Both Parties Tainted By Corruption

There are reasons to fear that the Trump administration might set new records for corruption in government, but before Democrats can claim the high moral ground they must recognize the corruption they have both tolerated and ignored from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Two stories today highlight these points.

First CNN, following attacks for spreading fake news by Donald Trump at his recent press conference, has broken some real news regarding one of his cabinet picks:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

In potentially related news, The New York Times has a lengthy account of Donald Trump chasing deals in Russia, contradicting the recent statement from his press secretary that, “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

Today there was also news with the closing of the Clinton Global Initiative to remind us of all the unsavory stories about the Clinton Foundation and how the Clintons have made a fortune selling influence:

…as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work. In November, the Australian government confirmed it “has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.” The government of Norway also drastically reduced their annual donations, which reached $20 million a year in 2015…

WikiLeaks revealed several criticisms of the Clinton Foundation were true, as pay-to-play schemes and the foundation’s corrupt management were exposed. On October 26, The Washington Post reported a memo detailed how the Clinton Foundation was used to boost Bill Clinton’s income.

“The memo, made public Wednesday by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, lays out the aggressive strategy behind lining up the consulting contracts and paid speaking engagements for Bill Clinton that added tens of millions of dollars to the family’s fortune, including during the years that Hillary Clinton led the State Department,” reported The Washington Post. “It describes how Band helped run what he called “Bill Clinton Inc.,” obtaining “in-kind services for the President and his family—for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”

The Clinton Foundation‘s downward trajectory ever since since Hillary Clinton’s election loss provides further testimony to claims that the organization was built on greed and the lust for power and wealth—not charity.

I previously posted about the material on the Clinton Foundation leaked by Wikileaks here. As I wrote in another previous post, Clinton unethically made rulings on multiple occasions regarding parties which contributed to the Foundation and/or made unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton. I’ve previously discussed the Clinton Foundation scandals in greater detail, including here and here. I’ve recently noted how both fact checkers and ethicists viewed the scandals and Clinton’s violations of the ethics agreements which she entered into before becoming Secretary of State, while Common Cause called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation well before her nomination.

I bet we will see plenty of rotten things under Trump, but we must not forget this record of corruption from two Democratic leaders.

Senate To Investigate Alleged Ties Between Trump And Putin

The Hill  and Politco report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to probe the alleged connections between Donald Trump and Russia. As long as it is a real investigation, and not a coverup or witch hunt depending upon party affiliation, I’m all for investigating. I’ll go with whatever the facts show. I could be wrong, but at the moment I question if the Russia claims are the new Benghazi.

There is a tendency of people to believe negative things they hear about politicians they do not like. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they are not. While I do not like Hillary Clinton, and have discussed at length many of the valid criticisms of her, I never bought into many of the claims ranging from Vince Foster to Benghazi. Turning on Fox (which I can only handle in brief spurts) demonstrates that many on the right still believe these things. Despite all the conspiracy theories, multiple investigations have shown that most of what conservatives claimed about Benghazi was false. All that is left is the possibility that Clinton might have involved in spinning the explanation for the attack after the fact based upon what sounded best politically, and it is also possible we were just seeing confusion from the fog of war as opposed to intentional deceit.

I don’t like Trump any more than I like Clinton, and there is also considerable valid criticism of him, but the material recently released regarding Trump’s alleged Russian ties has the same smell of bullshit as that which surrounded Benghazi. Claims of Russian attempts to influence our election are probably valid, just as the United States (including Hillary Clinton) often tries to influence elections in other nations. Circumstantial evidence such as business ties between Trump and associates is insufficient to prove a wider conspiracy.

This all needs to be investigated, but any conclusions ultimately need to be based upon the facts, not whether you dislike Trump for other valid reasons. On the other hand, if there is valid evidence against Trump, this should not be ignored just because you dislike Hillary Clinton, also for multiple other reasons. If the claims are false, they should be demonstrated to be false, as opposed to hiding behind the vastly over-used term fake news.

