In a series of bold, candid remarks on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said she believes Russian hackers could not have influenced U.S. elections as effectively as they did without being "guided by Americans," adding that it is "hard not to" suspect President Trump or his political allies.
"I think it's fair to ask, how did that actually influence the campaign? How did they know what messages to deliver? Who told them? Who were they coordinating with or colluding with?" Clinton said, appearing at a tech conference hosted by Recode in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
"The Russians, in my opinion, and based on the intel and counter-intel people I've talked to, could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided."
"Guided by Americans?" asked one of the moderators.
"Guided by Americans," Clinton said. "And guided by people who had polling and data and information."
When asked if she was "leaning Trump," Clinton replied, "Yes, I'm leaning Trump."
"I think it's pretty hard not to," she said.
She spoke in detail about analytics that show, she claimed, that Google searches in crucial swing states such as Wisconsin were highest in volume for the website WikiLeaks, where she said hacked emails were a major factor in swaying the vote for Trump. "Voters who are being targeted by all of this false information are genuinely trying to make up their minds," she said.
The emails stolen from Clinton's chairman, John Podesta, were "run-of-the-mill" emails, she said, but were "weaponized" on websites such as InfoWars right after the Access Hollywood video leaked in October, imperiling Trump's campaign. "They had to be ready for that, and they had to have a plan for that. And they had to be given the go-ahead: 'OK, this could be the end for the Trump campaign. Dump it now.'"
"The other side was using content that was just flat-out false and delivering it in a very personalized way, both above the radar screen and below," Clinton said. "That really influenced the information that people relied on."
The comments, Clinton's most pointed yet on the subject, come amid multiple investigations into Russian efforts to influence the election, including an FBI investigation overseen now by a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller. The investigations have yet to conclude and have not produced evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Six months after the election, the two-time presidential candidate has stepped up her public appearances, granting her first major interviews over the last month to New York magazine and CNN's Christiane Amanpour and launching a new organization to support and fund grassroots activists opposing Trump.
The Hillary Clinton who appears now in public is more dry and direct than the one who campaigned for the presidency last year, including on the subject of why she lost the election, and who to blame, prompting criticism across the political spectrum.
On Wednesday, she was particularly blunt about the Democratic National Committee. In 2016, Clinton argued, the DNC was far behind its Republican counterpart when it came to data and money. She became the nominee in June — and then, "I inherit nothing," she said. "It was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor — nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it, the DNC, to keep it going."
Trump, she said, inherited a data operation at the Republican National Committee that had been enriched by millions of dollars since the loss of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
And to a question about those who want Clinton to recede quietly into the background of politics, she answered, "I'm not going anywhere. I have a big stake in what happens in this country."
Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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