Wild and Reckless Speculation: The Podesta E-mails

The recent deluge of e-mails released by Wikileaks from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta is unceasing. We’ve seen countless examples of media manipulation. We’ve seen what could be illegal coordination between super PACs. We’ve seen Jake Tapper get called a ‘Richard’, and we’re not even at the half-way mark.

As usual with Wikileaks the debate over journalistic ethics have been fascinating; the legal discussion illuminating. Revelations aside, I’ve posted at the Daily Kos recently about the importance of evaluating all claims and sticking to the facts. I argued there are dire consequences to blaming Wikileaks and the Russians without concrete evidence, that journalists of all stripes SHOULD be discussing and reporting on relevant contents from all sides.

I could write a post about specific correspondence and explain how terrible or how illegal I consider them to be. I could rant about corruption and the erosion of democratic principles until they’ve twisted and snapped under the groaning weight of political machines now decades old.

Instead, here in my first post on Medium, I’m going to indulge a bit of speculation on ancient history to see if it holds water.

First, some facts. The Podesta leaks span dates as far back as 2007 during the democratic primary until late March 2016. The e-mails include direct correspondence from Hillary, Obama, top officials and the wealthiest folk in the world.

The problem with a conspiracy theory is its lack of evidence. Most ‘good’ ones are based on an easily believable warrant. It’s easy to think back on several Obama-Hillary conspiracies. One that has been drudged up and spread around thanks to these leaks is Hillary being promised Secretary of State for her endorsement of Barack Obama.

“Who cares,” you might ask, “that’s nothing worth writing about — obviously they came to work together in the end.”

When Donald Trump recently suggested an appointment in return for an endorsement from his primary opponent Ben Carson, Politico weighed in with some facts. Under 18 U.S. Code § 599, promises of appointments for endorsements are illegal, carrying up to two years in prison.

So what do we know? What might justify speculative discussion on nearly a decades old conspiracy theory?

An October 6th, 2008 e-mail from Mike Froman to Barack Obama entitled “Diversity” includes lists of potential minority and female appointees. Many of whom were appointed to those positions, including Hillary Clinton who was slated for Secretary of Health and Human Services or the State Department.

Note the date. Hillary conceded the democratic nomination and endorsed Barack Obama on June, 7th 2008. This e-mail from Froman, a former Citigroup heavy weight, doesn’t prove any conspiracy. Sent four and a half months after Hillary’s endorsement, all it shows is that Froman (who served in many roles during Bill Clinton’s administration) thought highly of then Senator Clinton. Or that those he consulted did.

Nothing suspect about that.

So here’s where the reckless speculation comes in. What if Wikileaks is to release e-mail correspondence between the Clinton camp and Obama over concession timelines, endorsements or appointments. Even if those e-mails exist, they may take place after Clinton had already endorsed Obama.

They also may be before/during. [← reckless speculation]

John Podesta would later become Obama’s ‘Counselor to the President’ for over a year, stepping down in February 2015. Two months before Clinton formally announced her candidacy. The tight-knit web of powerful, wealthy people brings out the worst conspiracy theorists. The Podesta e-mails are like a bug zapper — just when someone thinks they’ve found the smoking gun…


… we’re depressingly reminded that the internet embellishes the smallest things and that unethical does not always mean illegal. There is no evidence for us to believe there was an exchange between Obama and Clinton for an appointment in 2008. Even if there was anything beyond the rantings of fringe conservatives, I have no clue about the statute of limitations. Regardless, with tens of thousands of messages still to be released there’s a wild feeling in the air that begs the question: what’s next?

We can’t know something until we know, and we should fight the desire to veer off into reckless speculation except to interrogate it. When they’re all released these e-mails hold the ability to dispel nearly as much rumor as they generate. I’ll strive to add my voice to the chorus of folk doing the tedious work of separating the crap from the dirt.

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About the Author:
Samuel Ross is an independent drafting contractor who volunteer coaches High School Policy Debate in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He and his partner were the 2009 Virginia State AAA Policy Debate Champs. At 25, he barely clings onto calling himself a ‘young person’.