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Trump, Russia, and Hillary’s Email: A Case Study in Stray Voltage

It’s been a long time since the DNC Media aggressively misquoted and mis-reported a story as thoroughly as Donald Trump’s comments on Hillary Clinton’s email at his July 27 press conference.

Dozens of things he did not actually say flowed through media headlines within minutes. One of the key words to look for was “essentially.” When you see a DNC Media report telling you that Trump “essentially” asked Russia to hack the U.S. government, or that they would be “rewarded” for doing so, you knew they were lying through their teeth.

It should be possible to honestly disagree with Trump’s provocative comments, but that was apparently beyond the ability of Hillary Clinton’s friends, donors, and former employees in the mainstream media… or Trump critics on the Right, who should have known better than to implicitly believe anything the press tells them.

Both Trump and the media were practicing a strategy described as “stray voltage” by President Barack Obama’s political team. “Stray voltage” is a somewhat more refined variation on good old Internet “trolling”: provocative or insulting statements designed to elicit an outraged response.

The Obama version of trolling holds that as long as people are heatedly discussing a topic useful to you, political energy can be harvested, even if the discussion began with a blunder or falsehood on your part. The story might look bad for you at first, but at the end of the day, everyone is buzzing about the topic you wanted them to focus on.

Trump’s stray voltage play was to get the media buzzing about Hillary Clinton’s email, on the day Obama was scheduled to speak at her nominating convention. It worked spectacularly well. For an entire day, Clinton’s media accused her of committing a federal crime, granting that her deleted, but most likely hacker-preserved, emails were a national security threat, even though she spent over a year insisting they were nothing but boring yoga routines and wedding invitations.

The media also charged up its stray voltage coils by working up buzz about Trump being a loose cannon with an unhealthy affinity for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. They found a willing audience, on both sides of the partisan divide, among people who are ready to believe Trump either doesn’t realize what he’s saying, or is the Devil.

Time will tell which electric charge lingers longer, and to greater effect, in the voting public. One could see the media getting nervous about the Clinton email buzz as the big Democratic convention events got under way. At the very least, they realized it wasn’t helpful for all the media energy to be crackling around Trump, even if much of what was said about him was negative – that’s the essence of how stray voltage works.

As for what Trump actually said, and what he meant by it, it’s perfectly clear to anyone who actually watches and listens to him that his most allegedly explosive comments were bitter sarcasm.

His email comments begin about 4:45 into the video below, then he talks about other things for a while, and the big controversy hits about roughly 12:30. Watch and judge for yourself. You don’t suppose his riff on Jon Lovitz’s pathological-liar skit from “Saturday Night Live” might offer a clue to his sarcasm level, do you?

He can be faulted for talking this way – especially since he ought to know how his words will be reported – without conjuring phantom conspiracy theories that he’s summoning a horde of demonic Russian hackers to devour Washington, D.C.

Trump explicitly said that Russia (or another foreign entity) hacking the Democratic National Committee’s server was a bad thing, a “total sign of disrespect for our country.” He said leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin “have no respect for our country any more, and they certainly have no respect for our leader.” He sarcastically mocked the idea that Putin hacked the DNC server to help Trump’s presidential campaign.

Here, then, is the ZOMG TRUMP TOLD RUSSIA TO HACK EVERYBODY IN AMERICA bombshell, in its entirety, responding to a reporter who asked why he didn’t tell Vladimir Putin to butt out of the U.S. election:

Why do I have to get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me. He doesn’t respect our President.

And if it is Russia – which it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is – but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything.

But it would be interesting to see – I will tell you this – Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be next.

I lost count of how many people, including people on the Right, shrieking that Trump told Russia he’d reward them for hacking Hillary Clinton’s computer yesterday. No, he said THE MEDIA would reward them, “mightily,” for giving them such a spectacular story. (Which is kind of that “stray voltage” theory in action again, isn’t it? No matter how loyal the mainstream media is to Clinton, they’d have a hard time resisting juicy stories about what was in her deleted emails, especially if it turns out to be evidence of a federal crime.)

Trump didn’t invite the Russians to hack anything. He said they probably already did hack Clinton’s server, as the DNC system was penetrated. Later he complained that no one could say for certain exactly who the culprits in the DNC hack were.

Later in the press conference – at about 36:30 in the video below – the Clinton emails came up again, and it was a reporter who put words in Trump’s mouth by saying, “Do you have any pause about asking a foreign government – Russia, China, anybody – to interfere, to hack into the system of anybody in this country?”

Trump apparently thought he was being asked if he should be telling Russia, China, and all other hack-happy powers not to interfere, because he grew exasperated and said, “That’s up to the President. Let the President talk to them.”

He said of Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails, “Well, they probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”

Asked if this gave him pause, Trump said:

No, it gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them. We might as well – hey, you know what gives me more pause? That a person in our government, Crooked Hillary Clinton – here’s what gives me pause. Be quiet. I know you want to save her.

[This was directed at a reporter trying to interrupt him.]

That a person in our government, Katy, would delete or get rid of 33,000 emails. That gives me a big problem. After she gets a subpoena! She gets subpoenaed, and she gets rid of 33,000 emails? That gives me a problem.

Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see ‘em.

The emails came back one more time during the presser, at around 51:00 in the video, when Trump exclaimed that Hillary Clinton, “who gives open access to a phony server,” shouldn’t be allowed into security briefings.

“How does Hillary Clinton get a national security briefing when she’s been probably hacked, when so much of her information – the director of the FBI said it was essentially negligent. It was negligent,” Trump declared.

After saying he didn’t think Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin should be allowed into national security briefings, because she is “married to Anthony Weiner, who’s a sleazeball and a pervert,” Trump hit the emails again:

How can Hillary Clinton be briefed on this unbelievably delicate information, when it was just proven that she lied, and that her server shouldn’t have had it, and that they’re missing 33,000 e-mails, and that’s just the beginning? So I don’t think that I know at some point, they’re going to be calling, they’re going to want to brief me, but I’m not a talker about this stuff.

I don’t think that it’s safe to have Hillary Clinton, in light of what just happened, and in light of what we just found out, I don’t think it’s safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security, because the word will get out.

From this, people have been trying to spin up theories that Trump committed treason during his press conference.

It certainly is unconventional for a presidential candidate to say he wouldn’t mind seeing hacked emails released, but then again, it’s unconventional for the other candidate to be declared effectively above the law, with all of the oversight mechanisms surrounding her Secretary of State tenure deliberately disabled, without any legal consequence whatsoever.

In an earlier, better age, Clinton’s email scandal would have consumed the entire Obama Administration long ago – the minute that secret server was discovered, the clock on Obama’s resignation would have begun ticking down. But now we live in a time when American investigators can’t get access to data that is the property of the American people, because a politician stole it from us, hid it on a computer system she wasn’t supposed to be using, and destroyed everything she didn’t want us to see.

If some hacker held documents that would destroy a Republican candidate, you can bet Obama, Clinton, and the whole gang down at the DNC would be salivating at the thought of exposing them. Once they were exposed, the chances of holding off on commensurate legal action, because it would “reward the hackers” and encourage more mischief, would be zero percent.

The difference is that Democrats have media henchpersons to handle all that for them, usually without potentially scandalous direct orders from top Party officials. They’d give a speech about the dangers of hacking, maybe demand another billion dollars for federal cyber-security programs, but they’d be discreetly pleased with the outcome.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sailed American government off the edge of the map, into “Here There Be Dragons” territory. Donald Trump is the dragon.

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