Let’s be clear: Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 election because of Russian meddling or WikiLeaks. And here is the proof: WikiLeaks began publishing its trove of Democratic National Committee emails on July 22, 2016, three days before the Democratic National Convention. By then, Hillary Clinton was already in a deep hole with American voters.
Long before WikiLeaks, Americans had concluded that Clinton was a congenital liar. A CNN poll taken July 13-16 found that 65 percent of voters said Clinton was neither honest nor trustworthy and that 57 percent would not be proud to have her as president. A July 16 CBS News poll showed similar results — 67 percent of voters said Clinton was not honest or trustworthy. And little wonder. By then, Clinton had lied so often, for so many years, about so many things — her emails, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, arriving in Bosnia under sniper fire, Whitewater, the firing of White House travel aides, the Madison S&L — that most Americans no longer believed a word she said.
It’s no surprise, then, that long before WikiLeaks, her approval rating was underwater. The same pre-WikiLeaks CNN poll found that 55 percent of Americans viewed Clinton unfavorably, while just 41 percent viewed her favorably — the lowest favorable rating she had scored in CNN polling in 24 years, going all the way back to April 1992. Gallup had similar results in its poll taken July 16-23. “As the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia,” Gallup reported at the time, “Hillary Clinton’s image is at its lowest point in the 24 years of her national career, with 38% of Americans viewing her favorably and 57% unfavorably.”
In other words, the WikiLeaks stories simply confirmed what Americans already knew: that Clinton was dishonest and corrupt.
Moreover, most of the stories that helped Americans reach those conclusions had nothing to do with Russia or WikiLeaks. It was The New York Times that broke the story that Clinton used a private server while she was secretary of state. It was The Washington Post that revealed the Clinton Foundation had accepted millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments while Clinton was secretary of state. It was The Wall Street Journal that exposed the deal Clinton had cut with a Swiss bank to protect tax-dodging Americans while the bank gave $1.5 million in speaking fees to Bill Clinton and $600,000 to the Clinton Foundation. It was ABC News that revealed that the Clinton State Department gave special treatment to “FOBs” (friends of Bill) and “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs) after the Haiti earthquake. It was NBC News that reported that the FBI had discovered emails that appeared to be germane to the Clinton email scandal on a computer seized during an investigation of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. And it was FBI Director James Comey who told the American people that Clinton had been “extremely careless” and the “definition of negligent” in handling classified information.
Clinton can’t blame Russian President Vladimir Putin or WikiLeaks for any of that.
Did Russia attempt to influence our election? Of course it did. That’s not shocking. As the declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) pointed out, it has been trying to do so since the days of the Soviet Union. The report called the hacking effort “the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order,” adding that “Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on U.S. presidential elections.”
The difference today, the report concluded, was that Russia’s actions in 2016 represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”
So why would Putin be so brazen? Simple. He knew that, under President Barack Obama, there would be zero consequences for his actions.
After all, Putin watched as Obama drew his red line in Syria — warning that President Bashar Assad would face military action if he moved or used chemical weapons on his people — and then not only failed to enforce it but also turned to Putin to give him a face-saving way out.
Putin then invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea and began to arm Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with advanced surface-to-air missiles and watched as the Ukrainian government appealed to Obama for weapons to fight his neo-Soviet aggression — but instead of sending RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), Obama agreed to send MREs (meals ready to eat).
Putin then set up Russian air bases in Syria and used them to bomb a secret base of operations for elite U.S. and British special operations forces, as well as a CIA outpost housing families of agency-backed Syrian fighters — again with no consequences.
After those and countless other embarrassing shows of American presidential weakness, Putin knew that Obama would not have the stomach to impose consequences on Russia for attempting to interfere in our elections. So on Obama’s watch he undertook the most audacious covert influence campaign focused on a U.S. election in Russo-Soviet history.
And Democrats are arguing that this somehow discredits Donald Trump’s presidency? Please. The only presidency it discredits is Obama’s — the commander in chief who projected such weakness in the world that Putin believed (correctly) that Russia could get away with it.
Which is why it is so puzzling the Trump team keeps trying to call into question the intelligence office report’s conclusions that Russia was behind the DNC hacking effort. Trump should embrace those conclusions instead. He should point out that the report is a searing indictment not of him, but of Obama, and that Russia’s actions are a direct result of Obama’s weakness on the world stage. That would be a much smarter approach than questioning the integrity of the intelligence community he will have to lead in less than two weeks.
And it has the added benefit of being true.
Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush.