Now that everyone in the mainstream media and the intelligence establishment are blaming Russia for allegedly tilting the election in Donald Trump’s favor, it is important to review a key element of this charge: that the Wikileaks emails released from the Democratic National Committee, allegedly by Russian hackers acting with the blessing of Vladimir Putin, were a sinister intervention, and equivalent to the Nixon team’s 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate.
This charge needs to be met head-on, in one respect. However the emails wound up in our laps through the fall, they were a great revelation to the American public. They exposed the workings of a political party, and at times its corrupt workings; they showed how the party was rigged against Bernie Sanders and in favor of big donors.
These revelations about how our political system operates were not themselves shocking: they were what smart people suspected. What was shocking was the naked confirmation of the corruption. Seeing the political deals in flagrante was important. If a newspaper had managed to publish these emails on its own, documenting these practices, its reporters would be in line for the Pulitzer Prize. Whoever got into those emails did us a tremendous public service.
Let’s remember some of the things we learned from those emails. For a year, Bernie Sanders repeatedly challenged Hillary Clinton to release the secret speeches she gave, for munificent fees, to Goldman, Sachs and other corporate groups. She never did. Wikileaks did release those speeches in October. They showed that Clinton wanted the U.S. to “covertly” intervene in Syria. “We used to be much better at this than we are now,” she said.
In another speech Wikileaks released, which she delivered to a developers’ group, Clinton said that leaders need to say one thing in public and another privately.
“If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position . . . Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be.”
Two-facedness was a theme in the Clinton emails. When Netanyahu did lip service to a two-state solution, Clinton embraced his statement, saying a “Potemkin [peace] process is better than nothing.”
Emails that came out ahead of the Democratic convention showed party leaders working hard behind closed doors to get Hillary Clinton the nomination and deny it to Sanders, something the party had denied. Those revelations led, for good reason, to the resignation of former party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
One of the most disturbing emails showed a party operative urging that Bernie Sanders should be challenged publicly as an “atheist.” The official asked: “Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage.” While Wasserman Schultz said that Sanders’s criticism of Israel were “disturbing.”
The Wikileaks revelations about Israel inside the Democratic Party were mindblowing. Again, not because we didn’t think such stuff went on; but because here at last was incontrovertible proof of just what we had always asserted, and that mainstream voices had dismissed as conspiratorial or anti-Semitic thinking.
For instance, the Clinton campaign’s unofficial ambassador to the Jewish establishment, Stu Eizenstat, worked hard to convey Benjamin Netanyahu’s views, and those of his ambassador, Ron Dermer, to the Clinton campaign. His and other inside advice was geared to distance Clinton from President Obama:
The Administration is “tone deaf” about the “existential threat” to Israel from Iran. Hillary should recognize and empathize with Israel’s concerns with the Iran deal.
The Clinton campaign braintrust decided to balance her lukewarm support for the Iran deal by coming out hard against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. It arrived at this plan after extensive discussion with Eizenstat and also megadonor Haim Saban. Even after Netanyahu sought to submarine the president with his unprecedented speech to Congress against the Iran deal, Saban and other donors pressed Clinton to say nice things about Netanyahu, and distance herself from Obama, in a phone call with Malcolm Hoenlein, the rightwing pro-Israel Jewish leader. Saban said the call would please “thousands of people who… have been asking themselves ,,,,and me ,many times ‘Where is Hillary on this’.”
That’s corruption: when money influences politicians’ policy stances.
And as if the donor stuff was not explicit enough, there was the invitation to Netanyahu to appear at an intimate chat at the Democratic Party thinktank, the Center for American Progress, with the head of that organization, Neera Tanden. That appearance alienated the staff at the thinktank because Netanyahu had taken on our president. But we learned from the emails that the invitation got a rich Boston Jewish Israel-lover to come on to the CAP board, and Tanden crowed:
“Netanyahu was worth it….We will never be called anti-Semitic again.”
To repeat: this was redhanded evidence of the Israel lobby’s effect, something mainstream reporters have long denied.
It is even arguable that the leaked emails did not hurt Clinton politically. She already had a reputation for dishonesty before the emails showed her saying one thing publicly and another privately. And it was a political season with many October surprises, including shocking revelations about Donald Trump that his voters seemed to shrug off; it is hard to believe that these emails tipped voters who were on the fence against Clinton. After the Debbie Wasserman Schultz stories of July, the Wikileaks emails resulted in hardly any bombshell headlines that can be pointed to as doing signal damage to the Clinton campaign. Apart from her flipflopping on trade deals, the Goldman speeches did not contain a smoking gun. One of the biggest headlines of the leaks was John Podesta’s risotto recipe (and as for hurtful gossip in the emails, say a prominent professor fawning to Obama, or a prominent policy aide who was mocked as a self-promoter, we didn’t go after that stuff).
But regardless of the emails’ political effect, the media make a mistake in demonizing the emails. They are ignoring their value: they told us important things the people have a right to know about how the powerful conduct themselves. Wikileaks made leaders more accountable.