Democracy

Hillary Clinton on Friday defended her 2016 campaign strategy after 2020 Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg criticized his party’s previous nominee for being too hopeful and not understanding the struggles of everyday Americans.

“I really do believe that we always have to appeal to our better selves because the wolf is at the door, my friends,” Clinton said during an appearance at the 10th Annual Women in the World New York Summit. “Negativity, despair, anxiety, resentment, anger, prejudice, that’s part of human nature and the job of the leader is to appeal to us to be more than we can be on our own, to join hands in common effort.”

“I was well aware that we had problems that we had to solve, but it’s been my experience that anger, resent, prejudice are not strategies,” the former first lady, secretary of state and senator from New York added. “They stop people from thinking. They don’t enlist people in the common effort to try to find solutions.”

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., told the Washington Post in a profile published January that President Trump connected with the concerns of ordinary Americans in a way Clinton did not.

“Donald Trump got elected because, in his twisted way, he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy,” he said. “At least he didn’t go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary did.”

A senior Clinton adviser blasted Buttigieg’s comments last month via Twitter as “indefensible.”

“[Hillary Clinton] ran on a belief in this country & the most progressive platform in modern political history. Trump ran on pessimism, racism, false promises, & vitriol. Interpret that how you want, but there are 66,000,000 people who disagree. Good luck,” Nick Merrill tweeted.

“It’s pretty simple. Slam HRC…lose my vote,” and another who chimed in: “It is unfortunate when people as smart as @PeteButtigieg engage in this fantasy fiction about 2016. And as a gay American it is disappointing because @HillaryClinton ran a campaign which amongst its many values championed our community,” Merrill also wrote.

In the end, the man who reportedly smeared feces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers was pulled from the Ecuadorian embassy looking every inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole. The only camera crew to record this pivotal event belonged to Ruptly, a Berlin-based streaming-online-video service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RT, the Russian government’s English-language news channel and the former distributor of Julian Assange’s short-lived chat show.

RT’s tagline is “Question more,” and indeed, one might inquire how it came to pass that the spin-off of a Kremlin propaganda organ and now registered foreign agent in the United States first arrived on the scene. Its camera recorded a team of London’s Metropolitan Police dragging Assange from his Knightsbridge cupboard as he burbled about resistance and toted a worn copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State.

Vidal had the American national-security establishment in mind when he wrote that polemic, although I doubt even he would have contrived to portray the CIA as being in league with a Latin American socialist named for the founder of the Bolshevik Party. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced Thursday that he had taken the singular decision to expel his country’s long-term foreign guest and revoke his asylum owing to Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”

According to Interior Minister María Paula Romo, this evidently exceeded redecorating the embassy with excrement—alas, we still don’t know whether it was Assange’s or someone else’s—refusing to bathe, and welcoming all manner of international riffraff to visit him. It also involved interfering in the “internal political matters in Ecuador,” as Romo told reporters in Quito. Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, Romo said, have maintained ties to two Russian hackers living in Ecuador who worked with one of the country’s former foreign ministers, Ricardo Patiño, to destabilize the Moreno administration.

We don’t yet know whether Romo’s allegation is true (Patiño denied it) or simply a pretext for booting a nuisance from state property. But Assange’s ties to Russian hackers and Russian intelligence organs are now beyond dispute.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 cyberoperatives for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate for the General Staff (GRU) suggests that Assange was, at best, an unwitting accomplice to the GRU’s campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and allegedly even solicited the stolen Democratic correspondence from Russia’s military intelligence agency, which was masquerading as Guccifer 2.0. Assange repeatedly and viciously trafficked, on Twitter and on Fox News, in the thoroughly debunked claim that the correspondence might have been passed to him by the DNC staffer Seth Rich, who, Assange darkly suggested, was subsequently murdered by the Clintonistas as revenge for the presumed betrayal.

Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and, as an official in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, an indirect beneficiary of Assange’s meddling in American democracy, went so far as to describe WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” For those likening the outfit to legitimate news organizations, I’d submit that this is a shade more severe a description, especially coming from America’s former spymaster, than anything Trump has ever grumbled about The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Russian diplomats had concocted a plot, as recently as late 2017, to exfiltrate Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, according to The Guardian. “Four separate sources said the Kremlin was willing to offer support for the plan—including the possibility of allowing Assange to travel to Russia and live there. One of them said that an unidentified Russian businessman served as an intermediary in these discussions.” The plan was scuttled only because it was deemed too dangerous.

