Politics & Policy

Who Gets Putin’s Vote?

Stipulating that nothing is certain, it’s always seemed rather plausible if not outright obvious that Vladimir Putin prefers Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. There’s the mutual praise, the Manafort connections and the shared vision. The mere fact that a major party nominee is openly talking about undermining NATO and bad-mouthing the UN is itself a major coup for the Russians. When Trump’s one-man-brain Trust mused this week that NATO-ally Estonia wasn’t worth defending, there must have been cheers across the Kremlin. Putin has long sought to sow dissension and strife within both NATO and the EU. From the vantage point alone, Trump is a Godsend. 

But there’s another theory with wide currency out there. It’s most articulate and forceful subscriber is Hugh Hewitt. Because Hillary’s private server was almost certainly hacked by the Russians, we should assume that they know literally everything Hillary has sent or received over it. Most intelligence and cyber security types seem to agree. Hence, Hugh argues, Hillary is “compromised.” They have leverage over her.

So far, I’m pretty much with Hugh. But here’s what I don’t get. If the Russians have so much leverage over Clinton, why don’t they want her to be president? This morning, Hugh dangled a theory that the Russians were yanking her leash by showing they have the goods on her. They saved the server emails for later (or for blackmail), but released the DNC emails to brush her back, or something. 

Wouldn’t Occam’s razor suggest they released these emails on the eve of the Democratic Convention simply to hurt Clinton’s chances? That seems to be where a lot of intelligence types are heading. From the Daily Beast:

The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. It’s an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach.

The story continues:

Current and former U.S. officials drew analogies to so-called “active measures campaigns,” or state-sponsored operations designed for political effects.

“The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign,” David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an opinion expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may just be an opening salvo.

Officials also noted Trump’s own connections to the Russian government. Putin has publicly praised the nominee, who said he was “honored” by the compliment. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine who was ousted for his pro-Moscow orientation (and now lives in Russia). One of Trump’s top national security advisers, retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, sat with Putin at a dinnercelebrating the 10th anniversary of Kremlin-backed media network RT and was paid to give a speech at the event; Flynn later retweeted an anti-Semitic message that called into question any Kremlin-Trump link. Another Trump adviser, Carter Page, recently denounced America’s “often-hypocritical focus on democratization” while in Moscow. And last week, Trump said that he might not come to the aid of U.S. NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression unless they paid what he thinks they owe for Europe’s common defense.

Officials also thought it was telling that the emails were given to WikiLeaks, which is perceived as being hostile to the U.S. government. “This wasn’t surprising to us,” said one U.S. official familiar with the investigation. 

Anyway, I’m against both Trump and Clinton. And,  I’m totally with Hugh when he argues that Clinton’s negligence with classified material disqualifies her for the job of Commander-in-Chief. But I’m not sure his argument that we have to elect Putin’s preferred candidate in order to keep Putin from getting leverage over his less preferred candidate is quite as compelling as he makes it sound.

Update: Even Trump thinks his “friends” were behind it. 

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