The former Democratic congressional staffer who posted personal information about Republican senators online faces nearly 50 years in prison.
Jackson Cosko, a 27-year-old Washington, D.C., resident, was arrested Wednesday by U.S. Capitol Police when he was caught sneaking into the offices of Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., after 10 p.m. Tuesday and using an aide’s computer and log-in.
From August until his arrest, Cosko worked as an unpaid fellow with the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, which said it ended his fellowship and is cooperating in the investigation.
Prior to that, he worked for roughly 17 months as an aide to Hassan and before that was employed by former Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. According to an affidavit, five U.S. senators’ restricted personal information was posted on Wikipedia.com by Cosko.
He was charged with five federal offenses: making public restricted personal information, making threats in interstate commerce, unauthorized access of a government computer, identity theft, and witness tampering.
The criminal complaint against him also charges him with second-degree burglary and unlawful entry, which are both criminal offenses in D.C.
Cosko appeared Thursday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who ordered him detained pending a Tuesday hearing.
The investigation began on Sept. 27 when it was found the Wikipedia pages of three U.S. senators had been edited to include restricted personal information without their knowledge or permission — information that included home addresses and personal telephone numbers.
Three edits took place nearly in parallel with the high-stakes Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Then, on Oct. 2, according to the affidavit, similar information was posted on the Wikipedia pages of two additional senators.
The senators are not named in the court documents, but the pages of Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both of Utah, appeared to be edited during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Kavanaugh.
Graham, Lee, and Hatch all sit on the panel and back Kavanaugh.
The affidavit reveals that police traced the postings to IP addresses belonging to the House wired network and then determined that the computer was accessed with Cocko’s user ID and password. Other edits were done by devices using the House and Senate guest wireless networks.
According to police, Cosko tried to threaten the Hassan staffer who recognized him when he broke into the lawmaker’s office on Tuesday night.
An email message to the witness was titled “I own EVERYTHING” and said, ““If you tell anyone I will leak it all. Emails signal conversations gmails. Senators children’s health information and socials.”
The maximum prison time total for the five federal offenses is 33 years, with the Washington offenses carrying a maximum of 15 years for second-degree burglary and another six months for unlawful entry.
Glenn Rushing, Jackson Lee’s chief of staff, told the Washington Examiner that Cosko had been working as an intern and had been fired. “It is an ongoing investigation and we are cooperating with authorities,” he said.
Cosko is listed in the 2018 Senate directory phone book as Sen. Maggie Hassan’s legislative correspondent/systems administrator, and a LinkedIn profile for somebody with the same name states he left the New Hampshire Democrat’s office in May. Cosko was also listed as a staff member for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on a Dear Colleague letter the Texas Democrat circulated last month.
The malicious edits, first reported by a Twitter bot that documents changes made to Wikipedia from Congress, have since been removed. The bot found that the changes were made from a computer on Capitol Hill on the House of Representatives side.
Cosko will be back in court Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. for a detention hearing. None of this should come as any surprise, given Jackson-Lee’s disdain for civilized behavior, as decades worth of coverage of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee suggests she’s behaved badly on planes – and on automobiles – before an incident that we reported on in 2017.
The latest airplane drama came this week when a United Airlines passenger said she was booted from her first class seat to accommodate the Texas Democrat, who shot back by saying the only reason the woman complained was because Jackson Lee is black.
But previous reports show the House member, who was elected in 1994, has had a history of transportation drama, including berating flight attendants on first class flights and making her Congressional staff drive her one block, while waiting on her for hours and disrupting traffic.
She’s been documented calling her employees ‘you stupid motherf***er,’ while referring to herself as Congressional royalty.
‘You don’t understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen,’ she was quoted saying in 1998, three years into her nearly 23-year tenure on Capitol Hill.
In 2002, the Weekly Standard did a deep dive into her travel demands.
The congresswoman, the article noted, lived about ‘200 paces’ from her Cannon Building Capitol Hill office, though still insisted on a ride.
On December 6, 2001, a blue Ford Contour with government plates pulled up to her apartment building where it idled for 23 minutes, blocking rush hour traffic in the meantime on one of Capitol Hill’s busiest streets, the Weekly Standard said.
