This post has been updated.
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager alleged Sunday that Russia might be behind the leaking of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails in hopes of helping elect Donald Trump as president. It was a serious allegation -- an "extraordinary charge," in the words of The Washington Post's Tom Hamburger and Ellen Nakashima.
"There's evidence Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole those emails, and there are experts saying they are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump," Robby Mook said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I don't think it's coincidental these emails were released on the eve of our convention here."
There is indeed evidence and plenty of speculation that Russia could be behind the attack and that its leaders -- particularly President Vladimir Putin -- favor Trump. But it's also not totally clear at this early juncture. And yet, there was Mook connecting the dots.
And Mook and the Clinton campaign just got some high-profile help -- very high-profile.
First, President Obama suggested very much the same thing in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday evening.
“What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems, not just government systems but private systems,” Obama said. "What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that — I can’t say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.”
And then came Tuesday night's session of the Democratic National Convention. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright took the stage in support of Hillary Clinton and made an even more direct assertion.
"The truth is that a Trump victory in November would be a gift to Vladimir Putin, and given what we’ve learned about the [sic] Russia’s actions, Putin is eager to see Trump win," she said. "And that should worry every American. Take it from someone who fled the Iron Curtain. I know what happens when you give the Russians a green light."
(Albright was born in and fled what was then Czechoslovakia, in Eastern Europe.)
Again, this is a very suggestive statement. Albright doesn't say that she's referring to the DNC email leak, but it's easy to infer her meaning. And she even offers it as proof that Putin wants Trump as president.
For what it's worth, here's what we can say about the possible Russian connection to the attack, via Hamburger and Nakashima on Sunday:
The emails were released Friday on Twitter by WikiLeaks. The document dump follows a report last month by The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the DNC, gaining access to an entire database of opposition research, among other material. ...
Last month, the forensic firm CrowdStrike said two competing Russian intelligence hacker groups penetrated the DNC’s computers. In the past 24 hours, cybersecurity experts have said that the email cache released by WikiLeaks on Friday appears to have been given to the anti-secrecy group by Russian intelligence.
Thomas Rid, a professor at King’s College London, said in an interview that in a private chat on Twitter on Saturday, he communicated with the entity that claimed to have released the email cache to WikiLeaks.
The party, which calls itself Guccifer2, last month claimed responsibility for the DNC hack. Several independent analysts have concluded that Guccifer2, who claimed to be Romanian, is likely linked to Russia.
“We’ve been looking at this very closely from both the technical and non-technical spheres,” said Richard Barger, chief information officer for ThreatConnect, a cyber-intelligence software firm. “Based on our analysis, we strongly feel Guccifer2 is linked to a Russian information operations campaign and is not the independent Romanian hacker that he claims to be.”
The New York Times expanded on this reporting Tuesday, saying that intelligence officials have "high confidence" Russia is indeed behind the DNC email leak.
But, importantly, these officials also said they weren't sure the cyberattack was aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election -- as Obama and Albright strongly suggested Tuesday:
American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.
But intelligence agencies have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee’s computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage — of the kind the United States also conducts around the world — or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.
The motives of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though, are more apparent. He said in recent weeks that he had damaging emails related to Hillary Clinton and suggested that he would be releasing them to hurt her candidacy. Per the Times:
Assange's remarks in a June 12 interview underscored that for all the drama of the discord that the disclosures have sown among supporters of Bernie Sanders — and of the unproven speculation that the Russian government provided the hacked data to WikiLeaks in order to help Donald Trump — the disclosures are also the latest chapter in the long-running tale of Assange's battles with the Obama administration.
In the interview, Assange told a British television host, Robert Peston of the ITV network, that his organization had obtained "emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication," which he pronounced "great." He also suggested that he not only opposed her candidacy on policy grounds but also saw her as a personal foe.
Despite the caution in the intelligence community, it is easy to connect the dots and make the case that Russia and/or Putin is trying to help Trump. Trump has praised Putin, and Putin has praised Trump. There is strong evidence that DNC emails were hacked by Russian government hackers. These particular leaked emails were released at an inopportune time for Clinton -- just ahead of the Democratic National Convention. Assange basically said they were released by WikiLeaks for that purpose.
Russia is denying it, and the Trump campaign says the idea the Putin wants President Trump just isn't founded.
But Democrats have clearly made the calculation that this is an allegation they want to make, even if the evidence is incomplete. And the additions of reputable foreign policy voices -- an incumbent president and a former secretary of state -- to the argument suggests Democrats plan to press this hard in the 2016 election.