By Abigail Tracy
e move by the Obama administration last week to officially accuse Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations, allegedly in order to undermine faith in the American political system and elect Donald Trump to the White House, has strengthened Democratic arguments that the Republican nominee is a pawn in a broader Kremlin plot. Now, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, the latest victim of a Wikileaks dump, is fueling that narrative. Twice in the past week, the activist online publishing platform Wikileaks has released hacked e-mails from Podesta’s personal Gmail account. In his first public remarks since the dump, the longtime Clinton confidant cast blame on Vladimir Putin and suggested thatRoger Stone, a Donald Trump ally and well-known political operative had “advance knowledge” of the e-mail leaks, accusing Stone of conspiring with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to damage the Clinton campaign.
On Tuesday, Podesta confirmed that the F.B.I. is investigating the breach of his e-mail and alleged that “it wasn’t any coincidence” that the first batch of his e-mails, which included what appeared to be partial transcripts of Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches, were released shortly after The Washington Postpublished a 2005 audio recording of Trump making lewd comments and bragging about groping women. “They decided that this was their countermove,” Podesta said, referring to Assange and Wikileaks, whom he suggested were colluding with the Russian government, The New York Times reports.
“This is definitely the first campaign that I’ve been involved with in which I’ve had to tangle with Russian intelligence agencies,” Podesta, a Beltway professional who worked in the White House under both presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Russian agents “seem to be doing everything that they can on behalf of our opponent,” he added. Both the Trump campaign and Putin have denied allegations that they are working together to ensure a victory for the bombastic billionaire in November. During an interview with Bloomberg last month, the Russian president denied that his government was involved in the D.N.C. hack or was trying to influence the presidential election, asserting, “I don’t know anything about it.” And at a campaign event on Tuesday, Trump derided the press for linking the leaks to his campaign, Politico reports, saying that the media is just “an extension of the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
But Podesta sees Stone, a master of the political dark-arts, as the link between Assange, the Kremlin, and the Trump campaign. “Stone pointed his finger at me, and said that I could expect some treatment that would expose me and ultimately sent out a tweet that said it would be my time in the barrel,” Podesta said Tuesday night, according to Politico. “So I think it’s a reasonable assumption to—or at least a reasonable conclusion—that Mr. Stone had advance warning and the Trump campaign had advance warning about what Assange was going to do . . . I think there’s at least a reasonable belief that Mr. Assange may have passed this information onto Mr. Stone.”
There are few Assange cheerleaders more vocal than Stone. The political operative has reportedly heralded the Wikileaks founder as a “truth teller” and “freedom fighter,” and asserted that the rape allegations against Assange, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly four years to avoid extradition to Sweden, are “a complete frame.” Stone has also claimed to be in contact with Assange. “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be,” he said at an event in August. As Assange has teased an “October Surprise” for the past several months that he promised would thwart Clinton’s presidential bid, Stone has been right in step with him. Last week, before the first leak of Podesta e-mails, Stone previewed the dump with a tweet suggesting that Assange’s next move would destroy the Clinton campaign.
Stone also has an axe to grind, and has made his hatred of the Clinton’s well-known. Earlier this week, Trump convened a panel of four Clinton accusers 90 minutes before the presidential debate on Sunday night. Among the women was Kathy Shelton, who was assaulted at the age of 12 by a man for whom Hillary Clinton served as legal counsel and ultimately won a reduced sentence. Shelton reportedly received $2,500 to flank the Republican nominee that night, and Stone’s political action committee footed the bill.
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