The hack of the Democratic National Committee emails two days before the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has rocked the political world. The emails contain damaging exchanges that show that Democrat staffers, supposedly neutral in the primary, actively undermined the Bernie Sanders campaign. The bigger story, however, is that the Democratic email hack may have been intended to throw the U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump.
CNN reports that several cyber security firms have verified that the two groups of hackers that targeted the DNC were of Russian origin. One group monitored DNC communications for about a year and another specifically targeted Democratic opposition research on Donald Trump.
Defense One quotes the cyber security report that notes that the hackers “appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and their work hours seem to align with the UTC +3 time zone, which contains cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.” The report continues, “It’s the same group that hit the State Department, the White House, and the civilian email of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Adding to the evidence is the fact that Wikileaks is not a hacker group like Anonymous. Wikileaks gets the documents that it publishes from other sources. Two of the most famous Wikileaks sources were Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Manning was convicted of espionage and Snowden fled to Russia to escape prosecution. He remains there today.
While the news of Russian involvement doesn’t absolve the Democrats of the duplicity revealed in their emails, the fact that Vladimir Putin’s Russia would interfere with internal American politics is a serious problem. A future document dump could come just before the election when a candidate would not have time to respond. If Russia could hack and post sensitive emails, they could just as easily manufacture incriminating emails to dump at the right time.
Russia and the U.S. have recently been at odds over Syria policy, but Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have long been chummy. Last year, the two men were so complimentary of each other that their relationship was referred to as a “bromance.” This is in contrast to Mitt Romney who called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe” in a 2012 presidential debate. Nevertheless, it seems doubtful that their mutual admiration would be enough of a reason for Putin to risk an international incident by interfering with internal U.S. politics.
As it turns out, Trump’s affinity for Russia goes beyond Putin to the 1980s. The Washington Post reported that Trump has had business relationships in Russia for decades and has sold many properties to Russian investors. The Hill reports on Trump’s extensive links to Russia including
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr., said in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
One of the highest level connections is through Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who spent years as a consultant for the pro-Putin dictator of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Politifact, Manafort spent about 10 years in Ukraine working for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and only left after the Ukrainian revolution.
There is are other reasons for Russia and Putin to try to make sure that Donald Trump wins the election. Trump’s foreign policy would be even better for Vladimir Putin than that of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who tried to reset Russian-American diplomacy in 2009. The Obama Administration and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. If a pro-Russia candidate like Trump became president, it is likely that those sanctions would be removed.
Trump has shocked allies in recent days by stating that his administration might not honor American treaty commitments to defend NATO allies. Trump also floated the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign countries such as Japan and South Korea.
A chief beneficiary of Trump’s isolationist foreign policy would be Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Russia is already invading Europe through its proxy army of Ukrainian separatists and has its eye on restoring the former Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has also expanded its presence in the Middle East for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
In fact, Trump has already given his approval to a more aggressive Russian foreign policy. Last year, Trump applauded Russian intervention in Syria on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad. “Let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight ‘em … in Syria,” Mr. Trump said at the time.
At about the same time that Wikileaks dumped its trove of documents online, Russia was bombing a base in Syria used by the U.S. and Britain. Trump did not comment on the attack.
It appears likely that the email scandal will continue to dog Ms. Clinton for the remainder of the campaign. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has boasted that the group will post more documents in the future. Assange claims on ITV that there will be enough evidence to indict Clinton. It seems likely at this point that Ms. Clinton’s “homebrew” email server was compromised by the Russians as well.
The hacked emails showcase the corruption of the DNC, but they may show even more about Donald Trump. If the hackers were really acting on behalf of the Russian government, it raises serious questions about Trump’s foreign policy proposals as well as his connections to Vladimir Putin.