The former chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has endorsed a campaign by 10 electoral college voters to get a briefing on Russian influence in Donald Trump's victory. In a Monday afternoon statement, John Podesta chided the media for not raising more questions before the election and endorsed the idea of security clearances for the holdout electors.
“We believe that the Administration owes it to the American people to explain what it knows regarding the extent and manner of Russia's interference and this be done as soon as possible,” Podesta said. “To that end, we also support the request from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to declassify information around Russia's roles in the election and to make this data available to the public.”
For the second time in less than a month, the remnants of the Clinton campaign were being pulled into an effort to question the surprise Republican victory. The week of Thanksgiving, Clinton attorney Marc Elias — the preeminent Democratic lawyer on election challenges — said the campaign would “participate” as Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein sought recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Despite a surge of online donations that dwarfed her campaign's spending, Stein's recount effort has made few dents since then, and is not expected to change the result in any state.
The mini-revolt by the 10 electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — is cheaper but no less complicated. In an open letter Monday morning, Christine Pelosi, a Clinton delegate and the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said that the electors saw their coming vote, on Dec. 19, as the end of a “deliberative process.” The clear implication was that without more information, electors would be within their rights to deny Trump the presidency.
“The Electors require to know from the intelligence community whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election, the scope of those investigations, how far those investigations may have reached, and who was involved in those investigations,” Pelosi wrote. “We further require a briefing on all investigative findings, as these matters directly impact the core factors in our deliberations of whether Mr. Trump is fit to serve as President of the United States.”
Both the Stein recount and the Pelosi letter have found Trump's transition team calling the Democrats sore losers, for engaging questions about the election after deriding the Republican nominee's worries that the election would be “rigged.” But Pelosi and Podesta share one goal: forcing a rethink of how the media covered the potential role of Russian hackers in several timely sabotages of the Clinton campaign. One hack, which released emails from the Democratic National Committee shortly before the party's convention, led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair.
The second hack, of Podesta's own email, led to more than 30 days of negative stories on everything from Clinton's speeches to banks (revealed in memos) to a conspiracy theory about a “pedophile ring” run out of a hipster pizza parlor. From the first hack through the election, Podesta led the Clinton campaign in a dismissive response: There would be no response to the content of the emails, because they had been stolen to sabotage the campaign and could not be verified.
That response did not quiet the coverage or questions about the hacked emails. When confronted on TV or in press scrums, Podesta et al. would blow off the question or mention Russia. Left-wing critics of the Clinton campaign reacted with scorn and disbelief, mocking the Clintonites for “redbaiting” and asking voters to ignore the content of emails between Podesta and campaign staff.
There's little precedent for security clearances being granted as quickly as the electors are asking — a turnaround of just seven days.