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Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Photo: Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Common Sense Media

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says that there was no 2014 cyberattack meant to overwhelm the agency's comment system during the net neutrality debate, as claimed by a former agency IT official in emails recently published by Gizmodo.

Why it matters: Many observers took the FCC comment system's problems as a sign of the volume of popular support for net neutrality — so establishing the reasons behind those problems, both in 2014 and in 2017, has become a charged political squabble.

The background: The comments process around the more recent net neutrality debate, in 2017, was marked by the system's failure to stay up at a key moment of the debate. The current, Trump-appointed FCC has claimed that the problems were due to a cyberattack, but critics have been skeptical, and finger-pointing has been dizzying.

The Gizmodo story says that in 2017, after the agency claimed to have experienced a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) taking down its comment system, agency IT chief David Bray told the media that there had been a similar attack in 2014 — and that Wheeler had decided to keep the matter quiet for fear of copycat attacks, according to an email published by Gizmodo.

  • The matter was of interest because, in both instances, net neutrality backers noted that traffic after John Oliver segments on the issue had been followed by the comment system going down.

What Wheeler said, on an episode of C-Span's The Communicators taped Wednesday:

"When I was in the greenroom waiting to come in here, I got an email from David Bray, who said 'I never said that you told us not to talk about this and to cover up,' which was the term that got used. Which of course is logical, because as the Gizmodo article that you referenced pointed out, A) FCC officials who were there at the time said it didn’t happen, [and] B) the independent IT contractors that were hired said it didn’t happen. So if it didn’t happen it’s hard to have a cover up for something that didn’t happen."

Yes, but: Bray's claim to Wheeler is contradicted by a 2017 email from Bray published by Gizmodo where he says that in 2014 “the Chairman did not want to say there was a DDoS attack out of concern of copycats.”

  • Bray said Wednesday that his reference “the Chairman” in the published email was actually shorthand for the agency’s media relations office.
  • He also maintained in an earlier Medium post that there had been suspicious activity related to the comment system.
  • "I go with the email that I literally just received from David Bray saying I didn’t say it," Wheeler said when pressed on the discrepancy.

Asked why the FCC might have suggested in 2017 that there had been an attack three years prior, Wheeler replied: "I am the last person in the world to interpret the decision making of the Trump FCC.”

Editor's Note: Axios managing editor Kim Hart served as FCC press secretary under Wheeler. She was not involved in the assignment or editing of this story.

Go deeper

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Carlos Ghosn, former Nissan chair, during a news conference in Jounieh, Lebanon, last September. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Americans Michael Taylor and Peter Taylor pleaded guilty in a Tokyo court Monday to helping former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn escape Japan in a box aboard a plane in 2019, per the Wall Street Journal.

The big picture: Ghosn was awaiting trial in Tokyo on financial misconduct charges following his 2018 arrest when he fled to Lebanon. He denies any wrongdoing.

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Former White House counsel Don McGahn leaves Capitol Hill after a closed-door meeting with the House Judiciary Committee on June 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice secretly subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Victim dies after downtown Austin mass shooting

Police barricades near the scene of a shooting in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

A 25-year-old man died Sunday of injuries sustained in a mass shooting that wounded 13 other people in downtown Austin, Texas, the previous day, police confirmed.

The latest: Austin police named the victim as Douglas John Kantor, as they continued to search for one of two suspects. One suspect was taken into custody on Saturday following the shooting on 6th Street, a popular area with bars and restaurants.