Capitol Police on October 3 arrested 27-year old congressional staffer Jackson Cosko for posting on Wikipedia the private addresses of three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—what’s known as “doxxing” (a word derived from the shorthand for “document”). Cosko is facing serious charges that include illegally posting private information of public figures, witness tampering, threats, identity theft, and unlawful entry.
In the mainstream media, Cosko is being portrayed as a hapless overzealous intern who didn’t even have the smarts to cover up his criminal act. His former boss— Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) has denied she knew anything about Cosko’s activities. In a press conference held this week, Jackson-Lee explained that she fired Cosko and is cooperating with officials investigating the crimes. (Interestingly, cameras recorded Jackson-Lee passing an envelope to Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer just before her testimony got underway.)
Many Questions, Few Answers So Far
Yet, Jackson-Lee still has some explaining to do. While she claims Cosko was an “unpaid intern” in her office, the Washington Post reports that Cosko was actually a “fellow.” This was confirmed by Cosko’s lawyer, who said his client was a “fellow” in Jackson-Lee’s office and that he was being paid by an “outside institution.”
What “outside institution” paid for Cosko’s fellowship? Did that entity know about his illegal activities? What other fellowships does this “outside organization” pay for? What other House or Senate offices are hosting fellows paid by this organization?
“Intern” and “fellow” are not interchangeable because they aren’t even close to being the same thing. While internships are reserved for inexperienced college students, fellowships are usually serious policy positions and are typically filled by professionals working within other federal agencies or the private sector who are brought to a congressional office for a short stint to help a member of Congress better understand the agency or business for which that member has oversight responsibilities.
For instance, when I worked for Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), he served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and for a brief period we had a fellow from the U.S. Marshals Service on staff to help the senator with policy work involving that agency. The marshal assigned to our office was paid by his agency, not the senator’s office. So, in a sense, the position was an unpaid Senate position because the cost of the fellowship didn’t come out of the senator’s budget. But our fellow was being compensated for his work.
The title “fellow” also aligns better with Cosko’s age. It would be highly unusual to have a 27-year old intern but that wouldn’t be an unusual age for someone awarded a fellowship. And it’s clear that Cosko wasn’t relegated to running banal errands like most interns. In a September 10, 2018 letter from Jackson-Lee regarding a piece of legislation she had introduced, she instructs those interested in co-sponsoring the bill to contact Cosko. An intern would never be listed on a letter like that. But a fellow certainly would be.
The “intern” narrative is particularly odd for those who have worked on the Hill and understand its culture. In a normal career trajectory, one typically starts out as an intern; then he might move into the mailroom—usually the lowest paid job on the Hill (when I started as a Senate scheduler in the late 1990s, the starting salary for the mailroom was $16,500—not easy to live on in Washington, D.C. even then).
Eventually a legislative correspondent position may open up and from there it’s easy to move into a full legislative assistant position. If that staffer stays long enough, he or she might become a legislative director, or even chief of staff or committee staff Director. In the eight years I worked in Congress, I saw this pattern repeated over and over again.
Yet, according to the narrative being pushed on Cosko, he didn’t follow the standard path. In fact, we are supposed to believe he’s moving in reverse from paid positions into an unpaid internship.
And of course, the “fellow” title makes much more sense when you consider the rest of Cosko’s resume, where he calls himself a IT security expert and lists working for New Hampshire Democrat Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) prior to his time in Jackson-Lee’s office. (Hassan, incidentally, was also the senator who screamed “f**k you” at the president when he was visiting Congress last month).
Yet, even that story has inconsistencies. According to the Legistorm website and a report by the Washington Post, Cosko was employed as a paid congressional aide to Hassan from January 2017 until May of this year and had the title “legislative correspondent and systems administrator.” Yet according to the same database, his pay ended on March 31, not in May.
Cosko also worked for former Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and some media reports also state that before his paid position with Boxer, he had an unpaid internship with Senator Feinstein (a timeframe that would put him in his early 20s and a much more normal age for an internship).
The latest media reports on Cosko are chilling. They detail how after sneaking into Senator Hassan’s office at 10 p.m. (an office he was not authorized to enter since he had been fired months earlier), he logged onto a computer using the login information of a still (for now) employed Hassan staffer. When he was discovered and shooed out of the office by another Hassan staffer who ostensibly was working late that night, he sent that staffer a threatening note: “If you tell anyone I will leak it all. Emails signal conversations gmails. Senators children’s health information and socials,” meaning Social Security numbers.
So, according to the information available on Cosko, including his own lawyer’s statements about his client’s employment history, along with the latest story revealing Cosko’s depraved threat, it’s seems clear Cosko isn’t some unlucky and overzealous intern who got caught being a naughty boy. Rather, it seems Cosko might be a Democratic operative, paid by an outside organization, planted in an unpopular congresswoman’s office possibly so he could engage in exactly the type of behavior that just got him arrested.
These questions deserve answers. Too bad so much of the media is content to ignore this fascinating story.
Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images