Clinton blames Putin’s personal grudge against her for election interference

  • Vice President Joe Biden (left) laughs with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a ceremony to unveil a portrait of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill on Thursday. AP

Washington Post
Friday, December 16, 2016

At a “thank you” event Thursday night with some of her top campaign donors and fundraisers, Hillary Clinton blamed a personal grudge by Russian President Vladimir Putin for unprecedented interference in the election that resulted in her defeat.

Clinton said that in 2011, when she was secretary of state and Putin was planning his return to power, she spoke out against the “phony” parliamentary election that independent analysts concluded was rife with problems and fraud.

“At the same time, citizens of Russia were pouring into the streets to protest. ... People who were outraged because they thought they were on a trajectory of greater freedom, greater opportunity, and they watched that, and they were appalled,” Clinton said, according to the recording posted Friday by the New York Times.

“Putin publicly blamed me for the outpouring of outrage by his own people. And that is the direct line between what he said back then and what he did in this election,” she added.

Two people who attended the event confirmed the authenticity of the audio of Clinton’s roughly 10-minute remarks.

Some of her most loyal supporters in the audience were surprised to hear her so directly describe a connection between her interaction with Putin during her time as secretary of state and the hacks targeting Democrats and the party’s institutions during the campaign, one person in attendance said.

Privately, Clinton has long said that Putin personally disliked her, that person said.

“There was a lot of suspicion about what the hell was going on,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with senior campaign aides. “Internally, the comments were ‘Putin really hates her.’ ”

But she has never publicly described Russia’s interference in those terms.

Clinton also discussed the letters from FBI Director James Comey in the final weeks of the election, announcements that she said caused voters in swing states to break against her in the final days of the campaign. But the bulk of her remarks were focused on Russia.

Clinton called for an independent investigation, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to look into Russian interference in the election.

“This is not just an attack against me and my campaign – although that may have added fuel to it. This is an attack against our country,” Clinton said. “We are well beyond normal political concerns here.

“This is about the integrity of our democracy and the security of our nation,” she said.

The crowd can be heard cheering her on as she spoke.

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected the assessment of the nation’s intelligence community and the White House that the Russian government was responsible for the hacking. Most recently, in an interview this week on Fox News Sunday, he said: “Personally, it could be Russia. I don’t really think it is, but who knows?”

Also present at the event at the Plaza Hotel, in Manhattan, were her husband, former president Bill Clinton; Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides; her campaign chairman John Podesta; her campaign manager, Robby Mook; and Dennis Cheng, the campaign’s finance director.

Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, also attended and introduced Clinton.

Although the Democratic Party is in the midst of soul-searching, another attendee at the event said that the news of the Russian hacking in the election was at the front of everyone’s minds. Clinton, Podesta and others who spoke did not – as has been their custom – offer any personal reflection about what they might have done differently.

The top donors who were assembled also seemed willing to keep the focus on external factors.

“If they have anger and frustration, it’s not directed internally; it’s directed at the news media, the Russians, the FBI,” said another person who attended the gathering.