Is somebody going to pull the plug on this thing?
The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012. Sputnik even declared that the email might be the “October surprise” that could undermine Clinton’s campaign.
To understand the full importance of the story—and how much Putin and his Kremlin cronies must have been dancing with delight—I have to quote the top few paragraphs:
In a major revelation from the second batch of WikiLeaks emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta it was learned that Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal believed that the investigation into Benghazi was legitimate because it was “preventable” and the result of State Department negligence.
In an email titled “The Truth” from Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that “one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable” in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.
Then came the money quote: “Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate,” said Blumenthal, putting to rest the Democratic Party talking point that the investigation into Clinton’s management of the State Department at the time of the attack was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.
Those words sounded really, really familiar. Really familiar. Like, so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.
The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000 word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the terror attack and by the former Secretary of State herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a Congressional investigation—the tenth inquiry into the tragedy.
Here is the real summation of my article, which the Russians failed to quote: “The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America’s past are rare. Richard Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army…The consequences, however, are worse than the manipulation of the electoral process. By using Benghazi for political advantage, the Republicans have communicated to global militants that, through even limited attacks involving relatively few casualties, they can potentially influence the direction of American elections.”
Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.
This false story was only reported by the Russian controlled agency (a reference appeared in a Turkish publication, but it was nothing but a link to the Sputnik article). So how did Donald Trump end up advancing the same falsehood put out by Putin’s mouthpiece?
At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called “sleazy Sidney.”
“This just came out a little while ago,’’ Trump said. “I have to tell you this.” And then he read the words from my article.
“He’s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi,’’ Trump said, dropping the document to the floor. “This just came out a little while ago.”
The crowd booed and chanted, “Lock her up!”
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment).
UPDATE: This Kurt Eichenwald story is unfortunately not as clearly written as it could be, but the facts constitute an absolute bombshell. Summing up: Exactly one year ago, Eichenwald published a very long story for Newsweek, detailing how the GOP had turned the Benghazi investigation into a grotesque political witch hunt.
In an email, Sidney Blumenthal forwarded the article to John Podesta, The article includes a quote in which Eichenwald points out something which has never been disputed, i.e.., that the attack was preventable, and that in some sense Clinton could be said to bear responsibility for it, because she was the nation’s chief diplomat at the time the embassy was attacked. Again, these are Eichenwald’s words, not Blumenthal’s, and in any case they constitute a banal observation at a very high level of abstraction, which says nothing about Clinton’s supposed responsibility for the Benghazi attack in any meaningful moral or political way.
Somebody hacked Podesta’s email, and in going through the subsequent document dump Russian propaganda operatives completely misunderstood this particular email, failing to grasp that
(1) Blumenthal was forwarding Eichenwald’s work, not giving his own opinion; and
(2) Eichenwald’s story was a condemnation of the Republicans in re Benghazi, rather than of Hillary Clinton’s handling of the matter.
This misunderstanding led the Russian propaganda “news” outlet Sputnik, which is controlled by Vladimir Putin, to publish a ludicrous story yesterday, which Eichenwald quotes above, and which was quickly taken down off the web when the Russians realized their mistake. But by then Donald Trump was already quoting this story, which hadn’t appeared anywhere except in its Sputnik form before being spiked.
The benign explanation for this is that the Trump campaign gets its “news” from links on white supremacist websites (apparently the story went viral on these sites before it was spiked). Again, that’s the benign explanation. The other explanation is that the story was fed directly to the Trump campaign by Putin’s propaganda apparatus.