Opinion: It shouldn’t take a hack to get Colin Powell and other Republicans’ true thoughts on Trump

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington in 2008.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

It takes unusual political courage to declare publicly that the political party you support has put “a national disgrace” at the top of its ticket.

But typing that opinion into a private email? Not so much.

Former secretary of State Colin Powell became the latest political figure to see his private thoughts thrust into the public spotlight by anonymous (but probably Russian) hackers., which previously shared emails extracted from the Democratic National Committee’s servers, released a selection of Powell’s personal emails Tuesday afternoon, including ones in which Powell slams Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

One of the news organizations that saw the emails, BuzzFeed, said Powell variously called Trump “a national disgrace” and an “international pariah,” said he “has no sense of shame” and accused him of promoting racism and Islamophobia through his pursuit of President Obama’s birth certificate.


The emails show that Powell wasn’t Hillary Clinton’s biggest fan, either. Although he described Clinton as “a friend I respect” in one email, he went on to say she was “greedy,” “not transformational” and possessed “unbridled ambition.” Ouch. Other emails reviewed by the Intercept offer more of Powell’s thoughts on Clinton’s “hubris” and lack of forthrightness.

You might think that the public would benefit from such frank assessments by someone as respected and as experienced in government as Powell, Clinton’s predecessor at State. But according to BuzzFeed, Powell explained in an email that he didn’t want to go public with his criticisms of Trump because “to go on and call him an idiot just emboldens him.”

Maybe so, but the point isn’t to engage with Trump. It’s to engage with voters. They’re the ones who need to hear not just what folks such as Powell think, but why.

Instead, we’re learning only what hackers want us to learn. They’re the ones deciding not only whose private emails to share, but which ones, and with whom to share them. That should scare the bejeebers out of voters.

Democrats claimed after their party’s emails were stolen that hackers tied to the Russian government are trying to help Trump win the presidency. The motives behind the latest hack aren’t so clear, but it still feels like Russia is conducting some kind of pilot program in electoral manipulation.

It would be far better if the Colin Powells of the world would speak candidly in public about Trump, rather than keeping their thoughts private and hoping voters will turn away from Trump of their own accord. Yet many of them seem paralyzed by a fear that voters loyal to Trump will punish them for daring to observe the emperor’s nudity.

The Powell episode serves as yet another reminder that anything and everything can be hacked. Powell knows this, of course; the State Department’s servers, for one example, have been victimized by several headline-grabbing hacks, most notably in 2006 and 2014. Powell had used AOL for his unclassified emails while at the State Department from 2001 to 2005, contending that the State system was too antiquated (insert your joke here about people who continued to use AOL in the 21st century). He moved on to Gmail after that, and DC Leaks’ cache apparently consists of messages from Powell’s Gmail address. Maybe he should have stayed with AOL.

Twitter: @jcahealey