In 2015, Focus Ecuador reported that Assange had aroused suspicion among Ecuador’s own intelligence service, SENAIN, which spied on him in the embassy in a years-long operation. “In some instances, [Assange] requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, even proposing the use of operators of Russian nationality,” the Ecuadorian journal noted, adding that SENAIN looked on such a proposal with something less than unmixed delight.

All of which is to say that Ecuador had ample reasons of its own to show Assange the door and was well within its sovereign rights to do so. He first sought refuge in the embassy after he jumped bail more than seven years ago to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges brought by two women. Swedish prosecutors suspended their investigation in 2017 because they’d spent five years trying but failing to gain access to their suspect to question him. (That might now change, and so the lawyers for the claimants have just filed to reopen the cases.) But the British charges remained on the books throughout.

The Times of London leader writer Oliver Kamm has noted that quite apart from being a “victim of a suspension of due process,” Assange is “is a fugitive from it.” Yet to hear many febrile commentators tell it, his extradition was simply a matter of one sinister prime minister cackling down the phone to another, with the CIA nodding approvingly in the background, as an international plot unfurled to silence a courageous speaker of truth to power. Worse than that, Assange and his ever-dwindling claque of apologists spent years in the pre-#MeToo era suggesting, without evidence, that the women who accused him of being a sex pest were actually American agents in disguise, and that Britain was simply doing its duty as a hireling of the American empire in staking out his diplomatic digs with a net.

As it happens, a rather lengthy series of U.K. court cases and Assange appeals, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, determined Assange’s status in Britain.

The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, expended quite a lot of energy back in 2012 swatting down every unfounded assertion and conspiracy theory for why Assange could not stand before his accusers in Scandinavia without being instantly rendered to Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, as Green noted, going to Stockholm would make it harder for Assange to be sent on to Washington because “any extradition from Sweden … would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom” instead of just the latter country. Nevertheless, Assange ran and hid and self-pityingly professed himself a “political prisoner.”

Everything about this Bakunin of bullshit and his self-constructed plight has belonged to the theater of the absurd. I suppose it’s only fair that absurdity dominates the discussion now about a newly unsealed U.S. indictment of Assange. According to Britain’s Home Office, the Metropolitan Police arrested Assange for skipping bail, and then, when he arrived at the police station, he was further arrested “in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”

The operative word here is provisional, because that request has yet to be wrung through the same domestic legal protocols as Sweden’s. Assange will have all the same rights he was accorded when he tried to beat his first extradition rap in 2010. At Assange’s hearing, the judge dismissed his claims of persecution by calling him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.” Neither can his supporters.

A “dark moment for press freedom,” tweeted the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from his security in press-friendly Moscow. “It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency,” intoned The Intercept’s founding editor Glenn Greenwald who, like Assange, has had that rare historical distinction of having once corresponded with the GRU for an exclusive.

These people make it seem as if Assange is being sought by the Eastern District of Virginia for publishing American state secrets rather than for allegedly conniving to steal them.

The indictment makes intelligible why a grand jury has charged him. Beginning in January 2010, Chelsea Manning began passing to WikiLeaks (and Assange personally) classified documents obtained from U.S. government servers. These included files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. State Department cables. But Manning ran into difficulties getting more documents, owing to the limitations of her modest security clearance.

At this point, Assange allegedly morphed from being a recipient and publisher of classified documents into an agent of their illicit retrieval. “On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist [Chelsea] Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Networks, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications,” according to the indictment.

Assange allegedly attempted to help Manning do this using a username that was not hers in an effort to cover her virtual tracks. In other words, the U.S. accuses him of instructing her to hack the Pentagon, and offering to help. This is not an undertaking any working journalist should attempt without knowing that the immediate consequence will be the loss of his job, his reputation, and his freedom at the hands of the FBI.

I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqués that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published.)

James Ball, a former staffer at WikiLeaks—who argues against Assange’s indictment in these pages—has also remarked on Assange’s curious relationship with a notorious Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir:

Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers—myself included—when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.

Shamir soon turned up in Moscow where, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, he was offering to write articles based on these cables for $10,000 a pop. Then he traveled to Minsk, where he reportedly handed over a cache of unredacted cables on Belarus to functionaries for Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, whose dissident-torturing secret police is still conveniently known as the KGB.

