“It’s all just an attempt to delegitimize Donald Trump.” That’s the argument you hear from Trump supporters each time new information comes to light about how hard Russian spy services worked to damage Hillary Clinton. You heard it again on Thursday.
The Trump supporters are 100 percent right: The information is delegitimizing. The president-elect of the United States reportedly owes his office in considerable part to illegal clandestine activities in his favor conducted by a hostile, foreign spy service. It’s hard to imagine a crisis of presidential legitimacy more extreme than that. But that’s no argument against airing this information. It’s precisely why the information must be aired.
Vladimir Putin took a fearful risk. If the Electoral College had taken a slightly different bounce on November 8, Putin would now be facing an enraged President-elect Hillary Clinton. Putin had every reason to expect that he probably would end up facing a President Clinton. Yet he took the gamble anyway, apparently doing something none of his Soviet predecessors had ever dared to do: mount a clandestine espionage and disinformation campaign on behalf of one candidate for U.S. president, and against another.
The word “clandestine” is the key term here. In every election, foreign governments have their preferred candidates. It was no secret in 2004 that America’s French and German allies hoped George W. Bush would lose, or that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt the same way about President Obama in 2012. Those allies made their wishes known through the familiar and lawful method of grumbling to sympathetic American journalists about the awfulness of the incumbent administration. What they did not do was organize their spy agencies to break the law of the United States. But that is evidently what Russia did—and it seems to have worked.
Obama pledged today that before he leaves office, the American people will learn more fully how the Russians did it.
This will be important to know. But there is something else important to keep in mind.
The content of the Russian-hacked emails was actually remarkably unexplosive. Probably the biggest news was that Hillary Clinton had expressed herself in favor of a hemispheric common market in speeches to Wall Street executives. Otherwise, we learned from them that some people at the Democratic National Committee favored a lifelong Democrat for their party’s nomination over a socialist interloper who had joined the party for his own convenience. We learned that many Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, disapproved of the ethical shortcomings of some of the people in Bill Clinton’s inner circle. We learned that Hillary Clinton acknowledged differences between her “public and private” positions on some issues. None of this even remotely corroborated Donald Trump’s wild characterizations of the Russian-hacked, Wikileaks-published material.
These Wikileaks emails confirm what those of us here today have known all along: Hillary Clinton is the vessel for a corrupt global establishment that is raiding our country and surrendering our sovereignty. This criminal government cartel doesn’t recognize borders, but believes in global governance, unlimited immigration, and rule by corporations.
The more emails WikiLeaks releases, the more lines between the Clinton Foundation, the secretary of state's office and the Clintons' personal finances—they all get blurred … I mean, at what point—at what point do we say it? Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of the presidency.
Without Trump’s own willingness to make false claims and misuse Russian-provided information, the Wikileaks material would have deflated of its own boringness. The Russian-hacked material did damage because, and only because, Russia found a willing accomplice in the person of Donald J. Trump.
Many questions remain about how the Russian spy services did what they did. That includes Putin’s motives for ordering the operation. But on issues from Crimea to Syria to NATO to the breakup of the European Union, Trump’s publicly expressed views align with Putin’s wishes.
Over Trump’s motives for collaborating so full-throatedly with Russian espionage, there hangs a greater and more disturbing mystery—a mystery that Trump seems in no hurry to dispel. And maybe he is wise to leave the mystery in place: as delegitimizing as it is, it’s very possible the truth would be even worse.