Christine Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi and a Democratic member of the Electoral College, is one of the now more than 50 Democratic electors, plus one Republican, demanding an intelligence briefing on allegations of Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election before they cast the ballots that make the Nov. 8 results official on Monday.
Foreign influence in an American presidential election would be a profoundly serious matter. We need something beyond news reports with quotes from anonymous sources. The CIA has, disgracefully, sent word to Congress that it can't be bothered to give a briefing to the appropriate House Committee.
But what are Pelosi & Co. actually claiming? And what is their end game? Pelosi and her associates are playing with fire, threatening to burn or at least singe the American system, and that is probably why she was so hard to pin down the actual goals of the group during a petulant and peevish appearance on the Neil Cavuto show earlier this week. Pressed, Pelosi took cover by accusing Cavuto of putting words in her mouth and thus endangering her (she claimed she has received death threats; Republican electors pledged to Donald Trump are reporting threats and deluges of hostile email, too).
It goes without saying that Pelosi should not receive death threats, but anyone who is willing to do something this radical owes the public more than Pelosi's jumbled verbiage. Sifting through Pelosi's word soup, it doesn't appear that the electors following her are willing to lodge the claim that the Russians affected vote tallies on machines--that would be of the utmost national significance. But, fortunately, it is also extremely unlikely: Elections happen in states and voting districts and thus there is no one system a malefactor could penetrate. Voting machines furthermore are not on a cyber system.
Rather, this seems to be the gist of how far Pelosi is willing to go in the lead-up to Monday: "I think that Hillary Clinton was severely damaged by the hacking of her emails and the DNC emails that were released on a drip, drip, drip basis every day for three months, every day instead of talking about the economy,” Pelosi said on the Cavuto show.
So essentially what the Russians are accused of doing is providing accurate information. In other words, they are accused of being reporters--of doing a job American reporters won't do, you might say. Yes, we all want to presume our emails are safe, and yes, we've all sent bad jokes or personal comments on somebody via email that would embarrass us if made public. Illegally obtaining emails or other information is wrong, but assuming (which is by no means certain) that the Russians had a hand in these revelations, what was their actual sin? In allegedly revealing this information, the Russians didn't make Hillary's inner circle snobbish, contemptuous of their fellow man, and contemptible. The Clinton clique, which has not challenged the authenticity of the emails, did this to themselves.
Whoever is responsible for the revelation of the cache of emails of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta didn't force Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri and John Halprin, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, the think tank founded by Podesta and with close ties to the Obama and Clinton teams, to engage in rabid, anti-Catholic remarks. The exchange was prompted when Halprin observed that media mogul Rupert Murdoch was bringing up his children Catholic and that "powerful elements" in the conservative coalition are Catholic.
"It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” Mr. Halpin commented. “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals,” Ms. Palmieri emailed back. "Excellent point,” Mr. Halpin responded. “They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.”
This isn't just nasty badinage. It is important information. The Obama administration tried to force nuns to violate their consciences to pay for coverage of contraception and abortion producing drugs, thus raising issues of religious liberty in a way that had not heretofore happened in the U.S., where religious liberty is a constitutional guarantee. Nice to have an insider's perspective on how the Clinton inner circle regards Catholics, no?
Nor did Wikileaks make Clinton associates say that Mrs. Clinton was a lousy candidate. They did that without prompting, too. "Hillary. God. Her instincts are suboptimal," emailed Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden, in public a vociferous defender of Clinton. But on private email, Tanden opined that whoever had let Clinton use a private email server "ought to be drawn and quartered." (It appears that nobody let Clinton do this--she just did it.) Tanden chided the Clinton team for dillydallying in criticizing Clinton ally David Brock, who was demanding that Bernie Sanders turn over his medical records, and worried that "dodging" the Keystone Pipeline issue was not helping Clinton in the primaries.
Tanden knew that Clinton's stubbornness about coming clean was a handicap. “She always sees herself bending to their will when she hands over information, etc.,” Tanden wrote in an email at the end of the summer of 2015. “But the way she has to bend here is in the remorse. Not the ‘if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it.’ A real feeling of — this decision I made created a mess and I’m sorry I did that.” Is this inability to allow the free flow of information possibly something that would have handicapped a Hillary Clinton White House?
Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, is a scoundrel. But Wikileaks provided something that was sorely lacking in this presidential campaign: inside reporting. There is nothing wrong in giving people truthful information and allowing them to make up their minds. In the old days, when reporters were more than highly-paid hecklers, they dug for information. They no longer do as much of that--we know far too little about both the Clinton Foundation and Donald Trump's business empire. Whatever their motives, Wikileaks gave the public valuable information. Wikileaks was the Woodward and Bernstein of 2016.
The Wikileaks dumps were important and, as Pelosi fears, might have influenced a few voters. If this is the limits of the so-called “Russian influence” on the election, then it is hardly election stealing. Those emails provided an important window into a political candidate and the kind of people Hillary Clinton would have brought with her into power, providing the kind of information that journalists use to, but rarely do anymore. If you are indeed Russian, I hope you get a Pulitsky Prize.