a bitter melon

US elections: Clinton, Wikileaks, Putin and Trump

The US election circus has moved into high gear with the Democratic National Convention underway in Philadelphia and the Republican Convention wrapping up in Cleveland.

The Republican Convention saw a fractured party nominating Trump. Trump has been called a racist and has been accused of raping a 13 year old girl. Ted Cruz, his main rival in the race for the presidential nomination, refused to endorse him during the Republication convention. Chris Ladd, a 30 year Republican veteran from Texas, published an influential resignation letter in response to the Trump nomination, because "There is no redemption in being one of the 'good Nazis'".

The Democratic Convention saw the introduction of Tim Kaine as Clinton's running mate. While Clinton is nowhere near as controversial (and compromised) as Trump, she is still being plagued by the kerfuffle surrounding her private email server and the party is still smarting from the protracted primary race between Clinton and Sanders. While Sanders endorsed Clinton on July 12, tensions in the party were rekindled by the Wikileaks release of emails from the Democratic National Committee. The emails suggest that the party leadership explored ways to undermine Sanders' campaign. In response DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation.

The DNC email leak is widely considered to be the work of Russian-backed hackers:

Vice -- All Signs Point to Russia Being Behind the DNC Hack (Jul 25, 2016)

Nearly two months earlier, in April, the Democrats had noticed that something was wrong in their networks. Then, in early May, the DNC called in CrowdStrike, a security firm that specializes in countering advanced network threats. After deploying their tools on the DNC’s machines, and after about two hours of work, CrowdStrike found “two sophisticated adversaries” on the Committee’s network. The two groups were well-known in the security industry as “APT 28” and “APT 29.” APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat—usually jargon for spies.

John Schindler for the Observer notes that Wikileaks and Moscow have cultivated ties for years:

The Observer -- Wikileaks Dismantling of DNC Is Clear Attack by Putin on Clinton (Jul 22, 2016)

In truth, to anyone versed in counterintelligence and Russian espionage tradecraft, Wikileaks has been an obvious Kremlin front for years, and it’s nice to see the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media suddenly come around to this view—which I’ve stated publicly since 2013, based on my long experience working against Russian security agencies in the SpyWar.

The publication of the hacked DNC emails just before the Democratic Convention was clearly timed to hurt Clinton's campaign and to help Trump. From there, it's only a small step to suggest that Putin and Trump are in cahoots:

The Washington Post -- Clinton campaign — and some cyber experts — say Russia is behind email release (Jul 24, 2016)

Clinton’s campaign chief, Robby Mook, told ABC News on Sunday that “experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke in to the DNC, took all these emails and now are leaking them out through these Web sites. [...] It’s troubling that some experts are now telling us that this was done by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.”

Trump campaign officials rejected the suggestion as absurd.

But even before the email leaks people have drawn the connection between Putin and Trump. For example by Jeffrey Goldberg writing for The Atlantic:

The Atlantic -- It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin (Jul 21, 2016)

The Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, has chosen this week to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a KGB-trained dictator who seeks to rebuild the Soviet empire by undermining the free nations of Europe, marginalizing NATO, and ending America’s reign as the world’s sole superpower.

Or still earlier by Josh Rogin for The Washington Post:

The Washington Post -- Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine (Jul 18, 2016)

Trump’s view of Russia has always been friendlier than most Republicans. He’s said he would “get along very well” with Vladimir Putin and called it a “great honor” when Putin praised him. Trump has done a lot of business in Russia and has been traveling there since 1987. Last August, he said of Ukraine joining NATO, “I wouldn’t care.” He traveled there in September, and he told Ukrainians their war is “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us.”

Josh Marshall follows the money and concludes it's Russian (Marshall's piece elicited a rebuttal by Jeffrey Carr which then elicited a further clarification from Marshall):

Talking Points Memo -- Trump & Putin. Yes, It's Really a Thing (Jul 23, 2016)

Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties.

So cloak! Much daggers. The Kremlin dismisses it as the "usual fun":

TASS -- Kremlin says using Russian topic in US electoral campaign is "usual fun" (Jul 26, 2016)

Commenting on accusations of Russian involvement in Democratic National Committee (DNC) email leaks, [Kremlin spokesman Dmitry] Peskov said: "In general, we still see manic attempts to use the Russian topic in US electoral campaign. This absurd news was immediately refuted by the family of the presidential candidate."

Trevor Timm at the Guardian also counsels restraint -- if only to stop giving Putin so much credit:

The Guardian -- The rush to blame Russia for the DNC email hack is premature (Jul 25, 2016)

It’s amazing how quickly the media are willing to forgo any skepticism and jump to conspiracy-tinged conclusions where Putin is involved. He has been linked to everything from Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Greece and Spain. People treat him like an omnipotent mastermind who secretly and effortlessly controls world events. Here’s an idea: maybe we should stop giving him so much credit?

Back in May, Jane Mayer wrote this in-depth piece on the murkier aspects of political espionage -- or "ratfucking":

The New Yorker -- Sting of Myself (May 30, 2016)

O’Keefe’s unseemly tactics have increasingly caused other conservatives, including Glenn Beck, to distance themselves from him. But the 2016 campaign cycle appears to be reinvigorating the political art form that Richard Nixon’s operative Donald Segretti infamously called “ratfucking.”


Matthew Tyrmand, a recent addition to the Project Veritas board, has publicly declared his fierce opposition to Soros. Tyrmand is a thirty-five-year-old Polish-American investor who is an informal adviser to Poland’s right-wing nationalist government as well as a contributing writer at Breitbart, the conservative news site. As street protests have sprung up in Poland, Tyrmand has repeatedly suggested online that Soros is stoking the unrest.


The expected contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is likely to be one of the nastiest in history, with putatively independent “opposition research” operations fuelling both parties. Meanwhile, negative campaigns funded by private donors and private interests are aiming at targets far beyond conventional candidates—among them intellectuals who have no official role.

Outside the realm of serious politics or commentary, there is Michael Moore:

HuffPost -- 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win (Jul 23, 2016)

Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Of course Moore made the same prediction in 2012:

HuffPost -- Michael Moore: Mitt Romney Will Win In November (Aug 30, 2012)

“Mitt Romney is going to raise more money than Barack Obama. That should guarantee his victory,” Moore told host Josh Zepps. “I think people should start to practice the words ‘President Romney.’ To assume that the other side are just a bunch of ignoramuses who are supported by people who believe that Adam and Eve rode on dinosaurs 6,000 years ago is to completely misjudge the opposition.”

It doesn't matter. For Moore, it's all just business.