Everyone understands what he’s trying to do here. The DNC leak is a fiasco for the party on the eve of the convention, reminding Bernie fans why they hate Hillary Clinton and her establishment lackeys at the moment she was hoping to win them over and unite the party. Robby Mook’s strategy: Change the subject from Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz to two villains outside the party, Trump and Putin. If this is all just a Russian psy op to benefit the Republican nominee, Mook seems to imply, then any lefty who continues to focus their anger on Hillary is not only playing into the GOP’s hands, they’re playing into a foreign power’s hands. You can be a good Democrat or you can be a useful idiot for Russian fascists. That’s his message.
Tapper is appropriately skeptical, demanding direct evidence to support a charge so serious. Mook has none — but he does have circumstantial evidence, starting with the fact that experts really do believe that Russia is responsible for the DNC hack. That story broke big more than a month ago. Not one but two separate Russian natsec agencies, apparently acting independently of each other, made it inside the DNC’s servers and spent months poking around. Is it reasonable to believe that Russian intel would hand over (some of) the contents of the DNC hack to Wikileaks for publication? Well, if they’re going to release stuff stolen from an American political party, it’s not going to be through the Russian embassy. Wikileaks, the world’s most prominent leak launderer, would be a logical place to turn to guarantee maximum publicity for the e-mails. In fact, Wikileaks chief Julian Assange once hosted his own show on Kremlin propaganda network RT. Russia hawks like Joshua Foust and John Schindler have theorized in the past that Wikileaks has a relationship with Russian intelligence, possibly involving infiltration by Russian spies or, as in Schindler’s worst-case scenario, something even more ambitious. (The hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, suspected by many to be a Russian intel op, has said publicly that he gave the DNC material to Wikileaks although many experts are skeptical of that.) Even if you don’t believe the worst accusations of collusion, though, Wikileaks would be an obvious conduit for any intel agency wanting to embarrass an enemy publicly while scrubbing their own fingerprints from the plot.
That much is easy. The leap comes in connecting all of this to Trump, which Mook does by asking cui bono? All we can do is speculate, which is why Tapper’s uncomfortable with him making this charge, but the unpleasant truth is that it’s reasonable to believe that Russia has a rooting interest in this election and that, for once, it’s not rooting for the left. You don’t need to be conspiratorial to suspect that: Trump’s comments about NATO would have given Putin cause to prefer him to Clinton even if they had no other common ground. (Which is saying a lot given that she masterminded the sub-moronic Russian “reset.”) But they do have other common ground, and not just stylistically. Read Bill Kristol’s summary of the overlaps between Team Trump and Team Vladimir. Then read Franklin Foer, who notes that between his politics, his staff decisions, his business interests, and his potential to transform U.S. politics, Trump is Putin’s dream candidate. If Moscow’s not trying to influence the U.S. election to help him, it should be. And maybe it is. Look at it this way: Why hack the DNC and humiliate Democrats before their convention but not do the same to Republicans? There must be old e-mails on the RNC’s servers from during the primaries showing staffers freaking out at the possibility of Trump being nominated. Those e-mails would have given him a black eye if they had been released last week. Is the RNC’s e-mail security that much better than the DNC’s that Russia couldn’t penetrate it (Republicans aren’t known for their technological superiority over Democrats, to put it mildly) or did Russia simply choose not to release what it has from Republicans so as to avoid hurting Trump’s chances? Mook’s spin here may be self-serving, but as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Note that none of this means that Russia is acting at Trump’s behest. Not even Mook goes that far. The argument, rather, is that Russia has chosen to be proactive on Trump’s behalf to improve his chances in November whether Trump wants that or not. Paul Manafort, who used to be a lobbyist for Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed president, naturally denies all of it, but then Paul Manafort denies a lot of things that later turn out to be true. And as for Putin, he really can’t lose either way this fall. Even if his favored candidate falters, the winner will be someone who’s happy to be bought. Russian interests have bought her before, after all. Good luck, America.