When the congresswoman appeared an aide opened the car’s doors for her and waited while Jackson Lee stood outside the automobile to take a phone call.
Then an awkward moment ensued when Jackson Lee stared her staffer down until the congresswoman’s jacket and shawl were removed.
In a 2011 article in the Daily Caller drivers for the lawmaker said she demanded that they run red lights and on highway shoulders – antics that caused one accident.
Jackson Lee was screaming at a staffer to drive faster when the aide turned too sharply and ran the car into a wall, the Daily Caller reported.
While her time was precious, staffers’ testified theirs was not.
‘Whatever time she told me to be there, I would always show up at least 20 minutes later, and expect to wait at least 45 minutes,’ one of Jackson Lee’s drivers told the Daily Caller. ‘She was making me wait in the car, sometimes upwards of five to seven hours per day.’
Idling the car so much it started to damage its engine.
‘My mechanic friend said, “you know, your car looks like you’ve driven it twice the miles you have,”‘ the staffer said.
Before this week’s United debacle, Jackson Lee had a tense relationship with Continental, the Houston-based carrier that merged with United in 2010.
Jackson Lee’s staff would book seats on multiple flights for her week-end trips back to Houston, allowing the congresswoman to pick the trip that would best fit her schedule.
This, however, would leave the airline in a bind, the Weekly Standard noted, as Continental wouldn’t be able to sell off the premier seats she didn’t use.
And while Jackson Lee would book coach tickets, the congresswoman was often bumped to first class.
In February 1998, while sitting in first class, Jackson Lee famously berated a flight attendant over her meal choice not being available on the particular plane she chose to fly home on.
‘Don’t you know who I am?’ the congresswoman reportedly said. ‘I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!’
After this incident, the vice president of Continental’s government affairs office called Jackson Lee and warned her that her behavior needed to improve or she would not be flying the airline again, sources told the Weekly Standard.
A year later, in May 1999, Jackson Lee had boarded a Continental flight out of Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National only to find that she had misplaced her purse.
The congresswoman proceeded to get off the flight to look for the bag back in the terminal, meanwhile the plane had left the gate – with the missing purse on board.
According to aviation lobbyists that the Weekly Standard talked to, Jackson Lee demanded she be let back on the plane and didn’t believe it was against Federal Aviation Administration regulation.
‘She accused the gate staff of racism and demanded to see their supervisor, who was a black woman,’ the Weekly Standard wrote. ‘Her purse, meanwhile, was unceremoniously dropped out of the cockpit window and ferried back to her.’
Eighteen years later, many of the themes remain the same as Jackson Lee pointed to racism as the crux of the problem, protesting she did nothing wrong when she was bumped to a white woman’s seat on December 18 on a flight from Houston to Washington, D.C.
Jackson Lee was put in seat 1A, which was originally paid for by a Jean-Marie Simon, a schoolteacher from Washington DC, who has accused the airline of evicting her from the seat so they could give it to a member of congress.
The congresswoman said in a statement Tuesday that she is upset she has to respond to allegations that she demanded special treatment.
‘Since this was not any fault of mine, the way the individual continued to act appeared to be, upon reflection, because I was an African American woman, seemingly an easy target along with the African American flight attendant who was very, very nice,’ the 67-year-old Democrat tweeted Tuesday.
‘But in the spirit of this season and out of the sincerity of my heart, if it is perceived that I had anything to do with this, I am kind enough to simply say sorry. But as an African American, I know there are too many examples like this all over the nation.’
Simon claims that after an hour-long weather delay United carelessly tossed her out of her first-class seat to make way for Jackson Lee, saying in a Facebook post that she saw a uniformed airline employee pull the congresswoman from the boarding line and escort her to a first-class seat.
Then Simon, who was on the second leg of her return flight from Guatemala, said she went to the gate to board and was told her ticket wasn’t in the system.
When the attendant asked her if she had canceled her ticket, Simon replied: ‘No. I just want to go home.’
After she was seated, she claims she was told by another passenger that her original seat was occupied by a congresswoman and that he had seen her do it twice before.
The airline compensated her with a $500 voucher and another ticket for that flight in Economy Plus.
And on Monday United again apologized to her and said they would reimburse her with a second $500 voucher.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
October 7th, 2018