WASHINGTON – WikiLeaks on Tuesday released its third cache of material allegedly stolen from the email account of John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.
While some of the emails are embarrassing for Clinton, the Democratic nominee, the release is being overshadowed by the political storm swirling around Donald Trump and his comments about grabbing women.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a vocal critic of Clinton, has promised to release scathing material about her campaign. Some had speculated that the siteâ€™s leaks could be an â€œOctober surpriseâ€ that shakes up the race.
But so far the surprise has been Trump, who is now openly warring with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan amid the fallout from his 2005 remarks about grabbing women .
Republican strategists say Trump is missing a golden opportunity by detracting attention from the WikiLeaks emails.
â€œYou only get one chance to maximize the impact of these developments when they come out,â€ said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, a contributor for The Hill.
â€œIf he was able to just drive a message, he would at least be able to hurt [Hilary Clinton] somewhat. Why heâ€™s not hammering her on [the State Department emails] is beyond me. The opportunity cost is unquantifiable.â€
Trumpâ€™s lost opportunity is also one for WikiLeaks, which for months failed to follow through on threats from Assange that he had enough information on Clinton to â€œproceed to indictment.â€
Earlier this month, Assange appeared at a morning press conference in Europe amid speculation he was about to reveal information that would be damaging for Clintonâ€™s White House bid. But Assange vanished from the videoconference without revealing anything new.
Still, WikiLeaks has isnâ€™t going down without a fight.
Emails released on Friday appeared to contain excerpts from the paid speeches that Clinton gave to Wall Street â€” speeches that Bernie Sanders had demanded she release during their primary battle. In one of the speeches, Clinton talked of the need to have â€œboth a public and a private positionâ€ on controversial issues.
The former first lady also said her familyâ€™s wealth had made her â€œkind of far removedâ€ from the problems facing the middle class.
On Tuesday, one of the leaked Podesta emails appeared to show that the Clinton campaign had been in contact with the Justice Department during an open records court case in which it was not a party. The Trump campaign said the email â€œshows a level of collusion which calls into question the entire investigation into her private server.â€
Trump has also seized on an email that revealed Clinton in one speech said that terrorism is â€œnot a threat to us as a nation,â€ clarifying, â€œit is not going to endanger our economy or our society, but it is a real threat.â€
In â€œa speech made behind closed doors, crooked Hillary Clinton said that terrorism was not a threat â€” quote, â€˜not a threat to the nation,â€™ â€ Trump said during a rally on Monday evening in Pennsylvania.
â€œDuring one of the secret speeches â€” amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the Internet â€” Hillary admitted that ISIS could infiltrate with the refugees,â€ he added, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. â€œThen why is she letting so many people into our country?â€
Some of the emails released have no bearing on the campaign at all.
In one message, Podesta offers advice for cooking risotto (donâ€™t add the water all at once). In others, the former guitarist for pop-punk band Blink-182, Tom DeLonge, suggests that Podesta meet with a variety of individuals, seemingly to discuss UFOs.
The release comes at a time when the intelligence community is casting doubt on WikiLeaks and its motives.
The Obama administration has publicly blamed Russia for the theft of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails â€” messages that were later released by WikiLeaks.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence called the theft and disclosure an attempt by the Russian government to â€œinterfereâ€ with the U.S. election.
â€œWe believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russiaâ€™s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,â€ the two agencies said.
â€œThe recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.â€
The anti-secrecy platform has long been controversial, thanks to its tendency to leak information indiscriminately, and security researchers now warn that it has been â€œweaponizedâ€ by foreign governments.
Itâ€™s unclear how the organization vets the information it receives for accuracy â€” security experts warn that it would be relatively easy for Russian intelligence to selectively edit the contents of stolen emails before passing them along to WikiLeaks.
The Clinton campaign has refused to confirm the authenticity of the Podesta missives, although Clinton herself responded to a question during Sundayâ€™s debate that was based on the emails.
But she insisted that â€œwe donâ€™t even know if itâ€™s accurate information, and then [WikiLeaks] puts it out.â€
â€œWe have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election. And believe me, theyâ€™re not doing it to get me elected. Theyâ€™re doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump,â€ she said.
Trump, meanwhile, has cast doubt on whether the hacks were carried out by Russia, or even if they occurred at all.
â€œAny time anything wrong happens they like to say, â€˜The Russians! The Russians!â€™ She doesnâ€™t know that itâ€™s the Russians doing the hacking,â€ the GOP nominee said.
â€œMaybe there is no hacking. And the reason they blame Russia is that they are trying to tarnish me with Russia.â€
That statement reportedly angered intelligence officials, who have briefed Trump on the DNC hacks and Russiaâ€™s involvement.
â€œEven after he was reportedly briefed on the very findings that were announced publicly by U.S. government officials, he stood on a debate stage twice and played dumb about Russiaâ€™s role in this hack,â€ Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin said in a statement.
By Katie Bo Williams and Julian Hattem | The Hill