Politics & Policy

Will the Election Be Settled by October Surprises?

Clinton at a campaign event in Springfield, Ill., July 13, 2016. (Whitney Curtis/Reuters)
Leaks of Trump’s tax returns and of Clinton Foundation e-mails could create shock waves.

Philadelphia — Could the presidential election be decided by two competing “October Surprises” based on leaked information?

One from WikiLeaks could involve the deleted e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s private server and could be related to the FBI’s ongoing investigation of the Clinton Foundation. Another could involve the leaking of confidential tax-return information regarding Donald Trump, who has steadfastly refused to release his returns even as he demanded to see the returns of people seeking to be his vice-presidential running mate. 

Speculation about possible October surprises is rampant here among political observers covering the Democratic convention. Events here were already disrupted on Friday by a batch of Democratic National Committee e-mails released by provocateur Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks project. The e-mails appeared to prove Bernie Sanders’s argument that the party apparatus was determined to sabotage his campaign from Day One. 

Rather than talk about the damaging content of the e-mails, Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Sunday that the leak was an effort from the Russians to help Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these e-mails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump,” Mook said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I don’t think it’s coincidental that these e-mails were released on the eve of our convention.”

Team Hillary is well aware that Assange’s WikiLeaks probably has other surprises in store for the fall campaign. During a June 12 interview with Britain’s ITV, Assange was asked if had any undisclosed e-mails. He responded:

We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great, WikiLeaks has a very big year ahead. We have e-mails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication, that is correct.

He then went on to predict — correctly — that Loretta Lynch would not indict Hillary over her breaches of national security:

Unfortunately, I think what’s going to happen is that the FBI is going to go “We have accumulated a lot of material about Hillary Clinton, we could proceed to an indictment. . . .  [But] she’s not going to indict Hillary Clinton.

Assange strongly hinted that other e-mail releases were coming, and sources close to him say they will go beyond the DNC e-mails. Assange himself says he wants to stop Hillary because she is, in his view, a liberal “war hawk” He claims that “a vote today for Hillary Clinton is a vote for endless, stupid war.” He then followed up by saying: “Hillary didn’t just vote for Iraq. She made her own Iraq. Libya is Hillary’s Iraq and if she becomes president, she will make more.”

‘It is strange that so few of her publicly released e-mails touch on the Clinton Foundation.’ 

— Peter Schweizer

Speculation in the Hillary camp about what could be in future releases from WikiLeaks center around her association with the Clinton Foundation. Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, told me: The activities of Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state intersect with the favor-seeking of the Clinton Foundation. It is strange that so few of her publicly released e-mails touch on the Clinton Foundation. Maybe the private ones do.” The FBI recovered many of the deleted e-mails from Hillary’s server, and those are part of its ongoing probe into the Clinton Foundation.

#share#Democrats are responding to all this with their own attacks against Trump for refusing to release his tax returns. Tim Kaine, Hilary’s new running mate, used his first speech of the campaign to say:

And we’ll make sure that Wall Street, corporations, and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. And while we’re on the subject of taxes, where are Donald Trump’s tax returns? Raise your hands if you think those returns would show that he’s paid his fair share of taxes? I don’t see a lot of hands.

Trump’s tax returns could prove troublesome for him. Fortune reporter Shawn Tully says that Trump’s 2014 financial-disclosure form (which has not been independently audited) claimed $362 million in income, but it was actually only revenue. Income equals revenue minus expenses.

Many people believe that Trump’s actual income is far lower than what he claims. Tully estimates that Trump probably earned just a third of the $362 million in 2014 income that he claimed. Trump declined to respond to questions about Tully’s article when it came out.

David Cay Johnston says that when he examined the few Trump tax returns that have been made public, he found many strange lapses. As part of an application for a casino license, Trump revealed his 1984 return, which showed that he had paid no income taxes at all that year. But a tax lawyer for Trump testified in court that the return was not prepared by his firm, even though the signature on the photocopy was his. The original return has never surfaced.

#related#“With a crew of Lois Lerners running the IRS, those returns surely will leak right after the nomination is made formal,” Quin Hillyer wrote at NRO this spring. After all, someone in the IRS did precisely that in 2012, illegally leaking tax information about Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney had delayed releasing his returns until late in the campaign, and the Democrats gleefully used the leaked tax info against him. Trump himself criticized Romney for delaying release of his tax returns, saying he “was hurt very badly” by that. Will history repeat itself again in this campaign?

No one knows for sure whether October surprises of leaked information are headed our way this fall. But clearly anything is possible in this cut-throat year of political surprises. That’s why polls are only of so much use  – they may be dramatically overcome by events on the ground.

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