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Little Damage Done to Clinton in Email Hack

     (CN) — As the race for the White House entered its final hours Monday, Wikileaks disclosed the last batch of emails hacked from Hillary Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta. But the thousands of leaks don't appear to have damaged Clinton's image where it matters most: in the minds of voters.
     This past July, when Wikileaks first hinted at the possession of a cache of emails related to Clinton, the group's founder Julian Assange publicly declared he had information that "could proceed to an indictment."
     These pronouncements were made after Wikileaks released hacked emails of seven staffers at the Democratic National Committee, causing a shockwave that shook the upper levels of the DNC and culminated with the resignation of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
     But after Clinton's expected post-Democratic Convention bounce in late July, Assange began alluding to the Podesta emails and said he had enough to harm Clinton's campaign for the presidency.
     Since Oct. 7, Wikileaks has released anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 emails per day hacked from Podesta's account.
     But while the emails have provided insight into the mechanics of Clinton's campaign — staffers and allies developing slogans, addressing their candidate's shortcomings, managing the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation, the private server scandal and her battle with an insurgent candidate in Bernie Sanders — there was a notable lack of incriminating evidence as to Clinton's perceived corruption.
     Even the most damning of the emails have an air of ambivalence about them, shooting down claims that Assange has unearthed the smoking gun.
     Perhaps the most prominent example came in an email dated March 2, 2015, in which Podesta urges longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills to dump Clinton's emails.
     "We are going to have to dump those emails so better to do so sooner than later," he wrote.
     While Clinton's opponents have attempted to use this as evidence of a mass cover-up by claiming that Podesta encouraged Mills to delete Clinton's emails en masse, others argue that the word dump — when it comes to emails — is synonymous with disclosure.
     In other words, Podesta could just as easily have been asking Mills to prepare to all of the emails for disclosure to the State Department as asking her to scrub them. And the fact that his time frame was a casual "sooner than later" rather than the "immediately" one would expect from someone racing to prevent disclosure lends more credence to the innocuous interpretation.
     Similarly, another email from top Clinton aide Huma Abedin offers the same interpretative ambiguities.
     "Just to give you some context, the condition upon which the Moroccans agreed to host the meeting was her participation," Abedin wrote to a group of Clinton staffers on Jan. 8, 2015.
     Abedin told staffers that Moroccan leaders agreed to host an important conference at Hillary Clinton's request and it would "break a lot of china to back out now."
     She added, "The King has personally committed approximately $12 million both for the endowment and to support the meeting. She created this mess and she knows it."
     Clinton critics have claimed Abedin's email unmistakably demonstrates that Hillary Clinton engaged in pay-to-play schemes, pressuring foreign dignitaries to contribute to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for access to her when she was Secretary of State. They say the "she created this mess" line is proof, but it could just as easily be an aide expressing frustration over a scheduling snafu.
     Secondly, the email was written and talks about events nearly two years removed from Clinton's tenure as the nation's top diplomat.
     But while not exactly the smoking gun that "could proceed to an indictment" that Assange predicted, Abedin's email does demonstrate why there is concern about the Clinton Foundation, and others like it show that foreign autocrats with spotty human rights records seem to be able to demand favors and access from the Clintons.
     Specifically, emails show dignitaries from Saudi Arabia and Qatar demanding favors from the Clintons after making sizable donations to the Clinton Foundation.
     In an Aug. 23, 2015 email, Amitabh Desai, foreign policy at the Clinton Foundation, told Podesta the Saudi Arabian king would be in New York and wanted a sit-down with Bill Clinton.
     "Manageable if he wants to do it," Desai said. "Not something that would be on our top 10 list of [Bill Clinton] requests."
     But once again, the email speaks to the lack of hard evidence of corruption lacking in the approximately 50,000 emails that were hacked from Podesta's account. And some of the biggest revelations from the email dump have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton at all.
     Chelsea Clinton and long-time Clinton aide Doug Band wrestled for control of the Clinton Foundation, after Chelsea Clinton expressed concern Band was using her father to drum up business for his consulting company.
     Donna Brazille, a former pundit on CNN, appeared to feed questions to the Clinton camp prior to two debates with Bernie Sanders earlier this year — although there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton or anyone in her camp asked her to do so.
     Politico reporter Glenn Thrush was caught showing his story to Clinton staffers prior to publication in a very atypical act for reporters that raised questions about whether reporters in Washington attempted to get cozy with Clinton and her camp in exchange for access.
     But Hillary Clinton's personal culpability in these practices are either nil or negligible.
     Most of all, the Podesta emails provide interesting insight into how a national campaign for president is run. Staffers pour over word choice, spending eight-email replies on a five-sentence statement, agonizing over unfavorable press coverage and exulting when Clinton gave an interview or performed in a way they viewed as spot-on.
     But there was nothing indictment-worthy in the cache, nothing that could harm her campaign. And for a candidate who was and continues to be dogged by allegations of corruption, this lack of substantive dirt represents a small victory that may have even assisted her march to the White House.
     For Assange, the story is different. Hailed as a hero along the lines of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Podesta email dump can only be construed as a defeat. Not only has it not led to an indictment, it barely moved the needle in the election at all.
     In fact, if Clinton is bested by Donald Trump most Democrats will blame FBI Director James Comey, not Assange. And for an editor-in-chief of an organization dedicated to transparency and the Truth with a capital T, Assange and Wikileaks engaged in a lot of chicanery and even outright yellow journalism.
     When Cox Radio correspondent Jamie Dupree pointed out on Twitter in mid-October that the latest date on any of the Podesta emails was March 21, Wikileaks suggested it had more recent emails.
     "Well spotted. Something to look forward to," wrote someone who runs the website's official Twitter account.
     Those emails were never forthcoming.
     And then there was the 28th batch of emails, which Wikileaks labeled the "DOJ/FBI/HUMA Special." It was released on Nov. 3, amid the furor over Comey's revelation that FBI agents had found emails related to the private server scandal on a device Abedin shared with her estranged husband Anthony Weiner.
     A former congressman, Weiner is currently under investigation of exchanging sexually explicit text messages with an underage girl.
     But the batch contained little if any relevant information to the investigation, and read more like a ploy for attention.
     And the leaks have raised questions about whether the media should even be sifting through hacked information and if Wikileaks is really conducting the upright brand of dissident politics it claims.
     "Demanding transparency from the powerful is not a right to see every single private email anyone in a position of power ever sent or received," journalist Zeynep Tufekci wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.
     Wikileaks proponents will point to the disclosure of Clinton's paid Wall Street speeches, where she demonstrated a friendliness to the banking industry that belies what she expresses in public, or to her flip-flopping on the Keystone XL Pipeline, or similar public-private disparities relating to the Trans Pacific Partnership deal.
     But some argue those aren't really revelations: Voters have long known about Clinton's propensity to vacillate on major issues, to read the will of the people before going public with a position and making her move.
     And a growing body of commentators argue that in the case of Wikileaks and the use of hacked or stolen material in general, the ends do not justify the means.
     "All campaigns need to have internal discussions," Tufekci wrote. "Taking one campaign manager's email account and releasing it with zero curation in the last month of an election needs to be treated as what it is: political sabotage, not whistle-blowing."
     So while Assange set out to harm Hillary Clinton's image in the lead-up to Election Day, the image most damaged by the Podesta email leak may actually be his own.

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