Reading over some of the statements Hillary Clinton has made in the last couple days it occurred to me that months of leaks and investigations of Russian collusion may have obscured a critically important fact: Putin wanted Hillary to lose the election.
Quite often the media focuses on the other side of the coin, i.e. Russia wanted Trump to win the election. But that’s not quite right or at least not the full picture. Michael McFaul, who served as the top Russian official in Obama’s national security council, told Politico last year, “[Putin] was very upset [with Clinton] and continued to be for the rest of the time that I was in government.” He added, “One could speculate that this is his moment for payback.”
Apparently, other analysts agreed because when the intelligence community released a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election in January, here’s what it said:
We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency…
Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.
The report also says that Putin “developed” a preference for Trump thinking he would be more amenable to some Russian goals than Clinton would be. So the report does say Putin favored Trump. We’ve all heard that message plenty of times this year. But the part about Putin holding a grudge against Hillary and wanting to damage her chances often gets short shrift.
When FBI Director Comey testified before Congress in March he defended that assessment and emphasized that Putin’s preference for Trump may have been motivated by his “hatred” for Hillary. From the LA Times:
“They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her and help him,” Comey said, adding that officials had reached that conclusion by December.
In part, the FBI and intelligence agencies came to believe that Putin wanted Trump to win because he very much disliked Clinton, Comey said.
“Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was that he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much,” Comey said.
When pressed on this point by Rep. Mike Conaway, Comey said hurting Hillary and helping Trump were logically inseparable:
[Putin] wanted her to lose and him to win?,” Conaway asked.
“They are inseparable,” Comey replied. “It’s a two-person event.”
“When did you decide [Putin] wanted him to win?”
“Logically, when he wanted her to lose,” Comey said to laughter.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Julian Assange, who released material hacked from the DNC suggested he was partly motivated by the desire for payback. From the Guardian:
“Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally,” Assange claimed in the interview. He went on to accuse Clinton of being the “chief proponent and architect” of the military intervention in Libya, which he claimed had created instability throughout the region and the refugee crisis in Europe.
Appearing to suggest the disclosures in the run-up to the election were a form of payback, he added: “If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means.”
Again, Assange is noncommittal on Trump, but he clearly doesn’t care for Hillary.
Granted, it’s a somewhat subtle difference between saying Putin wanted Hillary to lose and saying he wanted Trump to win. But the emphasis of one or the other is not without consequence. Saying Putin hated Hillary and wanted her to lose makes that his priority. He may have been behind some fake news efforts to support Trump. He may have seen some real advantages to having Trump in the White House. But if stopping Hillary was his goal, we may never find a satisfying answer to the question: Why did Russia want to help Trump?
We’ve got several investigations going now looking for evidence of collusion based partly on the idea that Putin needed some additional encouragement to move him to get involved. But maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just held a grudge against Hillary and wanted payback. Maybe that is where we should look for Putin’s motive.