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- WikiLeaks encouraged Donald Trump’s campaign to contest the results of the 2016 election if he lost to Hillary Clinton, according to private messages sent to the then-candidate’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr.
- The messages were released by Trump Jr. on Monday after they were obtained by The Atlantic.
- Despite his surprise election victory, Trump still cast doubt on the legitmacy of the election, hinting at possible voter fraud without providing any evidence back it up.
The self-described radical transparency organization WikiLeaks told Donald Trump Jr. on Election Day that it would be “much more interesting” if his father challenged the election results if he lost to Hillary Clinton, instead of conceding victory, The Atlantic reported on Monday.
“Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred-as he has implied that he might do,” Wikileaks wrote in a private Twitter message to Trump at around 6:30 p.m. on November 8.
The messages were released by Trump Jr. on Monday after they were obtained by The Atlantic.
“The discussion can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption, etc.,” Wikileaks added.
Trump warned his supporters repeatedly throughout the final months of the campaign that the election might be “rigged” in Clinton’s favor. In an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity two weeks before the election, Trump alleged, without providing evidence, that “1.8 million people who are dead…are registered to vote. And some of them absolutely vote.”
He continued to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election even after he won, telling ABC in January that “you have people registered in two states. They’re registered in New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice.”
It is not clear why WikiLeaks, which has traditionally focused primarily on publishing hacked or leaked documents, would urge the Trump campaign to contest election results.
Colin Kahl, the former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, offered one explanation: “We know Wikileaks is a pro-Russian front,” he tweeted. “We also know that Putin’s top goal, other than getting Trump elected, was to spread chaos & delegitimize the US election. That puts this Wikileaks DM to Don Jr in context.”
Indeed, the slow drip of revelations about communication between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump has created the kind of “unbelievable turmoil” in Washington that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been known to revel in.
Russia experts have said that Putin is likely feeding off of the chaos and the extent to which it has furthered his own domestic agenda – that is, to convey to ordinary Russians how ineffective Western democracy can be.
“Putin was trying to meddle in the elections to stir public doubts about the legitimacy of the elections in part because he expected Clinton was going to win, and he wanted to portray her election as unfair and illegitimate,” Mark Kramer, program director of the Project on Cold War Studies at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, said earlier this year.
“That would enable him to say to his domestic constituents: ‘See? Elections in the West are just a sham, and they’re nowhere near as fair as our elections, which give the outcomes that popularity ratings would predict. We’re more democratic than the West is,'” Kramer added.
Challenging election results is a messy, drawn-out process that would have soured Clinton’s electoral victory. Both Julian Assange and Putin abhor Clinton, so undermining her presidency in its earliest stages would have been a win for either or both of them.
As the Intercept‘s Robert Mackey noted in August, “in recent months, the WikiLeaks Twitter feed has started to look more like the stream of an opposition research firm working mainly to undermine Hillary Clinton than the updates of a non-partisan platform for whistleblowers.” Assange characterized Clinton as “a liberal war hawk” in an interview last summer.
Trump’s victory meant the loss of a known Kremlin foil in Clinton and the emergence, as Assange put it, of a “completely unpredictable phenomenon.”
But the near-daily revelations about the Trump campaign’s contact with Russia and Russia-linked entities – including WikiLeaks, a Russia-linked professor, a Russian lawyer, and a Russian lobbyist – is on track to create the type of crisis in American democracy Putin may have wanted all along.