An election year that featured some of the most surreal moments in American political history got a whole lot weirder recently when tens of thousands of documents, emails, and personal information from the Democratic Party was stolen, then released by the hacking repository Wikileaks. A story that was largely covered as simply an embarrassment soon became one of international intrigue after Russia, and its president, the pro-Trump Vladimir Putin, were implicated in the hack. Things took an even crazier turn when Wikileaks promptly allied itself with both alt-right anti-Semites and so-called “Bern or Bust” left-wing voters still bitter from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the primaries.
Yes, this really happened. The Wikileaks/Ann Coulter convergence. pic.twitter.com/quhJrhFPLq
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) July 25, 2016
The fallout from the scandal has already claimed the job of the long-suffering and chronically be-scandaled head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Not satisfied, left-wing liberals are now calling for her interim replacement Donna Brazile to also resign – just one day into the job. Her “crimes” haven’t been articulated, but the thirst for blood is strong.
There is no denying that many of the emails leaked to the public were highly embarrassing for the Democratic Party. Indeed, that was the whole intention of the leak in the first place. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Wikileaks under the leadership of alleged rapist Julian Assange (great guy, huh) has decided that Hillary Clinton needs to be destroyed and Trump should be ushered into office. (As of yet there is no smoking gun of direct Russian involvement, but the Putin regime has made very little secret of its desire to see Trump elected president. We’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions into we have more information.)
Unfortunately, almost all of the stories coming out of the email leak have been varying degrees of false. So far, not a single insurmountably damning email has been discovered. In fact, quite the contrary. Despite thousands upon thousands of private emails being blasted out to the public, nobody has been able to find one that is seriously incriminating. And not for lack of trying.
Let’s take a look at a few non-starters.
The DNC wanted to attack Bernie Sanders for being Jewish
One of the very first stories to emerge from the email dump was a single email sent by a DNC official that toyed with the idea of using Sen. Sanders’ religion against him in Appalachian states. The press largely covered the story this way:
The conclusion being: The DNC is filled with anti-Semites who were eager to attack Sanders for being Jewish.
However, that is misleading in a number of ways. For starters, nowhere in the email does it say Sanders should be “smeared” for being Jewish. Here’s what the email actually said:
“It might ma[ke] no difference, but for [Kentucky] and [West Virginia] can we get someone to ask his belief[?] Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist.”
This official, who has said he doesn’t recall sending this email but has apologized for it nonetheless, was very clearly not attacking Sanders for being Jewish – he was suggesting that in deeply religious Appalachia, Sanders apparent lack of any religion might hurt him. Is that a shitty thing to do, particularly for a party that has consistently blasted conservatives for adhering to religious tests for determining whether a person could be elected? Definitely. Is it anti-Semitic. No.
Coupled with this is the fact that it was an email sent to the DNC, but there is absolutely zero evidence that anybody acted on it. Add this to the list of terrible ideas by bone-headed people that the larger party simply ignored. In the end, Sanders actually won both West Virginia and Kentucky, torpedoing the premise that this somehow helped “throw” the election towards Hillary.
Taco bowl “outreach”
Another popular myth to arise from the emails is that DNC officials referred to Hispanics as “taco bowls.” If that sounds implausible, that’s because it didn’t happen. Not even close.
Like most of these lies, this one begins on a right-wing website, in this case Breitbart, but quickly spread through pro-Sanders left-wing circles as well.
Sounds damning, right? It would be if it were true. But again, it falls apart under scrutiny.
In an email, the DNC does refer to “taco bowl engagement” but it’s very clear that they are referring not to Latino voters but to Donald Trump’s mind-numbing tweet in which he sat in Trump Tower on Cinco de Mayo and tweeted out a picture of himself eating a taco bowl.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
Here’s the email in question:
Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying.
Let me know if you have any flags and thank you!
Note that the email never says “outreach.” The word used, “engagement,” refers to social media traction from people making fun of Trump for being a pandering moron. Nowhere does the email state that Latinos are the “engagement.” Indeed, liberals of all stripes were happy to mock Trump for this spectacular level of stupidity.
If you are the DNC and your job is to beat Donald Trump, capitalizing on stories like these is crucial. The party would be irresponsible not to make fun of Trump over this.
Quid Pro Quo appointments for donors
Breitbart’s little nephew, The Daily Caller, decided to float a different conspiracy. The DNC emails prove Clinton was offering cushy future appointments to big donors. Their evidence… was thin at best.
The spreadsheet — which was accompanied by emails sent between officials with the DNC’s finance team — contains 23 names of little-known corporate executives and professional fundraisers who have donated to the committee and various Democratic political action committees.
Here’s the inevitable caveat:
It is unclear from the DNC spreadsheet if any of the people on the list made specific requests for federal appointments.
But one tip-off that the document is detailing a quid pro quo is an entry next to the name of David Shapira, the executive chairman of grocery store chain Giant Eagle, Inc.
“USPS” — a likely reference to the U.S. Postal Service — is entered on the spreadsheet.
