In this daffiest of all daffy presidential campaigns, conspiracy theories have been a dime a dozen. The election will be “rigged” or “powerful forces” are working to defeat Trump.
But the Clinton campaign is set to exceed the paranoia of even Donald Trump. In the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, they are about to accuse Donald Trump of working with Vladimir Putin to hack into Democratic email accounts.
They refuse to offer a shred of evidence — except that Trump isn’t forceful enough in condemning the presumed Russian hacking of our political system. In promoting this idiocy, the Clinton campaign is comparing the leaks to Watergate — a sure bet to get Democratic Party rank-and-file juices flowing.
“What did Trump know, and when did he know it?” the campaign asks in an essay that will post on Medium, a play on the famous line from the Senate’s Watergate investigation. (“What did the President know and when did he know it?” Sen. Howard Baker asked then.)
“We’re witnessing another effort to steal private campaign documents in order to influence an election,” Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin writes in an early version of the post, which was shared with POLITICO. “Only this time, instead of filing cabinets, it’s people’s emails they’re breaking into…and a foreign government is behind it.”
Clinton’s campaign has been increasingly frustrated by media coverage of campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails, which are being released by the thousands every morning on Wikileaks.
Major news outlets have treated the internal correspondence of top campaign officials as a treasure trove of unfiltered information about how Clinton’s operatives navigated a thorny and prolonged primary challenge, and dealt with the almost-crippling State Department email scandal, which defined the early months of Clinton’s campaign.
But the Democrat’s campaign has argued that newsrooms should ignore the emails or at least identify them as hacked – not leaked – documents.
Clinton press secretary, and former Justice Department spokesman, Brian Fallon, first compared the Wiki release to Watergate last week in a tweet. But Saturday’s Medium post marks the start of a more deliberate push that will carry through the final three weeks of the campaign to frame the emails as part of a criminal hack – and to make the electronic files seem as compromised to the media and to voters as reading and reporting on a stolen physical document.
The campaign will lean into the suggestion that Trump or his close advisers are connected directly to the hack, which is widely believed to be tied to Russia.
Podesta last week claimed Trump operatives colluded with the Russians in an effort to derail Clinton and meddle in the U.S. election. Speaking to reporters aboard the Democratic nominee’s campaign plane, he pointed to longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone as an operative who has bragged about his back-channel connection to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and said it was safe to assume Stone had advanced warning about the hack. Stone has vehemently denied the accusation.
First of all, Putin isn’t that stupid. If the Russians are indeed behind the hacking, there would be no need to collude with Trump or his campaign. What do they need Trump for? What can he offer that would help them with the hacks?
The Trump campaign appeared to be taken by surprise as much as the rest of us when the hacks became public. If they got a heads up on what was in those emails, they sure didn’t show it.
The Watergate analogy is equally absurd. The only reason they raise Watergate is so they can use the provocative “what did he know and when did he know it” phrase, designed to cast suspicion on Trump while offering zero evidence that he was involved. The rest is a monumental stretch bearing no relation to reality.
It’s doubtful this conspiracy theory is being promoted to change anyone’s mind about Trump or Clinton. This is pure red meat for the Democrat base, which tells and retells the story of Watergate as if it were a holy parable — the high point of the Democratic Party in the 20th century.