Whatever the investigation finds, Russian interference is not the main reason Hillary Clinton lost. There are no credible allegations that Russia actually hacked the voting machines, or even faked email. The Wikileaks email was one of many factors which was damaging to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately this just provided evidence of dishonesty on the part of Clinton, and unfair intervention in the campaign by the DNC, which was already known. Similarly, it is foolish to blame James Comey for Clinton’s loss when it was Clinton who both violated the rules regarding handling of email (as documented in the State Department Inspector General report) and who handled classified information in a careless manner, placing her campaign in this situation. Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for Democrats to nominate, and she went on to run an inept campaign.

One negative to a two party election system is that some people come out of it seeing one side as good and the other side as bad. Both sides can be bad, and if we are unusually fortunate, perhaps some year we will have an election when both sides are good. Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Disliking Clinton is no reason to like either Trump or Putin, and all of Trump and Putin’s flaws do not make Hillary Clinton acceptable.

Russian Journalist Warns Of Dangers To The Free Press Under Trump

Donald Trump’s confrontation with the press on Wednesday has reinforced the view among civil libertarians that Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the free press. In November, the Freedom of the Press Foundation pointed out that–

he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment.

While much of Trump’s behavior is unprecedented by American standards, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev found this to be similar to what journalists face in Russia. He wrote:

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now …

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Kovalev had other warnings for the press, such as not to expect any camaraderie from other members of the press: ” It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”

While Kovalev addressed this to “my doomed colleagues in the American media,” fortunately the United States is not Russia. We have a tradition of supporting freedom of the press which Russia lacks. Trump might attack journalists, but he is not likely to have them killed as has become far too common in Russia. PolitiFact points out that “Russia currently ranks 180 out of 199 countries for press freedom, behind Iraq, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international watchdog Freedom House.”

Unlike Russia, elected government officials can be voted out of office, and public opinion has some effect on them. While it is common for winning presidential candidates to receive a positive bounce after being elected, Donald Trump is taking office with record low approval. The latest Gallup poll found:

In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving…

Trump’s 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton’s in 1992-1993. Trump’s current rating only further separates him from his predecessors — particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008….

The last president before Trump to win the election despite losing the national popular vote was George W. Bush in 2000. However, while Bush’s transition scores were lower than those of both his predecessor (Clinton) and his successor (Obama), his 61% approval rating in mid-January 2001 was nowhere near as low as Trump’s is today.

Donald Trump Hides Behind Claims Of Fake News To Attack News Media

Fake news has become a greatly overused expression. A few days ago Margaret Sullivan wrote that it is time to retire the term:

Faster than you could say “Pizzagate,” the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.

“The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become,” said George Washington University professor Nikki Usher.

As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times: “Conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself . . . have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.”

So, here’s a modest proposal for the truth-based community.

Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it.

Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.

Of course it is not only Donald Trump and Republicans who rely on term. Hillary Clinton, once again oblivious to the First Amendment,  even called on Congress to take action against fake news which she saw as hurting her campaign. During the campaign, Carol Lee, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, pointed out how both Trump and Clinton are a threat to press freedom.

Donald Trump showed the problem with the term again today in refusing to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question, accusing them of spreading fake news. (The full text of the press conference can be found here.)

There were certainly a number of problems with the story as reported by Buzzfeed, alleging deep ties between Trump and Russia. There are grounds to question CNN’s reporting of the story, along with other stories, but this hardly justifies dismissing the network work as Trump did. Besides, Democrats have put up with far more objectionable reporting from Fox over the years out of respect for the First Amendment.

CNN released the following response:

CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.

We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.

We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.

It would have been far better if Trump had responded to a question on his objections to the story at the press conference as opposed to handling it as he did.

Damon Beres commented on the irony of Trump’s complaint about fake news:

There are a number of arguments against BuzzFeed’s publication of the document. Chief among them: It’s a totally unverified report, yet, gets legitimized as a natural consequence of its distribution. There is no doubt that plenty of people who’ve seen these rumors spread, sans context, on social media, might take them as fact, sight unseen.

But to lump BuzzFeed’s coverage into the now overly-broad category of malicious “fake news” isn’t quite right, either.

Trump should know this better than most. His campaign disproportionately benefited from the spread of viral, fabricated stories during the election…

For Trump to put BuzzFeed on blast for propagating “fake news” is ironic at best, given what he’s reaped from the viral spread of legitimate misinformation. And it’s troubling for another reason: It gives people license to cry “fake news” when the media reports something they simply don’t like.

