Clinton criticizes UK for blocking Russian influence report

In this file photo dated Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Georgetown Law’s second annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture, in Washington. Clinton told the BBC on Tuesday Nov. 12, 2019, that she’s “dumbfounded” the U.K. government has failed to release a report on Russian influence in British politics as the country prepares for national elections on Dec 12. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, FILE)

Hillary Clinton says she’s “dumbfounded” that the U.K. government has failed to release a report on Russian influence in British politics as the country prepares to hold a national election next month.

The former U.S. presidential candidate told British media that the public needs to know what is in the report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee before British voters go to the polls on Dec. 12.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has said it needs more time to review the security implications of the report before it is released. Critics allege the report is being withheld until after the election because it is embarrassing to Johnson’s Conservative Party, which is trying to win a majority and push through Johnson’s Brexit plan to take Britain out of the European Union.

“I’m dumbfounded that this government won’t release the report … because every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” Clinton told the BBC on Tuesday. “There is no doubt … that Russia in particular is determined to try to shape the politics of Western democracies, not to our benefit but to theirs.”

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election found that Russia interfered in the vote in a “sweeping and systemic” fashion. U.S. President Donald Trump, who won office in that vote, has dismissed the Mueller report’s conclusions, but the investigation has put Russia into the crosshairs of a debate on freedom and the integrity of elections worldwide.

Clinton also spoke about the British report with the Guardian newspaper at an event promoting “The Book of Gutsy Women,” a work she co-authored with her daughter, Chelsea. The former U.S. Secretary of State said she wished she had been more “gutsy” in exposing Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election campaign, which she lost.

“I am, as a great admirer of Britain, concerned, because I can’t make sense of what is happening,” Clinton told the Guardian . “We have a president who admires dictators and takes their help and does all kinds of crazy stuff. So we need you to be the sane member of this partnership going forward.”

The Intelligence and Security Committee sent its report the prime minister for review on Oct. 17, saying it expected “to publish the report imminently.” Committee Chairman Dominic Grieve has criticized the government for failing to release the study amid media reports it has already been cleared by British security services.

Bill Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital Management, told The Associated Press that he is one of those who gave evidence to the committee. Browder worked in Russia until 2005 and has campaigned for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government since 2009, when his lawyer died in a Russian prison.

Following an 18-month investigation into online privacy and the use of social media to spread disinformation, an influential parliamentary committee in February urged the British government to urgently approve new laws addressing internet campaign techniques, insisting that democracy itself was under threat.

While the government agreed with many of the recommendations made by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, it has done little other than circulate its own report for public comment in preparation for future legislation.

Former Committee Chairman Damian Collins said the government had been following a timetable that would have modernized Britain’s electoral laws by 2021 or 2022, the original date for the next general election. But Johnson called an early election in response to the political turmoil caused by Britain’s pending departure from the EU, which is now scheduled for Jan. 31. Britain’s 46 million eligible voters will be choosing 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons in the Dec. 12 vote.

The campaign is already being fought fiercely online. In one example, a video posted on Twitter and Facebook by the Conservatives contains a misleading edit of a television interview with Keir Starmer, a senior Labour Party figure. The video had been altered to show Starmer failing to answer a question about Brexit when he actually responded quickly.

The chairman of the Conservative Party called the doctored video lighthearted satire but it highlights the gray area being exploited by the campaigns. In another sign of the online shift, Britain’s Labour Party announced Tuesday that it had experienced a “sophisticated and large-scale cyberattack” on its digital platforms. The main opposition party says the attack did not succeed because of “robust security systems” and that it had referred the matter to the National Cyber Security Centre.

Collins had been appealing for a coordinated approach across all parts of government to combat disinformation campaigns and protect the electoral system. The work has heaped pressure on social media companies, who have faced global scrutiny following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

In other election news, Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage changed course Monday, announcing that his party would not challenge Conservative candidates in nearly half of the U.K.’s districts. The tactic may make it easier for pro-Brexit forces to prevail in the election and should boost the chances that Johnson’s Conservatives win a majority. He said by failing to release the report Johnson has made it worse for himself by implying there is something to hide.

“Nobody likes a cover-up,” Browder said.

Lawmakers from a range of parties, including Johnson’s Conservatives, have urged the government to publish the report during a debate in the House of Commons. But Foreign Office minister Christopher Pincher argued it was “not unusual” for the review of such reports to “take some time.”

The Russian report comes amid increasing concerns about the security of an election being fought in an increasingly digital world. Britain’s election laws are woefully out of date, written more for a time when leaflets were pushed through mailboxes instead of Facebook and other social media publishing political ads.

Source: Associated Press