President Obama nominated Shapira for a position on the USPS’ board of governors last year but the retail executive did not take the position because congressional Republicans held up his nomination.
So the one piece of evidence they have is that the acronym “USPS” is written in the “notes” section for a man named David Shapira. The Daily Caller acknowledges that Shapira is both A) already nominated to the USPS board of governors and B) was appointed by President Obama last year. Somehow, despite these major red flags that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that this theory is nonsense, they chose to ignore those facts and pretend this means he will be – what? – double appointed to the USPS under Clinton as a kickback for donating to her campaign?
A likelier theory: The word “USPS” is listed in the notes because Shapira is currently awaiting confirmation in his appointment to the… say it with me… USPS! The note, written under the “notes” column was just a note.
Bernie Sanders would have won the election
One of the persistent themes in discussion over the emails is that this proves Sanders was robbed of the election. Big name Sanders supporters like Susan Sarandon and Rosario Dawson have said that they believe the election was taken from Sanders and handed to Clinton.
This, too, has little factual basis.
First, let’s look at the numbers. Despite Trump’s claim that Sanders would have won if not for super delegates meddling, Clinton won both the popular vote and the delegates. (She won almost all of the super delegates, too.) Regardless of your particular politics, it’s obvious that she won a decisive victory.
On the other hand, there has never been a compelling case that the DNC had the power to sway the election in any direction. All of this chatter from party operatives amounted to roughly zero tangible effects. Bernie won a number of states. Clinton won slightly more. As primaries go, it was pretty similar to other recent ones – including Barack Obama’s in 2008.
Where’s the conspiracy? Where’s the influence? Seriously, I’m asking.
The dates of the emails are important
Along with the lack of tangible evidence of influence is the fact that many of the most “damning” emails – the ones that ultimately cost Wasserman Schultz her job are dated at times that seem to prove the DNC had nothing to do with the primary (at least as far as these emails are concerned).
It hasn’t been covered in the press much, but it’s extremely important to keep in mind when the emails were sent. A quick check through the database finds that the first real mention of Sanders isn’t until late April.
After that there is a lot of emails signalling annoyance with Sanders and his campaign. Why then? Because, contrary to “Bernie Math,” by April the race was effectively over. Clinton had won. The annoyance displayed in the emails wasn’t necessarily born out of an interest in throwing the fight. It was impatience due to the fact that Trump had already locked up his nomination and was pivoting towards the general, while Clinton was stuck fending off Sanders in his death struggle.
For perspective, by early April most political observers were breaking the news to America that it was nearly mathematically impossible for Sanders to win. By late April, it was clear that it was over.
Again, the DNC is an organization that is by definition trying to get Democrats elected. If Trump is punching away at the (inevitable) nominee while her Democratic opponent is suggesting he’ll stay in long past the point that he’s lost, that’s a major problem. It makes everyone’s job a lot harder.
The takeaway point is this: By the time the DNC was “in the tank” for Hillary – she had already won.
What about the May 2015 email from the DNC?
Critics noted that there appears to be one email, sent in May of 2015, that shows support of Clinton. Sanders had announced his bid a month earlier.
A document to the DNC dated May 26, 2015 — a month after Sanders kicked off his presidential bid — declared that “our goals & strategy” are to “provide a contrast between the GOP field and HRC.”
The reality check is that the email doesn’t mention Sanders at all, and it’s unclear at that point that anybody – including Sanders – seriously thought he had a chance. It’s hard to remember a year later having witnessed all that has happened since that Sanders started out with next to no chance of winning anything. It’s a testament to his charisma and policies, as well as his supporters’ enthusiasm, that he got as far as he did. To help contextualize this, a poll that May found that Clinton had 57 percent support. Sanders had just 15… and Biden had 9 (and he hadn’t even announced whether he was running). The DNC is certainly guilty of allowing Sanders to take them by surprise, but not necessarily of fixing the race.
We will update as more misinformation comes in
At times when a lot of information is dumped with zero context, it is extremely important that people keep their heads about them. Pouring over thousands of emails without stopping to think about what they say, when they were written, why they were written, and whom they were written for, means countless falsehoods are going emerge in the following weeks.
Is the DNC blameless? Absolutely not. They have some dirty laundry – maybe even a lot of it. Is any of this so disqualifying that the election should be handed over to Donald Trump? So far, the answer is an obvious no.
In a reminder of just how disingenuous the whole thing is, a giddy Reince Priebus, the head of the RNC, went on record as saying if his party’s emails were hacked, there would be zero embarrassing things to find.
Reince Priebus on MSNBC says if the RNC is hacked, all of their emails would be fine
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) July 25, 2016
This from a guy whose nominee retweets neo-Nazis and whose party officials have repeatedly been investigated by federal law enforcement for making death threats against the president of the United States and the current Democratic nominee. To pretend they have no skeletons in their closet is a lie so egregious even Putin is probably impressed by its audacity.
Featured image via Darren McCollester/Getty Images