The term has arguably outlived its usefulness at this point, distorted as its definition has become. But “fake news” was originally intended as a label for online articles that deliberately misled for some secondary purpose—to profit or electioneer.

BuzzFeed’s publication of incendiary documents, heavily couched as unverified, was not “fake news.” It is real news about information that may not be true.

There’s a difference—a big one. And if we want a free press to continue working for the public, we’d do well to understand it.

Besides, there is no exclusion to freedom of the press listed in the First Amendment for fake news–something which both Trump and Clinton need to understand.

The primary topic of the press conference was to Donald Trump to present his response to concerns about conflicts of interest. The head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has called Trump’s plan “wholly inadequate.”

“The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the last four decades have met,” OGE Director Walter Shaub said during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective,” he said.

Evaluating Russian Actions Based Upon Facts And Not Political Biases

With the intelligence reports released yesterday being somewhat underwhelming but raising serious questions, I fear that many people will continue to look at the Russian hacking through partisan lenses as opposed to taking a fact-based approach. Clinton supporters many partisan Democrats see a conspiracy between Trump and Russia which stole the election from who they see as the rightful winner, ignoring how weak a candidate Clinton was. Some opponents of Clinton, on both the left and right, go to the other extreme in denying any foul play by Russia, with some even displaying a misplaced admiration for a despot such as Putin. The facts we have now place matters somewhere in between.

William Rivers Pitt had a good comment on the situation on Facebook:

I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head simultaneously. 1: Clinton and her campaign fucked up royally and are in full dodge mode; 2: Russia fucked with a national presidential election. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

Try it, see what happens. This binary 1 0 1 0 shit is for the birds.

To this I would add 3: The United States also has a long history in meddling in foreign elections. This includes Clinton. Therefore it is important to keep matters in perspective. Clinton, Trump, and Putin are all bad guys here. It is not necessary to love Putin (or Trump) if you oppose Clinton.

I think we are seeing excessive push back from some on the left because of the manner in which many Clinton supporters have exaggerated the significance this, with claims that Clinton would have won if not for  Putin (or Comey). This is especially dangerous when we hear speculation that Clinton might run again in four years, which would be a colossal mistake.

It is not necessary to deny that Russia has had a policy of trying to disrupt western elections to blur the distinction between himself and the west. Improving relations with Russia as Trump speaks of is preferable to Clinton’s Cold War policies, but we also must not be naive regarding Russia, or totally ignore intelligence based upon political considerations.

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a rather one-sided account of events, portraying Clinton as the hero in opposing Putin, ignoring her history of support for regime change. Clinton is also not an innocent here, and Russia had legitimate reason for concern that the election of Clinton would greatly increase the chances of increased conflict with the United States. David Remnick provides a more balanced background, including Putin’s disdain for Hillary Clinton, and reminds us of reasons we should not admire Putin out of common ground of opposing the policies of Hillary Clinton:

Putin’s resentment of Clinton was always manifest; it is almost as severe as Trump’s. Putin saw the Clinton Administration of the nineties as having taken advantage of Russian weakness after the fall of the Soviet Union, twenty-five years ago. He viewed Hillary Clinton as a foreign-policy hawk who wanted regime change from Baghdad to Kiev to Moscow. In 2011, Putin, who lives in fear of spontaneous uprisings, events like the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, accused Clinton of giving “a signal” to urge thousands of Russians to come out on the streets of Moscow to protest parliamentary-election “irregularities” and Putin’s intention to return once more to the Kremlin as President.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with Russian political experts, and all of them agreed that Putin was certainly pleased, at least initially, with Trump’s victory—and that satisfaction is reflected, too, on countless news and talk shows on television. These analysts added that Putin is undoubtedly cheered that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s appointment to head the State Department, was likely to leave behind American “sanctimony” about human rights and democracy and, following the pattern of his career at ExxonMobil, to concentrate on purely “transactional politics.” Some, however, wondered if Putin will remain enchanted with Trump once he encounters Trump’s inconsistencies, his alarming penchant for surprise pronouncements via Twitter.

