There is no doubt that the WikiLeaks release of stolen emails have damaged Hillary Clinton's campaign. She may be leading Trump in the polls despite the leaks, but she would have a much greater lead had the DNC not been hacked.
But just how much should we rely on the WikiLeaks emails in evaluating whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump should become president? There are three points to consider when evaluating the email dumps.
- When evaluating the email dumps we must keep in mind that
we are comparing apples and oranges.No, that's not quite right. We are actually comparing apples and a vacuum. Hillary Clinton's campaign was more transparent than Donald Trump's campaign, even before the dump. We now can see all of Hillary and Bill Clinton's tax returns from 1977 to 2015. Donald Trump's tax returns? Not so much. Trump's claim that he can't release his returns because he is under audit is a flat out lie. The IRS has said that nothing is stopping someone who is being audited from releasing their returns. Billionaire investor Warren Buffet released his 2015 tax return despite the fact that he was audited and challenged Trump to do the same. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has offered to give up to $5 million to veterans if Trump released his taxes. Since Trump has not taken him up on his offer we can only conclude that he doesn't give a damn about veterans or that he has dark secrets he wants to hide that would be revealed if he released his taxes.
Who knows what we would learn if we could see emails from Donald Trump and his campaign? Vanity Fair reported that Trump's first wife, Ivana, told her divorce lawyer that Donald used to keep a book of Hitler's speeches by his bedside. Perhaps we might see emails between Trump and Rocky Suhayda, the leader of the American Nazi party and enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter, discussing the finer points of Hitler's philosophy. Or maybe we'd see Trump's love letters to Putin. Or perhaps we'd see him mocking the suckers who are paying his fair share of taxes. Or evidence that the women who are accusing Trump of sexual assault are telling the truth. Or scheming about the best way to suppress minorities from voting. I doubt we would actually see email between Trump and Suhayda or love letters to Putin, but I'd bet money we would see SOMETHING that is VERY damaging to Trump. No matter how bad the WikiLeaks dump make Clinton look, there is a good chance that there is something hidden from us that would make Donald Trump look even worse.
- The United States government has formally accused the Russians of being responsible for hacking the emails. Indeed, all signs point to Russia. Sixteen former national security experts have signed a letter warning us to be VERY careful when evaluating the email. They write:
What is taking place in the United States follows a well-known Russian playbook: First leak compelling and truthful information to gain credibility. The next step: release fake documents that look the same. This leaves a discredited actor in the position of denying the authenticity in the merciless court of public opinion, just weeks before an election. When this tactic is successful, opinions change and the foreign actor proves its ability to manipulate perceptions and likely votes. . . .
Disinformation and influence operations like these are a formal part of Russian military doctrine and intelligence operations . . . Altering stolen documents and introducing them to the public is not the stuff of spy movies. It is a proven tactic of Russian intelligence, and we expect it will happen here.
Malcolm Nance, the author of The Plot To Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, agrees. Nance says that
WikiLeaks themselves are not actually hacking. WikiLeaks right now is a laundromat for Russian intelligence. And their veracity of whatever they've done in the past is out of the window now
- Even if the Russians didn't doctor any emails before turning them over to WikiLeaks and other outfits, emails taken out of context can often be misleading. Take this email from John Podesta, the Chairman of the Clinton campaign.
Right wing opponents of the Iran deal have been jumping all over this email like an ADHD afflicted kangaroo being bitten by fire ants. They claim Podesta's one word response--"Yup", indicates his agreement with Senator Kirk's assessment of the deal. They claim that this is the smoking gun that proves the deal was a disaster and that Clinton and her cronies are willing to sell out our security for the sake of a meaningless deal.
But this email is taken out of context. Note that it is in response to John Anzalone's email. And John Anzelone's email had the subject header of "you call it."
Which raises the question, what did Anzalone mean when he wrote "You call it" and why did he give this email that subject heading? This subject heading certainly gives us the feel that we have dropped into the middle of a conversation between Anzalone and Podesta. If that's the case then Podesta's "Yup" might not be an indication of Podesta's agreement with Mark Kirk's assessment of the Iran deal. Instead, it might be reffering to something that was already said by Podesta or Anzalone before Anzalone sent his July 15 email to Podesta. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any previous email between Anzalone and Podesta that could explain what this subject heading was referring to. This is probably a response to a conversation that took place over the phone or in person.
So what did Anzalone mean, by "You call it"? I can think of two possibilities.
1) It could be a request by Anzalone for Podesta to evaluate Mark Kirk's statement. If this is what Anzalone meant then this is indeed evidence that Podesta thought the deal was a disaster, though why Anzalone wrote this rather cryptic heading asking for an evaluation is beyond me. It would have been much more natural for him to write, "What do you think of Mark Kirk's opinion?".
2) Anazlone meant to write "You called it" but was sloppy and left of the "ed". If this is the case then Anzalone's email is referring to a call or prediction that Podesta had already made. And what might that prediction have been? My guess is that Podesta had told Anzalone that he expected Senator Kirk would raise a big stink over the deal. This was an obvious prediction to make since Kirk was one of 47 GOP Senators to sign a mutinous letter to the Iranian government four months earlier telling them that they could not count on the U.S. to keep its promise on any deal we negotiate with them.
I looked for evidence that Podesta opposed the Iran deal before July 15, 2015, the day he wrote the infamous "Yup" email, and I found none. However, I did find something peculiar--Podesta's response to an email alerting him that AIPAC opposed the Iran deal and would be lobbying hard against it. This email was sent to Podesta so that he could give Clinton a heads up on AIPAC's opposition. Michael Bronfein, the author of this email, wanted Clinton to have this information so she could use it in deciding how to respond to the deal. Here is how Podesta responded to Bronfein's email.
Thanks Michael. Very much appreciated. She's studying it now. Probably warrants another chapter in Hard Choices
This seems like a rather mild response from a man who believed that the Iran deal was the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler and that it would lead to a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf. If he REALLY believed this, he would have written something along the lines of, "I agree wholeheartedly. I'm going to do everything I can to see that HRC will oppose this reckless deal." And if he REALLY believed that Clinton's eventual support for the Iran deal would lead to nuclear war then he would have resigned from his job and gone on the Sunday morning talk shows to warn us about the great danger we faced. A man of Podesta's talents would have had no problem finding another job. His mild response to the alert about AIPAC's opposition to the deal and his failure to resign strongly suggest that he did not agree with Kirk's assessment that the Iran Deal was one of the worst deals ever negotiated.
We should be very careful in using the WikiLeaks email dumps in evaluating the relative merits of Clinton and Trump. If we use them at all in our evaluation then we should keep in mind that the emails may be tainted and they may provide a misleading picture when taken out of context.
Update 11/2/16: There is actually a fourth and fifth way that the WikiLeaks email dump can be used to decieve. Less than honorable people have been ascribing quotes from the dumps to Clinton that Clinton did not write. And people have been playing the game that because Clinton associates with person X, she must share person X's view. Never mind that she also associates with person Y and Z, and they may have views that contradict person X. T.R. Ramachandran explained all this in much more detail than I can in a brilliant tweetstorm. You will have to click "show more" several times to see all 32 of his tweets.