Fish and guests might begin to stink after three days, but Assange has reeked from long before he stepped foot in his hideaway cubby across from Harrods. He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.

Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

The last time a Democrat won an open Senate seat in Arizona, he was helped along by a GOP candidate who never recovered from a campaign misstep in which he “shot a burro in the ass,” as the winning candidate’s campaign manager memorably put it recently. That candidate, Dennis DeConcini, was last elected in 1988. He retired after that term.

So how will liberal activists reward Kyrsten Sinema for becoming the first Democratic senator from Arizona since DeConcini? If Fight for the Future, a net neutrality pressure group, has its way, thanks will come in the form of a giant billboard “at one of the busiest intersections in Phoenix” calling Sinema “corrupt” and in the pocket of “corporate donors.” Her infraction is to be the only Democrat not to sign on to a net neutrality bill and instead to work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan bill that stands a chance of passing.

In this political climate, bipartisan cooperation is an unforgivable sin, and Sinema is repeatedly guilty of it.

Arizona has a new maverick.

Sinema, 42, has a compelling personal story that’s unique in one way: It informs her centrism, rather than serving as a platform for radicalism. By the time Sinema was 5, her middle-class Tuscon family was fracturing, her father mired in debt. He and her mother divorced, and Sinema was put into poverty. For a time, her Florida home was an old, remodeled gas station. “She’s a survivor,” former Democratic caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said in 2015. “I think she’s smart about how she does it. I think a lot of people underestimate her.” The comment rings prophetic; in 2018, Crowley lost his own reelection bid against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the phenom freshman. In the same year, Sinema turned one of Arizona’s Senate seats blue for the first time in three decades.

[ Related: Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally have one thing they agree on: They hate each other]

During that winning campaign, she emphasized her credibility as a independent Democrat rather than a party hack. Asked by an Arizona radio station if she considered herself a “proud Democrat,” she responded: “Gosh, it’s hard to say proud. I don’t know that — I’m not sure that people are even proud of parties anymore, because I feel like the parties are not doing a good job. So I would say that I’m a proud Arizonan. That’s something I’m very proud of. And I’m proud of the work that I have done in Washington, D.C., and the work I’ve done in the state Senate and the statehouse before going to Congress. But I’m not particularly proud of the parties.”

Sinema was, according to the Arizona Republic, one of two members of the state’s Democratic House delegation who “sided with President Donald Trump’s agenda more in the past three months than most Republicans in the state’s House delegation.” But those three months weren’t much of an outlier for Sinema. In 2015, she opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. She didn’t buy into the aggressive selling point that the only alternative to it was war. “I think it’s hyperbole and I think it’s not necessarily true,” Sinema told the Huffington Post. “It’s possible that if the deal didn’t go through, war could be one option and it could become more likely. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have options in front of us. I’m frustrated by these false dichotomies.”

Sinema also is a dissenter from left-wing orthodoxy on big banks. When, as senator-elect, she was given a spot on the Senate Banking Committee, the Washington Examiner wrote, “Sinema was long a friend of big banks in the House, and the committee appointment represents the return on a well-made investment. … During her Senate race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally, Sinema was in the top 20 of recipients of campaign contributions from both the banking and the finance sectors.Washington Examiner Commentary Editor Timothy P. Carney explained: “Sinema fought for the realtors and against Arizona’s taxpayers (disdain for whom she has repeatedly shown). Those efforts may explain why the realtors have spent $34,000 on ads supporting her Senate bid — the most they’ve spent on any Senate race this fall. In the House, one of Sinema’s core crusades was saving and expanding the Export-Import Bank. … Ex-Im is a corporate welfare agency that extends taxpayer-backed financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.”

[ Also read: Sinema forging paid leave plan deal with GOP]

And then there’s the issue that’s always a touchstone for Arizonans, immigration. In the House, Sinema had voted for legislation that would impose stiffer penalties on undocumented immigrants who reenter after being deported, as well as forcing immigrants who seek a healthcare tax credit to verify their status with the government first. Sinema took a harder line on asylum-seekers and, in October, backed Trump’s call to station more military personnel on the border with Mexico.

One advantage, according to Democratic campaign strategist Brad Todd, is that “she has been everything from a socialist anti-war protester to a vote against Nancy Pelosi, depending on what advanced her most in the moment.” Todd told the Washington Examiner that this worked especially well in 2018 because “Arizona’s Democratic talent bench was short and its base desperate for victory.”

