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At first, the recent revelation via WikiLeaks that the Democratic National Committee exercised a bias in favor of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders didn’t seem like a big deal.
The thousands of leaked emails seemed to highlight what the Sanders camp had said all along: The system was rigged in favor of Clinton, with high-ranking Democrats like disgraced former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz expressing their open dislike of the Sanders campaign.
But what makes the leak disturbing isn’t just the inherent bias in the modern political establishment so much as how the leak happened in the first place — likely through hackers, known only as “Fancy Bear” and “Cozy Bear,” supported by the Russian government.
The attacks were not as ruinous as they might have been (“The Russians, after all, didn’t knock out a power grid,” Slate’s Franklin Foer wrote), given the seeming ease with which the hackers were able to access the DNC’s email servers for months, according to CNN. Yet the implications should at least scare anyone who holds dear the idea that America chooses its own leaders, many media outlets say, since Russian President Vladimir Putin may be using such embarrassing hacks to influence the election.
It’s no secret that GOP nominee Donald Trump and Putin have a cordial relationship — as NPR highlighted in a recent analysis, Putin has called Trump “brilliant,” while Trump has expressed warmth and readiness to cooperate with Putin.
“This pro-Kremlin tilt is unprecedented in the Republican Party and would represent a radical and dangerous shift in U.S. policy,” The Washington Post wrote in an editorial. “Whether there are non-political reasons for it is a fair question.”
But the ties between Trump and the Kremlin extend beyond political like-mindedness. Trump has Russian business connections and his campaign manager Paul Manafort has strong political and financial connections to Putin-endorsed ex-Ukranian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
While it’s not conclusive, many think this evidence points not simply to an embarrassing moment for the DNC, but one of the most high-handed efforts of a foreign power trying to swing an American election in its favor.
“This document dump wasn’t a high-minded act of transparency,” Foer wrote in Slate. “It’s a foreign power attempting to swing an election for its favored candidate.”
Which would be, as the Post editorial phrased it, “a disturbing first” for American politics.