Wikileaks has released a trove of 20,000 emails stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
So far, journalists digging into the emails have not uncovered any smoking guns. Most of the emails showed routine campaign planning among senior DNC officials. But some of the emails have re-opened a long-running debate about whether the DNC — which is supposed to be neutral during a primary campaign — was too favorable toward Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps as important as the email’s contents is who may have leaked them. The leak is believed to be the fruit of a network intrusion that was discovered last month by the DNC. According to security firms who spoke to the Washington Post, that was the work of hackers associated with the Russian government, raising the possibility that a foreign government is trying to manipulate the US election.
No bombshells have been discovered in the email trove
As soon as the searchable database of emails appeared on Wikileaks, journalists began scouring them for juicy tidbits. And so far they haven’t come up with anything very exciting.
Probably the most significant scoop is news that the DNC’s CFO, Brad Marshall, sent an email asking “for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage.”
The email doesn’t specify who it’s talking about, but it seems like a reasonable guess that Bernie Sanders was the target. If the DNC followed through on this plan — attempting to expose Sanders as an atheist in order to discredit him with Christian — especially Southern Baptist — voters, it would represent a big departure from the DNC’s neutral role.
But Marshall has denied that Sanders was the target (though he wasn’t able to explain who the target was), and more importantly, there’s no evidence that the plan was actually carried out.
The emails seem to confirm Bernie supporters’ general impression that many DNC officials liked Hillary Clinton more than Sanders. What the emails don’t seem to prove, at least so far, is that they used DNC resources to help Clinton or hurt Sanders.
Another email showed that Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel made an agreement to share a copy of a forthcoming story about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising with a DNC contact prior to publication. Many journalists consider this kind of pre-publication story sharing to be unethical because it can give favored sources undue influence over the article’s contents.
Other scooplets from the DNC emails seem even less significant. DNC officials were annoyed by accusations that they were biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. A DNC staffer jokingly asked a colleague “Is there a Fuck You emoji?” after a reporter emailed for comment about Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton an enabler of her husband’s infidelity.
Probably the funniest scoop is news that the White House vetoed having Ariana Grande perform at a presidential gala because a video “caught her licking other peoples’ donuts while saying she hates America.” The White House was worried that allowing Grande to perform for the president would invite criticism from Republicans.
The hack included a lot of donors’ personal information
Fundraising is a major DNC function, and the leaked emails suggest that the group was somewhat careless in handling donors’ private information.
One email, for example, contained an attached image with a picture of a $150,000 check. Emailing checks like this is a bad idea because America’s awful check payment network allows anyone to withdraw money from anyone else’s account with only the routing information printed on every check.
Also included in the email dump was numerous donors’ names, contact information, credit card numbers, and social security numbers. Many of these donors are likely wealthy, making them juicy targets for identity thieves.
Take claims about Russian ties with a grain of salt
The Russian government was responsible for the recent attacks on the DNC, according to security firms who spoke to the Washington Post. And Franklin Foer, a fellow at the New America Foundation, has drawn a dramatic conclusion from this evidence.
I’m sure there’s ugly stuff on DNC severs. But a foreign freaking power is trying to install a president. Perspective please!
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) July 22, 2016
Foer is suggesting here that the Russian government leaked the emails to Wikileaks as part of a broader scheme to get Donald Trump elected president. Trump has been curiously pro-Putin throughout the presidential campaign. And his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, once advised Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin former leader of Ukraine. Under Manafort’s leadership, the Trump campaign helped to ensure that the Republican Party’s platform would not take a hard line against Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
Still, it’s worth being clear that there’s zero evidence that Trump or Manafort have ties to the Russian government.
Also, we don’t know for sure that Russian hackers leaked the DNC emails — and if they did, what their motivations were. Indeed, so far it doesn’t seem like any of the emails is likely to hurt Hillary Clinton in this fall’s election. So if the hackers’ goal was to help Trump get elected, it may not accomplish that purpose.
Correction: I misread the Washington Post’s story on last month’s DNC hack and misattributed the Russia link to the US government rather than independent security researchers.