GREENSBORO – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails have led to criticism of the candidate both from allies on the left as well as her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump. United States intelligence agencies have said the emails were hacked from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email account by Russian hackers, in an unprecedented attempt by a foreign government to influence the election.
The information in the Wikileaks-released emails range from the tedious and mundane (hours-long debates over a single tweet on Clinton’s account), to the personal and trite (an aide calling Clinton’s daughter Chelsea a “spoiled brat kid”), to potentially damaging revelations regarding connections between Clinton’s government service and the activities of her nonprofit corporation, the Clinton Foundation.
Trump has attacked examples of Clinton’s perceived conflicts of interest, including what he called a “pay for play” arrangement in which Clinton was supposed to attend a conference in Morocco in return for that nation’s monarch donating $12 million to the Clinton foundation. Clinton chose not to attend the conference after raised complaints about Morocco’s human rights record, instead sending Bill and Chelsea Clinton in her place.
Clinton has also drawn fire from progressives over leaked remarks she made in paid speeches to large corporations, which seemed to contradict promises made on the campaign trail. Particularly damaging was her support of free trade and open markets in a 2013 Brazilian bank speech. Clinton has made opposition to free trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a hallmark of her attempt to appeal to working Americans.
In her primary campaign against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton positioned herself as an opponent of large business interests, particularly the Wall Street firms that many blame for the economic collapse of 2008. However, in a 2013 speech to Goldman Sachs, Clinton told attendees that the banking system had been unfairly blamed for the collapse.
The release of the emails has led to Clinton struggling to prove her trustworthiness to voters, with a 53 percent “unfavorable” rating in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. Her unfavorable rating is exceeded by Trump’s, however, which stands at 60 percent.
Conflicting claims have been made by the Trump and Clinton campaigns about those responsible for the hack. Clinton has portrayed the release of the emails as a Russian attempt to influence the election, a position shared by the United States Intelligence Community (USIC), a collection of 16 intelligence agencies including the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“The new public data confirming the Russians are behind the hack of John Podesta’s email is a big deal,” Hillary for America Senior Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan stated in a press release. “There is no longer any doubt that Putin is trying to help Donald Trump by weaponizing WikiLeaks.”
Despite the findings of the intelligence agencies, Trump has refused to say whether he believes that the Russian government hacked Clinton’s emails, even suggesting at the second presidential debate that there had been no hacking at all.
“I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are – she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking,” Trump said. “Maybe there is no hacking.”
What effect the emails will have on the election is uncertain. In a usual election year, the suggestion of conflicts-of-interest involving donations by foreign government to a candidate’s foundation would normally be enough to seriously damage a campaign. News coverage of the emails has frequently been overshadowed, with Trump dominating the news cycle with controversial remarks and behaviors.
Both candidates have record high unfavorable ratings, so it’s unknown whether the leaks will fundamentally change the minds of those who are voting for either Trump or Clinton in this highly-partisan election year. A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll taken in early September revealed that fear was a dominating factor in voters’ choice of candidates, with 80 percent of Trump supporters afraid of a Clinton victory, while 62 percent of Clinton supporters feared a Trump administration.
The controversy appears to provide candidates with talking points, rather than shifting votes or positions.