset as Senator Reeves,’ Vogel said in an email to The Fauquier Times. ‘Unfortunately, we only learned about this in the last few days and we are doing everything in our power to get to the bottom of it.'”
Read the whole thing here.