Like many nationalist politicians in Europe, Trump has made plain his admiration for Putin, complimenting the Russian leader’s “great control over his country,” while at the same time failing to address the reality that Putin’s regime has instituted wholesale censorship of television, increased repressive measures on ordinary citizens, and unleashed his forces in Ukraine and Syria. (Putin, of course, discounts criticism of his policies as Western hypocrisy and points to everything from the invasion of Iraq, which he opposed, to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he sees as an aggressive act.)

Trump’s argument throughout the campaign, the reason for his compliments for Putin, he has said, is related to his stated desire to ease tensions between Russia and the United States and avoid the ultimate disaster, a nuclear confrontation. But what concerns many seasoned American analysts, politicians, and diplomats is that Trump is deluding himself about Putin’s intentions and refuses to see the nature of Russia’s nationalist, autocratic regime clearly. Trump has spoken critically of NATO and in support of European nationalist initiatives like Brexit to such a degree that, according to one Obama Administration official, “our allies are absolutely terrified and completely bewildered.”

Strobe Talbott, who was Bill Clinton’s closest adviser on Russia, told me recently that the hack of the D.N.C. and Putin’s other moves in Europe—including the annexation of Crimea, the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, and the financial support of nationalists like Marine Le Pen, of France—were part of a larger strategy intended to weaken the E.U. and NATO.

The reports continue to leave many questions open, as described by The New York Times:

Perhaps most arresting is the assessment that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, sees the election attack as payback — not offense, but defense. He has borne a serious grudge against Mrs. Clinton, who he believes denigrated him when she was secretary of state and encouraged the pro-democracy protests in Moscow that erupted against him in 2011.

Mr. Putin, the report says, sees the hidden hand of the United States in the leaking of the Panama Papers, files stolen from a law firm that exposed the wealth of his closest associates, secreted in offshore accounts. He even blames the United States for the exposure — carried out mainly by international sports authorities — of Russian athletes for their widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“From the Russian perspective, this is punching back,” said Christopher Porter, a former C.I.A. officer who now studies cyberattacks at the firm FireEye. “We may not think that’s fair or justified, but that’s the way they see it.”

Mr. Porter said Mr. Putin had made no secret of his view that the United States, by promoting democracy in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, had interfered in Russia’s backyard and was trying to undermine its power.

What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey.

There is only a whisper of dissent in the report — the eavesdroppers of the N.S.A. believe with only “moderate confidence” that Russia aimed to help Mr. Trump, while their colleagues at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have “high confidence.”

While most of Congress and much of the public appears to accept the agencies’ findings, Mr. Trump’s prominent doubts, accompanied at times by scorn for the agencies’ competence, has rallied a diverse array of skeptics on the right and the left. Under the circumstances, many in Washington expected the agencies to make a strong public case to erase any uncertainty.

Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to “trust us.” There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.

While the claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed the need to be skeptical of intelligence reports, especially when used to justify going to war, they also cannot be discounted. Most likely Russia was involved in trying to influence the US election, as they have been involved in similar actions in Europe. This does not mean that there was a direct conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed without any evidence. On the other hand, it would be a serious matter if this was true, and any connections should be investigated.

This also does not mean that Russia is responsible for Clinton’s loss. While Wikileaks received a lot of news coverage, at most it was one of many factors affecting a very close election. As I mentioned previouslyFivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election. None of the released intelligence information casts any doubt on the accuracy of the leaked email, regardless of whether Russia was indirectly the source for Wikileaks.

Obama Announces Response To Russia, Avoids Doing “Stupid Stuff”

While I don’t always agree with Barack Obama, compared to the two candidates to replace him in 2017, he will be missed for his policy not doing “stupid stuff.” Hillary Clinton, who supported “stupid stuff” including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, attacked Obama over the principle of “don’t do stupid stuff” sometime between leaving as Secretary of State and stupidly thinking it was a good idea to run for president by claiming to be running for a third Obama term. Donald Trump has been an endless source of stupid stuff since he decided to run for president. I was glad to see that Obama continued this principle in limiting his response to the alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Obama has announced his response to Russia, described by The New York Times as “ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.” The full statement is here. It was a response proportional to the alleged acts which avoids permanent harm to any attempts to repair relationships between the United States and Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in hacking email from top Democratic leaders. Others have questioned the evidence. Skeptics have compared this to how US intelligence agencies also concluded, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Saddam threatened our security with weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly believable that Russia was spying on American political leaders. After all, the United States routinely does this in foreign countries, and has a long history of meddling in foreign elections.

