Podesta emails

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In March 2016, the personal Gmail account of John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff and the chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, was compromised in a data breach, and a collection of his emails, many of which were work-related, were stolen. One cybersecurity firm has attributed the responsibility for the breach, which was accomplished via a spear-phishing attack, to the hacking group Fancy Bear, affiliated with Russian intelligence services.[1]

Some or all of the Podesta mails were subsequently obtained by WikiLeaks, which published over 20,000 pages of emails, allegedly from Podesta, in October and November 2016.[2] Podesta and the Clinton campaign have declined to authenticate the emails.[3] Cybersecurity experts interviewed by PolitiFact believe the majority of emails are probably unaltered, while stating it is possible that the hackers inserted at least some doctored or fabricated emails into the collection.[4]

Data theft

Researchers from the Atlanta-based cybersecurity firm Dell SecureWorks reported that the emails had been obtained through a data theft carried out by the hacker group Fancy Bear, a group of Russian intelligence-linked hackers that were also responsible for cyberattacks that targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), resulting in WikiLeaks publishing emails from those hacks.[5][6]

SecureWorks concluded Fancy Bear had sent Podesta an email on 19 March 2016 that had the appearance of a Google security alert, but was in-fact a fake link—a strategy known as spear-phishing. (This tactic has also been used by hackers to break into the accounts of other notable persons, such as Colin Powell). The link—which used Bitly, a URL shortening service—brought Podesta to a fake log-in page where he entered his Gmail credentials.[1][6][7][8]

SecureWorks had tracked the activities of Fancy Bear for more than a year before the cyberattack, and in June 2016 had reported the group made use of malicious Bitly links and fake Google login pages to trick targets into divulging their passwords.[6] However, as the New York Times reported: "The hackers made a critical error by leaving some of their Bitly accounts public, making it possible for SecureWorks to trace 9,000 of their links to nearly 4,000 Gmail accounts targeted between October 2015 and May 2016 with fake Google login pages and security alerts designed to trick users into turning over their passwords."[6] Of this list of targeted accounts, more than one hundred were policy advisors to Clinton, or members of her presidential campaign, and by June, twenty staff members had clicked on the phishing links.[6]


Cybersecurity experts interviewed by PolitiFact believe that while most of the emails are probably unaltered, it is possible the hackers inserted some doctored or fabricated material into the collection.[4]

Jeffrey Carr, CEO of the cybersecurity company Taia Global, stated: "I've looked at a lot of document dumps provided by hacker groups over the years, and in almost every case you can find a few altered or entirely falsified documents. But only a few. The vast majority were genuine. I believe that's the case with the Podesta emails, as well."[4]

Security bloggers have authenticated the contents of some of the emails by using the DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) contained in these emails' signatures.[9] However, not all of the emails have DKIM keys in their signature, and thus cannot be verified with this method.[4]


On 7 October 2016, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails that it alleged were from Podesta's Gmail account.[2] Throughout October, WikiLeaks released installments of the Podesta emails on a daily basis.[10]

On 17 October 2016 the government of Ecuador severed the internet connection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.[11] The Ecuadorian government stated that it had "temporarily" severed Assange's internet connection because of WikiLeaks' release of documents "impacting on the U.S. election campaign," although it also stated this was not meant to prevent WikiLeaks from operating.[12] WikiLeaks continued releasing installments of the Podesta emails during this time.[11]


Some of the emails provide some insight into the inner workings of the Clinton campaign.[13][14] For example, the emails show a discussion among campaign manager Robby Mook and top aides about possible campaign themes and slogans.[3] Other emails reveal insights about the internal conflicts of the Clinton Foundation.[15]

One of the emails released on 12 October 2016 included Podesta's iCloud account password. His iCloud account was reportedly hacked, and his Twitter account was briefly compromised.[16][17] Some were emails that Barack Obama and Podesta exchanged in 2008.[18]

Discussion of donations from foreign interests

An email chain from April 2015 shows the Clinton campaign debating whether or not it should take cash from foreign governments registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).[19] Campaign lawyer Marc Elias opted for a case-by-case process of accepting these donations. Robby Mook agreed with Elias's proposal.[19] Jennifer Palmieri replied to the thread, writing "Take the money!!"[20] A week later, Clinton read about her staffers' decision to accept FARA money and wanted to hold a meeting about their decision.[21][22]

Clinton's Wall Street speeches

One of the emails contained 25 excerpts from Clinton's paid Wall Street speeches that a staffer had flagged as politically problematic.[23][24] Another leaked document included eighty pages of Clinton's Wall Street speeches.[25]

The excerpts came up in two of the presidential debates between Clinton and Trump. In one of the debates, the moderator Lester Holt quoted an excerpt saying that politicians "need both a public and a private position" and asked Clinton if it was okay for politicians to be "two-faced." Clinton replied, "As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie Abraham Lincoln. It was a master class watching president Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th amendment, it was principled and strategic. I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do."[26] In the third presidential debate, the moderator Chris Wallace quoted a speech excerpt where Clinton says, "My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders," and asked if she was for open borders. Clinton replied, "If you went on to read the rest of the sentence, I was talking about energy. We trade more energy with our neighbors than we trade with the rest of the world combined. And I do want us to have an electric grid, an energy system that crosses borders."[27][28]

Catholic opinion

Sandy Newman wrote to Podesta: "I have not thought at all about how one would 'plant the seeds of the revolution', or who would plant them."[29][30][31] Podesta agreed that this was necessary to do as Newman suggested and wrote back to note that they had created groups like Catholics in Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United to push for a more progressive approach to the faith, change would "have to be bottom up."[32][33][30][34]

