Although it’s been almost entirely drowned out in the furor over last weekend’s release of Donald Trump’s hot-mic lewd comments to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and Sunday night’s no-holds-barred presidential debate, a third explosive story emerged in the last several days: WikiLeaks has begun releasing long-promised tranches of information on Hillary Clinton — so far in the form of three batches of e-mails purportedly from the hacked account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The e-mails contain information ranging from the mundane to the embarrassing to the politically damaging (e.g., what appear to be excerpts of Hillary’s Wall Street–speech transcripts) to the slightly bizarre — such as the fact that Tom DeLonge, the former lead singer of the punk-rock band Blink-182, was in contact with Podesta on the subject of aliens and what the government knows about UFO crashes.
WikiLeaks, the anti-privacy organization headed by Julian Assange, claims that the e-mails are proof of a web of corruption that surrounds the former secretary of state and her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 7, 2016
While neither the Clinton campaign nor John Podesta has directly confirmed the veracity of the e-mails, neither have they specifically denied the provenience of their content (there are allegations, including from Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald, that at least some of the e-mails have been edited or manipulated to put Clinton and her associates in the worst light possible).
So what exactly has WikiLeaks exposed? As of Tuesday afternoon, the e-mail that has grabbed the most headlines — and the one that may be the most politically damaging — is a roundup of Clinton’s paid speeches to financial firms. The e-mail, apparently written by Clinton campaign researcher Tony Carrk and sent to Podesta and other senior Clinton campaign operatives in January 2016, “flags” sensitive topics and subject matters. “I put some highlights below,” Carrk writes. “There is a lot of policy positions that we should give an extra scrub with Policy.”
Carrk goes on to provide transcript excerpts along with his own headers indicating how the sections could be politically problematic, e.g., “Clinton Admits She Is Out of Touch,” “Clinton Says You Need to Have a Private and Public Position on Policy,” “Clinton Talks about Holding Wall Street Accountable only for Political Reasons,” etc. Written in the heat of the Democratic primary and facing a Bernie Sanders–led insurgency on her left flank, the e-mail focuses on how Clinton could be seen as too centrist, too business-friendly, or too out of touch to appeal to a liberal-activist base fired up by the “independent socialist” senator from Vermont.
But the most eye-popping line in the excerpts could have been written by Republican ad-makers in the midst of a general-election fight. Speaking to the Brazilian firm Banco Itaú in 2013, Clinton said her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” For a candidate who has famously moved in the direction of protectionism just as the political winds shifted against unfettered free trade, Clinton’s “dream” comment might cement her reputation as a political opportunist willing to say anything — or modify any position — so long as it moves her incrementally closer to her goal of reaching the Oval Office.
Perhaps even more stunning, Clinton’s use of the phrase “open borders” extends into the far reaches of the immigration debate to grab possibly the most incendiary terminology possible. Essentially no Republican politician — even among those in favor of more liberal immigration policies — uses the phrase “open borders.” Even Democrats, usually far more likely to support less-restrictive immigration plans, know just how explosive that phrase is and are careful to couch their language in much more innocuous verbiage. Not Clinton. If the WikiLeaks e-mails can be believed, Clinton’s 2013 preference was for the most extreme liberal immigration position available.
Clinton’s use of the phrase ‘open borders’ extends into the far reaches of the immigration debate to grab possibly the most incendiary terminology possible.
Carrk also outlines Clinton’s previous statements concerning electronic security at the State Department in a section titled “Clinton Is Aware of Security Concerns around BlackBerries” — probably in preparation for any decision by the Sanders campaign to come after Hillary for her security lapses in handling classified information on her private e-mail server. “You know, when Colin Powell showed up as Secretary of State in 2001, most State Department employees still didn’t even have computers on their desks,” Clinton told General Electric’s Global Leadership Meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., in 2014. “When I got there they were not mostly permitted to have handheld devices. I mean, so you’re thinking how do we operate in this new environment dominated by technology, globalizing forces? We have to change, and I can’t expect people to change if I don’t try to model it and lead it.”
In October 2014, Clinton emphasized her concerns about electronic security, especially with regards to the threat from Russia and China, to the Goldman Sachs Builders and Innovators Summit. She recounted how, when traveling abroad, “we would not only take the batteries out [of mobile devices], we would leave the batteries and the devices on the plane in special boxes.” Clinton added, “We did it because we knew that we were all targets and that we would be totally vulnerable.” Those comments, of course, lead one to wonder why Secretary Clinton would choose to use a vulnerable private e-mail system to conduct sensitive — and classified — State Department business.
Taking a step back, though, the question of just who hacked Podesta’s e-mail account has come to the fore — especially in light of strong evidence that Russian intelligence services are attempting to influence the U.S. elections. Indeed, just a few hours before WikiLeaks released the Podesta e-mails last Friday, the U.S. government officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere with the American election process — including the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s internal e-mails just before the Democratic National Convention, the release of which led to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in a joint statement, said that “the U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions . . . to interfere with the U.S. election process.”)
#related#That said, the Podesta e-mails, if they can be trusted, reveal a startlingly inept and duplicitous picture of Hillary Clinton and her closest aides. Why would Hillary Clinton tell a Goldman–Black Rock audience that she was “kind of far removed” from the struggles of the middle class because of “the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy” if she knew she was going to be running for president within months? Why would Clinton tell a Deutsche Bank group in 2014 that financial reform “really has to come from the industry itself” — Carrk titled the section “Clinton Suggests Wall Street Insiders Are What Is Needed to Fix Wall Street” — when she had to know that a populist rebellion against the financial industry was still simmering in the post-crash political environment? Was it smart to remind a securities-law firm that she “represented and worked with” Wall Street while doing “all I could to make sure they continued to prosper”?
For Hillary Clinton, it might be better to be lucky than smart. And in a political situation where her indiscretions, foibles, and policy duplicity are being drowned out by the reality-TV distractions emanating from the Trump campaign, it seems Hillary might just be lucky enough.