Unfortunately this also reinforces the false narratives that Russia hacked our election to elect Donald Trump. Even if it is accepted as fact that Russia was involved in hacking the email of an American political party,  US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been far from unanimous in taking this further to conclude that the Russians were doing so with the purpose of helping Donald Trump win. There is certainly no evidence of any coordination between Trump and Russia as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed. Julian Assange has denied that the information he released even came from Russia. Clinton supporters have used claims about Russia to deny responsibility for Clinton’s highly flawed campaign. Fivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election.

It appears that the Democratic National Committee fell for a rather simple phishing scheme, and compounded the error with miscommunication and possibly a typo. The best response to espionage which depends upon gaps in cyber-security is to improve cyber-security. Foreign governments, among others, are going to continue to spy on Americans, just as the United States is going to continue to spy on both allies and foes. If he feels like he must, Obama can expel some diplomats, but there is no point in risking more serious conflict over this. Similarly, there is no point for Democrats to continue to blame Russia for their loss after running such a poor campaign with a terrible candidate.

Julian Assange On The Election Of Donald Trump And Defeat Of Hillary Clinton

Julian Assange and Wikileaks had a significant impact on the Democratic Party. The revelations in the leaked email led to the removal of Debby Wasserman Schultz as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and very likely had an effect on the results of the general election. La Republica interviewed Assange. This is what he had to say about the United States election:

WikiLeaks published documents on Hillary Clinton and the US Democrats. How do you reply to those who accuse you of having helped to elect Mr. Trump?
“What is the allegation here exactly? We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton’s own words, her campaign manager’s own words. That’s democracy”.

Do you agree with those who say that it was a hit job, because you hit Hillary Clinton when she was most vulnerable, during the final weeks of her campaign?
“No, we have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State. We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance”.

So Clinton is gone, has WikiLeaks won?
“We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published. That interaction was on both sides of politics, including those to the left of Hillary Clinton those who supported Bernie Sanders, who were able to see the structure of power within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and how the Clintons had placed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head up the DNC and as a result the DNC had tilted the scales of the process against Bernie Sanders”.

What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?
“If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed: Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally. According to our publications Hillary Clinton was the chief proponent and the architect of the war against Libya. It is clear that she pursued this war as a staging effort for her Presidential bid. It wasn’t even a war for an ideological purpose. This war ended up producing the refugee crisis in Europe, changing the political colour of Europe, killing more than 40,000 people within a year in Libya, while the arms from Libya went to Mali and other places, boosting or causing civil wars, including the Syrian catastrophe. If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means”.

What do you think he means?
“Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

In these ten years of WikiLeaks, you and your organisation have experienced all sorts of attacks. What have you learned from this warfare?
“Power is mostly the illusion of power. The Pentagon demanded we destroy our publications. We kept publishing. Clinton denounced us and said we were an attack on the entire “international community”. We kept publishing. I was put in prison and under house arrest. We kept publishing. We went head to head with the NSA getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, we won and got him asylum. Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants”.

While there is potential for significant harm under Donald Trump, bringing down such a tremendous force for evil on the world stage such as Hillary Clinton would be a great victory.  While the revelations from Wikileaks were damaging to Clinton, it is not clear how much they actually affected the election. They primarily acted to verify criticism already being made of Clinton by Sanders supporters and her opponents on the left.

Having Wikileaks as a major news story in October was probably harmful in that this centered much of the discussion in the final days of the election on Clinton’s flaws as opposed to Donald Trump’s flaws. The polls seemed to show signs of limited memory on the part of many voters as Clinton’s lead seemed to grow or diminish based upon which candidate was receiving the most coverage. With Donald Trump staying quieter in the final days of the campaign, it did probably hurt Clinton to have her flaws dominate the news between the Wikileaks revelations, along with further discussion of the FBI investigation of her email.

