Leaks and hacks driving politics

It may not be an overstatement to say that hacks and leaks now drive American politics.

In the past couple of years, leaked and hacked information that political leaders had hoped to keep confidential has determined the trajectories of both parties, in the media and therefore in public opinion.

During the 2016 election it was the Democrats who sustained the damage. Since the election it’s been the Republicans’ turn, particularly their sitting president.

And the reactions of both parties have been similar. They’ve both thundered against the leakers and hackers rather than discuss the facts exposed by the leaks.

Last year during the campaign, hackers (identified as Russian by U.S. intelligence agencies) tapped into the email accounts of top Democratic operatives, then passed on closely-held conversations and politically sensitive material to WikiLeaks, which in turn publicized that material through American media outlets in the last few weeks before the November election.

A number of Democrats maintain that the hacks cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. That’s hard to prove, since it can’t be known how many voters in which states made up their minds on which candidate to support on the basis of the hacks.

But it’s pretty clear that the Russian hackers aimed to damage Clinton in favor of Donald Trump.

They certainly cost Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz her job, highly angered supporters of Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders, caused CNN to drop Democratic Party national leader Donna Brazile as a key commentator, and weakened the clout of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

In general, political parties don’t want the public to know what’s discussed and decided in their deep boiler rooms.

Sometimes it’s not pretty.

Party leaders at times have to throw folks under the bus for what they decide is the good of the party, and they try to paint those decisions in ways that don’t show the actual facts.  

Hacks and leaks scrub the pretty paint off, and reveal the underlying facts in all their embarrassing detail.

Those hacks, and WikiLeaks’ dissemination of them, did the Democrats no good. But they are also the reason the Trump administration has been under media and government investigation ever since the election.

The suspicion is that the Russians and WikiLeaks did not act alone, but that some in the Trump campaign and/or among its American supporters may have colluded with them to try to bring on the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

The added suspicion, of course, is that if that indeed happened, it could be because both Trump and Russia have much to gain from a close relationship: Russia in order to reduce or eliminate U.S. sanctions against that nation due to its muscling in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, and Trump because of his family’s and associates’ lucrative financial dealings, past and potentially future, with Russian oligarchs.

So, in part in retaliation and in part through a sincere concern about foreign interference in American elections, Democrats have kept investigation of possible Trump-related collusion with the Russians on the front burner.

And it’s not just Democratic drumbeating.

Federal employees in the White House and in federal agencies throughout Washington have provided national media like The New York Times and The Washington Post with leaked information about the Trump administration that the Trump folks never intended to see the light of day.

The current point of interest, to media and to millions of Americans, is why the Trumpites are so reluctant to just answer the questions.

A battery of Trump associates has been tripped up time and time again by their failure to disclose contacts with the Russians.

Trump continues to refuse to release his tax returns, a standard disclosure for American presidents going back decades, something that only heats up suspicions that the returns may contain damaging Russian-related financial material.

Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, and his reported consideration of planning to have special counsel Robert Mueller removed, add more fuel to the fire.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump and his people have decided there’s more to lose by cooperating openly than by stonewalling. If the entire matter is a “nothing burger,” then why not just go along with whatever information is sought?

Trump may ultimately win a battle if it’s decided he can legally fight off the investigative procedures. But he, and other Republicans, may find the war is lost in the public’s opinion, and therefore with the electorate in 2018 or 2020.

Three weeks ago, my column took on President Trump’s recent challenge when he said that at some eventual point “the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers . . .”, etc.

In that column I cited the nation’s job creation figures for the period from February through May (the four months after Trump took office), and also the numbers for the comparable period in 2016 under President Obama.

The 2017 figure was 594,000. The 2016 figure was 659,000.

That’s a decline in comparable job creation this year of 65,000.

Now the job creation numbers are out for the month of June. Adding the June total to the February-May period for 2017 brings the five-month 2017 total to 863,000.

The comparable five-month period in 2016 totaled 955,000 jobs created. So the 2017 five-month total is 92,000 fewer than last year’s February-June total.

This is not to say that 863,000 jobs are chicken feed. It’s an average of 173,000 per month under Trump’s presidency to date, and that’s more than enough to keep ahead of population growth.

The February-June five-month period under Obama’s presidency averaged creation of 191,000 jobs per month.

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