How is WikiLeaks connected to the 2016 presidential election?

Caitlin Gallagher
How is WikiLeaks connected to the 2016 presidential election?

Julian Assange’s whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks is supposed to expose all governments with no political allegiance. However, WikiLeaks’s involvement in the 2016 election has called that into question. On November 13th, The Atlantic reported on messages between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks from September 2016 to at least July 2017. And these messages are a part of Congress’ investigation into Russia’s tampering with the 2016 presidential campaign. But how does the organization play a part in all of this?

Long before The Atlantic released Trump Jr.’s messages to WikiLeaks, the organization had received scrutiny for seemingly targeting Hillary Clinton, which FiveThirtyEight reported on after Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. As The Atlantic wrote:

“WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign.”

The organization released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) right before the Democratic National Convention. As ABC News reported, WikiLeaks shared over 20,000 DNC emails from January 2015 to May 2016, and the most damning ones highlighted that some leaders in the DNC tried to undermine Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. By the Democratic National Convention, Sanders had already endorsed Clinton, so the timing brought up tensions within the Democratic party, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after the leak. ABC reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, believed that the Russians were to blame for hacking the DNC’s email server as a way to help Trump win the election.

More inconvenient — or strategic, depending on your interpretation — timing befell Clinton’s campaign in the weeks leading up to the election, thanks to WikiLeaks. On October 7th, the first batch of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, was released by the whistleblowing source. Some of this content was viewed as potentially damaging to Clinton’s campaign, and Politico reported that Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said in an email:

“Earlier today the U.S. government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized WikiLeaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy.”

If those emails are untampered, Clinton is responsible for the words within them. But the opinion that WikiLeaks was working with Russia to hurt Clinton is made more legitimate by the timing of these emails. As PolitiFact confirmed, Podesta’s emails were released just an hour after Trump’s Access Hollywood “grab them by the pussy” tape was made public. As Politico wrote, this timing fueled “speculation that WikiLeaks is trying to tip the balance of the election.”

With the information that Trump Jr. interacted with WikiLeaks during this time, it could mean he was complicit in this potential election meddling by Russia.

However, most of the communication between Trump Jr. and the organization came from WikiLeaks and he seemed unworried about his messages, even sharing them publically on Twitter.

However, WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr. directly to inform him about the fourth round of Podesta’s emails. And Byron Tau of The Wall Street Journal helped The Atlantic realize that Trump tweeted about those emails just 15 minutes after his son had received the message from WikiLeaks. That’s not proof that Trump Jr. worked with WikiLeaks or that WikiLeaks worked with Russia, but it’s this type of information that Congress is investigating now.

As for WikiLeaks, Assange posted a statement on the organization’s website on the eve of the 2016 election to say that WikiLeaks was not partisan in their release of information. He also has condemned the report from The Atlantic about the organization’s communications with Trump Jr. for not giving the full story on Twitter.

So although you may want to put the 2016 election in the past, it’s not over and won’t be over as more information about the potential tampering by Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Trump family continues to be unearthed.