FiveThirtyEight.com tried to objectively measure the degree of damage done to Clinton by Wikileaks but the answer is not clear to them either:

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after Wikileaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the Wikileaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that Wikileaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial. Trump, for instance, won among voters who decided who to vote for in October 51 percent to 37 percent, according to national exit polls. That’s Trump’s best time period. He carried voters who decided in the final week, when you might expect Comey’s letter to have had the largest impact, 45 percent to 42 percent. (Although, Trump’s margin among those who decided in the final week was wider in the exit polls in some crucial swing states.) And while Clinton’s lead was dropping in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast before the Comey letter was released, the drop accelerated slightly afterward.

Of course, one thing didn’t sink Clinton. The evidence suggests Wikileaks is among the factors that might have contributed to her loss, but we really can’t say much more than that.

Julian Assange also discussed other topics. Among the most interesting was the status of opposition voices in Russia:

“In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away”.

The Guardian, in its coverage of this interview, did point out how bleak the situation is in Russia:

Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the past two decades, and Freedom House considers the Russian press to be “not free” and notes: “The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content.”

Clintons Continue To Blame Others For Their Loss But Democrats Must Face The Facts To Recover

Normally when someone loses an election they keep relatively quiet. I thought that the horror of seeing Donald Trump being elected president would at least be balanced by being through with the Clintons. That has not been the case. Since losing the election Hillary Clinton, who has never had a very good record on First Amendment issues, has essentially been promoting censorship when calling on Congress to take action against the “fake news” which has been negative towards her, along with fueling the recent surge in anti-Russia hysteria. The Clintons are also keeping Democrats from taking an honest look at why they lost with their constant claims that they lost because of Russia, James Comey, angry white men, Bernie voters, Stein voters, and the media, never taking any responsibility for the terrible campaign Clinton ran and her flaws which kept people from wanting to vote for her.

Michael Daly commented on this at The Daily Beast:

Former President Bill Clinton is quick to apportion blame for his wife’s defeat.
“James Comey cost her the election,” Clinton was quoted telling a group of holiday shoppers during an impromptu chat in a Westchester County bookshop last week.

But he has yet to place any blame at all on an otherwise great man with a great fault who bears considerably more responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

That man is Bill Clinton himself. His great fault is one he shares with his wife; they too often act as if rules that apply to you or me do not apply to them.

Clinton apologists totally ignore the fact that there would have not been a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton if Clinton had not violated the rules regarding handling email, as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then go on to repeatedly lie about the situation.

Similarly, Clinton would not have been harmed by the hacking of John Podesta’s email (regardless of whether they were Wikileaks source–which has not been proven), if the email did not contain such incriminating information about the actions of Clinton and the DNC.

It would have also been better if Clinton had come clean on everything months earlier when the scandals broke, rather than engaging in a coverup, putting herself at risk of all hell breaking loose in the final days of the campaign.

None of this might have mattered if Clinton hadn’t run such a terrible campaign. This includes the mistakes made in states such as Michigan, and ignoring the advice of Sanders supporters. Asawin Suebsaeng wrote:

Ever since election night—when Hillary Clinton tanked and Donald Trump became the next leader of the free world—the most prominent allies and alumni of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have maintained a succinct message for Team Hillary: We. Told. You. So.

In the final months of the brutal and chaotic 2016 campaign, there were plenty of Democratic activists freaking out about Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (the three states that ultimately cost the Democrats the White House) and Clinton’s fatal shortcomings there. Many of them were envoys of the Sanders camp who wanted to help fix those problems, including Clinton’s difficulties with the block of the mythical “white-working-class,” economically anxious voters who Sanders had championed during the primaries.

“They fucking ignored us on all these [three] battleground states [while] we were sounding the alarm for months,” Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and former Sanders surrogate who served on the 2016 Democratic National Committee platform committee, told The Daily Beast. “We kept saying to each other like, ‘What the fuck, why are they just blowing us off? They need these voters more than anybody.’”

Later in the article:

“The Clinton campaign believed they had the strongest and brightest people in the room… and they had no concept of why people would choose Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton,” Kleeb continued. “They mocked us, they made fun of us. They always had a… model that was supposed to save the day. We were street activists and they don’t get that. And that’s a fundamental divide. They ran a check-the-box, sanitized campaign. And voters don’t think like that. You don’t win elections that way.”

