How Clinton's campaign is dealing with WikiLeaks email releases

WikiLeaks has begun a steady drip of emails as the 2016 presidential race heads into the home stretch. And Hillary Clinton's campaign is striking a hawkish tone.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gestures as she delivers a statement about WikiLeaks lead at the State Department in Washington November 29, 2010.

Targeted by hacks on its chairman, the Clinton campaign laid out an aggressive response on Friday to WikiLeaks’ publication of a new batch of emails, pinning the group’s ongoing series of leaks on Russia and framing them as a threat to national security – one effectively sanctioned, they said, by Donald Trump and even the news media.

In a conference call with reporters, Clinton campaign national-security advisors accused Mr. Trump of “using Moscow talking points” when reading from leaked emails at rallies. They suggested that Trump campaign advisors, such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, could have had a hand in “getting this material out” through relationships with the Russians, reported the Hill.

And the national media, Clinton advisors said, had focused unduly on the insider campaign details contained in the emails – which the campaign has suggested may have been doctored before release – rather than “the significance of this act of cyber-sabotage”, as national-security advisor Jamie Rubin put it to the Hill.

The Clinton campaign’s increasingly hawkish tone, coming as her opponent’s polling numbers sink, likely amounts to a battening-down of the hatches in the final weeks before the election, say political analysts. It might also be a bet on partisanship over ideology, when it comes to the making of public opinion.

Certain Americans might share ideologies that gel or contrast with the open access to otherwise private government communications, says Joshua Dyck, political science professor and co-director of University of Massachusetts-Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion. 

A 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Center found that Democrats were much less likely to see WikiLeaks’ dump of classified State Department communications as harmful to the national interest. Back then, 75 percent of Republicans saw it as damaging, compared to 53 percent of Democrats.

But most of the public, Dr. Dyck tells The Christian Science Monitor, is “more partisan than they are ideological, so they’re more willing to follow candidates” when it comes to deciding how they feel about the leaks, and how much they care about them.

“I think most Americans view [WikiLeaks’ releases] through the lens of party ID and support for candidates,” he says.

Mrs. Clinton’s case might be aided by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s suggestions that he possesses personal enmity toward the candidate, whom he has described as a “demon that is going to put nooses around everyone’s necks” and a prominent proponent of indicting him for earlier leaks.

In an essay published on Medium on Saturday, Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin (falsely) accused Mr. Assange of having “well-documented ties to the Kremlin” and referred to Trump advisor Roger Stone’s claim that he had been in communication with the WikiLeaks founder through a third party.

Mr. Caplin also likened the email hacks to the 1972 Watergate break-ins at Democratic National Committee headquarters.

“Four decades later, we’re witnessing another effort to steal private campaign documents in order to influence an election. Only this time, instead of filing cabinets, it’s people’s emails they’re breaking into… and a foreign government is behind it,” he wrote.

The Clinton campaign’s claims of secret collaboration between Trump, WikiLeaks, and Russia might also be an appeal to the Republican Party’s foreign policy elites, whose unwillingness to embrace Trump could keep voter turnout low, reasons Dr. Dyck.

“This part of the campaign is about turnout," he says. "Clinton clearly has a significant advantage in creating a rift.”

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