The cascade of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election includes a darker undercurrent from some senior Democrats: What if Moscow had American help? Hillary Clinton, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have all stoked speculation that American insiders may have helped the Russians orchestrate their wide-ranging hacking and disinformation campaign — including with guidance on which political targets to exploit and what kinds of leaked information would most resonate with swing voters. The Democrats got backup from former FBI Director James Comey, who told lawmakers in June he was sure law enforcement would work to determine “if any Americans were part of helping the Russians.” But so far, no public evidence has surfaced that any Americans coordinated with Moscow’s digital army in selecting targets for hacking, strategically deploying the purloined documents for maximum political impact — a point echoed by research firms investigating the election-year hacks.
And some Republicans say Democrats are playing a dangerous game by stoking such a charged storyline without evidence, saying that if it doesn’t pan out it could unravel public acceptance of the whole notion of Russia meddling. Some also consider it a distraction from the more pressing discussion about protecting future elections. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Democrats might be groping in the dark with their “insider” theory. “Maybe they’re trying to pin the tail on some donkey here,” he said.
But McAuliffe, a former DNC chairman, predicted that such evidence would emerge from the myriad probes. “Somebody had to give these people a road map,” he said in an interview with POLITICO.
Clinton aired similar suspicions during a public appearance in May, pointing to the politically charged timing of WikiLeaks’ October dumps of stolen emails from her campaign chairman. “I think it is fair to ask, how did they know what messages to deliver?” Clinton said. “Who told them?”