Clinton failed to take advantage of what the Sanders campaign had already figured out about the electorate in 2016, and ignored the voters who backed Sanders over her in the primaries. Dave Lindorff discussed how It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters:

The truth is that it was Clinton’s own actions that lost her the support of Sanders voters. Her repeating lying about Sanders during the campaign, and her gratuitous dissing of Sanders and his supporters even after it was becoming clearer that she would win the primary because of the corrupt support she had lined up from the party’s unelected so-called “super delegates,” and her decision in the fall, after winning the nomination, to ignore the 13 million Sanders voters from the primary and instead to pursue the support of what she hoped were disenchanted Republican voters upset that Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination, all doomed her in the general election.

If the Democrats are to recover, they must learn from the mistakes they made in nominating a flawed candidate such as Hillary Clinton,  along with also suffering loses when running as a Republican-lite party in 2010 and 2014. It does no good to claim Clinton did nothing wrong in the email/Foundation scandals as many Clinton supporters still argue, or to place the blame on others for losing the election.

The Search For Excuses For Clinton’s Loss Continues, Dividing Clintonland

Hillary Clinton and her supporters continue to blame others for her loss to Donald Trump, despite a poorly run campaign with an unpopular candidate. James Comey was a hero to Hillary Clinton and her supporters when Comey announced his recommendation against prosecution, but now, along with Vladimir Putin, he is receiving the blame in Clintonland for Hillary Clinton’s loss. Attacks on the FBI by John  Podesta have now prompted Loretta Lynch, generally seen as an ally of the Clintons, to break rank and defend Comey over both the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the election and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. CNN reports:

Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the FBI’s handling of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, swatting away criticism from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman as uninformed…

Much of the trashing happened in The Washington Post, where Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta lambasted the agency as slow to respond.

“He’s not involved in the ongoing investigation so he wouldn’t be privy to everything that would have been done or said to that. But as I said, he’s entitled to his opinion,” Lynch said of Podesta. “I can tell you that this investigation was taken seriously from the beginning.”

Lynch repeatedly declined to address Podesta’s specific allegations, saying she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But she suggested that the longtime Democratic power-broker was tainted by his political connections and was not an unbiased observer.

“I know also because of his involvement with the campaign, he’s going to have a certain interest in this and a certain view of that,” she said. “Everyone has a great deal of respect for him. So I allow him that opinion, but I disagree with that.”

Lynch also declined to say whether the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server earned more attention from law enforcement than the Russian hackings, saying it would not “be helpful to try and draw equivalencies to any investigations.” But she broadly defended the government’s handling of cyberthreats as “extremely high quality.”

Even back when James Comey was a hero to Clintonistas, there was selective hearing of  his statement which pointed out both carelessness and dishonesty on the part of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton frequently lied about this initial FBI report. Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. Hillary Clinton’s frequent lies during the campaign negated any advantage she might have had over Donald Trump, who has shown very little regard for facts or reality.

Julian Assange continues to deny that Russia was the source of the leaked email.  Regardless of the source, the media coverage continues to downplay the fact that Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons unrelated to the Wikileaks email, and that she deserves any negative impact from the information revealed about her campaign regardless of its source.

Sam Kriss has made comments in Slate regarding the question of Russian interference in the election which are similar to my previous posts on this topic:

It’s possible that the Democratic National Committee leaks were caused by Russian hackers—but given that the hack took place thanks to John Podesta clicking on a link in a phishing email, displaying all the technological savvy of someone’s aunt extremely excited by the new iPhone she thinks she’s won, it could have been anyone. The “leaked” CIA concerns over Russian meddling were quite clearly leaked deliberately by the CIA itself, an organization not exactly famed for its commitment to the truth; they’re the conclusions of an investigation that hasn’t even happened yet and on which there’s no consensus even among the gang of petty Caligulas that calls itself the intelligence community. Still, it’s possible. Countries sometimes try to exert influence in each other’s internal affairs; it’s part of great-power politics, and it’s been happening for a very long time. When Americans meddled in Russia’s elections, it was by securing victory for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s very own Donald Trump, a man who had sent in tanks to shell his own parliament. Leaked cables suggest that Hillary Clinton’s own State Department interfered with the political process in Haiti by suppressing a rise in the minimum wage. And American involvement in the politics of Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Iran was mostly through military coups, sponsored by none other than the CIA. There was no question of these countries repeating their elections; anyone the generals didn’t like was tortured to death. Next to the mountain of corpses produced by America’s history of fixing foreign elections, a few hacked emails are entirely insignificant.