Her Senate victory over McSally, who was later appointed to fill the seat of the original “maverick,” the late Republican Sen. John McCain, seemed only to reinforce her independent streak. In addition to her net neutrality sacrilege, Sinema is joining Republican colleagues to address paid family leave. According to Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is leading the effort, Sinema was the first to cross the aisle on it, making it “the first bill that is bipartisan” on the issue. The plan, Cassidy told the Washington Examiner in early April, is likely to involve Social Security, perhaps allowing people to take benefits earlier to pay for family leave in return for delaying retirement.

Sinema signed on to an effort led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to get the Commerce Department to release a classified report on auto tariffs and national security. She took heat from pro-abortion groups for supporting one of Trump’s judges, Arizona District Court nominee Michael Liburdi, in February. She was also one of only three Democrats to back the confirmation of Attorney General William Barr. She defended her vote in a statement: “As Arizona’s senior Senator, I will evaluate every presidential nominee based on whether he or she is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of his or her agency, and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law as it exists. After meeting with Mr. Barr and thoughtfully considering his nomination, I believe Mr. Barr meets this criteria.”

Perhaps most significant, however, was Sinema’s reaction to the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Omar is one of the members of the “Squad,” most notably the freshman trio of Omar, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ocasio-Cortez, who has turned her social media fame and grassroots devotion into an ability to set congressional Democrats’ priorities. An example is her climate boondoggle, the Green New Deal. It’s opposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but that didn’t stop Democratic presidential hopefuls from signing on to it. This tension really came to a head over Israel, however.

Omar has repeatedly accused American Jews of dual loyalty. On one occasion, she claimed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, was paying off politicians to put Israel’s welfare before America’s. Tlaib had made similar dual-loyalty insinuations. Ocasio-Cortez stood by her colleagues, and when Pelosi tried to pass a resolution criticizing Omar’s anti-Semitism, Ocasio-Cortez and the grassroots led a revolt and won. The resolution was broadened far beyond anti-Semitism, and the final version was aimed at white nationalists more than anyone else. In March, the pro-Israel lobbying group held its annual conference, and Omar pushed Democrats to avoid it.

What was Sinema’s reaction to all this? The day of Omar’s tweet about the group, Sinema was at its regional dinner. The next morning, she tweeted: “Our support for a secure Israel as a beacon of democracy must remain unwavering. Proud to speak at @AIPAC‘s Phoenix dinner last night about strengthening and deepening this alliance.” She also spoke at the group’s national conference on March 25.

With Democrats increasingly souring on the alliance with Israel, Sinema is determined to stand athwart history shouting “Stop.”

Is her maverick status sustainable, or will pressure to conform amid increasing polarization be too strong? “My guess is if she’s going to have a primary challenge,” Brad Bannon, president of the D.C.-based Bannon Communications Research, told the Washington Examiner, “it’ll be more likely she gets a primary challenge from a Latino, because of the demography of the state, more than an ideological challenge.” Bannon says, “Politics is very much a function of the state you represent.” And Sinema “represents a state that is about as closely divided, in partisan terms, as you can get.”

Perhaps being a maverick in the McCain mold is the way to survive in Arizona statewide politics. For Sinema, that required transcending her reputation for radical anti-war politicking in the early 2000s. She was up to the task. “Few blue state politicians have the range to pull off that transformation, or the electoral room to pull it off,” says Todd. More Democrats, Todd told the Washington Examiner, should be taking notes: “I have been surprised [Alabama Sen.] Doug Jones has not tried it. Or that [former Missouri Sen.] Claire McCaskill didn’t try it.”

Despite the heat Sinema is taking from her left flank, Bannon thinks Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other party floor leaders will happily shrug off left-wing complaints: “My guess is Chuck Schumer doesn’t care. He’s trying to assemble a Democratic Senate majority, and in order to do that, he’s going to accommodate Kyrsten Sinema and other Democrats like her who may be running for either open seats or GOP seats in 2020.” Party leaders understand reality, Bannon told the Washington Examiner, and “the reality is, you can have a caucus that is monolithically liberal or monolithically conservative, but you can’t have a monolithic caucus if you’re in the majority.”

For that reason, Bannon says, “they’re willing to accommodate mavericks like Kyrsten Sinema.”

Seth Mandel is executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine.


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