Raymond Arroyo responded; “It makes it seem like you're creating organizations to change the core beliefs of the church”, he said.[29] “For someone to come and say, 'I have a political organization to change your church to complete my political agenda or advance my agenda', I don't know how anybody could embrace that.”[29] Professor Anne Hendershott drew attention to the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, which she called “fake catholic groups”.[30] Professor Robert P. George added that “these groups are political operations constructed to masquerade as organizations devoted to the Catholic faith”.[35] On his diocesan website Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote ironically: “Of course it would be wonderful for the Clinton campaign to repudiate the content of these ugly WikiLeaks emails. All of us backward-thinking Catholics who actually believe what Scripture and the Church teach would be so very grateful.”[36][37][38]

Supporters and members of Donald Trump's campaign called the email exchange evidence of anti-Catholic sentiment in the Democratic Party.[39] Halpin verified that he had written the email; though he contested claims that the it was "anti-Catholic" and stated it was taken out of context. He explained that he sent the email to his Catholic colleagues "to make a fleeting point about perceived hypocrisy and the flaunting of one's faith by prominent conservative leaders."[40]

Debate questions shared by Donna Brazile

On 11 October 2016, a Podesta emails installment included an email Donna Brazile sent on 12 March 2016 to Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri with the subject header "From time to time I get questions in advance."[41] In the email, Brazile discussed her concern of Clinton's ability to field a question regarding the death penalty. The following day Clinton would receive the question about the death penalty, verbatim from an audience member at the CNN-hosted Town Hall event.[42] Brazile denied giving the Clinton campaign advance warning about the debate. According to CNNMoney, the debate moderator Roland Martin "did not deny sharing information with Brazile." CNN has since severed ties with the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, after hacked emails from WikiLeaks showed that she shared questions for CNN-sponsored candidate events in advance with friends on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In a statement regarding her resignation, CNN said:

"On October 14th, CNN accepted Donna Brazile's resignation as a CNN contributor. (Her deal had previously been suspended in July when she became the interim head of the DNC.) CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate. We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor."[43][44][45][46][47][48]

Saudi Arabia and Qatar

A 2014 email allegedly written by Clinton to Podesta states that the United States should place pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia to stop funding ISIS and other radical groups in the region.[49] According to The Intercept, Clinton's email is at odds with the public position of the Obama administration that Saudi Arabia is among the most important counterterrorism partners of the United States.[49] According to Julian Assange, this is the most significant email of all those leaked.[50] It is unclear if Clinton personally authored the email.[51]


Zeynep Tufekci criticized how WikiLeaks handled the release of these emails. Regarding this, Tufekci wrote that, "Taking one campaign manager's email account and releasing it with zero curation in the last month of an election needs to be treated as what it is: political sabotage, not whistle-blowing."[52] Glen Caplin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said, "By dribbling these out every day WikiLeaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing [Vladimir] Putin's dirty work to help elect Donald Trump."[25] When asked, president Vladimir Putin replied that Russia was being falsely accused. He said, "The hysteria is merely caused by the fact that somebody needs to divert the attention of the American people from the essence of what was exposed by the hackers."[53][54]

See also


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Stein, Jeff. "What 20,000 pages of hacked WikiLeaks emails teach us about Hillary Clinton". Vox. Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Leaked emails show slogans Clinton campaign considered". 19 October 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Carroll, Lauren (23 October 2016). "Are the Clinton WikiLeaks emails doctored, or are they authentic?". PolitiFact. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  5. Geller, Eric (20 October 2016). "Russian hackers infiltrated Podesta's email, security firm says". Politico. Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Perlroth, Nicole; Shear, Michael D. (20 October 2016). "Private Security Group Says Russia Was Behind John Podesta's Email Hack". New York Times. 
  7. Murnane, Kevin (21 October 2016). "How John Podesta's Emails Were Hacked And How To Prevent It From Happening To You". Fortune. 
  8. Norton, Ben (21 October 2016). "Clinton campaign chair John Podesta gave his email login info to hackers after clicking on phishing link". Salon. 
  9. "Tech blogger finds proof DNC chief's emails weren't 'doctored' despite claims". Fox News. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  10. Sankin, Aaron (18 October 2016). "Ecuador Says It Cut Julian Assange's Internet Access For Trying to Influence U.S. Election". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Couts, Andrew. "WikiLeaks publishes more Podesta emails after Ecuador cuts Assange's internet". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  12. Bennett, Cory. "Ecuador admits restricting internet access for WikiLeaks over election meddling". Politico. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  13. Cheney, Kyle; Wheaton, Sarah. "The most revealing Clinton campaign emails in WikiLeaks release". Politico. Retrieved 9 October 2016. 
  14. Berman, Dan; Merica, Dan (10 October 2016). "WikiLeaks posts more John Podesta emails". CNN. Retrieved 11 October 2016. 
  15. Vogel, Kenneth P. (11 October 2016). "Chelsea flagged 'serious concerns' about Clinton Foundation conflicts". Politico. Retrieved 7 November 2016. 
  16. Goodin, Dan (13 October 2016). "Clinton campaign chief's iPhone was hacked and wiped, photos suggest". Ars Technica. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
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  28. Sherman, Amy (19 October 2016). "Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton wants to have open borders". PolitiFact. Retrieved 22 October 2016. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Pulliam Bailey, Sarah. "WikiLeaks emails appear to show Clinton spokeswoman joking about Catholics and evangelicals". Washington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2016. 
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Hendershott, Anne. "Fake Catholic Groups and the "Catholic Spring" Emails". Catholic World Repor. Retrieved October 20, 2016. 
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External links