Some 20,000 DNC emails were made public by WikiLeaks on July 22, revealing a close working relationship between the party and some mainstream media figures, as well as collusion with the Hillary Clinton campaign to sideline Bernie Sanders, her challenger for the presidential nomination.
The DNC replaced Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the eve of the party’s convention in Philadelphia – she immediately got a post with the Clinton campaign – and fired back with accusations that Russia was behind the hack and the leaks, accusing Moscow of backing Republican nominee Donald Trump.
US media picked up the accusations, reporting them under headlines such as “Russian Intelligence Hacked DNC Emails”(NBC), “Suspected Russian hack of DNC widens” (Yahoo News),“All Signs Point to Russia Being Behind the DNC Hack,”(Motherboard), “Evidence mounts linking DNC email hacker to Russia” (The Hill) and “What we know about Russia’s role in the DNC hack” (Politifact).
Actual evidence, however, was nowhere to be found. Instead, reporters relied on insinuations such as, “there seems to be widespread agreement among cybersecurity experts and professionals” (Politifact) that Russia was somehow responsible.
Other experts cited as “evidence” of Russian involvement the fact that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hosted a show on RT – but without noting that the 11-episode run aired in 2012.
“I’m somewhat taken aback by the hyperventilation on this,” US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week.
Claims of Russian involvement actually go back to mid-June, when the first DNC documents appeared on the blog of Guccifer 2.0, a hacker who claimed responsibility for the breach. CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the breach, pointed the finger at Moscow – again, without any proof. CrowdStrike’s chief technology officer Dmitri Alperovitch, who publicized the claims, is also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.
The Kremlin dismissed the charges that Russia was behind DNC hack as “quite absurd,” with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointing out what he called the “American style” of casting blame first, then investigating afterwards.
“We in Russia are used to investigating first, before accusing anyone of anything. We believe it is more logical and more correct,” Peskov said.
“Such statements by Ms. Clinton are typical pre-election rhetoric,” Peskov told reporters Monday. “There is nothing tangible in her accusations, and we believe their character is more emotional.”
“The leaked information is very interesting, indicating specific actions to manipulate public opinion during the election campaign,” the Kremlin spokesman added. “In this case, there are attempts to cover up these manipulations by demonizing Russia again, which we feel is improper. Russia does not interfere, and never will interfere, in the internal affairs – especially the elections – of any other countries, including the US.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has also called DNC accusations an attempt to deflect attention from the contents of the leaked documents. Speaking to CNN from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought asylum in June 2012, Assange rejected speculation that Russia was behind the hack.
“Well, what sort of question is that? I am a journalist. We don’t reveal our sources,” Assange told CNN’s ‘New Day’ host Poppy Harlow. “The goal of WikiLeaks as a media organization is to educate the public, to turn a dark world into a lighter world through the process of education, and we’re doing it.”
Assange also addressed criticism from some quarters – including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – that the leaked documents contained private information that should have been redacted to protect the innocent, ruling out any efforts to redact future leaks.
“We are talking about the ruling party of the US and its material, not private information,” he said. “WikiLeaks is not going to be tampering with evidence which will almost certainly be used in several successive court cases.”
Statements from DNC and the Clinton campaign officials painting WikiLeaks and Trump as “Kremlin agents” have been met with derision by the GOP nominee, who called it a “new joke in town.” Others have likewise poked fun at the Cold War-era hysteria, playfully suggesting that “Russian hackers” were behind the color scheme of US athletes’ new Olympic uniforms.
Although both candidates received a post-convention “bounce” in the polls, a daily survey by the
University of Southern California and Los Angeles Times showed Trump with a four point lead over Clinton at the end of July.