Whatever Russia did or didn’t do, the idea that its interference is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the country’s highest-ranking Democrat: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” As it turned out, he was fatally wrong. It wasn’t the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral base. It wasn’t the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign that offered people nothing but blackmail—“vote for us or Dangerous Donald wins.” The Russians didn’t come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases like “I’m with her” or “America is already great.” The Russians never ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did that all by themselves.

What the Russia obsession represents is a massive ethical failure on the part of American liberals. People really will suffer under President Trump—women, queer people, Muslims, poor people of every stripe. But so many in the centrist establishment don’t seem to care. They’re far too busy weaving themselves into intricate geopolitical power plays that don’t really exist, searching for a narrative that exonerates them from having let this happen, to do anything like real political work.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence Casts Further Doubt On Theories Blaming Clinton Loss On Russia

While many Clinton supporters are already making unsubstantiated claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to rig the presidential election for Trump to excuse Clinton’s loss, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has joined those which are questioning this view. Reuters reports:

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday.

While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does not dispute the CIA’s analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named.

The position of the ODNI, which oversees the 17 agency-strong U.S. intelligence community, could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the CIA assessment, which he rejected as “ridiculous” in weekend remarks, and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber attacks.

Of course this does not mean that Donald Trump is right either in opposing an investigation. There is no proof of the conspiracy accusations, but there is good reason for a full investigation to determine exactly what did happen.

At this point there are arguments both that the Russians were or were not involved in the hacking of the email later released by Wikileaks. The FBI had previously reported that they found no clear link between Donald Trump and Russia. For whatever it is worth, Julian Assange has also denied that Russia fed the leaked email to Wikileaks.

Regardless of who was responsible, it now appears that the DNC became susceptible to the hack due to a typo in an email exchange between Clinton campaign aides.

Despite contradictory information, it has become the conventional wisdom that Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC–much like it was once conventional wisdom that Saddam was hoarding weapons of mass destruction. Even if it should be demonstrated Russia was involved in the hack, this does not demonstrate either what their actual intent was or prove any involvement by the Trump campaign.

It must also be kept in mind that spying on other governments, and even tampering in elections, are commonplace activities conducted by many governments, including the United States. Hillary Clinton has a history of supporting meddling in past Russian and Palestinian elections, not to mention backing outright regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

It is also possible that Russia wanted to prevent Clinton from being elected, or possibly just embarrass her, as opposed to specifically backing Trump, with Donald Trump then benefiting from this desire. Reasons for this include Clinton’s desire for a return to a Cold War atmosphere with Russia, the support for regime change in Russia among many of Clinton’s neoconservative allies, and because of Clinton’s past acts to try to rig the Russian election against Putin. The later view is supported by a former ambassador to Russia:

Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to help Donald Trump win the presidency to hurt Clinton.

“Let’s remember that Vladimir Putin thinks [Clinton] interfered in his election — the parliamentary election in December 2011 — and has said as much publicly, and I’ve heard him talk about it privately,” McFaul said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The goal might not necessarily have been for Trump to win. Many observers of Putin and Russian behavior believe that the motive was not to specifically support Donald Trump but to cause disruptions in the election process and cast doubt as to the validity of the election, possibly believing that Clinton was going to be the inevitable winner. If the goal was to create questions as to the validity of the election result, I must say that it was a success.

If Russia was responsible for the leaks, it is also a stretch to say that this was the cause of Clinton’s loss considering the many serious faults in both the candidate and how the campaign was conducted. There would not have even been a question of whether the leaks affected the election if not for the dishonest behavior exposed, leaving Clinton and Democratic leaders at fault regardless of any foreign involvement. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers has also expressed the opinion that the leaked email did not impact the election results.

There are many possibilities here and so far we have limited information. Before developing conspiracy theories of a rigged election, we need a full investigation to find out what actually did happen. Picking and choosing a theory based upon its political usefulness is a poor way to arrive at the truth.