During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made no secret of his support for WikiLeaks, the organization founded by Julian Assange. As MSNBC documented, he mentioned it 141 times during the last month alone.
That is the context for what my colleague Martin Longman has already noted: Mueller’s indictment of Roger Stone demonstrates “that people at the highest levels of the [Trump] campaign were aware that Stone had contacts with Julian Assange.” Longman goes on to point out that the remaining question on this front is whether the president and his campaign team understood the connection between WikiLeaks and the Russians.
This would be a good time to review that connection, which goes back long before the organization was used as a vehicle to dump documents the Russians hacked during the 2016 presidential election.
Most of us first heard about WikiLeaks in 2010 when they released tranches of U.S. military documents on the Afghan War as well as State Department diplomatic cables. At the time, WikiLeaks employed a man by the name of Israel Shamir, a long time friend of Julian Assange and rather unsavory character.
He has a Jewish-sounding name, but Shamir is a dangerous anti-Semite. Will Yakowicz, who interviewed Shamir in Moscow for a Tablet Magazine profile, concluded that he is an anti-Semitic Holocaust-doubter. An exhaustive investigationcarried out by the Norwegian anti-racist magazine Monitor found that Shamir has a long history of association with European fascist parties. He has changed his name several times, published anti-Semitic articles, and falsely claimed to be a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Shamir was also in the habit of offering himself as a speaker at white-supremacist conventions in return for a small fee, daily expenses, flight tickets, and hotel accommodations for him and his wife.
Prior to the 2010 document dump by WikiLeaks, Shamir travelled to Belarus, a country ruled by Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko, and handed documents related to that country over to government officials. Lukashenko used information contained in the documents to maintain power by rounding up and “disappearing” dissidents who were named in them.
Over the next couple of years, Assange’s connection to Russia became more pronounced.
In January 2011, the Kremlin issued Mr. Assange a visa, and one Russian official suggested that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, in April 2012, with WikiLeaks’ funding drying up — under American pressure, Visa and MasterCard had stopped accepting donations — Russia Today began broadcasting a show called “The World Tomorrow” with Mr. Assange as the host.
How much he or WikiLeaks was paid for the 12 episodes remains unclear. In a written statement, Sunshine Press, which works as his spokesman, said Russia Today “was among a dozen broadcasters that purchased a broadcasting license for his show.”
While short-lived, Assange’s show fit in well with the overall goals of Russia Today.
The World Tomorrow had a decidedly anti-American bent, in keeping with much of RT’s programming and Assange’s own writing. Its first episode was a polite interview with Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. In the interview, Assange refers to Nasrallah as a “freedom fighter,” telling him “you have fought against a hegemony of the United States.”
That this was serving an ideological purpose could have been lost on Assange. RT is designed to be the voice of the Russian state in the English-speaking world, particularly America. It’s part of a broad-based Russian propaganda effort aimed at whitewashing Putin’s government, using attacks on alleged US misdeeds as a key strategy.
You might recall that in 2013, when Edward Snowden was holed up in Hong Kong after stealing thousands of classified documents, it was Julian Assange who arranged for him to travel to Russia. In addition, a WikiLeaks employee by the name of Sarah Harrison accompanied Snowden on his flight and provided him with legal counsel on his arrival in Moscow, something that would have at least needed high level acquiescence within the Kremlin.
Finally, we know that Roger Stone wasn’t the only person in Trump’s orbit with a connection to WikiLeaks. Public documents show that Julian Assange communicated with Don Trump, Jr. on several occasions during the campaign. As my colleague Martin Longman wrote, on all but one occasion, it was an attempt to directly promote Russia’s interests.
That is an overview of information that is publicly available about the organization that Trump touted 141 times during the last month of the campaign, just as they were releasing Russian-hacked documents. It doesn’t prove that Trump knew that he was referring to an organization with deep ties to Russia. But if neither the president nor anyone in his campaign was aware of all of this, it at least demonstrates an appalling ignorance on their part.