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Politics

Donald Trump has stumbled while trying to capitalize on WikiLeaks

Hillary Clinton challenged Donald Trump in their final presidential debate to condemn Russian email hacking that she alleges is aimed at influencing the election. He declined.

Trump flatly rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government was responsible for infiltrating Democratic Party emails, a major headache for Clinton in the campaign’s closing weeks.

“Hillary, you have no idea” whether Russia is responsible for the hacking, Trump said, adding that the U.S. also has no idea about it. “I doubt it,” he said.

On Oct. 7, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement saying the U.S. intelligence community was confident that the Russian government was responsible for the hacking.

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“These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process,” the statement said. Moreover, they said, the hacking was authorized by Russia’s top officials.

For Trump, internal emails from Clinton’s campaign released by WikiLeaks — a conduit for the Russian government, according to the U.S. government statement — are evidence of two problems.

First, he says, they’re proof of the Democratic nominee’s corruption. Second, the media is downplaying the revelations to help Clinton, he charges.

The truth is a mixed bag for Trump. For starters, reporters haven’t been ignoring the emails, which were allegedly obtained by Russian hackers and provided to WikiLeaks – stories about them have been on the front pages of major newspapers and in steady circulation on cable news. Politico, the Washington-based news site, even published a running blog about what its reporters unearthed.

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And Republicans and Democrats say Trump himself has made it hard for the issue to gain much traction. He often draws more attention to unfounded rumors that the election is rigged or his criticism of women who have accused him of sexual assault.

As for the emails themselves, they exposed much that would seem to be expected about the inner workings of a presidential campaign but little that even hinted at corruption.

One email shows Donna Brazile, then a Democratic Party official who was also a CNN contributor, sharing what appears to be a question before an event during the primary. “From time to time, I get the questions in advance,” she wrote.

Brazile, now the head of the Democratic National Committee, has denied wrongdoing. A top campaign aide to Clinton’s Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders defended her as well, saying she gave guidance to both campaigns.

Trump has sometimes overplayed the revelation, suggesting Clinton was fed questions before the more recent presidential debates. 

Another target for Trump has been emails that suggest Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Clinton, discussed her private email server with the Department of Justice, which was investigating whether Clinton had mishandled sensitive information. Trump said officials were helping Clinton’s campaign get “prepared to cover up for her crimes.”

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But the email from Fallon, a former Justice Department spokesman, shows a discussion about an open-records lawsuit, not the criminal investigation, and the information involving the court case was publicly available. 

The emails released by WikiLeaks have revealed some things that Clinton would have rather kept under wraps, including transcripts of paid speeches to investment banks, which she refused to release during the Democratic primary. During one closed-door event, she expressed support for “open trade and open borders.” Trump, who wants to restrict immigration and roll back trade agreements, has hammered her for the remark.

Other comments have turned into anti-Clinton talking points, such as her statement that politicians need “a public and a private position” when handling delicate negotiations. Trump’s supporters have suggested this shows Clinton is untrustworthy.

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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