BloombergBusinessweek reports: Early on in his captivity, Assange attempted to learn how to play poker. He was awful at reading his fellow players and poorly equipped to hide his own emotions when he tried to bluff. “He is not capable of faking stuff,” says [Angela] Richter [a theater director and WikiLeaks collaborator who remains a friend of Assange]. She recalls that Assange eventually gave up looking at his opponents’ faces at all and spent the games staring exclusively at the cards on the table. “That’s when he started to win.”
Richter brings this up when I ask her to explain Assange’s apparent support of Trump. “He is shameless,” she concedes, referring to Assange’s anti-Clinton tweets. “But I think he only seems to make mistakes in the moment because he is seven or eight steps ahead.” She opposes Trump but sees Assange’s recent political advocacy as the result of a cold and totally reasonable calculation about what is best for WikiLeaks. “For him, the choice of Trump and Clinton is bad and bad,” Richter says. “Of course, he’s taking the chance to intervene. He might think Trump is terrible, but it might be more interesting to have Trump. If Hillary becomes president, it’ll all be the same.”
Put another way: Assange sees an opportunity in derailing the Clinton candidacy — a chance to reassert WikiLeaks’s relevance by helping to dent the legacy of one of the most powerful political families in America while at the same time elevating an unlikely candidate to the highest office on earth. If you’re in the business of critiquing power structures, it doesn’t really get any better than that.
Assange’s turn toward Trump has also exposed WikiLeaks to a large and previously untapped audience of conspiracy-minded, antigovernment types. “He’s going on shows like Hannity [on Fox News] because they will have him,” says James Spione, who directed the whistleblower documentary Silenced. In Spione’s view, the Trump flirtation is a put-on, a chance to get Assange and his organization in front of viewers. “He’s being pragmatic,” Spione says. In a recent tweet, WikiLeaks claimed that its approval ratings in the U.S. were up 27 percent over the past three years, an apparent validation of the new strategy.
The idea that Assange is mugging for Trump supporters to get attention is a cynical motivation to attribute to such an idealistic fellow, but the same explanation could easily apply to CNN or any of the hundreds of other respectable media outlets that have simultaneously scolded Trump’s daily transgressions while lavishing his campaign with nonstop coverage. Trump has in turn become an expert at using outrageous statements to earn free airtime from news outlets eager for ratings and page views. Trump is now a few points away from the presidency, despite his recent troubles and the fact that he has spent almost nothing on political advertising.
Assange has said that he expects Clinton to be elected president, “almost certainly,” but the possibility of a Trump win may also be motivating his calculation about whom to support. Assange believes that the Obama administration, with then-Secretary Clinton playing a leading role, pushed for him to be investigated criminally. It’s hard to imagine Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department when Assange’s source hacked it, would pursue WikiLeaks any less vigorously than Obama has. As if to make the point, WikiLeaks recently tweeted an anonymously sourced report that claimed Clinton had once asked, “Can’t we just drone this guy?” in reference to Assange. (Clinton said she did not recall making the statement and that if she had, it would have been a joke.)
Meanwhile, Ecuador will hold a presidential election in early 2017, and the current head of state (and Assange’s main protector), President Rafael Correa, has indicated he won’t run for reelection. “That might provoke a deep fear for Assange,” says Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a former WikiLeaks contributor who is now a member of parliament in Iceland. Her theory is that Assange might worry that with Correa out, Ecuador could reject his asylum claim, effectively sending him into the arms of the U.S.. If that were to happen, Assange might prefer that the U.S. be run by President Trump rather than President Clinton.
The Trump campaign declined to say whether a Trump administration would seek to pursue Assange. The Republican candidate cited WikiLeaks twice during the second presidential debate. In addition, a number people close to Trump have given hints that he might view Assange more favorably than Clinton. The day after the WikiLeaks press conference, Trump ally Roger Stone, who has previously referred to Assange as “a freedom fighter” and “a truth teller,” told Jones that the rape case against Assange was “a complete frame.” Stone expressed confidence that an October Surprise is still forthcoming. “This payload is coming,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Meanwhile, Politico reports: “I love WikiLeaks!” Donald Trump exclaimed at a rally Monday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, exuberant about the hack of the personal email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. [Continue reading…]