July 25, 2016 - 8:30 AM
PHILADELPHIA - A U.S. election that has already seen its share of drama witnessed a James-Bond-level plot twist Sunday — accusations of Russian meddling in the campaign.
It's a charge levelled by Democrats as they gather for their convention.
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager did a round on the weekly talk shows where he raised the suggestion that Russian actors are working to undermine her in an effort to elect Donald Trump.
He pointed to a pattern that includes reports of Russians hacking into the Democratic party's servers; the Trump campaign's business ties to Putin allies; Trump's words and positions undermining NATO, the European Union and assistance for Ukraine; the compliments back and forth between Trump and Putin; and now the leak of hacked emails at a moment timed to disrupt the Democratic convention.
The leaks have fanned internal ill-will and led the party chair to announce her resignation after the convention.
"What's disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the (Democratic National Committee), stole these emails and other experts are now saying the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump," Robby Mook told CNN, in comments he repeated elsewhere.
"When you put it all together, it's a disturbing picture. And I think voters need to reflect on that. ... I don't think it's very coincidental that they're being released at this time — to create maximum damage and help elect Donald Trump."
He barely touched on the substance of the leaks. The whistleblowing site WikiLeaks was provided a batch of emails in which supposedly neutral party officials discussed ways to damage Bernie Sanders.
In one message, someone suggested smearing Sanders' atheism before Bible-belt primaries. As a Canadian-related aside, the batch included an email from one businessman who said he'd stop donating to the Democratic Party, miffed he wasn't invited to the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Sanders said the revelations proved his point: The party apparatus was in the tank for Clinton. He called it outrageous, and reiterated his call for the party chair to resign. On Sunday afternoon, chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did just that.
But he made it clear that he'll remain a team player.
His top short-term priority, he said: "Make sure that Donald Trump — perhaps the worst Republican candidate in the modern history of this country ... by temperament, by ideology — must not become president of the United States. I'm going to do everything I can to defeat him, and to elect Hillary Clinton." He said Clinton had adopted aspects of his agenda for helping the working class, on health care and on free tuition at public colleges.
Asked whether he was disappointed in Clinton's choice of a more moderate running mate, he remained onside: "Compared to Donald Trump ... on his worst, worst, worst day, Tim Kaine is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be."
The Vermont senator also corrected the record on his religion — he told CNN he's not an atheist.
Trump's campaign called the allegations of Putin involvement nonsense. One of his sons called it disgusting.
"It's pure obfuscation," campaign manager Paul Manafort told ABC.
"What they don't want to ... talk about is what's in those emails. And what's in those emails show that it was a clearly rigged system, that Bernie Sanders never had a chance. And, frankly, I think you're going to see some of that resentment boiling over this week in Philadelphia."
Yet Russia was tied to the hack last month when it was first reported.
The security company hired by the Democratic party, CrowdStrike, wrote in mid-June blog posts that it frequently encountered the work of two hackers who got in. It called them sophisticated adversaries, nicknamed them Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. It said both do extensive political and economic spying for the Russian government, and are linked to intelligence services.
The Russian government has expressed hope of a better relationship with the U.S. under a President Trump.
His campaign manager — Manafort — spent years working as a political adviser to the Putin-backed Viktor Yanukovych who was ousted from power in Ukraine in 2014. U.S. diplomats mentioned Manafort and described his role this way, in a Wikileaks cable from 2006: "Yanukovych's Party of Regions is working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party. Tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov, Regions has hired veteran K Street political help for its 'extreme makeover.'"
Recent reports have also chronicled Trump's business partnerships in Russia. Also his military adviser, retired general Michael Flynn, attended a dinner for the Kremlin-backed news operation Russia Today, where Putin delivered remarks.
The ties extend beyond personalities to sympatico policies.
Trump's campaign staff at last week's convention fought for an uncharacteristically dovish position on Russia in the Republican platform. His staff expressed little interest in the platform — aside from its insistence on squashing a promise to arm Ukraine's new government against Russian rebels.
This was on a week where Trump expressed doubt about major western alliances. He broke from longstanding policy within the NATO, telling The New York Times he might not intervene if Russia invaded a neighbouring NATO country.
As for the European Union, he told NBC this weekend that it was designed to beat the United States economically. Russia has funded other Euro-skeptical political parties. Trump has been praised by all the major ones — Britain's UKIP, France's National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom and Hungary's Jobbik.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016