President Donald Trump’s racist attacks on four new Democratic congresswomen, culminating in hundreds of his supporters chanting ‘Send her home’ at Trump’s North Carolina rally on Wednesday night, have dominated the news this week.
Everything else that qualifies as news-worthy has ended up buried, even when it involves the president.
One of those items: CNN’s exclusive report Monday that revealed the extent of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s involvement in Russia’s operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. In the run-up to the general election, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from Democratic officials in what appeared to be a coordinated effort to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
CNN, which Trump regularly criticizes and denigrates as “fake news,” received copies of surveillance reports that tracked Assange’s activity during his years-long stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London. Assange took refuge at the embassy in 2012 to avoid a sexual-assault charge in Sweden.
The news network says an Ecuadorian intelligence official has confirmed the authenticity of the surveillance documents.
The documents “describe how Assange turned the embassy into a command center and orchestrated a series of damaging disclosures that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States,” CNN reports.
The WikiLeaks founder reportedly released some of the hacked emails “directly from the embassy.” One release was timed to distract the public’s attention after the airing of the “Access Hollywood” “hot-mic” exchange that caught Trump saying he could get away with sexually assaulting women because he was famous. At the time, even some Republicans were urging Trump to step down from the ticket.
Assange was given great freedom to operate at the embassy, including the right to bring visitors into and out of the London compound “without showing identification or being searched by security.” Yet Assange still chafed at being monitored by Ecuadorian security staff, leading him to start fistfights with guards and even smear his feces on walls in protest.
While the presidential campaign was unfolding in the U.S., CNN reports, Assange was meeting with “world-class hackers at critical moments, frequently for hours at a time. He also acquired powerful new computing and network hardware to facilitate data transfers just weeks before WikiLeaks received hacked materials from Russian operatives.”
The day after CNN published its report this week, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa acknowledged Assange’s efforts to undermine the U.S. election and that his government was aware of them at the time.
“We did notice that he was interfering in the elections and we do not allow that because we have principles, very clear values, as we would not like anyone to interfere in our elections,” he said. “We are not going to allow that to happen with a foreign country and friend like the U.S.”
“WikiLeaks’ justification was that they were providing truthful information. Sure, but it was just about Hillary Clinton. Not about Trump. So, they were not saying all the truth. And not saying all the truth is called manipulation. And we are not going to allow that.”
One aspect of the hacking-and-leak operation that remains unknown: when exactly Trump became aware of the Russians’ long-rumored and disputed efforts and how much he knew about them.
At a July 27, 2016, press conference, Trump looked into the television cameras and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He was referring to emails reportedly deleted from the private email server Clinton used during her tenure as U.S. secretary of state.
“That very day,” The Associated Press has reported, “hackers working with Russia’s military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton’s personal office.”
Assange, who was ejected from Ecuador’s embassy in April and is now serving a year in a British jail for violating that country’s Bail Act, insists he was not an agent or pawn for the Kremlin. He is trying to avoid extradition to the U.S., where he has been indicted over his role in releasing classified military and diplomatic documents stolen by then military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
Read the CNN report.
— Douglas Perry
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