In 2016, in the middle of the US presidential elections, WikiLeaks published around 20,000 internal emails of key staff of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as well as of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. The publication occurred immediately before the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia, at which Clinton was to be nominated the party’s presidential candidate. The published correspondence provided evidence of strong bias within the Committee against Clinton’s strongest competitor, Bernie Sanders. Apparently, Sanders’s nomination was to be prevented at all costs, including through deliberate defamation. As a consequence, the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign. The second leak occurred on 6 November, only two days before the presidential election, in which Clinton ended up winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college to the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

No other publication has cost Assange as much goodwill in the United States as the DNC Leaks. The American liberal establishment, including many political figures, business leaders, Hollywood stars and other celebrities, struggled to come to terms with this defeat. How could the venerable Democratic Party, with a candidate as prominent as Hillary Clinton, have lost to someone like Donald Trump, widely despised as crude and self-absorbed? The truth is, of course, that all of the compromising emails had been written by Clinton, her staff and supporters – not by Assange. The truth is that Clinton lost the election because of her own conduct and that of the Democratic Party, not that of Assange. The truth is that in any democratic election process, exposing the dirty secrets of political candidates is an indispensable function of journalists. The truth is that even political celebrities such as Hillary Clinton are not ‚entitled‘ to electoral victory but have to earn it themselves. And the hardest truth is that it was not WikiLeaks that gave Donald Trump the presidency, but the American people, in an American election, based on the American Constitution.

All of these truths rose to the surface of public consciousness, but were too painful to face and, therefore, were immediately suppressed back into the subconscious. As the German poet Christian Morgenstern famously said, ‚What cannot be, must not be!‘ A scapegoat was urgently needed, and so Assange was accused of having manipulated the 2016 elections, prevented Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and helped Donald Trump into office. But even a scapegoat could not divert public attention forever from the longstanding misconduct that was the most likely cause for the colossal loss of confidence suffered by both established parties with the American people. What was needed was an external enemy. Sure enough, the mainstream press soon started disseminating the US intelligence agencies‘ favourite narrative of ‚Russian hacking‘.

Within days the Democratic Party accused the Russian Federation of stealing the emails and joining forces with Trump, Assange and WikiLeaks to manipulate the election.

—Nils Melzer, The Trial of Julian Assange, (London: Verso, 2022), 194-95.

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