When the Heat Is On, Bring Out the ‘Hillary Did it Too’ Defense

Frankly, the threads of this Trump/Russia story are starting to make my head spin. For example, not only is Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American who attended the July 9th meeting with Trump’s team, reported to have specialized in “active measures campaigns,” he’s also been accused of involvement in an international hacking conspiracy.

In court papers filed with the New York Supreme Court in November 2015, Akhmetshin was described as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” by lawyers for International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company that alleged it had been hacked.

Those documents accuse Akhmetshin of hacking into two computer systems and stealing sensitive and confidential materials as part of an alleged black-ops smear campaign against IMR. The allegations were later withdrawn.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records—stealing internal documents and then disseminating them.

Hacking computer systems. Stealing confidential materials. Disseminating said materials as part of a smear campaign. Sound familiar? But of course, we have to keep in mind that those accusations were made by a Russian mining company and were eventually withdrawn. So who knows whether it actually ever happened.

As I try to absorb all of this information, I am reminded of the words that have been used to describe Putin’s goals: kompromat, zersetzung and dezinformatsiya. They are all about “the creation of a gray zone of doubt in which facts struggle to survive.”

For a moment I was tempted to consider whether all of this is exactly what Putin is looking for. Perhaps he’s thrilled to see all of us scrambling to piece together the threads of various conspiracy theories. But that feels like I’ve fallen even deeper into the bizarre rabbit hole of a meta conspiracy theory.

Thankfully you can all rest assured that I’m not losing my mind. It’s interesting that my wake-up call of sanity came from a Wikileaks tweet.

Even though the email quote is about stopping a Bloomberg story, the suggestion is that Clinton opposed the Magnitsky Act because Bill got paid a lot of money to give a speech in Moscow. Jared Kushner’s Observer is, of course, running with that story.

So the question is, did Hillary Clinton oppose the passage of the Magnitsky Act? Here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported in one of those many articles that popped up during the 2016 election attempting to insinuate a quid pro quo during her tenure as Secretary of State:

Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman said she opposed congressional attempts to link broad sanctions to a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia, believing the two matters should be handled separately. Nevertheless, the Magnitsky Act passed in late 2012 with bipartisan support as a part of a trade-normalization bill.

While Obama signed the bill, it is important to note that the administration wasn’t especially supportive.

Although the Obama administration ultimately enforced the Magnitsky Act, it had opposed the law as an overreach by Congress into diplomatic policy it viewed as a matter of executive privilege.

When it comes to the Wikileaks tweet then, it appears that the Clinton campaign was pleased to “kill” a story in Bloomberg that they saw as untrue (i.e., linking her response to the Maginstky Act to Bill’s speaking fees). That was in May 2015. Obviously they weren’t able to kill the WSJ story, which was published in December 2015.

All of this is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. The heat has turned up considerably over the last week about the possibility of “yes” being the correct answer to that question. Putin can’t be too happy with the direction things are going if he’s using his Wikileaks mouthpiece to basically say, “Hillary did it too!” It reminds me of this great article by Michael Tomsasky:

Donald Trump’s fortunes will wax and wane, Sean Hannity’s ratings will go up and down, and the Republican Party will see good days and bad. But one thing will never change: They’ll beat up on Hillary until the day she dies. After, actually. They’ll decide she didn’t leave enough to charity. Or left too much. Whatever. It will always be something.

The irony of this latest example is that they are using the very emails Russia hacked from John Podesta’s computer to take another whack at Hillary—which makes if feel like we’ve come full circle around that rabbit hole.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.