The DNC Emails … And Russian Involvement in American Politics
My personal Twitter troll has asked (demanded? challenged?) me to comment on the revelation that the staffers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) engaged in email discussions regarding the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders that included strategizing against his campaign. While I ordinarily like to follow a “don’t feed the trolls” approach, I thought that this issue was at least worth discussing (and, hey, it’s pretty cool that I have my own Twitter troll, isn’t it?). Before diving into the issues, let me offer one major caveat: I haven’t read the emails. I’ve read a few news stories and brief excerpts, but I’m sure that I don’t know all of the facts and, as always, I’m willing to reconsider my views as additional facts are learned or as mistakes that I make (as if!) are identified.
So, on to the emails…
It is my understanding that, at the heart of the matter, were discussions or even actions by some DNC staffers to either help Hillary Clinton’s campaign and/or hinder Bernie Sanders’ campaign together with some … er … less than generous descriptions of Sanders. Now, there is a part of me that says, “Gee, that’s not fair” and I certainly would like to think that the DNC would always play fair. But then there is the part of me that remembers that this is the Democratic National Committee and that, until he needed the ballot access that the Democratic Party had, Sen. Sanders was not a Democrat. Or, to phrase it differently, why shouldn’t the DNC work to help its own members to the detriment of an outsider? That point is even more compelling given the work that Hillary Clinton has done over the years both for the Democratic Party and for other Democrats. (And let’s not forget that Sanders endorsed the primary challenger for the House seat held by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so I think she can be forgiven at least a bit of pique directed toward Sanders.)
As to the notion that the primary system was rigged, the only answer is “bullshit”. The primary system was in place long before Sanders announced his candidacy. He knew what the system was; he didn’t have to run and he didn’t have to run as a Democrat. But he did. He could have sought the nomination of the Green Party or run as an independent, but that wouldn’t have given him the ballot access he needed or the ability to get the sort of news coverage that helped propel his campaign. And let’s not forget the allegations from several months ago that the Sanders campaign was, itself, hacking into the DNC database to obtain information improperly. I guess that was OK, right? Look, I’m not saying that the democratic primary system is a good system or that it shouldn’t be modified. But the system was the same for Martin O’Malley, Lawrence Lessig, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and others, and I don’t recall hearing their supporters whining about the system or booing the party’s leaders at its convention.
I also find it interesting that so many of the people who are almost giddy about the disclosure of these emails from the DNC seem to so quickly gloss over the apparent source. The emails were released by WikiLeaks. Now, first, we should think back to what people had to say about WikiLeaks when it was responsible for other document dumps; I recall hearing plenty of people call for criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and accusations that he was a “traitor” even though he isn’t American). I wrote about the massive WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables in December 2010 (Wikileaks? I’m Not Sure). Yet apparently, if the information WikiLeaks discloses harms those who you oppose on political grounds then that disclosure is peachy keen. if would be interesting to see how people would react if WikiLeaks were able to obtain and disclose Donald Trump’s tax returns (especially if they included something damaging). But I digress.
More important is the source from which WikiLeaks itself apparently received the emails in the first place. WikiLeaks doesn’t do the hacking; rather WikiLeaks discloses documents obtained by hackers. And in this case, there is apparently ample evidence that the hackers who took the emails from the DNC are part of the Russian intelligence services, in particular the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and the GRU (military intelligence), both under the control of Vladimir Putin … you know, the same man to whom Donald Trump, just a few days ago, gave a green light to invade our NATO allies (Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?). As Arsenio Hall once said, “Things that make you go ‘Hmm.’” Don’t forget the extent to which Trump has praised Putin, so much so that the phrase “bromance” has been used to describe Trump’s relationship with Putin (or maybe it’s just a mancrush). So was the release of the emails to WikiLeaks the quo for Trump’s quid suggestion that he might abandon NATO and the Baltic states?
Think back to when Edward Snowden stole data from the NSA before fleeing, eventually to Russia. How many of you called him a traitor? How many of you worried about Russia having access to the information he obtained? Yet now, some people (mostly those opposed to Democrats in general or Hillary Clinton in particular) are practically cheering over Russia hacking into data belonging to a political party (including, donor data, opposition research, and the personal email accounts of Democratic staffers)? Really? I seem to recall that the last time criminal activity was aimed at obtaining private information from one of the political parties, things didn’t end so well. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, here is a hint: The data one party tried to steal was located in an office located at the Watergate hotel. Ring any bells?
One thing, however, that really troubles me about the information in the emails is the apparent discussion about using Sanders’ religion (or atheism, perhaps) as a weapon against him. That sort of conduct is reprehensible. Period. The saving grace, I suppose, is that it doesn’t appear that this discussion evolved into actual action; rather, from what I’ve read, it appears to have been a suggestion made as part of a strategy discussion that was not followed up. But to even discuss using a person’s religion against them (or their lack of faith, as the case may be), is simply un-American and wrong.
A critical thing that must be recognized about this entire mess is that the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. And then the interim chairwoman of the DNC, Donna Brazile apologized. Publicly and sincerely. While people cannot go back and change what happened, they can take responsibility, apologize, and learn from mistakes. So far, that appears to be what the DNC is doing in the wake of these disclosures.
Of course, noting that the chair of the DNC resigned and that the DNC’s new chair apologized does make me wonder when we’ll see similar actions from Republicans in regard to the xenophobia, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and so forth being spewed by the Republican Party’s candidate and his supporters. I’m not holding my breath.
I do hope that over the next days and weeks we will learn more detail about possible Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC servers. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that we’ll learn more about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge about that hacking or any involvement in the decision to disclose the emails (I certainly hope that not even Trump would stoop that low…). But even if the Republicans and the Trump campaign were completely in the dark and innocent, we should have a serious national discussion about why Russia might want to harm Democrats or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What did Russia hope to gain by hacking the DNC servers and what did Russia hope to gain by releasing the stolen emails to WikiLeaks for public dissemination. And ask yourself if you’re comfortable knowing that another country, and especially Russia, is inserting itself, via its intelligence agencies, into the American political system and presidential election. Does that scare you as much as it scares me?