Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trump's Reliance On WikiLeaks Discredits His Case Against Clinton

By Eli Lake
The Bloomberg View
October 20, 2016

To get an idea of how much Donald Trump has debased the party that nominated him, consider that he relies on an organization dedicated to disclosing state secrets to prosecute his opponent for endangering them.

This just came up at the third presidential debate. Trump bellowed about how the FBI and the attorney general colluded to let Hillary Clinton off for mishandling classified information when she used a private e-mail server as secretary of state. Trump said this alone should have disqualified her from seeking the presidency.

This charge would be more credible if it weren't coming from a man who tells his supporters that evidence of Clinton's criminality can be found in e-mails published by WikiLeaks, an organization whose unofficial motto is "We steal secrets."

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the e-mails of leading Democrats being released by WikiLeaks were stolen by hackers working for the Kremlin. As Clinton herself said, "The Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans."

For WikiLeaks this is not surprising. While it started out targeting all state secrets without preference, today the group is objectively in the pro-Russian camp. Julian Assange himself, the leader of WikiLeaks, has parroted the Russian line in recent years on issues like Ukraine and Syria. He briefly hosted a talk show distributed by the Russian state network, RT. A New York Times investigation published at the end of August concluded: "Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West."

In this sense Assange is on the same page as Trump, who has praised Russian president Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and proposed a partnership with him in fighting terrorists in Syria. Last night he hemmed and hawed when asked to condemn Russia's role in hacking the e-mails of leading Democrats. Russia also came up in the second debate. When pressed about his running mate's suggestion that the U.S. should counter-escalate Russian aggression in Syria, Trump said he disagreed.

All of this is getting to be too much for some Republicans. One GOP lawmaker told me this week that Trump has ignored advice to stop praising Wikileaks, much like he has ignored advice on just about everything else. Senator Marco Rubio, whose position on Trump has vacillated from denunciation to endorsement to denunciation again, this week warned his party about the Wikileaks e-mails. He told ABC News that the leaks were part of a foreign government's campaign to interfere in the U.S. elections. "Today it is the Democrats," he said. "Tomorrow it could be us."

Rubio is in a position to know about these things. He sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and he has been a persistent critic of President Barack Obama's policy toward Russia. Had Rubio been the nominee, he would have likely seized on the administration's Russia policy to attack Clinton, who implemented a "reset" of relations with Moscow.

That is a worthy target for the party of Reagan. Representatives Devin Nunes and Mac Thornberry, the Republican chairmen of the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, this week released a letter to Obama blasting the White House for failing to punish Russia for its violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. They assert in the letter that Obama has stifled the military from pursuing policy options to address this.

Admittedly, this isn't as sexy as suggesting that Clinton should be drug tested or declining to say you will accept the results of the election. But what it lacks in reality-television pizazz, it makes up for in coherence. It also has the benefit of being true.

But Trump is in no position to argue that Clinton was too trusting of Russia when she was secretary of state. Clinton herself proved that in the third debate. When Trump attacked her for being out-smarted by Vladimir Putin, she turned the tables. She said Putin would rather have a puppet in the White House. Most years that would be considered a low blow. But in a year when Russia's cyber spies are trying to elect Trump, it's on the nose.

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