In the two years before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hackers targeted a number of prominent political organizations of both parties, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and managed to steal a trove of documents pertaining to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. The hackers got ahold of private e-mails, including those belonging to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, and John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair. Some of these exchanges discussed hot-button issues such as the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising or suggested that senior DNC figures had sought to aid Clinton in her primary campaign against Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
As the presidential election drew near, a number of websites, including WikiLeaks, began publishing the stolen e-mails, fueling right-wing conspiracy theories about Clinton and generating anger among Sanders supporters. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, seized on the leaks to criticize his opponent; “I love WikiLeaks!” he declared at a rally in October. Meanwhile, Democrats seethed as reports emerged that the hackers were linked to Russian military and intelligence agencies.
Those rumors were officially confirmed in early October when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement asserting that the Russian government had been behind the hacking, which aimed to interfere with the election. In January, the ODNI released a declassified report stating even more definitively that the hacking had been part of a Russian attempt to “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order” by sowing chaos and eroding faith in the democratic process. “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever: the Russians interfered in our election,” James Comey, the former director of the FBI, said in testimony before Congress in June. Comey had previously issued a warning about the Russians: “They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018, and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord.”
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