By Lauren Carroll and Linda Qiu
Hillary Clinton on Sunday blamed the Russian government for the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails while drawing a connection between the hack and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Clinton said Russian President Vladimir Putin “arranged for a lot of those emails to be released,” in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“And we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin, whether it's saying that NATO wouldn't come to the rescue of allies if they were invaded, talking about removing sanctions from Russian officials after they were imposed by the United States and Europe together, because of Russia’s aggressiveness in Crimea and Ukraine, his praise for Putin, which is I think quite remarkable,” Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, said.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would not say whether a foreign government was responsible for the leaked cache of party emails.
We at PolitiFact can’t fact-check Clinton’s assertions on our Truth-O-Meter because we lack access to classified intelligence information. But here is what we do know about the hack into emails at the DNC and who may be behind it.
The U.S. government has not yet publicly named the culprit behind the DNC hack. Cybersecurity experts who examined the hack found tactics and attributes associated with two Russian intelligence groups.
As of yet, there’s no evidence someone other than Russia breached the DNC. So unless someone hacked the Russian agencies, the Russian government is likely WikiLeaks’ source, said Susan Hennessey, a Brookings Institution fellow and a former lawyer for the National Security Agency. Also notable is that Assange and the Russian government have a well-documented relationship.
Whether Russia hacked the DNC intending to leak documents and affect the election remains an open question.
“The consensus that Russia hacked the DNC is at this point very strong, albeit not unanimous,” said security consultant Matt Tait. “The consensus that Russia hacked the DNC in support of Trump is, by contrast, plausible, but something for which the jury at this stage is very much still out.”
Hennessey said that Russia most likely hacked the DNC to conduct standard espionage and then happened upon the emails, though it’s also possible they went in searching for something to leak.
When evaluating the motivations behind the leak, Hennessey said it’s reasonable to consider that Trump has taken positions favorable to Russia and that Russia has a tense relationship with Clinton. They could have wanted to cause chaos in American politics, not necessarily to sway the election but possibly to distract from something else, like diplomatic negotiations regarding Syria.
“The weight of the evidence favors an explanation that the Russians leaked the documents to favor Trump, so it is more than a conspiracy theory but still speculative,” Hennessey said.Hack revisited
Trump top adviser Paul Manafort said on Meet the Press that the DNC hack proved what some people believed about the Democratic primary—that the Clinton campaign and DNC were colluding to plan the 2016 primary debates at times that they would draw the smallest possible television audience.
It’s become a talking point in the Trump campaign, with Trump tweeting Friday that Clinton and the Democrats were “trying to rig the debates” so two were shown at the same time as NFL games.
"The DNC hack showed you that the Clinton campaign was working to schedule debates against Sanders which have the least possible viewing audience. Mr. Trump’s saying, Look we want the maximum viewing audience,” Manafort said. “We're not going to fall ploy to the Hillary Clinton ploy that she did against Bernie Sanders of trying to have the lowest viewing audience. We want the biggest.”
It is well-established that the Democrats held fewer primary debates on nights with a lighter audience and with more popular programming, but there’s no evidence in the Wikileaks DNC archives of the Clinton campaign having any influence over the scheduling.
Manafort may have been alluding to a California primary debate hosted by Fox News that never came to fruition. The leaked emails suggest DNC officials weren’t the most enthusiastic about the idea of Fox hosting the debate. But they don’t show Clinton staffers lobbying for an event that would hurt Sanders.
And experts said it’s even more absurd to say Clinton is using the same “ploy” against Trump because there are two general election debates scheduled for nights with NFL games.
The organization that plans these debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates, is bipartisan and works independently of the campaigns. It released the debate schedule in September 2015, seven months before the NFL released its schedule in April 2016, and 11 months before Trump and Clinton became party nominees.
The Trump campaign’s charges are “absolutely baseless,” said Alan Schroeder, a professor at Northeastern University who wrote Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High-Risk TV. “There is no rigging, and nothing different about this year's schedule from previous cycles.”
Given that there are 256 NFL games from early September to December, experts said it would be near impossible to have a debate that wasn’t on a weekend or holiday and did not coincide with a game. Plus, it’s happened before.
The last debate of the last debate of the 2012 presidential election occurred Oct. 22, the same night as a Detroit Lions game against the Chicago Bears. It still pulled in 59.2 million viewers.