House panel probes hiring of law, PR firms before public notifie - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

House panel probes hiring of law, PR firms before public notified of hack

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State Rep. Bakari Sellers at House hearing regarding DOR security breach State Rep. Bakari Sellers at House hearing regarding DOR security breach

"One quick question," said State Rep. Bakari Sellers. "You talk about attorney-client privilege. I want to know, who do you represent?"

Nelson Mullins attorney Rush Smith faced a House panel Thursday to explain his firm's role in the days leading up to the announcement that the State Department of Revenue's computer system was hacked.

"We were first retained by the Department of Revenue," said Smith. "Since then, we've advised the governor's office."

Smith's firm has already charged the state $300,000. Governor Nikki Haley's office and DOR hired Smith eight days before the October 26th public announcement.

"What my constituents still want to know," said Rep. Harry Ott. "Is why they were not notified as soon as possible when the state found out we had a breach."

Governor Haley and SLED found out about the security breach on October 10th. A hacker stole more than 4 million taxpayer and business information. It took another 16 days before the told the public.

SLED said it took that long to get their investigation going.

 "What my constituents still want to know," said Rep. Harry Ott. "Is why they were not notified as soon as possible when the state found out we had a breach."

 

"My question is, you hire a PR firm before you release it to the public?" asked Sellers. "I understand the legal aspects of this. I understand there was a criminal investigation, but at what point during the criminal investigation require you to hire a PR firm?"

"The purpose for which Chernoff Newman was retained, obviously, was to help craft the message and to be sure we were able to place, for example, help us place the publication notice in the newspapers," said Smith.

"You hire a PR firm, but you couldn't tell the general public?" asked Sellers. "And when I'm going back and telling my constituents the things we did leading up to before we told you, that is one thing that sticks out that makes absolutely no sense."

"Is this to get public information out or is this to spin it politically to do the least amount of damage?" asked Ott.

"I believe that timeliness notice was given here, so I don't accept the proposition there's a legal delay," said Smith. "I know that days passed, but I know that during those days, is that law enforcement was undertaking its investigation."

The committee also found out the law firm wasn't the only one who knew about the hack before it was announced to the public. 

Columbia public relations firm Chernoff Newman knew, too. The firm charged taxpayers $200,000 for their work so far.

Nelson Mullins attorney Rush Smith faced a House panel Thursday to explain his firm's role in the days leading up to the announcement that the State Department of Revenue's computer system was hacked. 

"We were first retained by the Department of Revenue," said Smith. "Since then, we've advised the governor's office."

Smith's firm has already charged the state $300,000.  The Governor's office and DOR hired Smith eight days before the October 26th public announcement.

Governor Nikki Haley and SLED found out about the security breach on October 10th.  A hacker stole more than 4 million taxpayer and business information. It took another 16 days before the told the public. 

SLED said it took that long to get their investigation going.

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