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Russian Hacking Revelations Trigger Alarm, Anger Among Hillary Clinton Backers

Variety logo Variety 12/13/2016 Ted Johnson
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As Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta called on electors to be given an intelligence briefing on Russian interference into the presidential campaign, a number of her entertainment industry backers seized on the news with a tone of alarm.

“Investigation into Russian hacking must determine whether or not Trump campaign was in collusion. If so, treason. #FollowTheMoney,” Rob Reiner, a longtime supporter of Clinton, wrote on Twitter.

“If we don’t believe the intelligence that shows the terrible things Putin does than Trump can give him anything,” wrote Judd Apatow, reacting to the way that President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team seemed to dismiss the revelations.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that CIA officials had concluded that Russia intervened in the election to boost Trump’s chances over Clinton. Intelligence agencies identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who supplied hacked emails to WikiLeaks, the Post reported. Starting in the summer, the site posted a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee and later from Podesta. The effect was a steady stream of sensational stories from the contents of the emails, leading to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Dennis Wasserman Schultz.

On Monday, Podesta wrote that he supported efforts by some electors to be briefed on the suspected foreign intervention in the election. The Electoral College vote is on Dec. 19.

“Each day that month, our campaign decried the interference of Russia in our campaign and its evident goal of hurting our campaign to aid Donald Trump,” Podesta said in a statement. “Despite our protestations, this matter did not receive the attention it deserved by the media in the campaign. We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump. This should distress every American.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that there would be an investigation into Russian influence, although he did not endorse the idea of a special bipartisan committee to conduct a probe. The latter is supported by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and others.

Trump, meanwhile, continues to insist that there is a lack of evidence that Russians were behind the hack. “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking,” he tweeted on Monday. “Why wasn’t this brought up before the election?”

But it was. Clinton made mention of it during the first two presidential debates, and of WikiLeaks’ involvement during the third debate. On Oct. 7, U.S. intelligence agencies officially accused Russia of being behind the hacks, although they did not say that the purpose was to help Trump’s chances in the presidential race.

In the aftermath of Clinton’s surprising defeat, there has been no shortage of blaming among the Clinton team, major donors, and other elected officials. But the tightness of the race — a shift of fewer than 80,000 votes across Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin would have tipped the balance in her favor — puts the exercise a bit in the eye of the beholder. Many different factors can be cited, convincingly, as the reason for her loss.

But the latest revelations of Russian interference are likely to give fuel to the argument that there were unanticipated outside circumstances that were responsible for her defeat.

At a Harvard Institute of Politics post-mortem on the election last month, Clinton’s campaign team pinned at least a big part of the blame on the hacking and the letters from FBI director James Comey about her use of a private email server. Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief of Five Thirty Eight, wrote that “I’ll put it like this: Clinton would almost certainly be President-elect if the election had been held on Oct. 27 (day before Comey letter).” He cited exit polling data that late-deciding voters went for Trump.

“Both the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign alleged Russian interference on Trump’s behalf and the news media failed to adequately pursue the story, choosing instead to focus on incendiary tweets and phantom emails,” Andy Spahn, the president of Gonring, Spahn & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm. His firm, which represents Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, was a major organizer of Clinton campaign fundraising events.

Others turned their attention to the role of Republicans who were briefed on the information. The Post also reported that when he was briefed about the intelligence in September, McConnell expressed doubts about its veracity and said that he would consider going public with the information an act of partisanship.

“A foreign government influenced the US election & Republican Party is so power & career obsessed they don’t give a shit. Disgusting,” wrote writer-director Adam McKay.

The implications of foreign influence on the elections are not only enormous, but are the stuff of a Hollywood thriller. This is not the typical post-election period, when the President-elect is enjoying a pre-inauguration honeymoon period.

A week before the election, Vanity Fair published a story, “Is Donald Trump a Manchurian candidate?” The headline was referring to John Frankenheimer’s 1962 movie, “The Manchurian Candidate,” about a Korean war prisoner who is brainwashed into staging an assassination plot on a presidential nominee. It is important to note that no evidence has surfaced that Trump or his campaign were connected to the hacking. Trump did once say at a rally that Russians should “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s private email server, but the campaign later tried to clarify the remarks.

Last week, at an awards event held by the Los Angeles Press Club, one of the movie’s surviving stars, Angela Lansbury, was asked about the Vanity Fair story and its connection to present-day politics. She said that she didn’t know much about it, but said the idea of a real-life Manchurian candidate was a “dreadful thought.”

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