Assange grudge against Clinton shapes US election

Assange grudge against Clinton shapes US election
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Julian Assange’s grudge against Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPelosi: Trump insisted he won popular vote in our first meeting Are Democrats trying to pin the blame for their own sins on Russia? Trump: Calling Warren Pocahontas ‘an insult to Pocahontas’ MORE is playing out on the grandest stage possible.

Between now and Election Day on Nov. 8, WikiLeaks is expected to release more than 40,000 more emails about Clinton that are meant to damage her run for the White House — possibly in batches on a near-daily basis.

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The emails, from hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton confidante John Podesta’s email account, may be the best chance Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPelosi: Trump insisted he won popular vote in our first meeting NYT's David Brooks: Trump has not fulfilled promise of new conservatism Should government 'outsource' censorship to Facebook and Twitter? MORE has of knocking off Clinton, the Democratic nominee and heavy favorite to win the White House.

That makes WikiLeaks founder Assange one of 2016’s biggest wild cards.

Assange appears to relish the role.

“He has become which is what I think he always wanted to be: an alternative statesman,” said Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former spokesperson from the organization’s early days.

“He’s not officially elected, but he’s involved in the highest level of political debate. He can have an influence on the U.S. election. It doesn’t really get much bigger than this.”

Assange has repeatedly vowed to release information expected to be damaging to Clinton, and on Thursday made public the sixth installment of material allegedly stolen from Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

The WikiLeaks Twitter account, believed to be manned by Assange, vacillates daily between defending the organization against detractors and promoting damaging stories about Clinton — some of which border on conspiracy theory.

It rarely touches on Trump, and Assange in interviews has been cagey about his support of the business mogul. Trump confidante Roger Stone has repeatedly claimed contact with Assange, telling CBS Miami Wednesday that he has “a back channel communication” with Assange via a mutual friend with whom he dined as recently as last week.

U.S. intelligence last week publicly blamed the Russian government for the hack on the DNC and other political organizations, leading many to question whether WikiLeaks is now an agent of Moscow.

“Media needs to stop treating WikiLeaks like it is same as FOIA. Assange is colluding with Russian government to help [GOP nominee Donald Trump],” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted Monday, referring to the Freedom of Information Act.

Suspicion that Assange might be acting at the behest of the Russian government gained steam in 2012 when he briefly hosted a talk show on RT, a Kremlin-backed news network.

But Domscheit-Berg and others tracking Assange’s organization say they doubt he is taking orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’m leery of attributing Assange as being directly supported [by Russia]. I think it’s fair to say that in furthering his own agenda, he is willing to be a tool of the Russians,” said Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher at the International Computer Science Institute.

Weaver and others have long warned that WikiLeaks has no compunction about publishing information stolen by foreign intelligence agencies who want to use the group as a bullhorn to damage another government — or another political party.

“For Russia, WikiLeaks is more like a useful idiot because they are too cowardly and dumb to be in on the master plan,” a U.S. official told The Daily Beast — one of several who told the publication that WikiLeaks is merely the beneficiary of stolen documents, not the architect.

Assange has pushed back on accusations that he is colluding with the Russian government, tweeting that “Democrat-aligned journalists threw the facts out the window to make a Russian conspiracy about WikiLeaks & Trump.”

In interviews over the summer, Assange claimed to also have some material on Trump, but “from a point of view of an investigative journalist organization like WikiLeaks,” it was “hard for us to publish much more controversial material than what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth every second day.”

The Hill reached out to WikiLeaks for this story but did not receive a response.

It’s unclear why Assange has such a grudge against Clinton, though it appears to be rooted in part in the prosecution of former Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning for the leak of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables during Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.

In a June 12 interview on British TV, the Australian-born Assange argued against a Clinton presidency based on his "personal perspective.”

He said Clinton is one of the main U.S. officials pushing to punish him for the release of the Manning cables.

At the time, Clinton called the publication “an attack on the international community.”

Manning is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence. Assange has not been charged.

“We do see her as a bit of a problem for freedom of the press more generally,” Assange said.

In February, Assange, who is living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and is avoiding a rape charge in Sweden he claims is politically motivated, published an editorial on WikiLeaks calling Clinton a “war hawk with bad judgment who gets an unseemly emotional rush out of killing people.”

“She shouldn't be let near a gun shop, let alone an army. And she certainly should not become president of the United States,” he wrote.

Shortly after Clinton, sick with pneumonia, staggered leaving a Sept. 11 memorial event this year, the account tweeted a public poll inviting users to speculate whether she had an allergy problem, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or head injury complications.

WikiLeaks later deleted the tweet shortly thereafter, saying that “the possibilities are too speculative.”

For some former employees who believed in WikiLeaks’s stated mission of transparency, the attacks on Clinton have been deeply demoralizing.

Domscheit-Berg and others left the organization over concerns that Assange’s autocratic grip over the organization had led him to use it as a platform to promote his own agenda, not root out abuses of power.

WikiLeaks “has no board, no governance, and no effective rules. In such a febrile environment, and with Julian so central to the organisation's ability to function, it's not hard to see how such decisions came to be seen as correct,” wrote former employee James Ball, who defected in 2011.

“He likes using the material he’s publishing, and he’s mixing this with his own personal views,” said Domscheit-Berg.