Hillary: Russian hack an attempt to 'undermine our democracy'

Hillary Clinton spoke to a group of donors in Manhattan Thursday and offered them, as an explanation for her loss, two factors. One was the letter from FBI Director Comey in the final weeks of the election. The other was Russian hacking of Democratic groups, which she said was an attempt to “undermine our democracy.” From the NY Times:

“Swing-state voters made their decisions in the final days breaking against me because of the F.B.I. letter from Director Comey,” she said.

The Russians, she said, sought to “undermine our democracy” through cyberattacks on Democratic targets…

“This is not just an attack on me and my campaign, although that may have added fuel to it. This is an attack against our country. We are well beyond normal political concerns here. This is about the integrity of our democracy and the security of our nation.”

Hillary also said the hack by Russia was payback for her 2011 statement that a Russian parliamentary election had been rigged. Politico reported on that connection back in July but as I noted here, there was more involved than what Clinton said about the election. RT, a Kremlin-controlled news site, reported in December 2011 that Putin was very upset because evidence had emerged (from an email hack) that the State Department was paying an election watchdog for each problem it identified. Putin saw this as Hillary meddling in a Russian election:

Even before Russian election monitors had released their official review of the parliamentary vote, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was already out of the gate, criticizing the election process as “unfair.”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had harsh words for Clinton, saying she had “set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal … and [they] started active work.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Popular Front Federal Coordinating Council this week, Putin said that “representatives of some foreign states” were paying politically-active NGOs in Russia to “influence the course of the election campaign in our country.”

Meanwhile, shortly after Hillary spoke to Democratic donors in New York, the Washington Post published a piece by her former campaign chairman, John Podesta, which cranks up the outrage over the FBI’s “failure” to respond:

The more we learn about the Russian plot to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and elect Donald Trump, and the failure of the FBI to adequately respond, the more shocking it gets. The former acting director of the CIA has called the Russian cyberattack “the political equivalent of 9/11.” Just as after the real 9/11, we need a robust, independent investigation into what went wrong inside the government and how to better protect our country in the future.

As the former chair of the Clinton campaign and a direct target of Russian hacking, I understand just how serious this is. So I was surprised to read in the New York Times that when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015, it failed to send even a single agent to warn senior Democratic National Committee officials. Instead, messages were left with the DNC IT “help desk.” As a former head of the FBI cyber division told the Times, this is a baffling decision: “We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana.”

That final link goes to a story which presents a more balanced picture than Podesta suggests. It’s true the FBI didn’t send anyone to the DNC initially but it did speak to someone there who sent memos up the chain about a possible hack. Those memos were apparently ignored by supervistors. When the FBI made multiple calls trying to follow up, the DNC did not call back.

Podesta’s letter demands a 9/11-style investigation of the events. Both Clinton and Podesta are framing this as an attack on America, but they are also consummate partisans. It’s fair to ask what they hope to accomplish by elevating this discussion right now. Even if you grant (which I would not) that their motives are pure, that doesn’t mean Democrats are above using this for more immediate, partisan ends like going after the scalp of the FBI Director. Given the swirl of recounts and calls to delay the vote of the electors, it’s hard to detach what Clinton and her former advisers are saying from the ongoing attempts to delegitimize the election.